Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Zoo for Trees

That's how my folks described the National Arboretum when we passed it on one of our trips to DC when I was a kid. Now that I live a possible 17 minutes from it (traffic makes a difference), I call it a Beauty Refuge. I don't mean "beauty" as in painting your toenails unnatural colors (that's for Girls' Night), I mean "Beauty" as in "Late have I loved you, ancient Beauty, ever new."

Aquinas tells us that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are all different words describing the same thing: God, the ultimate Beauty, the ultimate Truth, the ultimate Goodness. I had a hard time with that, Dominican though I am. Still, as I go on, it makes more and more sense. In the lab, we referred to the beauty of a discovery as "elegant." You knew you had the true answer if it was "elegant," even if the person describing it had no belief in God. It's funny: even if you deny God, you can't deny the astonishing beauty of His handiwork. It bears His mark and points to infinity - the more you look the more you see.

I live in what is technically a small town, but functionally a subdivision of suburbia. A maze of streets stuffed with houses, almost all of them red brick with white trim. Four stop signs on every corner. It's not a bad place. I bloom where I am planted and I plant where I am planted! Still, part of my heart longs for open spaces, broad views, and expanses of natural beauty which I do not have to weed or mow.

So, once a week in good weather, we pack our art kits and some lunch and head off to the Arboretum. I would say we've been there maybe 30 times, probably more. We still haven't seen the whole thing. We see new things almost every time we go, although we revisit our favorites often. The kids run and play and draw and soak up the beauty til it shines out their eyes. I walk with the Lord and play with the kids and return refreshed, my eyes retrained to see beauty wherever I am.

If you're curious, the picture is Leena in the older part of the Asian garden.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Do Not Call Expiring

Did you know that if you signed up as a phone-solicitor-free-zone when the Do Not Call Registry first started, your registration will expire next June? It only lasts for 5 years. Can it really be 5 years since someone tried to sell me siding during dinner? At any rate, you can re register here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When Scouts Night and Girls Night Collide

The boys left a little later, the girls started dancing a little earlier... Fun!

Part of Girls' Night is dancing, tea in the fancy cups, and make up of the most outrageous variety. Mxyl asked what the purple goo was for. Klenda explained that it was lip gloss, you know, to put on your lips to make them pretty. Mxyl had to make sure: To be pretty, you paint your lips purple? Uh huh.

Number Playground

With the weather cooling off, we are back to using the blackboard. 30' X 10' and walkable, what's not to like?

Here it is set up as a multi purpose number playground. You may need to click on the picture to see it. If you leap from star to star, you could learn your 7 times tables and catch a departing rocket. If you prefer lily pads, you can hop to your 6 times tables. 5s are on the coins (you have to jump with 2 feet). And 4s are in l'escargot, a French version of hopscotch (hopped on 1 foot, sil vous plait!).

On the side (and hard to see), we have the indispensable number line. Great for adding, subtracting, literal skip counting, and figuring out factors and primes. On a beautiful day, I often think we could home school with nothing but sidewalk chalk, the driveway and a library card!

Note to Oob

My dear, sweet Oob: I love you! You are the sweetest dearest baby possible. You are lovely and delightful. You point to where you came from (God).


You may not stay up past 10 PM.

If you stay up past 10, you may not get up before 5 AM.

If you stay up past 10, and get up before 5 AM with 2 extra wake ups in the middle, please do not look extra cute and perky.

Thank you.
The Management

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Home School: It's a Zoo

Yes! I actually took all 6 kids to the zoo by myself and no one got lost! After a week of various animal studies, we had a lovely day at the National Zoo.

Choclo discovered his favorite animal: the giant elephant shrew. Shrieks of laughter as this little fellow darted here and there wiggling his nose (I meant the shrew, although maybe it was a kindred spirit thing. After his first two bouts of darting here and there wrinkling his nose and laughing maniacally, Choclo was confined to stroller quarters for the rest of the zoo). Anyway, it's giant for a shrew, but it's only 8 inches long not counting the tail.

Mxyl saw 2 Orang utans walking on ropes overhead and a tribe of free ranging golden lion tamarins (little monkeys).

Klenda loved the underwater sea lions, the Prezewcki's horses and the maned wolves (the kangaroos were hiding).

Zorg got to see a young tiger walking around and 2 lionesses playing in the water.

Leena liked the elephant training session and the waterfall with turtles.

I got to nurse my small mammal (Oob) in the small mammal house. It's what mammals do.

The best part, for me, was that I had gotten the art kits together in time: each kid got a spiral- bound hard-backed book of drawing paper (probably 6 by 8 inches) and a case of colored pencils. There is something magical about the shift from casual viewing to really seeing that happens when you try to draw something. Plus, all the lovely pictures made great souvenirs and visual aids to explain the day to the Emporer.

Additional home school points: We talked about all the places the animals came from and learned all the countries in Asia which have elephants. We read all the signs and maps (they have lots of interactive exhibits). We memorized the 4 times table (how many legs on 6 Komodo Dragons?). We built muscles pushing the double stroller up the big hill (the entire zoo is built on one big hill! My advice, if you go there: park at the bottom and walk uphill in the cool fresh part of the day, down hill in the hot and cranky part of the day!).

Thursday, September 20, 2007


We've always liked having at least one striped baby suit so that when they get the BIG N (for Never Napping, thank you Mr. Sendak), we can put them in a jailbird suit. Oob is a mighty cute jail bird.

Fashionistas of Zoom

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On a positive note, the Dreaded Clothes Switch does bring out the fashionistas. Klenda is modeling her self designed "Cute Suit." Even more stunning in person, I assure you.

Zorg is reading in his own fashion statement.

Behind her you can see a faux tiger skin nailed to our living room wall. What you are missing is the faux lion skin nailed abpve it and the 2 faux marble columns on either side of the couch.

The Emporer assures me that some wives would be displeased if they came home and their husband had nailed faux animal skins on the wall. True, he doesn't usually take such an active hand in our interior decorating, but he fashioned the best possible back drop to our play about Croesus and Solon.

No stuffed animals were harmed in the making of this play.

My Favorite Chore to Dread

Alas, all the little Zoomlians were shivering in their shorts. It was time for the Dreaded Clothing Switch (that would be "switch" as in a hazel stick across the back of your legs).

Time to measure all the Zoomlians, to discover they are, er, zooming up by 1 1/2" - 2" each in the last 6 months. Time to figure out sizes and haul out the clothing bins.

I keep all the kids clothes (well, not the ones in current use) in about 30 of the 18 gallon Rubbermaid bins stacked in a row in the back basement. They sit across from the row of comic book boxes, eying each other to see which will ultimately win out and dominate the entire back basement -Bwahaha! I think the clothes may be winning, since I also have a number of odd garbage bags of clothes here and there, too.

The bins are much better than the cardboard box system I had used and much better than when all the clothes were in odd garbage bags (frequently with several sizes and genders in one bag). I really really TRY not to do that anymore since that way lies madness. I'm not sure how it keeps happening...

Anyway, today is my day of triumph since I have 6 dressers full of clean, usable, seasonable clothes. This will be followed by a night of anguish as I try to put everything away in the correct bins and get them all back to their neat row.

All this is not what I dread (much). What I dread is putting away the baby clothes. Can Oob really be in 6-9 months already? And Leena's clothes are worse! She will be too big for these next summer. I may never be given another little girl to wear them... At least with Mxyl I know Zorg will look great in them soon. Or Choclo. I have a hard time picturing Oob in Mxyl's clothes.

I have 6 kids. How many people get to have 6 of them? 6 babies to hold and snuggle and nurse. 6 first smiles and first belly laughs. 5 first steps and first words and first knock knock jokes. 4 first words read, first day really and truly potty trained, first writing their names. It goes on and on, opening into ever wider worlds of first robots built, first bikes and kites and trains. Ever wider, ever farther, all and each a bittersweet gift of God.

It seems trite: They're getting so big. The time goes so fast. I remember yesterday when they each were so small. Gee, you have your hands full. But it's all true and I am thanking God for every moment here and now with my hands and my heart full.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I am Mxyl. I think this planet is pretty weird but I like your technology. I like to make useful gadgets like robots.

On Zoom I had a spacecraft that was so fast it could vanish into thin air. It looked like a flying saucer.

I like Earth because I love exploring new places. I love to visit Google Earth to explore.

Earth is fun!

The Play Was the Thing!

It started with a series of signs (made by Klenda) which read:

Coming Soon....

King Cyrus!.....


and King Croesus!....

HISTORY! the play.

It was very well recieved. Not to be missed were:

Klenda as Croesus using a rich brogue (like Scrooge McDuck).

Mxyl as Solon, enjoying the shocked expression of Croesus.

Zorg bounding on stage as a singing Cyrus (he was convinced it ought to have been a musical): "I am King Cyrus! I conquered you!!! And now all your treasure and palaces and gold mines are....MINE!"

Leena, the scene stealing soldier, tying up and untying Croesus.

The whole thing was way too much fun! I think we will do more plays.... Maybe this was HISTORY, the play, Act 1!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

As Rich as...

We are reading A Child's History of the World by Villier. I'm reading it aloud and the older 3 or 4 are drawing pictures to accompany it. Great fun with the added bonus of extra projects with any story that catches our fancy. In this case the story was missing from Child's History but well worth telling. We came across the story of Croesus (the very rich king). What Child's History skipped was the story of Solon (the wise) and Croesus.

My very dear friend, Fr. Mark, is slogging toward his comps for his doctorate in Church History, but his original major was Classical History. Add to this a natural flair for story telling and throw in a quirky sense of humor and you will see why he is both a sought after dinner companion and our number 1 favorite history resource! He got me hooked on his favorite author, Plutarch (whom I used to confuse with Petrarch!). This story is from Plutarch's Life of Solon and will be acted out, dinner theater style for Fr. Mark tonight!

Croesus invited Solon to view his (ostentatious) wealth and expected, and then demanded, that Solon compliment him as the happiest man in the world. Solon gently declined saying that he knew of one happier. Who could that possibly be? A farmer who owned his own small farm, raised good kids and died fighting for his homeland, honored by all.

Hm. Not what Croesus had in mind. Well then, would the wise Solon allow that Croesus was the second happiest? No. There was this little old lady who wanted to go to a festival to honor the gods, but she was too poor to afford horses to draw her cart. Her kids hitched themselves up and took her there and back and that night she died content.

The king was pretty irritated now, but Solon explained that sure, Croesus had wealth now, but he had to defend it. How was he to know if Croesus would end up wealthy and happy or poor and miserable?

Croesus threw the bum out.

Some time later, Cyrus of Persia dropped by and snatched Croesus' kingdom. As Croesus was tied up and led away to be burned, he cried out, "Solon!" three times as loud as he could.

Curious, Cyrus called him over and got the whole story. He got the point immediately. Sure he was as rich as Croesus now, but... He turned Croesus loose and treated him with honor for the rest of his days. "Thus," says Plutarch, "Solon had the honor of saving one king and instructing two."


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Happy Birthday

To the lovely lady who shares a birthday with Zorg!

You showed me the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
You walked the walk and showed me how to walk it to.
You told me to do what He tells me!
Thanks Mom!
I love you!
Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Zorg!

Happy Birthday, Zorg! You are the funniest, sweetest, smartest, strongest, most helpful, most feline, most persevering, silliest, 7 year old Zoomlian I know (and I know a lot of Zoomlians!). There's a reason your nick name is "Mighty"! You are amazing and I thank God you every day. You are also the only 7 year old I've ever known who is crazy for cheese cake! Meow!!

The Grand Emporer Has Returned

After having surgery! He should be up and around by the end of next week. Til then, the forecast is for intermittent home school with light blogging.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Home School Blocks

This is how it works:

We always start with Prayer Time/Bible Time/Violin Time (usually also nursing Oob time).
The other kids can then take a 15 -30 minute break while I play with Choclo.
Now we start the blocks. I have 4 kids, so there are 4 blocks of time. Everything in a block happens at the same time.

Block 1:
I spend time with Myxyl, maybe doing some math.
Klenda works independently in a workbook, reading a book, or on a project.
Zorg does a chore say, cleans a bathroom.
Leena does something fun, either pouring water in different containers or her own idea

Block 2:
I spend time with Klenda, show her how to make designs with a compass
Zorg does independent work
Leena washes walls
Mxyl draws robots

Block 3:
I play Dolch knights with Zorg (sight word game)
Leena does her wipe off alphabet book
Mxyl cleans a bathroom
Klenda plays with sculpey clay

Block 4:
I do math manipulatives with Leena
Mxyl works independently
Klenda washes windows
Zorg draws on more index cards (he is making a game)

This leaves me time to do stuff together: Child's History of the World (I read while the kids draw about it, or do related activities), and an enormous unit on the human body (lots of experiments!). It also leaves us with large swaths of time free in the afternoon for kids to do their own thing.

Home School Style

Ive been reading the book 100 Top Picks For Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing The Right Curriculum And Approach For Your Child's Learning Style.

After taking the quizzes, it looks like I fall under the "unit study" type and the "unschooling" type in about equal measure. Oh, there is a strong dose of "eclectic" and some "Charlotte Mason" thrown in, to be sure, but I pretty much run shrieking from "traditional schooling" and "classical curriculum." If I really want a label (and I don't) I could go with Melissa Wiley's "tidal" style.

I'm not so interested in the labels as the different approaches. I've been thinking a lot about the why and the how and the what we do around here. Mxyl is entering 5th grade. We had a light year while I was on bed rest. We now have Oob the magnificent who does not ever want to nap along with Choclo who forgot, over the summer, how to amuse himself during home school time.

Time is increasingly precious and it is forcing me to distill the essence of what is important. This is good, I think I needed the squeeze. Here is what I am thinking:

We are raising people who are unique and eternal. I need to be focussed (and keep them focussed) on who they are becoming. For example: it isn't enough to tell a kid to stop smacking their sister with a brick (to be fair it was a cardboard brick) just because she is annoying them. I want them to become a person who does not respond in anger to petty irritations. It isn't enough to "do math," I want them to see in math the beauty of the rules which God used to construct the universe.

How to? I need to tighten the scheduling to provide one on one time with each kid. I am going to do homeschool blocks 2 or 3 times a week.