Thursday, February 24, 2005

We're getting crushed by a snow storm today--we probably have about 8 inches out there already. It's a wet, heavy snow, which you can see by the way it's coating my rose trellises and the birdhouses. The kids have been out playing and sledding, and the poor puppy has baseball size iceballs caked in her fur.

Just two days ago, we were outside enjoying the sun and warmer temperatures. The kids played spy/survivor out in the woods behind our home, running around the wetland streams and communicating on walkie-talkies. They played out there for the better part of an hour, having a blast with the independence. It's great now because the leaves are off the trees, so I can still keep an eye on them. I'm wondering what we'll do when the leaves come out, along with the poison ivy...

When they came in, Sam took a nice long tub to warm up, drained it, soaped up the tub and walls and proceeded to "ice skate" for an hour, assuring me he would hold onto the railing to stay safe, which he did and had a ball in the process!

The girls read through Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom together, which I'd read to Julia that morning. They were both going through, working it out and going through the lower case and capital letters. When they were through, they pulled out their "Survivor" jug, in which they keep slips of paper with names from present and past episodes. The girls sat on the couch and sounded out the names, with Em helping Julia with the different sounds. At one point, Em discovered that Julia had writen down all their names as well, and she was a bit indignant that she could now get voted off the island. ;)

When they were through, Sam and Julia played, while Emily made herself a pad of paper by stapling some scrap paper together. She asked if we could write some words together with me writing them in lowercase while she would write them in caps. We went through a series of about 8 or 10 words, playing around with rhyming sounds and word families.

The kids had a great day, which they topped off by playing with some Crayola model magic, creating a kind of currency with it, which they then used to play store. They put on their gis and practiced their karate moves for a while. They capped off a great day by camping out in the living room on the sofa cushions. Yes, life is good!

Yesterday morning, the kids played with Sculpey on the back deck, making coil pots and letters. We baked it with the windows wide open, and the kids painted their creations in the afternoon. The girls have been really into figuring out words, playing around with the magnetic poetry words on the fridge and sending emails. Email accounts and online games have been big motivation with the reading. It's interesting watching the girls learn together, with Emily, older, having the stronger skills, but Julia, younger, having the greater motivation--the same way they potty learned. Guess that shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


We've been to a couple of musical theater productions in the past few months, and we've rented some musicals to view at home over the past several months--The Sound of Music, Cats, West Side Story, Camelot--that compliment some we have at home, including Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Moulin Rouge (bits and pieces). Emily now spontaneously bursts into song wherever she goes. It's amazing to watch how she incorporates the lyrics and choreography into the things she's doing, like raking leaves with me or playing with one of her dolls. It's a wonderful reminder that even the most mundane parts of life are worth singing about!

The other evening I was in my room putting on a DVD, and Em walked in and told me,
"I know there are 60 minutes in an hour. Because if a half hour is 30 minutes, then 30 plus 30 is 60! I knew that because 3 plus 3 is 6."

She figured out time for herself by extrapolating what she already knew and using her understanding of fractions and math. Pretty cool!

This weekend we've been participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count through Cornell Ornnithology Labs. It's such fun--I do love my birds! We were able to count the following birds during our observation hours:

Carolina Chickadee
Carolina Wren
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Downy Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker
House Sparrow
White-Throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Tufted Titmouse
Dark-eyed Junco
Blue Jay

and near the feeders:

Red-Shouldered Hawk
Turkey Vulture

Unfortunately, we didn't see some of the other species that occasionally visit our feeders such as the Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Mourning Dove and European Starling. We submitted our checklists for three of the four days and plan to participate in Project Feeder Watch throughout the year as soon as we receive our kit.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I'm sitting outside on my top deck typing this, enjoying the glorious weather we're having before the temperatures drop again. The sun is about 65 degrees warm on my face, I can hear the birds singing all around me, the delicate music of my waterfall flowing, and I see the antics of my silly chickens who are loving the warm weather almost as much as I. Julia is up early this morning and has several of her "animals" outside to soak in the sun. I've now had stuffed doggy and kitty kisses galore.

We had a lovely Valentine's Day. The kids were so excited and planned our celebration all weekend. At 4-H and throughout the week, we made Valentines to take to a local Senior Center, and with the scraps, the girls made confetti for their family celebration. Julia worked all week making special Valentines for everyone in her family, givign them to us and mailing them out.

Sunday night, Emily decided that she wanted to give gifts to her siblings. She worked so hard to fill two boxes she pulled from the recycling pile with gifts she thought her siblings would enjoy. She gave her the new bridesmaid outfit for her American Girl Samantha that she'd asked for this Christmas to Julia, who really loved it. She also gave her one of her tutus, her crown, a dress for Belle and one of her Teen Titan figures. For Sam, she put together a box with a new Winx Club DVD, her Teen Titan vehicle for Robin that he loves and some other small things. When she was satisfied with her gifts, she wrapped them and brought them upstairs for Sam and Julia to open Valentine's morning.

During the week Julia had made herself a fort out of a big box that we had in our recycling pile--the only large one there at the moment and one that Sam desperately wanted. For Valentine's Day, she made a Valentine heart that said "Love Sam," pasted it on the box and gave it to him as a gift. She couldn't figure out what to do for Emily, and it really didn't occur to her to give things she already had. Finally, she decided to make some special Valentine's for Em and to give her a rainbow unicorn she had drawn. Sam gave Emily one of his Rescue Hero animals Sunday night, because he couldn't wait another day.

When Monday morning came, the girls waited until Sam woke up, and then they spread their confetti and opened their gifts, and they were all so pleased. After opening her gift from Emily, Julia wanted to give some of her treasures to Em and Sam as well, so she ran to put together two more gifts. She gave Sam her William doll from Williamsburg and her spy wallet that she'd bought at the Franklin Institute that Sam had been wanting so badly and which she truly loved. For Emily, she gathered some of her Barbie's together to give.

It was so incredibly beautiful to watch the joy and generosity flowing out from their hearts for each other, like the beautiful story The Gift of the Magi in my very own home. It truly was the best gift of love I could have received for Valentine's Day!

At lunchtime we took our Valentine's over to the Senior Center where the children really brightened their day. We don't make a big production out of it, just pass them around the dining hall, wishing them well and stopping to chat with those who feel like it. It takes maybe 20 minutes of our time to do and gives so much to our lives and to the Senior's as well.

When we came home, I made Sam's Valentine gift--a Jedi cloak, which he adores. We made some Valentine sugar cookies and ran out of time in the day. I made the beginning of the girls' Valentine gifts yesterday morning--skirts for their Oriental outfits. The jackets I'll tackle this week, but the girls are thrilled with the skirts and wore them to bed last night. It's a real lesson against perfectionism for me: I look at the skirts and see all the mistakes but the girls see only the luxurious brocade beauty of them. Learning to see with the wonder and joy of children's eyes is a lesson from which we all could benefit immeasurably! How lucky I am to receive this lesson with an open heart from my beautiful children--the greatest teachers I have ever had!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Wednesday was Chinese New Year, which we celebrated with some friends at a local restaurant. The kids had a blast learning more about their Chinese sign, which element they were--earth, fire, water, wind or metal--and most of all, eating the buffet! One of the gals who organized it made sure that there were New Year party favors for all the kids, which they got to take home. The Chinese dragons were a huge hit, as were the snake dragons.

When we got home, we popped in a documentary we had borrowed from the library on China, and the girls and I watched a bit of it, learning some things about the Revolution. But, it was kinda boring, so we turned it off after a while and put something else in. The kids played on my bed for hours with those snake dragons, making letters out of them and taking turns guessing what it was supposed to be.

Jim was out to dinner with a guest speaker from work, so he didn't get home until late. The kids and I had a liesurely dinner, and the girls made themselves oatmeal for the first time. It was so cute to watch them standing at the stove in their aprons. Em even had to put on her Colonial dress for the full effect. Too cute! Afterwards they made some chocolate milk, and then started playing a game in which their "mother" would not let them talk to each other, so they had to write notes. For the next 45 minutes, we all wrote notes back and forth to each other, using a combination of pictographs, squiggles and real words. They never cease to amaze me with the things they come up with!

Thursday, we spent a glorious morning outside at the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp with our 4-H Gardening club in preparation for the Great Backyard Bird Count, birdwatching and just enjoying the weather. Cypress trees send up "knees" from their roots that help the tree to breathe, a great shot of which I got in the morning sunshine. We saw several birds, mostly by the feeder at the Visitor's Center, but a few during our walk.

When we returned from our hike, we spent some time in the Visitor's Center reptile room, where we got to see several black snakes at various stages of growth, a copperhead and even got to hold a corn snake. There are so many things for the kids to explore and learn about in the little hands-on museum there, from paw print identification to a see-through beehive. It's a wonderful place to explore!

Friday, February 04, 2005

While Jim was away in San Diego, the kids and I made our own "litmus" paper from boiling red cabbage. Simply chop up the cabbage and boil it for a few minutes, and you have an instant home test for acids and basics. We tested all kinds of things from vinegar and lemon juice to baking soda. The colors turned an incredibly vivid color, and the kids had so much fun watching them change and trying to change them back again. Once we'd done all the tests, the kids decided to try to neutralize the results, turning the pinks and blues back to the neutral purply color. This was, of course, great fun as the acids and bases reacted, sending purple fizz everywhere!

After a week away, Jim was much missed, and the kids had great fun reconnecting with Papa. Elaborate wrestling games were the order of the day, as Jim donned the dragon costume and Sam, brave knight, rescued his princess sisters. The dog, of course, couldn't resist joining the fray, though it's hard to say what her role was supposed to be. I believe by the end of the game, she had taken on the part of Shrek's donkey.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

This morning, we went to see Freedom Train , a Theatreworks musical about the Underground Railroad. The kids and I really enjoyed the production and felt it did a good job balancing the harshness of reality with humor.

When we got home, we pulled out a multi-media kit on the Underground RR that Emily had picked out about a year or so ago at the National Civil Rights Museum giftshop. We watched the video and listened to some songs, both traditional and more recent. Afterwards, we read biographies of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, from David Adler's Picture Book Biography Series. This is a great series for younger children--some good detail, but short enough to read in a single sitting.

The kids spent the afternoon playing underground railroad, and after dinner, Emily did an improv musical number. Just one more way Unschooling parents KNOW their children are learning:

I'm so tired from workin' all day,
Scrubbin' the floor and
Moppin' the floor.

No more doin' what Master say,
Oh Grandmother Moses,
Oh Grandma Moses,
Show us the way!

Just look toward the Northern Star,
Your only compass is the Northern Star,
You'll go through water,
Push through the bushes,
Grandmother Moses will be your guide.

Follow the Drinking Gourde!
God will find your way.
God will know you say
No more scrubbin' floors
No more dustin' ceilings.

Just follow the Drinking Gourde!
Just follow the Drinking Gourde!
Just follow the Drinking Gourde!
Now, you know what to do,
Just follow the Drinking Gourde!

It may look like a big spoon,
But it's the way to freedom.
Oh Moses! Oh Moses!

Oh Moses, please guide us to heaven.
Just guide us to freedom.
Just guide us to freedom, please,
You know what I'm talkin' about.

No more listenin' to Master say.
Send secret notes.
Say secret passages.

Go ahead and walk through streams
Carry your own young when they're so tired.
Go towards freedom.
Go or die.

No more words to say,
No more whips; no more cryin'.
Go on an Underground Railroad.
Go on an Underground Railroad.

It is a trail of houses,
Moses led more than 300 people to safety.
Women aren't weak!
Stand up whether you're black or white!

Just to be free!
That's what matters!
Now, you should know what I'm talkin' about: