Monday, November 30, 2009

Did Someone Say Cookies?

I know, I know... we've barely finished the pumpkin pie, and here I am in the mood for cookies!

I wasn't, until this article that I wrote over at Parents and Kids came out today; as soon as I got to the recipes, my mouth started watering. You can try out my sister-in-law's gingerbread cookies, which are soft and scrumptious, plus you've got your choice of vanilla or chocolate no-chill sugar cookies.

More than anything else, this article has inspired me to start packing up the Halloween decorations - anyone else still have bats hanging from the chandelier? come on, I can't be the only one - and get into the holiday spirit.

Cookies just have a way, don't they?

Monday, November 16, 2009

When Trash Becomes Treasure

We've been to this park quite a few times recently. But this was the first time that the sandbox got much use - because today, the kids had trash (from their lunches) with which to play! Here, some pics and video of what a little well-placed garbage can do to liven up a park day:

It's not that they made anything 'big.' I love these pics because of the children's expressions. They are smiling, thinking, working together, talking together.

Here are some videos, in which Luke and Owen extol the virtues of 'Sand Soda,' the drink which, evidently, makes you disintegrate into sand:

The boys insisted on bringing home their Sand Soda (it's out in the outdoor toy bin, I drew the line at allowing sand in old soda bottles into the house) - which just goes to show you how valuable trash can be. Even when the play is done, when it's okay to throw it away, they won't part with it! They found treasure today, indeed.

PS - Did you read my last post, the one about bullying, and find it somewhat harsh? Not quite what you expect from the otherwise gentle, mild-mannered Karen you have come to know and love? Well, when I re-read it, I thought the same thing - so I added in a sort of mea culpa at the beginning. Here's the post again if you would like another gander.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Freedom and Music

11/16/09: I've been thinking a lot about this situation since it happened last week, realizing I was overly enthusiastic about the use of sarcasm as a tool for interacting with others. When I wrote the post, I was still steaming about the bullying, and as I've calmed down, I've realized that sarcasm, while it may make me feel better in the short term, is not a strategy for conflict resolution. It is also not what I want to teach my children about how to get along with their neighbors, and friends, and relations - nor is it really in my personality to use it in a fight. (As a friend said today, "I thought to myself when I read your post, 'this is not my gentle Karen!'" So, please take this post with a grain of salt and know that while I may use sarcasm once in a while, and mostly with people who know me well and know that it's in a joking sense, it can hurt - and I am not about hurting.

We play baseball every week on a field nearby - although, now that the weather is turning, we've been meeting for "baseball" which is more of an all-purpose park day, with perhaps a baseball-related game played at some point, by some people.

Even though now it's just "baseball," we've kept it at the same field instead of rotating around, partly out of habit but also because the kids want to check in on their fairy houses, there are open and clean bathrooms (yay!), and it's really just a great park.

Which made this week's experience all the more upsetting.

It is easy to forget, while our kids are out in the world absorbing life firsthand instead of stuck in school, worrying about test scores, tired from being hauled out of bed at ungodly hours, hungry for something better than standard cafeteria fare, and feeling trapped, that our kids are the exception. It is also easy to forget that the frustration of dealing with school pressures day after day produces children who tease, and bully, and do whatever they can to make themselves feel better than somebody.

Earlier this week, worlds collided when schoolchildren, granted early release for a day, came to "our" playground to play too. They came with parents who frowned at us for allowing our kids the freedom to range, and climb trees, and just have less supervision than they think kids should have. But their kids' behavior was really the kicker - lots of "ohhh, you're homeschooled!" and tinkering with the rules of kickball to favor only the schooled kids. Lots of teasing and mean-spiritedness, the kind of behavior that we fortunately don't see very much of, very often.

We lasted an hour or so before calling it quits. The vibe was upsetting, but it wasn't until we were in the car that I heard about the true extent of the teasing, which verged on bullying. And it left me marveling at the anger and vitriol that sits just beneath the surface of seemingly average-looking schoolchildren.

I also marveled at how different Luke is now, from when he was in school (we took him out two years ago, almost to the day). Although upset at how he and his friends were treated, he didn't take it personally as he used to. He spoke almost empirically about what was said and done. He viewed what was happening, even while it was happening, with an eye unclouded by the resentment and anger that he used to feel about being part of that system.

He was only irritated by one thing: that he "wasn't able to get a word in to defend myself!" We talked of how, throughout our lives, we will meet people who try to hurt us to make themselves feel better.

And I shared with Luke my secret weapon: sarcasm.

So help me, I coached him in using sarcasm to fight back when somebody teases him about being a homeschooler. Together we came up with snappy comebacks like "yeah, it is really awful, learning about what you want, when you want." Or, "I just hate still being in bed when your bus goes by." And, "I know you feel sorry for me, freedom stinks."

I don't really use sarcasm very often - out loud, anyway. And I do worry that he'll end up fist-fighting with a bully, or something worse, but I want Luke to be able to defend himself verbally. Owen too, when he is a bit older. Because it is true that in life, we do meet people who try to hurt us. It's good to not take it personally, and it is good to try to understand where that person is coming from, but it is also necessary to protect oneself from a bully.

Later, we comforted ourselves with our newly acquired They Might Be Giants album, Here Comes Science. Susan at In The Kitchen put me on to it, and it came along at just the right time for Luke, Owen, and me. Not only is the album wonderful, classic They Might Be Giants - great music combined with silly rhymes that make you stop and think - the topic of science is of great interest in our house.

And so it was that music about science took us away from feelings of sadness and brought us back into the world of fun -

we made a volcano! We used the easy directions in this great book, Science Wizardry for Kids.

And, since no volcano scene is complete without a comet, Owen provided one:

Here it is erupting:

They made it erupt repeatedly, squealing with joy every time and trying out different combinations of baking soda and vinegar. And, while they worked together, I noticed so much learning and socialization going on that it made me think about the difference between schooled and homeschooled kids once more.

Watching them at work made me so glad that we homeschool.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Recipe for Writing

I've written before about Luke's reluctance to write. It's much better, I think because when something is important to him, like a wish list or a letter to somebody in the Harry Potter universe, he can put aside all the anxieties that the act of writing brings up. Or, maybe what he's really doing is forgetting about them, because the task at hand doesn't really feel like a 'task.'

That's how it was recently when he got the bright idea of making his Grandma's famous cottage cheese pancakes here at our house; if he wanted them here, he had to copy down the recipe:

I love it when we make these here, partly because they are really, really good. Like, addicting-type good. Also, I love following directions written in Luke's writing. It looks so optimistic and hopeful, I don't know why; maybe because he's overcoming something hard to do, and gets such satisfaction from the delicious result.

Also, these pancakes, which you will notice require an insane amount of eggs, are also special to Luke because the eggs come from our chickens, which he cares for and loves. He worries about them in thunderstorms, it's that kind of love.

Here is the recipe, in case you can't get it from the picture:

1) Combine: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 4 tsp sugar.

2)In a separate bowl, whisk together: 8 eggs, 2 cups cottage cheese (we've used ricotta with good results, but not quite the same), 1 cup milk, 4 Tbsp oil. I know these ingredients seem like they are not in proportion, but it will work. I promise. Plus, think of all the protein you'll be getting!

In Luke's cryptic recipe: "Add 1 to 2 Whisk till blended." Then, cook as you would any pancakes - but I would add, make sure you use a non-stick surface because these stick like crazy! Until we got a non-stick pan a few weeks ago, I was using nearly a whole stick of butter to get these out of the pan reasonably whole. I am glad that we're not doing that anymore.

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Friday, November 6, 2009

'Plowing' Into the Field Trip Wars

Topsy and Firefly Mom have been dueling over field trips for the last few weeks, and finally I think we here at the Stone Age Techie are able to enter the fray, with our recent visit to Old Sturbridge Village.

We've been there several times, but this was the best visit so far in one way: it was Homeschool Day there, which meant that most of the people, and virtually all the kids, were homeschooled. It was one of the only times where we could be reasonably certain that nobody would ask us why the kids weren't in school, where we fit in, if that makes any sense. It was good fun! Here are some highlights:

First, we took a cider-pressing class with some buddies. This series of pictures shows the kids putting apples into the press, grinding them into mush, and then pressing the mush to extract the juice:

Not shown: us gulping down our cider after all this hard work! I was bummed out only because, while we were able to press this cider, we weren't able to try the cider we pressed; it's not pasteurized. I seem to remember pressing apples into cider as a kid, and miraculously not dying from it, but I guess times have changed and so now, we are one step removed from the bounty on the trees around us. Still, the cider we did taste at the end of the class was pretty good.

We then poked around the village, checked out a shooting match (and saw the coolest thing that I didn't have my camera out for - a smoke ring, let off as one of the guns fired, that floated above the spectators' heads and into the woods. Amazing!), met a baby calf, and Owen got to help with the year-end plowing:

Yes, that is my youngest, plowing for all he is worth behind two huge, very well-behaved oxen! Watching him put his heart and soul into the work, and then running back to me, huge grin plastered on his face, has me thinking that someday he might make a good farmer.

Later, we got to meet the oxen, Lance and Henry, and their driver who patiently answered questions for half an hour before heading off to get their 'dinner':

This was one in a string of amazing visits to Old Sturbridge Village. We count ourselves very lucky to have such a place within driving distance!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two Great Carnivals

If you have some time, grab your favorite drink (warm, cold, Mother's Little Helper, whatever you need) and curl up by the computer to check out lots of great posts in two locations:

The Carnival of Unschooled Life is up over at Susan's wonderful blog, The Expanding Life. I'm not sure that really radical unschoolers would count my family among their number, but I certainly think of myself as an unschooler; if you count yourself as one, then consider submitting a post for the next Carnival of Unschooled Life, due November 30th. But in the meantime, just go enjoy this one.

Also, at one of my new favorite blogs, The Informed Parent, this week's Carnival of Homeschooling is up. The Informed Parent always has interesting videos (think TED Conference) and links; I wish I could figure out why Blogger won't update it in my blogroll! One of those irritating things that I might someday figure out the answer to.

Hope you enjoy these Carnivals!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Perfect Age

We are now entering the kids' best, best years for Halloween. Do you remember those years? Where you'd sort your candy, trade with friends, eat some, sort, trade, eat, and so on until somebody finally herded you off to bed, sticky and satisfied?

That was Luke's night anyway - nine is just perfect for that.

And Owen's night was fun, too:

Five isn't about candy yet, at least not in our house. It's about playing the part, running with the big, noisy crowd of kids from house to house, drawing upon the courage of your costume so that you are NOT afraid when you go by the house with the fake gory cemetery scene. It's about bravery and belonging.

In other areas of life, outside of Halloween, both boys are the perfect age right now. Luke is busy reading, questioning, learning, playing Yu-Gi-Oh, often at a local comic-book-store with a bunch of teens (I always picture them in those little green poker visors, swathed in cigar smoke, but that's fortunately not the reality). Luke's current interests don't necessarily make for compelling picture-taking, but to make up for that, we have some really cool conversations and like the same books. I'm just finishing the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and Luke's read the first two, The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters. They are amazing books, funny and thrilling, and leave the reader with a working knowledge of the pantheon of Greek Gods. Can one ask for more?

And Owen, at five, is just so much fun. I wish I could stop time and keep him this age:

He'll yell "Hey Mom! I just made a letter!" and I will come upon him standing proudly over a collection of blocks, or markers, or tinker toys perfectly arranged. When I ask, "What letter is it?" the inevitable answer is, "I don't know... but it's a letter!"

Then, there are the blanket-in-the-hallway moments:

Definitely, definitely, the perfect age.