Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ready... set... WRITE!

We're only days away from the start of another amazing NaNoWriMo November. I'm so excited I can hardly contain myself.

Last year I had so much fun with it. I learned about it from my friend Teresa midway through November and decided to immediately jump right into the fray. It was incredibly fun and challenging. This year I'll have the entire month of November to explore my creative writing endeavors. Not just me though, it's fun for the whole family!

The girls are participating in NaNoWriMo's Young Writers Program (YWP)-- setting their own goals and writing stories out by hand. I've been secretly piecing together some writing books for them to keep them motivated, and I anxiously await our small classroom kit I purchased from the folks at NaNoWriMo. And t-shirts! Because honestly, this an amazing thing-- taking part in a movement that supports individual creativity and literacy and... it's like camp, but better! They even have merit badges!

Seven-year-old Moonshine has already asked if she can write bad words in her story for November, and I have to laugh. She means words like "hate" and "stupid," which don't fly in our house. But in writing? Of course! I think she'll get them out of her system.

The girls have been busy making character sketches and dreaming up ideas, and in addition to my 50k private creation, I've agreed to match their word count with a G-rated story of my own over as a home educator on the YWP. So far the only tangible ideas I have are for a completely different non-fiction project, which maybe I'll work on if I meet my daily fiction word count goals... and if my wrist holds out. I strained it last week biking back from the river. With me it's usually all or nothing.

Note to self: Never try to push a bike (pulling two kids in a bike trailer) up a steep hill.

Meanwhile, we'll continue our homeschooling during the month, including celebrating the lovely Martinmas... so hopefully I'll have some posts to share. November will be anything but dull, so feel free to kick me in the comments if I get quiet. And if you're Nano-ing, drop me a comment so I can cheer you on!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everything cows!

We're still finishing up our zoology book from last year. Now that we're practically living on a farm, it makes it a much easier task.

From our studies of Ancient India to the lowing out in the fields, everything is suddenly turning up cows!

Our weekend trip to the Swiss mountainous countryside coincided with the Swiss cows coming down from the mountains for the winter. Apparently the goats came with them.

These cows are currently pasturing behind our house, and the girls have been making daily visits to a newborn calf in the stable next to us.

Since we don't eat cow, we celebrated our appreciation for them with some artwork (mine and Sunburst's):

My attempts at pastel cows:

and Sunburst's, including a poem she memorized awhile back:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Math Gnome-li Love

Moonshine had a turn with the math gnomes recently, and she adores them.

While I was preparing to introduce the four processes, I went back to the same sources I used to prepare Sunburst's lesson so many years ago. But this time I was really appalled by what I read. In each one Plus is fat because he's greedy and Minus is kind of a numbskull. Somehow the force of this never bothered me before, but now, I'm presenting math to a melancholic/phlegmatic child who is neither greedy nor an idiot. And I certainly didn't want her to see those qualities in herself.

So this year I decided to do things differently. I decided to over-emphasize the POSITIVE traits of each temperament, er gnome. I wanted to let Moonshine know that although they each have different ways of working and being, they each have a heart of gold. --And she LOVES them! She immediately related to them and saw qualities of them inside herself.

Inspired by my friend Andrea's poems over at Littlest Birds, I also took Dorothy Harrer's poems and morphed them into my own, positive descriptions:

They hang on the wall near our workspace, and Moonshine loves to read them aloud. She also wrote two lines from each poem into her math book.

Gnome-li? The neighbor tells us that "Gnomli" is Swiss German for gnome. Kind of cute, huh? Don't forget to pronounce the G.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Seasonal Lovelies

I recently ventured into the world of Waldorf voodoo books in German. There are so many fantastic Waldorfy craft books that haven't been translated into English yet. Yet? Surely, they'll come eventually. This one needs little translation anyway. It's simple enough to understand by looking at the pictures.

Mit farbegin Transparenten durch das Jahr

And the pictures are Lovely. I can't wait to make these for every season! Each one has an accompanying pattern for cutting out all the pieces. I suppose you would xerox the pattern page, but I just eyeballed it with a pencil, scissors and a paring knife. It's supposed to be made with transparency paper -- I don't know if they even carry this in the States, but as you can see, I made mine with colored tissue paper-- the kind you would use to make Rose Windows. It also calls for colored card-stock. I have looked high and low for card-stock in Switzerland to no avail. I finally found a small package (in white) at a Staples in England. We treat it like it's on the brink of extinction... this is sort of true. Anyway, I colored mine purple with oil pastels.

Here's what the pattern original looks like, plus a couple more samples from the book. I'm planning to bring at least one of the plant ones into Sunburst's botany lessons this spring.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Discovering Atlantis

Sunburst and I are thoroughly enjoying our study of Ancient India. I'm finding the Kovacs book, Ancient Mythologies, to be superb.

I like to start out each year with a symbolic marker. This year, since we were beginning with the destruction of Atlantis and Manu's voyage to India, I presented Sunburst with a few beans. Fifth grade is just brimming with new lands, new people, and new ideas. To me, they're like seeds. We plant them and see where they go.

She was a little bewildered when I told her to keep them safe, that she would need them. She pestered me on and off about them and was dying to know what they were for. Wait and see, I said.

And then we discovered Atlantis.

I had this rough idea for making a little Atlantis out of clay. I presented the vision of Atlantis, described by Plato as an island of concentric rings, and Sunburst just took off with it. She immersed herself fully in it and worked on it for a couple of days. It's regular pottery clay worked on the bottom of a pizza pan covered with parchment paper, and her creation far surpassed my expectations.

When she's ready we'll fill it with water, which will essentially destroy it... It seems a shame to trash something she took such care on, but isn't that kind of the crux of Atlantis itself? If it's true, it was supposedly an amazing, advanced civilization. In Kovacs' book he describes the Atlanteans as being capable of magic-- making cows small or men into giants. It seemed a bit far-fetched to me when I first read it, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if he was referring to science. We're doing some pretty wacky magic these days ourselves-- cloning animals, putting fish genes into our tomatoes, and I'm sure we don't even know the half of it.

When I told how the god Brahma brought Manu out of the flood waters to India with the seeds he had saved from Atlantis, Sunburst was also given some soil. She planted three of her beans, and luckily, one of them sprouted. It doesn't matter how many times we plant seeds, its always feels miraculous to watch them grow. We'll be exploring botany in the spring, and watching this bean unfurl sort of sets the mood for that. And after a story of destruction, it seemed important to have something tangible begin growing out of that.

Another year, another new beginning.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

School portraits

A couple of weeks ago Sunburst put up a sign on the wall advertising a portrait drawing business, and then she began drawing portraits of everything, from model animals to her little brother.

It was cute. We were all drawn in, so to speak, by her idea until all three kids and I found ourselves sitting around the table drawing portraits of each other. Hilarity ensued. The girls, Sunburst (10) and Moonshine (7), both decided to draw me. I figured it was a good excuse as any to come out of anonymity and show my face to the world.

E-gads! Is this what I really look like?!!

My favorite characteristics would have to be my new elfin ears and tiny, shark-like teeth. And the wrinkles-- look closely, folks, apparently my kids do.

I don't know what happened to me, but they're right about one thing. I've got some deep crevices across my forehead these days. I don't remember having them a year ago, so I'm going to chalk it up to stress and worry. It's Swiss memorabilia, right? Ugh. I might have to slip them a bit of chocolate in exchange for some artistic botox. Seriously!

Even Kitty Bill (4) notices them, as I discovered when he drew a picture of Moonshine and made deep lines across her forehead in the picture. When I questioned him on it, he insisted she had lines on her forehead "just like yours." Ahem. I asked him to look really closely at her to see if he could show them to me, and he was surprised to find that Moonshine's forehead was as smooth as butter. He promptly scratched the lines out. Although it pleased him to no end to include them on a picture of his dad, Einstein.

Einstein didn't fare too well either in Sunburst's picture. She gave him the same beady, little eyes she gave me. He's a lovely man in person though, and completely dashing, I think. Even if Sunburst did manage to capture his receding hairline, at least she didn't go adding silver paint accents to show off his gray hair. Here he is pictured next to her portrait of Kitty Bill.

Although I'm heckling the kids a little bit, it's all in good fun. Portraiture is HARD work, and I'm the first to admit it. It's one thing to draw a face AND get all the features scaled correctly, but it's entirely another thing to make that face actually look like the person you're drawing.

This is not quite Sunburst.

Close, but not her. Maybe in tens years she'll look like this, goggled-eyed and all.

And Moonshine? Forget about it. I tried to draw her twice, and neither of them even begin to capture her essence. There's something really elusive about her... if I keep trying, maybe I'll get it.

Since then Sunburst and I have been working on self-portraits in our German books. I don't capture my own image any better than I do the kids. But it's fun anyway.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Making it purty

Moving into a new place always entails some re-thinking of the homeschooling space. In the apartment we used kitchen drawers as a place for the kids to house their drawings and random creations. The new kitchen has a ton of drawers, but none of them were just right. To stave off arguments they have to be all the same size, and for sanity's sake, not so big that the kids can't find the one tiny slip of paper they can't live without. --Sanity will not be underrated!

So we headed on down to IKEA and picked out a small shelf of drawers that fit the bill, while also being easy on the pocketbook and small enough to squeeze into our tight space.

What can I say... the drawers are plastic and sort of ghastly. I managed to look at them for a whole day before I attacked them with a little bit of Waldorf voodoo. I love saying that-- Waldorf voodoo. It's a term that should be coined, don't you think? Anyway, I think the voodoo quite worked as it's much easier on the eyes, and actually quite nice. A little watercolor paper goes a long way.

The little pictures you can almost see are my kids-- Kitty Bill can't read yet, so I like to personalize the space with pictures he can read.

For the sweet Celtic calligraphy signs I have to extend a warm thanks to our dear friends in Wales. They sent us a writing sample and some pens, and as you can see we're always finding new ways of putting them to good use!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Feeling Normal

We have been living in the new house for a month now, and I have to tell you...

It's Fantastic!! I'm feeling almost normal again.

All that stress, all that depression I had been feeling since the move.... it's GONE. Kitty Bill's behavioral issues? Mostly gone, too. Frowns on faces? Gone. The children are happy. I'm happy. Even Einstein is happy. It's amazing! We're so happy to be in a house again, with a yard again, and we are actually getting so much more done. Even after the kids and I suffered through a miserable flu virus this month, we're accomplishing things. I had no idea how stressed out I was in the city apartment, but obviously, I was completely overwhelmed.

Our days of tiptoeing around are OVER. The kids are literally jumping up and down in this new house, on purpose. We're outside every day visiting the animals, biking in the countryside, chatting with the neighbors, and just simply playing.

Life is good.

Here's a peek at the new house!

And the view from my bedroom window:

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