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.
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