Sunday, August 31, 2008

hay day

Today was that much-anticipated day of the year -- the day we get our winter's supply of hay delivered! The Map Man prepared for the festivities by stripping down the hay tent to bare bones to accommodate the load. You can see one of our ewes in the background, impatiently waiting for the delivery. Hay Day is pretty exciting for all of us!

And thar she blows!! 16 bales of hay rolling it's way across our horse pasture, while various and assorted critters looked on and licked their lips.

The Map Man and The Hay Guy get busy dropping bales off the truck and rolling them into place. How they manage to get 900 lb bales manipulated into the right position is beyond me -- that's about the time I find a good excuse to duck back into the house to attend to something or another that must be attended to....

But the job manages to get done without me! The bales are all in place and ready to be protected from the elements (and subsequently devoured by a couple dozen hungry mouths over the next 10 or so months).

The Map Man reconstructs the hay tent around the bales. Can you see the smile on his face? Nothing makes a farmer happier than getting the winter's hay settled and under cover. We were practically doing a giddy jig out there in the barnyard.

Ah yes, Hay Day! If only it came more than once a year!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

projects, projects, projects

As I steadily approach my curriculum planning deadline (tomorrow is my last day to work on it, before I work for 10 days in a row, then jump right into our school year on September 9), we all took a much-needed break yesterday at our favorite park with some new friends. I was taking a break from curriculum planning, J was taking a break from a sudden non-stop stream of self-directed projects. Here's a small example from today:

Building a scale model of the galaxy. He got the idea from a book about the galaxy that one of my clients gave the boys as a gift (with no idea how much of a hit it would be with them -- she couldn't have made a more popular choice!). We didn't have a piece of paper, or wall, long enough to make the model, so he just laid out the sun and planets (which he drew, colored and cut out) on the hallway carpet, using a tape measure to put them the appropriate distance from the sun. That's the sun closest to us (the yellow ball), and the planets string out behind it, all the way to Neptune down by the boys. (J is holding up the page of the book with the directions on it.) I was pleased to see that this book is up-to-date enough not to include Pluto on it's planet projects.

Ladybugs. Every fall we have a problem with hundreds of migratory lady bugs somehow making their way into our house. Apparently we're starting early this year -- this morning I was greeted to a dozen or so colorful ladybugs that J had created and distributed throughout the kitchen and dining room. Why? Um, well, I actually haven't quite figured that out yet. When I commented on all the ladybugs, he just said "yup!". Last I knew, he was working on creating an army of buzzing bees....

J's Project Central. Normally he does a lot of work at his seat at the dining room table. For some reason this week he's favored the floor of the kitchen. This is where the "Roo Racer" took form (and where it was subsequently taken apart, unfortunately before I was able to photograph it). I think he likes the texture that the linoleum pattern adds to his coloring. It's also easier to get on all sides of something when it's on the floor as opposed to being stuck just on one side if it's on the table.

Our group project, titled, as of today, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar Project". (My apologies to Eric Carle.) Our little Monarch caterpillar is not going to be little for very long at the rate he's eating. That's him at the upper edge of the largest milkweed leaf. You know, next to the holes. This photo was taken about mid-morning. By now, that hole has tripled it's size. It's pretty entertaining to watch him eat, mowing strips along the edge of the leaf. He eats, and eats, and eats, then crawls away from the hole and takes a nap. Right out on the middle of the leaf. I'm thinking it was lucky for him that we brought him indoors for observation, because I'm pretty sure a bird would have picked him off long before now. In case anyone is wondering how we're set up for him, we've got the top of a milkweed buried in gravel in a glass aquarium/terrarium, with enough water in the bottom for the milkweed to feel like it's in a vase. It should stay fresh for several days that way (as opposed to the leaves we'd been picking, that would wilt within half a day). We won't need much more time out of it than that, as our very hungry caterpillar will eat it's way to needing a new milkweed top within a week's time anyway.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

twenty years ago

Twenty years ago
I married my best friend,
And if I had the chance, you know,
I'd do it all again.
'Cuz after twenty years
You still mean the world to me,
And I love the life we've built,
And I love our family.

After twenty years of sunshine
With just a drop of rain,
After twenty years of laughter
I guess I can't complain,
'Cuz after twenty years my heart still skips
When you walk through the door.
So after twenty years with you,
I just can't wait for twenty more.

Twenty years ago
We gathered family and friends
And pledged to love each other
And be together 'til the end.
And after twenty years,
I think we're doing pretty well
Honoring the vows we made
Beneath those wedding bells.

'Cuz after twenty years of sunshine
With just a drop of rain,
After twenty years of laughter
I guess I can't complain,
'Cuz after twenty years my heart still skips
When you walk through the door.
So after twenty years with you,
I just can't wait for twenty more.

Yes, after twenty years with you,
I just can't wait for twenty more.

(Lyrics from the song "After Twenty Years", by yours truly -- Happy Anniversary, Babe, I love you!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

what the kids have been up to

Ok, so enough about me and my fun in Foxboro, what you guys all want to know about is how the kids have been spending their time the past week or so. Well, here's a sampling of some highlights:

They spent quite a bit of time at the end of last week exploring the trees in our yard, inspired no doubt by Tree Camp, which finished up on Friday, much to my kids' disdain, as they would have been happy to do Tree Camp for about a year.

Over the weekend they spent as much time as possible at our beloved lake beach, which closed for the season on Sunday (SOB!!!). It was a wonderful summer, and we certainly took plenty of advantage of our beach pass, but it always seems like such a short season.

J suddenly took an interest in the weather, and built this wind sock, set up some sort of rudimentary humidity measure that involved a pine cone, and organized a notebook to keep track of temperature, wind direction, and relative humidity. I can only imagine he must have read about this somewhere, because this is all news to me.

J's also been wanting to find some Jewel Weed (aka Silverweed, aka Spotted Touch-Me-Not), so this morning we went on a walking excursion to the end of our road where I had seen some growing. We had a blast popping seed pods, and collected handfuls of seeds, which we distributed in our own flower garden when we got home so that we can have seed-popping-fun right in our own yard next year.

Zoo Boy made the find of the season in our Milkweed Forest around noon today -- this really awesome Monarch caterpillar. We had a bit of a debate about whether to let him continue to grow and pupate in the Milkweed Forest (which is what J thought would be best) or to bring him indoors to the terrarium so we could observe the process (which is what Zoo Boy was lobbying for). Zoo Boy eventually won with his argument that if we didn't watch it pupate, we wouldn't know for SURE that it was a Monarch. Honestly, I was in favor of the indoors observation option, as we're going to be reading a couple of Enki nature stories in September about Monarchs and the Monarch Migration, and having first-hand experience with the life cycle will no doubt allow the stories to mean much more to them. So for now we've got a live occupant on display on our Nature Table, complete with a banquet of milkweed leaves.

We also finished up the chapter book we were reading, "The Enormous Egg" by Oliver Butterworth, which was just fanciful enough to be fun, had just enough suspense and mild peril to keep the kids on the edge of their seats occasionally, and was written in a wonderful voice, from the first-person perspective of a small-town New Hampshire boy of 12 yrs. We also began our next chapter book, "The Trumpet of the Swan" by E.B.White. I started it with a bit of trepidation, as Stuart Little was not a big hit with the kids (they never really seemed to get involved with the story, and they didn't like the open-ended conclusion of the book -- they aren't quite ready for things not to be wrapped-up for them at the end of a story). But so far they seem quite captivated by this book, so we'll see how it goes. It's a bit longer than our last selection, but we also should have more reading opportunities as we get rolling with our school year, so hopefully we won't wind up feeling bogged down by it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gillette Stadium

Yes, it's true! I was at Gillette in Foxboro -- mecca for New England Patriots fans -- on Friday for the pre-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That's me, with the Tom Brady shirt and the big smile, posing under the arch at the open end of the field. My totally awesome friend Christine brought me with her to the game (THANKS Christine!!!!!), along with her husband and another friend of theirs, and we had an absolute blast. She also took all of these photos, thank goodness, because mine all came out blurry.

Regardless of the score (which, hey, doesn't really matter cuz it's just preseason anyway!), it was amazing just to BE there. It's a beautiful stadium, this was my first visit there, and I was blown away by how much better it is than the old Foxboro Stadium. I mean, it looks great on TV, but that doesn't even do it justice. And there I was sitting, watching "my boys" from great seats and eating fried clam strips....doesn't get any better than that!

After the game we went over to CBS Scene, a bar that overlooks the stadium. This picture was taken from our seats on the deck. The deck also has a 40 foot jumbo-tron (which is the biggest danged TV I've ever seen, and I won't be sorry not to see another one ever again -- it gave me a headache just looking at it). And there are TVs at every booth indoors, plus various others throughout the place. I think they said there are 137 TVs in the bar. So, you know, in case you don't want to actually look out the window and watch the game live....

Aaaaaahhhh!!!! A dream come true, me relaxing on the AstroTurf in the middle of the Pat's logo....I'll leave you all to guess where I actually was or how I got there to have this photo taken. Christine and I will never tell.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

tree camp

The kids are participating in "tree camp" this week, a week long program held at our local children's museum's quaint little nature center (think one-room schoolhouse with a nature theme!). They meet every afternoon for 2 hours, under the direction of the fabulous Ms Nicky. The kids are thrilled to be back in "class" with Ms Nicky again, and are having a blast exploring the woods and learning all about trees.

Inside the Nature Center, they read a tree story and do some tree movement type things. OK, so honestly, I'm not sure WHAT they do, I have been banished to the porch by Zoo Boy, who wants me nearby (in case he might need me for something) but not actually IN the class with him. He's exploring his independence, but is not quite ready to fly totally solo. Fine with me, though, I like the porch -- T and I are getting in a lot of visiting time (her son, B, is in "tree camp" too).

The tree kids on their daily nature hike. They were digging around in the leaves to see what was living under there -- and actually found a BUNCH of stuff -- huge earthworms, lots of little black crickets, slugs, and a really cool salamander.

Zoo Boy and his brand new and very good friend, N, share some secrets on the porch of the Nature Center. This to me has been the very best part of tree camp -- Zoo Boy finding a friend. He and N hit it off instantly and are inseparable. And the best part is that N and his mom are a part of the social group T is working on putting together for the coming school year. Cool, huh?!?!

The kids assemble a tree from materials they found on their nature hike yesterday. This has been a perfect week weather-wise for tree camp -- September-like temps and bright blue, sunny skies. The kids are able to be outdoors the entire time, just like a camp -- tree or otherwise! -- should be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

it's where we live

I know I've not done a very good job of keeping up with the blog lately. I've been preoccupied by day with curriculum planning, and I've been preoccupied by night with the same thing hundreds of thousands of other TV viewers across the world have been preoccupied with.

One of the things that we really love about the Enki Education curriculum is it's emphasis on developing a healthy global consciousness. Their humanities program is designed around bringing the various world cultures to life for our kids, so that they see themselves as a part of those cultures as well as the one they are growing up in -- so that there is no "us" and "them", but just a deeper connectedness to all humanity. And that's an approach that jives very well with The Map Man's and my own world view, and something we would very much like to foster in our kids.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I let the kids watch me cheering on the likes of Michael Phelps and Dara Torres. I was worried that the overblown patriotic tone that tends to come along with the Olympics would take seed in them, and they would start to view themselves as just this one segment of the world, and everyone else as "them".

What I didn't expect was how much kids inherently understand that they are a part of ALL humanity, not just the tiny divisions of countries or races. The boys cheered on all the countries, all the athletes. No matter who was leading at the splits, they would call out "Hooray Italy! Yeah Great Britain! Go Jamaica! Swim, Australia, Swim! Hooray China!" And for the United States? For the U.S. they would turn on an extra bit of delight, an extra burst of excitement. "United States!!!" they would call. "That's where we live!!"

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the inherent wisdom of children will never cease to amaze me. Of course, why hadn't I thought of that? The U.S. is our address! It isn't who we are, it's where we live. And that doesn't make us any better or worse than anyone else with a different address. WE aren't different from one another, our addresses are.

So hurray for China, and Great Britain, and Russia, and Germany, and Korea (both of them), and Jamaica, and Australia, and Italy, and Japan, and Romania, and Kenya. And hurray for the United States! We can be a little extra excited about that. It's where we live!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

contemplating friendship, community, my naval....

(A few random photos for your enjoyment. This was the sky this week -- the weather can't decide what to do. We're up 20 inches of rain for the month, which is really saying something, given that our normal August rainfall is about 3 inches....)

This isn't one of those posts where I come to tell you some great revelation that I've had, or some conclusion that I've come to, or some great idea that someone has given me. This is one of those posts were I just sort of lay out my confused jumble of thoughts, hoping that perhaps in writing them down, they will somehow gel and reveal some hidden inner truth or understanding that has thus far been beyond my grasp.

(Zoo Boy performs the 'bent fork' magic trick -- the fun here is for me to appear horrified that he's bending up my silverware, then act ultra-relieved when he shows me that it was all just an illusion.)

Besides my head swimming with curriculum thoughts, school year planning, stories, field trips, projects, art supplies, and daily/weekly/monthly rhythms, I have also been somewhat preoccupied with my never-ending quest to seek out and/or create a sense of community and connectedness for my kids, in an environment where true friendships can blossom.

(J doing the vastly complicated, yet entirely impressive, Ace-in-the-Orange trick.)

Shouldn't that be easy enough? Creating a community? I mean, this state is just TEEMING with homeschoolers. They are everywhere! There are multiple local internet groups set up for homeschool families to get together, there are events posted, attended by gobs of homeschoolers, ever day of the week. Everywhere you go, homeschoolers are practically (and sometimes literally!) hanging out of the trees. Yet, all of the available options actually make it harder to establish a consistent community. There's no way to be everywhere at once, and because there are often several events going on each day, it spreads the homeschoolers out. Add in the cost of gas (oy yoy yoi....) and you could drive yourself both crazy and to the poor house trying to hook up consistently with any one set of kids. Even with our local Monday Homeschool Classes, the participants tended to change each semester, so that consistency I'm searching for winds up lacking a bit.

(A garden behind the CT Valley Historical Museum in Springfield, MA.)

I tried. Last year I REALLY tried to piece together a community of great kids with equally great Moms. I bent over backwards to try to accommodate schedules, to pick interesting places to meet, to arrange for private classes and programs. It didn't work. Everyone else was just too busy, or it just wasn't a priority for them, or their schedule were just impossibly in conflict with what was possible for us, or it was just too far to drive. More often than not, despite regularly inviting 4 or 5 other families to join us, it wound up just being me and my friend T, only 3 boys amongst the two of us. Not that I mind just getting together with them, it's GREAT in fact, but 3 is not the number I had in mind. Especially when 2 of them live together anyway. I admit, I got discouraged. And this summer I pretty much dropped the ball. I'm just too tired to keep trying without results.

(Zoo Boy holding one of his baby Parakeets from his recent clutch.)

Fortunately, T has picked up my dropped ball and is trying to make a go of it. Hopefully she'll have more success than I did and I can happily ride along on her coat-tails and energy. Meanwhile, I've talked our Monday Homeschool Classes into holding a Community Circle where we can hopefully all come together weekly and foster a sense of community celebration. Of course, I had to agree to plan and lead the circle in order for it to happen, but that's OK, if it works and families actually participate, it'll be well worth the effort. I'm going to weave the songs and activities we do in Community Circle into our own daily circle at home, to bring an air of consistency and hopefully a feeling of connectedness for the kids and me.

I guess there's not more that I can do, other than to keep making opportunities available to get together with other families and hope that they can find time in their lives (and change in their pockets for gas!) to join us. And I still keep wishing some homeschooling families would buy some of the houses that are for sale nearby....

Friday, August 15, 2008


(Photos from the Springfield Museums (in MA) from Wednesday -- I'll explain why I'm including them in this post a little later.)

Tuesday at "speech class" (which is what J calls his Speech and Language Therapy sessions, despite the fact the he really doesn't do any actual speech work, it's more language work and RDI), the talented Ms S made an important discovery while fiddling around with sequencing. She handed J index cards with key points on them about our daily trips to the lake -- you know, get in the car, walk onto the beach, enter the water, etc. -- and asked him to put them in order and tell her the proper sequence. He couldn't do it.

So Ms S demonstrated how to do it, saying "First we got in the car, then we drove to the beach, then we walked onto the beach," etc. Then she asked J to do the same thing, but in his own words. He added a couple of his own details, but basically said exactly what Ms S did, convincing her that he'd just memorized the sequence, rather than comprehending what it meant. She told me what had happened, and questioned whether it was a language problem, or a problem with episodic (autobiographical) memory. Which reminded me of something else I'd noticed -- when we get to the end of the day, we'll sometimes ask the kids what their favorite thing was that day. J always mentions whatever we JUST did, even if it was something totally ordinary or boring despite a day filled with fun activities. Ms S nodded her head and said that this definitely points towards an episodic memory problem. She further noted that his ability to memorize just about anything instantly has been acting as a strong compensation, making it harder for us to have recognized his difficulty with this. Ordinarily she would work on this just the way she started out -- with written cue cards the he could arrange in the correct order. But with his obsession (and distraction) with the written words, and his tendency to memorize the words and quote them back, she felt that another approach was indicated.

So she suggested taking photos throughout the day, printing them out at the end of the day, jumbling them up, and letting him put them in the correct sequence, then verbally tell the story of what we did that day -- that way he's not only working on sequencing and episodic memory, but also on his verbal ability to describe it.

These photos were from our first day of picture sequencing, and covered our trip to the Springfield Museums on Wednesday, where we checked out the Science Museum exhibits, played around in the Ecotarium, attended a puppet show (Jack and the Beanstalk) at the Fine Arts Museum, and played in the Dr Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden. At the end of the day, I printed these photos (plus one more of the kids in the Welcome Center when we first arrived), laid them out on the floor, and asked J to put them in the correct order. He looked htem over and his eyes grew wide, saying "This is HARD!" but he set to work, and accomplished the task. He did make one mistake, but corrected himself as he got further along. This was an easy sequence, as it all involved one location, and were significant events during our time there. It will get more difficult as I introduce photos of the more mundane portions of our day, or more subtle portions of activities, and will increase in difficulty again at the end of the week when I take one photo from each day and have him sequence the week. He didn't have much difficulty coming up with words for the photos, although they were fairly brief descriptions and lacked the format of "first we, then we," etc. But we'll work on that.

One really cool thing from Ms S's report on Tuesday was that when J did retell the sequence to her, he put it in the form of a story (into which he inserted the memorized fact) rather than just reciting the facts back to her. So instead of saying "First we got in the car", he said "One Wednesday afternoon we got in the blue car." I was pretty excited at the proof that he's picking up on the concept of storytelling from our work with the Enki Kindergarten Curriculum. And all this work on sequencing is great scaffolding for our Enki 1st Grade year story work, where sequencing skills are worked on with the story recall.

Monday, August 11, 2008

good luck, Ms. Anne!

The Amazing Ms. Anne poses with Zoo Boy and J this afternoon. Tomorrow is her last day at our local children's museum, so the boys and I dropped by to wish her well. She's off to pursue bigger and better adventures, but she'll always have a special place in the boys' childhood memories. To see some of them, go here and here and here and here and here and here.

Good-bye, Ms. Anne! We'll miss you!


While at Amelia's Garden in Westfield, MA, last weekend I really got into the patterns on the Coleus leaves, and figured I'd share some pics while talking about a related topic.

I spent yesterday afternoon (while my family attended a birthday party) reading through the Enki 1st Grade Nature Stories. These stories provide the bulk of the Science program for the Enki curriculum in the early years. Like other aspects of the Enki educational plan, there are some key differences between Enki's approach to science, and a standard "school-type" approach. And this difference is one of the primary reasons we chose to go with the Enki curriculum for our family.

The Enki approach strives to create an appreciation for the natural world and its processes, and guide the children in discovering their place in that world and those systems. As opposed to labeling, categorizing, and studying the myriad of pieces that comprise the natural world, the kids are allowed to explore the natural cycles and feel a part of them.

For instance, take the study of plants (given my photo theme for this post, I thinks it's a good example!). Rather than teaching the kids about leaf structure, photosynthesis, the carbon cycle, and the names and types of each plant, we instead read them stories about the Color Painters -- Little Red and Little Yellow, who carefully dab their paint here and there in the Spring, and Big Green who comes along after them and slathers everything with his wide paint brush, covering up Red and Yellows' delicate work. Red and Yellow get back to work during Summer, carefully dabbing their colors here and there amongst the greens of the grasses. In the Autumn, Green rushes around with his bucket to catch his color as it drips off the trees, revealing the original work of Red and Yellow on the leaves, which was there all the time.

There is plenty of time later in the children's development to learn the terms and specifics about the process of photosynthesis (for example, during 5th grade Botany, and 7th grade chemistry), but for right now we are encouraging the kids to EXPERIENCE the process rather than categorize it. This gives them a solid base from which to build more analytical learning as they become developmentally ready for it. And allows them to feel a part of the natural rhythms and processes of the world in which they live, which can only lead to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for science in all it's many aspects. I feel that this approach is especially important for kids like mine, who are such avid readers and are already, on their own, doing plenty of labeling and categorizing in their quest to know everything there is to know.

For our particular science curriculum, we will be reading one Nature Story per week on Friday evenings (around a campfire, or a fire in the fireplace). On Saturday mornings over breakfast, we'll recall the story (in much the way we do the Fairy Tales during our story work with them), and the kids will have time to paint or create with beeswax or clay, or some other form of artistic digestion of the story. At some point that weekend, we will take a family adventure to a location where they will have the opportunity to observe the process covered in the story -- for instance, with our above Color Painters example, we'll take a hike to an observation tower to view fall foliage. Or we'll rake leaves and jump in the piles. Or (more likely) both. And our morning walks will give the kids plenty of ongoing opportunities to observe and discover more about these processes. Finally, we will gather materials on our adventures to do nature crafts that tie in with the stories -- in the above example, we might collect leaves and do leaf rubbings.