Sunday, July 26, 2009

Snow Cones!

We capped off a great weekend in Seattle with a visit to Greenlake, a good hour at the playground and snow cones- the boys' first!

Ansel did not get one, however he is very interested in food, and watches with eagle eyes whenever there is eating or drinking happening. Snow cones involve both!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thank you Friends!

I am feeling much better.
The weather is not any cooler, but I am. Papa's project at work is over, so there's a little breathing room coming. We've got a fun weekend planned, and today I got filled up with a chance to talk with friends, while the boys ran and ran and played and got their energy out, despite bloody noses and the heat. (Will there ever be a day Miles has a bloody nose and I don't immediately worry that he has leukemia? Why does my heart stop sometimes, watching him? He is so healthy, so VITAL, so full of life.) Then, to top it all off, my smart, funny, lovely friend Tracy made supper for us, and all we had to do was show up and eat and it was wonderful. Almost as good as a heavy summer rain. How nice to have a friend who knows just what I need, and welcomes us at our worst- cranky, sweaty, and tired, then sends us home happy and full, even with a plate of food for my husband? Tomorrow I'm making supper for all of us, and I'm thinking this is a nice thing- a night off, a night on.
Another friend and I were talking about how nice aspects of living in a kibbutz would be. Hard and monotonous work are always easier shared. Why are barn raisings such fun, or shelling peas and pitting cherries with company nicer than doing it alone?
I've been thinking I would love to have a place to spend the summer- the shore or a lake, little cottages and all the Moms and kids, Dads on the weekends, big packs of kids running around and keeping each other busy. I guess I want to live in a tender coming of age movie or something!
In the meantime I will keep living here in the desert, and I will keep counting my blessings, my friends.

Eating The Rainbow (Miles style)

Miles, our candy-crazed sugar-fiend, made a picnic for us, following all of the advice about food groups and "eating the rainbow". Perhaps not quite what the people at Today I Ate A Rainbow had in mind, but hey, color sorting is educational, right? Doesn't that make up for the complete lack of nutritional value and toxic levels of artificial colors and flavors represented by this rainbow? No, you say? Really?
Well... don't you at least like my metal TV-tray plates as much as I do?

Over the Wall

I hit "the wall" this week. Smashed full force, face first, knocked flat. I work really hard at maintaining balance, rhythm, keeping the house clean enough, the kids educated enough, fed enough, clothed and bathed and entertained enough. And I guess I do a pretty good job, most of the time. But there comes the summer, and day after day after day temperatures too hot to bear gracefully.
"I need something to cool me down!" Miles cried the other day, after riding his bike around the deck a few times, "The outside has a fever, I think." In deed. The whole darn world has a fever right now, it feels like.
And I am from the land of sea and spray, foggy green and gray, rain and moss and shade. Of course it's not the weather's fault, or even this place's fault- for goodness sake, I know that!- it is my fault, I know. I should plan better, or at least not let summer take me by surprise every single year, but still, knowing it doesn't fix it, does it? For somehow I always think I'll be the winner- I'll be able to be creative enough and productive enough that summer heat won't slow me down, not this year. And then I crash right into that wall.
There was even a story recently about how temperature affects GDP- no surprise that higher temperatures mean less productivity, less money. If it happens for whole regions of the world, whole countries, I guess I shouldn't be shocked when it happens in my family, huh?
So...I'm maybe not quite over the wall yet, but almost. In the most resigned and beaten way. Today we get up, wearily, maybe, but UP, and tidy house, work on our projects, meet our friends, play, eat, relax. Try to enjoy the summer, help each other over the wall, carry on.

Monday, July 20, 2009

lower case learning

I have a new blog, just for school stuff. That's why I started this one, of course, to keep all the homeschool ideas and curriculum plans organized, but it hasn't worked out that way. This is more about our lives and how we're figuring it all out than just about school- although when you homeschool I'm not sure you ever really aren't "doing school". Anyway- the new blog is called lower case learning and it is just school stuff. Really.
If you want to know the minutiae of our lives, you're in the right place. If you don't really care about that, or you're just dying to know exactly how our school days are structured, how many chapters of which book he read, how many science projects we did, or how our nature study is progressing- well, go there!
In either case, Welcome, and I'm happy to meet you and share these conversations about life, kids, and learning (theirs, and ours)!

The Nicest Weekend (given the circumstances)

Just to set the scene- Papa's been at work A LOT this week- we haven't had dinner with him excpet once, and that was the only night he was home before the boys went to bed. Plus, it's been boiling hot and awful lately- too hot to play outside without water going, and with two little ones we can't very easily go to the pool or the river to play. So.
The boys and I went to see the 3-D movie "Up". So fun! Miles had never been to a movie before, and he was amazed! Everything is so... larger than life on the big screen! He did not care for the 3-D glasses, but he did great, and had a lot to talk about after. I splurged and got a big popcorn and soda and actually bought candy instead of trying to sneak it in, and we had a respite from hot, hot glaring sunlight, for awhile. Cool, dark, sweet. The baby slept, nursed, and looked around and laughed a bunch. It was nearly $40- a huge splurge (and somehow shocking to me- has it really been THAT long since I've been to the movies?!) but it was a fine treat after another long, hot week.
You know how nice it feels, when you're out in public and a stranger compliments you on your children's behaviour and manners? It's nice, of course, for them to get acknowledgement from people outside the family that they're doing the right thing, and it feels nice, as the parent, to have your parenting choices affirmed like that. It can totally make your day.
Well, at the fruit stand near our house we received just such a compliment, followed by the gift from a stranger of box seat tickets to the Bears (our minor league baseball team)! A compliment followed by baseball tickets pretty much had us grinning ear to ear the rest of the day! what a delicious surprise! What fun! Which game to choose? The boys are already talking about nachos and ice cream sandwiches, Boomer the Bear, and ice cold sodas.
We had plans to catch up on chores, which didn't really happen, though we did get our grocery shopping done. And I used some chicken I had already cooked to make a sort of yummy sweet and sour apricot chicken with brown rice and cucumber salad on the side. We brought some in my cute metal tiffin container to Papa at the office.
Then we headed to the park, for the first night of this summer's Outdoor Cinema Series. What could be better than sitting on a blanket in the dark, in the park, eating carrots and popcorn and milk duds with your three boys, watching The Muppet Movie on a giant inflatable screen? For free? So, so fun! We got home at 11:05 pm, and were all in bed by 11:15, teeth brushed and sticky faces washed. Sweet dreams for Rainbow Believers.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oops... It's Gone (Broccoli Slaw)

I got inspired by the Broccoli Slaw at Smitten Kitchen and made it for supper last night. It was going to be a side, for a picnic supper, but I never quite made the rest of the supper, so I just gave it to the boys as a side, with some slices of chicken I had already cooked and in the fridge.
Of course I didn't have all the ingredients she calls for (well, I pretty much only had broccoli, but that's the way it is when you have a meal plan and don't stick to it) so I winged it. Anyway, it was so delicious I ate a ton last night and all the leftovers for lunch today, and I want more for supper. Also, I ate it faster than I could take a picture, so you'll just have to make it yourself to see it. But it looks nice, all green and red and orange and creamy.
2 heads of broccoli, shredded or sliced in the food processor, 2 carrots, shredded, 1 sweet onion, diced, 3 stalks celery, sliced thin, a bunch of grapes, chopped, tossed all together with a dressing made of 1/2c milk, 2T. lemon juice, 2T. apple cider vinegar, 1/3c. mayo, 1t. mustard, 2T. sugar, salt, pepper, shaken or whisked smooth before being poured over. Then I topped my salad with some of that sliced cold chicken. Yum. Just how I like to eat when Papa isn't home- easy, cold, and just one dirty plate each.
Hey! Do you think it's bad to eat ice cream for supper when it's 100 degrees out? What if you eat ice cream for supper while watching Leave It To Beaver reruns with your kids AND you all just pass the carton and a spoon back and forth, instead of making dirty dishes? I'm not saying that's what supper looks like tonight... I'm just wondering... you know... for a friend....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer By The Numbers

Apricot syrup, blueberry jam. Jars full of summer- they even LOOK like sunshine, don't they?

This past week by the numbers:

320 books removed hastily from shelves as water seeped up through the carpet underneath. And then neatly put back, in tidy groupings which lasted about 1/2 an hour. 320 sighs from Mama.

180 pounds of cherries: picked, washed, stemmed, pitted, frozen, dried, fruit leathered, and soon to be jammed. I am SO done with cherries this year! Well, as soon as I make that jam, and some more fruit leather-it is delish, even if we are weary of cherries.

160 minutes we lasted at the Folklife Festival before we were too wilted and cranky and tired and in need of air conditioning and dim rooms and icy, slippery glasses of lemonade.

102 degrees Miles was for no apparent reason.

101 times I thought he might have West Nile Virus- all those mosquito bites on the 4th of July?

100 times I convinced myself not to freak out about it.

99 degrees when we went to Folklife this weekend. Cooler than past years, but really awful heat to bear just the same. Even with ice cream cones and a giant slip and slide powered by a fire hose and a big hill.

80 pounds of blueberries: picked, washed and sorted, frozen, jammed.

75 times I've thought about weeding the garden.

40 pounds of apricots: washed, pitted, canned, turned into syrup. More to be found, picked, dried, and made into fruit leather. Do you know anyone with an under appreciated apricot tree?

18 trips down said slip and slide.

12 pounds of raspberries: picked, washed, frozen. More to pick from our own bushes and made into jam. And dried whole, for granola. Maybe more to pick, over the mountains?

10 pm- average bedtime for boys this week of late nights, weird schedules, and innumerable chances to help Mama out!

7 tomatoes picked from our plants and eaten with silly happy grins on our faces. It's summer!

5 minutes spent weeding, er... making a completely unnoticeable dent in the overgrowth of weeds in my poor garden. Oh, it's sad. At least I had the foresight to plant the tomatoes on the edge, so they're first weeded! If that counts for anything, I don't know.

3 times our basement has flooded now, for 3 entirely different reasons. Still, it's three times pulling up carpets, getting out shopvacs and renting giant dryer-fans, pouring baking soda and vacuuming it up, tacking carpet down and putting everything away again. 3 can be a pretty big number, sometimes.

3 jars of strawberry jam eaten already. Guess I need to make more if we're to have any this winter!

3 lunches made entirely of ice cream. Shhh! Don't tell Papa!

2 plastic safari hats overflowing with candy brought home from a birthday party.

1 tired Mama.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Nature Study 1B Wasps

Following up on our first Handbook of Nature Study lesson, we learned a little bit about wasps this week. Wasps are related to bees, but are not hairy like bees are. Wasps are solitary or social- those are the ones that build those paper pulp nests, like the one we saw on the slide the other day. Only the females have stingers. Some live on nectar, but others are omnivores, and eat carrion along with their sweets. Some wasps are parasitic, and they lay their eggs inside caterpillars, then when the eggs hatch, they eat the caterpillar from the inside out. Totally awesome, apparently. We did all agree that using parasitic wasps for pest control was way cooler than using toxic pesticides. Though I guess we don't want close encounters with either form of insect control!

Nature Study 1A Cottonwood

Cottonwood Seeds. Photo from Land Arts in an Electronic Age.

We learned a little bit about Cottonwood Trees this week, after seeing a little farm COVERED in the fluffy cottony spiderwebby seeds, and seeing them at the Ahtanum Mission. Avery was interested to find out that Cottonwoods have light, flexible wood, often used to make those round cheese boxes, matches, paper, cheap plywood, snowboard cores, and perhaps most excitingly, the "bones" of Buster, the crash test dummy on the TV show Mythbusters! Apparently cottonwood breaks under the same pressure as human bones. Good to know, good to know. Another interesting thing about cottonwoods is that they can sprout roots from buried limbs and trunk (and vice versa) making them good at holding sand dunes, and one of the few trees able to survive a sand dune existence.
Also, cottonwoods are Poplar type trees, and like to grow in wet areas. Around here they are found down in the little valleys and canyons along stream banks.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Righteous Indignation

is what I miss most, not being a renter. The indignation about any interruption or broken thing was definitely easier than actually having to deal with and fix all those problems!
And I'm not really complaining- I love my little house and my beautiful little street and neighborhood. I love building equity, and not dealing with landlords with alcohol problems. For sure!
But still, when we're staying up all night sucking water out of the carpet in the basement and renting those giant air blowers AGAIN it's hard not to be a little nostalgic for the days when we could deal with any house problem by building up some good old righteous indignation and firmly demanding our right to live without technical difficulties. And to leave and come back and voila! everything is fixed. Just exactly the way we said it should be.

I'm Just Sayin'

In honor of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, which is happening this week, a little unspiration from the hopeless, demotivatating folks at despair, inc. But I'm warning you now- you shouldn't be sitting in your nicest chair, 'cause you're gonna pee your pants laughing. I'm just sayin'.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nature Study 1

We started our new Nature Study program today. We're using Anna Botsford Comstock's The Handbook of Nature Study, and the guidance and some of the ideas from The One Hour Challenges at this website, plus our regular nature science stories, like these, and these, as well as made up ones and Native American stories.
Avery's drawing of a Clover flower. It doesn't show up well in the picture, but in his book it is sweet. Diminutive, but isn't clover, really?

We had a picnic under this tree. What a great way to start a nature study outing!

One of the original old apple trees still growing and producing on the Mission grounds.

I think this is the seedpod of an American Sycamore tree. There are several at the Mission, providing beauty and shade to the park grounds.

Wasp nest under the slide ramp. The boys watched closely for some time.

Miles' nature book drawing. He finished pretty quickly then spent some time moving piles of dirt around and poking them with his apple wood stick.

My page. We were sitting directly under one of those ancient apple trees, so it seemed natural to draw that. Ummm... not that I'm a fabulous artist or anything, but it's fun to all sit and draw together. And we were using these cool Lyra Aquacolor crayons, which draw nicely like rich, soft crayons, then magically turn into a watercolor painting when you brush with water!
Our two topics for further study are wasps and cottonwoods. We'll spend a bit of time this week finding out about those things.

St. Joseph Mission at the Ahtanum

To start off our new Nature Study program, based on the Outdoor Hour Challenges and The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, we went to a new park. Well, new to us anyway! St. Joseph Mission at the Ahtanum, also known as Ahtanum Mission Park, is lovely, quiet and pretty, clean, and serene. There are apple trees, the creek, grassy areas, picnic tables and shelters, a swing set and slide. It is shady and cool and wonderful on a hot day, far enough out of the way to feel special, different.
The church building, still used for services, is simple and sweet and pure. I love little churches like this- just plain pews, altar- it feels like it's easier for God to hear our prayers than in a fancy, ornate building. Like everything is laid bare, honest and clear.

The relief telling the story of the Mission. The figures are not adult life-size, but they are just about the size of Miles.

The Memorial Pillars. The boys weren't all that interested in the names and dates, but did find it fun to squeeze between the tall stones.

Avery, looking very teenager-y to me. I can't stand it, sometimes! What happened to my little baby?

Miles in the teepee. There's another one, more like the indigenous shelters- covered in tule reed mats. The boys liked this big one, though, because it had some decorations from a party inside.

The little cabin where the priests lived and services were performed before the church was built.

Ansel, getting chubby and loving the sun, the grass, the outdoors. What's better than a day at the park?
The Mission was built in 1852, at the request of the Yakama Indian Chief Kamiakin. He brought meat to the starving priests, who began teaching the Yakamas farming, and began working the land, digging irrigation canals, and growing squash, corn, wheat, melon, and potatoes. The priests also taught the Indians French, Latin, and English, and compiled a dictionary of the Yakama Language. The Mission was burned to the ground during the Yakima Indian War in 1855, when US soldiers discovered a cask of gunpowder hidden under ground. It was reestablished in 1867, when the first apple orchard in the Yakima Valley was planted there.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Waldorf 4th Grade: Man and Animals

I am in the midst of preparing for the upcoming school year- we'll have a Fourth Grader and a Preschooler, plus the baby, so I want to be as organized and prepared as possible. This summer I'm reading the Norse Myths, researching curriculum choices for the workbook type things we'll use, and trying to get my head around the 4th grade lesson blocks usually called "Man and Animals" or something similar. Sometimes it's called zoology, which is what I've been calling it.

Teaching science has always been my biggest worry point- Avery LOVES doing experiments and lab work, I don't, so much. I love going outside and watching bugs and flowers, but don't really care what they're called or why, he can barely watch for a moment without the desire to KNOW burning him up and into a book. And here we are. Fourth grade. The start of real science, not just nature stories, for Waldorf kids. The unfolding of the child's sense of inner and outer selves, of objectivity, and the BIGNESS of the world. I don't want to mess that up! And I am completely at a loss. What to do?
The Waldorf curriculum tells us that animals are specialized, one-sided. Really perfectly adapted to their task, but only made for that one thing. Animals fall into one of three categories, or embody one of the threefold human traits- they are either thinking, feeling, or willing. Humans, in contrast, are imperfect, but embody all of these traits, plus one other: we are created upright, with hands and arms that are not needed to move us, like animals, but free to turn to service for God and humanity. It doesn't sound too bad (or maybe it does, depending on your perspective) but I am having a problem taking it all in. I just don't really GET it, I guess, and I'm worried that in my attempt to teach something I don't deeply understand and believe that I will not do justice to the task, or my child. I can see a glimmer of how it might be beautiful and true taught by a real Waldorf teacher, someone trained in and understanding of this material. Unfortunately I keep getting stuck with it all feeling forced, like poor science, mixing of holy and earthly things I have no business messing with.
I feel comfortable teaching the animals in tidy groups: you know, mammals, reptiles, mollusks, birds.... I feel comfortable with the idea that humans are upright and special, able to think and feel and do, and that we have a responsibility to care for the world we've been given (or given to, maybe?). I feel comfortable saying animals embody the willing aspect of humans, but the feeling and thinking? I guess dolphins are thinkers, but aren't they still more will-full? Does the octopus, with that huge head, really think more that follow instinct? Surely the jellyfish is more instinctual, yet it is sometimes taught with the "thinkers".... I don't know, and I'm having a hard time getting comfortable with this lesson, I guess because of exactly what I don't know.

The Octopus: a classic Waldorf embodiment of the "thinking" characteristic of the human.

The Eagle: who soars like our thoughts, who attacks prey as we "attack" an idea.

The Lion: embodies "feeling" with strong use of all the senses and that powerful heart.

The Snake: no limbs, all digestive and torso- another "feeling" animal.

The Sea Star: looks like our hand, a clear manifestation of "will".

A Steer: like oxen or a bull, strong and made for work, exercising one's will.

The Fifth of July

The day after is starting out quietly. Homemade granola, fresh picked raspberries. The Sunday paper. First load of cherries out of the dehydrator and the second load in. Wimbledon and skittles with Papa. Later the Farmer's Market, grocery shopping, setting grains to soak for bread tomorrow. Making cherry jam. The 80 pounds of pesticide-free Johnson's Orchards Bings and Rainiers we picked Friday sure went fast! Laundry. Yogurt making. Yard mowing and weeding.

The Day: The Fourth of July was sparkly, hot, silly, fun! A perfect birthday!
Cherry Festival at the Fruit Place: pit spitting contest (45 ft!), cherry pie eating, cherry tasting, hay ride, tractor sitting (why oh why is sitting on a tractor so amusing for little boys?)



Can I use my hands now?
Going to the reservation to buy firecrackers: a big pack of sparklers and a few Roman Candles to save for some wintry, snowy, safer night (Why oh why do boys love fire and explosions so? And why oh why do grown men revert to absolute boy-hood around the Fourth, so that Moms have to turn nervous and shrill and ruin all the fun? Why?)
Supper with friends: So relaxing and nice. Amazing to watch all the kids, usually asleep by 8 (or earlier) stay up, and up, and up! Barbecue beef, delicious German potato salad, coleslaw, corn on the cob (Miles ate three!). Moms talked and took care of babies, Dads and older kids watched and sang along with the Schoolhouse Rock songs about America. Miles woke up this morning singing the Preamble to the Constitution. Papa might have gotten a little misty singing along to "The Great American Melting Pot". It's possible. Three year olds running in and out, up and down, riding trikes and spring horses, eating watermelon and cherries. Thrilling, scary, exciting, beautiful sparklers. So, so good. Happy Independence Day!
Fireworks: Much debate, a final decision. With lots of bug spray, plates of raspberry shortbread bars, we'll brave the mosquitoes, the crowds, the late hour, and make our way to the Arboretum to watch the fireworks. It was great! The little ones who'd never seen fireworks were entranced, heartbroken when it was over. Baby Ansel, dressed head to toe and covered in a wrap on my chest was unmolested by mosquitoes (though I was prepared to retreat to the car if necessary). The rest of us were under attack (though Papa and the boys not so much as me, luckily). It really is unheard of in this area- it's awful. And yet, no one wanted to leave. The excitement of fireworks was worth it, and the pure joy of watching little faces so entranced, so amazed, was pretty great. Even if my arms, shoulders, back, legs, feet are swollen and itchy and hurting today. It was a great day, yesterday, the Fourth of July!