Acknowledging the Past and Present

Before beginning, I want to acknowledge that while I’m certain my audience here is not solely white, there is a disproportionate percentage of white people within the national homeschooling community, so I’m primarily addressing people for whom this subject is often overlooked, or who only give a brief brush of the topic for a single month each year.

black-lives-matter-raglan-tee-graphic-700x649Though I have been active on Twitter, Facebook, and even my writing page regarding Black History Month, I must apologize for forgetting to mention it here. Every day, my kids and I have discussed at least one black leader, hero, or notable individual. From civil rights leaders to artists. From politicians to scientists. People from the past and present. I’ve shown them videos, websites, photos, read their stories to my son. (Visit Satyr’s Garden for a list of my personal black heroes.)

We’re excited to see Black Panther in the theater, but we’re waiting a couple of weeks to save those seats for POC. Daughter understands the significance of the film, son thinks it looks like another exciting superhero film. (A reminder on why representation matters. And specifically Black Panther. And a comment on representation from former FLOTUS, Michelle Obama.)

mv5bmtg1mty2mjyznv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtc4ntmwndi-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Being four, he doesn’t grasp yet the import of the movie, the history behind the month, or what other children his age go through. He’s learning, bit by bit. The other day, he walked in on me watching a video of a white police officer brandishing his gun at a handful of black children who were playing ball on the sidewalk with each other outside their homes. One of their mothers had stepped out on the porch and was so terrified she was wailing in the background. He was confused.

We had a discussion about what was going on that led to one about why so many adults he knows distrust police officers. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was far easier than the talks POC give their children about how to act around police to avoid being murdered for the color of their skin.

While my son will be raised to see POC as humans, equals, and friends, I know that’s not a shared view by the current U.S. government, many institutions in place within my country, nor many of the supporters therein. My kids have seen me go off to protests, when my daughter was little, I brought her along, because protests didn’t usually involve the risk of violence. Now I leave the kids at home with my partner.

Why am I being political on a homeschooling blog? Because being socially literate is as important to our education as the academics we teach. Because the political is personal. Racism is rampant in our country, Nazis and white supremacists are vocal and taking positions of power, and it’s becoming ever more dangerous in this country to have brown or black skin.

If you’re also white/European American, and these things matter to you as well, please teach your children. Show them that it matters. Work on a local level to dismantle the systems in place that continue to hold down POC. Teach them about black heroes of the past and the ones working hard today to follow their dreams and make the world better, in spite of the extra obstacles they face.

Write or call your legislators at both local and national levels. March with Black Lives Matter and protest against white supremacist rallies. Make it uncool to be racist again. Challenge people in your circles who tell racist jokes, hesitate to hire dark skinned candidates, or make generalized statements that aren’t true. Do this daily, not just for the month of February.

Raise up POC in your community, promote their work on social media, donate to projects. Buy tickets to see Black Panther, and send some extras to a POC who can’t afford movie tickets themselves. Need more ideas? Here are some:

As part of my efforts to support Black Lives Matter, I’m donating 100% of my share of sales for Cress and the Medicine Show earned every February from this year onward, and 50% of my sales every other month.

Also, if you’re an educator working with high school-aged teens (including homeschoolers) or young adults in college and wish to see if this story would support your curriculum, I’ll happily send you a .pdf. You only need send an email to raven.demers@gmail.com with the subject “Free Copy of Cress.” You’ll be given a teacher-specific copy that includes permission to print for the purposes of education.

If you’d prefer to not purchase the book, but would rather donate directly to Black Lives Matter, you can donate here. Another excellent way to offer individual reparations is through Reparations started by Natasha Marin.

51h2b9m1o8nl-_sx258_bo1204203200_A Few Recommended Picture Books:

8165y22bnllSome Recommended Novels: 

More Book Lists:

 

 

Transparency: The books recommended above are linked through my Amazon Associates account. If any books are purchased through those links, I will earn a few pennies per copy. Just as I will donate 100% of my portion of the sales of Cress and the Medicine Show this month, I will also donate any money, if any, earned from those links.

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A Magic School Bus Kind of Day

I awoke with the theme song to The Magic School Bus. My son’s working his way through the original episodes little by little. When I logged into Facebook, I received an ad for a Sun and Moon print dress that looked just like Ms. Frizzle’s astronomy dress. Sadly, it only goes up to a size 12, or I’d have bought it on the spot.

Then we watched the pickle episode after brunch, and discovered Ms. Frizz is a Les Mis fan.

MsFrizz-24601Many of you might already be aware of her love of this musical, but I never watched all the episodes when it was on TV. I only saw the random episode now and again. My daughter and I saw this and broke into song, because we can’t avoid singing “Look Down” and “One Day More” with the slightest suggestion.

What’s more, we now know how tall our newest favorite fictional teacher is, and how much height her hair adds.

I’m skeptical of the new reboot of the show with Ms. Frizz’s younger sister at the wheel, but I do love watching the original show with my son. He’s so focused when we watch it, and talks about what he learned endlessly. He finds ways to incorporate each episode into what we’re doing that day.

Perhaps while we’re making popcorn balls and undressing the Yule tree today, he’ll search for microbes. Whatever comes, I’m sure today will be a productive learning experience.

Of course, I still want the dress. Perhaps I could write a letter to the company to upgrade the sizes. 😉

Teaching Music to a 4 Year Old

4yomusic-picWhen I was taking piano lessons last year, I asked my incredible teacher how she dealt with young children, and in what ways her methods differed with them compared to how she taught me.

She told me that until children are 6 years old, it’s best to work with them primarily on rhythm and percussion, rather than other instruments. Some kids certainly might have talent with the piano or violin at an early age, but often their hands haven’t developed enough to allow a proper reach, and most children needed to learn the foundation of rhythm first.

My son took a rhythm class that, unfortunately, stopped running after the quarter he attended. The couple running the music studio couldn’t afford to keep it open. When that happened, he stopped wanting to play music at home … until this fall.

He received a Koala Crate centered around music, and built his own instrument (a box marimba) with it, and even “wrote” some of his own music using colored stamps to indicate which wooden bar to strike. Then he started secretly singing the Alphabet Song when he was in the bathroom, or by himself in another room. I heard him once, and started singing along. It took a few weeks to coax him to sing it with me, but now that he’s got the tune (and the letters) down, he demands I sing it with him in English, and sing it in French for him, as well. Since the tune is the same for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and Bah-Bah Black Sheep, he can sing those, as well. Thanks, Mozart!

Though he’s always loved dancing to music, I can also engage him in singing music with me, but I don’t want to overwhelm him with my excitement. So, I’m giving him little teasers of what’s to come.

I recently showed him the “Doe a Deer/Do re mi” clip from The Sound of Music, and talked about how they used those single notes in different arrangements to make songs. He wasn’t too focused on it, until I pointed out that Steven Universe did the same thing with “Peace and Love on the Planet Earth.”

I’m re-introducing rhythm practices with percussion instruments, and dance & clap games and games, like follow the leader. I’m also going to play more classic musicals for him to watch with me, and help him learn some of the songs that interest him (both with singing and clapping/stomping to the rhythm).

I can tell he really enjoys singing, as well as the interactive aspects of singing together, even more so with sign language involved. (The “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is still his favorite song, and the first one he ever tried to sing.)

I’m hoping he’ll become even more enamored with music, so that by the time he’s six, he can choose an instrument to play. Music opens up the brain to a variety of complex subjects and makes comprehension in STEAM subjects stronger. But even if it didn’t, it’s just a lot of fun to play with sound, engage with music, and learn to compose music on one’s own.

What We’re Doing: Playing Catch Up

Since August, our family has been hit with a series of unfortunate events the likes of which Lemony Snicket might have written (minus the deaths). Months ago, I had a broken tooth repaired, but it never felt right. In August, it developed an abscess so bad, I couldn’t function. I made meals, but almost everything else had to be pushed off to the rest of the family. It resulted in a trip to urgent care, the ER, a combination of antibiotics, and ten days of waiting in pain for a root canal. Since I have a bad reaction to lidocaine, I spent each post-visit to the dentist in acute pain so bad I couldn’t think or stop crying for hours. But finally, it was over.

Then came two rounds of viral illness through the family in September. Mid-October, while taking my daughter to campus, someone coming off the freeway ramp parallel to the road I was coming up, was too much in a hurry to see us to their left, and tried to do a u-turn … into my son’s door. Though shaken, and in pain, we walked away from the crash, and have been seeing a chiropractor regularly to help relieve pain and set things right. The car, however, is still at a collision center, while the insurance company decides what to do with it. We likely won’t be getting it back, though. My son’s door was completely crumpled. Down to one car, my partner temporarily rented a second, so I could use his, but then … he was laid off, along with a lot of other people. Thanks to the stress, I developed a different bacterial infection, and had my third round of antibiotics in a year.

Introducing Peach and Knight.

Now life is never as simple as being “all bad” or “all good.” During this time, we also had a number of blessings. Despite my tooth pain, I completed my third poetry collection Aranya in time. We adopted a pair of bunnies from a local farm (named Knight and Peach), and celebrated my birthday with beloved friends. My son’s back in his drama and gymnastics classes, my daughter’s doing really well at college this quarter, and my partner has had some time to work on developing his skills further for the next job AND spend a lot of quality time with our son.

We had a good Samhain and made the best of Thanksgiving/Native Day of Mourning despite having a sick kid (we didn’t see the friends we’d planned on seeing, but we’ll make up for it in the near future).

After nearly twenty years, the first book in a collaborative series I started with my daughter’s bio-dad was finally published. While we’ve had some delays in being able to make book trailers, the book, at least, is available for sale to the public … finally. It’s the fourth book I’ve published under my legal name this year (in addition to one under a pseudonym).

Of course, all of these extremes have interrupted our routines, and the structured aspects of our homeschooling have fallen to the wayside for a time. Now that I’m taking a break from all but marketing, I’m able to look at ways to play catch up. As it is, there’s a lot to catch up on: cleaning, re-organizing, re-purposing the family room, correspondences, bills, and of course, re-centering our son’s education so we can return our focus to his foundational development (he’s had his needs met, and played a lot with each of us, but we haven’t moved forward since August on some of his basic skills).

We’ll be keeping our holidays low-key this year, and our extended family is doing the same. It’s much needed.

Rather than break everything down into sections (because there’d be too much or too little to say), I’m just going to offer you some highlights of the things we’ve been reading/watching/eating:

  • My son really enjoyed reading Hey! That’s my monster! by Amanda Noll.
  • He did not find Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker, even though I thought it was a decent, somewhat humorous book about managing one’s anger or disappointment.
  • He does, however, love the original Magic School Bus episodes we procured for him, and will watch them whenever we’re between episodes of other shows (mostly: Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, Eureka, and Star Trek: Deep Space 9). Too bad he didn’t show the same enthusiasm for Planet Earth or Reading Rainbow. But he loves Miss Frizzle so much, he’ll go on and on about what he learned from an episode, so win!
  • My daughter’s working on their own collaborative web comic with friends from college and online. One of them is even writing a soundtrack! I can’t wait to see what comes of it, as they give me little glimpses into their work. (Dragon prefers they/them pronouns.)
  • After decades of cooking, I finally made a decent turkey gravy from the drippings. It required stirring up the drippings while pouring them into the roux, and then adding broth. It tasted even better the next day when I added sherry to the roux (just as my stuffing tastes best with a white wine and broth reduction).
  • Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie thus far. We bought tickets for a 1pm showing on a Tuesday, and saw it as a family in giant, comfie seats. Even the Little Fox loved it, though a couple of parts we either covered his eyes (excessive violence), or he looked away of his own volition (something spooky, but I don’t want to spoil it).
  • Having caught up with Archer and Stranger Things, my partner and I have taken to watching Ted Talks together late at night. Since my last book of the year is complete, I’m taking a break through December. I’m only working on marketing, which frees up my evenings, which they haven’t been all year.

End of summer play with the princesses.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

butterfly-cover-largeWhen I was in seventh grade, we began WWII studies, and focused on the Holocaust. Part of our readings was the collection of poetry and art by the children of Terezin concentration camp, where over 150,000 people went in, but only 413 survived (of them, 10,000 children went in, less than 100 survived). The collection is called I Never Saw Another Butterfly, and is one of the readings I feel is integral to a Holocaust curriculum (along with Maus I & II, “The Shawl,” and other historical fiction). Because these are the real accounts of real children who lived and died there, it makes the reality of the Holocaust hit home all the more. Because it’s difficult to find, I purchased a copy when my daughter was learning about WWII.

A play was also written based on their poetry and art, which my middle school (St. Margaret’s Episcopal in San Juan Capistrano, CA) performed that same year. If you’re in the Seattle Eastside / Puget Sound area, and your children are ready to learn about the actions of German Nazis, pay a visit to Studio East Theater and see I Never Saw Another Butterfly in person. You can pair it with the book, as well as a discussion about the history. Depending on the age of your students, consider tying readings and play to documentary film clips of the release of prisoners at the concentration camps. Warning, if you haven’t seen them yourself, they can be emotionally jarring.

Studio East recommends only children 9 years or older attend this play due to its subject matter.

Performance Dates & Times: October 13 – 29, 2017 – Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm. Purchase tickets here.

Winning vs. Learning

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Yesterday, my daughter sketched a character in under two minutes, then tried to hide it when I complimented her. She said it was crap. It only took her two minutes.

We made eye contact. I asked, “Do you remember the first drawing you made that showed humans?”

“No,” she admitted, after thinking about it.

She gave me a blank page, so I could draw an approximation. At four or five years of age, she would draw something akin to a square with stick legs and stick arms. The eyes were always circles with dots in the middle and super long spider-leg lashes. People always had big smiles, and sometimes, she’d draw horizontal lines between the legs to show striped clothes.

She’d make little ones (her) next to big ones (me). I showed her my copy of her earliest work and said, “This is where you started,” then I had her open up back to her two minute “crap” sketch. “It may have only taken you two minutes to draw that, and it may not look as good as the pieces you spend an hour or two on, but it took you twelve years to be able to draw a ‘crap’ sketch that looks that good.”

I paused, and made sure she was really listening.

“Art is a journey. You’re always growing, changing, and improving. Your style now isn’t the style you had at four, and it’s not the style you had two years ago. Enjoy the journey, make art. This isn’t crap.”

My daughter’s still trying to unlearn the competitive lessons from elementary school. My son wants everything to be a competition with his sister; he wants to fight bad guys (and sometimes good guys) and win. I want them to learn to love the journey of discovery, development, and dedication.

What We’re Doing: Keeping Cool and Cooking

Today, my son asked, “Why does glass break?” It’s one of those questions young, inquiring minds provide on an hourly basis. Since I was sitting at the computer, I looked it up, because my own understanding was inadequate. I mean, I had an idea, albeit half-informed, but I wanted to know, too. The first link provided enough information I could paraphrase and answer, including that over 50 glass science experts can’t agree on the answer. But it seems to come down to:

  1. glass has a crystalline structure
  2. glass is brittle
  3. stress causes brittle things to crack, shatter, or explode

When asked a “why” question, my go to answer is usually “Gravity,” but sometimes the best answer is, “Let’s find out.”

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

This is the first year my partner has suggested we get air conditioning. If you’re not in the PNW, you might not be aware, but most homes don’t have A/C here, though many businesses do. It typically doesn’t got hot enough for long enough to justify the cost. Or at least, that used to be true. Over the last two decades, the summers (and autumns, winters, and springs) have been erratic and warmer. We spent months in rain with barely a moment of sun, which despite stereotypes about the Seattle area, really weren’t the norm.

To beat the heat, we’ve been seeking out more cool outdoor spaces. Our local playground turns into a pizza oven in the sun due to the poor choice in spongy turf beneath the play equipment. Since we couldn’t make the long drive to the ocean, we hit Lake Sammamish, specifically at the lesser known Idylwood Beach Park, just a short distance past the immensely popular Marymoor Park. While we didn’t go swimming (the only swimming areas were in direct sun where there’s a lifeguard), we enjoyed wading into the edge of the lake in the shade of tall trees.

The Little Fox dug in the wet sand, and I walked in the water with ducks swimming by. A bald eagle swooped past us and said hello as it returned to a perch in a cedar pine. A small rivulet from the local creek fed cold, crisp water into the mild lake. The only downside? Climbing the hill in high sun to a hot car.

Since our street is being worked on this week, I’m looking for ways to keep cool in our home and on our porches. At least we have the forest shade! One trick we’ll be trying tomorrow (the hottest day of the week) is inspired by Happy Hooligan’s Dino Dig, although we don’t have plastic dinosaurs. Instead, I’ll put in plastic frogs and shells and dried vegetation we’ve collected, and link it to the Avatar: the Last Air Bender episode where Aang must retrieve frozen frogs from a lake.

For my daughter’s birthday, we couldn’t afford to buy her much this year (she’s taking extra classes at college in the fall), so I wrote a roleplaying game called Amnesia basing it loosely on the White Wolf system. It’s about a team of superheroes and spies (twelve characters) who awake without memory of who they are, and over the course of the evening, they solved clues to find out more about their identities.

We didn’t finish the story arc the first night, though we did polish off all the homemade taquitos, char siu, and shiitake noodles. Now we’re trying to find a good time within everyone’s summer schedules to finish the game, which the Dragon says she really wants to play again. The best part were all of the surprise dice rolls that led to unexpected moments in the game. That’s the best part of an RPG: all the little moments the GM didn’t plan.

According to tradition, August 1st was Lughnasadh/Lammas (the start of the harvest and celebration of the god Lugh), but according to astronomy and the shift of the planet over centuries, it’s actually the 7th. Thus, I’ve set the whole first week of August to be Lughnasadh in our home, and we’re playing with gluten free bread recipes. Our first attempt yesterday to make peasant bread (including braiding a loaf, and making small rolls) didn’t work out because I made my own experimental bread flour and used WAAAAAAAAY too much tapioca flour. (My blend was 2c. brown rice flour, 1c. sweet rice flour, and 1c. tapioca.) The dough wouldn’t hold shape, so I made tiny rolls for our meatball soup.

Our next experiment will be with cinnamon rolls tonight, and I’m going to significantly reduce the tapioca and replace it with oat flour. Potato flour is excellent for making gluten free breads spongy and moist, but potatoes cause inflammation in my joints, so I avoid it most days, especially in my own kitchen. Also on our agenda: making a gluten free copycat of Great Harvest’s dark chocolate cherry bread, but I haven’t found a decent recipe yet, although I think it will likely involve a whole grain bread recipe with added cinnamon, honey, chocolate chunks, and cherries. I’m also craving peaches, so we might hit the farmer’s market and make peach scones or muffins!

While our rolls weren’t the best, we still left out the largest one on a plate with raw honey and a dab of butter for the fairies.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

61tzp5zex-l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Serendipity comes in small ways in our home. In June, both of my kids were talking about turnips, and my daughter specifically wanted me to make “pork and turnips” without offering a recipe. So, I dug around and found some ideas online, and ended up coming up with a simple ground pork and white turnip recipe with sweet Thai chili paste (mild), mixing in the turnip greens, and serving it with rice. Only, I didn’t make it alone. It was Little Fox’s first time cooking a meal with me. He’s stirred the pasta once or twice, and helped with baking, but he did a lot more work this time. That night, when it was story time, he chose me to read a book, so I picked out one we randomly selected at the library: Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore.

Cora is the youngest child in a large family, but because of her age, she doesn’t get to help in big ways in the kitchen like her older siblings. Not until one day, when everyone else is gone, and her mother gives her an apron and asks what she’d like to make. She chooses pancit, a traditional Filipino noodle dish with vegetables and meat similar to, but not the same as, chow mein or yakisoba. The Little Fox adored reading about another child near his age cooking with her mother on the same evening he’d help cook his first meal with me, and so did I.

Recently, he’s also taken to rereading The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann. I’ve written about it before, but he’s not only enjoying the book, he can recall all the meanings of each Chinese character, despite not knowing the sounds each symbol makes.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

tutugrouptvtropesWe’re nearly finished rewatching one of our favorite anime short series, Princess Tutu. It combines fairy tales, classic ballet, and beautiful music, weaving it into an odd, beautiful, and melancholy story of its own. The show centers around Duck, a duck who is given a magical amulet by a (not quite) dead storyteller that allows her to turn into a girl named Duck. Her goal: to dance with the sad prince, Mytho and return the shards of his heart to him by becoming Princess Tutu. It’s completely unexpected, even if you’re familiar with the ballets, fairy tales, or Japanese tropes rife throughout. The show is a single season of 22 minute episodes, and one we loved the moment we watched it for the first time.

My partner has been exploring our Amazon Prime membership looking for new shows on Prime Video. Though our son still loves Doctor McWheelie, Masha and the Bear, and others, his favorite new show is DinosaurTrain, which is a PBS production. Since we don’t have TV, it’s nice to have access to programming like this online. He’s also quite into superheroes these days, despite only having limited exposure to superhero shoes. We decided to take him to see the new Spider-Man film, and we all loved it. It was amazing, engaging, real, and provided numerous laughs. After several disappointing Marvel films, this one redeemed many of the other recent ones.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Besides the gluten-free breads listed above (check “What We’re Doing”), the foods I made for our super secret game night turned out amazingly well. Even the one I hadn’t intended. I wanted to make gluten free, vegan dumplings, but I ran out of time, so rather than let the ingredients go to waste (I’d already prepared the filling), I went ahead and turned it into a noodle dish instead. What did I do?

Chopped up a third of a pound of shiitake mushrooms into thick strips, and sauteed them in olive oil. Setting these aside, I sauteed chopped cabbage with sliced green onions until tender. Then I grated fresh ginger* using a microplane directly over the pan, and toss in crushed garlic to cook for two additional minutes, stirring often. A splash of rice wine vinegar and gluten free tamari, set the pan sizzling, and I returned the mushrooms to the heat to mix in with the sauce. After a minute of heating, I set the pan aside to cook the brown rice and millet ramen (I use Lotus Foods brand, as they cook well and I can buy them in bulk at Costco).

Once the noodles were cooked, I added them to the veggies, added a touch more vinegar and tamari, and ground some black pepper, tossing everything together before serving with a drizzle of sesame oil. Sesame seeds were in a dish on the side for anyone who wanted to add them to the noodles and/or the char siu and hot mustard.

 

*If you don’t use ginger root often, buy a small amount, and keep it in the freezer. It preserves it a long time for those dishes that require it, and it’s actually easier to grate.