As often as not, this is what our Poetry Teatime looks like: circus animal cookies on a Dominoes napkin. Yesterday we didn’t even remember to bother with something to drink. Although it doesn’t take much to elevate the event (plates would be a good start) 😉 — there are days when you know you’ll miss your moment if you don’t jump right in. This was one of those days. We had just enough time left in our morning for a no-frills poetry teatime and a short nature walk, or a frillier tea and no walk at all. The vote was to squeeze in both.
Huck certainly doesn’t care, as long as poetry teatime contains the two essentials: cookies + Shel Silverstein. He had us all howling with “The Nap Taker” (“I did not take a nap— / The nap took me”). Beanie picked the Lewis Carroll collection (more howls) and Rilla chose a family favorite: Jack Prelutsky’s Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was. (When she read “The Multikertwigo” I had such déja vu. I will always hear that poem in wee Jane’s four-year-old voice.)
This is a stellar deal: If you’re a new Creativebug customer, you can try a membership for just $1 for three months. I’ve raved about Creativebug many times in the past—we make good use of our subscription ($4.95/month), which gives us unlimited access to hundreds of classes. I pretty much always have a Creativebug challenge going in my sketchbook. Particular favorites are classes by Lisa Congdon, Pam Garrison, Jennifer Orkin Lewis, and Yao Cheng. Those all fall under the drawing and painting category, but Creativebug offers dozens of classes in knitting, crocheting, sewing, baking, soapmaking, and loads of other crafty things. I really consider it one of our best and most economical homeschooling resources.
Affiliate links, but I’m a genuinely happy customer. I couldn’t be more impressed with this platform.
The elementary-aged program is called German With Felix and Franzi, a cartoon frog and duck who move from Berlin to London. Each lesson begins with a short animated video. Supplementary materials include a Powerpoint with vocabulary-practice activities (we download them, move the words and pictures around as directed, and then close without saving changes), as well as music and lyrics for a couple of songs. The site is loaded with additional resources, and I’ve only just begun to mine the possibilities.
While the animation tends toward the preschool end of the spectrum, the lesson content is just right for my two beginners, ages 8 and 11. We work through several lessons a week, beginning each day’s session with a re-watch of earlier videos in the series, with the speed bumped up to 1.5 to help with comprehension. (Since conversational speakers usually talk a lot faster than the characters in educational videos.)
—watch one or two of the videos whose content they’ve already learned;
—watch the next new lesson in the series;
—sing a few of the songs;
—(maybe) play with the Powerpoint activities;
—(maybe) watch a few other German children’s song videos on Youtube—not part of Felix & Franzi, just things we find in search;
—(later in the day) Rilla does a Memrise lesson. (Huck’s not a fan.)
It’s a good format for us and I’m pleased with their progress.
Beanie, with several years of German under her belt already, has been investigating the Goethe Institut resources for more advanced students. She especially enjoys the music playlists.
This was an accidental find last month, right when I needed a nudge, and so far the program gets high marks from me. Which is saying something, because I do believe I’ve tried just about every foreign language program on the homeschooling market, at some point or other!
The black curagh working slowly through this world of grey, and the soft hissing of the rain gave me one of the moods in which we realise with immense distress the short moment we have left us to experience all the wonder and beauty of the world.
This week Beanie and I reached the J. M. Synge episode of The Irish Identity. The quote above found me at the perfect time, as I neared the end of Emily St. John Mandel’s lovely Station Eleven, and on the day the President announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Even after the people of the south island, these men of Inishmaan seemed to be moved by strange archaic sympathies with the world. Their mood accorded itself with wonderful fineness to the suggestions of the day, and their ancient Gaelic seemed so full of divine simplicity that I would have liked to turn the prow to the west and row with them for ever.
Huck, tearing down the hall: WHOOO, I’M ON AUTOPILOT!
Rilla, tenderly: Honey, I turned your autopilot off.
S. got his new hearing aids—big excitement. His old pair were over five years old, and after a while the quality degrades. The new ones have some bells and whistles we’re still getting used to.
I just realized that the next time he’s due for new aids, he’ll be eighteen. Holy cats.
I’m teaching my second class for Brave Writer this month, nearing the end of Week 2. This one is called “Penning the Past” and is about writing historical fiction. And I’m having a ball. My students come up with the best stuff! I’m going to have to raise the bar on my own writing to keep up with their inventiveness.
I’ll be teaching another section of Comic Strip Capers this summer and possibly another one next fall. Registration for the summer section opens June 5th. I’ll share the registration link in the coming weeks.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond: you know, I don’t think we touched it all week. We kept getting swept along by the Moomins and forgetting to come back to the Puritans.
In part our neglect of history this week is because Rilla and Huck and I got swept into a collaborative Minecraft project. We’re building a fairy tale village. (Photo to come later.) So far, we have Rapunzel’s tower and the Three Little Pigs’ huts. I think today we may begin work on the gingerbread cottage. So much fun. We got the idea from my friend Christy, whose kids made their own Minecraft fairy tale world a while back. I often pull Minecraft into our studies…for example, when we were reading about Jamestown, we found some videos showing Jamestown replicas people have built in the game.
I had more to share but the 9:00 bird just chirped and it’s time for me to live high tide instead of write about it. 😉 I’ll toss this post up now instead of waiting to finish later—because lately it seems like later never comes! Hope you’ve all had a good week.
The antlion bit was especially fun. On Tuesday, as I was finishing our Moomintrolls chapter, I noticed that the next chapter was the one with the antlion in it, and I wasn’t sure either Huck or Rilla knew what that was. So without telling them why, I grabbed our Handbook of Nature Study and we read a bit about them. And then of course we needed to see one. We watched a short National Geographic video and then followed the suggested link to this delightful video made by a homesteading dad, accompanied by his four young children. At least, I think I counted four.
The video is embedded below, along with one for The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy—our folk song this week.
A bonus post for today! But this one’s mostly for me: another little addition to our family collection of All About Weeds stories.
Strangely, I can’t find the first All About Weeds story in my archives. I’m sure I must have written about it here! But maybe not. Maybe it was pre-Bonny Glen, a tale posted to a homeschooling message board instead. I suppose it must have been, now I think about it: my Amazon history tells me I purchased the book on July 13, 2002. And it entered our lives as a library book some time before that. Which fact (its being a library book) provides the drama of the first anecdote, actually.
We’d moved to Virginia only a few months earlier (on New Year’s Day, 2002, as a matter of fact). When spring arrived, O glorious mid-Atlantic spring with its abundance of dogwood and redbud blossoms, I was in a mania to know every single plant growing in our yard. Among the books I checked out from the adorable train-depot-turned-library in our little town was a rather dusty tome about weeds. I did say every plant.
I flipped through the weed book but I found it rather dry, and besides, I was sidetracked by what would become a years-long obsession with Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards. (Chip, meet block.) All About Weeds sat neglected (so I thought) on a table for a day or two, and then I returned it to the library.
Soon after, Jane (age sevenish, I think? heavens, that was a long time ago) came to me, came to me all in a dither. Where, she begged most earnestly to know, WHERE was that fascinating weeds book?
When I told her I’d returned it to the library, she was crushed. It was the BEST BOOK EVER, I was informed (in tones conveying, yes, both capitals and italics). Full of the MOST INTERESTING information.
And as my shopping history testifies, so persuaded was I of the merits of this superior tome that I purchased a copy for keeps.
Second book mentioned (though not by name): All About Weeds, a Jane favorite for years. Seriously.
(Ah, there you go. Not mentioned by name. I’ll have to dig up that post.)
I find it mentioned in a March, 2006 post called “The Tide Is Going Out“—an early exploration of my tidal homeschooling concept.
The other day a neighbor asked me if we take a spring break. I laughed and said, “Yes—the whole spring!”
We’ve had such a pleasant time the last couple of months, immersing ourselves in some good books and other forms of study. Now the outdoors is beckoning, and our daily rhythms are shifting. Spring is calling us, urging us out of the house. We are a bunch of Mary Lennoxes, unable to resist the rustlings and chirpings, the spikes of green, the gypsy winds.
I keep finding cups of water on the counter with tiny blossoms floating like fairy lily pads: the first bluets and starry white chickweed flowers. Chickweed, so Jane tells me, is an edible plant and quite tasty. (“Like sugar snap pea pods, Mom.”) She has begged me not to uproot the vast patch of it that has taken over a stretch of our backyard mulch bed, just uphill from the strawberries. Another weed, a purple-flowered plant the children call “cow parsley,” is popping up all over the lawn, much to their delight: they suck the nectar from the itty bitty orchid-like blossoms and proclaim it better than the honeysuckle they’ll seek out later in the summer.
Jane, who had been binging on math during the past three weeks, seems to have shifted her attentions to botany. I find myself tripping over her tattered copy of All About Weeds everywhere I go, and upstairs, the microscope is much in demand for the viewing of leaf cross sections. An experiment involving scarlet runner beans has become the centerpiece on the kitchen table.
So there we are, four years later, and Weeds is still in constant use. It seems wee 2002 Jane hadn’t been overstating her affections.
A month after that, April 2006: “Things to Do While Your Mother Is in the Hospital” (delivering your baby sister). This one—which is the post that sparked today’s story and this entire trip down memory lane—made me laugh pretty hard. (Not at poor Rose’s plight. At The Book’s role in her recovery.)
If you are seven…
…get stung under the chin by a wasp.
If you are ten…
…recall a passage from that scintillating classic, All About Weeds, describing the sting-soothing properties of yarrow, and concoct a poultice of newly emerging yarrow leaves with which to soothe your little sister’s wasp sting.
Well done, young Jane!
Which brings me to today. Huck’s birthday post keeps turning up melt-my-heart tidbits in the “related posts” widget at the bottom of the page. I was clicking along a little baby-picture rabbit trail when I happened upon the “things to do” post above. Rilla, who was aww-ing over my shoulder at her adorable baby brother’s toddler antics, was transfixed by this glimpse at what her big sisters were up to on the day she was born. She read the post breathlessly, pausing only to interject “Oh, I love that book!” at the bit about “that scintillating classic.”
The chip doesn’t fall far from, er, the older chip.
We found the book, you know, during last week’s grand shelf-cleaning. It has been returned to its permanent spot on Jane’s bookcase.
Huck this morning: “Why are you on a site called Goo Dreads?”
Dread is actually an apt word for my feelings about catching up my Goodreads, which (thanks to Cybils) is about thirty YA novels behind. I’m trying, but it wants time I do not have. And then there’s my booklog here at Bonny Glen, which is a whole other task. Maybe I’ll outsource it to a kid.
Today’s picture book: Hedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett. A natural choice after yesterday’s pick. I think this one may be my favorite of Brett’s Hedgie stories. And the needlepoint patterns in the margins have me itching to paint. Maybe that’ll be my drawing challenge subject for the day.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m hoping to sketch every day this year. A few weeks ago, Scott remarked offhandedly that I ought to draw more bears. So during that night’s art date with Rilla, I pulled up a Google image search and tried my hand at a few. Yesterday I attempted a polar bear. I went right to the good paper, which might have been a disaster because I thoroughly botched the proportions and put the face way too low. Fortunately I have learned to use something water-soluble for my first rough sketch. (Or pencil. I love pencil. A lot of instructors tell you to avoid pencil, but I think they see relative shapes a lot better than I do. I need to be able to shift things around. Like when the nose ends up where the chin should be.) I often begin with a blue or brown watercolor pencil and go over that with black waterproof ink. Lately I’m enjoying a gray Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen. When I mess up on my first pass, as I inevitably do, I can blur the mistakes into shadow with a waterbrush. The bear is still messy but I was much happier after I redid his face in black ink.
Someone asked how I’m finding time to keep up the sketchbook practice, given all the work on my plate this year. The answer is: I give it fifteen minutes a day. That’s all. I mean, there are days when I get lucky and find some extra time, like if I sit on a bench and draw while the kids are at the playground. But sometimes I prefer to read during playground time instead. And so I’ve committed a quarter of an hour to sketching every evening at 9pm. Fifteen minutes isn’t much. (That’s a big part of why that polar bear is so messy.) But it’s something. It’s what I can manage, for now, and that’s enough.
This morning I sorted two bookcases’ worth of books. I’ve pulled together a new row of picture books for our daily selections—enough to last us for four months, if we read one a day. Every book I handled felt like another conversation, a whole post unto itself. It’s funny that I had so many days last year where I couldn’t come up with anything to blog about—I learned a long time ago all I have to do is walk over to one of my shelves.
At one point this morning I had at least a hundred books in piles on the floor, swallowing the room, when I came across our copy of Material World. Which, if you haven’t seen it, is a collection of photographs of families around the world with all their material possessions spread in front of their homes. The variation between quantity of stuff from family to family is staggering. We Americans, we…accumulate a lot of things. Like, say, books.
We finished Understood Betsy just before the holidays, and now I need to choose the next readaloud. Scott read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever the whole family (including the college kids and me), which bought me time to decide, but…I’m still undecided. We still have so many great books in the pile for this year! Jane (still home for winter break) is plumping for The Firelings. Which may have been one of the first readalouds I ever wrote about on this blog. Maybe it’s time. 🙂
After the morning’s bookcase jamboree, I took the younger kids to the playground. I’ve been a lot better about this lately—you know my older girls practically grew up at local parks, but rhythms change when you have teens, and park visits had all but disappeared from our routine for a while. But last fall I stepped it back up. They’re old enough that I can sit, as I said, and read or sketch. Or catch up on blogs. 🙂 Which makes me That Mother you see condemned in posts that make the rounds occasionally—you know, the ones written in tones half imploring, half scolding, about much you miss when you’re staring at your phone while your kids are playing. “I watched your beautiful daughter twirling around in joy and you—you missed it. Because Facebook.” Those always make me laugh. I’m like: honey, I have been taking my kids to the playground since 1995. I have stood in line at the post office with an imaginary goldfish in my hand. I have sat on hospital beds entertaining a toddler with playdough by the hour. I’ve spent all morning homeschooling them. I’ve read thousands of books out loud. Literally thousands! So here at the playground? I’m good. They’re, you know, playing. They don’t need me hovering over them on the jungle gym. In fact, you just know the next article in my feed is going to be a screed against helicopter parenting. So I’m just going to sit here with my magical smartphone and catch up on some reading. Or play a game. Or maybe even goof around on Facebook. Which is where I happened to be when I came across your post, so don’t pretend you aren’t doing the same thing.
Favorite playground moment today: we’d just arrived and my kids were already up the hill toward the play equipment. As I got out of the minivan, a preschooler in a bright orange shirt jumped out of the next car over, took two steps onto the grass, and shouted, “I’m here!” To no one, and everyone.
Today was too chilly for sitting on a bench. (Sorry, Facebook.) We had unusually heavy rains recently (I mean, it’s San Diego; rain is unusual, period) and there were big sploshy puddles all over the place. The kids mostly avoided them by keeping to the mountain peaks of the jungle gym. I decided to get a bit of exercise in by walking laps around the wide, flat grassy area adjacent to the playground. You can see the play area from the whole circumference, so you don’t even have to miss That Mother’s beautiful daughter twirling around in ignored joy if you choose.
I pulled up an audiobook I started several months ago, Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful Landmarks, which is about the language we use for things in nature—terrain, weather, flora. Specifically: the “place-words” of the United Kingdom. When last I listened to this book, I was playing Minecraft. And as soon as the new chapter loaded and the narrator with his wonderful accent began reading the opening lines, my mind was flooded with images of the house I’d built in that particular Minecraft world—a birch cabin on a bluff overlooking a river, with a village in the distance and a craggy mountain rising behind. I remember thinking at the time that Landmarks was the perfect book to listen to while playing Minecraft, since both are so thoroughly centered around terrain. It was also perfect for listening to on a brisk walk through a soggy park. Macfarlane even mentioned a Scottish word for “a person who is walking briskly”—I need to get hold of a hard copy and look it up, because I missed it on the walk, what with all the puddle-sploshing.
It’s terrible, in fact—every other sentence made me long for a print edition of the book to mark up and dog-ear—on the very day when I’ve embarked on a ruthless shelf-culling endeavor! Plus now we’re past both Christmas and my birthday. 😉 I’ll have to get it from the library, though, because Chapter 4 is all about a Scottish author named Nan Shepherd and her book The Living Mountain, “a celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.” There were easily five quotes in the first ten minutes that I wanted to copy down. Which I could have done if I were sitting on a bench staring at my phone. I’m just saying.
Backing up to the Minecraft thing for a moment—I’m amazed by how clearly I can picture that map, and even remember some of the adventures that befell me there, just because I was listening to an audiobook while playing. I mean, I’ve played a lot of Minecraft over the years, with my kids and without them. The worlds all begin to blur together after a while. Except for those I’ve explored while listening to something on audio. I went through a whole slew of lectures a couple of years ago—mostly literature classes via Yale Open Course. I can’t just sit and listen to something; I have to be doing something with my hands. (This is why I make sure my kids have something to play with while I read to them.) Nowadays I usually use the listening time to sketch. Or to clean a bathroom. File some papers. But what I have found is that the lectures I listened to while playing Minecraft have stuck in my brain more clearly than the others. You see, the vivid connections are happening in both directions. I remember the house I built during Amy Hungerford’s Lolita lecture (so great!)—a small oak farmhouse with a well in the yard. I remember being down in the nearby mine fighting skeletons during the Wise Blood lecture. During Franny and Zooey I built a house of sandstone and constructed a monster trap nearby. And for all three lectures, I can recall the professor’s words with much more clarity than the one I listened to while scrubbing the bathroom. It’s like Minecraft gave me pegs to hang the lectures on. Or a map, both literal and figurative? I know this: I remember more detail from those lectures than ones I took actual notes on.
I know, I know, this post is ridiculous. You can’t have nine sections in a daily blog post. That’s serious overkill. If I had any sense, I’d have saved some of this for later in the week when open a draft and draw a blank. But I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in twelve years of blogging. If I save it, it’ll start to feel like A Topic, like something I need brain to tackle. And I have to save all my brains for work. So it’s overkill or nothing, I guess.
Well, maybe we’ll just consider this catch-up for months of sparse posting.