The Deliciousness of Mah

February 13, 2005 @ 11:12 am | Filed under: , , ,

Wonderboy had new ear molds made last week. Ear molds are little custom-fitted silicone doohickeys that fit a person’s ear canal exactly and attach to behind-the-ear hearing aids. The actual hearing aids last for years, but a growing baby needs new ear molds every three to six months. Wonderboy’s current pair have started to fall out occasionally, so it was time to get new ones made.

Jane brought a friend along to the audiologist’s office to watch the procedure. The girls enjoyed watching the audi shoot goo into Wonderboy’s ears, one at a time—pleasantly blue goo which looked like gaudy swirls of cake frosting when she was finished. Wonderboy was less amused. But he’s a good sport and allowed himself to be distracted by our beloved infant hearing loss specialist, C., during the short wait for the goo to firm up. Then pop!, out it came, a perfect impression of his ear canal.

The impressions are sent to a lab, where they are used to make the new molds. Jane and her pal were dazzled by the choice of colors…didn’t I think he’d like purple molds, or maybe lime green? I opted for the faintly blue transparent kind–but they glow in the dark, so there was satisfaction all around.

I was unprepared for how much I would adore Wonderboy’s hearing aids. I love that he likes wearing them, fusses if I don’t put them in first thing each morning, tips his head expectantly while I check the batteries. They are officially my favorite form of technology, surpassing even this computer (gasp) and my propane fireplace (which is saying something—that thing draws me like a magnet).

I love that when I turned down the volume of the CD player in the car yesterday to field a question from the back seat, Wonderboy started calling out “Mah! Mah! Mah!” This is his all-purpose syllable; it means, depending on context: “Mom,” “More,” “Dad,” “Jane,” “Could you hurry up with those peas, please!” In this case, I understood it to mean, “Turn the music back on.” We were listening to the CD that came with our Signing Time videos. He knows the songs and wiggles his fingers while he listens, watching his own hand intently—his way of singing along.

“Mah!” he insisted, and I had to laugh at myself, because in my last Charlotte book I wrote a scene in which young Charlotte is inordinately proud of her baby brother for packing so much meaning into the word “Buh.” Well, maybe Charlotte was overreaching, but Wonderboy really is working to pack content into the few sounds he can currently shape. And he’s succeeding: that “Mah” speaks volumes. Driving down the road, I cranked up the volume, singing my own internal ode to hearing aids and ear molds.

Related post: Making ear molds

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The Temper of the Shrew

February 12, 2005 @ 12:01 pm | Filed under: , , , ,

In the car today, Beanie launches into a story about “Bonny Kate.” She says it fast, one word: “Bonnykate.” It takes me a minute to figure out what she’s talking about; until she mentions Bianca, I am flummoxed.

“Bianca is the most beautiful,” she tells me. “Bonnykate gets mad. That’s why it’s called ‘The Temper of the Shrew.’ ”

Aha. Suddenly I understand. My four-year-old is narrating Shakespeare. Okay, she’s a little off on the title, but as her tale continues it is clear that she has a firm grasp of the plot. Thank you, Jim Weiss. His CD of stories from Shakespeare has been a favorite of the girls since before Beanie was born. This got me thinking about how many threads Jim’s fabulous storytelling CDs have woven into the tapestry of our life.

We discovered him in the Chinaberry catalog when Jane was a toddler, and many years (and many hours of enchanted listening) later, Scott and I had the great pleasure of meeting Jim and his wife Randy in person at a homeschooling conference. When we introduced the children to Jim, they were dazzled: he is a big star in their universe. It was Jim’s fluid voice that introduced them to Paul Bunyan, Scheherazade, Rip van Winkle, Theseus, Puck, and Percival. Much as I would like to take credit for the many literary allusions peppering my children’s talk, I have to admit that the plum goes to Jim and Randy Weiss.

I can always tell when the girls are listening to Jim’s retelling of the Archimedes story: it’s when a burst of laughter explodes into the post-bedtime hush of their room. Beanie will narrate that tale with gusto to anyone who’ll listen—after all, what small child can’t relate to a person so excited about an idea that he runs naked through the streets to share it?

Jim’s Sherlock Holmes stories inspired Jane, at age eight, to tackle the Arthur Conan Doyle originals. Rose requests The Jungle Book over and over again. All of them, at one time or another, have chattered away to me about the doings of Titania and Oberon and their crowd of fairy attendants…I recall a time when I was under orders to address Rose as “Peaseblossom,” thank you very much.

I’m pulling into the driveway, and Beanie is still going on about “Bonnykate-whose-weal-name-is-Katewina” and her hot temper. “When I’m a mommy I will name my daughter Bianca,” says Bean thoughtfully. “But I like Katewina best because she gets mad. That’s why it’s called the Temper of the Shrew. Oh, wait. Mommy, what does ‘taming’ mean?”

And another great discussion is launched. Thanks, Jim and Randy.

He’s Getting Better, I’m Glad to Say

February 10, 2005 @ 8:15 pm | Filed under:

Scott threw his back out, unfortunate man, so it has not been a week for writing. It has been a week for trotting up and down the stairs (me), jumping on the sofa (Bean), learning the sign for “up” (Wonderboy), making a ham sandwich All By Herself (Rose), and devouring the new Brian Jacques novel (Jane). A busy week, a getting-into-the-spirit-of-Lent week.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. After Mass, the kids and I stopped to pick up a cheese pizza. Scott was home in bed, flat on his back in quiet agony. I paid the cashier and handed the baby to Jane so I could carry the pizza. Wonderboy dove into her arms, grinning his many-toothed grin. Behind us in line was an elderly couple; the ashes on their foreheads told me they too had probably just come from Mass. “Oh, how sweet,” the woman said, watching Wonderboy smush his face against Kate’s cheek. It may have been an attempt at a kiss. More likely he was angling for a place to try out those teeth. Because sometimes love bites.

As Scott found out, swinging Beanie around on her birthday. She loved it, but it came back to bite him. Poor Daddy. He’s back on his feet today, for short periods. Which is why I’m off mine right now, and back (at last) in this chair.

This Tickled My Funny Bone

February 3, 2005 @ 2:47 pm | Filed under: , , ,

Rose, who is obsessed with Ancient Greece these days, was sitting at the kitchen table when she heard Scott’s footsteps on the stairs.

“Listen!” she announced in a stage whisper. “Here comes the mighty Zeus!”

Speaking of Ancient Greece, here’s a website the girls have been enjoying. Thanks to the creative folks at Snaith Primary, we are following the adventures of two families, one in Athens, one in Sparta, during a war between the city-states in 430 B.C.

 

And of course no visit to Ancient Greece would be complete without some Jim Weiss stories on CD. Rose’s favorite tale is “Atalanta and the Golden Apples,” while Beanie is partial to the story of Hercules.

Picture Book Spotlight: Fannie in the Kitchen

February 2, 2005 @ 1:24 pm | Filed under: ,

Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story From Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.

Young Marcia is disgruntled when her mother, anticipating the arrival of a new baby, engages the services of a cook. Even Fannie’s light-as-air biscuits don’t soften Marcia’s heart—it’s the cooking lessons that do that. Fannie’s approach to teaching is to sit back and let Marcia dive in, rotten eggs and all. Marcia comes to appreciate Fannie’s recipes and her methods so heartily that she implores the chipper cook to put it all into a book. Fannie obliges, and the book endures today, for this Fannie is none other than the Fannie Farmer of cookbook fame. Charming illustrations, lip-smacking good story, and an authentic Fannie Farmer pancake recipe at the end—which I have promised to let the girls whip up for breakfast tomorrow. If only I were as patient a cookery instructor as Fannie Farmer…

For more picture-book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.

Life on the Trail

February 1, 2005 @ 9:13 am | Filed under: , ,

It’s been a rough morning. Our wagon tipped over while fording a river, and we lost fifty pounds of salt pork and our only shotgun. Then Rose took sick—cholera, we think—and died before we could do anything about it.

My girls are undaunted by this stunning double tragedy. They push on across the prairie, estimating the number of miles to the next fort. Maybe we can trade our mule for a new gun.

“At least we still have the fishing pole,” says Rose. She seems to have accepted her own death gracefully.

“I don’t like wattlesnakes,” announces Beanie.

Jane cracks up. “Who does? Remember when I got bit, back before we crossed the Platte?”

We found ourselves on the Oregon Trail by way of a great read-aloud, one that vaulted unexpectedly to the top of our Family Favorites list: By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. I began reading this hilarious novel to the girls on a cold winter afternoon, but after Scott got caught up in the story during a coffee break, it became a family dinnertime read-aloud. At times, the kids laughed so hard I feared they would choke. We sailed with young Jack and his unflappable butler, Praiseworthy, from Boston Harbor all the way around Cape Horn and up to San Francisco. Along the way we visited Rio de Janeiro and a village in Peru. We panned for gold in California and made friends with half a dozen scruffy, optimistic miners. We found ourselves caring deeply about such oddities as rotting potatoes, dusty hair clippings, and the lining of a coat.

Our westward journey has occurred at a fairly brisk speed. After the Horn Spoon deposited us in the thick of the California Gold Rush, there was much conversation about the many reasons and ways in which people migrated west. Our trail led to other books: Moccasin Trail, Seven Alone, By the Great Horn Spoon!, and now Old Yeller. We discovered the absorbing Oregon Trail computer game and have outfitted a dozen or more separate wagons for various westward journeys. Rose got hooked on the food-gathering part of the game. I can’t tell you how many baskets of dandelions and wild onion she collected. Jane seems most interested in the game’s diary function. She clicked her way through the journal of the young pioneer girl who appears in the animated sequences at certain points along the trail, and then she began to write a trail journal of her own. The sad death of our sweet Rose, the disastrous river-crossing, and Beanie’s encounter with the rattlesnake are now chronicled for posterity.

I don’t know what lies around the next bend in the trail. I’ve stopped trying to pave the road ahead of time. The best adventures, it seems, are to be found in the bumps and detours. We’re well outfitted for the journey with books and maps and eyes and ears and that burning appetite for knowledge that can make a hearty meal out of buffalo grass and brambles.

—Excerpted from an article appearing in the Virginia Homeschoolers newsletter.

Picture Book Spotlight: Boxes for Katje

January 28, 2005 @ 2:17 am | Filed under: ,

Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen.

When I read this picture book to the girls, Jane had to take over for me near the end because I was so choked up. Candace Fleming’s beautiful story takes place in a small Dutch village, post World War II. Young Katje receives an unexpected package in the mail: a small box containing soap, socks, and—wonder of wonders!—chocolate, gifts from an American girl named Rosie. What follows is a heartwarming exchange of letters between the two girls, and a vivid illustration of the ripple-effect of generosity.

For more picture-book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.

The Mouse in Winter

January 27, 2005 @ 2:28 pm | Filed under: ,

MacBeth Derham writes:

As I promised in my “resolutions” post for the New Year, I have written the first in a series of monthly articles on nature study.  The articles are meant to appeal to elementary students, but links are provided for some high- school-level study. Here is the beginning:

“Last night, as we pulled into the driveway after 11 p.m., my daughter Libby saw something moving along the outside of the window.  We all sat in the car for a few moments and watched a mouse crawl along the sill in slowly-sniffing mouse-like fashion.  I have been able to keep mice out of the house this winter, so observing this little mouse was a welcome addition to homeschool nature study.  Neither a “city mouse” nor a “country mouse,” this suburban mouse knows his way around the outside of our house as well as any of us, and finds its food, we have discovered, under the birdfeeder, and its shelter under last fall’s leaves…”

Read MacBeth’s whole article at: The Mouse in Winter.

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Mealtime Read-Alouds

January 27, 2005 @ 9:42 am | Filed under:

I love to read aloud to my kids. Before they were born, I imagined myself curled on the couch amid a passel of captivated children, doing voices for the characters and receiving a chorus of eager pleas for one more chapter, please, Mom…. And I got that, with my first child, and my second. Then Beanie came along, and suddenly, family read-alouds weren’t fun anymore. It’s not that I expected her, at age one or two, to listen raptly to the novels that entranced her older sisters. I just figured she’d be happy playing somewhere nearby while I read. This was not the case. She was a high-energy toddler who had to be moving at all times. Usually on my head. She’d bounce back and forth across the couch; she’d mess with my hair; she’d torment her sisters. She had no interest in going somewhere else while I read, or in playing with toys that delighted at other times. And it would have been contrary to my reasons for wanting to homeschool in the first place to banish her from the room every time I wanted to read to the others. I didn’t want her to feel exiled during storytime. That certainly would not inspire in her a love of stories.

What I had to do was find times to read when Bean was naturally occupied in some activity even more absorbing than Distracting Her Sisters. Her naptimes were an obvious choice. And at bedtime, when Daddy read to the big girls, I spirited Beanie away to another room for some special cuddle time with Mommy. I read to her, and by that time of day, she was ready to be still and listen. And of course, the books were at her speed, not her sisters’.

But bedtime and naptime isn’t enough time. Too many great books in the world! Fortunately there was an activity Beanie enjoyed even more than jumping on the sofa: eating. Three times a day, she was (and still is) a captive audience.

Some of our best family reading times are over meals. I read to them at breakfast—usually poetry. At lunch I read novels like The Bears of Hemlock Mountain (with its delightful refrain of “No bears, no bears, no bears at all”) or By the Great Horn Spoon. I read picture books like Peter Rabbit or The Maggie B. or Tikki Tikki Tembo—books my older children have almost forgotten, and my younger ones are discovering for the first time.

A little side note here about picture books. They aren’t just for little kids. In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease tells about a high-school teacher who reads Judith Viorst’s picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to her students every year. Her teenagers listen raptly. They can relate to Alexander’s plight. Sometimes whole months of adolescence feel like a no good very bad day.

Back to our mealtime reading. I’ve learned to refill milk cups without breaking stride in the narrative. My picky eater forgets to pick—she’s into the story. And my wild wall-climbing preschooler shovels in her peas with her eyes fixed on the the picture I’m holding up.

Our breakfast poetry readings have done more to instill a love of poetry in my children than any curriculum I could have bought. I don’t make them memorize poems, but they do, because they ask for certain favorites over and over again. I read a mix of old favorites and new discoveries. Often I pick poems appropriate to the day’s weather, or the current season or holiday or animal we’ve been reading about or bird we’ve spotted on a nature walk. I read nonsense poems and serious, lyrical poetry. My little ones know Tennyson, Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Frost—not because I’ve taught these poets as schoolwork, but because they’ve joined us for breakfast so many a morning.

Our choices for novels are often dictated by what we’re interested in at the moment. In spring, our thoughts turn to green, growing things and fluffy animals. We follow “rabbit trails” of related books, like the year we hopped from Beatrix Potter to The Secret Garden to Redwall. In the winter, when we tend to read for longer stretches of time because we’re stuck indoors, we tend toward adventure stories and historical fiction.

Our suppertime book right now is Eleanor Estes’s hilarious Ginger Pye. It’s almost too funny for a mealtime read-aloud, because it’s encouraging bad manners in my gang—they keep laughing with their mouths full!

What are your family’s favorite read-alouds? Write me and I’ll post your recommendations.