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.

 

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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:

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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?

What We’re Doing: Outstanding October and Unbelievable November

It’s been a while since my last update (apologies), let me tell you why …

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

Our October was almost as busy as our November.  We had our emergency room appendicitis false alarm, my first full Reading Selections class, and a visit to Oxbow Farm’s harvest festival.  A dear friend came to spend a week with us as a house guest.  At the same time, I worked on a new story, and launched a Patreon page, even making an intro video and a reminder on Halloween. (Note: I’m really uncomfortable with seeing myself on video.  Still photos, sure, but videos?  Blech.)

Since the end of October, I’ve been working hard on the third annual Flash Dash Challenge.  Instead of participating in NaNoWriMo (I have plenty of novel projects in various stages of drafts) the past three years, I’ve set myself a goal of writing a new piece of flash fiction every day for a month.  In 2014, I only wrote about a dozen stories.  In 2015, I wrote about two dozen.  This year, I’m going for all thirty stories.  (Thus far, I have sixteen stories for sixteen days).

My son and I have been working on understanding autumn, eggs, our bodies and senses, and we’re heading into American legends and Native Americans.  He recently made a new friend through the library, and we’ve been meeting weekly for play dates.  My daughter’s dating a wonderful young woman, and enjoying her classes, especially the Japanese.  At this point, I think she’ll have a solid B for the quarter, though I’m hoping she’ll swing an A- in at least one of them.  This past weekend, we spent a couple of hours on a dreary afternoon at the Reptile Zoo, petting turtles and a baby alligator, meeting snakes, tortoises, spiders, frogs, and two rather large alligators, Barnabus and Basker, the former of whom was particularly keen on watching my son and I together.  (I’m fairly certain my son was just the right size for a feast.)

Quick tip for Running Start families: We didn’t realize this until it was too late (I swear I don’t recall anyone telling us in the three or four meetings we had with advisors), but the paperwork from the district we’re to take in for each quarter to the college’s Running Start office needs to be in as much as two weeks before registration opens for the new quarter.  So, although the Dragon should be able to register for Winter, she can’t until her paperwork is processed (late because we didn’t realize).  From now on, I’m getting it done two weeks in advance, so she can enjoy priority registration and not miss her preferred classes.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

41cm1mfx5el-_sx342_bo1204203200_My daughter hasn’t been reading much outside of her school books and fanfiction, but she recommended the book Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, which is part of her Psychology curriculum.  Though it’s poetry, she said it reads like prose, and puts readers into the shoes of an African American woman, making her experiences relatable to most.

While I’ve been working through rather mature graphic novel series (e.g. The Preacher (big ol’ trigger warnings for this series), Bitch Planetand Saga), my son and I have finished reading books about autumn and books about eggs (and those who lay them).  I’ll post more about the books in the latter category, because we came across some amazing materials!

where-s-the-elephantOne book outside our preschool lessons worth noting is Where’s the Elephant?  While it appears to be a simply drawn and colorful book of seek and find a la Where’s Waldo?, it proves to be a more striking message young children can understand about deforestation and city sprawl.  It doesn’t feel at all soapboxy or preachy, but not knowing what it was about as I was reading it, I had that encroaching sense of dread when I figured out what was going on in the book.  Thankfully, my just enjoyed finding the elephant and his friends among the trees.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

One thing that’s been a big comfort through the fall is making a simple side dish alongside almost any seasonal vegetables and meats.  It’s worked well with salmon, squash, Brussels sprouts, sausages, chicken, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and so on.

What is it?

Sage Rice

2 c. short grain brown rice
3c. chicken broth or stock*
2 tsp. sage
pinch of salt
ground black pepper (optional)

Combine ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, cover and simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes.  Serve on the side or beneath the vegetables and/or meats.  Excellent with a mushroom white wine sauce.

*If you’re vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend mushroom broth as opposed to vegetable broth to give it an earthier body and flavor.

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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Quick Update: Books, Students, and Life

BOOKS

61ewc29wj8lAs part of our exploration of the human body, I selected a lot of materials.  Far too many materials, really, but one book I really enjoyed using is called My Bodyworks, which is filled with song lyrics (CD included) for songs about different aspects of the body.  Many of these songs encourage movement while singing, and the end of the book has details about the human body as a reminder to the content of the song lyrics.  I haven’t played the CD yet (I’m afraid to, given the frequent disappointment or annoyance I have with for-kids music collections), but reading the lyrics to my son as I would poetry, and engaging our bodies in some of them was a lot of fun.  We’ll be hanging on to this one for a while.

 

STUDENTS

My new students and I had our second meeting, which involved their first projects and detailed discussions of our readings.  The readings were hard, most of them weren’t able to finish “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and one couldn’t get through “The Lottery.”

I apologized and admitted the selections were a bit of a cruel test.  The first four were among some of my absolute favorites.  Ones I think everyone should read, and three of them are hard.  Emotionally brutal.  I shared with them the story of my experience taking a class at university titled “The Anthropology of Rock and Roll.”  I didn’t go into too many details, but on the first day, our professor played videos of a particular rock star renowned for his grotesqueries — he was violent, gross, brutal, repugnant, and did vile acts on stage for attention and to cause a visceral response to his art. The professor said, if we could get through the first day and still want to come back, the rest would be easy, and he was right.

While these stories were difficult reads for sensitive souls, my students proved themselves.  The projects were insightful, diverse in ideas, and all showed they grasped the readings well.  One wrote an essay analyzing their choice in “The Lady or the Tiger?”  Another wrote a poem about “The Lottery.”  One baked “puppy biscuits” inspired by the grocery list in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and related to the main character’s rich imaginative life amidst banality.  Another baked a social experiment to life, making one person choose what another would get to eat, knowing one was a “lady,” and another a “tiger.”  And the fifth student pulled out a box with two doors.  They’d used straws, tape, brads, cardboard, and hand-drawn pictures to create an ever-changing box of chance, since the options could be changed at will by the student before the next person chose a door.

If these kids aren’t amazing, then I must not understand the definition of the word.  I love, love, love them, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with at our next meeting after they’ve sunk their minds into some Halloween treats.

 
LIFE

Amidst all the chaos, house and car woes, and the endless cycle of chores, Daughter scored well on her first Japanese test, my son is starting to recover from his unexplained viral infection, I started a Patreon account.  Come November 1st, I’ll be taking the Flash Dash Challenge again, writing one flash fiction piece a day for thirty days, AND it looks like I’ll be a panelist and presenting my debut novel at Norwescon 40.  I’m “nervcited” (my daughter’s term).