Thursday, May 29, 2008

Poke York

Down the street from us, neighbors have built a city for their Pokemon key chains, called Poke York.

It is really, really cool.

Poke York has taken over the whole garage; in this picture, you can see the Rock Shop (in case the Pokemon want to buy rocks - one has lined her swimming pool with them), the Library, and some of the roads and homes.

The rocks come from a quarry close by:

Here's a close-up of some homes:

Here's Luke's -

Poke York has grown from one shoebox in the house, to this huge city out in the garage - urban sprawl has become an issue. So, the resident Pokemon are moving to houses that are higher, with more stories, but a smaller footprint in the garage. The Pokemon have had to learn how to conserve their resources, manage their stores and businesses for sustainability, and control the sprawl.

The Pokemon owners are ages 7-9... if they can clean up Poke York, it will give me hope that we can clean up our corner of the world!

Note: The Stone Age Techie will be taking a long weekend -we've got company! Also, we're out growing things in the garden, which has put me in the mindset of sustainable agriculture; next week will be CSA week here at the Stone Age Techie.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on the Front Garden

Remember when it looked like this?

Now, it looks like this:

People - more than one! - stop by to tell me how much they like it. There's one guy on our street who stops by to poke fun at the fence, but I let that slide off my back; so far, nothing has died, I've spent hardly anything, and dammit, I like my fence.

I get a little thrill each time I'm outside, or look out the window. I think to myself, 'I made this!'

It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Father and Son(s)

There is a live version of Bruce Springsteen's song "The River" which includes a speech about Bruce's teenage head-butting with his Dad. If you've ever heard it, you are already tearing up just reading about it; if you haven't, here's a summary.

He says (not verbatim, my memory's not that good!): "I had really long hair, down past my shoulders, and my father always hated it. One time, I got into a motorcycle accident and I was in the hospital, and my father had someone come and cut it while I was in the hospital.

Man, I was so mad. I can remember telling him that I hated him... and that I would never forgive him."

"Anyway, when I was a teenager, a lot of my friends were going off to Viet Nam - and those that came back, they were never the same.

And me and my father, we'd fight so much, I can remember him saying 'I can't wait till the Army gets ahold of you - when the Army gets ahold a you, they're gonna make a man outta you.'"

"Well, one day, I got my draft notice. And a few days before I had my physical, I didn't come home - just stayed out with my friends, and never went home. And when I had my physical... I failed.

And I went home, hadn't been home in days, and my father was sitting at the kitchen table. And he said, 'where you been?'"

"I said, 'I had my physical,' and he said 'what happened?' And I said, 'I failed.'"

"And he said... 'well, that's good.'"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Leaps and Bounds

... And forward rolls!

Here's another one...

And we'll end today's online physical therapy session with Luke jumping off the trampoline:

We count ourselves as extremely lucky to have PT - really for Luke, but in actuality for both boys.

No one frowns when Owen pushes himself all around the room on a stool, or piles up wedges and cushions to jump, roll, or bounce the kickball on; he can even use the machines with my supervision. Sometimes, Owen is enlisted to help bring ice, heat, and towels to the other patients, which he loves. Everyone is kind, and friendly, and fun-loving.

There aren't that many places where 3 and 7 year-old children are accepted as wholeheartedly as at Active Physical Therapy, and we thank them for it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Counts?

Luke was poking around in a box yesterday and found a balloon-animal making kit, including directions, hand pump, and many, many balloons - and he hasn't stopped playing with them since!

When Ben got home, he asked Luke, "what did you do for homeschooling today?" Luke's answer: "Well, I made balloon animals."

Later, Ben asked me what Luke really learned just from playing with a bunch of balloons - but I think he was really asking, exactly what counts as schooling here?

Here's a list of as many things as I can think of that Luke learned, from playing with balloons:

1)For a kids with supposed fine-motor issues, I can't think of a better activity; twisting the balloons and keeping them that way takes lots of skill. So, he improved his fine-motor skills.

2)He followed directions for a variety of animals, including making sure that the twists were in the right place and the right size relative to the other twists.

3)He learned from his mistakes: guess what happens when you don't leave a little uninflated balloon at the end, as a place for the air to go while you're twisting, and twisting? Yep - KABOOM.

4)He gave good directions, and worked extrmely well as the senior part of a team - "Mom, you hold this one so that I can twist these two - thanks! That's perfect..."

5)He used his imagination to make up new (to him) animals.

6)He made a balloon mouse for a specific purpose - scaring Dad - and acted "being Dad" getting home from work, heading to his room to change, and being surprised by the mouse.

7)He experimented with air pressure, using his fingers to stop the air in the pump, push in the balloons, and pump them up to let them fly.

So, that's 7 things that Luke learned about, while playing. I think it all counts as schooling, with the added bonus of motivation - I could not have stopped him learning about all this, once he caught sight of those balloons!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I saw a t-shirt on a little kid today, with the following phrase:

"All my best ideas get me into trouble!"

My first inclination was to laugh, but then I started thinking; is it really so funny? It bothered me; it left that kid looking somehow evil, because of the phrase on his shirt.

Friends of ours, who have a daughter with a very lovable but also, shall we say, whirlwind-like countenance, had a great t-shirt for her, when she was a toddler. It had a picture of the Double Black Diamond symbol - used in skiing to mean "You may as well throw yourself down here head first, there's no way to get to the bottom without breaking your neck anyway" - and the simple phrase, "Most Difficult".

I always liked this shirt, because while it is funny, it also somehow embraces the challenge of raising a high-spirited child - lots of skiiers, myself included, love the Double Black Diamonds.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Front Yard

We here at The Stone Age Techie have been outside, working in the garden, for many days now. And, it seems, we're finally making some progress!

In addition to the woven fence, we now have transplanted dayliies, phlox, foxgloves, groundcover with cute little pink flowers, forsythia, euonymous... should I go on?

But before all (or most, anyway) of that could happen, we had to get the hard elements in. So, the kids and I spent the week doing the path:

And, here is a picture of a very proud Luke:

He and his brother were instumental in the making of this path - although, perhaps less for their strong backs than for their high enthusiasm for the project!

It does my heart good to see and hear them, zipping around on the paths that we worked so hard on.

More photos as they become available...

Friday, May 16, 2008


Here's a question that I get a lot as a homeschooling parent: "What about socialization?" As in, 'how could your child possibly be learning about social skills without being in a room with many other children 5 days a week?'

And I understand completely where these concerned people are coming from - I worried about socialization lots back when Luke was still in school.

I don't worry about it anymore. In fact, I think the socialization my guys get as homeschoolers beats hands-down what goes on in school.

After much thought, and in as few words as possible, here's why: homeschooled kids spend their time experiencing the world - out in it, talking to people, doing - rather than "learning."

That, and they have more freedom and choice.

They are free to do what they love in more of their waking hours, and to choose what they want to learn about - and this applies even to kids who aren't 'unschooled' because formalized lessons for a few kids take far, far less time than formalized lessons for a classroom-full.

And believe me, a kid who has more freedom and choice in his (or her!) daily life is a happier kid. Much happier.

Well, how did you feel about being stuck in school, doing work that somebody had deemed important when the wide world beckoned to you, just out of reach? Did you, just sometimes, feel resentful? Or even outright angry at the tremendous drain on your time? Think about how much friendlier you might have been, how much more positive your 'socialization,' if you'd had more freedom.

Here's an example of the socialization that goes on in the lives of our homeschoolers:

Friends up the street have gone Pokemon crazy, building an awesome city out of boxes, dollhouse furniture, markers, rocks - you name it, Poke York has it. They use Monopoly money so the Pokemon who live there can furnish their homes, they've built roads so they can get from place to place. Poke York is so big, it's taken over the family garage!

My favorite thing about it is that the Pokemon - keychains with a little Pokemon figure attached - have become these kids' families. Luke thinks of himself as the parent of the keychains he's got, and loves to take them to their home in Poke York.

The other day, he came to me asking for a carrying case for his little buddies; when I found him this -

an old purse of mine - he told me how excited he was because "now all 4 of us have carrying cases!" He carries his Pokemon proudly in his 'sash,' and the joy he feels at being part of this little band - of belonging - is palpable.

We've spent about $12 on the Pokemon keychains, and other than that everything springs from the kids' imaginations, with objects found around the house.

In other words, this club that is Poke York contains all the benefits of positive socialization - friendship, inclusiveness (even to the point of accepting 3 year-old Owen into the group), fairly high-level thinking and problem-solving, and imagination - with no negatives as far as I can see.

People worry that if a kid doesn't get used to the negative socialization ('baby talk! baby talk! it's a wonder you can walk!') that is so prevalent in schools, they'll never develop a tough enough skin to be able to weather it later.

I used to think that, too, but I've changed my mind.

I think now that, if a kid has the confidence in his (or her!) own ideas, and is secure in the knowledge that he (or she!) belongs in some way, to some group, then the thick skin will develop, not as a scarred, tattered skin but as one that is whole and well-insulated.

This is what homeschooling has taught me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Corn is King

I watched a fascinating documentary the other night, about corn grown in Iowa, and where it goes once it's grown, and how it's grown, and stuff.

One of the first things the two documentarists did was to see how much corn is in their bodies; apparently how you do this is, you have your hair tested. And sure enough, according to their hair, both these guys were pretty much made up of corn. Because it's the main ingredient in everything from cattle feed to soda; the western diet is full of corn.

We are what we eat.

I think my family would not be made up entirely of corn. Since I read Omnivore's Dilemma, we have made every effort to ensure this, starting with membership in a meat CSA in addition to our veggie one.

And, I bake my own bread - in fact, all our baked goods (just about).

And, the kids and I spend much time in summer picking berries so that I can freeze them, turn them into jam, pies, etc. for the off-season.

There are other things, too - but I don't want to sound like too much of a survivalist wacko.

However, I will say this: watching a documentary about all the horrible things people have done with corn - using it to mistreat domesticated animals, creating high-fructose corn syrup and putting it in everything - and all the horrible things that happen to people as a result (type 2 diabetes in children comes to mind) justifies everything we do here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Life Cycle of a Comet

Here's something I didn't know until Luke asked to learn about meteorites: they are by-products of comets!

Actually, they're by-products of meteors, which are by-products of meteoroids, which are by-products of comets. Isn't that interesting?

We're also learning about how meteorites shape earth and other planets, moons, etc; yesterday, we did a fun, cool experiment to simulate crater-making. Here are some pictures:

Here, we are layering flour and different colored sand/smashed-up chalk/food-coloring-laced sugar, to create different layers of rock in the earth.

Then, bombs away! Luke wanted dinosaurs and a flashlight to simulate the sun, so he could see how the dust from the impact could block out sunlight rays.

Now, the box is sitting outside in very windy conditions, to simulate erosion - also, so that kids can play in the flour without getting our kitchen all dirty!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One More Reason to Homeschool

I am so sad about this.

And, this isn't the only one; evidently Chinese schools weren't built to withstand earthquakes.

I'm not a praying person, but I will say I'm keeping these poor people in my thoughts. Sigh.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Two things my boys couldn't do last Mother's Day that they can do now:

1)Luke couldn't get himself soup-to-nuts ready for bed last year, but now he's doing it all himself. Including deciding when the lights go out, sometimes as late as when Ben and I go to bed. I'm glad Luke is finding his own way, as long as he gets up when he's needed in the morning; one of our favorite spectator sports is to watch the kids walking to the school bus in the morning, from Luke's bedroom, with him still in bed!

2)Owen routinely, voluntarily (!) gets himself dressed, by which I mean, he chooses his own clothes and puts them on!

It's really a double-edged sword, though, because while I'm glad I don't have to nag about these things anymore, I also have two boys who are growing up before my eyes.

Sometimes, that feels waaay too fast.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Learning How to Be a Good Dad

I know, it doesn't look like much: just a bear lying on a pillow.

But if you had seen how lovingly placed this bear was, heard how Owen crooned, "That's Mama's pillow, and this is my pillow, and this is yours, White Bear," you might feel that it was much, much more.

It reminded me of a day years ago, when we went to the store to find a doll that would wet in order to help Luke potty train. Dolls - especially dolls purporting to be 'for boys,' without the pink and frills - are stupidly expensive; in fact the only one I found that wet for less than $85 was the pinkest, frilliest one on the shelf.

I carried it towards 3 year-old Luke and his Daddy in the store, and the reaction on their faces as they saw it was comically different: Luke, holding out his arms, joyfully shouting "oh! It's my baby! My baby!" and Ben, shaking his head frantically and mouthing, "No frigging way!"

Well, we bought that doll, and in the 4 years since both Luke and Owen have cared for her with a tenderness that continues to surprise me. Sometimes this gentleness is short-lived, the baby discarded for me to find later, all her pink accessories scattered on the floor among the dinosaurs and Star Wars stuff.

And then other times I'll come upon her lovingly placed into her pink sleeping bag, pink toy bear beside her, pink pacifier in her mouth. And just like when I saw Owen's bear this morning, I'll think to myself what great dads our boys will be someday.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Warren Jeffs

I read until 3 this morning, riveted to Carolyn Jessop's book "Escape," the story of how she got herself and her 8 children away from the FLDS cult they'd been born into - the one that's currently in the news because of the feds' recent raid on their compound.

I was reminded of a college professor I had once, whose favorite saying was, "one in six people in this world is a Chinese peasant." His point? All of us privileged folk here in his history class came closer than we ever knew to being Chinese peasants.

Often, I'll think about the luck - sheer, dumb luck - that I ended up a woman in one of the most forward-thinking nations in the world (for all its' faults) rather than in one that treats a woman as a possession. The sort of place where, even if I possessed the know-how to navigate the internet, I could be jailed or killed just for writing this post.

I'll think about how the things that I take for granted every day - driving, drinking clean water, having the respect of most people (excepting the occasional car salesman), literacy, the ability to have sex for the pure enjoyment - all these are banned from women in many, many places on Earth.

Today, I am bowled over by the sheer, dumb luck that kept me from being one of the women in this horrible FLDS cult, made harder and more horrible by their sick, Hitler-loving head, Warren Jeffs.

Does it seem a longshot that I might have been one of these women? Well, remember, one in six people in this world is a Chinese peasant.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Fun Parlor Game

I've been reading "Wishcraft," by Barbara Sher, a book which I find myself unable to put down, far into the night. It consists largely of mental exercises, with the goal of figuring out exactly what you want out of life and how to get it once you know what it is. To be honest, I thought I already knew what I wanted out of life, but I've discovered a few new, indispensable goals.

Anyway, it's a pretty neat book, and one of my favorite exercises in it so far has to do with role models.

What you do is, you choose 3-5 people, "from all of history and literature" as the author says, figure out what it is you admire about them, and write it down. Basically, these people become your personal cheering section, almost an alternate family. And as great a family I have, I figured it'd be interesting to choose some new members - and see if anyone else out there wanted to, too.

So I thought that in this post, I'd write about who I chose, and ask you, dear reader, to post yours in the commment section. Want to play?

Okay, here we go:

Barbara Kingsolver, because she shares my opinions on food and the simple life. Also, she's funny, a great writer, and unafraid to speak her mind about what's important to her.

Jimmy Carter - bear with me! I know he's got kind of a bad rap right now - because he's a kind, giving man who has found a way to make a positive impact in many, many poor peoples' lives with Habitat for Humanity. Also, he played cowboys and indians as a child!

Grace Llewellyn, an unschooling advocate who has transformed my view of what constitutes good schooling and why.

Marie Curie, who made inroads into the old boys' network that is science. She was strong, and believed in herself and her work.

Amy Dacysyn, better known as Frugal Zealot, who published her Tightwad Gazette newsletter for several years and helped me to realize that living cheap doesn't mean living bad. In fact, spending less money means using our inborn ingenuity, because we have to figure out how to do stuff rather than buy something to do it for us.

Well, I sure hope that the 3 people who regularly read this blog will chime in! And anyone who happens to wander in as well - the role models we choose can say a lot about who we are. Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Field Trip!

We took our first "real" field trip as homeschoolers today, to a nature sanctuary nearby. We had an excellent time, not only because of the program but because of the people! As a group, homeschoolers are friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic, and that sure was the case today.

Here are some (many, actually) pictures from our day:

Scooping up pond stuff... everyone got a turn, and there were some really neat life forms in there!

Like these...

And these...

And these.

Hard to see, but the long, stick-like thing in the lower left is not just another pretty stick. It is, in fact, a hollow stick with a little bug larva inside. And when s/he explored this new environment, the hollow stick came along for the ride! It was the cutest thing, like a hermit crab.

Next, a few more pond pictures:

Even the youngest member of our group enjoyed himself!

Yes, that there is "I hate writing" Luke, holding a sketchbook - in which he drew actual pictures of what he saw! More than one! And, it was all him; my only involvement was to mention that we were asked to pack a sketchbook. If that's not homeschool magic, I don't know what is.

I can't overstate the fascination these kids had with the pond life portion of our day.

Then, onto lunch, where we got to check out a half-taxidermied wood duck up close:

And watch as a butterfly was released into the wild.

Then on our afternoon trail tour, we saw some really neat, tall trees:

An ash (up there), and a hickory (down here):

And check out the bark on the hickory tree!

Here's Owen, wondering, who lives here?

Maybe this guy?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Modernization of the Stone Age Techie

I can now hypertext! And to prove it, I'm going to dedicate this post to my brother, Dave.

Uncle Dave has been known to hop on the Chinatown bus and surprise me when I needed him most; and, now that he's moved away to follow his dream, I want him to know how very, very much we will miss him here.

And, how much we look forward to meeting his girl!

Friday, May 2, 2008

At Loose Ends

This has been a week where I feel like I'm coasting, with too many projects started but not finished, and not enough time to finish them.

And, tomorrow, I start another one! It should make it easier to get to some of the others: the boys and I will take Owen's room and turn it into a playroom for them, quilting spot for me, and Owen will stay in Luke's room until we have the basement finished - we are all looking forward to that.

In the meantime, here is my favorite picture of the week:

He's saying, "Expelliarmus!" And, he wore this getup wherever we went, inside and outside, all day - soo cute. With all the Star Wars stuff around here, I was missing Harry Potter.