Friday, February 27, 2009

Some Days Are Weeping Days

There are days, now and then, that are filled with weeping, from sweet to bittersweet to mournful. Just weeping. Days like today, when the first thing I see in the morning upon logging into Facebook is that a college classmate took his life yesterday. How can you not weep throughout the day when you see page after page of words of people who loved him, wondering how he couldn't have known how loved he was? How can you not weep when you remember his funny wave and how he'd yell a greeting across campus, how he was so vibrant?

And then tonight the man who has been our Boy Scout troop's Scoutmaster for a decade stepped down during a truly spectacular ceremony. How can you not weep when 35 Scouts stand at attention and salute as this man walks down this aisle of young men that he has helped grow? How can you not weep to realize this decade is ending, that your little Cub Scout from long ago is now as tall as his Dad and nearly done with Scouting? How can you not weep to hear the words said to our Scoutmaster: "how can we possibly, possibly thank you for all you've done?" and know that there aren't any words…

but that you wish that Mike, the college classmate, were alive to read all the words written on his wall today saying how much he'll be missed—that he touched so many lives.

Some days are weeping days.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Homeschool Memoirs: Pets

Today's theme at Homeschool Memoirs is pets: "Tell us your pet history. What was your first pet? Which was your most memorable? How about today? How many pets do you have? Do they help or hinder your homeschooling?"

My first pet, as family legend goes, was a kitten named Poof. One day he was there and the next day—poof!—he'd been run over in the driveway. The first pet I remember was our good mama cat Susie, who gave birth to a few litters before my parents took her to "Lollypop Farms." They said that this was a happy place where animals could run around free and happy. When I was in college and later and would tell this story to friends, they would laugh and say, "Are you serious? Do you seriously believe there is such a place as Lollypop Farm?" I was suddenly confronted with the idea that my parents might have used Lollypop Farm as a euphemism for euthanasia. This seemed uncharacteristic of my parents, but it did seem silly to believe in such a place. Imagine my delight when I discovered that Lollypop Farm is real and still thriving all these years later!

Anyway, as a child we had an evil cat named Chippy (Susie's spawn), two fleeting kittens named Bilbo and Gandalf, and a Toy Fox Terrier named Mandy. Back then everyone had pets. I don't ever remember knowing anyone who was allergic to cats or who didn't have a dog. People just had pets. It seemed natural to me that Dr. H. and I would have pets as soon as we were married, so we started out with three cats. These were really Randy's first taste of pet ownership, besides a bird he had in elementary school. When our cat Sebastian was killed, Randy experienced his first real taste of losing a loved one. This, I believe, is one of the great benefits of pet ownership. Dealing with the loss of a beloved pet prepares one for losing a loved one. Within a few years after that, Randy lost three out of his four grandparents.

Since then we've had an assortment of pets in our home. Our kids have buried one beautiful cat, Pudding; a couple of hermit crabs; and a hamster. We have a little pet burial plot in a corner of our backyard. Several fish have been flushed down the toilet. We currently have residing in our home: our sweet Australian shepherd, Daisy; two cats, Hamlet and S'more; Brooke the hamster; and Shelob, the tarantula (it resides in my son's room). Sometimes I fantasize about our home being completely pet-free: no food to sweep up, no litter box to change, no expense of food and vet, no dog to take out every morning, no jarring barking. And hindering our homeschooling? Yes, they do. Daisy's sudden sharp barking sends my head spinning, and the kitten tearing through the house like a Tasmanian devil is rather distracting.

But the benefits of having pets far outweigh the annoyances. They are good to have about, adding a depth to our family life that makes us even more grounded. And all that good responsibility, nurturing, and companionship that goes along with pet ownership—it's all true.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Здравствуйте (Hello)

Look what the UPS guy dropped off on our front porch today! Jesse is finally tackling his language requirement for high school. His choice: Russian. He's been intrigued by Russian things for years, so the choice makes sense. Also, he was scouting out some colleges and saw that it is actually possibly to get a bachelor's degree in such things as Russian and European studies, and the wheels started turning. We haven't done a language here in a few years, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes. I'm not saying that I'm going to sit by his side as he learns Russian, but I am curious. I love languages and am grateful for the years of French, German, and Latin (as roots) that I had. My kids have all done Spanish through our enrichment class program and a sprinkling of Latin here and there, but I've actually found teaching a language rather daunting—especially one other than French or German. I'm happy for Rosetta Stone because I'm sure not up to teaching Russian!

How does foreign language learning work in your homes?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Memory: In Paris

Heidi at Mt. Hope Chronicles got me thinking about Paris this week; she's been posting gorgeous photos as usual. Twenty-six years ago (!) I had the opportunity of a lifetime. My father was a Fulbright scholar at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany (then West Germany) for six months, and during that time we traveled extensively throughout Europe. This was my junior year in high school; I think of it now as the year I homeschooled myself. My teachers back in the States gave me my textbooks and assignments. I finished them in a couple of months and then read voraciously and traveled with one eye on the sites and the other on Fodor's. I kept a detailed travel journal, as well. (I believe much of it is plagiarized directly from Fodor's. I know I justified this by thinking that no one but me would ever read my journals!)

Here is an excerpt from January 3, 1983, which goes along with the photo above:
We are now in Paris! Today we went do the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to an Imperial epoch. It shelters the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is a gigantic composition where figures 6 feet high crowd in hundreds, depicting the departure of the French armies and their return. … Every evening, as we saw, the flame of remembrance is lighted. We also went to the Invalides, which is generally considered the finest architectural composition in Paris. … From there we went to the Church of St. Louis. … After that we went to Napolean's tomb. The tomb is beneath the cupola of the church. Napolean's body was placed in six coffins, each contained inside the other. Twelve huge figures, sculpted by Pradier, stand against an open gallery. Above the bronze door that leads to the crypt are Napolean's famous words: "I wish my body to rest near the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people I loved so well." Tomorrow we'll visit the Eiffel Tower.
I was sorry to see that I somehow skipped writing about the whole incredible New Year's vacation we took prior to our trip to Paris. We spent several days skiing in Chamonix, France. I don't have a single picture or an entry in either my regular journal or my travel diary. (I suspect I'm missing an entire album of photographs. I may have to launch an exploration to the farthest corners of our attic storage.)

Paris was just one stop on this incredible six-month traveling spree. We visited countless castles in Germany; art museums from a tiny private basement in Rome to the Louvre— hidden treasures to masterpieces; breathed in cathedrals and listened to ancient church bells. My dream is that we will be able to share such an experience with our children. It's not an unreasonable dream: my husband can take a sabbatical at any time now, provided he submit stacks of paperwork and get approval from the various powers-that-be in various high-up places. But it's not unattainable.

Where would you spend six months if you had the opportunity?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Becoming an Externally Focused Church

We are part of a new small group at our church, and I'm excited about where things are going. We're studying the book by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson called The Externally Focused Church. The goal of the book is to encourage congregations to move outside their own buildings' walls and move into their communities. The crucial question for me is this:

If your church vanished, would your community really notice?

This is something that has been on our hearts for a long time. A few years ago our congregation spent six months raising money to build a Habitat for Humanity house, and then a few months building the house. It was a phenomenal experience from start to finish. Everyone in the church participated with unprecedented enthusiasm. We seemed actually unified—one body, even. And then it was over. The house was built; the good deed done.

We went back to business as usual, and the vast majority of the business had to do with our congregation itself.

We want to change that. The first chapter of the book lists the characteristics of the externally-focused church:
  • They are inwardly strong but outwardly focused.
  • They integrate good deed and good news into the life of the church.
  • They value impact and influence in the community more than attendance.
  • They seek to be salt, light, and leaven in the community.
  • They see themselves as the “soul” of the community.
  • They would be greatly missed by the community if they left.
That's the kind of congregation I'd like to be part of. I feel that we are right on the cusp of reaching outward but need some serious kicks to get going and to make service a habit rather than a very occasional event.

My Dad facilitated the group last night. My father is an amazing man, and he is more outwardly-focused than he thinks. But he began by holding up a toy airplane and explaining how there was a fundamental problem with him explaining how to fly a plane: he lacked experience. He went on to say that, although he'd been a church-going Christian for 60 years, he didn't know how to be externally focused. He'd never really been part of a congregation that made a habit of impacting the community in a positive way—a congregation that would be missed by the community if it disappeared.

And so we are making a start, and I'm excited. We're in the brainstorming and learning phase now. So tell me: what does your church do in your community? I'd love to hear your ideas and experiences!

(Want to read more about the Externally Focused Church Network? Click here.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How to Play Mao

My brother Stephen introduced our family to the game of Mao during Christmas. We were instantly addicted, enjoying the heart-pounding and hand-sweating of a really good card game. It's the kind of game that makes you nervous, stressed out, mad, and very confused, especially if you are playing with my brother Stephen, who shares character traits with the Soup Nazi.

The next week we taught a few of our friends to play Mao. At the time, I was channeling my brother, so I was a dictator and my friends were scared of me. One friend said she'd spent 20 years trying to build up her self-confidence, and she refused to play a card game that made her doubt her self-worth. Really makes you want to play, doesn't it?

I've gotten much nicer in playing Mao over the past couple of months as my brother's influence has worn off because I might lose all my friends otherwise. But really, the game is fun largely because of the odd mixture of politeness and severity that is required to play it correctly. But if I have to play Nice Mao with my friends, it's better than not playing at all.

Mao is a game of rules. There is some debate about whether the game is modeled after Mao Zedong or after the German game Mau-Mau, but in our family we prefer to use the communist dictator theory. It works for us.

So here's the thing: you are really supposed to play the game without explaining the rules. The players are supposed to figure out the rules as you play. But we play by giving a few rules at the beginning of each hand, adding rules as we go. It's best for there to be confusion, really.

You'll need at least 2 decks of cards, no jokers. It doesn't matter if these are complete decks or not. This is a great use for all those decks you have with 43 cards; they don't have to match. Any age probably 7 and up can play. You could definitely do a modified version for younger kids, too. Just don't make them cry. You can play with 3 people, but more is better. If you have a lot of people, you'll need to have a draw stack at each end and one discard pile in the middle.

So here's how you play.
* The dealer deals out seven cards to each player.
Rule 1: The players must not touch the cards while the cards are being dealt, or they will receive a penalty card at the beginning of play.

After the deal, the dealer says something ceremonial, such as: "The playing of the glorious game of Mao will begin with (name person he/she picks) and will go (clockwise/counterclockwise--dealer's choice)." The dealer looks at his cards, and then the players may look at their cards. The dealer then turns up the top card of the stock to begin play.

From here on out, the game is much like an extremely wild version of Crazy 8s. You either play by following suit or number or playing a Jack (wild card), or you draw a card and the play passes to the next player. (You don't play when you draw.) You must play within about 5 seconds or you'll get a penalty card for delay of game.

A word about Penalties! Penalties are pivotal to Mao. When a player is giving a penalty card, he must say the reason for the penalty. If the penalty giver gives a bad call, the player's he's giving the penalty to gives the card back to him and says "Being Wrong." After a penalty is given, the recipient of the penalty card must say "Thank You," or he'll be given more cards until he says "Thank you." So your best bet is just to smile and say "thank you" when you are given a penalty card. Penalty cards are given from the draw deck, not from your own hand. Anyone can give a penalty card, but only one card can be given for each penalty. So, for example, let's say that it's your turn and you are taking too long to play. I will whip a card from the deck and say, "Taking too long." You'll say "thank you," pick up the card, and then complete your turn.

So basically, any time a rule is broken, you should give out a penalty card.

We start with three rules: Jacks are wild, no asking questions* and you must say the name of a spade.
1. For Jacks, this means that you can play a jack on anything (with some exceptions, coming later). If you play a Jack, you must immediately call the suit you wish. So if you play a Jack of hearts, you might call "Spades." If you don't call if fast enough, someone else can choose. Two seconds is enough time.
2. No asking questions means exactly that. Read below for "point of order" to find out what to do if you have a question. If you ask one during play, even a question like "is that my phone ringing?" you'll get a penalty card.
3. Naming the spade means that when you play a spade, you must say, "Ace of spades" or "five of spades" or whatever. If you don't, someone should say, "Not saying spades" and give you a card. And you, of course, say "thank you." Or else.

After a round of that, we add these rules (in no particular order) one at a time on top of the rest of the rules.
Hearts: knock once on the table each time you play a heart. Penalty: a card for "not knocking"
Aces: reverse play direction. Penalties would be given, of course, if someone isn't paying attention and thinks it's their turn, not realizing that the direction has reversed.
Eights: Skip a person. Penalty would be given if someone plays out of turn.
Clubs: Slap your hand three times on the table when you play a club. Penalty: "not slapping."
Twos: If you play a two, you immediately play either another two or a card of that suit. If you don't have one, draw. Penalty for not doing so: one card for "not fulfilling your duty."
Fours: Skip and reverse (like an eight/ace combo).
Sevens: If you play a seven, the next person must play a seven or draw 2 cards. If the next person plays a seven, then the next person must play a seven or draw 4 cards. This goes on until someone has to draw, increasing by 2 each time. Once someone has drawn, the 7 is dead and play can resume. Penalty for not doing so: one card for "not fulfilling your duty."

You can add in any kind of rules you wish as you go along. Ultimately, every number and suit could have a rule attached to it. For example, when you play a King, you have to stand up and bow. Or for fives, you have to say "five" in a weird voice. Or my brother's latest one: whenever a heart is played by the person on your left, you must say, "Happy Birthday, Stephen." He's egocentric like that. My brother Peter added the rule that when a heart is played by the person on your right, you must say "Happy Birthday, Sarah." That was crazy!

Oh, and of course, you have to do all the rules attached to a card. So, for example, if you play a 2 of hearts, you must knock; then you play a 2 of spades on that and say "two of spades"; then you play an 8 of spades on that and say, "eight of spades"; and the play then skips the next person (because it's an 8) and moves on. Got it? If not, you'll get a penalty card.

GOING OUT: When you have one card left, you must say, "Last card." If you don't, someone might catch you and give you a penalty. When you are ready to go out, you must do whatever your card demands first. So, if you play a spade, you have to call it: "Ace of spades." and then you say "MAO!" Mao must be the very last thing you say. If you play a heart and say "Mao" and then knock, you are out of luck. Someone should give you a penalty card, and play proceeds. (Make sure you say "Thank you" and "last card!")

*POINT OF ORDER: This is like a time-out. If you are totally confused, call "point of order." Everyone must put down his cards and take his hands off them. No touching the cards during a point of order, or you'll get a penalty card after the point of order is over. During a point of order, ask any questions you want—just don't touch your cards. This is the time to figure out what the heck is going on and why you just got three penalty cards. When the issues are cleared up, someone clearly says, "Point of Order over," and you may pick up your cards. At this point penalty cards can be given out to anyone who couldn't keep their hands off their cards during the point of order. (And don't forget to say thank you.)

Other penalties include :
Getting angry
Flinching (this comes in after you're a bit practiced and is given when it's not your turn but you think it is and you make an obvious movement to play before realizing it's not your turn)

And so there is the glorious game of Mao according to our family rules. If you Google "card game Mao," you'll find all kinds of sites with various rules. We are still in the beginning stages and so we are adding in rules as we go, tweaking our version of the game.

Have you heard of this game? My brother John was telling his carpool buddy about the game. She knew all about it; in fact, she and her husband's family actually used to rent cabins for weekends so they could play massive games of Mao!

If you haven't heard of it, now you have a new use for all those extra cards you have laying around. Let me know if you play; I'd love to hear what rules you come up with!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birthday Week

Waking up to a clean kitchen, thanks to my darlin' husband.

Breakfast prepared by my sweet little girl.

Chocolate cake, appropriately thick with icing, baked by my precious mother.

A raucous game of Mao, our newly discovered favorite card game, with my big family, including three of my brothers and an assortment of their people. (The photo above is just half of the table!)

So the big question is: how many of you know the card game Mao? My brother Stephen introduced it to our family at Christmas, having been recently initiated into the rites of Mao by a friend up in New York. Since then I've taught another dozen people or so, and we've found a few others people who have been playing this for years. It is one crazy, stressful, and very addictive game!

Facebook brought a whole new dimension to my birthday, I have to say. I was overwhelmed by the birthday greetings on my wall, totally making up for my usual two or three actual birthday cards received in the mail! How lovely that was!

But there was a downside to my birthday week. Randy's biological father died suddenly on Tuesday when an aneurysm near his brain stem burst. Terry was, as Randy says, his father "in a biological sense, but not much more." Randy's parents divorced when he was 10 and his mom later married a man that Randy grew to love as his "real" dad: the one who played with him, disciplined him, and guided him. He died 10 years ago, and his legacy lives on through his words of wisdom and funny stories. Nonetheless, my husband has lost his father, and so he will be heading off to his funeral this weekend. (And I'll be taking my lucky son to hear John Prine at the Tennessee Theatre instead of my husband. So much for our long-awaited date night!)

January and February have been filled with illnesses and deaths among our friends and family this year. The daffodils are beginning to pop out here and there, and we are all ready for spring. A little yellow against the cold goes a long, long way to lift our winter spirits.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Memory: Birthday

Nope, I don't remember this one. That's me, home from the hospital, 43 years ago tomorrow. My grandmother, Gladys, is holding me, thrilled, no doubt, with a granddaughter at last. Next to me are three of my four big brothers: Stephen (2), Peter (nearly 9), and James (15 1/2). Missing is John (12 1/2). We lived in Carbondale, Illinois, which I also don't remember.

In celebration of my birthday, I decided to do every birthday meme I could find out there.

Here's the first:
1) Go to Wikipedia
2) In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3) List three events that happened on your birthday
4) List two important birthdays and one death
5) One holiday or observance (if any)

1600 - Philosopher Giordano Bruno is burned alive at Campo de' Fiori in Rome, charged of heresy.
1801 - An electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr is resolved when Jefferson is elected President of the United States and Burr Vice President by the United States House of Representatives.

1864 - Banjo Paterson, Australian poet (d. 1941)
1963 - Larry the Cable Guy, American comedian

Death: 1673 - Molière, French playwright (b. 1622)
1958 - Pope Pius XII declares Saint Clare of Assisi (1193~1253) the patron saint of television.

Holiday: Roman Empire - Quirinalia in honor of Quirinus.

Wasn't that exciting? And now for the second birthday meme…
Except, I can't find another one. What's up with that? Someone needs to come up with a new birthday meme.…
Perhaps I shall make that my project tomorrow, since we don't do school around here on birthdays!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

SmallWorld's Wordsmithery: Similes

Welcome back to SmallWorld's WordSmithery! It's been a couple of weeks, I know, but I'm keeping it real here. Sometimes it takes me a couple of weeks to get through a one week lesson myself, so I don't want you all to feel stressed out and think that you must do creative writing every day. We're all about flexibility around here.

If you are just joining the WordSmithery, please go back to Lesson 1 to find out what's going on around here. I've appreciated the feedback I've gotten from several of you! At some point I'd like to have an occasional page where you share some of your kids' writings, so remind me if I forget, as I'm apt to do.

We're still talking here about the building blocks of all writing: good words. After you made/bought your journals, we talked about The Power of a Good Word and synonyms and adjectives. This week, we're moving on to similes, which looks like "smilies" if you don't read carefully. :-) :-) Remember that, as always, this lesson is loosely scripted as a means to generate discussion and response with your student(s). I've also included the lesson and assignments on separate files that you can print out, linked at the bottom. I try to put the "speaking" parts in regular type and the answers in italics. And remember: parents/teacher: you should be doing the assignments, too!

Assignment #4: Similes

(Note: if you don't go through your journal assignments from the previous lesson on a regular basis, this is the time to share your journals!)

I. The Lesson

A. Review: Last week we talked about synonyms and adjectives. What is a synonym? What is an adjective? (allow for answers)
-- Read the poem "Mango" by Madeleine Comora. Pick out synonyms and adjectives.


Bathed in flames
Of sunset red
And gold
It beams
In the bowl.
I cradle
The ripe globe,
Peel away the skin,
Perfume rises,
Thick juice drips
On my chin.
The pulp,
Sticky sweet,
The summer heat
Down to the oval stone,
Slippery smooth
And white as the moon.

~By Madeleine Comora

B. This week we are going to talk about another very important tool that writers use: the simile. Here is an important word to remember when you hear the word simile: the word is LIKE. Similes tell you what something is LIKE.

C. Read "Cow" by Valerie Worth.

The cow
Across the grass
Like a mountain
Toward us;
Her hipbones
Like sharp
Of stone,
Her hoofs
Like dropped
Too late
She stops.
~By Valerie Worth
1. Lets pick out the similes or “like whats”: how does she move? (like a mountain)
2. How does she look? (hipbones like sharp peaks of stone)
3. How does she sound? (hoofs thump like dropped rocks)
4. Each one of those phrases is called a simile. A simile takes two unlike things and compares them using the words "like" or "as." A simile is called a "figure of speech," but that's not really too important. You'll see what we mean more as we move along.

D. "Like what" exercise
1. We're going to do a "like what" exercise now to help you form your own similes. So close your eyes. Imagine that a color is going to come into the room and zoom into your bodies. When it does, it’s going to make you feel hot or cold, because colors can do this. For example, you might feel extremely hot as if you are swimming in a volcano, or cold as if you are picking up a snowball without gloves on and it is dripping down your arm and into your sleeve.
2. The color is BLUE. Close your eyes and picture the color blue
3. Now—keep your eyes closed—what does BLUE feel like? (wait for responses. They will most likely say things like "hot" or "cold." What you want them to do is expand on that, so you will have to coach them with, "hot like what?" Write their responses on the board or paper with the word Blue at the top.)
4. What does blue sound like? (Again, they may say single words like "quiet." Prompt them to say "quiet like _____")
5. What does blue taste like? (Follow above pattern)
6. What does blue smell like?
7. What does blue sound like? Taste like? Look like (shape, size)? Have texture like? Move like?
(Note: at the end of this exercise, you will have a poem like this:
Blue is hot like electric wires and cold like a glacier.
Blue sounds like butterfly whispers and tastes like a popsicle.
Blue smells like cotton candy and looks still like a puddle.
Blue feels smooth like a rock.
Blue moves fast like a waterfall)

E. Now let’s take a FEELING and go through this same type of LIKE WHAT list.
Anger can be (repeat above list)
(write out as poem on board)

F. You can do more "like what" exercises with colors or feelings. You might have each student (including you) take a different color or feeling and come up with a "like what" poem. So use the format:
Tastes like
Smells like
Moves like
Sounds like
Texture like (rough, slimy)
Looks like (shape, size)
Hot like
Cold like

II. The "Homework"
A. This week you are going to write a poem for homework. You will also have your regular journal assignments, but you will also write a poem using plenty of “like whats.”
B. What is a portrait? (Let kids answer.) Portraits were especially important before we had cameras. Do people still do portraits or paintings?
C. You are going to do a written portrait. Let’s practice a little here.
1. Touch your hair. What does it feel like? Remember, you don’t have to choose just texture (my hair feels like straw); you could choose color (my hair feels like black satin). (Allow for answers.)
2. What about your fingernails? What do they feel like? (for example, Sharp like cat claws.) What do they look like? (For example, dirty like a garden shovel.)
3. Remember our “like what” list.
4. This page is for your self-portrait. You can choose whatever you want for your portrait: eyes, ears, feet, hair, heart, whatever! You can make it funny or you can make it serious. I’ve included a few samples to give you some ideas. Self-Portrait exercise here.

Self-Portrait Exercise

My ____________________________ is like ______________________________


My __________________________ are like _______________________________

My _________________________ are____________________________________.

My heart holds _______________________________________________________
(use a feeling word)

that is _____________________ as ______________________________________.
(Color, etc.)

I live in __________________________________

And I eat ________________________________.

Self Portrait
My back is like a strong bridge.
My hands are like a wicker basket waiting to carry a load.
My words can be sharp like a razor or soothing like a quilt.
My eyes are like a sentry constantly on watch.
My heart holds love that is endless as a river.
I live on a mountain
And eat wild carrots.

III. Journal Writings

Use any kind of words you like: nouns, verbs, adjectives

Day 1
Pick a feeling/emotion or any other idea. Think about it and write a line that tells…
• what color it is
• what it tastes like
[For example: Freedom is red, white and blue and tastes like chalupas and linguine.]

Day 2
Use the same word from yesterday’s assignment (for example, “freedom”) or choose a new feeling or idea. Think about it and write a line that tells…
• what is smells like
• what it looks like
[For example: Happiness smells like honeysuckle and looks like a ridge of mountains in the morning.]

Day 3
Pick a color. Tell in a sentence or group of sentences what this color:
• Looks like
• Sounds like
[For example: Yellow looks like Black-eyed Susans and sounds like butterfly wings.]

**NOTE: We got so excited about colors that we created a special simile rainbow. Click HERE to see this enrichment activity. It's fun!!

Day 4
Write a list of 10 things you want to do in the next year.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Magic Wand

This morning I went to a breakfast meeting sponsored by our local community college to discuss opportunities for dual enrollment for high school students. Most community colleges offer this kind of program, in which high school students can take classes at the community college for both high school and college credit.

The vast majority of those in attendance were guidance counselors from local public high schools, and one private school was represented. As an icebreaker, we were asked to complete this writing prompt at our tables: "If I had a magic wand, I would…" I chose to be the scribe at our table, because I could only think of things like, "… have my house clean when I get home" and "…eat chocolate cake every day without gaining weight." Those are not the kinds of wishes that the rest of the participants at my table were expressing. They were saying things about "funding" and "enthusiasm" and "time."

My wishes are, indeed, simple. Sure, I'd love to have a portion of the money that is allotted per student in our school district (over $8000/year per student). Just magic-wand $1000 of that per child my way—no strings attached— and I'd be thrilled! But really, I just want the days to run smoothly, for my kids to be happy, and for there to be all the ingredients in my refrigerator for a delicious supper.

After a few minutes the six or so tables were asked to share their wish lists. The very first man—a counselor at a huge high school—said that he wished for stable families, and specifically for parents who were married and committed. I was amazed by this: he said that out of the top 6 students in this year's senior class where he is a counselor, 5 of the students come from 2-parent homes with involved parents. The sixth student, he explained, had a 2-parent family but the mother recently died. Wow.

Around the room the magic wand wishes echoed, and I was struck by how blessed we are to be homeschooling. I'm not saying that homeschooling is the magic wand that will solve all educational problems, but so many of the reasons that people choose to homeschool were expressed as wishes by these counselors and teachers:
* I wish we didn't have to do so much standardized testing
* I wish the kids had stable homes
* I wish the kids had a love of reading
* I wish parents would keep parenting when their kids are in high school
* I wish parents would keep nurturing their kids when they are teenagers
* I wish everyone would realize that all kids are different and need different things and that we didn't have to teach to the middle
* I wish we could spend more time giving them what they really need
* I wish kids could see the value of education and learning
* I wish we had more time
Sure, there was a lot of funding talk, too, but I really sensed the frustration in these counselors. They seemed to have the "our hands are tied" syndrome: we see what's needed, but we can't do much about it. I'm glad to know that there are so many counselors in the school systems who see core needs and are trying to find ways to fill the needs. I hope they have a strong voice in their schools, although their wishes were usually followed by heavy sighs.

What would your magic wand in your life today?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Memory: My Diaries

It started with a photograph that a high school friend posted on Facebook yesterday. It was a bunch of us girls all dressed up, going out to dinner at Wing Tai, our favorite (and only, at the time) Chinese restaurant. The grouping of girls was odd, though (as in, we weren't necessarily all great friends) and I wanted to find the story behind the picture.

So I had to get the box marked "Journals" out of the top of my closet, find a knife and slit open the tape, and find 1982.

I became immersed in 1981, 1982 and 1983 for the next hour or more. I was a prolific diary-keeper. From about fifth grade or so I wrote at least a few times each week, sometimes every day. In 1981 I was a sophomore in high school, and my life was completely wrapped up in my first boyfriend. I seriously cringed to read how much my own identity was defined by the ups and downs of our relationship. I was a basket case for my entire sophomore and junior years, except for the 6 months I spent in Germany, away from the drama.

I never did find out the story behind the picture. My purple diary ended a couple of weeks before the dinner out, and my new one begun just a few days afterwards. I went to bed mulling over various things. Like how I hope my daughter never depends on a boyfriend for her self-worth. Like how I wish that the girl in the diaries could see what was coming next, and what was coming in a few years, and how it all turned out. Like how, even though he (my first boyfriend) often treated me terribly, I am glad I knew him and loved him, because in the end he was a very good friend, and then he died and I can never call him and say, "Listen to this!" or tag him in a note on Facebook.

Today I spent an hour reading through 1983-1984, and I felt much better about myself. I was amazed at how much I matured emotionally just over the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, and then between my senior year in high school and my freshman year of college. I was in a healthy relationship. I was creating. I was spending time outdoors: skiing, skating, hiking, sailing. I was having fun and enjoying friends. I liked who I was, not because of my boyfriend, but because I was embracing the spirit of carpe diem.

I am reading my diaries like they are novels. I know what's coming, and yet the stories somehow seem new. I love "being" in my freshman year of college this evening, and reading about meeting people who later became so pivotal in my life. I've just finished reading through March of my freshman year; in just six months I'll meet my husband.

But I'm saving that for tomorrow.

When was the last time you read through your old diaries?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Heart of the Matter Meme: Surviving Winter

Today's meme over at Heart of the Matter asks for ways to Beat the Winter Blues. I don't really have to beat the winter blues because where I live in East Tennessee, the winters are short and mild. I grew up in upstate New York and spent five long years in Iowa, so I know winter. And I miss winter. Sometimes I even blog a lot about snow. Here, for example, is a post about our big winter excitement this year! I love Kristina's post on winter; she really goes to the heart of the matter:
"the days are shorter, the nights colder, but really, this IS what it is. I cannot imagine not embracing winter, both the good and the bad."
But I do have a few ways to beat the winter blues. It's here on my post called "Combating the January Blahs," or you can just read it here:

(from 2007)
January is made for reading books by the fireplace after playing in the snow. Candlelight, afghans, warm bread and hot soup. That sounds lovely; however, the reality is my children don’t want to sit by the fireplace and read all day (also, the fireplace is currently out of commission); candles make me nervous when children are bouncing around; my kids really don’t like soup; and I don’t bake bread much. We don’t have snow, but it’s too gray and dismal to be outside half the time. I long to be snowed in, like Huber Hof up in BC.

I’ve found that the best way to combat the Blahs is to add some serious variety into the school day. All the regular diversions are great, such as Play-dough, pattern blocks, and puzzles, but here are a selection of other activities that help us all ward off the winter doldrums:

1. Random science experiments. Forget your normal science guides and just do experiments. We get the Sonlight science kits each year, and we always have leftover supplies. I just let them spread out the stuff, which might include everything from cotton balls to circuit systems, and let them do their own thing. Also, my younger ones love to just mix stuff up: baking soda and vinegar, plus food coloring, dish soap, etc. Here’s a fun one: cover the bottom of a pie plate (preferably glass) with milk or cream (doesn’t work as well with skim milk). Put in a few drops of food coloring. Now, very carefully, add a few drops of dish detergent –and watch the kaleidoscope

2. Army guy rescue. Fill a plastic cup (preferably clear) with water, and drop in an army guy or other small plastic toy. Freeze until solid. Send the kids outside with a chisel or paint scraper (or other such tool) and let them chisel out the army guy.

3. Marshghettis: Give them a bunch of uncooked spaghetti (regular works better than thin) and mini-marshmallows and challenge them to build a bridge, an animal, a building, etc. They’ll get carried away with this one. You’ll even be able to write a blog, read a book, or—if you must—prepare dinner while they create. Also serves as snack time.

4. What’s that Smell? Put a few drops or sprinkles of several strong-smelling substances (e.g., vanilla or lemon extract, garlic, various spices, chocolate, tea bags, perfume, etc.) on Kleenxes and put them into individual Ziplocs. Let the kids guess what they smell is. (Make sure you’ve coded it somehow so you’ll know.)

5. What’s that thing? Put an object into a brown lunch sack or pillowcase. Have the kids feel it and try to figure out what it is.

6. Games. Board games, card games, whatever. Inserting a game into the middle of the school day does something wonderful to their whole day. It doesn’t have to be a 2-hour game of Monopoly; even a 10-minute game of Crazy 8s somehow lightens up the Blahs. See my post on games for a few of our favorites.

7. Field Trips. Just one special field trip in the midst of winter can satisfy for weeks. Too many field trips stress me out, but we all look forward to an out-of-the-usual-realm outing every few weeks. (I don’t count regular activities—Scouts, enrichment classes, sports, etc.—as field trips!)

8. Order of the Queen: This is a special edict issued by the Queen, whereas the day is declared “Game Day,” “Baking Day,” “Movie Day,” or such. No regular schoolwork is allowed. Print this out in an Old English-type font and roll up as a scroll to be opened at the usual start of school (if you have such a thing).

My goal is to add a few of these blah-combats during the week. One a day is overly ambitious for me, and I've learned to set my goals at a more realistic speed. Too much fun, after all, can become mundane...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Snow Play

It's sheer lunacy how crazy will all get here in East Tennessee with an inch of snow. I cannot express the frenzy of snow joy that has taken over my children the past three days. We are constantly looking out the window, gauging the amount of new snow (if any), the temperature, and the amount of melting that is going on. Every day at 3 p.m. (after my parents have had their nap), we've headed over to my parents' house for the daily sledding. They have a great hill.

The most hilarious thing is the kids' pitiful search for a sled. See what Laurel is carrying in the photo below? That's the remaining quarter of the sled we brought with us from Iowa, nine years ago.

Duncan is having great luck with a box he found under his bed. They also tried cardboard, Rubbermaid container tops, a cookie sheet, and a recycling bin. And yes, I tried to buy them a real sled, but everyone said, "We don't have none, honey, and we won't be gettin' no more in."

Look at these faces. They don't need real sleds.

Looks like we'll be back up in the 50s or 60s by the weekend, and I can't say that I mind, but these few days of snow sure have been fun.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Three Beautiful Things: Snow, Dad, Conversation

1. Snow! Not exciting for many of you, I know, but for those of us in the south, a bit of snow goes a long way. Today we got a really nice snow, big fat flakes falling for hours.

2. My Dad. This is what he said to a customer over the phone today: "Would you call me back in an hour? We have the first big snow that we've had in 8 years, and I'm going to go play in the snow with my grandchildren." I love that man.

3. Conversation. I love relaxing dinners that lead to good conversation around the table. It used to be that the kids would all scatter when they finished eating, and Dr. H and I would enjoy "table time" by ourselves but lately our teenager has been staying to converse, too. And how much do I love that, when asked how he liked a certain author, he said, "Not too much. His dialog is terrible and he's really not a great writer." Child after my own heart.

What beautiful things are in your life today?