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.

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.

 

 

Pick a Book!

Next year, I’ll be attending Norwescon 40 for the first time as a panelist.  One of the sessions I volunteered for is reading a book to children 3 – 5 years of age.  One book, plus a related craft project.  I’d originally been told I would need to make my selection by February, but since have been asked to turn in all of my panel decisions by December 15th.

I’ve narrowed it down to the following four beloved books:

norwesconbooks

Dragons Love Tacos
https://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Love-Tacos-Adam…/…/0803736800

Children Make Terrible Pets
https://www.amazon.com/Children-Terrible-Starr…/…/0316015482

The Curious Garden
https://www.amazon.com/Curious-Garden-Peter-B…/…/0316015474/

Olivia
https://www.amazon.com/Olivia-Ian-Falconer/dp/0689874723

Craft ideas so far: make a paper dragon, make your own terrible pet (puff balls and paper plates), plant seeds in mini pots, something with ribbons or coloring pages.

So, dear readers, what book should I pick?

Preschool Books about the Human Body

We’ve wrapped up our human body unit for the season, and as I’d said in a previous post, I overdid the materials.  After a couple of weeks wading through lots and lots and LOTS of books (at least three dozen), here are the ones we liked the most.

0064435962_intFrom Head to Toe by Eric Carle – Not only is it a Carle book with his classic, distinctive style of art, it also encourages children to answer the question, “Can you ___?” by acting it out with their bodies.  Every movement is followed by, “I can do it!”  This is a message I definitely want to sink in with my son, who often claims he can’t do simple things he’d already conquered.

My Bodyworks by Jane Schoenberg – Loved the movement inspiring lyrics of this book of body songs.

Human Body by Dan Green – Though this book is intended for older children, our family loves this series of books, and owns all of the ones related to Chemistry and Physics from my daughter’s middle school years.  The content is frank, the pictures are cute, and you can choose what parts of it you wish to share as you go.

1dd301fa720fdfdf5a0dae8851760cdb-w2041xHere Are My Hands by Bill Martin – A simple, colorful book of diverse children excited about all their body parts can do for them from hands to feet and beyond.

Our Blood by Charlotte Guillain – My son selected this himself.  The book contains clear, textbook styled explanations with photographs about blood and its purpose in the body.  We read it three times.

Inside your outside! by Tish Rabe – Tish Rabe uses familiar Seuss characters to look inside the human body and explain how organs work.  A little weird, a lot of rhyming, and not quite Seuss, but definitely eye-catching for a Seuss-obsessed preschooler.

We all move by Rebecca Rissman – Another photographic book containing a diverse selection of people engaging in varied activities.

51b2bt78qaol-_sx258_bo1204203200_Busy body book by Lizzy Rockwell – I love the art in this book.  Lots of color, lots of kids, all celebrating their bodies.  There’s more text than Here Are My Hands, but it has a similar feel to it.

Foot book by Dr. Seuss – Oh, the joys of feet, as told by Seuss.

Teeth by Sneed B. Collard – Not entirely about human bodies, but a great book full of colorful sketches of animals (including humans) and their teeth, contains some good beginner information.

In addition to reading all of these books (and many more):

We sang songs that involve movement each day, like “Head, Shoulders Knees, and Toes,” and “The Hokey Pokey.”

We watched a Sesame Street video called “Happy, Healthy Monsters,” which proved to be mostly jumping and watching funny sketches, rather than actually moving our bodies.

We made paper organs and added them to a paper body, using a large sheet of rolled drawing paper (from IKEA).  I wanted my son to lie on the paper so I could trace an outline of his body, but he was convinced the marker would hurt (even after touching it to my finger and then his), so he laid next to the paper, and I made a hasty approximation of his body and size.

Then we used various colors of construction paper.  I drew rough shapes of the organs in the approximate size they’d be in his body, and he used safety scissors to cut around the shapes.  He cut through his brain, his kidneys, and his lungs, but tape made it all better.  Our Little Fox paper model had a brain, two blue eyes, lungs, a heart, kidneys, a stomach, liver, pancreas, diaphragm, gallbladder, large and small intestines with appendix, and spleen.  As we placed them into the body shape on the paper, we discussed what each one did.  I kept the systems together, so we could talk about the body in small bursts.  We did brain and eyes first, then lungs, heart, and diaphragm, and finally the digestive system.  Here are a couple of the models I used (found on Google Image Search) to help remind me where to put everything:

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Two Books and an Update

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The Dragon and Fox out on a Pokéwalk

Much happened since my last post, and it’s taken me a bit to come around to all of it.  A dear friend passed away, I visited my best friend who attended the death ritual, our family started playing Pokémon Go, and I completed my solo debut novel’s manuscript after letting it slide for over a year.

 

Why include Pokemon?  Because my feet have blisters, and it’s changed how we spend our days, even those we consider “at home” days.

Since all of these changes have left me rather ill, I am working on resting before throwing myself too hard into my next project, so this post will be brief.

My son has been enjoying two books from the library this week.  One helps us talk about death in a gentle way, and the other keeps us playful and bright.

81ow8gvvh6lA serendipitous find, we stumbled across Mrs. Huggins and Her Hen Hannah by Lydia Dabcovich from a recommendation at just the right time.  The gentle pictures of a rural life shared between an elder woman and her best friend, shows the joys one can have in daily tasks when in good company, and the life that goes on even after death and grief.

follow-me-9781481471473_lgThe other book, Follow me! by Ellie Sandall, shows a different sort of life: a communal life of ring-tailed lemurs as they move from waking to sleep and all the joy and danger in between.  The images are bright and clear, the language simple, yet allowing for a lot of variation in delivery, which is great for my drama prince who giggles when my theatrical training comes through during storytelling.

 

EDIT: Since my daughter will be celebrating her 16th birthday (and my partner his 46th, on the same day), we’ll be extraordinarily busy next week.  There will be no post, but the following Wednesday, I’ll have a new update about the party.  Thanks for your patience.

Things My Three Year Old Loves

13592205_10153719898923059_5651370052460487932_nPlaying in the park.  Nothing pleases him more than heading to a local park and finding a lot of other children there.  Like many novel situations, he stands and watches for several minutes before determining whether or not something is safe.  Once he’s sure, he dives headlong.  He treats making friends the same way.  He watches the other children for a while, walking right up to a group and listening in.  Once he’s gathered intel, he decides whether to move on to a different group of children, find a solo playmate, or engage in whatever activity the first group decides upon.

Back and neck massage to help him nap. Since giving up milk at nap time, for months we’d pretty much given up nap time because even attempts at “quiet time” failed.  One day I was too tired and desperate for my own quiet time, so I invited him on the bed for a back rub.  He loved it so much, he fell asleep.  Now every day I’ve been offering the same during quiet time.  He doesn’t always fall sleep, but I can get a quiet break for up to an hour for fifteen minutes of back, neck, and leg massage. So worth it.

13512014_10153693760728059_5127652802662483956_nPainting with vibrant colors.  We explored tempera paints for the first time together and used it as a chance to talk about color theory. He adored it and wants to do it again!  (We’re starting the bidding for his debut piece, “Roads, Space Rockets, and Flowers” at $30,ooo.)

Watercolor spraying with an old sheet hung up outside.  Now that it’s summer again, we can drag out the spray bottles, watercolors, and old white sheet for creative play.  Leave it out in the rain to wash it away and start again, or put it away and add more layers.

Access to percussion instruments.  Bang bang rattle clang ding and dong.  Nothing like helping a child find his voice than providing him with copious amounts of percussion instruments.

Playing with his babydolls.  Sometimes he cuddles his babydolls (Callie and Alejandro), sometimes he puts them to bed, and sometimes he walks them around the house in their tandem stroller.  He asks often for assistance in clearing a path for the stroller and pushing it over obstacles.  He wants to be a good daddy to his “kids.”

13510861_10153700899978059_766190641590540333_nAnything to do with cars and other vehicles.  Still obsessed, but after putting all of his non-stuffed toys into the same place in the living room (instead of in places around the house), he’s been far better at keeping track of his toys, and in putting them away in their bins.

Making boffers.  Ok, he likes watching me make boffers for his sister’s 16th birthday party, and picking up the unfinished ones to play with.  We have several started as PVC pipe and pool noodle foam, now to move on to applying the many colors of duct tape we bought.  We’re making swords, staeves, daggers, and a couple of short swords for the three year olds.

Cuddles, lullabies, and story time.  Who doesn’t like these?  But as a group, they’re ubiquitous to the pleasures of being young and tiny.  Three year olds are still in many ways babies, though they won’t be for much longer.  Bask in all the toddler kisses and snuggles you can, because they make life sweeter by the minute.  One of the latest finds at the library was quite adorable and charming.  Dear Tabby by Carolyn Crimi features an alley cat who works as an advice correspondent to the local animals of Critterville. They send in letters full of their woes (and a small treat as payment), and she writes back with her sage wisdom. Definitely worth checking out.

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