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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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.

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).

What We’re Doing: Sliding Through September

sept2016wbPhew!  This post is much later than I’d planned.  September, while it contained a nice birthday outing to Golden Gardens in celebration of my thirty-eighth, wasn’t exactly a pleasant month on the whole.  It had major ups and downs for our family, and some of those downs are leaking into October.

My car required repairs.  First an oil change, then a timing belt, then calipers and brakes, and there’s still another problem yet to be fixed, so I’m only driving in town for the time being.  My partner’s car needs new brakes, too!  We haven’t been able to turn on our heat yet because of duct and furnace problems, so we’re walking around the house in sweaters and socks and dragging blankets behind us.  We’re also preparing the house for an appraiser, because my partner wishes to refinance, and it’s going to take a lot of work.

Meanwhile, my daughter has officially completed a week and a half of college, and has already made several new friends.  She’s gone out with another friend the past couple of weekends (one of my other students), and is planning on attending her first dance soon!  Because of all of the issues with the house and the cars, my son and I are struggling to establish a new routine, but at least I finally got him to participate with me when singing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and even the “Hokey Pokey.”  It’s a huge improvement, and it seems for now, while things are rather off-balance, half of our home preschool involves cuddling, and a good quarter is dancing, story time, and taking a long time with meals.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daughter is learning Japanese, College Success, Psychology, and the Magic of Friendship.  She’s also learning how to balance school work, friend time, family time, chores, fitness, and personal time in ways she didn’t grasp while homeschooling.  Overall, I’m proud of how she’s been adjusting to this major shift in her routine.

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Son is learning about the Human Body, though I put so many materials on hold at the library, we’ll probably be studying it for a couple of weeks.  Of course, we had a couple of field trips to both Urgent Care and two Emergency Rooms we’d not planned for: first he stuffed his fingers into the hinge of the front passenger door of my car at the library, right before I shut it to put him in his car seat.  Yowch! Thankfully, nothing broke in that cramped space, and despite some ugly bruising, he’ll be ok in the long-term.  Then a couple of days later, we ended up at the ER because he was in pain and acting unusual, and the nurse hotline said to bring him in.  After an IV and ultrasound, we were transferred by ambulance (that was exciting for him) to Children’s where they did another ultrasound and though the experience was more painful for him, they were on the whole, far more gentle with him than the prior hospital.  And they had kids’ movies he could dial in from his bed.  We were sent home at 3am.  Not appendicitis, but rather a virus that was causing his distress, possibly contracted at the Urgent Care a few days before.  Which is great, because none of his symptoms suggested his appendix was inflamed, but his blood tests might have.

30thlabyrinth

For my birthday, we went to Golden Gardens to commune with the water and the sand and the ducks and turtles, too.  Friends met us there an hour after I texted.  It was spontaneous and perfect.  Two days before that, the kids and I went to see the 30th anniversary showing of Labyrinth, which is dear to my heart.  I saw it at eight years old for my birthday then, and a year later, David Bowie sang to me when I was falling asleep at his Glass Spider Tour concert.  Getting to take my kids to see it on the big screen was a wonderful experience.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

As Mabon passed and the hint of October approached, we stumbled across a number of good books dealing with death and magic.  The highlights among them include:

the_garden_of_abdul_gasazi_van_allsburg_book_coverThe Garden of  Abdul Gasazi by Chris van Allsburg features exquisite illustrations in ink, and follows a boy and his unruly dog into the garden of a magician — a garden where dogs are not allowed.  Subtle, magical, beautiful.

Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glen Ringtved focuses on four children raised by a grandmother who lays dying upstairs In her bed.  Death appears at the door and sits with them at the kitchen table.  As they play him with coffee, hoping to dissuade him from taking their beloved grandmother, Death tells them a tale about four children named Sorrow, Grief, Joy, and Delight.  It’s an excellent, gentle, humbling tale for young ones dealing with grief and loss.

The Dead Bird by Margaret Brown Wise unsettled me, but my son liked it.  It’s a simple tale like her other books, with art ahead of its time.  A handful of children find a dead bird and bury it.  Not much to it, but in the telling of the story, I found some absence in the words, that perhaps might be found instead within.

Skeletons for Dinner by Margery Cuyler is a silly romp with a cute skeleton who misunderstands and invitation by a coven of witches for dinner.  There’s a lesson here in making assumptions.  Excellent for both our human body unit AND in preparation for Samhain.

51ewu-9sril-_sx329_bo1204203200_Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente is this great author’s latest novel.  Like much of her work it’s luscious and complex and the opposite of condescending.  Valente expects that those who choose her work are intelligent and willing to follow along unknown paths on fantastical journeys, and allow the details to unfold in their own time.  Her work always reads as poetry, and Radiance is no exception.  I’m still in the middle of it, not yet having come to understand the full film at play on the screen in my mind, but wanting to plunge further.  Not your standard space drama.  Not your standard anything.  If you want to read something outside tired tropes, and engage your mind in a feast of delights, pick this — or any of her work* — up as soon as you can.

*[Recommend: Deathless for adults who want a linear fairy tale, The Orphan’s Tales for those who enjoy stories within stories, and The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for children and the young at heart.]

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

In September, we finished the miniseries Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  I checked out the book at the library, and it might just have War & Peace beat for largest novel.  We also watched the first two seasons of Dharma & Greg before daughter started college, didn’t quite finish Crash Course: Economics, and watched all of Over the Garden Wall, which I thought would be too creepy for my son, but he loved it.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Since my new, amazing, informative goddess of a naturopath has suggested I go four to six weeks without dairy, I’ve been reinventing some of my standard recipes to accommodate the change.  Our salmon tacos, for instance, currently don’t feature my usual crema recipe, so to get a multidimensional flavor from my tacos, I roasted some green peppers (about 2 stars worth of heat) in the toaster oven, pan fried my salmon in my homemade chili powder blend plus garlic and lime, and warmed up the tortillas.  When I filled them, I added avocado, greens sprouts, roasted peppers (for adults, not for our kids who don’t like them), tomatillo salsa, and Cholula.  Served in thick corn tortillas, with purple roasted potatoes, sauteed pepper greens (cook them like spinach with garlic and olive oil), and roasted red cabbage on the side.

Yes, I missed my crema, and yes a proscription against dairy meant I was dreaming of warming cheese between two tortillas and using THAT for the tacos (mulitas style), but I enjoyed the flavor nevertheless. If I had thin tortillas, it wouldn’t have worked; the heat would have overwhelmed the rest, but I was quite happy with the results.  No pictures — they were gobbled down too quickly!

What We’re Doing: Auspicious August

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

August has been an intense month.  If you’re into astrology, there are a host of astrologers ready to explain what’s been going on.  For us, the biggest challenge has been my health.  I spent a week and a half virtually immobilized (I could get around the house, and I took my kids to their recurring classes) from a cyst in a poor position.  The one excellent piece of my immobility: I spent a lot of time at the desk, editing my books and getting them ready to send off to publishers.  I’ve completed two novels, and I’m assembling a new collection of poetry.  (Shameless plug: here’s my previous poetry collection for reference.)

I haven’t been this productive with my writing in a long while, and it feels good to clear away old projects, so I can start addressing ones still in concept or outline phases.  Of course, homeschooling and parenting from a chair or bed can be a huge challenge in creativity.  We read a lot more books, watched more shows than usual, and I took my son to see $1 movies, since I could sit still without major issue.  More than that, I set out my son’s tumble mats, and encouraged him to practice his gymnastics more.  We played music, and though I couldn’t get up and dance with him as I usually do, I did arm dances, and scooted out close to him, to hold his hands while he did some fancy footwork.  He got to draw more, and he took walks with his sister, and together, we all got through it until I could move around again.

Then there was the nestling tossed from its nest in our driveway we rescued (based on advice from the Audubon Society and a few rescue shelters) … the only survivor of a vicious invader who killed all its siblings the next day.  Since placing it in the ground cover and bushes, we’ve seen no sign of it since, and hope we improved its chances of survival.

The momentum of my writing hasn’t ceased, though formatting and synopsis writing aren’t really feeding my urge, and whenever I feel this, I follow it.  Motivation must be lassoed whenever it comes, and ridden as long as I can hold onto it.  With autumn brings change, and I’ll be teaching kids beyond my own, my son and I will be spending several hours alone together every day and I need to plan for it, and my daughter will be entering college and need a different form of support in the evenings.  For the foreseeable future, this means I’ll be writing less in this blog.  Instead of once a week on Wednesdays, expect one or two entries a month until our new schedule steadies out, and I’ve found my footing.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

51fd2bhh2ssl-_sy497_bo1204203200_We’re working on encouraging our son to try using the toilet again.  For the last few months, he’s outright refused to try, nor will he wear the underwear he picked out.  Since the best time to run around half naked learning to potty is in the summer, I’m hoping he’ll be inspired in the next few weeks while the weather’s still warm.  I checked out the Potty for Boys box from the library, which contains an anatomically correct doll with potty seat, several books, DVDs, and a CD to help teach about pottying. Also, we came across Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman, which is a charming little book about vegetables wearing underwear, and while it’s simplistic, it hits home that babies wear diapers, big kids wear underwear, and vegetables come in various shapes and sizes.  Since checking it out, my son has had us read it to him three times in one day.

With the imminent release of the movie, I’ve begun reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. While I’ve delved only into the first few chapters thus far, I’m already captivated by the realism of a boy’s struggle in being a good son while his mother battles cancer.  Though the movie trailer below shows us an outsider’s perspective, adding the drama and the inherent sense of sadness or pity for the enormity of his experiences, from the boy’s intimate perspective, he downplays everything in his life, not wishing to directly name his fears or acknowledge the severity of the bullying he receives in school.  I’m looking forward to following his journey through the book, and seeing how his story is adapted for the film.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’re still watching Economics through Crash Course a few times a week, and we’ve been attending the $1 Regal movies regularly, but since finishing all 8 seasons of Charmed, we’ve gone for a lighter show’s reruns: Dharma and Greg.  If you’ve never watched it, it begins with two people from opposite sides of (white) American culture: a woman with hippie parents who decry capitalism, and a man who works as a lawyer and whose parents are among the upper 2% of the economic spectrum.  The day of their meeting turns into a long date with a lot of travel, culminating in their marriage.  Thus begins the entire premise of the show.  So far, four episodes in, my daughter is delighted, and my son eats his lunch and doesn’t complain, but is ready to dash off the moment his food is finished.  At least it’s only a 25 minute show, so we have been able to watch one before he’s done.  The Dragon specifically said she enjoys watching the opening credits, as they make her happy.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

spicychickenpasta

Spicy Chicken and Pasta

1 lb. boneless chicken thighs
1/2 c. sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil
1 tomato
1 lg. Beaver Dam pepper (or equivalent medium pepper)
1 c. white wine
salt, black pepper, tarragon, olive oil
1 pkg. caserecce or other pasta
grated parmesan, asiago, or blend
6 cloves garlic

In a large pot, prepare pasta according to instructions, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and cook chicken thighs with a pinch of salt and pressed garlic.  Remove meat and chop into small chunks.  In the same skillet, cook chopped tomato, sundried tomatoes, and Beaver Dam peppers* until tender.  Add wine and tarragon, cook another five to seven minutes until the alcohol is cooked off.  Pour the contents of the pan into a small mixing bowl and blend with a hand blender.

Warm pasta with olive oil in the pot.

Serve chicken and pasta onto plates separate or together.  Dress the pasta with cheese, and spoon the sauce over the chicken.

My partner and I ended up mixing all the food together on the plate, our children did not.  Everyone thought it turned out well (although for the toddler, I reserved only the tomato mixture, cooking the peppers separately. Once his was served, I added in the peppers, and blended some more).

 

*Beaver Dam peppers are my absolute favorite chili peppers in the world.  They grow as big as poblanos and anaheims, and reach a similar level of medium heat, but the heat builds slowly, releasing a host of tempting flavors other peppers don’t achieve.  Even when lightly sauteed, they have a smoky quality without needing to smoke or grill them.  If you can get your hands on some, I highly recommend them; they tend to be red and green striped, rather than a single color.  I have yet to successfully grow them, but I try anew every year.