Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hikaru Dorodango

It is the last day of November.  It is the last day of my challenge to myself to write a post for every day of the month.  I was joking with Dan today that I feel like something happens to the internet tomorrow, that I was supposed to have gotten everything written, it was my last chance.  This of course segued into "what was I doing in the nineties, before the internet?" and devolved into remembering trashy television (I mean the worst. When I was pregnant with Eliza I used to eat thai food and ice cream and watch episodes of Temptation Island. Please don't judge me too harshly) and fonder memories of drinking wine and writing letters by candlelight.  I still drink wine, but I sure as heck can't see well enough by candlelight to write a letter.  (Ah, forget the wine. I just spilled an entire glass with my computer. I still have candlelight...)

I suppose I could be reflecting on how this experiment went...I have for the most part enjoyed the push to post something - it has forced a few of the posts from my drafts folder out into the light of day.  There were also the days when the post was little more than a facebook status update, which is funny. I don't have facebook, but I do lurk like a lunatic, and I find myself once in a while thinking, "oooh, if I had facebook, I would totally put this on there".  I have also been tempted more than once to repost something I saw there, here on the blog (Doors to Europe? Anyone? It's the very best of facebook, in my opinion, made me so very happy), but I have this feeling that if it's on facebook, everyone has seen it, like...oh, like the newspaper, like everyone sees the same thing.  I know that's not true, but it's too mind-boggling for me to imagine elsewise.

I wish the blogging world was still active.  I sometimes feel like a lone island out in cyber space, when just a couple of years ago I felt like I had a whole community, as thought it really were a web. I'd mention someone who was doing something, and Dan would ask "is that Stephanie in Utah?" like we actually knew her in person, not just here in the box. I know I should just Do Facebook - I'm assuming that's where all the cool kids have gone - but I really feel like it wouldn't be as good for me. I guess it just brings me back to this mostly being a way of threading the experiences of my life together so I can find my way back when life gets too big.

So, for today I will end the month with a post I started many many years ago.  It's not the first I've mined from the drafts folder this month, but it is maybe the most random.  This is my brother-in-law, the guy we call Spoons, making like a dung beetle and rolling dirt balls. He is curious, tenacious and meticulous, and his activity of choice this particular visit was teaching himself the Japanese art of hikaru dorodango.

Thank you for sticking with me through November!! It has inspired me to post more often and dig a little deeper for what I want to say.  That has to be a good thing.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Our Sunday nights this fall have been centered around the watching of Cosmos, and, alas, we have come to its end. There was so much good stuff in there - scientifically exciting, spiritually inspiring, curiosity-stirring stuff. I wondered if I could find the transcript for the last episode online, and wonder of wonders, I did.  Ani had just asked me, as we were watching, with eyes huger than huge, "I wonder what happened before the Big Bang?" when Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "I want to know what's in those dark place, and what happened before the Big Bang."  Maybe that's what I liked about this series; it was childlike and wonder-full, and the last episode felt filled with good advice for budding scientists, young and old: (emphasis is mine)

How did we, tiny creatures living on that speck of dust, ever manage to figure out how to send spacecraft out among the stars of the Milky Way? Only a few centuries ago, a mere second of cosmic time, we knew nothing of where or when we were.
Oblivious to the rest of the cosmos, we inhabited a kind of prison-- a tiny universe bounded by a nutshell.
How did we escape from the prison? It was the work of generations of searchers who took five simple rules to heart.
Question authority.
No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
Think for yourself.
Question yourself.
Don't believe anything just because you want to.
Believing something doesn't make it so.
Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment.
If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it's wrong! Get over it.
Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.
If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.
And perhaps the most important rule of all, Remember, you could be wrong.
Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things.
Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history, they all made mistakes.
Of course they did-- they were human.
Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves and each other.
Have scientists known sin? Of course.
We have misused science, just as we have every other tool at our disposal, and that's why we can't afford to leave it in the hands of a powerful few.
The more science belongs to all of us, the less likely it is to be misused.
These values undermine the appeals of fanaticism and ignorance and, after all, the universe is mostly dark, dotted by islands of light.
Learning the age of the Earth or the distance to the stars or how life evolves-- what difference does that make? Well, part of it depends on how big a universe you're willing to live in.
Some of us like it small.
That's fine.
But I like it big.
And when I take all of this into my heart and my mind, I'm uplifted by it.
And when I have that feeling, I want to know that it's real, that it's not just something happening inside my own head, because it matters what's true, and our imagination is nothing compared with Nature's awesome reality.
I want to know what's in those dark places, and what happened before the Big Bang.
I want to know what lies beyond the cosmic horizon, and how life began.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Ani discovered an old notebook of hers this morning, that she titled "My Book of Questions".  She's set it up so that each page asks a question and then there is a space for "my ideas" where she makes some guesses about what the answer might be.  When she's lucky enough to find an answer, it goes on the back of the page.  The questions in the book right now are:
How do birds fly? My ideas: flap wings and tails to get air under wings and tails? Note: hollow bones to make them light.
Why don't you have to flip toast (in our toaster oven)???  After musing that maybe the heat goes through the toast and to the other side of the toast, she discovered, by doing an experiment (making toast) that there are bars (heating elements) on the top and on the bottom, thereby toasting the bread on both sides at the same time.
Currently there are only two more questions in the book, which I'm hoping will fill up now that it's been found. One is "what is electricity" and the other is "are any animals gay?"

What I am loving about her questioning is that she is a kid who likes to live in the question for a while.  She likes to diagram and lie on her bed and think about it.  She knows we have resources like books and the internet that she can use, but she is willing to ponder things for a while first. 

Nobody knows how life got started.  Most of the evidence from that time was destroyed by impact and erosion.  Science works on the frontier of knowledge and ignorance.  We're not afraid to admit what we don't know.  There's no shame in that.  The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers. Maybe someone watching this will be the first to solve the mystery of how life on Earth began. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

It's nearly the end of November! I've almost reached my goal! Yabbadabbadooo!

thanksgiving the third

Well, I'll start right there: three thanksgivings to be thankful for.  Tonight we were with a colleague of Dan's, and she made it clear that pajamas were welcome. We took her up on it.

Puzzles, crafting, snacks...Conversation, tunes, cats...It was a lovely way to wrap up our thanksgiving bender!

Holidays always make me feel as though my head is on a bit backwards, to be honest.  Too much out of the routine and I'm not sure where I'm stepping.  We have officially entered the Month of Making, so I know we'll be slightly out of our routine for weeks, but somewhere in there are our stepping stones.  

(I've missed my posting time by a mere 13 minutes! This every day gig is hard, but I'm loving the challenge of showing up if even just for a thought or two.  Oops, 14 minutes.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

a thanksgiving list

one beautiful cake
Happy Birthday, Molly! We are grateful for you...

A dusting of snow
Lazy meandering of a day
Cards, books, music
Turkey, dressing versus stuffing, glutenous and gluten free, mashed potatoes with all the butter I could find, kale and mushrooms, olives, pears, pecans, salad...
A Thanksgiving birthday with a cake I could eat!
Karaoke by the computer - YMCA and Gloria Gainer and doing the hustle
Love it, Hate it, I don't know - who loves worms? (I do) hates socks in bed? (Dan does)
and a round of Dixit to end the evening.
Feeling grateful this night for a quiet town and slow snow and a warm fire with friends who feel easy and loving...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Celebration of Abundance

We began the marathon of Thanksgivings today, with a meal out in the woods.  In my head I'm renaming this the Celebration of Abundance.  Eliza was inspired to make savory biscuits, looked up a recipe and voila.  Savory biscuits.  I even risked angering the gods of gluten and had a bite...oh man.  North Hill Bakery, Seattle, anyone? Yes, those savory biscuits. Perfect.  And she had barely cleared the flour from the table when she sat down to learn how to knit an arm scarf.  At this writing she has completed two...Abundance.

These aren't friends we have to dress up for, but Ani was in the mood...little sparkle.

Coffee and Baileys, catching up with old friends, huggin' on kids who are kind of like your own, petting the dogs who wander by, enjoying the chilly air and late-afternoon blue skies.  And then, the food. Our host fashioned an enormously long table from something he had in his shop and all seventeen of us fit perfectly.

Mashed potato abundance.

This is my favorite holiday, I think, and not because of the food, though we ate so well tonight.  More than any other holiday, it is about being together and taking a minute to soak it all in.   Time to remind ourselves, before the long winter, that we are not alone in the dark times, and that we are well-provided for, well-loved, and certainly well-fed. 

We took a break, between turkey and pie, to wander around in the dark, under a sliver of moon, telling stories by the stars. We howled and laughed and stomped our cold feet, just happy to be out in it, together.

Happy Thanksgiving and Celebration of Abundance to you and yours!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

having hope

I had something else I was going to write, but I spent my morning listening to the news, and what else can I think about but the grand jury decision in Ferguson.   The pain, the anger, the fear, the sorrow, the uncertainty, the distrust.  I feel like it is something that happened to all of us, not just to the people in Ferguson.  

What it is bringing to mind is a talk I went to on campus last week.  Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor who has the distinction of being the first Palestinian doctor to receive an appointment at an Israeli hospital.  He has much he could talk about, but the title of his talk (and his book) is I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey.

He has good reason to hate.  In 2009, during the Gaza war, his house was bombed.  He lost three of his daughters and a niece.  His fourth daughter suffered the loss of an eye and two fingers.

Pain. Anger. Deep sorrow.

His journey has been one about continuing the story, initiating discussion, keeping the memories of his daughters alive.  How many of us could manage to rise above our humanity to carry on in such a loving way? 

Dr. Abuelaish was talking to a sympathetic audience, but there was a large police presence in the auditorium.  It is dangerous to talk about love and peace. It is dangerous to have hope.

Monday, November 24, 2014

mathing this fall

playing with triangle numbers
I've written about how we "do maths" before, but it's been a while, and though the core of it hasn't changed a lot, there are some new resources about that we're having fun with.

Part of what has changed about math is that Eliza follows a curriculum several days a week. What drives this is a couple of things.  Ohio requires a summary of what we have accomplished over the year, either by standardized test or portfolio review. If that were not the case, I would be letting math unfold for her in a different way.  There is also the possibility that she is going to want to try school at some point, and I don't want her lack of math to be a huge obstacle.  Since I have a harder time just slipping math into whatever we are doing, and she and I are so similar in a way that creates a mini-storm when we attempt to do a few things together (math and piano), taking me out of the equation for the most part has been very helpful.

I heard a mom complaining about long division the other day and wondering how else she could explain it to her child who hates it, and I asked if they were using a curriculum at all and she said "Oh! Yeah! I guess I could farm that one out!" I think it's helpful to know when you need to employ other means of getting something across in order to protect your relationship with your child!! If we're arguing or frustrated, there's no learning happening anyway, so why persist in that direction?

So, she works on Teaching Textbooks, usually alone, and sometimes she grouses about it but I'll tell you what, she never gets more than a couple wrong, if even that. She shakes her head in bewilderment sometimes, and then a grin spreads. How did I do that??

Ani and I do something mathy every day.  Her current bedtime request, before she gets to her own reading, is for a chapter of The Number Devil by Enzensberger.  Oh my gosh, I love this book and I wish he'd written enough for us to read several chapters a week and still not be done.  I don't get all of it, but I love puzzling over the patterns and tricks, and obviously she does too.  I think we'll go through it again in six months or so with a notebook instead of a pillow and play a little more directly with the ideas.

doubling a muffin recipe, on the window
Sometimes her math looks like a card game of war, or a game out of Family Math.  It can also be a bunch of problems I write up on the window for her (at her request) or a sudoku puzzle.  Lately we've all been working on the multiplication tables. Let me tell you, I think what drove us all to learn them when I was a kid was competition!! There is just no drive to learn them! I remember memorizing them, but it's been slow here - until I remembered Schoolhouse Rock and found their videos for 0 through twelve.  YAhoooooo!!! Ani thinks they're the bee's knees and I found her skating in her footies around the living room with her multiplication table in hand, filling in the eights as she sang the song over and over and over...(It's ok if  you're rolling your eyes - it isn't always like that around here, and no, she doesn't beg for spinach over chocolate.)

Why are they learning them if there is no drive? Well, the mistakes Eliza makes in her math aren't generally because she doesn't understand the process but because she doesn't know her times tables and it really slows her down.  Since she doesn't love math, that is a bad thing!  I also love how since it's something we are all doing, we are able to play with numbers all the time...

Which leads me to the dorky games I come up with to practice.  Exhibit A, Eliza, on a freezing cold day, finding a game I'd drawn out and then abandoned because it was so cold.  She actually loved it.  (It's just simple: stand on the heart while I call out a multiplication problem, then jump to the answer. Back to the heart. Repeat.)

I ransacked our 5 decks of cards and merged them into the perfect Multiplication War game: each player has a stack of cards with only the numbers we are working on (2, 4, 8, 3) and a stack with everything else (including 2 of each of those numbers).  For each turn you turn over a card from each pile, and do the problem, and the person with the highest product wins.

Colorku - like Sudoku with colored marbles
We've also been using The I Hate Mathematics Book and Math for Smartypants a little for ideas.  Definitely more to mine there.

math + pajamas = most mornings

My brother-in-law is a whiz and enjoys puzzling numbers over, so he is often eager to check in on what we're doing and how we're feeling about math.  During a long drive home from the coast this summer, he talked to me about what he calls "fuzzy math".  The math that is huge and abstract.  The math that is not just about numbers, or is about numbers but only in one facet. The math that is music, art, architecture, shapes and beauty. Fuzzy math.  So we've been trying to make sure at least some of our math every week is fuzzy.  Eliza calls them "math art days".

Thanks to a couple of new books at the library, we've played with Cool String Art and made tesselations with Cool Paper Folding (all right, so I picked them up even with the lousy titles).  

Which of course led us outside to fix up our dusty and loose geoboards for more math art...

pretty picture of rubberbands. i couldn't resist the colors.

Of course there is Fibonacci, every six months or so, because who doesn't love spirals?

And when the weather throws you a sunny, if blustery, curveball and you have to get outside, there is always the number line, skip, skip, skip...

mathematician clearly rocking out

Writing a post a day for November...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

birds: a story

Earlier this fall we were walking home from a friend's house after sunset.  I was third in line behind my girls, and we were enjoying the night, the slight chill, the dark.  We rounded the corner to our street and Eliza playfully swatted at an evergreen branch that was hanging low.  Seconds later I was stumbling over something pillowy that bounced between my feet as I tried to slow myself down.  It took me a moment to puzzle it out: had the branch fallen? were these needles swirling around my feet? wait, is this a cloud of feathers? before I discovered the soft body of a bird.  My heart went to my stomach and hers went to the bird. Mama, we have to help it, I think it's still living. Me wanting to move on, uncomfortable on a physical level with the feeling I'd just had of my body colliding with what must be a wounded or very ill bird.  

I stood there, paralyzed and nauseous, as she scooped it up, cooing to it, and found it a comfortable spot where it would be safe from passing feet, underneath a tree.   She did not want to leave it there. Even if it were going to die, she wanted to be with it.  I could only imagine trying to bring it home, scaring it further, trying to negotiate the cats, making our night difficult.  What I told myself was that it should die peacefully, not surrounded by people-smells, but by earth and night.  What I was feeling was some sort of shame. 

I lay there that night, thinking of my girl's big heart and of my mine, small in that moment.  I felt sad that I hadn't been able to make space for her to tend to that bird, but I didn't feel any answers or clarity about how I could have met her partway. I had dug in, sorry for the bird but more than reluctant to bring it into our lives, even for an evening. It isn't ours to save is what I think I said. We talked about death and nature and she sobbed herself to sleep.

In the morning there was a note when I woke up: I've gone to check the bird. It had died in the night, as I thought it would, but it had not been disturbed from the spot she'd made for it.  We hoped that it died peacefully, with the smell of pine. 

Yesterday I was chopping vegetables for dinner when I saw a chickadee on the ground outside the window, in our driveway.  It was one of "our" chickadees that eats at our feeder a couple hundred times a day. It or its ancestors has been "our bird" for the past few years, as chickadees are often the hardy stalwarts who hang in there when the temperatures drop.  I love this chickadee. I saw it flopping a bit and wondered if a neighbor cat had gotten it for a moment? Then it fell over on its side. I barked at Eliza, "I need your help" and I ran out the back door. It didn't fight me when I scooped it up, and I cupped it in my hands.  My heart was pounding and I focused as much warmth into my hands as I could while I checked it over, watching its little mouth open in a pant, and its bright black eyes blink blink blink.  I remembered when a starling had been hit by a bike in front of the house, and was stunned, we learned to put it in a paper bag to offer protection while it gathered strength to fly.  Eliza got to making a bag, this one with a rock to hold it in place in the wind, and leaves to offer some warmth.   Ani ran to get some bird seed in case it was hungry. 

It was all I could do to keep from putting my warm mouth on the tiny bird, for a kiss.

It sat in the bag for only a minute and then flew. It's been back many times since to eat at the feeder and chirrup hello. I wonder if it knows who we are? That the warm hands live on the other side of the window? 

I feel as though I should be wrapping this up with some lesson I've learned, but there isn't one.  I feel as though I'm still exploring that stark place between "ours" and "not mine to deal with", and it is uncomfortable and dark.  The bird surfaced in a poetry writing workshop I attended last month and I got stuck on a few moments: The bird, tumbling between my feet, is a feeling I wish I could erase from my sense-memory. The cloud of feathers, barely visible in the light, having their own movement, their slow settling to the sidewalk, the visual equivalent of my thoughts slowly landing and forming the picture of what had just happened.  Reaching out my hands to cup the bird, and drawing back, twice, realizing I did not have the courage to hold something so wounded.  Eliza's passion and courage, picking it up without hesitation, ready to offer everything she had to help.

November. It is still November and here I am, still writing!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

more leaves and another hack

Today was a mellow day with our friend Ari.  Not much was required at me than that I laugh at a few jokes, heat up some lentil soup that Ani and Sarah made yesterday, and supply the crayons for some more leaf-rubbing for our growing wall of thanks...

And now I want to direct your eyes to the photo above.  See Ari's bandaid? I have a handy trick for you, and it's late, so this is going to pass for a well-written blog post and we'll call it good for November 22, all right?  She arrived this morning with a splinter and asked for our tweezers.  I quizzed her on what she'd already tried.  "Well," she said, "We did epsom salts, plantain, and we dug and dug in there with a needle.  And glue." Wha? The idea is that you put glue on and hopefully it sticks to the splinter and when you peel the glue off the splinter comes too. Or something like that. I've never tried it.  So, knowing how Ari does not care for bananas, I hestitated to offer my favorite method for banishing splinters, but I could see she was frustrated, so I went for it.  "Um, how would you feel if I strapped a tiny, very tiny piece of a banana peel to your splinter for the next couple of hours?" Her turn for the Wha?

I don't know why this works (enzymes?) but it does, and it did again today.  We cut a small piece of banana peel and held it onto the spot where she had the splinter with a bandaid and in an hour or two she came and found me to tell me "The banana won!!"  You don't have to believe me, you can just try it for yourself, the next time you have a splinter you just can't get out. I want to call this another life hack, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm hacking really (tweezers?)'s just a handy thing to know, especially when your child doesn't want you anywhere near them with a needle and the splinter's in the bottom of their foot...banana, overnight, with sock. Done.

(This is where one of my girls would chime in and say, "The banana is an herb, not a fruit!" As the largest herb, the banana has healing properties.  Voila.)

Rockin' November. It's the 22nd...

Friday, November 21, 2014


Mysterious stomach cramps
have lain me low.
Feeling grateful
for family and a friend
who stepped in to
save the day
and for the young adult novel
I swallowed
when food just wouldn't do.

That's all I've got today.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

art class with still life

Our friend Molly is an artist. Not only a born-with-scads-of-talent kind of artist, but a bona fide educated artist, with degrees and everything.  She also loves working with children and misses being the 24/7 homeschooling mama since she took on full-time teaching at the university, and we are greatly benefitting from her impulse to offer art to our kids!  This week they were drawing.

They started out learning about the tools - which pencils to use to get each effect, which eraser works best for what.  And smudge sticks.  "I've wondered what to do with those!" Now we know.

Molly talked them through the proportions of a face, and gave some tips on doing a quick sketch of the person across from them.  The kids were so squirrely and restless and it quickly got goofy.  Next she suggested she set up a still life, hoping, I think, for a bit more focus.  It's so much easier to draw a plant than the face of the person who is staring at you!

The kids - ages six through twelve - were silent for a good 20 minutes. Silent and intent on their drawings.

Ani's bowl
Noah's still life
Ani loves this class.  When we're out in the world and she sees art, she exclaims, "We could do that in Molly's class! I bet Molly knows how to do that!"  She was so inspired that on the way home she told me that she would be looking at kitchen implements totally differently now, and that maybe she would be drawing them.  A couple of days later she set up her own still life, making sure there was ample shadow to work with. She was very happy with it, particularly with the shape she arrived at with the vase.

Another post for November!