A New View

We spent the last nearly two weeks sick with acute bronchitis.  Daughter and I are the last holdouts, and it’s chilly today.  We were so sick last week, the whole week blew by without a blog post, or even the mental reminder to write one.  I felt a little bad about not working on my novel, but between the coughing, fevers, and pain, I couldn’t focus on much else.

This meant we had to postpone the Little Fox’s 3rd birthday for this com
ing weekend.  While it made us sad to do it, we now have a little more time to prepare the house.  One thing we did manage to complete this weekend: painting the kids’ room.

Up until last week, it was Daughter’s room, but soon they’ll both have new beds in there, even if the little one probably won’t be sleeping anywhere but my bed for a long time to come (it’s up to him, but I don’t see it happening).  Though they often argue about a lot of trivial matters, they both agreed on one thing: the room would be painted light blue.  With clouds.

So that’s what we did.

kidsroom-beforeWhile painting the clouds with cut up sponge pieces, my daughter started getting grumpy.  I asked her what was wrong.  “You said the clouds didn’t have to be realistic, that they could be cartoonish or whatever we wanted.”


“You’ve been ‘correcting’ all of my clouds, and telling me what’s wrong with them.”

“I wanted to show you some techniques to improve your skills.  You’re an artist, aren’t you?”

“I just wanted to have some fun.”

She was right.  Their room, not mine.  Their rules, not mine.  The moment I saw one of the clouds she’d made, I’d begun a critical spew of corrections detailing how to smooth the edges out and make them look “better,” and I was rapidly draining all of the enjoyment from our shared project.

After a moment of silence, I sang the Steven Universe theme song, despite a raspy voice, and both kids joined in.  Then we made clouds, with directions from the Dragon to break out of my fixed ideas about how to make clouds … and we had fun.


This is my favorite part of the room:


Little Fox and Dragon hand prints


The pictures I took with my phone don’t do the colors justice.  As my daughter said, the room makes her feel as if she’s falling through an endless sky (and she loves it).  The little Fox just kept saying, “Wow — woah.  Wow!”

The children picked two colors from the Benjamin Moore line: Crisp Morning Air (blue), #780, and Ice Mist (white), #2123-70.  We wanted a zero VOC line of paints, and our favorite hardware store (McLendon’s) said all of Ben Moore’s paints were zero VOC, despite only advertising one line as such.  Take a look on the paint cans and it’ll have a stamp along with the batch number that reads: VOC: 0%.



Of Namings and Essays


Gaston (Photo credit: Max xx) — Not this Gaston, who is a cat, and has nothing to do with my article. But yay cats!

There is much going our family these last two weeks dealing with naming.  First, my partner began settling into the idea that this baby (I’m at 17 weeks) is happening, and we began making serious lists of names, none of which we seem to really agree upon (“No, we’re not naming him Gaston.  What don’t you like about Caelan?  Well, I’ve already decided, if it’s a girl, which I don’t think it is, we’re naming her Calpurnia Elizabeth,” and so on).  Second, a conversation with another homeschooled student led to a the naming of groups of youth, generally based on sex or gender, for which I’ve written a longer post on LiveJournal detailing said names and linking them to a feminist article I’d read just prior to the conversation, which sent off all sorts of triggers for me.

And it’s this article that makes me come to you, dear readers, for suggestions.  If you’ve been reading long, then you know we’re on our third year of the experiment of “Reading Selections” with my daughter and my friend’s eldest son.  This year, I’m having them focus more on argumentative essays and their analysis than short stories or poetry as I usually do.  While I have a couple of modern articles like the one above lined up, they’re primarily dealing with women and misogyny.  What I’m seeking are one or two strong arguments about the societal prejudice of adolescent males, somewhat along the same lines as the 12-year-old girl article.  Thus far, I’ve only found a story-like essay dealing with the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the perception of young men, especially of color.  So, please, if you have strong argumentative essays dealing with the common ways in which young men are perceived by society and/or authority figures, I’d love to read them.  Thanks!

Reading Selections 2011 – 2012

In my previous post, I promised I’d provide you with the list and links for the reading selections I gave to my students this past school year.  So, without further ado (dammit, now I want to watch a Shakespearean comedy again) . . .

November 2011:
This year, I’d decided we would focus more on poetry, hence the “How to Read a Poem” as the very first entry.

December 2011:

January 2012:
In January, I took us in the direction of their beloved genre: sci-fi, to discuss the surrealism in reading and enjoying poetry supposedly created by fictional characters.  We also discussed the reality of technology on the way we read, and argued (and laughed at) the many contradictions and heavy bigotry in Emerson’s famous “Self-Reliance” (it reads a bit like a less subtle Ayn Rand novel, really).

If you look at the first link for “Ode” you’ll find a scrap of handwritten text.  Why give them that for their assignment?  To prove my point about the importance of learning both cursive and symbolism.  Neither child had practiced much cursive writing, and thus, it was nearly impossible for one and difficult for the other to decipher English text, simply because of the method used to write it.  Given that they both seemed heavily focused in areas where decryption and an understanding of handwritten materials may be important to them in the future, I figured it was a good idea they start exploring it now.

Atwood’s poem here plays heavily on a common theme in many of the Grimms’ fairy tales where maidens were often relieved of their hands, usually for something their father, brother, or husband did.  As part of this month, instead of completing standard projects, I asked them to search for the poem read on air on NPR’s Writers’ Almanac on the day, month, and year each one was born, and to reflect on whatever feelings or thoughts the poem inspired.

*My friends’ poems are not available for public viewing at this time.
**The December poetry selections were the following: “Toward the Winter Solstice” by Timothy Steele, “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” by Shakespeare (from As You Like It), “Winter: A Dirge” by Robert Burns, “A Leaf from the Tree of Songs” by Adam Christianson, “Lord of the Dance” (traditional), “Reflections on a Scottish Christmas” by Johnny Cunningham, and “An Old Man’s Winter Night” by Robert Frost (a cousin).

Dead Air

My apologies to the 24 people who follow this blog.  March saw us madly dashing around trying to get ready for Norwescon, which we attempt to attend every year.  This one was our biggest — my daughter had worked hard on a costume of her creation to enter into the masquerade competition (and won, second year in a row), and I got a chance for professional critiques of my writing in THREE writers’ workshops — and was immediately concluded at the end of the weekend with frightening news that my mother, only 56 years of age, was heading to the hospital, unable to speak properly and spouting impossible and paranoid things not at all like her.  She had been ill for a few weeks, but her mind had been fit beforehand.

A week later, I was on a plane to Germany, because her condition had seriously worsened.  I arrived an hour too late, my mother passed away on April 16th of an infection she contracted while in the hospital.  Since then, our homeschooling experiment has been bumpy at best, and it’s taken a high toll on both my daily living and my daughter’s ability to focus on anything but her art.

It’s almost two months now, though it feels like days since it happened.  She was an extremely generous, loving, and creative person, and her husband, my daughter, and I are all still reeling from the shock of her sudden absence in our lives. Of the three of us, I’m pushing hardest to avoid allowing my grief to consume us.

Betsy Content Bogert Moelders
Dec. 7th, 1955 – Apr. 16th 2012

That being said, I’m going ahead with a plan I’d had rattling in my head for the last few months.  I’ve talked to my daughter and my friend’s eldest about the almost-two years of Reading Selections I began with them, where it’s taken them thus far, and whether they feel other children would benefit from it.  So, starting in September, I intend to take on new students in a casual environment — a handful of children in the homeschooling group — and give them a more polished and practiced form of this literary critiquing group we’ve been having so much fun with.  I’ve watched my daughter’s awareness of what she reads deepen, her insight into the subtle working of the world around her awaken, and my friend’s son’s critical analysis take on greater nuance.  They’ve become more considerate of the media to which they’re exposed through choice or accident, and I’m so proud to see my daughter’s own test scores in reading and spelling jump far ahead of where she’d been when she was in institutionalized schooling (and flagging) — she’s finally proficient at her approximate grade level!

I went back through this site’s archives and saw how there was nothing posted for the last “school year” of Reading Selections.  Tomorrow, I will attempt to sit down and post the list, complete with the links I can find of sources for the readings we did from September through March (our work stopped when my mother died), so anyone interested in what they’ve been reading, or who are looking for recommendations, can provide the same materials to their own home students.

What I’m most enjoying at the moment in our schooling adventure is how they’ve both taken to this summer’s reading selections project.  Their assignment is to choose three books: one fiction novel (not graphic novels/manga/manwa/etc.), one non-fiction book on a subject they find interesting, and one collection of a single poet’s work*.

Friend’s son has chosen:
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Content by Cory Doctorow
Death and Transfiguration: Poems by Kelly Cherry

Daughter has chosen:
Sky Village by Nigel Ashland
A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

After reading their three selected books, they are to find common threads, themes, or a single key subject within each of them and create a project based on that element.  They’ve both started reading, and they seem to be enjoying themselves!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with in September . . .

*I decided a single author’s work is more definitive of an individual voice, where as a selection of poems from various authors, usually compiled on a theme (e.g. feminist poetry collections, horror poetry collections, etc.) would dilute the process of seeking a shared connection between the three books.  If one of the books is already a cacophony, it can be hard to make the three books together create harmony, to tie them together.

Project: April & May Reading Selections

April’s review of March reading selections included performance art on the part of friend’s son.  He took There Will Come Soft Rains, spent hours drawing the house as he saw it from the description using various architecture examples from web images, and then . . . he took us outside and lit it on fire.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable with the pictures I took before, during, and after, as he pointed out that he was making a statement about the loss of human civilization as described in the story.  He added that it took him hours to make it and only minutes to destroy it; he had intended to leave no record behind of all his work. He did, however, give me permission to show the end photos, but not the before image.

My daughter chose Kate Chopin’s A Pair of Silk Stockings and provided a sensory experience.  She made a box into which each blindfolded person placed their hand to find something new.  She included a stocking to stroke, a glove to touch, a wine cork to smell (we could have freshened it up a bit, as the scent was all but gone), and a piece of Blanxart dark chocolate to taste.

We discussed each story as usual, and I let them each lead the discussion of the story they chose for projects. In the end, it was Longing to Die of Old Age that won out on discussion time, as there was a lot about food security, community, and mortality that they wanted to talk about.  Before heading off to their swimming lessons, I assigned them the following . . .

April Reading Selections:

So then last week, we got together to discuss the above stories.  Both of them had chosen the Ticktockman, because, you know, this is just a fun story, even if it has a classic Ellison ending.  Both of them had created pictures of said Ticktockman.  A. handed me a two page short story in his composition book to show the perspective of a young boy whose father’s time runs out, and showed me the picture the “boy” had drawn.  Daughter had a pair of watercolor paintings, a before and after, of the Ticktockman and his association with the Harlequin.

When I saw what was presented, I said to A., “I was expecting a jar of jellybeans from you, or something,” and he said, “oh, right,” and stood on his chair.  A moment later, his fingers having unsealed the plastic baggie attached to the ceiling I’d failed to notice, we were pelted with hailing jelly beans.  His brother helped “clean up” by gathering them all and stuffing them into his mouth.

We covered the story, I read the poem about Paul Revere, breaking it down because some of the events mentioned needed clarifying for Daughter, and then a sober review of The Shawl.  I kept that one brief only touching on the exact events going on in the story that were poetically detailed so as to avoid ambiguity.  We agreed it was dour, and the moment I mentioned Dahl’s story, both of them laughed with relief.  They loved it (yay!), and thought the whole thing very clever.  We detailed more about Harlequin, and decided after a quick recap of Rip Van Winkle that the story was rather boring and could be shortened to anecdote or old WB cartoon.  I did point out some of the cultural notes that were important in the story (current location, mythology, the culture of the people who had colonized the area, and relations to other stories/authors in their readings).  I pointed out, too, that as a young nation, our legends and folktales are only now becoming myth in our collective minds; Rip Van Winkle, Paul Bunyan, and Johnny Appleseed are just some of those that have fallen into the hands of animated comedy and parody and pretty much out of everyday discussion.  Except among homeschoolers and “history” teachers it seems.  😉

Then I announced that the following were the last selections before a reprieve for summer.  Well, not really a reprieve, but a shifting of gears.  Taking a page from formal school teachers, I’m giving them a book reading project, but those details will come in June.

May Reading Selections:

Dorothy Parker

Image by anyjazz65 via Flickr

*I tried to find three selections without a man-hating theme, because honestly, I love Dorothy Parker, and I want A. to have a chance to enjoy her, too without feeling constantly attacked.

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.

Projects: March Reading Selections

Run around the cone three times.

The Obstacle Course

Both children chose Harrison Bergeron for their projects, and while my daughter opted to make her own “handicaps” that she might have to wear in Harrison’s world, my friend’s son, try to replicate the feeling of being placed under such restrictions.

My daughter learned papier mache techniques, made an “ugly” mask over an aluminum foil mould made from shaping it around her face, and then when the paper had dried into the shape she’d chosen over the course of a few days, she painted it in acrylic paints.  I gave tips where necessary and acted as an assistant occasionally.  She also put on a pair of broken headphones that hooked around her ears to simulate the device that would buzz in her ears whenever she had deep thoughts.

Younger Brother = Guinea Pig

My friend’s son set up an obstacle course and created his own handicaps with the intention of having each person run through twice–once without the handicaps, once with–and his hope was to see if we all ended up with similar completion times with the handicaps than without.  The obstacle course involved running three times around a traffic cone, race forward, kick the second cone, stand on a “platform” (in this case, a collapsed yard goal) and throw a wiffle ball into a bowl on a windy concourse.  When the ball finally reaches its destination, each person had to catch the ball, and then complete a problem on the white board.

He created a weighted bag filled with books that needed to be worn across the chest, a pair of old glasses smeared with grease, and headphones attached to an iPhone that played a soundtrack he made that repeated on a loop; it was filled with creative commons sound effects that were disruptive and came every 15 to 20 seconds.  He said he’d send it to me to share on the blog, so it’s forthcoming.  🙂

Squirelflight’s Ugly Mask

We discussed the other stories.  They both had trouble with Brer Rabbit, and mostly because of the dialect it was written in; we talked about why an author would choose to write an entire story (and not just the dialogue) in something outside of “standard” English, its intent as an oral story, and how it would sound if a native of the dialect read it out loud to us instead of me in a halting manner.  We talked about abolitionists and feminists and how the latter was left behind by the former, causing divisiveness within the feminist movement since the nineteenth century. We even talked cyberpunk.

With little time left before we needed to get out for the kids’ swim class, we wrapped it up, and I showed them the very light amount of reading for March, but with the expectation that they’d get their projects done by the start of April.  I also told them I left out two essays that went together with one another and the sandwiched February/March months that squeeze in African American History Month and Women’s History Month all in one neat chunk, sort of a two month minority marathon to be ignored by public schools the rest of the year.  They both looked at me with gratitude that I hadn’t saddled them with another one of my diatribes.  Ahem.  I’ll save it for another time.  😉

March Selections are as follows:

Projects: February Reading Selections

Once again, I’m remiss in getting this posted on time, but my schedule has changed significantly, and I’ve still not found my rhythm.

My friend’s son challenged himself to draw in response to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and he came up with three very different portraits in ink:

MLK Portraits in ink, property of A.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Portraits in Ink: 1 & 2

Portrait in Ink, propert of A.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait in Ink 3

My favorite is the second one.  While the first and third look nothing like MLK, Jr., the second one could be interpreted as an abstract portrait, which was in line with the art classes I started teaching both older children a couple of weeks ago.  Perhaps, though, if he’d remembered MLK’s mustache, it might bear a closer resemblance.  😉

Squirelflight decided to use the 18 rules in Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” as the basis to writing her own short story.  While she spent hours every day for almost a week pounding out hen-pecked keys, the format was all in a block and almost unreadable.  She is currently editing her piece by hand, complete with editor’s marks I taught her, so she can reformat the story for our next session.  Speaking of which, here are the selections for February:

Previous Reading Selections:

January Reading Selections

Eep!  I’m more than a week late posting this, so I’ll get right to it.  A week ago Tuesday I met with the kids and we discussed December’s reading selections.  They both chose “Runaround” by Asimov, and true to their comfort zones, the girl chose to draw a map of the station on Mercury, while the boy chose to write a short story from the perspective of the damaged robot.

While the discussion was brief for each story, I decided to push them a bit.  Their reading selections this time around are incredibly short (literally!), but I told them that they both had to decide on a project outside their comfort zones.  This means that my friend’s son will likely take on an art or crafty project, and my daughter–who tried to b.s. her way into a crafty project herself–will likely be writing something.  Of course, there are other options open to them, but they seem rather stuck and a slight push outside their individual realms of “easy” might get them thinking about something outside writing/art ideas for projects from February’s readings.

Also, because one of the selections is actually a list of six word stories from famous authors, I told them they had to write three of their own, as well as pick three to five (preferably less) they think of as their favorites from the list.  Friend’s son was finished less than twenty minutes from completing our discussion.  Squirelflight tried, but only came up with one I considered viable (the others were cop-outs).

So what are they assigned?

January Reading Selections

Not a darn short story (except for the six word minis) among the whole lot!  Not sure how that happened, but it did.  When I was a bit younger than my daughter is now, MLK, Jr. became one of my heroes, to the point that I did a project on him in school, my mother helped by editing video footage of him to support my speech, and she took me to his memorial because he wasthat influential on my developing self.  Walt Whitman’s poem is one I loved and used frequently for auditions through elementary and middle school, and of course, it was used in Dead Poets Society, which also was influential.  It seemed appropriate to pair the poem with Lincoln’s speech, as he was the inspiration for Whitman’s words.

The six word short stories are just fun, I’ve written several myself, and joined a Livejournal community based on the concept.  I only waited this long to share them with the kids because there was so much piled up for previous months.  The final piece is one recommended by my partner as an excellent–nay, probably the most biting, slicing, ruining–example of a critical look at someone else’s work.  While I doubt my own writing is a insufferable as Fenimore Cooper’s appears to have been, a part of me is quite happy to know that Samuel Clemens is long dead, and can’t read my own stories.

As always, please let me know if you have suggestions for further reading selections, I’m actually seeing a lot of bare spots in the coming months and am open to short stories, speeches, essays, poems, critiques, and other inspiring or important or silly works that might challenge these kids to think.  Thanks and be well!

Previous Reading Selections:

Projects: December Reading Selections

We met yesterday to discuss November’s reading selections.  Both kids chose Bradbury’s Pedestrian for their projects, although Squirelflight drew an illustration to accompany the short tale, and A chose to write a 300-word epilogue exploring the institution to which the main character was taken.  I read all of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to them, complete with dramatic flair and pausing between major stanzas and parts in order to discuss what’s happening within the tale.  I left my friend’s house with a raw throat, but two kids who were very happy with the selections they’d read, and looking forward to the coming month.

December’s List:

I have to say, it’s fun not only to re-read these stories I enjoyed as a child, but to find new ones from favorite authors, and to discuss them with my group, especially since these two have radically different views from most adults in reading groups.  They also present their projects in ways I haven’t expected, although Squirelflight is definitely in the “art” category of preference, A. is taking some risks by going outside his normal field of approach, and it’s improving his writing in the process.