Thursday, December 22, 2011

FIAR: The Duchess Bakes a Cake, day 1 and 2

The Duchess Bakes a Cake is the story of a medieval duchess who gets bored one day and decides to make a cake. She adds some yeast, and then adds some more yeast, and then more for good measure. The results are about what you would expect for a children's storybook, which is to say it completely ignores the fact that all the yeast in the world can only make a finite amount of dough stretch so far and the resulting cake carried the duchess far above the castle.

With a story like that, you obviously would have to spend time talking about baking and the role of leaveners. We started with yeast. I showed K a couple Good Eats episodes featuring yeast, because if there's a better way explain how yeast works than with belching sock puppets, I haven't seen it. After that, we moved onto the hands-on portion of the lesson. First, we tried setting out two mixtures of warm water and yeast, one with sugar and one without. Within fifteen minutes, it was clear that sugar is necessary to fuel the yeast, since the mixture with sugar was bubbling merrily away and the plain water mixture was sitting there tepidly. I had K look at the yeast foam and see the bubbles in it.

To further cement the idea that yeast gives off gas (and because it was really cool), we took a two-liter soda bottle, put warm water, yeast and sugar in it and then stretched a balloon over the top. Within half an hour, the balloon had popped up and was clearly inflated on top of the bottle. We could see the yeast foaming away at the bottom as well. We went out for several hours after that and when we came home, the balloon had gotten quite a bit larger and the yeast was clearly still working away, which really impressed me. Even though I've baked more than enough bread to know that yeast keeps working for hours and even days, it's still hard to carry that over to realize that the yeast really is a living organism that keeps eating and producing as long as it has food, even when it's not hidden in bread.

The final experiment of the day was to talk about other leaveners, specifically baking soda. Since baking soda is much more commonly used in making cakes in modern times, I wanted to show K how it worked. I suppose it wasn't so much an experiment as a demonstration: I put baking soda in the bottom of a glass and poured vinegar over it, and as everyone who ever made a baking sode volcano knows, it bubbled up quite impressively. To learn a bit more about making cakes and baking soda, we read The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake and watched an episode of the Magic School Bus tv show that covered pretty much the same story.

Then, of course, we had to bake a cake. At that point, we were done with science for the day since there was no recapturing K's interest when there was a cake to be decorated.

This week, I decided that right before Christmas is not the time to try to get a six-year-old to concentrate on school, so we're putting off the rest of Duchess until after we get back from Michigan. There's more than enough of the Middle Ages to fill a full week, and it will give me a chance to get some books that I had wanted but didn't have time to get through interlibrary loan. We will be doing A New Coat for Anna next week because K's grandmother will be visiting with her spinning wheel, and that's far too good an opportunity to give hands-on experience with fiber production from fleece to yarn to pass up. I don't think we'll have any trouble getting K to pay attention to the process of dyeing wool or spinning it, even with new Christmas presents to distract her.

Books used today:
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl
The Magic School Bus Gets Baked in a Cake by Joanna Cole

Friday, December 16, 2011

Anatomy lesson

This week, we took K for an anatomy lesson I don't plan to ever repeat in our homeschooling career - to my 20 week ultrasound.

I can't quite believe it's 20 weeks already (21 actually, by the time this gets published). The morning sickness was pretty much gone by 14 or 15 weeks, and while I've been more tired than normal, I could almost forget that I'm pregnant if not for the regular kicks. My waist is thickening but I can still fit into one pair of normal pants and my uterus isn't far enough up yet to create any difficulties when it comes to bending or twisting.

The ultrasound went just fine. Everything looked good and we were treated to some nice views of tiny feet and hands, a sweet little profile and super-creepy skeletal face shots. And a penis. K was terribly disappointed to hear it, but she's getting another baby brother. B and I are feeling a bit stymied because now we have to come up with another boy name.

I have another ultrasound scheduled in four weeks because one of the medications I'm on is associated with smaller babies. Since I've managed to gestate two nine-pound babies while taking said medication, I'm feeling like monthly ultrasounds is overkill, but it doesn't hurt and I don't mind more pictures. I'm also supposed to get a fetal echocardiogram and see a cardiologist, neither of which I've managed to schedule because I'm finding it hard to see the necessity (the cardiologist I can kind of see because it's been nearly a decade since I've seen one. But the fetal echocardiogram because a single study on one of medications suggested a slight increase in heart problems? I'm having trouble seeing the need if everything looked fine at the 20 week ultrasound). I have to make the appointments Monday though, because my next ob appointment is Wednesday and I don't want any more nagging.

Anyway, the really important part is that since he was nice and cooperative on the ultrasound, he gets a new, more gender accurate prenatal nickname. So my fetal passenger is now Godric. He's currently kicking his approval.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

FIAR: Mirette on the High Wire. day 4

On our last day of Mirette, we studied the geography of Paris. I didn't have a lot of luck finding age-appropriate non-fiction books, but found several nice picture books that gave a good overview of the geography of Paris. We started with Everybody Bonjours, which I nearly didn't check out at first because the text is so basic, but then I flipped to the back and found the detailed guide of all of the Paris landmarks pictured in the book. Highly useful. From there, we read a few more books and looked for the landmarks we had already learned about. We did a brief detour to learn a bit about gargoyles, then watched a few videos on Paris aimed at tourists. Since Mirette takes place in the 1890s, we've been reading a Magic Treehouse book that takes place during the World's Fair of 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was built.

Then we moved to the hands-on portion of the lesson. First, I had K cut out a paper model of Paris that I found on the Web, which was great fun to play with. Then we made a wooden model of the Eiffel Tower from one of the many kits available at Michaels. We've done a number of those kits and they're surprisingly good for $5 or less. They're marketed as 3d puzzles, but with some glue (and I highly recommend using glue if you want it stay together), they become very nice little models, or in a couple cases, lovely little dollhouses with functional furniture. It became clear quite early on that K inherited my interest and ability in working with her hands. I did a lot of the model (there were parts that just would not have fit together and stayed without adult strength), but she was very good at spotting how the pieces should fit together. Altogether, it was a very pleasing project.

Our next book is going to be The Duchess Bakes a Cake, largely because it came in the mail the other day and once I said the word "cake," K was set on it. I wouldn't have necessarily chosen right now for it because we have plans for two other books to take advantage of grandparents being around for Christmas who can help with certain topics. The medieval theme of Duchess lends itself to a more extended study that we won't have time for if we want to cover the other books while grandparents are here. Life is also pretty distracting right now, which is why I haven't been pushing heavy academic work right now. But we can always find another book to cover the Middle Ages if we want to come back to it later.

Books used today:

Everybody bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman
Babar Loses His Hat by Laurent de Brunhoff
Come fly with me by Satomi Ichikawa
Night of the new magicians by Mary Pope Osborne

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FIAR: Mirette on the High Wire, days 1-3

We did what was essentially two different activities over the course of three days, so I'm just going to talk about them in terms of activities as opposed to what we did when.

Mirette on the High Wire is the story of a girl in Paris who learns how to walk on the high wire after a retired high wire artist, Bellini, comes to live at her mother's boarding house. Through teaching Mirette, Bellini manages to work past the fear that had forced him to retire and they end up on tour together. I chose this book because I had sold K on the idea of studying Paris, but not on Madeline, and this also takes place in Paris. But you can't study Mirette without covering the circus, which has added huge amounts of excitement to our week.

After reading Mirette, the first book on the circus we pulled out was Peter Spier's Circus. Peter Spier has long been a family favorite for the fascinating level of detail he puts in his illustrations, and Circus is no exception. We spent a long time looking and pointing out interesting things. Then two non-fiction books on the circus, and The Greatest Elephant in the World, which on cursory inspection was about a circus elephant, but actually reading it revealed it had almost no information on the circus and was pretty depressing to boot. We ended with Olivia Saves the Circus, a Mr. Rogers dvd on the circus and a Reading Rainbow episode with a section on high wire artists.

I found out last weekend that Philadelphia actually has a circus school, but I was sad to discover when I checked their website that it was a couple weeks too late to see any performances this year. I will definitely be keeping my eye out next spring for anything I can take K to, since the circus is by far best experienced in person.

Our second activity was exploring the physics of balance. We read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the story of a man who disguised himself as a construction worker to snuck up to the top of the Twin Towers and string a rope between them so he could walk it (I was a little worried about the awkward questions that might come up since the book does end by saying the towers are no longer standing, but thankfully, K was too incensed by the injustice of Philippe being arrested to really register that part). We looked at the pictures in that and Mirette, and looked at the poles they used for balance. I pulled out a marker and first asked K to try to balance it on her finger standing up, which she couldn't do, and then with it lying down, which she eventually got. I took the cap off the marker and had her look at where it balanced versus where it balanced with the cap on. I think she got a pretty good understanding of balance without having to use terms like "center of mass."

Then we went to a local playground where there are some balance beams so K could try some balancing herself. She needed a bit of help to walk the beam initially, but she was fairly successful with the pole from our Swiffer. I asked her to try to lean as far over as she could and still stay balanced, and we saw how her hips leaned out in the other direction to compensate. Then her brother made his lack of nap known and we had to go home before she could spend as much time as she wanted perfecting her high wire act.

Tomorrow, Paris!

Books used:

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily McCully
Peter Spier's Circus! by Peter Spier
The World's Greatest Elephant by Ralph Helfer
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein
Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer
Big-Top Circus by Neil Johnson
The Circus Comes Home by Lois Duncan

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sick day

Today, I was getting a cold, Alec was wandering around coughing and hacking like he had a 40 year, 3 pack a day smoking habit, and it's become painfully obvious that K is incubating another UTI. She hasn't gotten to the point that she will admit to pain and hasn't developed a fever, but she has the Smell, and has in general been a colossal pill. She has also spent the past two evenings lying down under a blanket, which confirmed for me this evening that my choice not to attempt schoolwork was the right decision. Poor bunny.

She has an appointment with her new doctor tomorrow, so hopefully we'll get a better antibiotic and a referral to a new urologist who willingly makes eye contact.

In other stellar parenting news, when K and I were doing reading yesterday, something about the way she was looking at the words made me ask her if she was having trouble seeing them clearly. No, she just has trouble reading words when she's bored, was the response. Uh huh. Probably more like she stops trying to see things clearly when she's bored. Sigh. We've been meaning to get everyone including K eye exams for the past nine months, but somehow it keeps falling to the bottom of the list, largely because we didn't like the last person we went to, so we need to find a new optometrist. And it occurred to me last night, if we want K to have an accurate exam, we need to find one who's excellent with children.

K is the same age I was when I got my first glasses. As I thought about it last night, I have to wonder if her absolute refusal to try to read the eye chart at her physical last summer was because she was having trouble seeing it and didn't want to get anything wrong. So I totally feel like Responsible Parent of the Year for letting this slide now.

FIAR : Cranberry Thanksgiving, day 3, sort of

I think we are going to try to do Cranberry Thanksgiving again next year, the week before Thanksgiving, because nobody was focusing well last week.

Today, I tried to finish up a little with some talking about Thanksgiving foods and nutrition, largely because it gave me a sheet I can include in our portfolio that shows we engaged in nutrition/health and wellness education. So first, I showed K a sheet I made up with pictures of typical Thanksgiving foods - turkey, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans and pumpkin pie. I asked her what these foods might have in common and why they might get eaten at an American Thanksgiving, as opposed to harvest festivals in other countries. K didn't know, so we started looking up the foods in Wikipedia, and over and over, native to the Americas kept coming up. K still felt tha the thing these foods had in common is that they grew on farms, but I managed to get across that we eat those foods for our Thanksgiving because they're all native foods.

Then I had her cut out the pictures and we placed them on a printout of a plate with the food groups from by what food group they belonged to. And lo, we had one sheet to stick in the portfolio. I really don't feel first grade should be about output, but it's always in the back of my mind that I need to purposefully create some for the sake of the portfolio.

Tomorrow, Mirette on the High Wire. I had initially planned on Madeline, but while K liked the idea of learning about Paris and loved the idea of building a model of the Eiffel Tower, she didn't want to do Madeline. I looked at the FIAR list and strongly considered The Giraffe that Walked to Paris - K loves giraffes. But ultimately I decided that it wasn't a good idea to do that book when we wouldn't be able to go to the zoo, and also couldn't quite stomach the idea of talking about the Eiffel Tower while doing a book that takes place 50 years before it was built.

So that left Mirette on the High Wire. It's actually quite a good choice for getting K engaged, because the circus is always a fun topic. And I admit, I didn't plan this at all, but we went to IKEA last weekend and K begged us to buy her this set of circus finger puppets and now she's really excited by the circus. Really, I wish I had thought of it, but no, it was just dumb luck. This should be a lot of fun.

Other things accomplished today: read to the end of Progressive Phonics beginner book 1, did an MEP 1a worksheet.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reading, 'riting and fainting in coils

Today, we got back to reading and math, which is a frustrating proposition in some ways, because I have no idea where to place her.

If you were to ask K, she can barely read a word. Certainly, if you want her to sound out a word, she won't oblige you. But at the same time, when she was taking the placement test for Reading Eggs, she got the first 20 questions right before getting bored and demanding an end to the test, at which point I decided it was probably better not to have her placed so high that she would be constantly frustrated and had her get the next questions wrong so we could get out of the test. But getting that far (and I suspect she could have gotten farther) required quite a bit of reading. A child who can't read doesn't start out on level 5 of a reading game. She can use our dvr well enough to find the specific episode of a tv show she wants, which you can only do by reading. And this summer, when we were looking for a dvd of "Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue," she found it and yelled, "Hey, this says 'Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Escape!'" So sure, sweetheart, we TOTALLY believe you can't read at all.

However, being fairly sure she reads much better than she's letting on doesn't tell me where to place her when it actually comes to curriculum. So I've decided to just start her at the beginning of Progressive Phonics, in the hopes that starting her out easy will help her gain enough confidence to start showing her actual skills. As I've said before, I like Progressive Phonics because it has the parent reading along with the child, which both gives K added confidence to have me carrying the bulk of the reading load and makes for much more interesting reading than "The fat cat sat" school of phonics reader. We made it to the end of the first beginner book tonight without much problem. She really likes to try to guess at words based on the pictures instead of taking the time to read them, but if you make her stop and focus on the actual word, she usually doesn't have a problem figuring it out.

Progressive Phonics has a handwriting component, but K really wanted to use the handwriting book we had been using with the online school, and since it's a perfectly good handwriting book (Zaner Bloser), I was fine letting her continue with it. She was really excited to discover she had moved from writing individual letters to actual words (her response: "Real words! Score!"), so I'm hopeful she'll respond well when we finish this book and move onto Writing With Ease, a writing curriculum that will involve writing quite a few words.

Math presents a slightly different problem. I have a pretty good idea of where K's math skills are, but in switching curricula, I'm not sure where to start in the new one. MEP levels 1a and 1b seem to be the equivalent of the first grade math she's been doing, but not necessarily covering things the same way. From what I can tell, 1a covers addition up to 10, which K can do pretty well, and 1b covers addition from 11 to 20. But looking at the sheets at the end of 1a, I'm afraid she would be a bit lost if we skipped straight to 1b, at least partially because the style of problem is so much different than the straightforward style of addition and subtraction problems she's been doing that she'll get too frustrated. So I've been skimming 1a and picking out some sheets just to get her used to the more game-like style of problem. Also, while we've certainly covered greater than and less than, she's never used the actual < or > signs, so the first sheet I pulled out tonight focused mostly on that.

I feel like we need to get her to the point that she knows the addition and subtraction facts up to 10, without having to figure it out with fingers or counting cubes. She has the theory down just fine, but again, there's a confidence issue holding her back. I'm hoping maybe some time with some math games will help cement some of these basic sums so she can move on to more complicated problems with confidence.

Tomorrow, a last day of activities based on Cranberry Thanksgiving, then we move onto Paris and the circus with Mirette on the High Wire.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's time to light the lights...

We went to see the Muppets on Thanksgiving. It was just so awesome I can't express it more eloquently than that. I said a couple months ago that I thought it would take Gen-Xers who grew up loving the Muppets to regain the old magic, and by golly, I was right. Of course, the effect of having two writers who grew up loving the Muppets is that they couldn't have written a bigger (quite literal) nostalgia trip if they had tried. I would say the movie has a heavy subtext of the quest to regain the lost innocence of childhood, but it's really pretty much just plain text.

Not that any of this is a bad thing. And the thing that really catapulted this movie past a simple rehashing of the past is that they were able to pay homage to the past (they included Wayne and Wanda!) while introducing new, good material in the same style and spirit.

I have to say, if you're going to see a movie like this, I higly recommend finding a six-year-old Muppet fan to take with you. I mean, B and I enjoyed ourselves, but I looked over during the opening song and she was singing along and dancing with her doll. She loved it in the unselfconscious way you only can when you're six.

I must say, there are a lot of things I love about six. One big one is that she's made a big leap forward in bravery and can watch a lot of things she used to find too scary. There were several previews before the movie that we thought we would like to see, and for the first time, they all looked like things we could take K to. It was a long year the year she was four and just the thought of a darkened theater was too scary for her. The movie we finally got her to go see in the theater was Toy Story 3, and as I sat there holding K on my lap at the end of movie, with all of the main characters headed towards a fiery death and listening to children around me sobbing, all I could think is, "Are you freaking KIDDING me, Pixar?" An entire year of not being able to take her to a movie and they decide to load a supposedly G rated movie with prison and horror movie tropes.* But she managed to survive (although she still won't watch it on dvd) and started being able to go to select, mild movies again. And now this year, we've actually seen multiple movies, with more in the offing that we can really look forward to seeing (as opposed to movies like Winnie the Pooh, which while sweet, had most of its charm in its ability to get us out of the heat on a 100 degree day). Yay!

* Don't get me wrong, I loved Toy Story 3. But it didn't deserve its G rating. Muppets, by comparison, with absolutely nothing remotely scary or traumatic, was a PG, presumably for the fart shoes. I'm hardly one to put much stock in the movie rating system, but I do feel like if a movie is rated G, I should be able to have a reasonable confidence that it will not lead my five-year-old (as well as half of the other children in the theatre) sobbing in fear. What's the point of having ratings, otherwise?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

FIAR: Cranberry Thanksgiving, day 2

I confess, the extent of our educational activities yesterday consisted of multiple viewings of "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," which I couldn't in good conscience write up. But today we managed to read some books on Thanksgiving and discuss it a bit.

We started with a book on the history of harvest festivals which described harvest festivals all over the world. Then we read Molly's Pilgrim, which related Thanksgiving to the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Then we finished up with a couple more fun Thanksgiving books. The attention span available today was rather limited, but I think we got across the idea of Thanksgiving as a harvest festival and time to share our blessings with others.

Books used today:

The autumn equinox : celebrating the harvest by Ellen Jackson
Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli
Sometimes it's turkey, sometimes it's feathers by Lorna & Lecia Balian.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FIAR: Cranberry Thanksgiving, day 1

We're celebrating Thanksgiving this week with Cranberry Thanksgiving, a book I remember fondly from my youth and devilishly hard to get my hands on presently. Buying it was out of the question, because the cheapest copy I could find online was $50, used. I've already complained about how the Philadelphia library allowed the copy I had on hold get checked out by someone else. So I tried one suburban library only to discover it had been checked out in the four hours between when I checked the catalog online and getting to the library. I finally tracked it down at another suburban library.

K's reaction, upon being presented the book, was to declare she didn't want to read it and she was going to hide it under the couch, which she did. After the ordeal I went through (and the fact that I didn't have any alternate plans for the week), that was not going to fly. I told her she had to listen to it at least once, and I figured if we didn't read it again, we at least would have a basis for the rest of the activities for the week.

Sigh. There are many good things about having a child that's very independent and self-directed. And then there are the times I mentally chant to myself "Stubbornness is a trait that will serve her well in life. Really. No matter how much I want to shake her until she just cooperates without argument." At least she'll be resistant to peer pressure, right?

Anyway, after a show of plugging her ears, K did in fact listen to the story and seemed to mostly enjoy it, although she never did warm up to Mr. Whiskers, despite the fact that he's the hero of the story. Then we talked a bit about how it takes place in New England, where many of her ancestors lived. I told her a bit about her great-grandmother, who grew up in Maine. Then we watched a Reading Rainbow with a segment on harvesting cranberries. We finished with a short video on Thanksgiving.

I feel conflicted about how to teach about Thanksgiving, since I'm not fond of the idea of promoting our national myth of happy Pilgrim and Native Americans, conveniently glossing over how within 20 years, said Pilgrims would be mercilessly killing the same Native Americans. I think K should know about the Puritans, since they're her ancestors (we're direct descendants of Roger Conant, the first colonial governor of Salem). But she's a little young for a reading of Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, which I feel does a good job of both appreciating the good points of the Puritans while showing them warts and all. So I'm mostly ignoring all that and concentrating on Thanksgiving as a harvest festival, which is how I choose to celebrate it. Tomorrow, we're reading a bunch of Thanksgiving books that talk a lot about giving thanks and sharing our blessings and very little about Pilgrims. I'm also planning to show her "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," which is Pilgrim heavy, but at least the Thanskgiving video we watched today gave a pretty accurate history, including the fact that Europeans had enslaved the Wampanoag.

Books used today:

Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin

Monday, November 21, 2011


I admit, I was so tired last night that I didn't even try to post. Too tired even to put up a "Gone Fishing" post crying off for the evening. And I'm still tired tonight, although the post-dinner nap helped a lot. I'm really looking forward to a holiday in the middle of the week, as well as a day off for everyone on Sunday. That's almost like a two-day weekend, right?

Anyway, here are some of the non-homeschooling things going on right now:

* We took Alec to the dentist last week and an x-ray revealed that fortunately, there was no damage to any of his teeth. Apparently the looseness was caused by damage to the soft tissue, and as it heals, the tooth will get back to normal. It definitely seems more firm to me a week later. There's a risk that it might turn brown if the blood supply has been damaged, but it's not showing any sign of it after a week and that's only a cosmetic issue anyway. I had a brown tooth myself as a small child due to an unfortunate encounter with the back of my brother's head.

* We're really enjoying this season of Next Iron Chef. I think the decision to use celebrity chefs was brilliant - we recognize many of them, so we came into it with pre-existing attachments; they're all already comfortable on camera and able to project a likeable persona (one of the things I think they didn't emphasize nearly enough in previous seasons was personality. Yes, an Iron Chef needs to be able to cook, but part of what makes the show enjoyable is that they can cook and be likeable at the same time). And one big advantage of choosing among established chefs is that all three women all still in the competition after four rounds of elimination, when previous competitions have tended to eliminate women and minorities very quickly (which isn't hard when you don't start with that many of them to begin with). That show really needs another woman since Cat Cora doesn't seem to be competing this season.

* Speaking of tv, I think Once Upon a Time is my pick for favorite new show of the season. I've always loved fairy tales, and retellings of fairy tales in new and interesting ways. This show scratches that itch very nicely, in a visually gorgeous and emotionally engaging way. The other fairy tale show of the season, Grimm, has so far completely failed to catch my attention. I think I'm just not in the mood for police procedurals right now, even with the X-Files twist of the criminals being supernatural.

* And I know there was more I wanted to write, but darned if I can remember it at this time of night. Perhaps this is a sign I should go to bed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

FIAR: Make Way for Ducklings, day 4

Today was not a great day for school. We all had a lot of trouble getting started this morning, and while cuddling together in a big pile in bed is lovely, it doesn't get schoolwork done. K was also not in a very cooperative mood because I had enacted a new policy the night before in an effort to get a response to my attempts to get her to clean up her toys besides whining and delay tactics. Perhaps I should have given her more warning last night, but sometimes scorched Earth tactics are the most effective and I was fed up. So she was rather preoccupied by the Rapunzel doll residing in my closet and not inclined to pay attention to school (but she did do a bang-up job cleaning up the living room tonight!). Then we spent the afternoon on time-consuming errands, including irnonically driving out to a suburban library to track down a copy of the book we're doing next week, Cranberry Thanksgiving.*

But I did manage to get some geography in, thanks to Google Maps (the FIAR manual keeps suggesting things like looking up maps in your Worldbook Encyclopedia - how quaint). We found Boston first, and looked at how far it is from Philadelphia (and then we looked at Michigan, and Illinois, and Hawaii - I never said we were particularly on task today). Part of Make Way is drawn from a duck's eye view flying over the city, so it looks something like a map. I zoomed in on the map of Boston and we were able to identify where on the Charles the mallards built there nest, and then trace the route they took to walk back to the Public Gardens. We used as much of Google Streetview and the satellite view as we could to see the Gardens themselves. We could see some swanboats, but I had to go look up the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings that are in the Public Gardens, since K really wanted to see them. I'm quite certain we won't be able to get out of a trip to the Public Gardens on our next trip to Boston, which is just fine with me.

If I can manage it, I'm going to try to read two more McCloskey books, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine with K this weekend and discuss how he uses the same artistic style for all of them. But even if we don't, I think we've made a decent showing of our first week of rowing, given how recently I started preparing. We're going to do Cranberry Thanksgiving next week, but continue to go easy on other subjects, then try to start up with reading and math as well as FIAR the week after Thanksgiving, which will hopefully get us past both the school fatigue and the holiday distraction (for the moment, given how soon Christmas distraction will start up).

*I would like to extend a gigantic raspberry to the Free Library of Philadelphia on this issue. Last Monday, there were three copies listed as available in the system - two were checked out and one was available, but at a branch on the other side of the city. So I put it on hold so it could get transferred to my branch. For three days I kept checking its status and it just kept saying it was still on shelf. Then yesterday I checked again and it had been CHECKED OUT. What exactly is the point of putting a book on hold if no one can be bothered to take it off the shelf and HOLD it for you? I truly have more sense than to be trying to track down a popular Thanksgiving book a week before Thanksgiving, but it was because my own library failed me, apparently through being too lazy to actually retrieve books people have requested.

Friday, November 18, 2011

FIAR: Make Way for Ducklings, day 3

Today was pretty simple, because we belong to a homeschooling group that meets at the park during the summer and at a local gym during the winter for socialization/running around like maniacs time every Thursday afternoon. K gets more than enough exercise on these afternoons for me to consider it a free-form phys ed.

We started the day reading Ducks Don't Get Wet, and then we followed the instructions at the end of the book to prove how ducks stay dry. Actual ducks stay dry because they have an oil gland they use to spread oil over their feathers (this is why you see ducks rubbing their bills over their bodies so much; it's called preening). For our experiment, we spread vegetable oil over a feather:

and then sprayed it and a dry feather with water:


(K insisted on the goggles. It really is just harmless water in the spray bottle). And the water beaded up and rolled off the oily feather while soaking in the dry feather. Pretty nifty.

Tomorrow: some language arts and hopefully geography.

Books read today:

Ducks Don't Get Wet by Augusta Goldin

Thursday, November 17, 2011

FIAR: Make Way for Ducklings, day two

N.B.: I'm not planning on making this an all-homeschooling, all-the-time blog. But I need to keep track of what we do every day for portfolio purposes and I can't do both this and NaBloPoMo at the same time, so I'm sorry if the homeschooling stuff bores you, but we're over halfway through November and there's a holiday next week, so there won't be too much more of this. At the end of November, I'll be creating a separate homeschooling blog that anyone who's interested can follow.

As I suspected, today wasn't greeted with quite the same enthusiasm as yesterday. My child, she loves her some science. We started the day reading Make Way for Ducklings, and then I asked K if she thought the story took place in the present day or some time in the past. I was firmly informed that this was a make-believe story and therefore my question was absurd. Okay then. After trying to point out that even make-believe stories are usually meant to take place at a certain point in time, I took a different tack and asked her to look at the cars, and then pulled up a picture of Doc Hudson from the movie Cars, who was a '50s era Hudson Hornet. Did he look anything like the cars in the book? A bit, but not an exact match. After promising to look up pictures of Lightning McQueen when we were done with schoolwork, I pulled up a Wikipedia article on the history of cars, which is well-stocked with pictures of cars from every decade. I scrolled to the end to pictures of present-day cars and scrolled backwards until we hit the cars of the '30s and '40s, which looked very much like the cars in the book. Having established the book takes place in the '40s (it was in fact published in 1941), we looked at some other clues that it was from a different time - everyone was wearing hats, all of the women and girls were wearing skirts or dresses, Office Mike uses a telephone from a police telephone booth to call his precinct.

Then I pulled out the only book I could find for children on life in the 40s on short notice: Welcome to Molly's World, 1944: Growing Up in World War Two America, an American Girl supplemental book. Once I pointed out to K that her grandmother was six in 1944 (i.e. exactly her age!), she showed quite a bit of interest in it. I told her about how her grandmother had lived on the coast in Connecticut and therefore had to participate in blackout drills, which impressed K quite a bit. She asked if she was afraid during them because it was dark and I told her that yes, sometimes her mother wouldn't want to wake her up during them, so she would sometimes wake up in a pitch black house where everyone else was in the basement (I think the fact that nearly 70 years later, she still vividly remembers this says a lot about the trauma of them). That made a big impression too, since K is scared of the dark. Topics like clothes girls wore and victory gardens went fairly well. She was incensed to discover that they didn't have televisions but had to make do with radios, but perked up when we got to a page on going to the movies, which I told her many people did every week, and she also discovered that movies she's seen, like Snow White and Bambi were from that time period. Fortunately, although concentration camps and the nuclear bombings of Japan were covered, the pages didn't have any graphic pictures, so I was able to skip them without comment. K did show a lot of interest in a page on Sadako, the Japanese girl with leukemia who tried to fold 1000 paper cranes (they had a picture of hundreds of origami cranes, which caught her eye because she's very interested in origami), but I was able to just say that Sadako was a girl who was very sick after the war without getting into why. I also discovered that during pregnancy is not a good time to try and relay stories like that calmly.

Tomorrow, we are enthusiastically looking forward to our feather experiment. It might have been smarter to do it today, since today's topic might have been better received if it hadn't been in the way of something she was eagerly anticipating. But I didn't feel up to dealing with feathers, oil and a curious toddler, so it's waiting until Alec is at preschool tomorrow.

Books used today:
Welcome to Molly's World, 1944: Growing Up in World War Two America by Catherine Gourley

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FIAR day one: Make Way for Ducklings

We started our first day of Five in a Row out with a bang, with a reading of one of K's favorite books, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (although she said she didn't want to learn about Boston, she clarified the next day that she still wanted to do Make Way for Ducklings and she does love Boston, she just doesn't want to learn about it). Since most of the book is taking up with the process of a pair of mallard ducks finding a site for a nest, laying eggs and raising the hatchlings, it seemed natural to move into a study of ducks.

We started out reading Make Way for Ducklings, and then Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin, who writes a series of hysterically funny books about a farm with a very mischievous duck, just for fun. Then we moved back to more real life birds with The Egg, a book about, well, eggs and how chicks develop in them. While it was mostly about chickens, the basics of how eggs work is the same. We took a break in reading to go shine a flashlight through an egg in a dark room to show how eggs are porous. I also asked K when we got to the section on reptiles whether she thought cold-blooded animals would be able to sit on their eggs to keep them warm and she correctly deduced that no, since they don't emit heat, they couldn't keep their eggs warm (thank you Dino Dan, I guess, which is largely where K learned about warm and cold blooded animals). After that, we read A Duckling is Born, which was specifically about the mating process and fetal development of ducks. Then we read Ducks!, which was a more general book about the different breeds and types of duck. We finished with K rendering a pretty accurate drawing of a female duck on her nest.

Thursday, we're going to revisit ducks by doing an experiment to find out why ducks don't get wet. But K was so excited she got up and made her own project. She had been cradling the egg since our light demonstration, so she ran outside and got some twigs, grass and leaves to make it a nest:


She even found an obliging duck to sit on it:


I realize that male mallards don't sit on the nest, but we didn't have any female ducks available.

I don't think I can express how different today was than pretty much any day of school so far this year. The only times that have come close have been after a few science lessons. I realize not everything is going to generate this level of excitement, and I'm a little afraid it's downhill from here, but one of the big reasons we pulled her out of school in the first place is that I was afraid she was going to lose her love of learning in a sea of test preparation. Today, we able to get that back, an enthusiasm for new knowledge so strong that she had to jump up and make up her own project. I can't think of any better reason for homeschooling than that.


Tomorrow, some geography and history (I may be sneaking some information about Boston in there if I can get away with it). I'm not sure we'll achieve the same level of excitement, but it should still be fun.

Books used today (bear with me, I need to keep track of these things):
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
The Egg by Pascale de Bourgoing
A Duckling is Born by Hans-Heinrich Isenbart
Ducks! by Gail Gibbons

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Nearly missed posting for the day. I didn't have all of the books I wanted, so we're starting FIAR tomorrow instead of today, but we did at least take a first pass at Progressive Phonics, which K thought was hilarious. So that's an improvement at least. But now I have all of the books I need thanks to my special library delivery service, so tomorrow is all about ducks!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Snaggle tooth

I didn't see exactly what happened yesterday, but when I looked over, Alec was on his knees in front of the wooden castle, starting that slow cry that lets you know they're building up to a good howl because they're really hurt. It quickly became clear his mouth was bleeding, and the little inspection I was allowed to do showed all of his teeth and what looked like some scraped skin on the inside of his upper lip, so I applied pressure and cuddles and thanked my lucky stars it wasn't worse.

Well, until I noticed he kept rubbing his lower teeth against his upper teeth and that when he did, one of his front teeth was at a distinctly different angle than the other. Oh crud. A quick Googling revealed that a baby tooth knocked loose wasn't a dental emergency worthy of a visit to the dentist on a Saturday night (because of course this sort of things always happens at 4:30 on a Saturday). So I cuddled him some more and tried to control my inner freakout, because dental injuries squick me right out. It's here that his infant habit of sucking our fingers for comfort came in handy (we're trying to wean him off of it, but it's a process, and oh, don't even start), because my finger in his mouth held his loose tooth in place for what turned out to be over an hour because he fell asleep and I didn't want to pull my finger out for fear of yanking it out of place.

I'm not sure how much you can do for a two-year-old with a loose tooth. Soft foods, try to stay alert to keep him from messing with it and a call to the dentist tomorrow. Apparently it will hopefully reattach itself with time. We just have to keep him from knocking it out of his fool head in the meantime, since he certainly doesn't see why he shouldn't try to practice all of his wrestling moves on his sister or use the couch for gymnastics practice. Oy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Okay, if I don't feel like posting, here's a discussion question:

I always feel a bit lazy soliciting book recommendations since I am a librarian, after all, and that's suppose to be my job. But one of my library school professors used to say that the most powerful reference tool is the telephone (and I suppose by extension these days, e-mail), so making use of the knowledge of others is a perfectly valid reference technique. Anyway:

Can you recommend any children's books that use magic, particularly where the children are doing the magic, for a six-year-old who isn't ready for something as scary as Harry Potter yet? I ask because I looked over at K the other night and she was brandishing a stick like a wand and attempting to make up incantations to make her brother disappear. My first thought was that we should start on Harry Potter, but she is very sensitive to scariness and danger. She's only very recently (as in, the past month) been willing to watch The Princess and the Frog and Tangled regularly, neither of which is all that scary but both have scary moments that were too much for her a year ago. I think she could take more scariness in books, but I think the highest level of scariness we could tolerate is the first Harry Potter. So: books about kid magicians for the scaredy-cat? I think Narnia is a given, but again, probably too scary.


I'm allowed at least a couple "I'm too tired to really post" posts, aren't I? Because I'm really tired. Tomorrow is the first day in three weeks B have had off together, and it shows. So I'm copping out for the night.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maybe we'll do Madeline instead

Tonight, we got K to bed a bit later than we should have, which we could tell because she had reached the emotionally fragile state of tiredness. We were discussing her passionate desire to make a papier mache volcano, and B and I both agreed pretty readily that it seemed like a fine thing to do. I reminded her that one of the great things about homeschooling on our own (besides no more Fast Forward! I'm a bit giddy at the thought) is that we can decide ourselves what we want to learn, so if there's something she really wants to learn, we can do it.

"Okay," she said, "But I don't want to learn..."

She trailed off, either unwilling to say it or too tired to come up with the words.

"But I don't want to learn about..."

I braced myself, prepared to explain sympathetically that she was still going to have to do reading and math.


Well okay, sweetheart. I guess we won't start with Make Way for Ducklings after all.


I actually think we'll broach the topic again, to see if she was just tired, or attempting to express reservations about the entire FIAR concept (which I expect to dissipate pretty quickly once we start doing it, but I can understand how a completely new way of learning could make her nervous). Because if there's one thing K loves, it's Boston, where her aunt lives.

We filed the paperwork and withdrew her from school today, so we're official. We still have to hear from the school district that everything is in order, and get instructions on how to return all of the online school's stuff (you mean we have to give the computer back? Drat). I have declared the rest of this week a deschooling week, where we all recover a bit from worksheet fatigue (and give the teachers time to prepare) before starting fresh next week.

The napping house

I'm not sure if it was something in the air today, but everyone in this house has been exceptionally sleepy. Alec took a much longer nap than he has been recently (I think he's flirting with giving up his nap in the next six months. He can't get through the day without one, but they keep getting shorter and shorter). K had a massive meltdown of the sort she only has when I'm about to find her asleep in the next ten minutes. B fell asleep putting Alec to bed and I fell asleep downstairs while that was happening.

Tomorrow, knock wood, we will deliver our homeschooling affidavit to the school district, call to withdraw her from school, and we'll be flying solo educationally. Whee!

Monday, November 7, 2011


I spent most of last evening on forms; generating our affidavit and educational objectives (largely cribbed from the Internet) and medical and dental forms (ditto). And then I spent a good hour bashing my head against the Philadelphia School District's web site attempting to figure out where we should send all this. Searching the web site resulted in the names of at least four different offices, none of which could be found in the directory. I found a FAQ which said we needed to contact our Regional Office, which was a link to a 404 page, and there were no other clues on the web site as to where our Regional Office might be.

So it really wasn't a surprise when a phone call this morning revealed that it had to go to an office in the School District's main office in Center City. It can in fact be found in the directory, so this is likely the right place. One hurdle (potentially) down.

We got everything notarized this morning and I stopped by the dentist to get the form signed to prove we're making a reasonable effort to keep her teeth from falling out of her head before their time. All that's left is the TB test tomorrow, which kind of chaps me because we didn't need to do this to actually send her to mingle her germy self with other children in the public schools. I briefly considered filing an exemption request on the theory that I do feel this is a bullshit requirement, but couldn't make myself actually say that I have a religious or strong ethical objection to medical tests when really I just want to avoid a minor pain in the ass.

So if all goes well, I can get the medical form signed tomorrow and we can get this all wrapped up by Wednesday. Of course, we are dealing with big city bureaucracy, so we'll see.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, now that our plans to withdraw from school are underway, we're feeling astonishingly apathetic about getting work done this week. I did make K do some work today, partially just to avoid giving her the idea that we might suddenly no longer be doing any work around here. But I did then let her spend over an hour watching whatever videos she wanted on BrainPopJr, an educational video website. It was educational after all, even if it wasn't fulfilling any actual assignments. Goodness knows what we're getting accomplished tomorrow.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Homeschooling redux

So it took me a while to come around to it, but once I did, homeschooling on our own seemed like the most natural choice. With the online school, we have the worst of school and homeschooling: the constant accountability to someone else, living on their schedule and having no control over curriculum, but we're still stuck with our kid all day. The big advantage of homeschooling is supposed to be having the flexibility to adapt your curriculum to your particular needs. So that's what we're doing.

The logistics:

Starting to homeschool in Pennsylvania isn't very hard: you submit an affadavit to your local school superintendant with a couple medical forms (bizarrely, including a tb test, which K didn't need when she was entering a brick and mortar school), and that's that. We can call and withdraw her from school the same day we submit it. My current goal is having it all done by Wednesday so I can avoid the biweekly teacher call on Thursday.

After that, you need to keep an attendance log and enough work examples to be able to put a portfolio together at the end of the year to prove you've accomplished something. The part that makes me a bit nervous is that we also have to find someone to evaluate K to make sure her learning is on track, but I've decided to file that under "bridges to cross once we arrive at them."

So what sort of curriculum are we planning to try?

The main curriculum I'm planning to use is Five in a Row, a curriculum where you read a storybook five days in a row and do different studies based on the book (an online friend does a good job of making it look like a lot of fun at her homeschooling blog). For instance, I think we will probably start with Make Way for Ducklings, one of K's favorite books. The first day, we'll probably look at bit at the geography and history of Boston. The next day, a science lesson on ducks. The third day, a study on the art techniques used to illustrate the book. And so on. I can see a lot of reasons to try it:

* it looks like fun, and with the issues we've been having, I'm for anything that might produce some enthusiastic participation.
* it allows us to cover most of the subjects we're required to cover without having to have a separate curriculum for each one.
* it looks toddler-friendly - Alec can listen to us read the story and participate a bit in some of the activities, and we can plan messier, more involved things for his preschool days.
* it doesn't require tests or worksheets or any of the required, repetitive output that has been making us miserable.

I do plan on separate math and reading curricula. For reading, I'm planning on starting with Progressive Phonics, a free phonics program that looks like it might be a bit easier to get K to participate in. Instead of having the child read incredibly stilted and boring phonics books with the tiny number of words they know, it has the teacher read the words in black while the child reads the words in red. This allows for more fluent and interesting things to read, and I'm hoping the fact that I will be reading too will make it easier for K to read out loud. It also has a handwriting component, so that will take care of that state requirement. Once we work our way through that, I'm hoping she'll be a confident enough reader at that point that our reading can be from easy readers. We'll have to find another writing and spelling curriculum at that point, but once again, bridge, cross, once we reach.

K has been doing an online reading game called Reading Eggs, and I think I may splurge and get a subscription so she can keep doing one of the few things she's been enthusiastic about. I know there are plenty of free reading games online, but this is a really good one and I think worth the money for this year at least.

For math, I'm thinking about MEP math, largely because it's free, but also because the lessons and exercises look like they'll appeal to K. There are also any number of free math games online, so we'll try to do some of those as well.

So I think our days will go: FIAR, reading, math, plus computer time. I'm contemplating only doing FIAR four days a week and using the time on the fifth day for more science, or maybe doing history in a more organized, linear fashion. And we should fit music somewhere in there beyond what FIAR covers. I'm sure these things will become more clear as we start into it.

Friday, November 4, 2011


And after leaving on a cliff-hanger yesterday, I'm too tired to go into any detail today. Don't worry, it was just mostly blather about curriculum and logistics, which I will probably find time to do tomorrow.

I will observe that one big difference between the first and second trimester is that a month ago, I couldn't really deal with all of this except with helpless weeping as I attempted to contemplate finding the energy to deal with, well, anything, let alone our teacher issues. And student issues. Now? My dander is up and I'm feeling feisty and excited to try something new. To be honest, I've been pretty bored too. It's not that I expect first grade curriculum to be the most exciting thing in the world, but there are so many fun and exciting things you can teach a kid, even when they're just six.

Once again, more tomorrow.

One of the longer posts I mentioned

I haven't been talking much about school this year, mostly because I've been preoccupied with keeping my eyes open and food in my stomach. Truly, I don't recommend combining homeschooling and the first trimester if you can help it. But as I've started coming out of the first trimester fog, I'm realizing that quite a bit of the difficulty has been K and her resistance to most of what we're doing.

One big issue is she has a combination of shyness, perfectionism and performance anxiety that prevents her from wanting to answer a question unless she's absolutely sure of the answer (and to make it even more fun, when she's bored or feeling resistant, she sometimes likes to play dumb). This is a poor combination for a program where a teacher calls every two weeks to ask her to read out loud, let alone with standardized testing time comes along. Her kindergarten teacher last year had a reasonable amount of success with her, but we got off to a bad start with her teacher this year due to miscommunication, and while things have improved, K absolutely refused to read for her the last time she called.

The other issue is something it took me longer to realize: she's bored. This is too easy for her. The way she moans and whines through a list of three-letter words but brightens up when you start introducing more difficult words makes that clear. But I can't make any sort of case for accelerating her if I can't get her to show what she knows.

So she resists while we slog our way through a program with a heavy emphasis on output - worksheets, projects, constant mini-quizzes between the frequent tests. Just the thing a child who doesn't like to give answers needs. I keep thinking that if we could have at least half of her school day be things she likes, it will be possible to get her to do the stuff she likes less. But so far, that's only science, which is three days a week. No word on when we might introduce some other (state-mandated!) subjects, like social studies, music or art.

So: we have an educational program with only three subjects (reading, math and science), two of which are on too easy a level and which emphasize all of the things that she dislikes most. It demands that a child who is very shy and has performance anxiety when it comes to showing her knowledge get regularly quizzed by someone she has never met in person. A surefire recipe for success!

If we were homeschooling on our own and were having this kind of trouble, we could go out and find a new curriculum that's better suited to her strengths instead of her weaknesses (if we were homeschooing on our own, we would be required to be covering about nine different subjects, so I'm more than a little confused about why it's okay to just be doing three through school).

So clearly the answer is to start homeschooling on our own. More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sick day

Well, on the plus side, it turns out K isn't sick with anything contagious. The drawback is that it's in fact another UTI. Drat. She's been on a daily dose of antibiotic (Bactrim) since early August, and other than a trip to the urologist a month later that revealed an infection so mild we hadn't noticed symptoms yet, we've been infection-free. Only apparently what it's been doing is mostly suppressing infection while letting some other bugs simmer along until she breaks out in the heavy-duty symptoms. Dammit.

I have been repeating until I'm blue in the face that Bactrim doesn't work on her infections. Or rather, it suppresses them for the time that she's on it, and then they come galloping back the second she's off. One memorable time, we missed a single dose six days into the course of medication and within twelve hours, she had a high fever and was screaming at the pain of peeing. And yet, I just keep getting these blank looks from medical professionals every time I say this as they point to lab reports that say the bacteria should respond to Bactrim. Well, usually they do, partially. But clearly there are some other bugs in there that don't, and we keep making them stronger every time we give her this freaking useless medicine.

Ahem. Not that I'm annoyed or anything.

Clearly we need a new daily antibiotic. But we were hoping to get a referral for a new urologist, one with a competent office staff and who actually makes eye contact. And we were also planning to switch the kids from their pediatrician to the family practitioner and I have been seeing (the waits in her office are like, five minutes, whereas I have never waited less than 45 minutes at the pediatrician, even when the waiting room is practically empty). So I'm sure what to do. I really don't want to go back the urologist, but do we ask the current pediatrician for a new referral? Get off our asses and do the paperwork for the switch quickly so the new doctor can give us a referrall, hoping that we can do it before the antibiotic for the infection runs out? Argh. Someone needs to tell K that being in the middle of a doctor switch is a very bad time to develop acute medical needs. Very inconsiderate of her. I don't suppose I could convince the bacteria to just put a pin in it and chill out for about a month until all of the paperwork is properly transferred, can I?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's certainly too early for this

I think the second day of November is definitely too early to be staring blankly at an empty entry box, but while I have a number of longer posts in the back of my head, K threw up tonight and now I'm too busy with my psychosomatic nausea to concentrate on them.

It's a good measure of how far I've come that this is the first time in a couple weeks I've been worried about throwing up. I still don't have any appetite and quite a lot of food is off-putting, but I can see a distant future where I might want to eat again and maybe even enjoy it. Now all I need to do is remind myself that just because K has a virus doesn't mean that I, the person who spends all day with her and has a weakened immune system, will get it too. Norman Vincent Peale, eat your heart out.

On the non-whiny front, my last birthday present from B arrived today: this t-shirt. I am very pleased with it.


Around 3:30 this afternoon, I decided that sanity dictated I not try to force a six-year-old to do any more academic work on Halloween and called an end to our school day. A couple hours later, I helped dress a princess:


and a dinosaur:


and we went out. Two hours later, all of our children were suitably hyper from sugar consumption. And I do mean all - after filching some candy, I became aware of a fluttery, squirming feeling in my lower abdomen. I guess it's true that you start feeling movement earlier every time - it was 17 weeks with K, 15 with Alec and now 14.

Anyway, a successful Halloween all around. I was particularly pleased that K got a huge charge out of passing candy out to the trick or treaters, which saved me from having to get up and go up and down stairs multiple times.


Given my posting record over the past year, I was hesitant to commit to NaBloPoMo this year. But I have more time now and the fog of the first trimester is definitely lifting (although the physical fatigue is still there, probably because I still can't properly breathe two full weeks after first getting this stupid cold), so I'm hoping I'll manage it. And it's technically already November 1, so I have my first entry done!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thirteen weeks, four days

So I had another ultrasound on Monday, which looked just spiffy and I'm almost out of the first trimester, so we're going public. To my great surprise, I'm thirteen weeks pregnant. See?

Nothing even vaguely legume-like about this one (unlike the nine-week ultrasound, which bore a remarkable resemblance to a kidney bean). It's amazing what a difference four weeks makes.

Anyway, I'm freaking out a bit about having three children and homeschooling for the past couple months has been remarkably like trying to swim through pudding and we gave away a bunch of baby equipment. Despite all that, I'm remarkably attached to our little tadpole. In keeping with my tradition of nicknaming fetuses for medieval English saints, I'm calling it Morwenna for now (to be changed if it's cooperative at the 20 week ultrasound and turns out to be a boy).

Monday, October 10, 2011


* Tomorrow is Columbus Day, so everybody in the house has the day off (except for the fact that I kind of slacked off on schoolwork last Friday, knowing we would have the day free on Monday. But still not a full day of work). Everyone gets the day off together! I may swoon from the novelty.

* After swooning, I should go through the childrens' cold weather clothes and find any of K's stuff from last year that might still fit and dig up the 3t clothes and see how much I can get away with putting on Alec, given that that was the age when K discovered she was a girl and stopped being willing to wear so many dinosaur shirts, or really anything except dresses. I am willing to put him in some remarkably girly stuff, including jeans embroidered with flowers, but I'm not quite willing to send him out in public in a dress, unless he asked to wear it, of course.

* Alec is starting preschool this week at the local Jewish Community Center (thanks to the generosity of B's parents, for which I am very very very very very grateful). He wil spend two days a week playing in a well-equipped classroom and on a lovely playground, singing songs, fingerpainting and getting socialized with children his own age, while I will have two days a week with him out of my hair. Win-win. It comes with a family membership at the JCC, which gives us access to the gym and pool and gives us discounts on classes. It looks like K may finally get the ballet lessons she's been pining over and we can get her some very overdue swimming lessons. Yay!

* I have to hand it to Doctor Who: after a season that barely captured my attention aside from a few good moments, the finale completely grabbed me and brought me around from a general "meh" feeling about the next season to feeling a bit sorry it's not coming for another year. The thing I liked the most is that the Doctor solved his problems by being clever like he was in the past, not like the more recent incarnations where he uses his supreme coolness to bring about a magical Doctor ex machina solution. There are a lot of things I love about Russell T. Davies' reboot of Doctor Who, but his worship of the character to the point of actually deifying him at times isn't one of them.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Apropos of yesterday's post

I was rather amused that all of the children's television we watched today was pirate themed. Disney channel had a marathon of "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" and NickJr pulled out all of the pirate episodes of their shows they had. It's kind of amazing that thanks to the Internet, it's now possible to not only create your own silly holidays, but have them catch on to the point that major television networks are observing them.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Plus: a touch spoilery list of character descriptions for the movie which gives some good plot information.

I'm getting pretty darn excited about the upcoming Muppet movie. I admit, I'm fairly easy when it comes to the Muppets, but even so, I've haven't felt the need to rewatch much of what they've made from about Muppets from Space on. There seemed to be a long dry period where studio executives knew that the Muppets were a great source of cash, but didn't know how to find the right people to milk it. But in the past couple years, they're really started to put out some good stuff, starting with the viral videos and now (while I hesitate to judge anything based on previews), the previews for the new movie look not just good, but spot-on, like the people who made it really get what made the Muppets great.

The answer, of course, is that they needed to find some Gen-Xers who grew up with the Muppets and truly loved them. And now (I hope) it seems we have what Jim Henson finally dreamed of: people who understand the heart and soul of the Muppets with the colossal Disney marketing machine behind it. Because say what you will about Disney, they know how to promote and distribute the hell out of a product. There has been no danger of any old Muppet material languishing in obscurity once Disney got their money-making hands on it. So: we now have a full dvd library of Muppets to show our children, and Disney Channel's incessant promotion has gotten K really excited about the upcoming movie, which makes me very happy, because I think it would kill me to have to get a babysitter to go see a children's movie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First week

Week one of school has come and gone, leaving us mostly intact. Our workload is really light right now, and almost everything we're doing is review from last year, so the only real challenge has been to keep K interested. I've taken to doing things like telling her if she can pass the quiz at the end of the math lesson, she can skip the lesson. Because somehow it doesn't seem like a worthwhile use of either of our time to review counting to ten with a child who has been counting over a hundred for over a year. To my surprise, Science has gotten off to a poor start. Although perhaps not so surprising when you consider of all of the world of exciting, hands-on topics available in the universe of science education, they opted to start six-year-olds out with a rousing discussion of classification and the scientific method. Whoopee. I believe tomorrow we talk about safety. Be still my heart. Part of the reason things went poorly is that we started out last Tuesday watching a video from BrainPopJr (a website she loves), which, while it was on the scientific method, used magnets as the sample experiment to illustrate it. So she got really excited about magnets, only to have me open the textbook and attempt to interest her in talking about classifying animals, along with a discussion of the various things scientists do that made their jobs sound very dull indeed (Did you know scientists observe and record their findings? And communicate? Doesn't that sound like exactly what you were interested in when you were six? Yes! It's non-stop science excitement over here, I tell you). They sent us safety goggles, for crying out loud, so I'm taking that as a promise that science will start to get more hands-on and interesting. One very pleasant surprise has been how well FastForward, a set of reading computer games, has been going. It was a huge struggle to get K to do it last year. We finally wound up sitting with her the entire time, working the mouse for her and chivvying her endlessly. As a bribe, her teacher allowed us to let her skip one day a week, and we still struggled to finish the allotted amount every week. But now? She's doing it mostly on her own, with no complaint. To my great shock, she actually wants to do it every morning. There's one game we need to work the mouse on because it moves so quickly that even we have trouble responding quickly enough. And there are a couple games where I look over her shoulder and help talk her through some of the questions because I think she will learn more by my coaching her through finding the correct answer than getting the answer wrong on her own without any explanation as to why it was wrong. Plus, she's much more likely to stay interested if she's doing well, and I'm not about to mess with this sudden miracle turnaround in attitude. So one week down, going fairly well. Here's hoping for more of the same this week, hopefully trending in the more interesting and more challenging.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First day of school!

Tomorrow, school starts up again and we get back into a routine. I've been enjoying the reduced workload, but I think it will be good for us to have some more structure. Part of me wishes I were shoving K out the door tomorrow, but I have to admit I don't miss school mornings from last fall one tiny bit. Since we can't afford any daycare, we will be learning how to do school with Alec around full time. I'm hoping we can take heavy advantage of the fact that he is a rare sort of toddler that wants a morning nap. Looking at our current workload, we should be able to get everything done in a couple hours. Apparently we will add more stuff in later, but right now, we just have the basics - science, reading, 'rithmetic and fainting in coils (or Fast Forward, our nemesis from last year, a dreadfully tedious and slightly creepy reading computer game). And the stuff we add in will be things like music, art and phys ed, which will be much easier to do with a toddler around. Well, music and phys ed at least. The toddler's "help" with art projects is rarely appreciated by his sister. The school room is... useable, mostly. We will continue to chip away at the crap infesting our basement. It's much better than it was two months ago, at least.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Water, water everywhere

I think Irene has mostly passed. We had a wet day, followed by a more exciting hour or so in the evening where the power surged a couple times, and now we're down to a middling sort of rain. People on Facebook were talking about tornado warnings, but they had passed by and I think it was for the western suburbs anyway. A couple more inches of rain forecast, but then there's SUN tomorrow. I wonder if all of the government buildings that were closed will be open after all. B was supposed to work tomorrow, before the state of emergency, which leaves me wondering if work will be back on.

So we got off pretty lightly, all things considered. I'm deeply grateful that we're not still in our old house, where the garage always took on water when it rained because it was on a downslope. During heavy rains, it would seep in through the basement door and on one memorable occasion, water started coming through the back of the garage wall into the utility room. Right under the litter boxes. There's nothing like the threat of spilled litter getting turned into concrete to keep you frantically mopping.

In any case, if this is the worst hurricane we get for the next fifty years, we will be very lucky.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


We've had rolling waves of visitors over the past couple weeks. First my best friend Sarah and husband, then my mother and her aide, then my aunt and uncle came down from Connecticut to help celebrate my mother's birthday. All delightful, of course, but very tiring by the end and making me want to crawl into my cave of introversion. Not conducive to posting, is what I'm saying. But life keeps going on, not necessarily in a very exciting way:

* We finally made it back to the urologist, and it has been determined K isn't completely emptying her bladder when she pees. So we're going back for some biofeedback sessions to try and train her to empty it better, and FINALLY have daily antibiotics.

* School is starting up again in two weeks. Fortunately, having my mother visit spurred us to muck out the basement and uncover the pile of boxes we called a school room. It wasn't the vision of organization and loveliness I had in mind, but both the family room and school room are now usable. We have a big box of school supplies and textbooks from our cyber school, which caused great excitement. It included goggles for science experiments, which alarms me a touch and thrills K no end. If you hear about any alarming explosions, you should probably check our house first.

* Our 11th wedding anniversary was two weeks ago and we didn't remember until the next day. I confess, the romance does wane a touch. The fact that the 11th anniversary is the steel anniversary didn't help matters. Although I suppose it would have been a good excuse to get each other swords. B's birthday was yesterday, and we DID remember that on the day, at least. He still didn't get a sword, although he did get Legos.

* Alec appears to be in a language development period again and is adding words and phrases at a great rate. I think "graham cracker" is my current favorite. Sometimes he will sit and obliging repeat words after us, and sometimes he decides to be two and answers any request of "Can you say x?" with "No!" And then we ask "Can you say 'I am not your performing monkey?'" and he grins and says "Eek eek eek!"

Friday, August 5, 2011

2 cars / Cars 2

So after only two years of talking about getting a bigger car, we finally got all of our ducks in a row and went out on a Tuesday night and bought a 2008 Mazda5. We left on vacation three days later and oh goodness, it was the right choice. We came home with a bunch more stuff than we left with, and despite that, we could still see out the back window! Crazy!

The best way I can describe this car is that it's a cross between a minivan and a station wagon. It's about the same size and cargo space as a station wagon, but has a third row that can be folded up when grandparents are visiting. While I don't think I'd like to go on a three-day road-trip with six people in the car, it did work fine for trips to the beach as long as the short people were in the back row. It also has passenger doors like a minivans as well as seats that are higher up. I'm really enjoying not having to lean down to buckle children in.

One weird thing is an odd mix of really sophisticated and really cheap features. For instance, the heating system allows us to set a target temperature, and the car will adjust the fan as needed to get to the target. On the other hand, the headlights don't turn on automatically, so for the first time in nearly ten years, we have to remember to turn on the headlights when it starts to get dark and turn them off when we get out of the car. There are other small amenities lacking, like no power outlets. It's odd. But all in all, we're pretty happy.


K is a big fan of the Pixar movie Cars, so it was a given that we would take her to see Cars 2, especially since it was coming out right after her birthday. We wound up seeing it twice - I took just her on a weekday afternoon when Alec was at the babysitter, and then she really wanted to take my mother to see it, so we all went while we were in Michigan.

I should say that overall, I liked it very much. It's funny, a good spy movie parody and of course has fantastic animation and all of the little fun Pixar touches. There are ways I liked it a lot more than the first movie, since sports movies tend to bore me and I couldn't actually predict the entire plot of this movie from the first ten minutes unlike Cars.

That said, there's something about Cars 2 that really bothers me.
Big spoilers ahead for Cars 2

The main villains in the movie are lemons: models of cars like the Ford Pinto that have terrible motors and parts and break down all of the time. It's really not a wonder why lemons would become bitter enough to become villains. Everyone, including the heroes, views them with utter contempt and feels free to make fun of them to their faces and discriminate against them.

I recognize that the cosmology of the Cars world doesn't bear close examination, since it's about as tightly knit together as a chain-link fence. Still, it's hard not to see how creating a world where characters with bodies that don't work well are worthless and objects of contempt doesn't send a message - intentional or not - about disability and people with disabilities.

The thing that really bothers me is that it's really unnecessary to the story. These days, simply owning an oil company makes you a villain and the prospect of sitting on a huge oil deposit while not wanting the world to turn to alternative fuels is plenty of motivation for the plot. How the lemons deal with how they're viewed by others is clearly set up to contrast how Mater comes to accept himself for who he is despite how he is viewed by the rest of the world, but it's not really a good comparison. It's clear that Mater has always been accepted and valued in Radiator Springs and it's only once he spends, what, a week in the outside world that he realizes people see him as an idiot and maybe 24 hours elapse between that realization and his deciding he can like himself anyway. Compare that to spending your entire life being treated like that and being discriminated against. Also, Mater has spent his life towing lemons around and feeling superior to them, so he's not really in a position to tell them he knows just how they feel. It's sort of like saying, "Well, I've always been tone-deaf, so I totally know what it's like for you to have spent your life in a wheelchair!"

I'm fairly certain that Pixar didn't want to send the message that people with physical disabilities are worthless, but we often say things that send messages we didn't mean them to. I'm also much less willing to give a children's movie a pass on these things, because children are excellent at picking up subtext whether it's the subtext we wanting them to read or not, and unlike adults, they're still learning about society and peoples' places in it. Children with disabilities especially don't need to see a movie that sends that message.

I don't know. I don't have any ringing condemnations, just disappointment that Pixar once again has made an excellent movie with some stuff that really bothers me (I have some issues with The Incredibles as well). I'll probably still let K watch Cars 2 when it comes out on dvd and I'll probably spend a lot of time talking about disabilities to counteract it. It's not as satisfying an answer as declaring that we're boycotting Pixar forevermore, but more realistic.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Harry Potter and Tigger too

I spent Thursday at the movies - I took the kids to Winnie the Pooh in the afternoon, and we adults went to Harry Potter that evening. What can I say? The high was 101, and while we had Harry Potter planned for a while, taking the kids to a movie sounded like a great way to spend the afternoon, given that ticket prices go up significantly on Fridays and we really needed to go to Ikea wednesday (incidentally, I discovered last summer that if you live close enough to one, Ikea is a great way to spend an afternoon - cheap lunch, and hour of free child care for K to have fun in the ball pit while Alec and I hang out in the children's department where they obligingly have samples of all of their toys set out to play with, not to mention lots of drawers and cabinet doors to open).

Winnie the Pooh (no cut for spoilers because really, it's Winnie the Pooh) was very sweet and a surprising throwback to the original 70s Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh, the one where they simply animated stories from the books, with the cute addition of including the book and interaction with the animator in the story. You know, the good ones before they started simply beating A.A. Milne's corpse repeatedly to see how much more money might fall out of his pockets. Today's movie had the same animation style of the Shephard backgrounds with the more Disneyfied style of characters, plotlines taken from the books (although they went off in different directions from the books, but not in a way that seemed out of character for the books), and even 70s Disney style music and a cute animated short that made me think I was sitting on a square of carpet in my elementary school gym on one of the days they decided to troop us in to show us cartoons for a treat. It got two thumbs and two feet (she was literally leaping with excitement as I bought the tickets) from K, and I certainly recommend it with children in the 2 to 6 age range who need to get out of the heat.

Harry Potter was simply fantastic. It made me cry in several spots and always seemed true to the spirit of the book.
Inserting spoiler space because there are most definitely spoilers and while Blogger is able to put a cut in, it's hella complicated:

Watching Lily Potter desperately tell her son how much she loves him as she waits to die - oof. This isn't the first time that being a parent has made these books and movies hit me harder (end of Goblet of Fire, for instance) but this one was the strongest for that. It's one of those things about having children - the idea of dying starts to not bother you so much about not being able to live anymore as the idea of leaving your children behind helpless without you.

There were changes in the final battle, but I felt they were all appropriate to make the action more cinematic. And don't shoot me, but I think it actually improved on the books in one place - one of my big problems with the book was how Snape gave his memories to Harry without any clue about why they're important, and then Harry just decides to go browse through them in the middle of the battle because he's so darn depressed. The movie's decision to have Snape say more (and thank you, Voldemort, for deciding to kill Snape in a way that would let him linger instead of your customary method of execution that kills people instantly - supervillain syndrome strikes again, I suppose), and to have Harry look at them in the lull between battles made a lot more sense.

So all in all, a good end to the series and definitely worth the babysitting money.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Since Thursday night, actually. We headed out the evening of Friday the 1st, got to my mother's the next day, went up to b's parents' the next Wednesday and the starting wending our way back home the next Monday, with stops in Lafayette and Columbus. It was fantastic. We went to the beach, made sand castles and had a cookout. Alec sat straight down in Lake Michigan and laughed with glee while the surf did its best to knock him over. We saw family and friends and watched our children play with their similarly-aged cousins. We enjoyed copious amount of vacation ice cream. We saw two movies in the theater (one with children, one without. Too bad we got home just before Harry Potter came out, because my desire to see Green Lantern in the theater was never that big). We slept and slept. A lot. One morning, we even didn't have to get up with our son when he decided 5:30 was a great time to be up for the day.

I'm not sure I can communicate what the vacation was like without talking about why I quit the online job. The shorthand version, of course, is that working 35 hours a week and homeschooling was slowly killing me. But that doesn't give the full flavor. I was busy with children all day, so I had to work late into the night. Then I had to get up with the children at a normal time most mornings. We couldn't do anything in the evening because I had to work. B had to do all evening childcare and I couldn't help, even when I wanted to. I had no time to do anything, because even when I had some spare time, I was completely bone-deep exhausted.

So almost three weeks later of not working late into the night every evening, it's hard to convey just how relaxing it has been. I'm feeling actual ambition again to get things done. Like finally cleaning up the basement (the fact we have houseguests coming in three weeks is also a good impetus for that). Or exercise, something that's fallen shamefully by the wayside in the past year. I'm also trying this new thing where I take care of things right away instead of letting them pile up. Like I immediately scrape off the high chair tray and wash it off instead of leaving it to fester on the counter, or put things away. Crazy!

I've been working on this post for four days, so maybe I should just post it and start slowly writing about other stuff tomorrow. Because I have time now to do that sort of thing. It's good to be home.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

So! Since last Tuesday, we have:
-bought a car
-quit my online job
-driven to Michigan.

So just a regular, boring week. We're at my mother's right now, but we're driving up to B's parents' tomorrow, where there is only dial-up Internet. So I will update more when we're back in the land of wi-fi and expand a bit on the above. Hopefully now that I'm only working one job, I'll find a lot more time to update regularly.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011



Last Thursday, my gigantic baby turned two. I don't mean gigantic so much as in "My tiny baby is so gigantic!" but in that he routinely dwarfs the three-year-olds we meet. He is a big, solid kid. He is also our sweet, happy goofy baby. Happy birthday baby. You're the best two-year-old in the world.

But maybe not ready for potty-training yet.



My baby turned six last Tuesday. SIX.

It's hard to believe how big and capable she's gotten. And even more than her physical capabilities, she starting to develop the sort of empathy and ability to think about others that makes a parent delighted to discover they might not be raising a little sociopath after all. And despite spending pretty much all day with her for the past six months, I'm enjoying her company enough to sign up for another year of homeschooling. She's funny and creative and an excellent big sister.

That all adds up to a pretty great kid. Happy Birthday sweetheart.

I would like to note that she looks about 8 FEET LONG in this picture, which is pretty much accurate for how she's growing these days.

Monday, June 20, 2011

K's fever continued unchanged all week, worrying me no end until Friday, it magically got lower and we able to get her temperature down to normal with ibuprofen. She still has the cough that developed towards the middle of the week and needs a daily nap, but is definitely getting better. Whew.

She does have another UTI, which we found out about only because we called the doctor on Thursday. She's on a new antibiotic that she's only been on once before and loved, because it tastes good, is once a day and gave us a full three weeks before the next UTI, which is quite a record these days. So yay for that. Pretty much everything else about our interactions with the medical community has me livid though. Reasons include, in no particular order:

1. The fact that her pediatrician doesn't use the strips for dipping into urine and immediately seeing if there's an infection. No, we have to wait for the urine to get sent to the lab, which takes a minimum of three days and nothing gets prescribed if she doesn't have a fever or is in pain. It does mean, however, that the infection gets to party on in her bladder for another three days before we do anything about it.
2. Every single doctor that has said, "She should be on daily antibiotics," yet not actually prescribed them. I absolutely agree. She should be on daily antibiotics, especially if it's what the urologist thinks it is. At our last urologist visit, the nurse practitioner we were seeing noted that the urologist had written orders for daily antibiotics in K's chart, but they didn't have a phone number for a pharmacy. And yet she didn't give me the daily prescription the urologist clearly thought K should have. Everyone seems to be in agreement on the daily antibiotics issue. And yet here I stand, my hand completely full of no prescriptions. WHY CAN'T SOMEONE JUST GIVE THEM TO US ALREADY?
3. I have a special hate-on for the nurse practitioner, who gave us the antibiotic I told her over and over doesn't work, even if the lab report says the bacteria they found can be killed by it and then failed to call us back after two days of us calling repeatedly to say that it wasn't working and K was in pain. I can put up with a certain amount of distraction, and an office where I have to wait for two hours just to check in. But my child in pain is unacceptable.


We spent a quiet and sleepy Father's Day. B doesn't care about it too much, which has been good for me since I haven't been up to doing much the past three years. But this year I pulled it together to at least help K get him a gift and have a low-key sort of celebration. I've made it that far at least. I'm not at the point yet where I can participate in Facebook memes or post happy reminiscences about my father, but I'm not in the mood to talk about how much I miss him. Just a sort of carefully neutral fatherless Father's Day.

Saying good night