Monday, November 23, 2009

Use your words

I spent all week working on my novel. Doesn't it sound like fun?

It was actually the opposite of fun. It was a hard week, but I think I've crested the wave now. I'm still a little behind schedule, but not by much (only a mere 2k words), so I'm not going to sweat it. This is the last week of NaNoWriMo 2009, and I feel like I've grown a lot more through the process this year than I imagined was possible.

Especially last week. Last week my kids derailed into screaming mimis. Kitty Bill gets frustrated pretty easily, always has. But lately he has been turning into a fairly collected little person. For a four-year-old he's an incredibly focused and creative little guy. We've been working so hard with him to make sure that he emerges into this compassionate, intelligent being. But there's one thing that chaps his hide and bares his inner monster--- sisters. The more my girls play with German-speaking kids, the more they lose touch with their ability to "use their words" with him.

When they are playing with other kids that don't speak English there is very little language usage. Things are mostly mimed or broken down into single-word commands or verbs. Speile?! Komm! Halt! They play together beautifully for the most part, but after a few hours of this, my girls forget that they CAN speak English. They forget that they need to use their words to communicate properly and appropriately when we are together and a situation arises. This is especially obvious with Moonshine, as she's just now growing more and more comfortable speaking in German; it's like she switches over.

And this is a big problem! They forget that Kitty Bill is only four. Because he's changing so rapidly and beginning to be able to fully engage in imaginative play, they forget that he's one of them-- an English-speaker. Because he hasn't yet learned to use his words, they forget that he can understand them. It's really confounding.

Ever since they were small I've been reminding them to use their words. Do you want something? Use your words. Have a problem? Use your words, not your hands. And to complicate things ever more, kids in Switzerland use their hands. A lot. There appears to be less "mothering" going on here than you would normally find in middle-class America. It's more of a dog-eat-dog society amongst the youngsters. And I'm not okay with that for my kids. I'm really not.

The fallout from this is screaming. Lots and lots of screaming. It makes it hard to write, hard to think, hard to homeschool. Hard to just be together.

On top of that, I've been looking at my own words. I've been pretty frustrated lately about a lot of things. Frustrated about my blog, my time, my energy. Frustrated by society and living in a foreign country and the fact that I haven't been home in eighteen months. I miss my family, my friends, my homeschooling community, and my grandmother--- who is 85! We just bought plane tickets for a trip home so I can hug my grandmother.

It's a four-thousand-dollar hug.

Painfully expensive. But the sound of her voice when I phoned her and told her we were coming? Priceless. She's ecstatic!

Those are the kinds of things I want to use my words for--- to bring something to the table that lifts people up. And I don't feel like I've been doing that so much. I feel like something has got to change here. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, going in the wrong direction, or simply just not doing enough. This week I feel like either owning my words and making them count or shutting up entirely.

I don't know what my focus is anymore-- am I writing for myself? Or for you, my loyal readers? Judging from the comments recently, I think there are three of you-- does anyone else still read this blog??

My question this week is, what should I be bringing to the table? What could I be doing with my words that would truly make a difference?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ok, stop celebrating!

This is my favorite Nanowrimo video so far. It cracked me up.
I can't wait to show it to the kids. They will LOVE it!

If you still don't know what Nanowrimo is, I'm sorry for your loss.

I didn't write at all yesterday. Instead I stewed over something I discovered on the internet that makes me want to stop blogging forever. I feel like I'm hanging over that precipice I talked about in yesterday's post. I've got some decisions to make. Ugh. I hate that.

Alas, this video was a nice pick-me-up this morning. Thanks Nanowrimo! I needed that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Turnips, Knots, and Nano updates

Our Rääbeliechtli (turnip lanterns) turned out fine, just in time for a lantern walk in the pouring rain on Saturday. We managed to learn five of the seven songs, mispronouncing most words, but we did our best. After the walk we all ended up at my house eating soup, rolls, and cake on the back patio and watching the rain come down in droves.

The wind rushed in under the eaves and brought the rain with it, drenching everything. But after awhile the sky cleared and the children all played some variation of freeze-mud-tag in the yard while the adults sat and chatted. I'd be lying if I said understood everything that was said. The other families spoke Swiss German together, and they took pity on us at times, addressing us in English. None of the other children spoke English or even high German... so it was interesting. My kids have certainly learned to adapt! And the lingo for tag was something like, "Ich bin!" (I am!) and "Sie ist!" (She is!)

On Sunday the kids all went rock-climbing with Einstein and the Swiss dads group. They get together once a month, just the kids and dads, and have different activities-- canoeing, candle dipping, pottery making, hiking. Sunburst was pretty pleased that she learned how to make a Figure-8 knot, or as it's called online, a Figure 8 Follow Through. I have to concede, it's a pretty cool knot.

Check out this animated version. You start with this knot, and then you proceed to follow along the knot again. It makes a very strong knot, perfect for hanging yourself over a precipice, and it's easy to undo. Not that you'd want to undo it while you're hanging, but I suppose you never know.

Sunburst has been tying everything in the house into knots since she was three, so I can see how this knot-making lesson really appealed to her. Asking her to draw it as a form might be going too far, but we'll see..

In other news, we're all caught up on our Nanowrimo novels. Moonshine has been caught up for days! She has been working fearlessly along on her story, and it's a great action-packed epic full of German-speaking robbers, police, orphans, and bat poop. Sunburst fell behind this week, so I sat down at the computer with her last night and helped her catch up. She was right where she needed to be after about fifteen minutes of dictation using Write or Die.

I don't have any qualms about letting the kids dictate their novels to me sometimes. They have each written a considerable amount by hand, actually most of it so far. This is impressive considering that Moonshine doesn't normally write much-- she's only seven. And while she is reading, she's not a very strong reader yet. That's something that Nanowrimo is helping her with. As she writes more, she suddenly reads more. I love that. And Sunburst already does a lot of writing as part of our homeschooling lessons, so when her fingers need a break, I'm here to hold her up.

Both girls were so far along the first week of the month that they both decided to double their goals. Moonshine is shooting for a 4,000 word novel, while Sunburst is shooting for 10,000 words. The writing books I made them are working out extremely well. They love them. They love looking at them, writing in them, and they love that the pages are all a bit different. They are always looking ahead hoping to get to the pages I put little decorations on, and this pushes them to keep writing. "Ooh, I'm almost there!" is something I have heard a lot of lately.

It's important to me that the kids spend the time and exert the energy to do most of the work on this writing project. This will give them the most personal satisfaction. I want them to own the experience and to be able to be proud of their accomplishments at the end. There is nothing better than looking back at a huge undertaking and saying, "I did this!" It strengthens the will forces and builds a strong foundation for future endeavors. The unspoken take home message would be, if we can't endeavor to work for what we want to achieve, we will rarely achieve anything.

Here's a glimpse at their writing in progress:

Even Kitty Bill wants in on the fun! I didn't honestly expect him to be interested, but that's another lesson for me... Never underestimate the drive of the choleric baby brother! If his sisters are doing it, he's doing it. Period. Nothing will stop him. So I stapled some pages together for him and he went to town making "warrior elephants." --See what I said about choleric?!!

I offered to let him dictate the story to me-- he's only just four-years-old, so in my mind that's how it would work. He draws, tells me the story, and I write it for him. But no. He announced very emphatically that he was going to do the whole thing by himself. Here is the warrior elephant page below:

Pretty impressive stuff. We were all pretty blown away. But it's nothing compared to the pages he created using the TYPEWRITER. All on his own he hauled out the typewriter, fed a sheet of paper into it and banged away. Then he drew a picture on the blank spot, put it aside, and started another page in the typewriter. He made a whole stack of these. Most of the time we just follow him around with our mouths hanging open and wonder what he'll be like when he's five or six or seven. It's kind of scary.

As for me, I'm caught up, too! I've logged in 25,132 words as of about 12:30 am. That's just my adult novel, though. I admit my kiddie novel has been sorely neglected... only a mere 300 words or so. But I've got half a month ahead of me yet. I like to think I'd be less neglectful if my adult novel didn't suddenly decide it needed to be historically plausible. I've been spending an inordinate amount of time reading very old texts and maps online. At least it amuses me. And hopefully, I'm building my will forces, too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Seven songs to learn by tomorrow

picture from

I just received the songs we'll be singing at the lantern walk tomorrow night. God help me. They are all in Swyzerdütsch!

My neighbor was sweet enough to bring them over this morning along with some turnips to carve for the children's Laterne.
(And if she's reading this, "HALLO! DANKE VIELMAL.")

Luckily, a couple of the songs we are familiar English... of course the English versions of these songs are different than the high German versions. And then I must add that the Swiss German versions are even more different, even so from the high German, including different notes. Is it too much to ask that they use the same notes?

We're going to spend the day working on it... in between writing and cleaning and cooking and blowing our noses...

Here's but one of the songs.
I think it says something about a turnip light... and when the wind blows the light out, you go home. But ask me how to pronounce these words, and my eyes go round and my mouth drops open.

Rääbeliechtli, Rääbeliechtli, wo gahsch hii?
I die tunkli Nacht, ohni Sterneschy.
Da mues mys Liechtli sy.

Rääbeliechtli, Rääbeliechtli, wo bisch gsii?
Dur d Straass duruuf un s Gässli ab.
Gäll, Liechtli, lösch nüd aab.

Rääbeliechtli, Rääbeliechtli, wänn gasch hei?
Wänn de Büswind blaast
und mer s Liechtli löscht,
dann gann i wider hei.

Seven songs. Many with multiple verses. I'm only freaking out a little bit.

The above turnip lantern is borrowed from the Swiss Räbechilbi site. For more turnips, go visit the site HERE. They are amazing!

If you know the author/copyright owner of the Rääbeliechtli song, please let me know so I can give them full credit. Thanks!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

India, as promised

I don't think we've ever done a more enjoyable block. We loved everything about India, especially the rich stories. We could have spent ages on it, but I think we ended up with just the right amount. In the end we filled half of a main lesson book. We'll finish out the other half in a couple of months when we study Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.

I'm continually wowed by Sunburst's artistic growth, and this block really showcased how much she has grown and what she's capable of doing when she puts her mind to it.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces she did:

This last one is the Gayatri mantra, which we just devoured during this block. It was like food for us. Sunburst figured out how to work my ipod touch, and she enjoyed playing this mantra over and over until it became habitual inside of her. And in the rest of us, too. Our favorite version is 108 Gayatri Chants by Srihari.

For those of you who are wondering, I let Sunburst trace the Sanskrit lettering. I tried drawing it by hand myself, and whew, was it difficult. She traced it with pencil and then went over it with ink. I think it turned out beautifully.

Of course I did my own drawings along with Sunburst. Sometimes they were the example, and sometimes we picked an image off the internet that appealed to us. In the case of Buddha and Krishna, Sunburst came up with her own idea. With Buddha, we just happened to have the same idea, but on different sides of the tree. I wonder what that means?!?

As always, here are my drawings below, as well as the pastel drawing of Savitri and Satyavan at the top of this post. She and I got a great laugh at how my drawing of Krishna with the cows looks a lot like Michael Jackson. Click on it, and you'll see. I hope it gives you a good chuckle, too.

And Sunburst's beans, do you remember? At the beginning of this block I gave her seeds and she planted three of them. Only one sprouted, and she has been tending it with great care. Here's what it looks like now:

Forcing the light

We had such a crap day yesterday. I can only blame it on this flu which seems to be both dragging on and on and dragging our spirits down. Although I love Martinmas, it was tempting to call the whole thing off yesterday. We just weren't feeling the love and the light, and I wasn't sure we could carry it. And anyway, we're supposed to be celebrating it again on Saturday with other families, in German (or Swiss German?!-- they haven't actually given us the songs to learn yet).

Anyway, we decided to go out and sing with our noses running and without light in our hearts. And I think it was the best decision. One way to find the light is to force it. Sometimes the candle goes out and you have to relight it. It was a pretty good lesson, a very tangible lesson, for all of us.

When things were going poorly yesterday we put everything aside, pulled out the kite paper and folded window stars. Sunburst offered up the story of St. Martin, from memory, and it was quite sweet. We made soup. A very green, minty, broccoli soup which we ate before going out with our lanterns into the cold, dark night.

We live out in the country now, and we could barely see the path with our lanterns. It's not that they're aren't bright and glowing. They do a fair job. It's just that it's so incredibly dark out here. After having lived in the city for so long, the children gasped at the starlight. And we walked... sometimes off the dirt path and into the weeds. Some of us stepped in horse poo which littered the path. Kitty Bill walked into a fence with his face, luckily it wasn't an electric one. It was an experience that mirrored our experience lately, both inside and out.

We pressed on through the dark with our voices and our lanterns held out before us. At one point there were hoofbeats, and we saw a rider crossing the path in front of us wearing a headlamp. That was interesting! And we finally made it to the top of the hill where we could look down upon the lights of five different cities. The air felt different there, and it was breathtaking.

It was a good message:

Press on, press on.
Even when you can't see the way.
Even when the night is dark, and the path is unclear.
Even when it is hard and makes no sense.
Press on.*

We turned the bend and headed home on a different path. I coaxed a reluctant Kitty Bill onward with promises of hot cocoa to warm him up, and we finally made it back home again.

Everyone is a little worse for wear today. Exhausted, but somehow more peaceful. It's early yet. The hills are shrouded in mist and it's drizzling rain, but I have hope that the light will shine from within us.

*(Reminder to self: This message could be equally applied to this year's Nanowrimo novel.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back from the dead

We've all had the flu now. Twice. Just when I think we're getting better one of us takes a turn for the worse. I don't know if it's swine flu or what... but I did hear they have shots available in Switzerland for this. Starting tomorrow.

We skipped Halloween because of illness. Very sad. But we managed to crack off a Dia de los Muertos altar honoring both our real and imagined dead. In honor of the Nanowrimo kick-off, many of my participating friends and family humored me by knocking off a character on the very first day. You guys are the stuff novel acknowledgment pages are made of!

Also back from the near dead is the baby cow. I swear this little guy is THE cutest cow I have ever seen. He's a baby Highland cow that was rescued after being abandoned in the field by his mother. He was doing extremely poorly at first, but I think he's getting stronger. In between illnesses we've been sneaking off to pet him.

Also back from the dead, Satyavan... Sunburst and I just finished up our Ancient India block today. It was so much fun, and I feel like we learned a lot. Pictures coming soon. But first I have 1600 words on my Nano-novel to catch up on. Updates on our Nano progress coming soon, too.
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