Here’s a little moment in time. Right after I read The Little Fur Family to Huck (for the first time!) the other day, he wanted to read it himself. This is one of my favorite picture books to read with very young kids, and I can’t imagine how it slipped past Huck until now—I found this copy of the book at the bottom of a box of toys earlier in the week. Of course the very best edition is the tiny one with the faux-fur cover. It’s around here somewhere, but I don’t recall seeing it in ages. It’s probably under a bed.
Anyway, when I grabbed my boy for the read-aloud, he was reluctant to listen, as he very often is right at the beginning. And then, as nearly always happens, before I finish the first page, he’s hooked. It went double this time around. He fell hard for the little fur child in the wild, wild wood, like so many before him.
I caught a good chunk of his reading on video. There’s background noise from his big sisters and brother, but you can hear him pretty well. I love watching the leaps kids make at this age—the substitutions where they think they see where the word is going and plug in one they know, like his “fun children” for “fur child” and “mom” for “mother.”
I don’t know if I caught this stage on video with any of the other kids. I have a pretty young Rilla reading an Ariel speech from The Tempest—you can’t hear much in the recording but it melts me to see the confidence with which she attacks some quite challenging text—but nothing, as far as I can recall, of the others at Huck’s stage. I’m glad I captured this much. Those sneezes!
April 15, 2014 @ 8:00 am | Filed under: Books, Photos
…to get the latest Eric Shanower/Skottie Young Oz graphic novel for your birthday.
She’s been waiting for this one for a long time, in girl-years.
April 14, 2014 @ 7:57 pm | Filed under: Family, Photos
Eight. I’m not alone in feeling like this year passed in five minutes, right? This child was practically born on this blog, and I just. can’t. believe. she’s eight years old.
The Little Fur Family (Huck’s first time)
The Secret Garden
April 13, 2014 @ 2:27 pm | Filed under: Books
Golly, more than a week since I posted. I think that’s only happened three or four times in the nine years I’ve been writing this blog. And no big reason; I got sick midweek, a virus that had already made the rounds of the rest of the family, and it walloped me a bit; but not so much I couldn’t have gotten a post or two up, if I’d been inclined. I suppose I was just thrown off rhythm.
Wasn’t reading a whole lot, either, so I had very little to report in my daily reading notes! When I’m sick I always crave Agatha Christie, and I spent the week revisiting a comfortable volume of Miss Marple stories. I first fell under Jane Marple’s gentle spell at age eleven, in a collection found on my aunt shelves. Every year or two when we stayed at her apartment, I hunted that book back out—along with a Lewis Carroll collected works and a volume of Poe stories. I still remember lying in one of the two twin beds in my Aunt Genia’s guest room, flat on my back, the heavy hardbound Poe tome propped on my chest, trying to make sense of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” I found it baffling yet captivating, and I remember being haunted by its terrible choice, falling asleep with the images so sharp in my mind that they carried over into my dreams. I remember rolling into the Pit and awakening with a start.
There’s nothing at all baffling about Miss Marple, and I’m sure that’s why I seek her out when my head is fuzzy.
Beyond that, all last week’s reading was things with the kids. Lots of poetry with the girls—more Donne, a bit of Herbert, and our continuing journey through the Poetry 180 selections, which offer much food for thought. The King’s Fifth, which I read with Jane ages ago but none of the rest remember. The Secret Garden with Rilla. Stellaluna with the three littles. Other picture books I’m forgetting.
A Huck funny I want to remember (I feel a little embarrassed to share it, but I have to remind myself I keep this blog for me, for my own record, and this is most certainly a moment I want to hold on to): he was only three when Fox and Crow Are Not Friends came out, and if it registered with him then that I had written it, the knowledge left no impression. (Like many writers’ children, my younger set are decidedly unimpressed by my profession. Obviously parents shut themselves away for a while every day and write books. That’s ordinary and boring. What’s really interesting are people who drive big trucks.) But Huck is reading quite well now, and when he asked me to read Fox and Crow to him yesterday, he recognized the name on the title page. “That’s your name!” he said.
“Yes,” I explained, “this is one of my books.”
He slowly craned his neck and peered up at me. “That you wrote?” he asked. “You made this story?”
“Yep. And Sebastien Braun drew the pictures.”
And suddenly he threw his arms around my neck and squeezed me tight. “I love this story,” he said. “Thank you, Mommy!”
And that, my friends, just may be the best review I have ever gotten.
April 3, 2014 @ 5:41 pm | Filed under: Books
Before it gets away from me…
The King’s Fifth, two chapters with Rose and Bean
Story of Science, chapter on Newton and light/optics (of course we had to get down our prism and paint rainbows all over the walls)
Sonnet 49, Shakespeare, “Against that time…” with Rose
“Neglect” by R. T. Smith (Poetry 180) with all kids
A number of spring-themed poems from The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” with Rose, and background reading on Swift on my own for prep
The beginning of Gulliver’s Travels, also with Rose
Where the Sidewalk Ends, about half the book, with Rilla and Huck
Now We Are Six, selected poems, with Rilla
The Secret Garden, continued with Rilla (Colin!)
Curriculum Vitae, Muriel Spark, first forty pages or so
Plus all sorts of interesting longform articles for my editorial gig
The weekend: Jane headed back to college, the rest of the kids succumbed one by one to a fairly-short-lived-but-obnoxious-in-the-short-term cold, and I cleaned house all day Saturday to avoid finishing my taxes. And then gardened all day Sunday to avoid same. Did not read much, in part because sitting still and doing something besides taxes was harder to justify than, say, scrubbing floors or mowing the lawn. I mean, I can’t possibly be faulted for procrastinating going through expense receipts when I’m washing walls, can I? You guys, I was even washing walls. My ability to be intensely industrious at all the wrong tasks is unparalleled.
Monday: all but one of the kids have kicked their cold. We’re still in high tide, have got a very groovy groove going, in fact. Rose, Beanie, and I are all enjoying the books we’re reading together, and Latin has been really fun lately. Also, it happened that the episode of Cosmos everyone watched the night before Jane left was all about Sir Isaac Newton, about whom we’ve been reading in The Story of Science. Extremely considerate of the show to time things so conveniently.
I’ve been getting some questions about scheduling lately, both from real-life friends and blog readers, and since I’ve completely dropped the ball on my separate homeschooling blog (if you’ve asked for the login info and I haven’t replied, it isn’t that you’re not welcome; it’s simply that I’ve dropped that ball too, and I haven’t posted there in weeks anyway so you aren’t missing a thing…but feel free to ping me again for the info!) maybe I can give a quick sketch here of a “typical day”—of course we all know there isn’t any such thing, really; they’re all a little different. But we do keep the same rough structure four days a week. The fifth day, which falls in the middle, is for piano lessons and errands and (for Beanie) volunteering at Wonderboy’s school.
6:30ish—the boys wake up, Scott turns on a show for them to watch.
7am—Scott and I get up (sometimes he’s up already). He fixes breakfast for the boys and cocoa for me, and I take my laptop to the couch where the lads are watching their show. Email, etc while I come alive.
7:35—supposed to be 7:30 but I always push it as long as possible. I get up to get dressed, put my contacts in, pack Wonderboy’s lunch. By now he has already gotten dressed and getting ready for school.
8am—I’m in my bathroom brushing my hair and I hear the first bell ring on the other side of our back fence. I jump into my shoes and walk WB around the corner just in time for school.
8:15 (is this too granular? LOL)—I’m back home and now Scott and I leave for our walk. Beanie and Rilla are by now up and dressed (well, Beanie’s dressed), finished with breakfast most likely, and the TV is off. Rose waits for us to leave before dragging herself out of bed. Usually someone is playing piano when we leave and someone else is playing when we get back.
8:45ish—the teens have done their morning chores, Scott and I are back home after our walk (we call it our daily staff meeting), and I grab a yogurt and Scott makes a cup of coffee and we drift to our separate computers to eat/drink/read.
9am sharp—Scott starts work, back in the boys’ bedroom, which doubles as his office during the day. Rilla will likely spend the next hour puttering through her morning chores, which are few and simple but easily interruptible, it seems. Huck is dressed and running around. Mostly he’s counting down the minutes until 9:30, when (after two rounds of breakfast) he gets a snack. Rose and Bean join me in the living room for our lesson time. Now, the sequence of the next 3 hours varies day by day, but here was today’s. 9:00, we started with Poetry. First Poetry 180, two poems today because after we’d read Roethke’s “The Bat” they saw what came next and remembered especially liking that one when we did a chunk of this series with Jane, a couple of years ago: Tom Wayman’s “Did I Miss Anything.” Then John Donne, Meditation XVII (No man is an island…), in our continuing exploration of the metaphysical poets.
9:30? more or less?—Story of Science, the Newton chapters continued. I read aloud, we discuss. 1666, “The Year of Wonders” (Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis designation for the year of the Great Fire, which later came to be applied by scientists to that same year when Newton developed his theory of gravitation, oh and invented calculus, oh and figured out about color and light—that little old year), is a perfect choice for one of our history cards. Have I talked about this here, or only on Facebook? It’s pretty much the most successful idea I’ve ever had, history-wise. We used to keep a giant timeline on one wall, but in this house there’s no perfect spot for it; it was up too high; we never added anything new. A couple of months (?) ago, on a whim, I grabbed index cards and started writing down events or people we’d been reading about, in all our various books. Science stuff, history, literature, music, art, anything I could think of that we’d recently discussed. Person or event on the front, the year on the back. We have had such fun with these cards! Once or twice a week we play a game with them—Rose likes the competition—where I hold up a card and the girls take turns calling out the date and arranging them in sequence. We’ve all nailed down a great many dates that were quite fuzzy even for me before. My original goal was simply to have them be able to identify events in rough sequence, and there were only a few major dates I said they had to absolutely memorize. But the game has hammered nearly all the dates into our heads, mine included. And the cards themselves provide an excellent record of what we’ve studied, and how the different eras we’ve read about this year (19th century American history, Renaissance science, Elizabethan literature) fit together. We’ll be able to keep on adding to the stack: a game without end. Rose was pretty lukewarm on history before, and now she says she wants to minor in it at college.
Anyway, no cards today, I just got onto the subject because we remarked upon 1666 as an important year to make a card for.
All right, so now it’s around 10am, I think?—or a little before? I think next we did math. Beanie watched a MUS video and since Rose didn’t remember that bit, she watched too. By now Rilla and Huck are outside playing, having consumed their snack. Rose likes me to go over the new lessons with her, so we did that. She’s only got two more in this book (geometry), hurrah! (We made cards for geometry last week, too, since she has found them so useful for history. Wrote out all the postulates and properties, with matching cards containing examples. And one very cool thing was that after she’d spread them all out and matched them up, we realized she’d just done all of geometry right there. I mean, all of it that’s covered in this book. The last few lessons are a preview of trig. It was gratifying for her to see the scope of her accomplishment.)
Beanie didn’t need help with her math, so once Rose got on to working her problems, I went out to mow the front lawn. Beanie finished and practiced piano.
10:30—Rilla and Huck went in to get their half-hour on the iPad. I usually reserve this for when I’m reading with the older girls, but today I was still finishing the yard. Rose finished math and did some Memrise.
11am—littles are off iPad, back to playing. Rose downloaded a metronome she needs for a song she’s learning in 5/4 time, but I don’t think she had much time to practice before I called her for the next thing. (She plays for a good bit most afternoons while I’m working, though.) Beanie did 15 minutes of freewriting while I read through a lesson with Rose in an essay-writing book we’re going through. Then Rose went to do the exercise for that chapter while I looked over Beanie’s freewrite.
11:30.—Latin with all three girls. We’ve been using a different book for new vocab but right now we’re using the rather old Latin Book One for some real reading and translation practice. We’re all really enjoying this.
12pm.—Lunch. Huck begged to watch Ponyo. Generally we don’t do any TV or videos at this time of day, but he’s been on a real Ponyo kick lately and was still getting over that cold, so I said yes. He ate his lunch and then fell asleep on the couch, watching the movie. I sat on the front stoop with Rilla, doing a subtraction lesson. Then she went in to eat, and Rose was eating, and Beanie had already finished. Bean and I went into the backyard and dug out a dead plant, and talked about Romeo and Juliet, which she was about to begin reading.
12:30ish?—Somewhere in there, I ate my own lunch. Then Rose and I started Gulliver’s Travels. I gave a bit of background and we read the first chunk together. She’ll continue on her own, but she really likes doing things in tandem. Beanie was reading R&J by this time, and Rilla was doing magical Rilla things.
1:15pm—Rilla’s turn. She was itching to garden, because Mary Lennox. We weeded the front-yard flowerbed and found a snail. After about a half hour, we were both hot and thirsty. Went in for a drink and then read two chapters. Met Dickon! The roses are wick!
2:30—time to pick up Wonderboy. Rilla walked with me, Huck was just waking up. Got home, unpacked, Beanie was doing her afternoon tidy and Rose had the dishes ready. I wash, she rinses. Wonderboy and I chatted, and then he turned on Word Girl.
3pm—Scott came out, and it was time for me to go to work.
Things unusual about this day:
• the Ponyo viewing and Huck’s nap, which meant I didn’t read to him at all!
• gardening with Rilla and reading an extra chapter of Secret Garden meant I didn’t do any of my own reading, which I usually try to squeeze in during the last half hour before Wonderboy gets home. But then I never read as much in spring, do I?
• Most mornings, Rilla sets up camp at the kitchen table with all her drawing supplies while I’m reading to her sisters. She absorbs quite a lot of history and lit that way. But today she was very busy with Huck all morning.
• No German for Beanie, and barely any piano time for Rose. Usually Rose is pounding away every time I turn around. She likes short bursts of practice throughout the day, whereas Beanie will sit down for one long concentrated session.
I imagine any day I picked for this exercise would have about the same number of (totally different) “things that are different about this day.” An orthodontist appointment, a Journey North meeting, a muddy little boy in need of a bath.
March 28, 2014 @ 7:44 pm | Filed under: Books, Poetry
Owls by Rilla. I’m in love.
This morning’s reading:
“Passer-by, these are words…” by Yves Bonnefoy. Such a great discussion we had about this. Rose really loves this poem.
“Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star” by John Donne. Their introduction to the metaphysical poets. We’ll spend the next week or so on Donne, with a little Herbert and Marvell. Read some biographical info on Donne. I always enjoy him so much and it’s been quite a long time since I’ve read him. This meant I put a bit of time in this week reading up, refreshing my memory on these poets. Consequently I haven’t begun a new book yet—but I’ve got the Muriel Spark autobiography burning a hole on my desk.
March 27, 2014 @ 8:09 pm | Filed under: Books
When we go to Balboa Park I always park in the lot that lets me walk past this tree. This Ent, is more like it.
Jane’s been home all week for Spring Break, and a springy springy spring it is. Got the tomatoes in on Sunday, and the flowers are going crazy. I discovered an amaryllis stalk in the patio flowerbed! I had a bulb indoors some years back, and afterward I guess I planted it? And forgot about it. And now here it is. I hope it blooms.
When Rilla and I planted the sweet alyssum and nasturtium seeds that are now bedecking the front yard with abundant bloom, we planted cosmos as well. Only one came up. I have the weirdest luck with cosmos. Usually I plant them and they’re never heard from again. One year I didn’t plant them, and a pink-and-white army arose along the side fence, in a place where nothing ever grows but pepper tree seedlings. But once, and once only. This one is in a new spot, near a cinderblock wall. Maybe it’ll like the location and decide to raise a family.
The week’s reading:
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. Finished it early in the week and it ruined me for reading. Needed some time to sit quietly with it and let the ache subside. (The good kind of ache.) Still haven’t quite committed to anything new.
The usual history things with my girls, and delicious delicious chapters of Secret Garden with Rilla. Mary found the door, she’s just gone inside. Rilla’s reactions make me feel like I’m living it for the first time myself. This spring is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
As long as I’m keeping a record of daily reading, I figured I ought to keep track of the academic lectures I’m taking in as well.
**Update: I’ve added a comment below explaining a bit about how these courses fit into my day.
George Eliot: Intellect and Consciousness. Catherine Brown, Oxford.
Darwin and Design, Lecture 1. James Paradis, MIT.
American Novel Since 1945, Lectures 1-13. Amy Hungerford, Yale.
Introduction to Theory of Literature, Lectures 1-3, 5-6. Paul Fry, Yale.
In the past 18 months:
Modern Poetry, assorted lectures (I’m skipping around). Langdon Hammer, Yale.
The Civil War and Reconstruction Era. David Blight, Yale.
History 2D: Science, Magic, and Religion, Lectures 1-4. Courtenay Raia, UCLA.
MOOCs in progress with kids:
Moons, The Open University FutureLearn.
Shakespeare and His World (selected videos), University of Warwick, FutureLearn.
Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers, California Institute of the Arts, Coursera.
Coursera courses on my own, in progress or last fall:
Scandinavian Film and Television. Multiple instructors, University of Copenhagen. Course in progress. Have watched vids for weeks 1-3 so far. Will probably not get all the way through before the course ends, as these lectures are a bit drier than others I’ve tried, but they’re quite interesting and I’m enjoying them—they just require a bit more focus because the visuals are very important (obviously).
Human Evolution: Past and Future. John Hawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Course just ended. Watched about half the videos. Loved how the professor traveled to various digs and fossil sites.
Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction. Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia. Watched all videos, read several of the books. Great course!
Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations. Sarah Burch & Sara Harris, University of British Columbia. Did about 75% of the course—videos and readings. Showed several of the video lectures to my teens. I wish everyone I know would take this class. Hope it will be offered again.
Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. Al Filreis, University of Pennsylvania. Watched about half the videos, did corresponding readings. I adore this course and look forward to taking it again—in full this time—in the fall.
A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Lectures 1-4.
The Modern and the Postmodern. Michael Roth, Wesleyan University. Weeks 1-5. The reading load got to be more than I could juggle at that point in time but I very much enjoyed the lectures I watched.
jQuery (23% completed)
Web Projects (89% completed)
HTML & CSS (completed)
There are so many appealing courses in literature alone (see this big list at Open Culture), not to mention all the classes I’d like to take in anthropology, history, art history, and various sciences. The Tolkien Professor’s Faerie and Fantasy class sounds especially fun! We were discussing these courses on Twitter this evening and a friend mentioned that she’d love to take one of these, but would be unlikely to finish. I seldom complete an entire course, as my Coursera record above demonstrates. But that doesn’t concern me; I consider each lecture I listen to a gain. I ran out of time to listen to all the Human Evolution lectures, but I learned a vast amount from the ones I did manage to watch. Ditto all the above. I’m exactly halfway through Amy Hungerford’s series on the modern American novel, and while I certainly hope to listen to the rest of the lectures, even if I don’t get back to them I’ve already gained a tremendous amount in terms of new knowledge and food for thought. This is unschooling for adults, and it’s exhilarating—learning as process, not product (that same philosophy that informs our homeschooling life).