Friday, February 18, 2011

Funny (and somewhat inappropriate) Dick and Jane Story

Disclaimer:  Mostly I'm posting this so that I remember it.  I'm hoping it helps me be more empathic when others are dealing with the facts of life when imperfect people, in this case, children, are involved.  Also, it's an example of how, even when we try our very best to create a Godly, nurturing and appropriate learning environment, our children will be children.

Last week I was at the library looking for some early readers for M6.  She's still frustrated by "real" books but bored to tears by Bob books and the like.  I did find some books that we could read together and then I found The Storybook Treasury of Dick and Jane.  M6 was thrilled.  She loved the pictures and was able to read it independently.  She loved it so much she read more than half of it the first day.

The trouble began when S8 caught sight of Dick and Jane.  He is, of course, an eight year old boy.  The book title immediately caught his eye and he proceeded to make fun of poor Dick.  M6 got upset at S8's interpretation of Dick's name.  She was also disgruntled by S8's opinion that Dick was a horrible name for a boy and the typical eight year-old boy laughter that followed. 

At this point, in walked K14.  She heard S8 criticizing Dick's name and M6 lamenting her brother's criticism.  Ever the peace maker, she chimed in with, "You are one to talk, your last name is Johnson."  After a moment of silence and thoughtfulness, S8 began to laugh again and crowed, "That means people could call me Shane Penis."

Weekly Recap 2/14-2/18

It's great to have a working computer and internet connection!  EVERYTHING is now business as usual in our home.  That is this week's highlight for me.

We are back to school in a routine way and it feels wonderful.  Of course, we can't stick to a routine for long.  Next week we'll be traveling to Florida.

This week we finished chapter 2 in Signs and Seasons.  We found it particularly interesting that Dad has had the opportunity to see all the stars in the heavens during his trips to Australia and Brazil.  We all hope we have the same chance someday.  We have plans to make our yard compass if the weather holds once we get back from Florida.

We are reading The Canterbury Tales and I found it especially exciting that our reading of The Pardoner's Tale coincided with our Story of the World 2 chapter on The Plague.  It's nice when learning relates like that especially when it doesn't require a lot of planning.  Our favorite tale so far is The Wife of Bath's Tale.  I guess we are all romantics at heart.

Everyone is moving forward in math.   M6 worked on place value through thousands and carrying when adding.  She seems to have no problem with either concept.  Next week we'll try borrowing during subtraction.  S9 is working on adding and subtracting fractions with different denominators and H11 is adding and subtracting mixed numbers with different denominators.

In reading, M6 got through a variety of blended sounds (ng, sh, etc.) in reading.  She is really enjoying reading the old Dick and Jane readers I found at the library.  I'll post a funny (and somewhat inappropriate) story about that later

We are listening to Pinocchio in the car.  We've enjoyed several parts of the story but have been very surprised at how little it resembles the familiar Disney version.  H11 and I agree that the writing style and the narrator remind us of The Book of Lost Things.  Later this afternoon we'll be making a trip to the library to stock up on audio books for our trip next week.

Because we've been so many weeks without convenient internet access I've got some pictures that should have gone with recaps of weeks past. Rather than going back to recap, I'm going to include the pictures here. Enjoy!

Really silly sentences.

A battle between knights.

Finding equivalent fractions.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Color of Grief

I never thought about grief as a color before but I’m beginning to feel that it is. The degree of grief, or perhaps the nature, seems to affect the hue but I feel confident in saying that the color of grief is gray.

The grief that I experienced during our move, grief over leaving a home, friends, and lifestyle that I really enjoyed, was almost transparent. Pearl gray shimmered like the fog in a valley on a spring morning. And like the fog, that grief moved to cover only a particular thing at a particular time, passing away quickly. It’s presence was almost unnoticed.

The grief of our failed closing and the wait that followed was a smoke gray. Unlike the fog I described previously, this grief was greasy and it hung on everything. Think of the stain left behind after a smoker, or group of smokers leaves a room. The texture and look of everything in the room changes. Or the damage that is done at the top of a wall even after the least destructive house fire. The evidence of the fire remains behind in a stain, difficult to hide and impossible to remove without replacing all it covers. The uncertainty of each day and of our future, in a limited way, were being determined by someone else and I felt the loss of control and the slipping away of a dream in each moment of the day. It wasn’t a choking grief, but the physical presence, that greasy gray, was constantly with me.

The grief I’m feeling with the loss of our dog is an ocean gray. Rolling and powerful, I look hopefully at every door and window. I pray for his safe return and I listen for his bark. It’s been more than 24 hours. It’s below freezing outside. It’s been snowing off and on. I pray that he’s with a family in a warm house. I wonder why no one has called the number on his tag. My thoughts stray to the darker parts of the gray waves, pulled there by the current that would suck me under. I fight to stay in the weak sunlight that is available.

I’m reminded of a dream that my foreign exchange student had about me during her stay last year. She came to breakfast upset and told me she’d dreamed that one of my children had died and that I hadn’t cried. I wondered about that dream. I wondered if I were really the frozen mother in her dream or if, rather, I would feel the loss of a child in a way that robbed me of any feeling. As an accident victim is often protected from the true pain of an injury by the body’s amazing ability to compensate and cover pain would my mind work to keep me from feeling the true depth and nature of my loss. I wondered if I would be leveled by the death of a child or I’d not feel anything. Maybe something in between or maybe both. I still don’t know. I don’t even want to imagine how dark and powerful that gray of grief would be.

And so, in this gray, this rolling gray, I continue to pray and hope and gasp for air. In my head, I know that a dog is a dog. In my heart, I know that this dog is a member of our family and that his loss is just as real and as valid as the loss of any loved one.

Chickens for Dummies

R and I started attending Small Farm College two weeks ago. We are attending as our first step toward figuring out what in the world we are going to do with our farm now that we’ve bought it. I’m sure sensible people would have figured that out before they bought a farm. We saw an opportunity to fulfill a dream and took it. As so often happens when dreams come true, reality has a way of being… well, real. As a result of this realness, we have 37 acres, a barn, several outbuildings and very little clue of what we are going to do next.

R has the hopes that we will be able, over time, to turn this 37 acres into something that provides enjoyment and income. Most of the time, I just hope that I don’t lose my mind in the process. Don’t get me wrong. I have farm dreams too. Mine center around sunshine and green fields, beautiful flowers and children playing. These dreams are filled with prosperous vegetable gardens and fragrant herbs. Bees busy busily in and out of gleaming white boxes. Chickens peck quietly at the ground in the yard. Everything is lovely and peaceful. In my perfect farm world, there is a book and a glass of wine after a satisfying day of work while we enjoy the sunset. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Now, we just have to figure out how to make it happen. And so, I am reading books about chickens and bees and farming in general. As I read these books, I have discovered how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I am also learning that farmers assume that the rest of the world knows a lot more about what they do and about how it’s done that I do.

Today I was reading a book about chickens. It’s called Keeping Chickens: The Essential Guide to Enjoying and Getting the Best From Chickens by Jeremy Hobson and Celia Lewis. The photos in the book are lovely. They truly represent chickens in their best light and the book is worth getting just for the pictures. However, when you get into the text, it is not a book for beginning chicken owners. The authors assume a base of knowledge and ability that is far beyond what I possess. Admittedly, the closest I’ve been to a chicken in the last 30+ years involves preparing, cooking, cutting and eating. I don’t even deal with chicken bones or skin. I do buy organic, local chicken so at least I’ve been close to "real" chicken but it was most assuredly dead and plucked.

As a result, I know less than nothing about live chickens. While I enjoy seeing the chicken pictures, what I need are step by step instructions on how to set up a coop, purchase birds and what to do to keep things going smoothly. I need pictures of feeders, watering systems, roosts and nesting boxes. When someone is as clueless as I am, nothing can be assumed. For example, this book spends a lot of time talking about showing chickens. Sadly, I admit that my first thought at the mention of showing chickens was…Show them what? As you’ve already guessed, that’s not what the authors meant. Evidently there are people that have chicken shows. I can only guess that these are similar to dog shows. My imagination comes up with all kind of chicken show activities; loudest cackle, longest feathers, biggest breasts, fastest layer…the possibilities are endless. I wonder if the chickens have to show their intelligence and carriage or if they are judged totally on their looks. Either way, for someone like me, the chicken clueless, the idea of a chicken show is beyond anything I’m prepared to face.

I haven’t checked Amazon yet but I’m pretty sure there’s got to be a book out there for me. (See!  I knew they'd have it!)  Chicken for Dummies is just what I need, provided that it tells me how to get my chickens, what to do with them once I bring them home and, especially, how to keep them alive. If it tells me how to get them to lay eggs so I can enjoy the fruits of their labor, all the better.

The really silly thing is that I have a great chicken coop. It is the original carriage house on our farm. It’s two stories high and divided into three rooms and a closet. Inside the walls and ceiling are lined with chicken wire. I’m thinking that the plan there is it keep predators out and chickens in. The result is that there several decades of really questionable dirt and debre stuck between the walls and ceiling and the wire. Inside, there are also a variety of shelves, boxes, bins and troughs. I’m fairly certain that each of these has a chicken purpose but I’m not sure exactly what they might be.

Maybe I just need to forget the books and call in a chicken expert. I’m sure the farm’s previous owner, Bob, will be glad to lend me his assistance. He’s been here once since we moved in and it’s easy to tell that he misses the farm and would be a wealth of knowledge. My fear is that if I ask Bob for help with the chickens they will no longer be my chickens and I’ll be seeing a whole lot of Bob. I’m not sure I’m that brave nor am I sure I want to let someone else know how chicken stupid I am.

Once again, I find myself so thankful that we moved into our farm in January. The time to figure it out is really precious to me. And whatever path I take on my chicken quest, I know that there are resources available. I also know that I can do this and that the results will be worthwhile.

Weekly Recap: Jan 17-21, 2011

It feels odd to be thinking about school in a focused way again. It seems like so long since I felt able to do that. My thoughts and attention have been so consumed with the day to day needs of a family and the chaos of the move. Nothing happened as we expected it to yet, here we are, just where we were intended to be.

Much of this week was spent in unpacking but we did do some very intentional schooling. We finished The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green. It was no coincidence that much of the play this week has centered around forests, knights and merry men with a brave maiden or two. I loved Maid Marian and was happy to see her become a part of my daughters’ role playing.

We also began grammar again. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone is right where they should be according to the "master" schedule that I put together without a move in mind. Bonus for us! Math time was spent reviewing addition and subtraction for M6 and multiplication facts for S8 & H11. We’ve been working on time and money since Christmas so I felt like we needed to make sure our facts were still solid. They are.

M6 started her "aLatin" studies again. We are behind so we were able to remind ourselves of Christmas by learning the words for shepherd, star, baby, angel and lamb. M6 was even able to put her Latin to use by sharing with her dad that one of his favorite beers, Stella Artois, contains the Latin word for star. Not exactly the use I had in mind for Latin but at least she can see some practical applications for learning the language.

Next week will be business as before the move, I hope. Things are put away to the degree that we really have no excuse. I think we are all ready to get back to a normal routine. I know I am.

This, Just This - January 21

There are so many decisions that we make in life. Some are well thought out, others are poorly planned. Very seldom do we get a moment of peace where we can point and say, "This, just this is why I chose as I did." Today, I got that moment.

Four beautiful children clothed in mismatched snow clothes, gloves and hats, an unruly dog escorting them across a perfect blanket of snow white under a smooth blue sky. My angels making snow angels where no one else had or would walk. That was my moment.

We may not have all of our things in place. We don’t have internet service, cable or an in-state driver’s license but at this moment I can say, "This, just this is why we made this choice and are in this place." I pray that there are many more moments that point to the rightness of our choice. I also pray for enough inner peace to recognize those moments when they come.

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse - January 15-18

This move was a lesson in reduction. While we knew that the house we were moving into was smaller than the house we left, we weren’t sure how that would work with the furniture and possessions that we had. It’s difficult to picture how the pieces would fit into the new place.

Before our move began, we gave away two beds, several pieces of furniture and a variety of miscellaneous items. Two pick up truck loads left our house; one filled with items to donate, the other filled with trash. We thought we’d gotten rid of much of our unnecessary baggage.

Upon arriving at our new home, we found that there was even more to reduce, reuse or recycle. The previous owners had left quite a bit of stuff behind when they vacated. They took all they could fit in their single Ryder truck beginning with the most desirable items and left the rest. We inherited a living room set, a fully, if poorly, outfitted kitchen and an attic stocked with air mattresses along with various outdoor furniture pieces a barn full of bits and pieces of garbage.

As we found homes for things, our and those we’d inherited, we filled boxes with more items for which we had no need. We gave the living room set to friends that were very happy to receive it. We discovered that most of our furniture made the transition and looked right at home in our new place. We found new uses for some items, a bookcase became a home for sweaters, shirts and shoes. The kitchen dinette we inherited found it’s way to the screen porch. I’m sure we’ll enjoy it when the weather is warmer.

All our possessions found a home. We were especially grateful for a large attic and several outbuildings even as we gave up our attached garage. The propane lines were located, the regulator moved and the tank filled on January 18. It was good to have heat through the entire house.

The house is beginning to be a home. All the boxes are unpacked, the furniture is arranged, pictures have even been hung. It’s not all done but it’s more than half way. We are starting to find a routine. We still get confused in the kitchen. The refrigerator is on the wrong side. Before long, it will be just where it should. As will everything else, including us.

Moving Day - January 13 and 14

Our moving van was scheduled to arrive on Thursday morning between 8 and 9am. Unfortunately, the snow and the size of the truck conspired to make the move more difficult than anticipated. We expected that the big truck would be unable to make it down to the house. We let the moving company know that a shuttle truck would most likely be necessary to transfer our things from the big truck to our house. We didn’t expect the big truck to get stuck before arriving at a safe unloading location. After a two hour delay while we waited for the tow truck to get the big truck back on the road, our unloading went smoothly and quickly. By 7pm four hundred thirty-six yellow stickered items were placed in the house and outbuildings. Bed and tables were assembled and the moving crew was on their way.

We only had heat in part of the house. We had boxes stacked from floor to ceiling and door to door. It was impossible to see how the house might look when all was put away or even how it would be humanly possible to put the things away. We’d traded a 4000 square foot house in a subdivision for a 3000 square foot house and 37 acre farm. Our joy at actually being in the house was tempered with the uncertainty of the future we could only imagine. As a family, we chose to focus on the joy and toasted our move with champagne and kiddie wine as we prepared our second meal in our home.

The following morning, the unpacking crew arrived and set to work unloading boxes. The thing about unpacking is that the unpackers only empty the boxes and set the contents on a flat surface. They don’t put anything away and if you can’t keep up with them, at least a little, you can end up with a really big mess. Thankfully, my friend Sharon came over and took charge of the family room bookcases while I manned the kitchen. I was hopeful that recovering from the unloading of boxes in the bedrooms, living room and dining room would be manageable. Other than the mistaken unloading of several Christmas boxes, it was. The unpackers left with about one hundred and fifty empty boxes and the accompanying mountain of paper. Since that was really the point, getting rid of the boxes and paper, the morning was a complete success.

By late afternoon, Sharon and I had things reasonably under control. Books were on shelves and kitchen cabinets were filled. It would all take some fine tuning but the boxes were no longer blocking the doors and piled to the ceiling. We could walk through the house and see how it might, someday, be our home.

Anticipation - January 11 and 12

We had anticipated closing on our property and moving into our new house on December 30. It was not to be. Instead we spent ten nights in the local Comfort Inn and eleven days eating at restaurants. It was an unexpected detour and expense on the way to our new home. I really believed that we all made the best of a difficult situation.

We were so relieved on January 11 when we received the call that our mortgage had been approved and we could close at the end of the day. Filling out the paperwork and signing the forms seemed like almost a let down after the hours of waiting.

Since we’d never been in the house as a family, we decided to spend our last night in the hotel but to drive over to the house to visit it together. The snow started at about 3pm and by the time we reached the house, everything was coated in white. It looked like a perfectly set Christmas card picture.

We enjoyed time familiarizing ourselves with our new place and tried to picture our life there. The previous owners had left quite a bit of furniture and other supplies including pans, plates and utensils. We engaged in a rowdy Nerf gun battle. R carried me over the threshold while the children rolled their eyes and smiled with their whole faces.

By the time we left the house, the roads had gone from Christmas card lovely to borderline dangerous. R had his truck complete with four wheel drive and managed the climb out with no problem. My own front wheel drive van was a bit more challenged and I was thankful when R switched vehicles with me. His own snow driving experience enabled him to get the van out and had us on our way after a fearful breakdown on my part.

The next morning we said goodbye to our hotel friends, packed our van and made our round-about way to the house. Required stops on the way included grocery store, electric company and library. We arrived at the house to find a dear friend already at the house and our front walk and driveway cleared of snow and ice.

Settling in began almost immediately, at least as much as it could until our furniture arrived the next day. We were most thankful for the kitchen gear that the previous owner had left because it enabled us to eat dinner in our own home.

Whether the new house and the new life would live up to our expectations remained to be seen but the anticipation of ownership had certainly been fulfilled.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Settling In

There's something comforting about returning to some place with which you are familiar.  It easy to find your way around.  You know which stores are available and you have contacts already established in an area.  In a way that makes things easier. 

There's also something confusing about returning to some place with which you are familiar.  While you were away, life continued.  You've changed and the people in that place have changed.  It's all different and all the same.

We've settled into our house.  Our furniture is the same, some of it's been moved to different places.  I feel like we are in a smilar situation.  We are the same but we've been moved. 

Last night we had friends over for the Super Bowl.  Mostly, they were friends from our life before we moved away.  Some of them were acquaintances during our previous life here.  This time they may become friends.  It's too soon to tell.  I am thankful for these renewals of friendship. I'm excited to see the new friendships we develop.

Entertaining in our new house was fun.  It's a good house for company.  There's enough room to serve food and seat guests.  The kitchen has great flow but it's not a place to stand and visit.  To me that is perfect.  Too often, in our last house, everyone would stand around in the kitchen and I'd never get them out and into comfortable seats. We didn't use the more formal living areas this time.  I'm sure will in the future.  And I can't wait for the summer time.  We've got some beautiful desks and an amazing yard.  It's going to be fun to share them with friends.  Maybe we'll add a summer solstice party to our traditions.

The house is unpacked and we've begun doing the normal things of life here.  Living each day as if we belong here and are planning to stay.  We are settling in.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekly Recap 1/31 -2/4/11

This week has been a great one.  We finally found a routine and groove in our new house and public school was in session all week with no delayed starts.  Since we enrolled K14 in public school when we moved, it makes a difference in our schedule and the general rhythm of the house when she's home unexpectedly.

We finished reading Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray this week.  All the children really enjoyed the story and the characters.  It had just enough suspense and a perfect ending.  I think the loss of our dog last week also enabled them to really sympathize with how Adam felt about Nick's absence.

We began Signs and Seasons for science and so far it has been very well received.  I'm hoping the weather will hold next week and give us the opportunity to mark out our compass in the yard.

Our Bible study is still going well.  It's not as much fun since we don't get to meet with our CBS group on Thursdays but we are still learning about God and ourselves.  I'm going to have to figure out something for M6 to do since she doesn't have a study guide.  So far she's been happy drawing pictures.

H11 begged to stop First Form Latin and try S8's Latina Christiana.  That's worked well so far.  She seems to be much more confident and is moving though the material quickly.  They made vocabulary flashcards this week and have enjoyed quizzing each other.

M6 and I discovered the We Both Read books at our new library this week.  We've been reading Dr. Seuss books while waiting for our copy of The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading to be delivered.  The We Both Read books are perfect for us right now.  They allow M6 to enjoy an  interesting story and to feel like successful reader.  She especially enjoys the fact that she gets a little break between her reading pages.  We will continue to enjoy these books even after we get back to our regular reading program.

In the evenings this week, we spent time watching Ancients Behaving Badly.  I got the DVDs from our library because it has an episode on Ghengis Khan.  There were also episodes on Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Nero, Hannibal, Alexander the Great and others.  Admittedly, these do focus on the negatives of these leaders but they were interesting.  I was surprised at how much the children remembered about the leaders we studied last year.  Plus, we had lots of discussions about how the video was scewed to show only the behaving badly parts.  We also talked about how leaders did do things that wouldn't be considered nice and it tied in nicely with a reminder about King John and the Magna Carta.  I doubt these are for every family due to the focus of the content but they've been worthwhile for us.

The high this week is feeling like the move is behind us.  Boxes are unpacked and life is moving on.  It's good to be home and back to school.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Wishing for Warmer Weather

Preparing to Begin

It seems unreal that we've been "at home" for almost three weeks now.  I can't decide whether it seems like just yesterday we were buried in boxes or it seems like a lifetime ago.  Either way, we are truly getting settled here now.  We've held school consistently for two weeks.  In fact, we've been WAY more consistent than the public schools thanks to the normal conditions offered up by winter weather.

I've got a file of blog posts to add when I get my computer, an old wi-fi less desktop, to communicate with my new, super wonderful, wi-fi hotspot.  Until then, I'll just muddle on as best I can.  If you are a faithful reader, know that the gaps will be filled in as soon as I open the lines of electronic communication.

I went to the library today and checked out more books on farming.  It's good to feel comfortable enough with the progress of the house to focus on something besides boxes.  We had our first small farm college class last week.  The night was an overview of things to come with an emphasis on goal setting, mission statements and writing a business plan.  We have been working this week on writing a mission statement but the business plan has us stymied.  We are really unsure about what we can do with the farm.  The possibilities are almost overwhelming and we are looking to this course to help us find focus.  At the very least, it will give us time alone together weekly for the next three months.  That's definitely worth the price!

I suppose I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that all is going well and that I intend to keep blogging.  It feels like I've been gone for way too long.  It's wonderful to be at a place where things feel like they are beginning instead of being in limbo.  It's good to be home.