Monday, January 26, 2015

Bringing back out the wooden blocks

I might have thought we were well past the stage of using wooden blocks around here, now that there are legos and robotics kits and so forth ... but I would have been wrong!  With a choice to do a unit study on architecture this month, the need for "blocks that don't defy gravity" was expressed and we went back to the old wooden block bin (which had been donated to church but luckily could be borrowed back for a couple days mid-week without any problem).

Classic toys really will never go out of style.

block arch

Friday, January 9, 2015

My 2015 Intentions

Embroidery

Happy New Year!  Time is still flying past me at a crazy speed, and in this first week back at work after the break I've had meetings or classes to teach every night of the week, so I'm late getting to this blog post that I meant to write first thing in the new year.

Which is both fitting and a little ironic in light of my Intention Setting for this year!  I decided that what I needed to focus on the most moving into this new year is

To live with attention to the little things that make my life the daily experience I want to live.  This means that I will make sure I'm comfortable, things smell nice, I'm eating well, getting enough sleep, living according to my values, and doing the little things (like reading and hobbies and exercise) that make up the texture of a life well lived.

In other words, I'm choosing to pay more attention to the background rather than the highlights.  I'm not setting any lofty goals or planning any big accomplishments or "once in a lifetime" peak experiences.  Those are fine and good every now and then, but the problem I encounter is that they add stress and can throw life out of balance.  I don't thrive on adventure and change, I thrive on routine and domestic chores.  And I want to thrive, not just "do well". 

This doesn't mean I'm quitting my job and becoming a homebody ... I love my work and it would crush some part of my soul to leave the work I do.  But even at work I want to focus more on the background feel of things and less on the big events. 

May we all live well, with the time that we have.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The End of the 2014 Reading Challenge: Close But Not Quite!

I'll be finishing this up during January, but darn, I really did come close!


The 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge

 
  • Pick 14 categories for your reading
  • Try to read 14 books in each category
  1. Religion, Ethics, Spirituality, and Philosophy
    1. What Money Can't Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel
    2. The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person by Harold Kushner
    3. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis
    4. How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather *(double dipper)
    5. Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction by Thomas R. Flynn
    6. When Spiritual but Not Religious Is Not Enough by Lillian Daniel
    7. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away by Rebecca Goldstein
    8. Serving With Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom (double dipper)
    9. Growing Souls: experiments in contemplative youth ministry by Mark Yaconelli (double dipper)
    10. Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael S. Piazza and Cameron B. Trimble (double dipper)
    11. Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square by Paul Rasor (double dipper)
    12. The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossman
    13. Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
  2. Work-Related
    1. Serving With Grace: Lay Leadership as a Spiritual Practice by Erik Walker Wikstrom (double dipper)
    2. Leadership in Congregations by Richard Bass (editor)
    3. Teaching From the Heart: Theology and Educational Method by Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore
    4. Growing Souls: experiments in contemplative youth ministry by Mark Yaconelli (double dipper)
    5. Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church by Michael S. Piazza and Cameron B. Trimble (double dipper)
    6. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer (* double dipper)
    7. Hope on a Tightrope by Dr. Cornel West
    8. The Artist's Way for Parents by Julia Cameron
    9. Sticky Church by Larry Osborne
    10. Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square by Paul Rasor (double dipper)
    11. Universalists and Unitarians in America: A People's History by John A. Buehrens (double dipper)
    12. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson (triple dipper)
    13. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown (double dipper)
    14. The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson (double dipper)
  3. Poetry
    1. Sands of the Well by Denise Levertov
    2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    3. Rumi by Rumi
    4. The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath * (double dipper)
    5. The Collected Poems by May Sarton
    6. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
    7. Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems edited by Roger Housden
    8. The Crooked Inheritance by Marge Piercy (double dipper)
    9. Ten Poems to Change Your Life by Roger Housden
    10. Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation edited by Roger Housden
    11. Ten Poems to Set You Free by Roger Housden
  4. Self-Improvement And Lifestyle
    1. The Superior Wife Syndrome: Why Women Do Everything So Well and Why -- For the Sake of Our Marriages -- We've Got to Stop by Carin Rubenstein
    2. Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! by Rachel Macy Stafford
    3. How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather *(double dipper)
    4. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider
    5. The Backyard Cow: An Introductory Guide to Keeping a Productive Family Cow by Sue Weaver
    6. Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl *(double dipper)
    7. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer (* double dipper)
    8. The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency by Anna Ness
    9. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Shulte (Tripple Dipper)
    10. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown (double dipper)
    11. The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson (double dipper)
  5. Parenting
    1. How to Talk So Teens Will Listen, And Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
    2. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein (double dipper)
    3. Mindful Parenting by Kirsten Race, PhD
    4. Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks by Michael Lanza *(double dipper)
    5. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior
    6. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
    7. Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast Moving World by Susan Sachs Lipman
    8. How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
    9. Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn (double dipper)
    10. The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
    11. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Shulte (Tripple Dipper)
    12. Slow Family Living by Bernadette Noll
    13. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray (double dipper)
    14. The Sand Bucket List: 366 Things to Do With Your Kids Before They Grow Up by David Hoffman
  6. My Favorite Detectives
    1. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith *(double dipper)
    2. Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter
    3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle * (double dipper)
    4. The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire #1) by Craig Johnson
    5. The Maltese Falcon by Dasheill Hammett * (tripple dipper) 
    6. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
    7. Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
    8. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
    9. The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley (double dipper)
    10. Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs
  7. Science and Psychology
    1. Back to Normal by Enrico Gnaulati, PhD 
    2. Situations Matter by Sam Sommers
    3. Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas
    4. Before They're Gone: A Family's Year-Long Quest to Explore America's Most Endangered National Parks by Michael Lanza *(double dipper)
    5. Ungifted: Intelligence Redifined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness by Scott Barry Kaufman
    6. Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl *(double dipper)
    7. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim (double dipper)
    8. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Shulte (Tripple Dipper)
    9. Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Double dipper)
    10. The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is by Roberto Trotta
    11. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray (double dipper)
  8. History
    1. American Nations by Colin Woodard
    2. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger
    3. A History of US: Making Thirteen Colonies by Joy Hakim
    4. A History of US: From Colonies to Country by Joy Hakim
    5. A History of US: The New Nation by Joy Hakim
    6. Story of the World: Volume One: Ancient Times by Susan Wise Bauer
    7. A History of Us: Liberty for All? by Joy Hakim
    8. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim (double dipper)
    9. Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Double dipper)
    10. The Monuments Men by Robert M Edsel (Double dipper)
    11. An Indigenous People's History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
    12. Universalists and Unitarians in America: A People's History by John A. Buehrens (double dipper)
    13. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson (triple dipper)
    14. The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley (double dipper)
  9. Books to Read Before You Die/LifeTime Reading Plan
    1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (*double dipper)
    2. Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (it's not on other people's lists, but it's been on my TBR list since I was in college and I finally read it)
    3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell *(double dipper)
    4. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton *(double dipper)
    5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle * (double dipper)
    6. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (* Tripple! dipper)
    7. The Maltese Falcon by Dasheill Hammett * (tripple dipper) 
    8. Three Lives by Gertrude Stein (double dipper)
    9. The Years by Virginia Woolf (double dipper)
    10. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (double dipper)
    11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Triple Dipper)
  1. Children's Lit
    1. Squire by Tamora Pierce
    2. Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce
    3. The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan
    4. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
    5. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
    6. A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
    7. Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
    8. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
    9. Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
    10. Shadow of the Serpent by Rick Riordan
    11. Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
    12. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
    13. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
    14. The Icebound Land by John Flanagan
  2. Books Made Into Movies
    1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    3. Horns by Joe Hill
    4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (*double dipper)
    5. Divergent by Veronica Roth
    6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell *(double dipper)
    7. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
    8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    9. The Maltese Falcon by Dasheill Hammett * (tripple dipper)
    10.   Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    11. The Monuments Men by Robert M Edsel (Double dipper)
    12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Triple Dipper)
    13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  3. Recreational Reading
    1. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
    2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
    3. Allegiant  by Veronica Roth
    4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
    5. The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan
    6. The Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan
    7. The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan
    8. Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan
    9. The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan
    10. Halt's Peril by John Flanagan
    11. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  4.  Around the World/Book Lust to Go
    1. Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers by Nancy Pearl
    2. Three Apples Fell From Heaven by Micheline Aharonian Marcom (Armenia)
    3. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana) *(double dipper)
    4. Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada by Will Ferguson (Canada)
    5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Denmark)
    6. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (England) (* Tripple! dipper)
    7. Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman (Finland)
    8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Guernsey)
    9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee (Hong Kong)
    10. Caspian Rain by Gina B. Nahai (Iran)
14.  Women's Studies
    1.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    2. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton *(double dipper)
    3. Bossypants by Tina Fey
    4. The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath * (double dipper)
    5. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (* Tripple! dipper)
    6. Three Lives by Gertrude Stein (double dipper)
    7. The Years by Virginia Woolf (double dipper)
    8. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein (double dipper)
    9. Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn (double dipper)
    10. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (double dipper)
    11. The Crooked Inheritance by Marge Piercy (double dipper)
    12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Triple Dipper)
    13. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by John Matteson (triple dipper)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bringing Unit Studies back into our homeschool

Norse myths unit study

I hit a wall a few months back, and was incredibly discouraged about my ability to work and homeschool my kids at the same time - it was all too much and no matter how hard I worked at it, I fell further and further behind schedule and felt like I was drowning. 

Some reflection led me to realize something that should have been obvious: I had gone on sabbatical from work this year and allowed the way we do school here to mushroom until it filled all that additional time and energy I had while not working.  Slow goal-creep had occurred until we were (rather ridiculously) trying to do two foreign languages per child (and they had selected different languages!), American History AND Ancient World History (once again different programs for each child), and on and on .... Basically each time I encountered something I thought we should be learning, I just added it right on top as if we could do it all at once.

No wonder I couldn't keep up with my own expectations. 

We simplified.  A lot.  I kept the core skills stuff in place: math, grammar, spelling, handwriting, reading, writing, typing.   Music lessons continue.  My daughter dropped her "extra" foreign language, while my son decided to continue trying to do Spanish with his sister and German on his own.  And then we just let go of all the literature, science, and history we had been studying. 

It's not that I don't think science and history are important.  I just couldn't maintain that we had to follow these timelines and programs, on top of everything else.  Instead we have turned to Unit Studies again.  And I'm turning the managing of the unit study over to the kids themselves.

Our interpretation of the unit study method:

  1. Ask the kid what they want to study.  Have them pick a topic for the next unit study.
  2. Acquire a rich variety of resources and supplies for them to use as they study this topic.
  3. Give them three weeks to study the topic, with a daily place holder of "Unit Study Time" on their assignments.
  4. On the last week of the month, there are no other assignments except for the essentials(practicing musical instruments for us), and all the time is spent on wrapping up the unit study and preparing for Presentations.
  5. Presentations must always consist of a written report And something else of their choice (a poster, a movie, a hands-on demonstration, etc).
  6. Get a real audience for the Presentation, even if it is only the Other Parent (the one that is less involved in the daily homeschooling) or a Grandparent.
Repeat, with a new randomly chosen topic the next month!

So far, this has been a Huge Improvement for us.  I have handed the responsibility for this part of their learning over to the children, to a fairly great extent.  They are studying things they want to study, so their motivation is their own and I don't have to supply it through my management.  It's more fun, and no doubt they will remember these topics and projects more because they had intrinsic motivation and applied meaning - all that good stuff we want to foster with our pedagogy. 

No doubt my children will have strange and unique educations as they wend their way through the paths of knowledge guided by pure whimsy and wonder.  But that will be just fine, I think.

(What have we studied so far?  Norse Mythology, "other alphabets" - which then settled into "Runes", Cooking, and Steampunk.  In January they have selected Marine Biology and Medieval Architecture.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Walking Challenge, a year in review

Black Friday Hike

Well, it has been the full year for our walking challenge, and here are the results: We FAILED.

The backstory:

Last Thanksgiving we went on a Black Friday hike with my mom and the kids, on a busy and popular trail.  The kids were, in my opinion, ridiculously lame about it and whined and sat down and claimed to be unable to walk on.  I have a crazy inner drill sergeant in my head (who yells, and I know that's not nice, but well ...) and before you could say "she's gonna blow!" there I was giving my children the full brunt of it.  "You think this is bad?!!!! Alright - if you can't handle this then clearly you need to WALK 100 MILES!"  Or something like that.  And so we had the challenge; we would walk 100 miles before the next Thanksgiving.

Here's the post I wrote about it last year, for the fresher perspective on how it went down.

I set up an excel spreadsheet and instituted a policy of one diet breaking treat for every five miles logged (diet breaking in the sense that I let the kids have gluten after five miles - our convoluted dietary story can be another post for another time).

We were amazing at first.  I was getting them out and making them walk local trails about three days a week, even through the cold winter weather.  Then it started to be an issue ... how much time did we really have for this? 

Then we ran out of local hikes that we hadn't done already, and that was a downer ... driving farther afield took even more time and then we couldn't do that on a weekday. 

All of these are nothing but excuses.  Excuses! screams my inner drill sergeant.  But you know what?  I'm OK with that.

We walked 50 miles together this year. Only half of the randomly selected huge scary goal I pulled out of my a$$ when my kids irritated me. We didn't count any miles I did by myself, and we didn't count miles done by bike.  We did some urban walking - especially when on trips to Portland and Boston - but mostly we explored all the walking trails in our town and did some close-by hikes.  And the kids got better at it.  They have more stamina, and they have a reference for long walks.  How long will this be?  Oh, about as long as the loop around the creek.  When will we get a break?  When we see a nice spot for getting out our sandwiches. 

We went out together again this Black Friday.  The kids wanted to drive out to a cool trail we had done earlier in the year, but the website warned it might be closed for the season, so we opted for a close stand-by trail.  The kids weren't thrilled to be doing "this one again!", and my daughter bailed and sat down and we finished the last half-mile or so without her and then collected her again on our way back. 

But, folks, we did a 4 mile walk together without much fuss or bother.  I didn't freak out - I'd come to understand what motivates the kids and when they can't be pushed any further.  The kids whined but not too much.  They know the drill now.  And we talked about it and decided that this year we want to do another challenge - 60 miles, so just 10 more than we did last year. 

That, I think we can do. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Faith of a Naturalist: a Book Post

Darwin Book

Today is the anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin.  As I regularly make it a practice to find good resources for my congregation and put them into calendars that mark dates like these, last month I checked out a bunch of Darwin books from the library.  Many I was already familiar with (One Beetle Too Many and The Humblebee Hunter are my favorite picture books, and I really like the YA novel Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith), but I also received a stack I had not read before and I had to choose just one as I didn't have time for them all.  My choice was a fortuitous one, and I am happy to say that Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a most fascinating book.

Unlike other books about Darwin that I have read, this book focuses on the inner journey and his growth as a naturalist through the daily writings he kept on his trip aboard the Beagle.  Haupt is herself a student of ornithology, so she admits to focusing on his work with birds mainly because that was the part that interested her the most, but also because she thinks birds are one of the more accessible areas of nature study for the general public.  As I also like to casually watch birds, I found myself agreeing with her.

While there is a great deal of interesting science and history here, in the end it wasn't the science or the history of the book that was the real take-away for me.  Haupt describes what she calls "the faith of a naturalist" and uses examples from Darwin and from her own life and studies as well as a few interviews she conducts that were in some way related to her topic.  She weaves between the historical and the modern, the scientific and the philosophical, and it was a lovely and thought-provoking progression.

A few quotes:

In our own lives as homespun naturalists, the moments we do manage to spend becoming educated by our native places can wend their way into our daily lives, making it more and more difficult to see ourselves as individuals, self-sufficient and cordoned off somehow from our humus-y ground.  We begin to see, rather, our lives as embodied, unseparate, inseparable, rushing forward with the whole of wild life.
****************
Yet it is here, in the spaces between what can be seen and what can be spoken, that the naturalist's faith often lies.  This is why it is called faith.  Intimacy, residence, patience, a sense of dwelling alongside wild nature, earthen insight, gratitude, affection, kindness, a kind of grace, a kind of joy - all of these unutterable things find a place in the naturalist's task.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Large Doses of the Outdoors

IMG_0671

This year we found a wonderful program for my son to do, attending the "Environmental Connections Outdoor School" which is a once a week full day of nature study, free play, and exploration outdoors.  They meet in a local park, and they do have a picnic shelter with a roof but otherwise they are really outdoors all day, all year.

Yesterday was a rainy and blustery day, which my daughter and I spent indoors (at church and at home) and still felt the need to go out for steaming hot bowls of pho for lunch.  As we looked out the window at the rain, we said "poor buddy, he's probably all wet and miserable".

When I picked him up, however, the sight that met me was not a bunch of bedraggled children huddled under a picnic shelter.  Instead, the children were playing in a shelter they had built in the woods, playing tug of war with an ivy vine they found that was apparently indestructible, and sliding through mud puddles and pits.  Yes, my son was all wet and dirty, but he was decidedly Not Miserable.  In fact, he said he had the best day ever and couldn't wait to do it again.  He had spent the rainy day carving sticks, building a fort, dissecting owl pellets, hearing local history stories (about the first peoples of this land and the settlers who came later), and generally having a grand time. 

We all belong outside, but children especially should be outdoors.  The connection with nature, the survival and resiliency skills learned, the healthy benefits of fresh air and plenty of physical activity - these are precious and valuable aspects of outdoor education. 

I'm so glad that 20 % of my son's schooling time is now spent in this way!