Thursday, November 29, 2012

M2 and Writing

M2 is a storyteller... but only on paper.  I can't think of a single time where she has come to me and told me a story she's created without having written it on paper first.  It used to bug me when she was little that she didn't invent stories, and I worried about creativity.  I thought all kids loved to make up stories and tell them to their parents (never mind that *I* didn't do that... we all know I'm a bit left of normal).  When she learned to write, though, everything changed.  She writes poems.  She writes stories.  She writes lists.  She invents characters.  She draws and sketches and writes entire stories about what she draws.

In other words, yet again, I shouldn't have worried.

Odd how most of my worries are for nothing, isn't it?  Anyone else find that they worry far more than is both necessary and good for them?  Ahhh, to be worry-free...

I digress.  A couple weeks ago, I asked the children to come up with some story ideas for personal narratives.  I let them brainstorm for a while, and soon they both came up with what they felt was a brilliant idea - the same idea, though they arrived at it separately.  They both wanted to write about Christmas morning 2011.

Since M2 had never done a big story project before, I was curious to see what she would do with minimal direction.

What I got was far, far more than I ever expected.  It rambles a little, but it's far more than I remember doing in second grade.  I helped her edit the original copy, but I didn't do much beyond helping her add a little basic structure and fixing some spelling and punctuation (and one really, really long run-on sentence).  All words and ideas are hers.

Christmas Eve to morning 2011
     I remember everything about Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in 2011.  I think it was an excellent holiday.
     On Christmas Eve the cats kept climbing in and out of the Christmas tree.  One time Hermes hopped in the Christmas tree and immediately fell out again.  It was supposed to be very naughty, but I thought that it was very funny and laughed.  When we decorated the tree most of the bells went down at the bottom, and the cats loved them, especially Hermes.  When you sat down to have some hot cocoa you heard a jingle, jingle, jingle.  The cats also went crazy because Christmas presents were starting to fill up their comfortable tree skirt.  Once I brought home a Christmas present from school and set it where Hermes always laid down, and he sat on it.  I thought that was funny.
     My brother woke me up at four in the morning to go watch the presents.  First we looked in our stockings.  I got the move Tangled, the movie Rio, and some candy like Hershey's.  Next we looked in the presents.  I had gotten a Papasan chair and a giant scrapbooking kit from Mom and Dad.  I got a makeup set from Miss Karen.
     On Christmas morning everybody was wearing robes, warm pajamas, and slippers, and nobody looked upset.  First I took the blanket off my Papasan chair.  It was pink!  Next I opened up the giant scrapbooking set.  The book was pink, and it had cursive letters and print letters.  There were puff-out cat stickers and a lot more crafty things.  After that I opened up the makeup set for me and mom.  I said, "I don't know how we are going to share this," and then Mom smiled even bigger.  Suddenly Daddy came out of the kitchen.  He had a very big smile on his face.  I noticed that he was carrying breakfast into the living room!  My face lit up with glee because we were going to eat in the living room. The cinnamon rolls were so delicious I accidentally ate a little too much.  My face was very messy, so I wiped it off.  I pounced Daddy becuse he had signaled it.  Mommy acted sad by making a frown and whimpering.  I told her that I would be there in a minute or so, and of course I was.  When I was sitting I felt very comfortable.  She asked me who her favorite girl was.  When I answered, I raised my hand and in a very squeaky voice I said, "Meee."  Daddy told me and my brother to go wash up, and brush our teeth, and put clothes on.  After that we cleaned up.  My Christmas morning was really exciting, and I hope the next one will be even better.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Teaching Something You're Not Good At

I am not an artist.  I'm not crafty, I'm not creative, I'm not artistic in the least.  My idea of artistic is finding something at the store that happens to match something else that I already have and putting them together.  Tada!  Once in a while I will do a cross-stitch project, but it's not a project *I* invent or design; I do what the pattern says and have done with it.

So teaching art isn't my thing.  Different mediums, different techniques, different periods in art - all of that is like a foreign language to me... and yet I want the kids to be able to appreciate these things.  I want to expose them to art in all its forms.  I want to teach art.  I'm just not good at it or knowledgeable enough about it to teach it with any degree of confidence.

That's where the books step in.

This is our second year using the Artistic Pursuits series.  Last year I used Book One in their K-3 series; this year we're using Book Two.  This means that M1 is theoretically doing stuff a year behind where he should be and M2 is right on track, but really, these books seem to be designed for the entire age group.  I've never had a single complaint about something being too easy or too hard (though Little Miss Perfectionist sometimes gets her panties in a wad because she thinks she's messed up a project... more on that in a minute).

Most of the time I can figure out what we're doing with very little effort, and I can explain projects easily.  This week, though, we were doing something that I had never even considered doing before.  We made prints.

Water-soluble ink on wax paper that's been taped to the counter
 I've toured a screen-printing shop once, years ago, and I used to work at the newspaper, where the presses ran for hours each day, and yet it had never occurred to me that I could transfer those techniques to anything I could do at home.

Roll the ink out with a tool called a brayer until it covers the area you want 
The kids, though, thought this was one of the best projects we've ever done.  I didn't hear one peep of frustration.  They were enthusiastic and really, really enjoyed the entire process.

Use a pointed tool to etch an image into the ink - we used skewers
Don't forget that the final print will be a mirror image, so don't write words! 
Press the paper firmly over the ink, making sure to rub every square inch 
The best part for me was that clean-up was a breeze.

Click on the images to enlarge
The end products weren't quite as good as the kids had hoped, but they were still enthusiastic and plan to make more monoprints later.

The fact that M2 was able to be somewhat disappointed in her final product and let it go is huge.  She really gets upset when things don't turn out the way she had planned. Thankfully, when we were on vacation in Kansas City last month, we got her a book that seems to have helped alleviate some of that anxiety.  It's called Make Art Mistakes.  When she looks through it, she realizes that mistakes in art aren't always mistakes.  You can still do something with those pages.  They aren't trash because one little dot was placed in the wrong spot.  They are still art.  Letting go of preconceived notions about art has been very liberating for my little girl.  M1 doesn't care - to him, art is fun.  He enjoys the projects, happily picks out his favorite paintings at museums, sometimes sketches random diagrams of things he wants to make, but really... not his thing.  M2, however, perceives herself as a rising artist and sometimes thinks that her pieces should look like they're on an adult level at the ripe old age of 7.  I'm very glad she's realizing that nobody is perfect and that she is doing just fine for her age.  As she gets older, I'd like to get her this Daily Creativity Journal so she has even more ideas.

I may not be good at art.  I may never be able to instantly tell the difference between a Monet and a Rembrandt.  But if I can have my kids love it, then I must be doing something right!

Monday, November 26, 2012


One of the things that I thought I might miss when we moved into a neighborhood inside city limits was the wildlife.

Birds.  Shocking, I know.
I figured we'd have birds - and we have, with hummingbirds this summer and winter birds so far this fall - but I wasn't as sure we'd have some of the other critters that we got at the old house.  It was fun to look out the back window and see coyotes or ducks or, once and very memorably, a groundhog who was considering making his home in our crawlspace.

I shouldn't have worried.  I put up our winter bird feeders about two weeks ago.  It didn't take long for the birds (and the neighbor's two tabby cats, whom we affectionately call Fat Bob and Skinny Bob though they're probably female) to discover the feeder.  The birds enjoy the food and taunting the cats.  In fact, I think they deliberately throw food on the cats' heads.

The squirrels don't object at all.  They come and perform clean-up duty during the day.

Last night, though, I wandered into the formal dining room to admire the lights that Oz, the kids and I put up and saw something poking around the strewn seeds.  I called Oz in and grabbed the camera.  Oz wanted to go out and see what it would do if he came outside, so he opened the front door.

The opossum did what 'possums do...

... and promptly shimmied up the tree.  Oz hadn't expected that and got a kick out of the critter that he had treed.  He hadn't realized that opossums in America climbed trees, let alone that they had prehensile tails.  He knew that Australian possums (which are really possums, not opossums) had those features and did those things but hadn't realized that opossums in the USA did the same thing.

Of course, the little guy (or gal) was gone by this morning, but as Oz was getting ready to tuck M2 into bed tonight, he happened to glance out her window - our little friend was back.

It seems that we haven't left Mother Nature behind after all!  And that makes me very happy.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ah, December!

I hope everyone (well, those of you who celebrate it) had a lovely Thanksgiving and aren't regretting the overeating too much.  I'm sure I'll be trying to work off the extra calories for a week, but I'm already wearing my sweatshirt that proudly announces, "Christmas calories don't count!"

If only.

I'm hunkering down for the long haul now, that stretch of school between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It might not be the longest continuous stretch of school that we have, but it's definitely one of the most demanding, just because there's so much going on and so much to do that it's very easy to let school fall by the wayside.

Still, I plan to keep them busy.  We'll do Christmas crafts, sure, but we're also going to write short reports (well, M2's will be short, M1's will be longer) on a scientist of their choosing, briefly study the Roaring '20s and the Great Depression, and continue work on some personal narratives that they've already begun.  They're also working on the state abbreviations, and we should finish those right before Christmas break; when we come back, we'll start on the capitals.  We're also doing a light unit in science, and both kids have been making great strides in math and spelling.  I don't want to lose momentum just because the holidays are here!

I'm feeling slightly less Grinch-y right now, though that will come and go as the holiday gets nearer.  We put up a few lights today, which made me smile, and I've decided what to get the last of my (and Oz's) family members in terms of gifts, which sets my mind at ease.  I've also gotten most of the Christmas cards personalized, signed, and addressed, so all I have to do is send them out sometime this week.  Still, Christmas is tough, and I know I'll have at least one full-on meltdown between now and the actual day.  It's inevitable.

For now, though, I'm off to have pie for dinner (What? Pie isn't dinner?  I beg to differ) - the kids felt jilted that we had to have Thanksgiving at a restaurant AND there was no cranberry sauce, so I made our own Thanksgiving meal last night, complete with pumpkin and apple pies.  Ahh, pie.  What heavenly bliss on earth...

Monday, November 19, 2012


I haven't posted in more than a week.  I apologize for that.  We've been a little busy.

M1:  He lost his glasses, and we can't find them anywhere.  I suspect he left them at the swim school and someone pitched them, because they aren't in the lost & found, and usually the staff are good at keeping tabs on those sorts of things.  He's got a sassy mouth, which drives me nuts, and he's taken to huffing around the house indignantly almost 24/7.  Tween attitude much?  We've been having a lot of talks about respect and the Golden Rule.  I've been attempting positive reinforcement, but it only goes so far.  Still, he and his sister got up last weekend and made me homemade biscotti with a recipe out of one of his cookbooks, so I can't be too mad at him.

He's been busy with swim, too.  Usually he swims three days a week - team practices twice a week and stroke development once - but his team has been participating in a meet, so we've had a fourth day of swim for the past two weeks.  It was so nice not to have to drive to one this week!  Still, M1 got a second-place ribbon at his meet two weeks ago, for breaststroke.  He's been so proud, and he's finally putting in some real effort at practice in an effort to get that first-place blue.  His swim coach's last day was last Thursday, so they've been in a transition for a while as well.  There's a new coach who has been preparing and training with the team for a while, so it won't be a major thing, but it's still a change.  I'm excited to see what direction the new coach will take.

M2:  Manic, manic, manic.  She's been constantly on the move lately, constantly talking or angry or making projects or whatever.  She had a violin solo festival that she attended last Saturday, and she got all 1s, which is a top score.  They were running a fairly relaxed festival, so she got to pick the color of ribbon that she could take home.  Guess what color she picked?  That's right - pink!

Oz:  Oz has been working, trying to get a ton of work projects finished up before the end of the year.  He's been magnificent and worked out how to hang lights on our house since he can't climb up on the roof like he's always done; we'll probably try to get some hung this coming weekend and finish it up on the 1st.

Me:  I'm just trying to keep up with it all.  Thanksgiving is Thursday, and I always try to have most of my Christmas shopping done before Black Friday.  I haven't gotten *all* of it done this year, but I've gotten probably 3/4 of it completed.  I need to run a couple of errands by myself at some point, but if I get desperate, I can do these things on the Internet - I'd just rather pick these things out in person.  I also have to work out what to do for some extended family members; I have a couple of ideas but nothing firm, and it's getting closer.  *sigh* I really wish gifts weren't 'mandatory.'

Oz and I aren't getting one another gifts this year because we decided to get new bedroom furniture instead.  When we got married, we bought the cheapest bedroom suite we could find because it was all our budget could afford at the time.  It worked - and still works - just fine, but it's not anything I care for.  Now that we have a bigger bedroom, we're moving up to a king-size bed and furniture to go with it.  I'm pretty excited.  It's being delivered tomorrow.  That means, of course, that I won't have anything to open or for Oz to open on Christmas Day, but we're okay with that.  Sacrifices have to be made, and Oz does have a birthday in late January! ;)

School has been plugging along.  M2 is an amazing writer, and M1 continues to astound me with his scientific knowledge and intuition.  Next week will be our halfway point in the school year; hard to believe it's already that far along!

For those of you in the USA, I hope you have a lovely, happy, peaceful Thanksgiving, and I'll be back when I resurface again!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day

It's Veteran's Day.  Some people and places call it Remembrance Day; others call it Armistice Day.  Whatever it is, it's traditionally used to commemorate World War I veterans.  I remember reading the article last year when the last surviving American WWI veteran died and thinking that it was rather sad.  However, I didn't have any relatives who served in the Great War, so it doesn't really hit home for me.  I can teach the children about it, but there's no family connection.

Sometime in the next week, though, the kids and I will sit down and discuss family members who fought (one died) in World War II.  Even though all those who fought in this war as part of our family have passed, I still find it relevant and therefore easier to teach.  My husband's great-grandfather (yes, great-grandfather, I do have my generations correct) died in the Battle of Sunda Strait while serving on the HMAS Perth.  He was only 34 - a year older than my husband is now - and had two young children at home.  We have his medals, so I can share those with the children.  Two of my grandmother's brothers served in WWII as well; one was in the Pacific theater and the other in the European.  The one who was serving in Europe was meant to have taken part in the D-Day invasion. However, he wound up in the hospital for various reasons and had to miss the landing.  Lucky for him, perhaps, but since he was heavily sedated, his parents, sisters and brother didn't hear from him.  They had known he was going to be part of a big offensive, and they didn't know he'd wound up in the hospital, so when they didn't hear from him, they assumed he was dead.  A week or two after D-Day was over and folks all around the country/world were getting bad news, they received a letter from him saying that he was alive and well!  I can't even imagine the relief.

Anyway, all these things are part of the family heritage.  My dad and his seven brothers still aren't sure how none of them got called up during Vietnam, and nobody in our immediate family served in Korea, either.  I have a cousin who's been in the Navy for several years, but really, ours isn't a military family.  Still, I want the kids to know how people served in years past and still serve today.  I want them to recognize that military service is a tough row to hoe.  We may not have any veterans in the family to thank personally, but we know a lot of military families.  So here's to you, veterans and families.  May you never be forgotten.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Dogs.  They are always, always dignified.

At least, that's what Speed Bump would have us believe.

See?  Dogs rule, cats drool.  I'm bringing canine sexy back.
This is my dignified come-hither-into-the-grass stare.
Oh, wait... grass!!
Bump?  Um... I don't think this is...

What?  I'm still dignified!
See?  I'm stretching...
No.  No, Bump, that's not dignified at all.

Ohhhhhh, who cares!  ROLLING FOR THE WIN!!!
C'mon, ladies.  I'm one handsome, dignified dog.

Sorry, Bump.  You just lost all credibility with your audience.  We know what you really are.  But we love you, anyway!