What We’re Doing: Justice January


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  My daughter has withdrawn from Running Start for now.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.



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Pacific Science Center and went there for the final weekend of their Sherlock Holmes traveling exhibit, complete with historical documents and artifacts, film and TV props, and a mystery to solve as a family.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.



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.



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.



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!

FoldIt – Solving Puzzles for Science


Image via Wikipedia

RawStory featured the story about online gamers who helped crack enzymes in the same family as the AIDS virus. It refers to a program called FoldIt, still in beta at the time of this post, that I had never heard of before. Apparently, my partner had tried it for a short time, but hadn’t mentioned it. This sort of gaming is a new and growing phenomenon wherein gamers used their problem-solving energy in virtual worlds to help solve real world problems.

I mentioned this before when I first heard about Evoke. After nearly a year, I still haven’t received confirmation from them, but my status still reads as pending approval. In the meantime, I’m going to give FoldIt a shot, and encourage my daughter–and her 11 year old, elastic brain–to do the same.  Even better, FoldIt works with Windows and Mac platforms, so we can both play on our respective laptops.

Vanished! Mystery Science Project from M.I.T.

MIT in conjunction with the Smithsonian and other museums will be holding a two month project/interactive game with students online* between the ages of 10 1/2 – 14 (on the Smithsonian web site, it says 11-14).  The sign up page reads:

An environmental disaster has taken place on Planet Earth and we need your help.

The Smithsonian Institution and the MIT Education Arcade invite all scientists-in-training ages 10 ½ to 14 to log onto VANISHED and help decipher clues that unravel one of the world’s biggest mysteries.  An online/offline interactive event, VANISHED is an eight-week episodic quest that will transform you into principal scientific investigators who must collaborate to find the answers.  You will race against time as you solve games, puzzles, and other online challenges; visit real museums; collect samples from in and around your homes; and even partner with some of the Smithsonian’s world renowned scientists and investigators, to help unlock the  true secrets of this catastrophe—before it’s too late.


I just helped Daughter sign up for this interactive science mystery project which begins on April 4th, and wanted to get the word out to any other parents or teachers who work with children around these ages.  It does appear, based on the FAQ after sign up, that younger and older participants are able to sign up, but it will primarily be geared for those within the specified age range, and their work will be what provides researchers with the data they need.

For more information or to sign up visit http://vanished.mit.edu/user/register

*The online forums and games will be linked with real life activities to do around the home or school, and to optional live events held at select museums.

Games: The PC Games You Want Your Children Playing

To this day, even my mother attributes my incredible hand-eye coordination to the countless hours I spent with Mario, Luigi, Sonic, Earthworm Jim, and all of those other 2D console games in my childhood.  I also attribute my great timing to it as well (although all those years of dance and music probably helped, too).

While many people discount video games as a waste of time, brain-melters that offer nothing to the developing mind, I say we cannot just dismiss all video and console games into the “useless” bin.  Any game, even the most vile or violent, has some redeeming qualities.  More than that, though, there’s a lot to be said for some of the new and innovative ways independent game designers are changing the face of PC gaming.

Now, I know I’m behind on some of these games, but I’d been hearing about them back when they were in beta, and I wasn’t able to even consider gaming while in school.  I’m not the only one in my household who’s been itching to play them, my partner and my daughter both wanted to give them a try, and we’ve been enjoying the demos this weekend.

My picks?  Well, let’s say they’re all about challenging the mind and getting players to rethink the way they see the world.  Just imagine the new connections our brains make when playing these!

Braid – It’s a 2D game originally designed for the XBOX 360 now available for both Windows and Mac.  Unlike your standard 2D scrollers, this one challenges one’s perception by giving you the power to go back in time and correct your mistakes!  It’s an elegant puzzle game that requires thinking outside our limited three-dimensional boxes (to make use of a tired cliche).

Crayon Physics Deluxe – Do you have children who adore drawing?  What about those pesky early physics lessons?  This will appeal to both the engineering minded and the art lovers alike.  Better than that?  It’s a game that demands the player create their way through the levels.  Sometimes, the solution is quite simple–a straight line, a path and a push–but on Level 2 of the demo, I had to stop and ask, “What do I do here?”  I wished I hadn’t already sent my daughter to bed.

This is a game designed for Windows–no Mac version available yet–but it can be played with a mouse or a tablet, and can be–nay, should be–played by anyone old enough to use basic computer functions.  The online forum and level editor make this a dynamic and developing game for all ages. Even better?  It’s cost-effective, and one purchased game can be installed on all your household’s computers without issue.

Crayon Physics Menu

flOw – Here’s a game I actually did play some time ago.  This is more of a form of meditation, and there doesn’t seem to be an end point goal.  The motivation?  You’re an aquatic based lifeform that grows and evolves based on what you eat, and how far into the depths you’re willing to go.  The beauty is that to play it, one must learn how to survive and thrive as you play.  The game is customizable based on skill and can be played online, or downloaded and played on a PC or Mac.  Not your average video game.  The best part?  It’s free!

[NOTE: There is a version out on PS3 for $5.99US that simply looks incredible.  We, however, don’t have that particular console.  Heck, we just invested in a duo NES/SNES retro console!]

flOw for PS3

Miegakure – This up-coming game is still in its design stages, but comes recommended by the creator of Braid.  Playing off of the amusing physics novella Flatland, the goal of the game is to manipulate one’s world to solve puzzles using the fourth dimension.  Once again, this game like the ones above, demands utilizing often under-valued aspects of our brains, and requires reconsidering one’s own perceptions.  I can’t wait to try this one out!  (Oh yeah, and have my daughter play it, too.)

Already played them?  Let us know what you think!  Still needing convincing?  Let me know, and I’ll try to win you over; I might even bake brownies.  Know what’s even better? Recommending other games!

Stretch your minds and help your children exercise theirs; who knows, they might grow up to figure out how to solve all the messes we managed to make while they were still in diapers.  At least, one can always hope, right?  ^_^

* * * * *

Quick local update: we all went to the Not-Back-to-School picnic with SHG last week.  Even though I wasn’t feeling well, and we didn’t stay long, we got a chance to meet and talk to a few parents, and we managed to make it in time for the annual group photo!  This wasn’t even a possibility last year while I was still at university.  If you’re a member of SHG, thanks for the friendly welcome!

Games: Fixed Start Chess

Third Place Chess Board

I like to brag a lot about my mother. She has accomplished many amazing feats in her life, and she possesses more talent than one person should.

One of her skills is chess. She used to tour the world playing games with the brightest minds, and she was notably ranked 6th best female chess player in the U.S. in 1984.

However, despite all her years of teaching me how to play and sponsoring chess events at my schools, I never achieved the level of sophistication in the game that she did. My daughter, on the other hand, has always been fascinated by chess, and enjoys tromping the boys that dare to play her.

While driving to pick up our beloved monsters from Nature Day Camp this week, Mystyrica and I were talking about games. Thanks to her inspiration, I came up with one that might help get children started on a path to better understanding how the best and brightest got there.

Now, there are only so many opening moves, but the first several plays can make or break the game. In some ways this, could also be called “Quick Start Chess,” instead.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Find a famous game from any book or website (Chess Maniac has a huge list of games played by some of the most famous masters.
  2. Locate the first 5-8 moves of each player, depending on the length of the game.
  3. Separate the moves of both players, and write them down or type them out on a sheet.
  4. Give the opening moves of one player to one child, and the opening moves of the second player to the second child.
  5. The children must play their fixed moves as they are set out from the original game, but once they reach the end of their sheets, they have to figure out where to move next.

We believe that by doing this, it will give greater insight into how masters play. For additional fun, keep track of each child’s moves, and compare with the original game from which you selected your fixed openings. Where did they make the same moves? Where did they deviate? Did deviation change the outcome of the game? Did deviation make the game shorter or longer?

If you’re not familiar with chess notation, Wikipedia has some details on how to read Algebraic Chess Notation, and you can print off your own score sheets here.

Give it a try and let us know how it worked out for your group!