What We’re Doing: Spring Summary

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

What did we do this spring? Better to ask what we didn’t do. We didn’t fight elephant poachers in Africa. We didn’t storm a dictator’s compound and instate a new leader. We didn’t even leave our state. But we have been so engaged with our projects and new routine that when I finally could take a break and breathe, I noticed the pile of dishes unwashed, the laundry mountains waiting to be climbed, and the toy wastelands our living room had become.

Over the last few months, I’ve published two books (Perdition and Cress and the Medicine Show), finished the draft of another novel, and survived my first time as a panelist (while sick with a cold, no less) at Norwescon. The Reading Selections Year One class concluded with a small pizza celebration and the insistence from my students we continue on to Year Two in September.

Dragon’s spring quarter has gone MUCH better than her first quarter, and with an advisor’s advice, she’ll be making up one of her previous quarter’s classes in an eight day session in fall. Little Fox has been enjoying his new drama class, continuing gymnastics, and attending a Montessori preschool two mornings a week.

Having my son off at a preschool for a set block of time has given him more structure, a chance to play consistently with other kids (play dates sometimes fall through), and gives us both a break from each other. With him out of the house, I’ve been able to focus on getting more writing done and having some breathing room to just … be.

And since the preschool is within easy walking distance, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I can drive due to car or health issues, the latter of which have been a great obstacle for consistent class and event attendance.

For his birthday, my son received more Legos, which are his constant of late, but he also received a subscription to Koala Crate. Two boxes arrived so far, reptiles and rainbows, and we’ve worked on them together during times when he doesn’t want to engage in other activities besides Legos (lately he doesn’t want story time, music time, art projects, puppets, gardening, or cooking. Only Legos. Batman Legos. All. The. Time.). He will happily do a Koala Crate craft if I suggest it. Yay, STEAM!

Since we were all sick for his birthday, and the weather was crummy the weekend after, it took us a couple of weeks to celebrate properly. We took him to Fox Hollow Farm in Issaquah, where we pet bunnies and piglets and kittens, fed parrots, and Little Fox rode a pony for the first time and played on a go cart. When he was worn out, he let us know, and we all went to a dim sum house that actually had gluten free dim sum options.

On Memorial Day weekend, my son and I took a bus and the monorail to Seattle Center for the Folklife Festival. It was his first time, and he was most excited for all the food trucks. We saw Recess Monkey, ate lots of food, ran into some of our cousins, listened to other music, looked at art, and spent an hour in the Rhythm Tent making experimental music with a few dozen other people. When we left for the monorail to return home, he told me how much fun he had.

Here’s hoping he enjoys the Fremont Solstice Parade as much!

WHAT WE’RE READING

41lt0sceyel-_sx325_bo1204203200_Since my daughter has been in college, she’s not reading much beyond fanfic and textbooks, but I’ve been enjoying Graft by Matt Hill, an author I shared a table with at Norwescon, and have been marking up my new copy of Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsythe, which teaches the figures of rhetoric once taught with the classics, but have fallen out of favor in the last century of education. I have a feeling it’ll help me teach creative writing in the fall. The best part about the book? It’s written with wry humor and in a manner that keeps the information engaging, unlike the similarly titled Elements of Style, which is all about the technical aspects of writing.

61sewlxqlql-_sx258_bo1204203200_Little Fox turned into Hei Hei the rooster after watching Disney’s Moana, and that night, we offered him a book about chickens (it was a random selection at the library; sweet synchronicity!) called Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl.

The painted story tells of a young girl named Sonya who cares deeply for her three chickens, which she raised by hand as chicks. One night, a fox steals into the coop and takes one away. Her father guides her through her grief and offers a different perspective. The story offers readers a hopeful note toward the end. In one week, we’ve read the book four times to him!

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Well, as a night and morning of chicken screams and Duplo world building will attest, we watched Moana. I’d held off seeing it because of the problematic treatment of Maui and the mixed reception by the people depicted. I decided after hearing more feedback and reading an article about watching it with awareness to the cultural inaccuracies, there was a lot to enjoy in it.

My partner and I have caught up with The Americans, Better Call Saul, and American Gods. Three of us recently completed both seasons of Agent Carter and are livid the show was cancelled. Watching Carter, Americans, and national news concurrently certainly painted a complex picture of the U.S. relations with Russia from post-WWII tensions, to the Cold War, and into the present political atmosphere, which brought up a lot of discussions with our daughter about the history between the two nations and how it’s led us to where we are now. The trio of media create a chilling awareness of our current political landscape, even where the fiction was sensationalized.

Dragon introduced us to Nightvale, a podcast about a fictional town where nothing is within the realm of normal. While I’ve enjoyed it, Little Fox finds it dull and never wants to listen to it, so we’ve started rewatching Avatar: the Last Airbender episodes.

We did see Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (without the Fox), and Wonder Woman in the theater and loved all three.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

After seeing Wonder Woman, we enjoyed nearly a week of modern and ancient Greek recipes for our dinners, and in the process, I learned how to make halibut in a way that leaves the meat tender, juicy, and full of flavor.

Greek Halibut in Parchment

4-6 oz. steak of halibut per person
artichoke hearts in oil
lemon slices
garlic cloves
sea salt
black pepper
oregano

Preheat oven to 400°F. For each person, place two slices of lemon on a sheet of baking parchment, and cover with one halibut steak, skin side down. Arrange a handful of artichoke hearts on either side of the halibut, and sprinkle the fish with lemon juice, sea salt, and oregano. Then crush one to two cloves of garlic and rub lightly along the top of the fish. Fold parchment into a packet around the halibut and placing on a baking sheet. When all packets are arranged on the sheet, place in the oven and cook 12 – 14 minutes. Grind black pepper over the top of the fish to taste and serve with sides, such as peas with mint, hummus and cucumber slices, roasted golden beets with goat or sheep’s cheese.

What We’re Doing: Frantic February

What am I doing posting about February in March?  Because it really was that frantic.

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

bookcover-totebagMost of February involved getting revisions finished on my debut novel, Perdition, and trying to get the family out again for field trips and events.  The book is complete and I’m awaiting a proof to go ahead with publication, which should happen next week.  February also saw the publication of Cress and the Medicine Show, a novelette about a runaway slave whose path crosses that of a medicine show run by three trickster gods.  (Appropriate for anyone old enough to handle discussions of antebellum slavery.  Includes a coloring page.)

IMG_4550We took advantage of Free First Thursdays at local museums. Although, technically, the Bellevue Arts Museum has free first Fridays instead, we explored the Metamorphosis exhibit, Divine Ammunition sculptures, and Electric Coffin. Daughter was too disturbed by Divine Ammunition, and I discussed with her the reasons for her discomfiture and how art is meant to move you to a strong emotional response.  We all adored several installations from diverse artists in the Metamorphosis collection.  Little Fox preferred the hands-on art rooms set aside for kids and creative play more than most of the exhibits, but he responded well to textured art, such as a collage involving shells and photographs.

Pacific Science Center held a weekend engineering event with numerous hands on projects for kids of all ages to participate in.  As a family, we built a bridge, assembled a slide marble park, created circuits, harnessed the energy of the sun, and much more.   For more information about what was presented and what groups participated, there’s still a page up at the PacSci site for Engineer It!

img_4563.jpgThe weather forced us inside more than I would prefer, but we still made a snow woman, planned play dates, and saw a local concert with S.J. Tucker and Betsy Tinney.  While our educational adventures waned through the month, my daughter went through a math review, practiced essay writing, and started learning about the McCarthy era in anticipation of returning to college through Running Start.  She’s also been more socially adventurous; she went to a sleep over, attended a swing dance with her friend, and has a new beau.

Though we haven’t kept to the 52 week curriculum plan, Little Fox made his way through the Spring curriculum box from the library.  We’ve discovered he tends to enjoy a slower pace of exploring each topic across two or three weeks instead of one per week.

WHAT WE’RE READING

In addition to the books in the Spring curriculum box, Little Fox enjoyed The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler, Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin A. Ramsey (an excellent introduction to the Civil Rights era and MLK, Jr.), Peddles by Elisabeth Rose Stanton, and five of the books in the Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. Our library also has a new tradition of providing “blind dates” with books during February.  They place books in paper bags with little hearts and tag them with phrases to indicate reading level.  Though I didn’t care for my fiction selection (completely the wrong genre for me), my son adored his blind date with Little Night Cat by Sonja Danowski.  It’s a gentle story about a generous boy who gives up his toys for a cat shelter’s auction, and the illustrations are dreamlike and intricate in detail.

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The Dragon completed the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories she was working through, and explored the story of a criminologist in The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths by Pat Brown.  She’s now researching McCarthyism in Nightmare in Red by Richard M. Fried and No Ivory Tower by Ellen Schrecker.  My daughter also checked out a “blind date” book and received a copy of Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston.  She hasn’t finished it yet, but the book’s description on the inside flap promised more adventure and excitement than most of the non-fiction she’s working through.

Since I’ve been editing for weeks, I haven’t been reading much, but I still have made time for comics.  I’ve started the Delilah Dirk steampunk series and find it engaging, intelligent, and funny.  I’m also keeping up with the charming web comic (among many others), Miss Abbott and the Doctor by Maripaz Villar, which focuses on two people in a small, Victorian town: a rather straight-laced doctor and a young woman who grew up among indigenous people in a rain forest before being brought to “civilized” society.  It’s both adorable and cheeky.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’ve not been watching many new shows as a whole family, but my partner and I, and sometimes my daughter, are catching up with Gotham, Agent Carter, and now The Americans.  If you’re not familiar with that last title, it focuses on a married couple of Russian spies living long term as a couple from Illinois at the beginning of the Reagan era.  The whole show is well-written and acted, and it’s in stark juxtaposition to the current U.S. political climate.  Highly recommended for people who enjoy period dramas, intrigue, and dark humor.

As a family, we’re still watching EurekaStar vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, and The Powerpuff Girls.  Little Fox has turned his IronMan, Captain America, and Star Lord figures into Buttercup, Blossom, and Bubbles respectively.  My partner has attempted to introduce Planet Earth series to our family, but the kids are difficult to engage these last few weeks.  We’ll keep trying, though.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

At the start of February, I began an elimination diet suggested by my doctor.  It’s rather strict, eliminating corn, soy, nightshades, and sugar.  For someone addicted to hot sauces, tomatoes, paprika, tacos, and sushi, it hasn’t been easy keeping my taste buds interested.  I’ve adapted my usual recipes and attempted a few others.  I’m using a lot of ginger, horseradish, mustard powder, lemon sauces, and fish sauce.  It’s led to making foods I love that I’d never learned to make, too, such as my own worcestershire sauce, Swedish meatballs, and lamb souvlaki. Daughter, though, suggested I share my recipe for Lamb Stroganoff.

Gluten-Free Lamb Stroganoff

1/3 boneless leg of lamb, cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
12 oz. package of gluten-free pasta (e.g. fusilli, casarecce, etc.)
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, pressed or diced
1/2 c. diced mushrooms (e.g. portobello, cremini, etc.)
3/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. broth
4 T. worcestershire sauce*
1 T. rice flour
butter or olive oil
sea salt, pepper to taste
splash of sherry (optional)

Cook pasta al dente according to package, rinse briefly, and set aside.

Caramelize onions in butter (or olive oil) on medium heat.  For proper caramelizing, add small splashes of water to pan as onions start to brown.  Continue doing this until onions are soft and have reached a medium brown color and are sweet to taste.  Add a little more butter or oil, and saute mushrooms.  Avoid crowding, otherwise the mushrooms won’t brown.  Remove mushrooms and onions from heat, and in the same skillet, brown lamb with pressed garlic, salt, and pepper.  Cook about four minutes, and turn pieces, douse with worcestershire sauce, and continue cooking another four minutes.  Remove lamb from skillet, leaving juices behind.

Sprinkle flour into pan, mixing it in with the drippings from the lamb and onions.  Add a small splash of sherry, stir well, and then pour in broth.  Bring heat to medium high until it bubbles, reduce to low, and add sour cream.  Stir thoroughly, and fold in pasta, lamb, mushrooms, and onions. Season to taste.  Serve with a green salad with light dressing (we like olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a sprinkling of crumbled feta).

*Gluten-Free and Soy-Free Worcestershire Sauce

Equal parts (about 2-3T. each):

Fish sauce
Apple cider vinegar
Black strap molasses

Approximately 1t. each of:

Mustard powder
Fresh grated or dry ground ginger
Garlic powder or minced garlic

Mix wet ingredients first, then fold in dry ingredients.  Use within three to four days.

Counting and the Alphabet

16195557_10154270436273059_8844578467252457715_nLately, the Little Fox loves counting.  We’re counting the lamps in the bedroom, we’re counting our fingers and toes, we’re counting bites during a snack, or seconds while I hold my PT and yoga poses.  We’re counting anything and everything holding my son’s interest.

It’s not the first time he’s been interested in numbers, but it’s a resurgence with an intensity he never showed before.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, he started becoming interested again with the books One Nighttime Sea and Wizard of Oz Counting.

61tkzjdun2bl-_sx365_bo1204203200_One of his favorite things to count — his absolute favorite — is counting letters.  He especially likes seeking out the letters in his name (he learned to spell his name courtesy of a cousin who sent a wooden bench carved with his name in it).  He’s always looking for the As and the Cs.  Sunday night, I read the whole Animalia to him, slowly enunciating all the words.  We didn’t just count the obvious letters, but also those hidden within the art on each page.  Sometimes we went far beyond his knowledge of counting, but he did his best to repeat the numbers I said.  Some pages went up to 23 instances of the letter in question.

This combined interest in both numbers and letters has become an exciting way of integrating the basics.  Though we’d never push him to start reading or doing math so early, we absolutely support him when he shows such passion for something.  Since he’s so focused, I’ve even started introducing the concepts of addition.  When we’re counting letters or animals or some other items in a book, and the items in questions are split between the folds, I count the whole, and then count those on either side of the page and add them together.

For example, seven lemurs are spread across two pages.  We count them as seven together, and then I count four on one page, three on the other, and say, “and four and three makes seven!”

I don’t expect him to repeat this, but by simply talking about it, the concept starts to sink into his mind, so when he starts to focus on adding and subtracting objects in his world, these lessons will have laid a preliminary foundation.

Random ideas for things to count:

  • Legos, ponies, cars, figurines, or other toys they’re actively playing with
  • Sticks, leaves, rocks, shells, or other common objects found on a nature walk
  • Seconds (while doing something)
  • Peas, chips, grapes, or other food that comes in multiples
  • People or animals in an area
  • Fingers, toes, eyes, ears, bones, etc.
  • Shirts, pants, socks, or other laundry items while folding (socks are especially good for counting if they’re learning to fold their socks)
  • Dabs of paint, crayons, or other items with varied colors (also integrates color lessons)
  • Wooden beads, buttons, yarn pieces, and other craft items they’re using in projects
  • The tires on different vehicles (e.g. bicycles, tricycles, car, semitruck, etc.)
  • The limbs on varying animals (counting legs: zero limbs on snakes, bipedal humans, quadrapedal animals, six-legged insects, eight-legged spiders and octopuses; wings or arms vs. legs; etc.)

Another part to teaching and learning counting is the concept of zero, nothing, and none.  This is crucial to all levels of mathematics, although the basic vague understanding of it comes along often in a young child’s life when they’re told they cannot have something, or when they insist they want to eat nothing when they’re cranky with hunger.  Nevertheless, as important as zero is, we often don’t remember it in counting, which is why discussions about limbs, for instance, can introduce zero as a number meaning none.

Whenever your little one starts taking an interest in numbers or letters, it’s time to start playing number and alphabet games, and singing songs (e.g. Hickory, Dickory Dock, 10 little monkeys, the alphabet song, and so on.)  Another great resource are “Alligators All Around” and “One Was Johnny” by Maurice Sendak and sent to music by Carole King (these are two books found in Sendak’s Nutshell library).  And if you’re counting months, don’t forget “Chicken Soup with Rice.”  If your little ones are Seuss fans, there’s also Dr. Seuss’ ABC Book; it’s not my favorite, but my son adores it.

 

 

 

What We’re Doing: Justice January

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Our year began with a few surprises.  One of them dramatically shifted our plans for the year, as some mistakes came to light — small mistakes hidden from my partner and I until they compounded into something big.  My daughter has withdrawn from Running Start for now.  Though she kept up with the academics and showed full comprehension of the subjects she studied on graded papers and tests, her social anxiety led to a series of events that reflected poorly on her GPA.

For now, we’ve returned to homeschooling, and are seeking a counselor to help give her tools to deal with her anxiety better.  While her choices sadden me, it’s a valuable learning experience for us both.  While it set an unexpected tone for the new year, it’s not all we’ve been up to.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

logo31We bought a new subscription to the Pacific Science Center and went there for the final weekend of their Sherlock Holmes traveling exhibit, complete with historical documents and artifacts, film and TV props, and a mystery to solve as a family.  My partner and I attended the Seattle Symphony‘s tribute to David Bowie on the 10th, and this past weekend, we saw Curious George and the Golden Meatball at Second Story Repertory Theater.

The Little Fox can now count to ten consistently, and engages us in counting whenever he finds something interesting enough to count.  Much like the Count from Sesame Street, he’ll stop whatever we’re doing and have us count something.  Most recently, it was the number of lamps in my room: three, and the number of fingers on his hands: ten.  The Dragon wishes to one day work for the FBI as a forensic psychologist, so we’ve been checking out books related to her long-term goals, including Criminology, Psychology, and U.S. History.  We’re also working on essay writing and pre-Calculus, as she’s considering doing AP testing as a way to earn some of her college credits.  With the SATs coming up, we’re also considering my father’s advice to take the PSATs first.

 

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Upward Facing Dog

I’ve taken on the Yoga Green Book‘s 21 Days of Yoga Challenge by Carla Christine, and have working harder on improving my strength and flexibility.  Her instructions have been detailed and easy to follow, improving even the basics I already practice (I recommend her for future classes; also, check out my friend Starbird, who teaches one how to flow through yoga). As someone with an autoimmune issue and chronic pain, sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective on the hardest days, so I’m also working on tracking my overall daily outlook using the idea of a Year in Pixels, and a Jar of Happiness. I’ve also been working hard on my writing.  Cress and the Medicine Show, a myth-based novelette, will be available mid-February, and my debut novel, Perdition, publishes in March.  Also, there’s a new class I’m putting together to teach Creative Writing to middle schoolers.

On the whole, we’re finding a new routine all over again, and I’m hoping to incorporate some of these wonderful ideas about gameschooling from SimpleHomeschool.net.  We’ll also be greeting the protesters from the Women’s March on Saturday, and we have some wonderful books checked out from the library to celebrate the memory and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all week long.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

0-439-33906-5At the time of writing, I have 45 books checked out from the library and 2 curriculum boxes.  Among them, the collection of Nurse Mathilda stories. Since beginning in December, we’ve completed the first book and are in the middle of the second.  If you’re not familiar, these are the three odd little books, which inspired the Nanny McPhee movies, and all center around a family so large, they don’t know how many children they have.  My son enjoys them, but wants to take breaks every second or third night, so we’re doing a few chapters each week.

My son’s favorite counting books right now are One Nighttime Sea (library copy) and The Wizard of Oz Counting (bought at Costco with the shapes book).  When I checked out One Nighttime Sea, it was for his nocturnal animals unit, but it’s become such a beloved book, we keep renewing it.  It not only counts different sea creatures from one to ten, it then counts even more from ten to one.  We take time to touch each animal and say its number as we go and I ask him where the number itself is on the page.  The Wizard of Oz Counting book is far more simplistic and quite jolly, and we’ve had it since he was a year old.
Along with some criminology books, my daughter is working her way through FBI 100 Years and The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  There are other books awaiting her, but I don’t want to bog her down.

 

On top of books, we have magazine subscriptions coming in.  We allowed our Ladybug and Click subscriptions to lapse.  I was disappthumbointed when they arrived, as I was expecting the better binding of Babybug, which keep well on shelves as sturdy little books.  Standard sized magazines don’t hold up as well, and the content didn’t inspire as much interest in my son.

While at the library, we found out they have all of the Cricket Media publications available, so we can read them there when we wish each month.  However, I also fell in love with Cricket itself, especially the hilarious stories in the January issue, so I’ve ordered a subscription for it, despite its recommended age range.  Also, we’re receiving Zootles, a fun science magazine for kids given to us as a gift by our cousins.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Recently, my daughter took my banana bread recipe and made a few dozen mini muffins for us in the toaster oven (because our oven still isn’t fixed; we’ve had a lot of trouble ordering the element we need for baking).

img_4394Mama Raven’s Banana Bread

1/2 c. butter (salted, because yum)
3/4 c. raw sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 aged bananas (mashed)
1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/4 c. tapioca starch
1/4 c. oat flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
7 oz. of crushed or chopped pineapple
1 T. pineapple juice
1 T. soured milk (milk with a few drops of lemon juice; wait 20 minutes to sour) or buttermilk
1/2 c. crushed walnut pieces (not option in my house, but maybe in yours)

Mix dry ingredients and set aside.  Mash bananas and stir in eggs and vanilla.  Blend well and add pineapple juice and buttermilk.  Fold wet ingredients into dry, and add pineapple (the pineapple helps keep the bread moist) and walnuts. Put in a greased bread pan and bake 45 minutes in a 350°F oven (or about 15 minutes in a mini muffin pan).

Alternatives: for dairy free recipes, substitute coconut milk for the buttermilk, and Earth Balance sticks for the butter.  If you wish to add chocolate chips, ditch the pineapple and substitute about 1/4 c. of milk or coconut milk instead.

Enjoy warm and buttered or cold and dunked in chocolate milk.  So good!

What We’re Doing: Decidedly December

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

We started this month with a terrible cold that laid everyone low for almost two weeks.  My partner was working late nights to complete a project by deadline.  I was working just to get us healthy in time to teach my students.  My daughter was rushing around trying to complete her work for coming finals.  Yet, but they time I had my final Reading Selections class of the year, we were coming close to vacation.

After a wonderful class in which my former students sat in on the discussion as well, all the kids and their parents joined us for pizza, and a chance to chat with each other outside of a structured setting.  I saw greater bonds being forged between the teens, and I had a chance to get to know two of the parents better.

My daughter finished her first quarter at the same time my partner’s vacation began.  Even my son was off from gymnastics for two weeks.  We’re at home together playing, cleaning, and exploring through the start of January.

Though some of our plans for a Muppet Solstice didn’t all work out, we did find a medium sized tree, trim it, decorate the house, and find or make presents for the people close to us in life.  Some of the adults had to settle for candy, but I made hand puppets for all the small children.  Tweens and teens got art supplies or books.  My daughter mostly wanted clothes and headphones, and received them.  My son mostly received puppets, puzzles, and Play-Doh, which were all things he wanted in his life.

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Seed Clusters: Mix 1c. bird seed w/ 2T. melted coconut oil. Scoop and press into cookie cutters, poke a hole for the string with a chopstick and toss in the fridge until hardened.

Now that all of our holiday events have passed, we’re working on getting other things in order: my bed has a new frame, bills need sorting and paying, one of the cars needs a quick check up, and so on.  An outing or two are planned for gaming and hiking before we return to our routines.  When we do, there are changes I wish to make with my approach to time alone with my son.  Some items I let fall to the side over the last few months: gardening, outdoor adventures, and more.  Also coming in the new year is a write class I’ve been asked to teach, a book to be published, and convention panels to prepare for.  None of which I feel ready to face, but they’re all steps along the way to my long-term goals.

Oh yes, and my son and I made a lot of cookie cutter-shaped seed clusters for the birds outside.  They were delighted.  So were the cats, who watched them from the windows.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

61wo7aokdhl-_sx351_bo1204203200_As is true for every holiday and birthday, our gifts included books.  Since the first set was ruined by tiny hands and a tiny mouth, we purchased a new set of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library.  All four stories were turned into short animated films and set to music; they’ve been a part of our favorites since my daughter was tiny (it was her set that was damaged).  He apologized for his toddler mistakes of the past and promised to care for the new set, gently setting them back into their box after each reading.

Since I purchased it at the behest of one of my sisters, my daughter read all of the first six Parasyte manga.  This is a science fiction horror manga series, which involve parasitic aliens who take over human bodies, except one doesn’t invade the brain of its host, but instead, his hand.  Great for teens and adults who enjoy horror.  Caution: graphic violence and horrific scenes.

An old friend sent me the first book of Marvel’s Mockingbird, written by Chelsea Cain.  It’s a mature comic, with wit and humor, unabashed feminism, and a lot for readers to enjoy.  Of all my favorite graphic novel series (e.g. Saga, Y the Last Man, Fables, etc.), I don’t think any made me laugh as often and as hard as Mockingbird.  Caution: violence, sex, and zombies.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

As a holiday treat, my father and step-mother took us all out to see Sing! in the theater.  We adored it.  Lots of popular songs, a lot of humor, and a lot of tears.  How many times did they need to play “Golden Slumbers?”  *sob*  I needed more tissues than I brought, which was zero.

We also recently watched Kubo and the Two Strings, thanks to a friend.  It proved far more beautiful and engaging than the trailers led us to believe.  Poor advertising proved fatal to box office sales, but if you missed it in the theater, I recommend checking it out through DVD, streaming, or at your library when available.  Toby Froud was one of the sculptors!

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Crock Pot Duck

For one of the holiday meals I made (we celebrate across three different days because of various traditions across our combined families), we didn’t have a working oven. So, I cooked a duck in our trusty crock pot!

When I asked him what he thought of the duck, he said, “I’m happy the oven isn’t working.”

It’s a super simple reccrockpotduck.pngipe.  Slice several root vegetables (we used turnips, parsnips, carrots, and onions), and create layers on the bottom of the crock pot.  Add 1 – 2 cups of water or broth.  Place a cleaned duck on top.  Prick the skin (not the flesh) with a fork at intervals on the body to render the fat. Add some sage and fresh ground pepper.  Set the crock pot to high and cook 5-6 hours.  I pulled out the duck, placed it in the broiler until the skin browned and crisped, and sliced it up.  It was falling off the bone.  We strained the vegetables from the broth, and reserved the liquid to chill  so we can reserve the fat and use the aspic for a soup.  I also made mushroom risotto in butter and sage with shiitake mushrooms.  Soooo goooood.

 

Privilege

A high school classmate of mine who also homeschools asked our group an important question:

“Question: How do you take part in bringing about equity in education as a homeschooling parent? Homeschooling is a privilege. I wonder how to wield that privilege in bringing fairness in public education. I would love to hear.”

I left the following response:

“Here’s what I’m able to do at this time:

  1. Vote for legislation that helps the public education system.
  2. Talk to local officials about policy changes that help and hurt.
  3. Get to know my neighborhood’s children, and be a resource for them.
  4. Share education ideas with the parents in my life, regardless of where their kids receive their education. Before I could afford to homeschool, I still took fifteen to twenty minutes a night with my daughter to work with her on a project, discuss something, or teach her a new skill.
  5. Encourage other people to do #1&2.”

privilege_quinn_dombrowskiThere was a time when I desperately wanted to homeschool, but as a single parent earning slightly more than minimum wage, there simply wasn’t a chance of it happening.  I probably wouldn’t have been too good at it back then, either (although I still feel rather inadequate as a homeschooling parent much of the time).  It seemed I’d never live my dream of homeschooling my children, but after a disastrous third grade year with a strict, unyielding teacher, and a good friend willing to help, we began this journey.  If I hadn’t become too sick to hold down a full-time job, I’d also have been unable to continue with our educational experiment and I wouldn’t be teaching literature in a small class each month (or soon to be teaching creative writing).

Privilege is a funny thing.  As one person pointed out, a privilege is either a right everyone should have, but not everyone does, or it’s a right no one should have, but some people do.  There was a time not so long ago when homeschooling was the norm, and a formal education for the few.

Despite homeschooling being a right to all citizens in the United States (with some varying laws attached depending on the state), the ability to support a family and homeschool is no longer attainable by all who wish it.  For far too many, there is only public school, and since standards vary by neighborhood (and its residence level of average income), the poorest are often the least able to obtain an adequate education no matter whether it takes place in the home or in a school. A lack of choice leaves many families feeling trapped in a system that doesn’t meet the needs of all its students.

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely already aware of these issues, and I’m preaching to the choir.  However, it doesn’t mean we homeschoolers should wring our hands or throw them into the air for our lack of involvement.  There are other ways to reach out to the schooled community, and while my current list of what I do is short, it’s a start.  Some other ideas include:

a. Becoming a tutor or educational resource for institutionalize students.

b. Engaging in schooled or community activities like youth outreach projects, PTA functions (check your school or district’a rules about participation), and other local functions.

c. Starting a summer camp, a week-long salon during breaks, or providing low cost workshops on topics of interest.

d. Creating a web list or forum for local educational and youth resources, and announcing it among both homeschool and formal schooled groups.

e. Becoming an educational advocate for children struggling in public school (look for them among friends, family, and neighbors), and help fight for their needs in accessing resources the public schools ought to provide.

Have some other ideas?  Please share them below.