Friday, December 05, 2008

And a happy December to you...

December has come in with a whiz and a bang and aching, sleepless nights. Kitty Bill, our three-year-old, has suddenly decided to wake at odd hours of the night and rise before the dawn. Normally, this sort of change would be greeted with a gaping yawn, much grumbling, and lots of coffee... but it's almost funny since I have been giddily looking forward to catching up on all the sleep I lost in October and November. Looks like that will be one dream quite deferred.... maybe until old age.

Homeschooling lessons took a wee break when Yoga Barbie, one of my five sisters, came to visit for an entire month. Then we wrapped up the last half of November with National Novel Writing Month, and each of the girls, Sunburst and Moonshine, joined me in a story-writing exercise. We joined the festivities two weeks late, so we scaled our goals down to represent that. Over in the Young Writers Program Sunburst pledged to write 3,000 words and Moonshine 1,000. Given that Moonshine, at the tender age of six, can't really write yet, her story was drawn in pictures and dictated so I could type it down for her. Sunburst did her writing by hand, and then I transcribed it onto the computer.

I'm proud to announce that each one of us made her personal goal and then some. Originally I had intended to shoot for half of the adult goal, but by some manic stroke of fate, dark chocolates, courage and sleeplessness, I actually finished the 50,000 word goal-- quite a feat for two weeks worth of writing! Between the three of us, we built quite a large house of words.

The program provided us with these lovely parting gifts:

Now that we're back into the homeschooling grind, Moonshine is overjoyed to be back in the throes of her letter story, and Sunburst is heavy into the exciting world of the Norse myths. We're also spending the afternoons trying to create a little holiday cheer in the form of decorations and handmade presents, and at evening time we're celebrating Advent with stories, songs, and little calendars.

There's a stirring on the job-front news-- a possible move in the year ahead, but I'm trying not to look too far forward. The packing part of me can't even fathom another move, so I'm trying to instead be here now in this moment. With all the twinkling lights and little Christmas markets, it's not a bad moment to be enjoying.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Been a little quiet on here lately. Lots of excuses-- visitors, illness, traveling, the hard work of tending and schooling and hanging up laundry.

Best excuse yet-- Nanowrimo.

For thirty days every November hundreds of thousands of people come together all over the globe and commit to writing novels. Each one. 50, 000 words. Complete insanity.

Love it.

I promise a return in a few days when life gets back to normal. But until then, I'm still 7,500 words away from completion. And I only have four days left... wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pick a Number

A message from Sunburst:
I am doing an experiment, and I don't have enough data. So please pick a number from 1-10 and leave it in the comments. Also ask your kids or anybody else. I will be very glad to receive it. I will show you my experiment when it's done. Thanks for your help.

~Edit Oct 17th~
THANK YOU! Sunburst has now finished her experiment and will be posting the results soon. :-)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Waldorf Wonderland: a walk through Dornach

Dornach, Switzerland

A couple of months ago the family and I took the train to Dornach and had a little bit of a look-see.

Dornach, Switzerland is the home of the Goetheanum, the Anthroposophical center of the world-- the house of dreams that Rudolf Steiner built. Or designed, rather. At they call it "an architectural concept in which each element, form and colour bears an inner relation to the whole and the whole flows organically into its single elements in a process of metamorphosis." It was totally that.

I expected to be awed by the Goetheanum, but what I didn't expect is that the whole area would be a Waldorfy wonderland. There was a bit of Steineresque styling everywhere we looked. It was remarkable and marvelous and inspiring-- even some of the gates and benches had that typical Steiner look to them. It was really a magical place.

We wandered through the grounds and neighborhood adjacent to the Goetheanum, past several amazing buildings, winding dirt paths, luscious gardens, and a sidewalk chicken-coop. We hiked up above this area where one side of the road held a forest and the other held grazing, belled-cows and a hazy overlook of the city. We had our sights on the castle ruin just up the road, Schloss Dorneck, built presumably in the 11th century. It was our first European castle, steeped in history and tales of battle, with deep wells and even a cave-like passage-way around the back. Though the place was deserted and we were free to wander at will, rumor has it that the castle is still in use today, if only as the nighttime stomping grounds of sixteen-year-olds from the local Waldorf school.

It was a chill and drizzly sort of day, so after the breath-taking views of the castle we headed back into town and stopped in at the local Steiner diner, the Kaffee und Speisehaus on Goetheanumstrasse. It was as beautiful inside as it was outside, and we gladly settled in for a vegan meal-- the best kohlrabi soup on the planet, scrumptious bread and a sampling of the salad bar.

We cruised by the local toystore, which wasn't open, and then enjoyed our rose-sniffing walk back to the train depot. It really was a glorious day which I'm hoping to repeat... though next time we'll partake of the tour inside the Goetheanum.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Language acquisition

How do you tell your three-year-old is picking up some foreign language skills? Oh, he'll tell you.

Kitty Bill threw a wild tantrum out in a public park the other day. He's been amping up the tantrums over the last few months, so that wasn't news-- he's been seriously displaced by this move. What struck me is that he chose to throw this tantrum in German.

It was time to leave, and he plainly didn't want to go. So he threw himself down on the ground and screamed at us with all his might, "NEIN! NEIIIIIN! NEIN, BITTE! BITTE, NEIIIN!"

After I stopped laughing (I know, but it was too cute) I scooted down on the ground next to him and asked him what he was so upset about. Did he even know what he was saying? He said, "No, please, I don't want to go."


We're currently living above a restaurant staffed by a large Italian family, or several small families, it's hard to tell. They have convinced Kitty Bill that his name is Mimi, because that's what they squeal to him whenever they see him. "Mimi, mimi." And he says it right back to them, and they do this touchy, touchy thing and give him a fresh bread roll. Every time, sometimes several times a day. The kid is up to his ears in bread rolls. And then when they part he says "Ciao, bello" right back to them.


Tonight he asked me to read a board book in German, that was actually IN German, then he moved on to our worn copy of Maisy Drives the Bus, in English, which he wanted read in German. "You read it to me," I said.

"Maisy drives the bus, German. Schlack and kluck and nacknock bus German." It's definitely weird. He sort of spits when he says it, so he has the basic idea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A walking contradiction

This nine-year-old business is rather funny. Has anyone else noticed their nine-year-olds being suddenly plagued with contradicting emotions?

Sunburst, who is a Very Lovely Child-- and I say this from the deepest place in my heart without any facetiousness whatsoever-- is driving me completely bonkers. I keep reminding myself that this "Thing" she's going through is probably just as maddening to her as it is to me. Her new influx of hormones have her up and down like a yo-yo, pulled every which way with a good amount of tension on the line. Were I in her position, I'd probably handle it much, much worse than she is currently doing.

It's the contradiction of her wants and needs that gets me. It's at once both confounding and amusing. See? Another contradiction. It's contagious! And oddly, it's not that much different than that dance of independence exhibited by a two-year-old: I want to run away from you, but I need to make sure you're still there.

She wants her own room, her own space, and privacy.
And then she asks to sleep in bed with her siblings.

She speaks like she knows everything and anything.
The next minute she deflates and announces her own stupidity.

She's proud of herself and her accomplishments.
And then you blink and she's calling herself a failure.

She pulls away because she wants independence.
An hour later she wants to cuddle in my arms and have me sing her lullabies.

I'm pretty sure this particular "dance" doesn't end any time soon.... if ever, really. I know it will become less pronounced in time, maybe the tension will change or the speed of the reversals, but this push and pull routine is probably here to stay. It's something I still recognize in my relationship with my own mother. Hold me close, but not too close, but then hold me close again. Let me go off and live my life, but still be there. Don't hold me back, but don't turn away. Let me fall, but be there to pick me up and nurture my wounds. Don't tell me what to do, but still encourage me. No wonder the parents of teenagers go slowly mad.

Could it really be as simple as all that? If I just continually remember to "still be here," is that enough? Will she continue to pull farther and farther away because I'm here and constant? And is that a good thing? Do I want her to go farther? Do I really have a choice? She'll go anyway. But will she go with confidence and self-assurance? Will she make good choices? And will she come back? It's such a gamble, this parenthood thing.

And what of the kids who don't bounce back? You know the ones I'm talking about--- the ones that go really far away, like to the streets. To drink. To drugs. To destructive relationships. To the places we never envisioned for our kids. I want to know, were the parents still there, solid and constant, waiting with welcoming arms? Or, as I suspect, was there no one to bounce back to?

Obviously these are all rhetorical questions. I know I'm projecting a little bit, after all, Sunburst is only nine. I just don't want to screw it up. It's too important. So sometimes I feel like I have to look inside and ask myself these kinds of questions. Where are we? Where are we going? What does this child need for the rough road ahead, and how can I best give it to her? What can I do right now?

It's time to get off the computer, hold her close, and sing another lullaby while she's still interested.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Different child, different story

Today I finally pulled it together enough to start Moonshine's first grade story. I say finally because she has been waiting and waiting patiently for it to begin. This is what first grade is about, she says. The story. The long, involved story that she witnessed Sunburst enjoying for her entire first grade year. Moonshine remembers Sunburst's story-- the key players, parts of the plot, and some of the adventures... for although she was but a three-year-old playing in the adjacent room, her ears and heart were finely tuned to the cadence of my voice.

From the start, it was apparent to me that I couldn't tell her the same story I told Sunburst. For so many reasons it is the wrong story for her-- the characters, while captivating, don't bring her the growth and empowerment that she needs. And most important of all, it would be like serving left-overs. Middle children have the feeling of getting enough leftovers as it is. And we just can't have that, can we?

It didn't feel easy this time. But with Einstein's help, I came up with a fairly captivating storyline last night. It mirrors the basic image of Sunburst's story-- there are three travelers setting out on a journey to save their kingdom, but it's a much more involved story. There are visions and wizards and bad dragons, red as blood. And that's just the beginning.

It's still a work in progress. The hard part is done though-- the characters, the plot... and now the adventure begins. I'm hoping for continued inspiration as we travel along with Eliza, the girl with the vision, her father Samuel, and little Gus, the wizard's (mostly) annoying nephew.

Moonshine can't wait to hear what happens next. And to be honest, neither can I.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Passing notes

Friday afternoon I found myself sitting at the table fidgeting with a piece of paper. I was sitting there trying to come up with new and exciting ways to explain how a person can remember 7x8=56, and like Sunburst, I was drawing a blank. We had already talked about how nicely it goes 5-6-7-8 (56=7x8). And we had also noticed how it was 7x4 doubled. But beyond those things, I had nothing. The seven times table can be like that. So I sat there, letting my mind wander, and I began playing with the sheet of paper. With my help, it folded itself into a note.

Do you remember folding notes?

It seems like several lifetimes have passed since middle school, but I still fondly remember jotting down my most important little thoughts on notebook paper, folding them up into little packages complete with tiny pull-tabs and passing them to my best friend. I'd wait anxiously for her reply, and then I'd fire off another note. To protect our identities we had clever nicknames for each other, which we changed mercilessly and often--- Sparky/Shaggy, Nikki/ Vince, Gordie/Chambers, Mrs. Taylor/Mrs. LeBon, Mickey/Davy, Inchworm/Dead Inchworm, Fish-Head/Dead Fish-Head... nothing was off-limits, apparently.

I don't remember ever getting caught, even by the dreaded Ms. Yanagihashi, who as the detention marm, inspired dread in the souls of all sixth-graders. We were careful and calculated, Sparky and I, and our passing of notes continued for many years... crammed through locker vents, hastily pressed into each other hands in the hallways and courtyards of school, and when our paths diverged into separate high schools, the fancily-folded notes of yore gave way to entire notebooks of random thoughts, odd doodles, and teenage rants exchanged at length over phone calls or weekend sleepovers.

It's been a long time since the days of passing notes with Mrs. Taylor. A few years ago she sent me one of the notebooks of notes I had given her during our Freshman year, after extracting an explicit promise from me to mail it back to her or suffer the dire consequences of her wrath. It was awful and embarrassing as an adult to comb through those pages I had written at 14-- so much angst, so much uncertainty. But like it or not, those were my important thoughts back then, both the good and the ugly, the silly and the morose. For whatever reason they must have meant something to her, and she kept them all these long years.

I sat there basking in nostalgia and idly playing with the little pull-tab I had crafted on the note in front of me. Suddenly I knew what I had to do.

I picked up the nearest pencil, and in teeny tiny letters, I wrote on that tab: 7x8.

I opened up the note, and inside, I wrote the words: "the answer is 56." I folded it back up again and slyly passed it to Sunburst. She took one look at it and grinned. She unfolded and folded that note many times. And then she wrote me a note of her own, folded up in just the same way.

About fifteen minutes later she passed me a note of her own making. I was giddy as I imagined what exciting bit of news or sweet words of endearment she was passing me. The little pull tab said, "Sara" on it, and inside I found the words: "Is it time for lunch yet?" Endearment? I suppose with a nine-year-old that's close enough.

During lunch she told me 7x8=56. So I took that as a cue and secretly made her two more notes folded in equally enthralling ways. 8x8 made it into a heart-folded note, along with the answer and my own words of endearment for her. She found it on the stairs on her way to bed. She snatched it up quick as lightning and hid it under her pillow. When I came upstairs to tuck her in, she was smiling brightly, but didn't say a word about the note. After I said the bedtime prayer and kissed her goodnight, she told me, "64. 8x8 is 64." She pulled the opened note from under her pillow and asked me to show her how to fold it back up again.

We folded and refolded the heart-shaped note several times, and she admitted to me that she thought this was the neatest way ever to learn the times table. She couldn't believe she was actually learning this stuff, that she only had two more problems to go, and she was so proud of herself. She said, "I doubt teachers can pass notes like this in public school, and I bet no one has ever learned the times table like this before. It's so interesting mom. Interesting and creative. I'm sure glad I'm homeschooled." And if that wasn't enough sugar-coated syrup to melt my heart, she looked at me with shining eyes and said, "Everyone should feel lucky to have a mom."

Yep, she had me in tears. Does homeschooling get any better than this?

The next morning at breakfast Sunburst discovered an arrow-folded note that read 8x12. She looked at me knowingly before slowly and carefully opening it. She read the answer inside, and closed it back up again. A little while later she told me the answer.

"Only one more problem to go," I told her. "Do you remember which one is left?"

"12x12," she said. "But I think it's 144."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Being old

Somehow I have gotten old. Not just simply old, as in where did all this gray hair come from, old. No. It's worse than that. Apparently I'm not just old, I'm old and crotchety.

Sunburst had the audacity to ask me the other day if I ever wished that I could still get crazy excited about things. Crazy excited? It hadn't even occurred to me that I wasn't, that I don't... The possibility of crazy excited had never even crossed the threshold of my mind, which undeniably solidifies my fate. At 36, I am old.

While I was standing there dumbfounded by my aging predicament, she then backed up her question with another question. "Do you even remember getting excited about things?"

Do I remember?

I think it's time for me to invest in pills and a walker. Do I remember? Hmph! The scary thing is that no, I don't remember. And suddenly my nine-year-old daughter sees me as some crotchety, grumpy, stick-in-the-mud, old person who lacks even one excited, fun bone in her body.

That can't be true, really. Can it? I mean, sure, I'm not so much fun as I used to be... wiping butts and cleaning up vomit and getting woken up in the night for almost a decade takes its toll on the fun-making, surely. Surely! Honestly, I don't even remember my life before motherhood. It's all a blur... a hazy, loud, caffeinated blur. But I must have been a teensy bit fun. I had friends... none of whom I'm much in contact with anymore. All my cohorts now tend to be people who met me A.C. (after children). Their visions are skewed by their own monstrous brood. We A.C. friends tend to back each other up out of parallel experience. We recognize the squeak of that hamster wheel going round and round and getting nowhere fast. Like me they have succumbed to the reality that we'll always be making breakfast, even though we just made breakfast. Oh, breakfast-- here it comes again. Those gals would tell me I'm a hoot without even blinking.

But what of the other people? Those friends from my youth? Surely they remember me differently. Maybe as focused, inspired, creative... giddy. No, giddy is probably going too far. But excitable? Enthusiastic? Was I any fun at all?

Sunburst's load of questions came streaming at me. Her inquiries about my youth have taken a turn lately... was I ever bad? Did I ever do anything I felt bad about? What did my friends and I do? Did I ever get in trouble in school? What was the worst thing I ever did? What was I like?

Of course I try to answer these things, but the one question I keep returning to is one I'm asking myself. How am I fun now?

Granted, I've been really stressed out lately. The move. The adjustment. And in the last two weeks I have suffered a huge loss... my stepmother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. I'm still trying to come to terms with that, something which seems so senseless. And so I feel entitled to a free pass on my "lack of fun" lately. But to the kids, my grieving and adjusting excuse doesn't fly. It's ongoing and timeless, and they are just desperate for some happy times.

Obviously that's an exaggeration. We do have fun times. It's a good life--- they skip around bursting into joyous singing. But I figure if one child is grilling me over the coals about my lack of excitement, then maybe I should stick that free pass back in my pocket and make more of an effort.

How am I fun now?

I'll post what I come up with. In the meantime, what makes you tick? Are you any fun? Do YOU still get crazy excited? Or are you just as crotchety as I am?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

For the LOVE of Math!

Not that long ago Sunburst announced that she didn't like math. She wasn't good at math, and could we please just not do any math. Ever. Again.

At the time we were reading one of the Little House books --I forget which one, but I think it was one from the Caroline series-- and we read that Caroline didn't like math. It was said plainly, like that. She didn't like math.

Now, I don't know about you, but when my kids and I read through a book we usually start to identify with the main character. I mean, that's the point of a good book--- suck you in, make you care, etc. And you care because you identify. So there we were reading along, being Caroline, and she announces that she doesn't like math. As if her racism in the Laura series wasn't bad enough. She. Doesn't. Like. Math?

Immediately I saw this as a problem. Statistics used to show that girls' interest (and self-esteem) regarding math and science took a huge dip around puberty or pre-puberty. If you ask me, anything that whacks at a girl's self-esteem needs to be nipped in the bud. Pronto. The exact wrong way to do that? Suck girls into identifying with a female character who doesn't like math.

I'll admit, math gets hard when you start having to remember multiplication facts. It's tedious work. We've been working on it for a long time now. Making progress. Losing progress. Math is a slippery slope. You use it, often, or you lose it. So we've gone round and round with it-- telling stories, playing games, singing songs with math facts, the whole shebang. Even with all that, I still wasn't sure how well it was sticking. I was still convinced she was being Caroline about it. Until today.

Today she was fascinated by the idea of these math problems:

I have to thank my sister for sending them to me. They provoked some interesting discussions about what math is and can be. The idea of a maths riddle was irresistible.

Lately, Sunburst's math skills have taken off on their own. She's five problems away from having the multiplication table memorized, and she's faster at it than I am. She seems to understand it in a way that I never did in school, and I was relatively competent at math. I could memorize. But it was a static, surface relationship. I didn't feel them. Math was never a deep and fluid thing for me. I didn't see numbers as relationships and interrelationships. But in working with Sunburst, I'm starting to get it.

Sunburst doesn't like math. She LOVES it. What's more, she confided to me that she thinks she's good at it. Good. At. Math?

You know, I think she's right.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grade Four Resources

Our lessons

Everything Cows

As always, this is a work in progress. We'll, see how many of these we actually use. It's in no way a complete list... but a good start nonetheless.

Millenial Child Grade 4 files - Eugene Schwartz
Path of Discovery: Grade 4 - Eric Fairman
Spiritual Syllabus Grades 3-4 - Alan Whitehead
Waldorf Curriculum Overview - Christopherus
Grade Four files at waldorfhomeeducators - M. Johnson

Math Lessons for Elementary Grades - Dorothy Harrer
The Man Who Counted - Tahan
Multiplication Clock - Robinsunne

An English Manual - Dorothy Harrer
McGuffey's Fourth Reader
McGuffey's Speller
Kalavala -
Ursula Synge (didn't use)
D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths (loved this!)
Thorkill of Iceland -
Isabel Wyatt (used as an independent reader)
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils -
Selma Lagerlöf (read outloud, hard to get into)
Nordic Gods and Heroes - Padraic Colum (so-so)
The Human Being and the Animal World - Charles Kovacs (loved this!)
Drawing from the Book of Nature (loved this!)

Form Drawing/Artistic EnrichmentInspiring Your Child's Education - David Darcy
How to Do Wet-on-Wet Watercolor Painting... - Russell
Form Drawing: Grades 1-4
- Embrey Stine & Schuberth
Form Drawing - Barbara Dewey
Form Drawing - Niederhauser & Frohlich

Fun with German

Assorted picture books
Neue Fibel: Teil 3 -
Paul Dohrmann
Kinderlieder Kinderreime

Singing Every Day - Lila Belle Pitts
Folksongs for the Pentatonic Flute - Miles
Waldorf Teachers' Companion to the Pentatonic Flute - Miles
Beginning Mountain Dulcimer
Various piano books

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And so we begin, again

Public school started here a couple of weeks ago, and despite my feelings of not readiness, we started back as well.

Moonshine lost her first two teeth this summer, and her excitement about doing some Real Work has been growing daily. She has been waiting for her turn, counting off the days with great anticipation. When our boxes finally arrived on the boat, she practically drooled while she watched me unpack her new tins of beeswax crayons, her Choroi pentatonic flute, and a stack of crisp main lesson books. She has been watching her older sister get to have "all the fun" for three years now, and as such, there aren't many secrets about what is in store for her. Rather, there is just this great longing and eagerness for what is rightfully hers.

One night as I was tucking her into bed, I mildly asked her if she wanted to start school tomorrow. No pomp, no circumstance, just one of those, "Well, shall we?"

She woke the next morning glowing with happiness. Today was the day. I hadn't planned it all out, to be quite honest, but since I had some circle songs up my sleeve and some basic forms in mind, I figured we'd make it work. After breakfast she lingered at the table looking at me with big eyes. "Shall we start?" I asked her.

She was pensive for a minute and then announced, "Well, I need a bridge. And a silk cape." Any doubts I had about her being more in this world than out of it, or her ability to pay attention, were unwarranted. She happily managed to put together her own sort of graduation ceremony, from the dreamy realm of Kindergarten into the solid earth of First Grade. A runner carpet became her makeshift bridge, and with big shining eyes, she began to walk. Sunburst, ever encouraging, joined me in song, and together we sang her across the bridge.

She was welcomed with hugs and kisses. I adorned her with a golden cape and presented her with the tools she will need on her exciting journey ahead-- one tin each of block and stick crayons. From the wide smile that spread across her face and the look of complete rapture in her eyes, this was better than Christmas and her birthday combined.

Moonshine is now a First Grader. For the past two weeks she has been jumping out of bed, regurgitating circle songs all day long, and practicing her new forms at every available opportunity. It was my birthday the other day, and for my present, she proudly presented me with one of the nicest complements any homeschooling mother could receive-- a stack of practiced form drawings, our latest form, that she had done secretly and quite obviously with great care, wrapped up gently in the golden, silk cape.

First grade. And so we begin, again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

heard from across the room

Moonshine: What does pointless mean?

Sunburst: If you go the pet store and buy a fish, and it dies before you get home, that would be a pointless fish.

Monday, August 25, 2008


I have been struggling to get back to blogging these last few months. Obviously. I've been waiting for things to settle down, get better, seem real, seem like home. And they're not, really. Things are very up and down and my perspective is all out of whack these days.

Perspective. That's the tricky thing I've been working on over here. Because I know that the idea of moving to Europe, no matter how temporary, from an American standpoint sounds all fairytale-like. You know-- how exciting, see the world, pointy cathedrals and castles and history so thick and deep you can smell it--- kind of thing. And it's that, sure, but it also has this flip-side every day living sort of reality where it's just not all fluffy and fantastic. It's just plain hard most days.

I've been letting my perspective issues hold me back from blogging because I thought maybe I could get my head screwed on straight, but I see now that it's going to be a process that just doesn't happen overnight. Meanwhile, life and motherhood and homeschooling continue on. I mean, that IS life isn't it? We're always rolling with the punches or at least taking them and having to get back up and press onward.

So, I'm going to rant a little and try to get past this sort of awkward little bump in my reality. Okay? Good. This is how we're going to do it. The happy, idealistic, fairy-tale believer in me is going to make one fluffy statement, and then the melancholic, realistic, beaten-down part of me is going to make a counter statement. Got it? Great. Let's begin.

Europe is amazing!
Europe sucks!

How great that we have the chance to have real immersion in a foreign language.
OMG, I can't understand anything anyone says to me.

There are so many new and exciting foods to try.
Ugh, who would want to eat horses and cheese that smells like someone's old, decaying butt?

Public transportation is so accessible here.
Why does it have to take all day to get anywhere!

It's so beautiful.
Well, well... yeah, so what?!

So it's beautiful. I'm trying to concentrate on that, rather than the fact that my kids seem to be having major adjustment issues and we have no homeschooling community. I'm trying to focus on the lovely wood-grain on the staircase as I lug my groceries up several flights of stairs. I'm trying to really appreciate the ornate architecture and detailed sculptures while all hell breaks loose with my kids because things aren't just mildly different, they are over the top. And most days are just plain trials.

We have moved around a lot. And it's always hard at first. There is always this period of missing friends or old neighborhoods, favorite restaurants or stores or products. There is always this period of feeling lost or lonely or displaced... this surrealness when we wake up and don't know where we are because things are just new and not yet firmly planted in our subconsciousness. But this moving here... it's all that times a thousand.

It's not just that people speak a different language here. I mean, they do, sure, and I had no idea exactly how different Swiss German was from high German, but now I know. Worlds different. So there's that. But the food is different. The laws are different. We can't just run our dishwasher when we get around to it, I have to plan because there are noise ordinances. Same for laundry. Same for grocery shopping. It takes all day to buy groceries-- well, for us it does. And I have to remember that certain stores close for lunch, don't stay open late, and hardly anything is open on Sunday. And since we have food allergies and diet restrictions, I have to stop and try to decipher the ingredients on everything we buy. And to remember, always remember, that I can only buy as much as I can carry and still manage to keep three kids from getting sucked under the trams, trains or smashed by passing motorists.

Which is not a pretty thought, obviously. There are so many things I could just be down about if I chose to let myself, like how difficult it is to figure out new medicines, health care systems, banking systems, transportation systems... the lack of recognizable vitamin supplements, the high costs of gosh, just about everything... so much stuff I could drown in it if I wasn't careful.

So I'm working on it. It's indisputably amazingly beautiful here, but perspective is a tricky thing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


My dear friend Moxy over at Spiral Bound just tagged me. Since I appear to be getting around to saying nothing else on this blog lately (oh I have loads to say, really!) I figured I might as well succumb to the power of the meme. Anyway, this is different one than I have seen before.


1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Ok, there aren't enough sentences on page 123, so I'm going to cheat and use the last three. Cheater, schmeater.

"This would have to do. She wiped off the dried dye with the underside of her skirt and curled up in bed. Even in her sleep she was aware of the wood slats pressing through the thin mattress like bruises on her back."

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Who will I tag? Hmmm... I tag you! You five people who still actually read this blog. You know who you are. ;-)

Friday, May 30, 2008

the things they say...

"Do I smell like rotting flesh?"
--Moonshine, age 6

When the books are on the boat...

It's the end of May and Grade Three is a total and complete loss far from being finished. I'm trying to be okay with that, but truly I'm not.

Sunburst and I worked on a few Old Testament stories before we left the U.S. We were painting the days of creation but only finished the work for day 5 before I started feeling like a chicken with my head cut off and had to really hunker down and finish the packing. All the homeschooling books went on the boat. All the painting supplies. All the beeswax crayons. And most of the toys. I will be delighted to see them all again, like old friends, but we just received word that the updated delivery date isn't until June 28th. --And to think I made it through three overdue pregnancies. Eight weeks has never seemed so long!

I decided to carry on with some lessons to help us feel a bit of normalcy in the midst of this huge transition to life overseas. Without my materials to address the spiritual side of Grade 3, we are focusing on the basics-- mainly math and spelling. Sunburst's reading comprehension is not something I have to worry about. Her spelling, however, leaves a lot to be desired. I often wonder if she is just not a Speller, if that makes sense. Some folks aren't, and it eludes me. Spelling came easy for me from the beginning, so I have to always remind myself to take a step back and remember that other people, including Sunburst, may be wired differently.


To work on spelling, I take 10 words each week that Sunburst writes (either in her journal, book reports, letters, etc.) but can't spell. She likes the idea that they aren't just arbitrary words, but words she uses regularly. We include names, as well, because at the very least you should be able to spell your friends' names.

It's very old school of us, I know, but spelling with Sunburst appears to be a matter of repetition. So she writes each word three times, and then she writes a short story using all the words. It's very cute. Of course she can't stop with just the story, she wants to make it into a little book. The deal with this is that ALL the words have to be spelled correctly in the little books, so I take her story and correct all the spelling and punctuation (learning by example,) and she's good to go.

We reused some packaging paper from our recent IKEA purchases to make a couple of little books, and she illustrated them and copied the text into them. They're very sweet.

After she makes the books, she's ready for a spelling test. She ENJOYS spelling tests. I think it's the strong choleric part of her temperamental make-up. She loves to rise to meet a challenge, be it sports or spelling tests or knitting stitches or screwing furniture together. She loves it. Moonshine, on the other hand, appears to lack this trait so far.


With math we are just revisiting the times table. Like most people we have noticed that if you don't use it, or practice it regularly, you lose it. So we are back to the times table and telling all new stories, just off the cuff, to go with them. I'm able to add in a bit of German language and local stuff in this way as well, a mixed bag approach, that looks something like this:

King Kindman, or rather König Kindmann, didn't like cheese. One day he climbed on his favorite horse and set off on a great journey. He took with him his two, trusty and gallant steeds, each one carrying a large pack on his back. He was going to visit his cousin, the Grand Duke of Basel. When he arrived at the Duke's palace, he stopped to take note of the interesting flags hanging there, before he was ushered inside with the large packs.

How much cheese did he bring with him? Kein Käse. == zero times table

So if there wasn't any cheese in his packs, what was in there? Well, if you must know, there was a huge problem in Basel-- the people there just didn't seem to smile, especially the Grand Duke. All the people instead looked as if they had a pained expression on their faces, and our young king, er König, decided he would bring along some things to help. Maybe no one smiled because they had rotten teeth? Or sore feet? Or too much sun in their eyes?...

The first thing he pulled out of his bag? Toothbrushes. == one times table

Next? Comfortable walking shoes, but oh, you need them in pairs don't you? == two times table

To block the sun, tri-corner hats, of course! == three times table

...and so on.

Moonshine? She listened in and drew some buildings with Swiss flags in the window boxes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"The hills are alive.... "

Yes, we're alive! I know some of you were wondering... but we finally made it to sunny Switzerland. All that packing and cleaning-up in the states was grueling work, further compounded by total and complete insanity illness and allergy. But we did it. We made it!

Our flight overseas wasn't so bad. With three kids and three flights I wasn't sure how it would end up, but they all did great, at least until our last plane was gearing up for the landing and the flight attendants insisted Kitty Bill get off my lap, stop nursing, and buckle into his own seat. I'm hoping his piercing screams still haunt them in their dreams.

At the end, we found ourselves deposited on the sidewalk in a new/old world, staring up bleary-eyed and completely jet-lagged at the amazing ancient architecture with way more luggage than seems humanly possible we intended. From there on it was an exercise in having to figure it all out bit by bit-- pushing luggage carts through town, getting turned away by the hotel for having too much luggage, and barely managing with the language differences.

We finally did manage to deposit our luggage elsewhere and sleep like the dead for several hours before waking refreshed and ready to explore the city at 8 pm. That first night we rode the electric tram through town and met Bosnians, Turks, and Serbians-- all of whom spoke perfect German AND perfect English. The next morning as we walked the cobblestone streets and fingered sock yarn (maybe that was only me) we were courted by an organ-grinder who was quite the hooligan, kuck-kucking at unsuspecting passer-by's for our entertainment.

We eventually made it to the apartment and explored all its empty corners, then headed off on the tram to the nearest IKEA to purchase the bare minimum of necessities, like mattresses and pillows. As we all gawked out the windows of the crowded tram, Sunburst inadvertently brushed her foot against an older man, and to our confounded horror-- he kicked her! Hard, in the shin! Now what kind of an evil, crazy, horrible old goat kicks a child? I missed the exchange and only looked over in time to see Sunburst well up in tears, to which the old man responded by angrily telling her off in Swiss German.

That experience severely and negatively colored our first impression of our new life in Switzerland. I'm still not sure if it was that the old guy was off his rocker, or if it was that we were obviously "Americans". Rumor has it that the old Swiss detest all of the foreigners here, and I suppose it's understandable since there are more foreigners than Swiss living here in our city. But still, that's no excuse for mistreating a child.

We've had a few ugly moments, but luckily, the beautiful moments have begun to outweigh the bad. We have made many friends of the English-speaking variety, both American and Australian, and there is a huge sense of camaraderie among many of the foreigners. We all seem to be swimming upstream in a land of stringent rules and language-barriers. We also picked up enough furniture to sit on and took a day trip to France-- which was amazingly beautiful and relaxing. It's no secret how far a chilled bottle of wine shared with new friends on a cute French street can lift one's spirits.

As predicted, this adventure has already been a huge learning opportunity for all of us. There are new things to explore at every turn. Here's what we've learned so far:

1. Even though the plastic, self-changing toilet seat covers in the Frankfurt airport are way cool, there is a limit to the number of times you should press the button.

2. The rolladen, or roll-up shutters on the outside of windows, are not constructed to withstand a two-year-old's curiosity.

3. Never, no matter how fun they are to watch spiraling downward, play with the maple seeds in the rain gutter outside your windows if you live above a restaurant with patio seating. Folks don't take too kindly to maple sprouts in their pizzas, no matter how cute you are.

4. In an upstairs apartment you can never, ever walk quietly enough. Ever.

5. If your rental contract flatly forbids the flushing of toilets between 10 pm and 7 am, inevitably everyone's bowels will go off at 10:01 p.m.

6. It is one thing to hear the beautiful sound of church bells ringing from the apartment windows and quite another to mistakenly be standing next to them when they go off. And if you happen to be two-years-old, it may scar you for life. "Aaaaack! Run, run away!"

7. Hauling a passel of children and all your worldly goods (however newly acquired from IKEA) uphill, through strange Swiss towns (because you missed the bus) feels less romantically Sound of Music than it really is. Especially when those worldly goods include three room-sized carpets.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pocket change

4... days I have had a fever
4... people in this house currently coughing their brains out
4... days until Moonshine's birthday party
12... days until the moving company is here
5... actual boxes packed and ready to go on the boat
2... cats we found homes for
2... cats who still need homes
1... car not yet sold
21... days until we board the plane

I had a crazy dream the other night, before the fever hit, where my good friends were trying to turn an old friend from college into a vampire. I left their house and started walking, and the streets, buildings, and people kept morphing all around me until I found myself inside some kind of a stadium turned cafeteria/bar. I felt lost for a minute, but then I noticed that my dad was there. He joyfully called me over to his booth where he was playing poker with some older gentlemen. It was my dad's turn to ante-up, and he turned to me and reached into his pocket and pulled out some change and said, "Let's see what we have here."

I love these visits from the spirit world, even if I am dense half the time they occur. A few days later I got the message. He was showing me change. My life is rife with it right now. Duh. No wonder my immune system is functioning like a piece of old toast.

I've got 12 days to get over this flu and pare the sacred belongings of a family of five down to the size of a bathroom shower stall. I can do this, right?!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blog? What blog?

This year is really going by awfully fast. Since mid-January we have been plagued by just about every cold and flu out there-- some of them more than once. That's not a bonus when it comes to gastrointestinal stuff. But I suppose that's what we get from dragging our kids around the country for Christmas.

We have seen some interesting developments as a result of the sicknesses though. Moonshine emerged from one bout of illness with the ability to both whistle and read. She woke up one morning in February and things just started clicking for her. She went from not reading to reading in the blink of an eye.

Just as Sunburst did, Moonshine has really taken a fond affection to the McGuffey Primer Reader. Every few days she brings it to me and asks Einstein or me to help her work on the next lesson, and so we do. If she's amped enough about reading to want to work on it, how can we say no to that?

Other things that have clicked for Moonshine in the past few months include ice skating and roller blading.

Sunburst has been mostly reading. We're still trucking along with lessons, but her reading has just taken on a life of its own. She's reading about 200 pages a day now, sometimes more. She would rather be reading than anything else. If we had a horse, this would be a different story. She spends a lot of time reading horse-care manuals. Just yesterday she was reading a manual on robotics-- so you never can tell.

Einstein and I have taken a different approach to homeschooling this past month. While we are still heavily driven by Waldorf, my concerns about how she measures up in a foreign country have gotten the better of my unschooling leanings. I imagine it will pass eventually, but in the meantime we have amped up our expectations. Rather than nag, we have asked Sunburst to take some responsibility for her own schooling. She and I sat down and decided together how much work she could be accomplishing each week in each subject area. We then made a list with check boxes and stuck it on the fridge in a sheet protector. When she finishes a task, she can check it off her list, and in a glance, she (and we) can know what she has left to accomplish.

This plan is working out great so far. With one month left before we move overseas, you can imagine my brain is a bit frazzled. It's really hard for me to stay focused and be the end-all homeschooling mom. We are still doing main lesson, but at nine years old, there are some things that Sunburst can do by herself now. And I think she likes it that way.

Kitty Bill is still trying to play the Alpha Male card on his sisters. He spends a lot of time being the destructive, high-energy, two year old. He has learned to ride a small bicycle with training wheels-- and he can even steer! Which is something. I need to remember that as long as he has something to be in control of he may let the rest of us live to see another day. Large motor activities are a huge plus in his case. He's a busy little guy!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saints six-patch

Remember when Sunburst decided she wanted to embroider her Saint's block for Grade 2? She finally picked out some fabric to bind them all together. She didn't want a separate binding color or anything, and she's very pleased with how it turned out. So am I!

We covered almost a dozen Saints for this block last year, and she chose to embroider her favorite six stories. She dictated the pictures, which I drew in pencil, and then she got busy embroidering them. She helped me cut the fabric and sew it up on the machine, and then began the slow process of hand-stitching the non-binding binding on the backside.

These are the Saints/Heroes, from clockwise: Elizabeth, St. Patrick, Finn MacCoul, St. Brigid, White Buffalo Woman, and St. Francis.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More from the open road

The blowing snow seemed almost alive.

After living in Austin and the Midwest I have gained a greater appreciation for any rock formations higher than my knees. I really felt like I had come home again.

A couple of shots of the Great Salt Lake.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Visibility zero

Black and white pigeons
peppering the electric lines, warm
horses layered with frost
in a barren, cold landscape
Whoosh! Suddenly
there is nothing but white
all sights are obliterated
mountains, trees, this very road
in this second only you and I
exist, just us, in a cloud of snow
we could blink and disappear
if not for the noise of children
from the backseat

1104 miles into our trip this thing happened-- we made it as far as Laramie, Wyoming and the interstate was closed. Sure, the road was icy and with the intermittent blowing snow, and then real snow on top of it, there were times we couldn't see a thing. Honestly, I was happy to stop. We found some vegan grub at Sweet Melissa's cafe, watched the trains roll by, and just relaxed for the next sixteen hours until the interstate reopened.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

6,000 miles

Whew! We made it!

Mid-December we piled Christmas and the kids in the car and went traveling for the holidays. 27 days, 2o US states, 3 small children, and 6,000 miles later we are finally out of our flippin' minds home. It was quite an adventure-- sort of our last hurrah to hug everyone we love before we take the plunge and move to Europe in a few months.

We got some serious hugging on and shot over 900 photos. I'll be sharing the best of those as I warm back up to being home, homeschooling, blogging and getting ready for the big move (every thought I think now is prefaced by the "Big Move"-- seriously, it's almost like some kind of disease the way it proliferates every corner of our lives these days.)

However, I've resolved in 2008 to make the most everything. I'm going to enjoy this moving process if it kills me as much as possible. I'm going to do as much as I can with what little time I've got and plow ahead. Smiling. :-) <-- See!

So Happy New Year and on with the show!
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