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.

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What We’re Doing: Magical March

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As a family, we’ve been sick for days, but we’re finally on the mend and looking forward to Spring Equinox this weekend.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

To celebrate the Spring Equinox on Sunday, over the next few days, we’re making seed bombs with our easily propagated leftover seeds from 2014.  We’ve already started our indoor seeds (a little late), and I’ve been digging in the garden to build our herb spiral around a tree stump cut low late last fall.

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On Sunday, there’s a neighborhood egg hunt, which is perfect for us, since we celebrate the equinox and not Easter.  Instead of going to our favorite sci-fi/fantasy convention (Norwescon) and our favorite manga convention (Sakuracon) Easter weekend, I’ll be caucusing and hope to use it as a civics lesson for my teen.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

51faxLylWLL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_We checked out a lot of new picture books for the Little Fox, but a pair of Pomelo books have proven quirky and rather subversive.  At least, some of the pictures make my partner and I giggle or give each other meaningful looks.  While the art is adorable and most of the pictures silly or sweet, once in a while, we find one bordering on macabre or downright nihilistic.  I’m hoping to dig up more of these, because as intelligent adults who share a dark sense of humor, these books are a blast.  Like the original Olivia books (those written by Ian Falconer and not the show tie-ins, which lose a lot of the charm and wit), they offer something for both the child and the parent reading them.

41g92babzrkl-_sx327_bo1204203200_A couple of years ago, I became curious about The Leftovers, but at the time, couldn’t watch it for various reasons. After watching the first few episodes of the first season, I had to read the books.  Talk about potentially ending up like the show Lost where answers weren’t forthcoming didn’t sit well with me, so I wanted to know what I wasn’t seeing in the show that the book reveals.  The book is incredibly insightful about the human condition, communities, and modern society.

The premise is based on the question: what would happen to the people left behind in a Rapture-like event?  Without any clear idea of what happened to the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, those “leftover” struggle with a feeling of emptiness, grief, and uncertainty. The story focuses on the people in the small town of Mapleton, New York and how the Departure has affected them.  Midway through the book and halfway through the available episodes, I’m fairly well hooked and looking forward to seeing how both end (the first season is based on the book, but there are deviations, and the following seasons go beyond the book).

120843Since Running Start is a short distance away for my daughter, I created a list of books, some mandatory, some optional, and let her choose fourteen total to complete (plus essays) until she begins college in the fall.  She recently completed To Kill a Mockingbird, and followed it with an inspired essay about permissive bullying.  Now she’s delving into The Once and Future King to be followed soon after with Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Little Fox, according to my partner, has a “crush” on a redheaded mechanic named Doctor McWheelie.  He enjoys this show so much, he’s begun pronouncing certain words with a British accent (e.g. garage as GARE-ej, petrol instead of gas).  She’s become a bit of an invisible friend at meals and on car trips, too.  You can see more of McWheelie on the KidsFirstTV YouTube station.

 

Then there’s a delightful Russian show we all enjoy watching together, Masha and the Bear.  While there are English dubbed episodes online, we prefer watching it in Russian with English subtitles.  My son doesn’t seem bothered with not understanding the words, since the visuals tell most of the story anyway.  Masha is my son in a dress with a Russian accent.  Their behavior is near identical, and it’s a wonder we still have a house.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Since my partner is now a permanent employee at his company, he actually has less take home pay than when he was a contract worker.  So, we’re working harder to keep to a food budget while still enjoying organic, whole foods, most of which are cooked at home.

Last night, I made a comforting Indian dish known as saag paneer (sometimes palak paneer depending on the region).  For those unfamiliar with this dish, it’s essentially cooked spinach and a firm cheese in a flavorful tomato cream sauce, served over basmati rice.  Saag or palak can be cooked with almost anything: chicken, seasonal vegetables, potatoes, etc.  We just happen to like the paneer best.  Note this is my modified version, and not traditional.  It’s made mild for our children, but with plenty of spices we have on hand.

Saag Paneer: Ingredients

2c. basmati rice (dry)
1 – 2 lb. fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 lb. paneer
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
equal parts (approx. 2tsp.) of: turmeric, garam masala, ground or grated ginger, paprika or red chili powder (depending on desired heat), ground fenugreek/methi, cumin, coriander
salt to taste
ghee
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 14 oz. can coconut cream or milk (we get ours at Trader Joe’s, which has an excellent price for the product)

Start by cooking the basmati rice.  Generally, two cups of dry rice to three cups of water.  Bring to a boil, stir for a minute, reduce to med-low and cover.  Once covered, add ghee (clarified butter) to a large skillet on medium heat.  Chop up the paneer into cubes and add to the skillet to cook until slightly crisp on the edges (not traditional, but we like the edges crisp; can be cooked until warm).

Set paneer aside in a bowl, add more ghee to the pan, and toss in spices to toast lightly.  Add in tomato paste, mixing the spices in well.  Add in an equal amount of water to tomato paste and stir quickly while sizzling.  Now it’s time to toss the chopped spinach into the pan, slowly folding it into the tomato paste.

Cover for a few minutes, stir, and cover again.  Return paneer to pan, and turn heat down to low.  Stir in coconut cream until blended and sauce warm. Serve over rice, which can be dressed up with saffron, raisins, peas, and cashews.

 

 

What We’re Doing: Fabulous February

wbfeb2016.pngWith an early spring in the PNW, we’ve been taking advantage of the improved weather and getting out more.  The lunar new year has come, Imbolc celebrated before that, and our schedule is filling rapidly with new classes, adventures, and friendly visits across the whole of spring.

WHAT WE’RE DOING

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Lunar New Year: Year of the Monkey from the Seattle Int’l District’s festival page. Sadly, we didn’t make it this year. My son would have loved it.

One activity plaguing my mind most in the midst of this early spring is gardening.  Over the end of the summer and early fall of last year, we hired a few people to help clear away some of the most troublesome spots so I could start this year fresh.  Given the Year of the Monkey is said to be a year of cleansing, it seems appropriate.  I have new vegetable boxes and an herb spiral to build, lettuce towers to make, and a whole new area to level into a usable plot — our sunniest spot in the whole of our near-acre property.

 

We’re also excited, because our local park’s playground is reopening after months of reconstruction, and includes a number of new structures to climb, bounce on, and explore.  Too bad the reopening week the weather turned to the gloomiest we’ve seen since November.

This spring three of us will be taking music lessons: my daughter has started singing lessons with an acclaimed local actress, I’m still working on my piano (learning composition now!), and my son will be joining a weekly toddler music group.

Add to this a discussion of whether we can fit a spring course of Tiny Treks at a local farm into our schedules, making time for both high school and college advisers for Running Start, and finding time for friends, home, and quiet, it’s going to be our busiest year in a long while.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Most of my reading the last couple of weeks has been political or educational (e.g. news articles and activity books like The Preschooler’s Busy Book), while my daughter recently completed I Never Saw Another Butterfly and has been decompressing with manga online.

The Little Fox, however, has found great delight in revisiting two new library books: Pepper & Poe by Frann Preston-Gannon and Where’s My Mommy? by Jo Brown.

17240324The former book deals with a fluffy cat named Pepper who adores life at home teasing the dog, playing with yarn, and generally having the run of the house.  That is until his human brings home a new friend to play with, a white kitten named Poe.  Poe adores absolutely everything about Pepper, but the feeling isn’t mutual.  The book is charming and the tale told succinctly with few words and strong imagery.  It’s an excellent book for children who like cats, or are struggling with having to share their homes with a new, younger sibling.

51h2ykk5-hl-_sx258_bo1204203200_Where’s My Mommy deals with a different issue: finding one’s identity.  A little crocodile egg rolls down a hill away from its nest and cracks open, and the tiny crocodile who pops out doesn’t know what it is or who its mother is, and begins asking the various animals around.  This book is wildly successful with my son because it contains vibrant animals, repetition in its storytelling (a great way to engage little children), and includes a chance several times to participate in the story by yelling, “Snap!”  It’s an engaging read, just the right length for a bedtime story, and something both my partner and I enjoy reading to him over and over again (thankfully).

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Friday nights are movie nights — at least most weeks — and this Friday we agreed to watch Song of the Sea, another illuminated (sometimes literally) animated film by the same group who brought the world Secret of the Kells.  This film took my breath away and awed my daughter, too.  It blended a contemporary Irish family’s life and tragedy with cultural tales, “tangled with this world,” as one character mentions later in the film.  It includes selkies, Fair Folk, giants, and more.  If I had to say what brought me chills and later to tears, I’d first want to talk about the storytelling, but it wouldn’t seem right.

It took me a few days to sit with it and realize, it was the authenticity of it all.  This wasn’t an American film talking about Irish fairytales, this wasn’t even a British film attempting to portray Irish myths and culture.  This came directly from the source, and like indigenous films and video games coming from Native Americans, Aboriginals, and Maori, it’s told from the people themselves.  And being of Celtic ancestry myself, it felt a little like coming home to watch it — even more so than Secret of the Kells had.  It was a beautiful film, and a little sad, and quite a lot of hopeful.

Add to this, my daughter’s observation: there weren’t any “true” villains — no character was entirely good or evil, but rather whole, complex people.

So, if you like engaging animated films that are as much artful as they are entertaining, and you enjoy a good story, this is an excellent family film.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

One of my go-to recipes once or twice a month is pancakes and bacon.  We’ve eaten it for brunch or dinner at various points over the years, and since two of us need to eat gluten free (thanks, wheat allergy), it’s taken time to get our pancake recipe just right.

Part of the trick is to make it “fluffy” enough, and the other is to make it “glutinous” enough without having gluten in it.  The secrets are in the tapioca starch (just a little), using half “heavy/dark” and half “light” flours, and a good binder like eggs or bananas.  I present my own mix for gluten-free banana pancakes (with options for alternatives).

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Gluten Free Banana Pancakes

2/3 c. brown rice flour
2/3 c. buckwheat flour
3 T. tapioca starch
1 1/2 t. gf powdered sugar
pinch of salt
cinnamon
allspice

2 eggs*
2 bananas
1 1/4 c. almond milk
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. vanilla
3 T. melted butter (or sunflower oil)

Mix dry ingredients together.  Mash bananas thoroughly with a fork.  Blend in eggs, then add vanilla and almond milk.  Pour into dry ingredients, stir it most of the way, and then slowly add in melted butter.  Stir just at the point of the dry blending with the wet ingredients.  It’s ok if there are small lumps, you don’t want to over blend a pancake batter.

Use a sauce ladle and spoon out pancake batter onto a hot, lightly greased skillet or griddle.  In my largest skillet I can fit four small pancakes at once.  Cook until the edges are bubbly and slightly dry.  Flip and cook each an extra 1.5 – 2 minutes.  Lay them out on a large plate as they finish, until you’ve cooked all of the batter in this way.  Serve with thick, crisp bacon (we prefer Pure Country Pork, the most sustainably raised pigs within a two hour drive), crushed walnuts or whole pine nuts, and your favorite syrup.

*If you’re vegan, please substitute another banana for the two eggs.  Please also note, we use DUCK EGGS, and they are larger than most chicken eggs.  YMMV.

Alternate recipe:

Use gf oat flour in place of the brown rice flour, add in a bit of ground ginger to the batter, and serve with small slices of candied ginger for ginger oatcakes (my partner’s favorites).

From 60 to Solstice

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

Betsy Bogert, Polaroid, 1982

Betsy Bogert, Polaroid, 1982

This week, we’re celebrating what would be my mother’s 60th birthday. Betsy was born December 7th, 1955, and to honor her memory and the things she cherished, I created a memorial photo album on Facebook for her friends and mine, where people have been sharing their memories of her.  Our dinners this week are all foods she loved or based on her recipes, and on her birthday proper, we had luscious vanilla cake with chocolate ganache from Flying Apron Bakery in Redmond, WA.  Since my son was born after her death, he doesn’t know much about her, and this is one way we can help him understand the woman who raised me and is part of his history.  My daughter knew and loved her Nana very much, and her loss was felt as deeply as my own.

As I’ve said before, we don’t shy away from discussions of death, and this certainly connects with my recent post about our new Inside Out feelings books.  Grief is as much a part of life as Joy, and that theme has been playing itself out a lot these last few months.  This holiday season seems particularly intense due to this sense that 60 feels momentous, and her birthday has affected even the theme of our holiday planning (this year: traditional Bogert Christmas; colors: white and gold).  We might even buy a standard tree this year instead of going with one of my alternate solutions (e.g. ornament mobile, living tree, etc.), because to my mother, and her father before her, Christmas/Yule* is a big deal.

Wreath 2015

Homemade Wreath 2015

How big a deal?  My grandfather’s urn reads: I shall return as Santa Claus.  My grandmother’s says: I got tired of waiting for Christmas.

This nod to my mother’s family’s holiday traditions will be played out in everything from our wreath to our holiday cards to our meals.

*While we celebrate the 24th/25th with feast, family, and gift giving, our actual spiritual day of reflection is the Solstice proper.  On Longest Night, we have in the past held night-long vigils (I can’t physically do this anymore), sung songs, spent time in quiet meditation by a fire, etc.  Not being Christians, we tend to talk about the Solstice or Yule, but it’s hard to escape the term “Christmas” for what we do, because so many cultures have been blended into the singular holiday in this country.  If you’re of a pagan path based on European traditions, check out these songs to add to your celebrations.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

We have a new entrant into the “Little Fox’s Frequently Read Book” category.  This one comes from Peter Brown, author of one of my favorite gardening-themed children’s books, The Curious Garden.  The book? Children Make Terrible Pets.  Peter’s charming art is paired with lighthearted humor as he explores one of his own childhood thoughts: what would it be like if a wild animal brought him home to be their pet?  In this case, a young bear takes a shine to “Squeaker,” a young boy she catches spying on her in the woods.  But when she brings him home, her mother warns that human children make terrible pets.

Little Fox loves this book so much that we read it several times a week (usually my partner reads it and then I read it), and each time we must read the author bio at the end, which includes the anecdote about his childhood memory.  It’s cute, fun, and can be read in lots of different voices.  I go a bit Valley girl when I read the bear’s lines, starting with “Oh. My. GOSH!” and carried out from there.  My partner does a more Midwestern accent, and thus, our son gets to hear the story twice in completely different forms.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

This may not be appropriate to everyone’s family, but for us, we’ve just run through all of the current CollegeHumor spots of “Adam Ruins Everything.”  For people who enjoy ferreting out truths behind social myths, and learning new things about the world while shattering misconceptions, this is a great series of shorts on CollegeHumor and YouTube, which also is gaining traction now on TruTV as a series in its own right.  Thus far, Adam Conover has talked about the truth behind the electoral collegeunpaid internships (great for kids about to head to college or get their first jobs), why we have to go to car dealerships, how fingerprints and lie detectors are fallible, and the myth of the hymen (just to name a few).

They are often adult-oriented in that they don’t shy away from discussing sexual relations, and the earlier pieces do include uncensored language.  This isn’t a problem for our family, but it’s a warning in case it isn’t appropriate for yours.  But in the vein of shows like MythBusters and Connections, these tickle our curiosity and make us think about things we might not bat an eyelash at otherwise.  Like why we routinely circumcise infants in the U.S. or that halitosis is a made up term to sell a floor polish as a mouthwash.  Check it out with or without your children, I guarantee you’ll have a few laughs and learn a lot more than you bargained for.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Betsy’s Sesame-Peanut Chicken

Note: this was my mother’s recipe and not intended to compare to a Thai peanut sauce, which typically has a sweet-and-sour tang to it from sugar and lime juice.  This recipe turns out savory and comforting, and leftovers tend to get finished later that night.

1 lb. of bonless, skinless chicken (breast or thigh)
1 bunch of carrots, sliced
1/2 c. of peanut butter (or other nut butter; cashew butter is incredible and TJ’s has it for a reasonable price)
2 tsp. of tamari
1/4 c. of toasted sesame seeds
1/4 c. of cashews
4 garlic cloves
1/4 c. of diced onions
1 can coconut milk
lime juice
olive oil
ground dried or fresh grated ginger
bean sprouts (optional)
hot sesame oil (optional)

Saute onions and carrots in oil until carrots are tender.  Set aside. Chop chicken into small bite-sized pieces and brown in medium skillet.  Once chicken is fully cooked, remove from the skillet, turn heat down to medium-low and add in ginger and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes.  Sprinkle in lime juice and soy sauce and a dash of hot sesame oil (optional).  Stir in peanut butter, mixing it thoroughly with other seasonings and until it melts (don’t let it burn!).  Pour in coconut milk and blend with peanut butter.  Add chicken, carrots, and onions back into the skillet, also adding in cashews and sesame seeds, until warm.  Serve over rice with bean sprouts.

October Opportunities

WB-WhatWereDoing20151020This past Saturday, we visited Oxbow Farm, another local resource providing our preferred grocery store with fresh produce.  There, we explored a kids’ garden utilizing permaculture methods, including three sisters planting (corn, beans, and squash), a gourd tunnel, a squash dome, and companion planting of all kinds.  They’d built a house of hay for little ones to climb, provided food my daughter enjoyed courtesy of Tillamook dairy, and sold pumpkins, live plants, seeds, treats, and had a flower crown making station and another area for decorating tiny pumpkins.

We took part in everything we could, given our late arrival (we didn’t get a chance to launch pumpkins on their catapult), and spent almost three hours having fun.  Have you visited a local farm yet during this festive time?

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Despite a minor setback with a missed lesson courtesy of a stomach virus, I’ve managed to progress well enough in my piano practice that I can now play five songs with both hands, do scales, arpeggios, inverted chords, and more.  My instructor encourages me to play around and gives me a few basic forms to try when doing so, as well as keeping me away from reading music (for now) and away from the drills I was accustomed to as a child.  If ever there was a teacher who could engage any student, it’s mine.

As for my attempts at educating my children, I’m pleased to say that Daughter is starting to appreciate note-taking for the first time in her life.  She’s beginning to see its value and how it makes reconnecting with the information she’s reading and helps her process.  She spent a good twenty minutes explaining to me why she believes the author’s opinions in her WWI text are incorrect with regard to why the war started.  She said, “He says he thinks the war could have been avoided if the assassination of this royal hadn’t taken place, but the way he presents it, it sounds like it was unavoidable. Even if this one death hadn’t triggered it, I think some of these people wanted to start a war, and they were looking for any excuse.  If it hadn’t happened when it did, it would have happened soon after.”

Meanwhile, my son is speaking in more complex sentences — and paragraphs — and has quite a bit to say, apparently.  About everything.  Sometimes we can’t help but laugh, though he doesn’t intend to be funny, and sometimes when he laughs he looks confused, but so long as we respond to what he’s said, he’s able to gloss over it.  He still loves mimicking us, and what either my partner or I say end up becoming hard and fast rules in his mind, which he’ll later argue if anyone contradicts them, so I’m working on being careful what I say and how I say them to avoid potentially contradicting myself later.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle, illustrated by Hope Larson

Can I share an embarrassing part of myself?  As a kid, I never really read A Wrinkle in Time.  In elementary school, it was assigned reading, and I suppose I must have skimmed it, though I don’t think I finished it.  We even went to see a play based on it, and I was completely confused by it, and spent more time engaging with my friend (quietly) rather than trying to follow the play.  Even as an adult, I’ve felt that childhood aversion, but couldn’t say why.  I sat down and listened to the first several chapters of the audiobook as read by the author (I had a hard time finding it online; this is the best source so far), and it’s a beautiful way of experiencing it, but I didn’t actually engage with the story fully until the other night.

I’d run across the graphic novel version at the library and read through it in a couple of hours.  Now I understand why it was confusing to me, and why it might seem intimidating to young people who haven’t grown up in a house where mathematics and physics are discussed at length.  I may have been good at maths all my life, but I didn’t have much of a concept of physics or the reasoning behind the formulae I’d been trained to use in those early years.  Though it’s a children’s book, it seemed far more accessible as an adult who understands the concepts being set forth, and has a decent grasp on many of the languages being spoken by Mrs. Who.  I wish I’d been able to appreciate this story as a child, because I think it might have altered my early approach to home education.  So, whether you’re reading this for the first time, or haven’t read it since you were a child, check out A Wrinkle in Time in any version you find most accessible, because you might discover things that went beyond your understanding as a child.  I know it’s going to change my approach to working with both of my children from hear on out.

Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Also from the library, we checked out Cookie’s Week for my son, and despite a pile of books to choose from every night, he keeps asking for this one.  While subtly teaching the days of the week, it documents how the innocent play of a black and white cat lead to little disasters each day.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We haven’t been watching much outside of our usual shows, so we’d like to share something we listened to this week. When I came down the stairs to my piano teacher’s studio, she was playing Couperin’s “Tic-Toc-Choc or Les Mallitons.”  She’d just heard it on the radio a few days before and she decided to learn it.  She sounded like she’d mastered it years ago to hear her play it, but what can I say? She’s a brilliant musician, and being blind, she had to have learned it from ear.

While we haven’t watched it yet, we received a recommendation for our history instruction.  There was a BBC show that came out several years back called Horrible Histories based on the book series by the same name.  It is now available on Hulu, for sale at Amazon, and has a few episodes up on YouTube and possibly in other places, should you wish to see if they’re right for your family.  As it was explained to me, these shows don’t shy away from the horrors of history, but instead, bring a lot of the ugliness to light, but in an entertaining way.  This approach sounds a little like the BBC’s Connections, which we highly endorse for learning about history, culture, technology, science, and the interconnectedness of it all.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

With the weather turning colder, though we’re still having more sunny days than rainy ones (I thought we lived in the PNW!), we’ve started having more harvest meals and heartier meals.  It was raining and gloomy the other night, a perfect time to have something warm and comforting.  So, I made lamb goulash and buttered gf noodles.

Lamb Goulash

1.5 lb. of lamb stew meat
4 large carrots
1 lb. potatoes
2 bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow)
1 leek, diced
4 mushrooms (whatever sturdy mushroom you prefer, have available, or is in season)
6 garlic cloves
1 can of tomato paste
1/3 c. red wine
1/2 c. sour cream
paprika
salt
pepper
caraway seeds

In a large skillet or stew pot, brown the stew meat on all sides.  Dice leeks, mushrooms (we used chanterelles) and peppers, add to meat to sauté.  Chop carrots and potatoes into large chunks, adding them to the pot.  Mix in the tomato paste and twice as much water, season, and add in wine.  Stir well, set to medium high until just beginning to boil, then simmer on low, covered, for about an hour.  When vegetables and meat are tender, remove from heat and add sour cream in while stirring.

Serve with bread or over buttered noodles.

 

Disclaimer: The recommendations made in this blog are the sole opinions of Raven J. Demers (a.k.a. Never’s Remedy), the author, and do not stem from corporate endorsements of any kind. This blog is not supported by advertisements or corporate sponsors (technically, it’s not supported at all), but I am an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made from Amazon links from this blog will go to support Willow & Birch. However, the choice to promote a book, video, or other resource are at my sole discretion and come from my daily experiences, usually from visiting the library or because a friend or other homeschooling parent suggested its worth. Amazon doesn’t tell me what to do, except when asking for my password to log in.  Promise.

Changing Priorities

The start-of-autumn deluge has finally arrived, bringing relief and early fall colds. I’ve started keeping a different kind of weekly to do list that gives one organization/pretending-to-be-an-adult item and one activity with the kids each day, on top of the daily stuff I already need to do (e.g. morning movement, work on my writing, run errands, etc.). Last week, I completed four out of five household organizational tasks, making our home a little better each day, and our Learning Center is looking far less cluttered and more accessible.  So much so that my son has actually made use of it three days in a row.

The corner of the kitchen we use for organizing our curricula and educational toys.

The corner of the kitchen we use for organizing our curricula and educational toys.

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Last week, my daughter called her Aikido Sensei and said she needed a break, that she didn’t feel as if she fit in in either class available to her.  It was also the end of the ballroom classes we’d prepaid for, and she decided it wasn’t the right kind of dance for her.

So, we’ve taken a look at new classes in our area.  I asked her to create a spreadsheet of her three favorite school options, with lists of classes offered, times they’re offered, and costs so we can make an informed decision as a family.  She’s most interested in jazz dance, yoga, and taking some Nia classes with me.  We also need to call three local elementary schools to ask if Daughter can have observation days in their K-2 classes, since she’s quite interested in following that career track.

At the same time, my son is returning to gymnastics and we’re setting up play dates with other two year olds so he can spend more time with near-age children. We see our toddler cousins once in a while and run into neighbors from time-to-time with children his age, but he doesn’t have a friend he can consistently hang out with.

My partner and I will be continuing our ballroom classes with group lessons, and in a couple of weeks, I’m getting my first tattoo for my 37th birthday.

Our septic issues aren’t too bad, but we still need some replacements done, for which we need to save $3,000 (yikes!), but I’m happy after my partner hired landscapers to help me out. Four hours, two men, and this is the result:

Backyard BeforeBackyard After

WHAT WE’RE READING

I posted on Hearth, Heart, & Home the wonderful experience of reading the first story in Town Cats by Lloyd Alexander during a power outage.  I’m getting into the Left Hand of Darkness, my daughter is about to have her book basket filled with books on education (she said teaching is her calling), and my son just let me read Zen Shorts to him for the first time.

Soon, my daughter will be starting her WWII reading, which I’ve chosen to begin with Maus I & II and I Never Saw Another Butterfly.  The former is a graphic novel where the Jewish people are represented by mice and the Nazi Germans are represented by cats.  The latter book is a collection of poems and images created by the children in a concentration camp.  I had been assigned the book in 7th grade and was also in a play based on the book.  It has stuck with me all my life.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’re still on U.S. History in Crash Course, but we started watching two television shows as a family almost concurrently: Gravity Falls and Eureka.  Daughter and I have come to the conclusion that the two towns are neighbors in rural Washington, probably somewhere to the north of where we live, and what is created in Eureka ends up wandering into and affecting Gravity Falls.

Meanwhile, my son remains addicted to Steven Universe. Not only does he request I sing the theme song at every nap and bedtime as one of the lullabies, he asks to watch it almost daily.  He has a cold this week, and it’s one of the few times I allow television binging in our home.  He’s too sick to enjoy playing, everything makes him cry, except watching all of the SU episodes back to back. And since they’re around eleven to thirteen minutes each, it only took him the whole of a morning to get through the existing episodes.  (Why oh why did they split the second season in half?!)

WHAT WE’RE EATING

It’s been a traditional Seattle-area, start-of-autumn deluge since Friday that’s bringing some relief from the raging fires and the massive, coastal drought.  Combine cool, wet weather with sick kids, and I’ve got a pot of chicken and rice soup on the stove, a crock pot cooking up some bone broth, and for lunch, we’re having comfort food, including Baked Potato Tacos.  We made ours with ground pork and didn’t scoop out the potato filling, but placed cheddar cheese on top of each baked potato halves, fresh from the oven.  The heat melted the cheese while I cooked the meat filling with salsa.

Pop Culture History Lessons

MTV logo from the 1980s

Do you ever have moments where your kids have no idea what you’re talking about because you made reference to something important or well-known among your generation? It happens often in my home, especially since my daughter is homeschooled and we don’t have television (we watch movies and select shows on DVD and on our computer), so she isn’t constantly bombarded with media to the same extent I was.

So occasionally, I sit the children down and teach “Pop Culture History” using YouTube as video guides.  We cover everything from music videos (and lament about the days when MTV played them) to commercials.

All About Eve

It isn’t just references from my generation, either.  Since I grew up watching all sorts of television, lived in a three-generation household, and listened to a lot of stories and music from my elders, I learned a lot about pop culture media from as far back as the 20’s (my maternal grandmother was born in 1918 and lived with us for many years).

Golden Girls

We watch black and white films and discuss Pink Floyd.  We sat down and powered through all seasons of the The Golden Girls because it was a love I shared with my grandmother.  Now my daughter understands why Betty White is incredible (though she has yet to see her earlier work).  She can now comprehend why my partner and I laugh at certain references in current shows, films, comics, and even news reports that mention something from before her birth.  Politics beyond ten years ago isn’t as a great mystery to her as it is to many of those in her age group.

Dathon and Picard at El-Adrel

Why is pop culture even important? Much like being culturally literate in the ways of classic literature, your nation’s history, and the ideals upon which it was founded are necessary to be able to discuss shared ideas with other people, being literate in pop-culture allows for certain languages and ideas to flow together.  Anyone who knows what “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” means, can understand how a simple phrase can completely shape a person’s sense of what someone else is saying and help strengthen understanding. Just as some languages have single words or phrases for complex concepts, pop-culture references provide mutual comprehension of something vast while saying something small.

Alan Rickman as Professor Snape

My daughter said to me the other day, “Always?  Always.”  To anyone who knows Harry Potter well, they might recognize this brief exchange between Professor Snape and Headmaster Dumbledore regarding a complex set of emotions and an explanation for quite a lot of Snape’s behavior over the previous six years. It strikes at the heart to hear it, and can render one of us speechless in the right moment.  And given the context of our discussion, this mention can add a profundity and shared connection not easily achieved with a longer string of words.

Pop culture history adds dimension, flavor, and a chance to connect more deeply with time periods inaccessible to our kids due to their youth. And to adults as well who wish to learn and understand more about our near ancestors, reaching back to partake of the television shows, music, films, and casual reading material of the past can help us better understand our elders, our culture, and the past which shaped our present.

May the Force Be with You.  Troy and Abed in the Morning.

“Troy and Abed in the Morning” from Community