Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mapping a story

Chicken in their nesting boxes by Ani
We have been rereading one of our favorite books, called Hanne's Quest, by Olivier Dunrea.  It is the tale of a small hen, named Hanne, who is destined to carry the weight of saving the farm, and follows her fate on an unlikely journey for a little bird.  We love how brave dear Hanne is, and we love the characters she encounters, like a wise and equally brave little keeper-of-the-barrow, a mole named Pieter.

I thought a good use of this week's rainy days and our current colds which have in fact slowed us down a little, might be to make some sort of a map of Hanne's journey.  The writing in this book is so lovely and descriptive, giving nice clues to the directions of her path, such as "Hanne kept the sun on her right all morning" - what direction must she have been traveling? As she nears the sea, she first feels the heaviness of the air on her feathers, and the taste of salt as she stops to preen. Then she notices the coarseness of the grasses and the grittiness of the earth beneath her feet...
The first time we tried this I thought big. I wasn't thinking permanent, but you know how these things go and pretty soon we had embarked on something that would take over our living room and was more than our energy level could sustain... (another day, perhaps...)
The second time was a bit tamer.  I remembered cornstarch clay which, while not likely to be very long-lasting, would invite a longer investment of time and attention.
We used large pieces of cardboard from the recycling bin - Eliza chose to leave hers plain, while Ani covered hers with foil.  Both girls initially drew their ideas on the cardboard, deciding first where north, south, east and west would be oriented on their boards, and then discussing, as I re-read passages from the book, which direction the village, the barrow, the windmill, the sea, etc, lay from the little farm.  How many buildings did the farm have? What side of the barrow was the entrance on?
My thought had been that they might paint them - to me, that would be the fun part! - once the clay has dried.  We have a short road trip planned for this coming week, so we'll see if it still holds their interest once we return. It was a worthwhile activity on its own, however, whether or not our little clay figures of Hanne and the others get to roam their way through these maps.
I wrote about maps a few weeks ago, and this was definitely inspired by Mapmaking with Children (by David Sobel).  He suggests that at this young age children be encouraged to make three-dimensional maps or pictorial maps.  It was interesting to see how they chose to make their pieces; Eliza chose in a few places, but not all, to draw the image of the buildings on the board and then just embellish them with pieces of clay.  In other spots, she constructed the whole piece from clay, making it stand out from the board.  Anika noticed that when she made her farm, the house was a flat representation, sort of like a slightly raised picture, while the "henwoodie" and the barn were three-dimensional pieces.  It was an observation she made without my pointing it out, which was interesting in and of itself.  My contribution (you know how badly I wanted to just sit down and do this all myself, don't you?) was to offer stones for the walls, and when we found the stones in our box, we also found the shells, which came to represent in large part the sea, as well as the back of the great Sea Turtle.
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Part of my journey as a parent of kids-learning-at-home has been, and continues to be, figuring out how not to be attached to outcome.  I will spend hours in the middle of the night dreaming up some lavish lapbooking project! Greek Myths! carnivorous plants!...only to realize in the morning hours that all the information that these projects would bring to light is already available to us in the books we are reading, the observations we are making throughout the day, through the things we are engaging with directly.  What got my adrenaline going was the idea that we would have a thing!  To...put in a pile!  To document what we are doing!!!  This is exciting to me in part because I have always loved books, notebooks, binders, Trapper Keepers, paper of all kinds, paste, my own scissors, new get the idea. To me, a schooled kid, the object of learning anything in school was to have an end product: a paper written (check!), a map recreated or colored in (check!), a test passed (check!).  Unfortunately for me, this formula usually ended in some dribbling out of information from my inner ear into my pillow, to disappear into my sleeping hours, never to be retrieved again.  I was a good student, mind you, because I could produce a fairly decent product and my list was always checked-off.

So now, when my girls are engaged in an activity that does produce some tangible outcome, I get drooly. Greedy. I waaaaant it to be nice. I want it to be finished.  I want it because I can blog about it and show Dan when he gets home, as if to prove that we did something worthwhile today. I'll have to let you know if I get my fix this time around. Meanwhile, know that we had an enjoyable morning together, exploring another world and getting our hands very very messy...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

first bit of fall

The girls and I caught colds this week, but it didn't slow us down too much...we finished the autumn nature table...
and when we were done with that, we made a plan for the equinox.  It was 90 degrees. Hm. That didn't feel very fall-like.  The girls decided they needed to go swimming, so...
I sat in some shade, not feeling particularly well, and feeling a bit let down by the hot day. I mean, come on, I had squash to bake! I wanted some crispness in the air! I sat and breathed. The element of Autumn is water.  Hm...Well, that was fitting. Water...flowing, dreamy, full of that what's going on????  It's been a doozy so far.
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We had our second week of "farm school" this week.  Since the farm is just down the bike path a mile and a little more, we decided to walk.
We carried clean tablecloths, napkins, 2 loaves of spiced apple bread and 24 muffins with us on the way there...luckily I had some help!  On the way home it was 2 gallons of fresh milk (all mine to carry).
Ani and the sycamore leaf
 The girls got busy helping wash some thrifted goods for the kitchen.  They could do this all day, but there were animals to tend to and walks to take.
Crackers to make, gardens to tend to, forts to build...

The day was a little off, and it will take a while to reflect on what wasn't working and what we needed more of (harvesting! walking! say my girls).  It is definitely a work-in-progress, but being there feels really good.
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Lastly, it was my birthday yesterday - the girls will happily tell you that I am 41.  It was an odd day, only because it was totally normal, in that there was a lot of squabbling (why did I think that might be suspended in honor of moi?), sore throats and snot, and work to be done.  The very best part (along with some beautiful gifts that I received, which deserve their own post, once I have some decent photos to share - the light and my eye are not agreeing this morning, so it will have to wait), was having a date with Dan, to eat dinner out (with bellydancing! Wow!), and to see this crazy lady:
(the photo is from her website - it copies sort of funny. you should just go look at her website, I guess!)
What, she doesn't look all that crazy to you? And you think this photo might be 20 years old? I think it is - this is Michelle Shocked, who I had the privilege to see in Boston about 16 years ago.  She is on a 5 year crusade around the country, talking politics and religions - those taboo subjects - and singing like no one else...this photo might give you a better idea of what last night was like:
Nah - that doesn't begin to  tell you - I think you had to be there. And you can be - go "friend" her on FB if you truck with that sort of thing, and see where you might be able to catch her intense, off-beat, one-of-a-kind show.  It was absolutely worth it.  Thank you Dan...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a good tuesday

Today began with me breathing a sigh of relief that it was not actually the equinox today, as I had thought.  I don't know why, but it usually takes me three days to a week to actually feel satisfied that we have celebrated the significant days of the year; to focus it all on one day is just too much for me. So! We got to slow it down and just start talking about some of the autumn stories...But first, we decided to clean the nature table.
This was so much fun, the girls would happily volunteer for this job every week, I think.  Dusting every candle holder, scraping wax off the dresser, washing the mirror, taking a fresh look at had been a while, shall we say.
 What I am not showing you: the seventy million acorns we have from last year, and the year before that, which have been sitting in a bowl on the top of the fridge, collecting dust, cobwebs, and waiting for who-knows-what to come along.
 A black cat and a bowl of the harvest - pretty good Fall stuff, don't you think?!

The on to Out.  Tuesdays have become our "Reading Hike" days, so out we went, with fancy sandwiches (um...pb and j for one, goat cheese, cucumbers and pesto for the rest) and water bottles to a hike we'd never done before, from the other end of the lake.
It was gorgeous!!  We decided to try and hike to the Lady of the Lake to see if she was still there, but after an hour I thought we probably still had 20 minutes or so to go and spirits were flagging a bit in the very warm weather, so we turned around and found a beautiful spot by the water to sit.
What I am not showing  you:  the two piles of scat we came across - and yes, I have photos, but they are a little gross, even for me.  What was interesting was that they were chock full of pawpaw seeds! My first and lingering thought was bear, but I acknowledge that my imagination was on fire due to some recent bear sightings in this kept my adrenaline pumping though, realizing that I've never hiked with my girls in an area with bear. Hmmm.  Anyway, I'm pretty sure it was dog. Or a verrrry large raccoon.

We read a book this morning called Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, which was awesome and provided such good fodder for discussion.  The rest of the day was spent finding Fibonacci numbers everywhere, and noticing how often we found spirals in our world...
 The hull of a buckeye - a Fibonacci three!
Barely visible - a spider web with its spiraled design, and a beautiful ghost leaf (or "tissue" as Eliza calls it).  Our hike and short read (we finished Half Magic by Edward Eager) took us much of the afternoon...
We ended our day at the library, then home for dinner without Papa and some reading before bed...

What I'm not showing you:  boffing! Do kids do this where you are? It's a fad around here - you cover a stick of some sort - think the size of a sword - with foam rubber and lots of duct tape, and you run around having battles, playing capture the flag and such with other sword-crazy kids.  I think Eliza liked watching more than boffing...but it seemed great fun anyway! And sponsored by the library no less!

What I will show you - what Dan is doing while I am blogging...
one week and some days to comps...Dan, you are rocking that Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reading Hikes

Over the last few weeks the girls and I have fallen into a regular pattern that is really working for us (hurrah!).  Once a week (sometimes more) we pack a lunch and head off to one of the local hikes that we enjoy.  There is usually some natural landmark for a destination - the beech tree, a lookout point - last week, it was the peak at an area called The Ridges.  Along with our lunch we carry a chapter book that we are reading together, our sketchbooks, and some pens.  It's a thing now - we call them "Reading Hikes".
I try to make sure our destination is more or less an hour's hike away.  There is much to explore and talk about along the you know about Autumn Olives?  They are a new edible to us, invasive to this area.  I think their speckled berries are so pretty.
Ms. Eagle Eyes (Eliza) spotted this blob of bird poo on a leaf by the side of the, wait - that isn't bird poo, it's a SPIDER!!! and really, it's the star of this post, because this is one damn cool spider! It's called the bolas spider, and what it does is it perches on a leaf, masquerading as bird poo so no one will be tempted to eat it, and waits for dusk, when the moths arrive.  Do you see how one of its legs is raised behind it? (Oh, please click on the photo if you can't see it - really, this creature is awesome.) There is a drop of stickiness poised at the end of the leg, and what it will do, having attracted the moths with an imitation pheromone (oh, so cunning), it will lash out its lasso and nap the moth out of mid-air.  YES IT'S TRUE!!!!(click here to see the bolas in action)  I still get tingles, thinking that we got to see this spider - Eliza would like to call David Attenborough to tell him...I think he'd be pretty excited for us.
Ah, back to the hike. We find a lovely place to spread a blanket, get out the sandwiches and iced tea, and enjoy our picnic.  Then we settle in for a good read. The girls get kind of dreamy under the big sky, and we pause often to listen to birds or inspect the critters crawling around us.  When I need a break or they get ancy, we stop and I get time to write while they run around, or we all go explore...
It is such a nice way to extend our outside time together, and we seem to return home ready for the next thing, not tired and needing a break from activity.
Then back down the path we go, with lighter packs... catch the wonders of the day - a sycamore with the bright reds of a neighboring tree...
...the burrs and seeds pods of these autumn days. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Good Earth

We began a new adventure yesterday.  In truth, I started on the adventure over a month ago, with late-night meetings and huge farm lunches and lots of thinking and negotiating. But yesterday we enjoyed the first fruits of all that work.
Regular readers of this blog might recognize the train cars in the distance of this photo, but from the other side, where we come upon them from the bike path.  The farm that lies next to the cars is becoming a part of our weekly life - we started what we call "farm school" yesterday!  This "school" is made up of homeschoolers and waldorf-ers who are spending Fridays at the farm, hiking, cooking, harvesting alongside a few of the farmers here.  Good Earth is a community of people whose faith leads them to the mission of "sharing the joy of food with all who hunger"; produce grown here is donated to the local food pantries and shelters.  Education is the second part of their mission, and having 12 children and a few parents take over their home and farm once a week is one of the ways they are choosing to pursue that mission, lucky for us!
Our morning began with a hike to explore the woods and visit the animals - the farm has 2 cows, several sheep and goats, 4 pigs and lots of chickens.  One of the tasks on a Friday morning is gathering eggs.
The farm offers lunch to anyone who comes by each day, including Saturdays when they host volunteers who come to work on the farm.  On Fridays the children are a big part of making the lunch; this week was homemade pizza.
For those not involved in the cooking for the day, there are other activities - harvesting vegetables, or helping make some of the toys that will become a part of the free-time options for the day.  Friday they sanded blocks of maple.
After lunch we had a little story and quiet time, out under the trees.  We read Peaceful Piggies and learned a bit about meditation with the "clearing mind" activity, watching soil swirl around in a jar filled with water, the particles like your thoughts, and then letting your mind and breathing slow as the water clears.
Since it was the first day, there was another hike, down across the bike path and down to the river.
It was a relief to get to this day.  I've had second thoughts about being involved in this project; neither school nor coop were in our plans for the fall. Last year was successful for us as a family largely because we kept close to home and kept our outside obligations to a bare minimum.  While I think that in the longterm the community this is creating will be good for my parenting and my sanity, it has also produced large amounts of anxiety and a few headaches.  It is the connection to this special place that kept me invested this far.  We have visited their animals for the last two years, meeting farmers here and there.  The Farm is our destination on our trips to the bike path.  We love watching the plants grow and the cows calve - this feels like a compromise between our decision to live in town where we only need one car and Dan can walk to work, and our dream to live on a farm. Food is so important to our family, and I want my kids to see how just a couple of people can make such a big difference to their community when they choose to make that their purpose.

The day ended with a circle on the ground around a few bowls of watermelon.  We passed a singing bowl around the circle to share our good thing from the day...
the haybales!  grating cheese! visiting the pigs! hiking with my friends!  grinding nuts! playing dress-up by the garden!   There were so many moments of watching them be engaged, confident, humming, happy...

It felt worth the time and energy to get to this day.