Thursday, December 25, 2008

Caroling: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Every year we try to go Christmas caroling to all the houses where we went trick or treating. We sing a song and hand out candy canes and wear silly hats. It does tend toward mixed results, but this year was remarkable:

The Good: The L family. They smiled, they clapped, they danced along - they LOVED it!

The Bad: The house where the lights were on but they were taking a while to get to the door. Mxyl said, "Someone's there, I can see them. Hey, look at that! They're drinking wine straight from the bottle!" The Emperor and I (in stereo),"O.K., let's move on to the next house!"

The Ugly: The house of the really nice Chinese folks where we started "Joy to the World" in 2 different keys and never recovered. I am guessing they are still wondering why total strangers showed up, made a horrible noise and then gave them candy. They actually asked, "Where do you live?" and the Emperor pointed out the house on the corner. I doubt it would have helped if I had answered, "We're from the planet Zoom."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Have Yourself a Messy Little Christmas

It looks like a bit of a messy Christmas here.

Leena got sick Sunday and was fine on Monday, so we figured we were out of the woods. We would at last have a Christmas where no one was sick!

Except the Emperor came down with it. Which means it's possible that I haven't had it yet either...

My parents won't be able to make it due to a combination of our health, their health, and bad weather.

Lastly, we had been hoping that Leena would be making her First Communion at Christmas, and, for a variety of reasons, that won't be happening.

Messy. No "perfect" Christmas this year.

Makes me think of the first Christmas.

I have easily more than a dozen nativity scenes around my house and every single one of them show a sweetly smiling Mary on nice clean straw with Baby Jesus tucked just so into an adorable manger.

I've been thinking two things:

1. That would have been really messy. Have you ever been in a stable? Do you know what the straw on the floor is for? It's because the animals aren't house broken. And they were busy - the inn was full. When was the last time that stable had been mucked out?

Let's suppose you haven't spent a lot of time in a stable. That brings me to the second thing.

2. What would a modern equivalent be? My best guess is this: They had to take a bus - the kind you see in third world countries with all the people hanging out of it. It still took 3 days. They got there and there was no room. Someone finally let them sleep in the garage. If you've ever given birth, how would you feel about doing it the first time in an unheated garage without help? Very messy.

So if you could have it absolutely any way you wanted (like if you were, say, God) why would you make it so messy? Wouldn't you have gone the castle/hospital/jacuzzi route?

I think it's because our lives are so messy. He came to help us out of the mess and He couldn't do it without getting His hands dirty, at least not in a way we'd understand.

So He started here. It's like He's showing us that all the external stuff is irrelevant. Christmas isn't about having our messes cleaned up or papered over. It's about Jesus coming into our messy places to bring us joy! It's perfect!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Well Rounded Education

At lunch, further proof that the learning never stops around here:

Klenda: So, who would win, Hulk or... Who's that guy with the really powerful crowbar?
The Emperor: That's the Wrecker. The Hulk would win.

Klenda: That's true, he's not really in the same class as the Hulk.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Quick, Cheap Present Idea

Shhhh! Don't tell the Zoomlians! They LOVE bookmarks.

You can do this in Word or a photo program. Open a document in landscape format and insert a bunch of pictures across the top (I fit in 11 or 12).

If the bookmarks are for a particular kid, I do mostly pictures of things they like. Text (going perpendicular to the picture) is a fun option. Something like a squirrel holding a nut may say "I'm nuts for this book!". Google Images is my friend.

If they are for an adult, like a grandparent, I do pictures of the kids, maybe with funny things the kid has said.

I print it on photo paper and cut with our rotary cutter.

Yeah, it is cheap and easy, but this is a present that the adults and kids have really used, enjoyed and commented on, even several months later and it's a great gift if you have avid readers in your family.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fifth Down

I was making pies with Leena, the Kid of the Week. That means she gets to plan all the weeks meals and help make them. She thought we really ought to have apple pie for breakfast, so we were working on it.

Choclo wandered into the kitchen, "Diaper change, please?"

"OK, honey, in a minute." We finished mixing the spices in, dumped the apples into the crust and put on the top crust.

"Choclo?" He was lying face down in the middle of the kitchen, snoring.

I really wanted to take a picture, but just didn't have the heart to leave him there. Instead, I carried him upstairs and changed his diaper. He actually woke up in the middle to give me a chipper, "Hi, Mommy." And he was out again.

By the time we got him up for dinner, the fever had hit. Not too bad, controllable with ibuprofen. He'll have a happy truck video day tomorrow and probably be fine the next day. The first 4 kids have recovered and the grown ups only had a mild case. This just leaves Leena... Waiting for the 6th shoe to drop...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Zorg was just born with the heart of a hero. I have seriously never appealed to this kid's noble spirit in vain.

Today I was already going in 6 directions when I picked up the mail and realized I had been delivered my neighbors outgoing mortgage check. Oops. On the 16th of the month, that can't be good.

No mailman in sight, but the truck was still there. Oob chose that moment to wake up crying.

Zorg to the rescue!

He waited at the door, watching for the mailman. When he finally saw him across the way, he dashed out into the chilly rain, (looked both ways before crossing the street) and gave the mailman the envelope. Through the window I saw him explain to the mailman and the guy give Zorg a hearty slap on the back.

When he came in, I said, "Zorg, you are a superhero!"

"No," he replied, "I don't have any special powers. I'm just a hero."

All this and modesty, too.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Lights

We are having a small year for Christmas lights. We have fake evergreen garland (wound about the part of the porch that frames the door) threaded with purple and white lights. The purple lights are for Advent; we'll light the white ones during Christmas proper. We also have a boy scout wreath on the front door (thank you, Mxyl). And the outdoor nativity, of course.

We are much more decorated inside, but I do feel the outside could be more festive.

So maybe next year we could do something like this:

Or perhaps this, if you don't think it's too much.

Hmm, we have all year to plan...and get the degree in computer science...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fame and Fortune

Well, fame, anyway! We are featured in a fun article by Kate Tsubata in the Washington Times .

In a bizarre coincidence, we are also in an article in Faith and Family this month, but that won't be available online until next month.

We'll just bask in the glory for a moment...

OK, times up!

Happy Gaudete Sunday! I guess that's redundant, since "gaudete" means "rejoice!"
For your rejoicing, my favorite version of "Gaudete" on You Tube:

Friday, December 12, 2008

7 Quick Takes

1. Cool home made present for kids: get 2 ten foot lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe and one bag each bag of (1/2") end caps, T connectors and elbows (make sure they are "slip", not threaded). Cut the pipes to various lengths and sand the edges (if you want to be fancy). Presto! A building set which can be used plain, with water, or air pressure. Total cost: $13. This is what the Zoomlians used to build marshmallow blasters.

2.I really like to knit...scarves. I don't have the, how shall we say? Attention, precision, presence of mind, moral fortitude to do sweaters. I like to just sit and knit while listening to the Emperor read without really having to think about it much. And all my hats come out funny. OK, the matching blue frog hats I knit for my parents were meant to be funny, but the rest of them weren't.

3. Secret of the Universe: If you don't want to be late, don't try to be on time. Aim for a little early and the last minute traffic/diaper change/baby blurp will be factored in. You will be a little early some of the time, on time most of the time, and sometimes a little bit late. If you think I'm being extreme, I'm a moderate: my Dad always says, "Five minutes early is ten minutes late."

4. Oob has learned to say, "Pleeeeese!" The only way he knows how to say it is in the tone of a starving child begging for a dry crust with large eyes and furrowed brow. And he says it often. I feel like Scrooge: No, you can't eat the entire package of marshmallows, bah, humbug!

5. I want to visit Mongolia. When I was a kid, my Dad traveled the world and brought me dolls from different countries. I look at the cluster map here and think, I have a doll from your country, and your country...

6. Ah, Mongolia... As I got older, he brought me a wide variety of Mongolian arrow heads. From rough cast in sand to a sleek barbed 3D triangle, I could touch the evolution of the arrowhead. I devoured all information about the Khans. Then I got older and saw The Story of the Weeping Camel. Some people wish for gondolas or towers; me, I yearn for a yurt.

7. My husband would like some of the quality attention I have been lavishing on this blog.

But you can read more with Jen!

12 Days

The Zoomlians love "The Twelve days of Christmas"( partly due to this You Tube, no doubt). At lunch today, we discovered a really interesting number pattern in the song.

There was a heated discussion about whether the person gave every single item listed on a given day ("Today, I give you 3 French hens and another 2 turtledoves, and yet another partridge in a another pear tree." as opposed to "Today, I give you 3 French hens, and remember those turtle doves and so forth I've given you so far.")

I flatly stated that it was the first option. We designed a chart to show how many of each gift you would end up with. We wrote the numbers 1-12 down the page and placed an icon for each gift on the appropriate day. We kind of ended up with a tall column of pear trees, a shorter column of turtledoves, etc. Then we skip counted them (the older kids multiplied).

To see the number pattern we found, highlight the next space (or, even better, find out be doing it yourself!):
12, 22, 30, 36, 40, 42, 40, 36, 30, 22, 12

Once we saw the pattern, we could see why it had to be that way, but it had never occurred to me to even look! How cool is that?!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zoomlian Games: If I Had a Rutabaga

This is another game born out of difficult circumstances.

I was in the emergency room with Klenda. She was feeling much better thanks to a liter of IV fluids and anti nausea medication, and she wanted to Go Home Now. Of course, we couldn't until all the paperwork had gone through....

So I told her, "You know, if I had a rutabaga, a really BIG rutabaga, I'd carve it into a boat and sail you home right now."

She answered, "Well, if I had a rutabaga, a really BIG rutabaga, I'd carve it into a giant squid, just for you." (Isn't that just the sweetest thing?!)

This is a great game for the random pauses of life when your kids really want to be doing something or want something they can't have.

Some things we would have done if we had rutabagas (some require Very Large Rutabagas):
Carved a play castle,
Spun it like a top,
Carved a working rocking horse,
Carved a working rutabaga plane,
Made paper from it and used the top as a quill and the juice as ink and write out Carl Sandberg's Rootabaga Stories,
Used it as a ball,
Made a chess set,
Carved and played a violin (Stradabagius),
Steamed, mashed, and eaten it.

What would you do if you had a rutabaga?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Gray Hair

I was looking at e mail when I heard a long scream followed by Choclo shrieking over and over, "My eye! My Eye! My eye!"

I covered the 30 ft between us in .7 seconds only to discover that I had misheard him. He was actually shrieking, "My I! My I! My I!"

He had been trying to make a capital letter I with the big red cardboard blocks, and it kept falling over. When I had recovered all my internal organs, I helped him find some of the more stable, less chewed on blocks.

That fixed his I problem.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Portfolio Time!

Warning: This is a brag post. If you're not in the mood, skip it! I had tough day with the little guys and a stomach bug scare. Everyone's OK, but I was a bit frazzled. So I decided to work on my portfolio review tonight because it always makes me feel better.

Yes! It's almost time for my home school portfolio review! I would have thought this would be incredibly stressful and my least favorite thing about home schooling.

It would be except: 1. I have the best home school reviewer in the world (and no, she has no idea about this blog) and 2. Once I start looking back on all the cool stuff we've done, I get really jazzed up: Hey! We're LEARNING here! What else can we do?
1 + 2 = 3: The portfolio review is a big brag fest and the reviewer is excited and encouraging.

The only down side is the time it takes to write out all the "materials utilized" and "concepts completed." For example, this school year so far, in science, Mxyl has used: Lego Mindstorm NXT robotics kit, computer, Popular Science and Science Illustrated, Bill Nye videos and books, Magic School Bus videos, models,books and computer games, salt, borax, and other chemicals, periodic table, wire, lamp hardware, household wiring, library books and other videos, websites, experiment books, zoo, Boy Scouts, microscope, binoculars, magnifying glasses, flower bulbs and plants, pets, parks, wild animals, APOD, Snap Circuits, public works, nature walks, found objects, star charts, cooking (and then we run out of space) and he learned the concepts:Robotics, programming, making circuits, electricity (static and current), basic household wiring, creating a lamp, amps, volts, watts,energy, alternative sources of energy, pollution, ecology, endangered species, habitats, food web, domestication of animals, simple machines, power, force, friction, work, air pressure, crystallization patterns, salt, hypertonic, isotonic, hypotonic (review of cells and human body systems), DNA, genetics, cybernetics, periodic table, elements, reactions, atomic models, creating and maintaining our museum(and we are out of space in this little rectangle, too).

It's all in tiny type because there 6 subjects on the first page of the form! How are you supposed to squish it all in? But it's fun to try!

It's also fun to bring in some of the stuff we've done. I'll bring Mxyl's latest robot as his science example, and some of the Egyptian stuff, the ribbons from the gingerbread houses, and lots and lots of pictures. This year I will have some special extras: an article in the latest Faith and Family featuring our Plutarch Party, and possibly a column by the excellent Kate Tsubata in the Washington Times about our home school. I don't know if it will be out in time. When they come out on the net, I'll link to them.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Zoomlian Games: When I Was a Kid

It started with whining. The Zoomlians don't tend to whine a lot, but it was a hot muggy July afternoon at the zoo. Like every zoo I have ever visited, the zoo in DC is built on an enormous hill. Naturally, the default setting is to go merrily down the hill in the cool of the morning and trudge up the mountain after the weather has warmed 20 degrees and the kids are melting down and the stroller has mysteriously gained 10 pounds (I'm not complaining, I've done that too).

The Zoomlians noticed that it was hot. Very hot. Unbearably hot. Mom, I'm hot! I'm hot... I'm sure your kids have never done this, but I'll bet you get the idea.

The Emperor finally said, "You think this is hot? This is nothing! When I was a kid it was so hot..." How hot was it? "It was so hot that you had to drink your popsicle through a straw!"

Well, that was nothing, when I was a kid it was so hot... How hot was it? It was so hot that we had to put a bun on the dog. We were off and running!

The whole thing ended with Zorg. When he was a kid, it was so hot...How hot was it? It was so hot that everybody just...died. Um. OK.

It turns out this also works for cold (when I was a kid, it got so cold we all climbed in the freezer to warm up [yes, they know not to really play in the freezer...]) , wet/rainy (it was so rainy that we had animals gathering 2 by 2 outside our house), hungry (we ate real pop rocks), and messes you have to clean up (when I was a kid, my room was so messy that my Mom got the big leaf vacuum truck and... SLLLLUUURRRRPP!")

If life was tough when you were a kid, (how tough was it?) leave it in the comments!

Next time: the classic Zoomlian game If I Had a Rutabaga.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

We love St. Nicholas (we don't really do Santa, as explained here) and today is his feast day!

Last night, the Zoomlians left their shoes out and are just discovering the candy inside...

Do you know why St. Nicholas is associated with presents? It's not like his feast is that close to Christmas - St. Lucy is much closer.

St. Nicholas lived in the 300s in the Roman city of Myra. There were two easy ways to become a slave in the Roman empire: be conquered or be poor enough to be sold by your parents. (Are we getting too far from Christmas for you?)

St. Nicholas was not poor (and he was a Roman citizen)! In fact, his parents had just died and left him fabulous wealth. But Nicholas wanted to give everything to God and, as his first step, decided to give away his money. He prayed for guidance and looked for opportunities.

He heard of about a poor man with three daughters. Back in the day you needed a dowry to marry, and he had no way to provide for any of his daughters so he had determined to sell them into the, er, worst kind of slavery.

St. Nick wanted to help the man, but mindful of Jesus' "not letting the left hand know what the right hand was doing", wanted it to be anonymus. So...

He put enough money for a dowry in a bag and dropped it down their chimney in the middle of the night... where it fell into a sock that had been hung near the hearth to dry... Sound more familiar? He did that three nights in a row and saved all three girls.

St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of children.

Best St. Nicholas site ever.

And, to fill your shoe, This Fabulous Meme!

If you were trapped on a desert island and it was Christmas and all you had was a small generator, Christmas lights for your coconut tree, an endless supply of Christmas cookies and eggnog, your CD player and 6 Christmas CDs , which 6 albums would you want them to be?

If you can find Amazon links, we can listen to snippets...

My answers:
1 Theatre of Voices, Carols from the Old and New Worlds
2 Paul Hillier, Traditional and Modern Carols
3 Canadian Brass, The Christmas Album
4 Anonymus 4, Wolcum Yule
5 Westminster Cathedral Choir, Christmas Carols (not in print)
6 A Very Veggie Christmas

Why 6? St. Nicholas' feast day is December 6th. Plus I started with 5, but couldn't whittle the list down enough. And I still didn't get Mitch Miller in there!

I will tag The Emperor over at The Inside Blog, The Queen of Carrots, Tracy at Organic Learning, Kate in NJ, and Melissa in the Bonny Glen

Friday, December 5, 2008


The Zoomlians have been going around singing this since last Sunday when we started bringing out the Christmas stuff. They only know the refrain, but they sing it over and over. I've been meaning to teach them the verses... after I learn them. Here is a you tube with many versions of the song, some of which I love (I hear Theater of Voices in there!), and some... well...not so much! (What were they thinking with the German rock version?!)

I find the different versions of songs fascinating in the same way I find word etymology fascinating. My advice, skip the versions you dislike.

Which reminds me of my other favorite Latin carol: Personent Hodie. Same deal:

7 Quick Takes

Thanks Jen for starting this!

1. If I do one random thought about each Zoomlian, does that still count as random? Why do I worry about it?

2. Oob: Dorito breath is bad. Coffee breath is worse. Both are lovely compared to fish food breath.

3. Choclo: I forget that he confuses his pronouns, so we have conversations like this:
Choclo: Mommy, you like chocolate milk?
Me: No, actually, I don't like chocolate milk.
Choclo: (perplexed): You like apple juice?
Me: Yes, apple juice is nice.
Choclo (getting concerned): Mommy, you like metalmaid (lemonade)?
Me: Ooooh! YOU want a drink!
Choclo (nodding vigorously): YOU want a drink!

4: Leena is very concerned about the acorn shortage. The squirrels are everywhere: into our garbage and climbing on our window screens. After a few days of handing out the spare Brazil nuts from last Christmas (someone must like those, but no one here), I finally broke down and bought squirrel food. We haven't seen a squirrel since.

5. Zorg: I would have home schooled for no other reason that this rough and tumble, wrestling, weapon crazy, cub scouting boy still loves to snuggle up and give everyone in the family hugs and kisses.

6. Klenda and I saw the Dancing White Horses! I've wanted to see them since I was a horse crazy 9 year old myself, but it was incredibly more fun to see them for the first time with her! That's something we'll both remember all our lives and it was a window into my childhood. I'd forgotten how beautiful horses are!

7. I told Mxyl that our home school portfolio review was coming up and I'd like to be able to show his advancing skills in robotics. Could he build me a robot to take in? Sure! He is in the last stages of programming Spike, a scorpian robot. When it senses something in it's path, it backs up. If the thing advances, Spike "stings" it. It's very cool, even though all actual arachnids give me the screaming heebie jeebies. But then, I don't live near any actual scorpians (sorry, Jen!).

Favorite Advent Resource Ever

It's a lovely book in the Walter Wick I Spy tradition. Mine is called Do You See What I See?, but it seems to have been renamed . As you look for an item each day (there is a new picture every two days) the book goes through Salvation history, applying it to common childhood experiences, and inviting kids to enter into the Christmas mystery and search for Jesus (and many related items!). The rhymes are decent and the pictures, while not on Wick's level, are suitably intriguing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poster Post 2

Here's how our Advent themed posters turned out! You can click on it for a better picture.

The borders are just construction paper cut into fanciful shapes, but I think it gives a more finished look. I think I need to outline Baby Jesus when we're closer to Christmas: as is, he fades into the hay.

Leena helped cut out the borders and is showing her approval.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Leena's Gingerbread Christmas Tree

As you can see, it's not actually gingerbread!

It's cream cheese sugar cookie dough tinted green and flavored with peppermint oil. We knew we were eating this one!

But it is what she wanted: a Christmas tree decorated with candy! Yum!

Monday, December 1, 2008

For the Queen of Carrots

Who is celebrating The First Day of Christmas Music. Sorry, we're a bit late; on Zoom this holiday is not celebrated until December 1st...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Poster Post

We've been studying the virtues with this poster since September. I drew the symbols lightly in pencil and we colored them in as we came to each virtue. It was cool seeing the "invisible" virtues pop into color!

This was pretty simple. I explained what the virtue was and then asked them for examples. We tried for an Old testament example, a New Testament example, something from the life of a saint, and some way they could practice it. We ended up with examples from stories sometimes, and we tried to practice the virtue and notice others with the virtue. We probably did this on and off for a week or so for each virtue. I think we skipped some weeks - I have a hard time keeping focused on things (I think we started this during the Egypt high tide).

The lettering is done in the BioColor gold paint from DSS. I love it because it really shines like gold, but it's hard to read in parts of the picture! The cross says "Faith," the anchor says "Hope," and the shield says "Temperance."

This poster will be coming down next week end when we strip the walls to make way for all of the Advent and Christmas stuff. Our walls are usually pretty heavily decorated, so I actually enjoy the dramatically bare beginning of Advent. We add a decoration a day (not counting kid projects) so everything fills up gradually.

Speaking of which...
This past Sunday was the feast of Christ the King! I am in no way as artistically ept (can one be ept, or just inept?) as the poster looks. I used my super cheap opaque projector. It's basically an enclosed light bulb and mirror. It can only be used for 15 minutes at a time and the room must be completely dark... but other than that, it's great!!! I traced it from a picture I found on the internet, and the kids colored it in and decorated it. We used that BioColor gold again and rhinestones (also from DSS). I think Klenda added the Sacred Heart. Zorg said, "It looks live action!!"

I will reuse this poster as the "Christ will Come in Majesty" poster. I am hoping to have three posters of this size (~3' x 4' from my Big Roll of Paper [is this turning into a DSS commercial?]) hanging side by side on the dining room wall.

I still need to make "Christ Came in History" and "Christ Comes in Mystery." The "History" one will be a nativity scene (outlined at night in 15 minutes!) and the Mystery one will be the Eucharist, probably drawn freehand. The kids will color and paint them, and probably decorate the edges with construction paper. I don't know how to explain that, but it makes the posters look more like banners. We use fancy shape scissors and cut out decorations for the corners (think of old fashioned photo corners) and also fringe for the bottom.

Gingerbread Update!

The Zoomlians took the gingerbread contest by storm! Mxyl got fourth place and Klenda took second as well as "Most Creative!"

Saturday, November 22, 2008


2 weeks, 12 egg whites, 6 batches of royal icing, 4 batches of gingerbread, 3 batches of hard candy, 7 bags of store bought candy, and nearly 14 pounds of powdered sugar later... We have gingerbread!

This year's entries:

Zorg's Super Christmas.
The house and yard are covered with superheroes and super villains doing battle!

That's Spiderman fighting Sandman on the roof.

Wolverine with a tied up Sabertooth is on the left.

Superman (with the cape) is in the middle with Lex Luthor (whose head has been knocked off!).

Iron Man is against the house having just thrown Iron Monger through the fence.

Next we have Klenda with Worst. Christmas. Ever.

Yes! It is a gingerbread Godzilla trashing a gingerbread city with his horrible cotton candy breath!

The rules of the contest state that the base must be plywood and everything else must be edible (except for electric lights) not even a candy wrapper is allowed!

Klenda went with the gumdrop and candy cane lights. She has tons of detail, from scorched gingerbread to careful cracks.

Last, but not least, we have Mxyl with So Maybe it Wasn't Reindeer!

We have a sweet little house, forest, and skating pond as well as a UFO with present bearing alien.

We also have a dozen or so little people reacting with everything from shock (fainted), fear (hiding in the woods), to delight (trying to climb the UFO to get the presents).
Did I mention that Leena wants to do one too?

She is too young to enter the contest, so she will do hers next week...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mystery Science Friday...

Today is the feast of St. Albert the Great, teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, Bishop, Naturalist, Patron Saint of Scientists, and one of my all time favorites!

But today we are working on gingerbread.

So we decided to celebrate yesterday!

I had nothing prepared, so I hauled out 8 of our many books of science experiments and turned the Zoomlians loose.

Leena started off with an interesting pressure experiment. Fill and cap a water bottle and poke a hole near the bottom with a push pin. Nothing happens. Until you squeeze the bottle at all. If you, say, grab the bottle to pick it up, you get a very forceful stream of water. Fortunately, she did not figure out the implications of this for mayhem. She was distracted by Klenda's experiment.

Klenda strung string between chairs and was exploring "equal and opposite reactions". She had a straw on the string and taped a balloon to the straw. She would blow up the balloon, then let it go sailing along the string. Then she noticed what Zorg was doing and decided she wanted a diver, too.

Zorg had cut a diver out of foil and attached air tanks (the bendy part of a straw) with a paper clip. Another paperclip at his feet made him bob upright. He put the little diver into a 2 liter soda bottle filled with water and put the cap on. After a few adjustments (more or less foil), the diver floated at the top. When you squeezed the bottle, the increased water pressure compressed the air in the straw and the diver sank. When you let go, the diver surfaced. Mxyl immediately started work on a robot diver.

The Mxyl got interested in experimenting with fire. He found different sizes of canning jars and a candle, and then experimented to see how long it took for the candle to use up the oxygen in the different sized jars. Everyone found this fascinating!

Zorg then got interested in making wine glasses "sing" with vibrations made by rubbing his finger on the rim of the glass. Different sized glasses and different amounts of water changed the pitch. All 4 Zoomlians figured out how to work together to make different chords and then performed a concert of Zoomlian music. It was unearthly, but beautiful!

We did other science stuff, too. Bill Nye, Magic School Bus and Brain Pop. Videos, books, and computer games are great, but there's nothing like time in the lab!

Wild Beaver Attack!

Even I had to admit it. Oob was starting to look a bit... unsavory. He needed a shave and a haircut.

You must know why I put it off so long: equal parts reluctance to admit my baby was getting bigger and dread of bringing a sharp object anywhere near the head of someone who starts and looks around when he hears scissors.

And dread of what he would like afterwords.

I'm not proud. When I did this with Mxyl the first time, it came out so badly that I resorted to the claim that wild beavers had broken into the house and chewed on my baby's head. Ever since, we've referred to toddler haircuts as Wild Beaver Attacks.

All things considered, the beavers were kind to Oob. They even licked his face clean.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Super Girls' Night and Stuff

We've been busy neglecting the blog...

We had Super Girls' Night last Friday and the boys came too. Why not, we were making lip balm! We ended up with 5 flavors: Zorg made Strawberries and Cream, Leena made Raspberry Coconut, Klenda made Watermelon Cream, and Mxyl made Eggnog lip balm. Yum! Yum! Some will be for us, and some for Christmas presents. If you've never made lip balm, LorAnn Oils has a very nice kit. The only thing we did differently was to heat the mix in the microwave instead of a water bath.

I don't know if I've mentioned LorAnn oils before, but I love them! Besides lip balm/soap/aromatherapy stuff, they sell candy flavorings and essential oils. I use them to flavor teas, baked goods, coffee syrups, and all kinds of things. For example, our latest favorite cookie is chocolate cherry chocolate chip. Just take your normal chocolate chip cookie recipe, add 1/3- 1/2 c. cocoa and add 1/4 tsp cherry flavoring when you add the vanilla. We also like these cookies with peppermint oil instead of the cherry: just like thin mints but chewy!

One word of warning, the oils are very concentrated: I use 6 drops to flavor a gallon of iced tea. If it is water soluble, I add it at the end, if it is oil based, I add the drops to the plain tea bags before steeping. I love to use them in scones, pies, quick breads and eggnog.


Realistically, most of our time and attention has been devoted to gingerbread.

Yes, we are entering the gingerbread competition this year, at least Mxyl, Klenda, and Zorg are. They are due in Sunday 11/23, so you may not see too much posting until then :0, but they will be worth the wait!!! The Zoomlians had some truly fantastic ideas!


Oob report: Oob wants to walk everywhere at top speed. He can't quite run yet, it's more like a quick trot, but off he goes, falls over, picks himself up, and is off at top speed again. He has started walking maybe 1/4 mile of our 2 mile morning hikes. Walking through leaves is enchanting, and can not be done enough...

Most of the time he likes to do laps around the inside of the house with Choclo, chasing each other giggling. They have reached the Nutty Buddy stage! They like to run and giggle and be tickled. And he has started napping longer. What's not to like?

I am very nearly done with Christmas presents. In fact, we've started wrapping the stuff to ship!

I am also getting ready for Advent. I think this year's theme will be "Christ Came in History, Christ Comes in Mystery, Christ Will Come in Majesty!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

Home school field trip: OK kids, let's go participate in democracy!

We got there 10 minutes before the polls opened and had 104 people in front of us. I mean that literally since the Emperor has Super Fast Head Counting as one of his many super powers.

Actually, it wasn't bad, only half an hour as opposed to the 2 hours it took in the last presidential election. They had streamlined things quite a bit and had doubled the number of voting machines.

We did the elections movies on Brainpop (I believe at least one of them is free). We watched So You Want to be President? and we did packets based on the elections stuff at Enchanted Learning.

Also at Enchanted Learning, we got some nice electoral maps to color in as the results come in tonight. They even had spaces to check off Democrat or Republican for each state. Very nice!

And we are watching this:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Hallows Eve

And this years saints are:

St. Elizabeth of Hungary (Leena). This queen was so generous to the poor that her husband was worried that there wouldn't be enough to eat at the palace. One winter day, he saw her go out with her cloak full of bread for the poor. When he demanded that she open her cloak, it was miraculously full of roses.

David, as in David and Goliath. That's Goliath's head being used as a candy holder - you put it into his open neck... This was totally Zorg's idea, and he did a great job on the head right down to the red spot on the forehead ("That's where I killed him!" Zorg explains with gusto). He also has a sling and a pouch with stones.

Here we have St. Raphael, the archangel (Klenda) and Tobiah (Mxyl) with a really creepy looking fish candy holder.
They are from the book of Tobit. If you are protestant and you don't know this fantastic story, it is well worth looking it up in your apocrypha.

Finally we have Daniel (Choclo) and a lion (Oob in his first ever shoe wearing role). Klenda kindly offered to pull double duty as the angel closing the lion's mouth, but after Oob saw the candy, it didn't seem like such a great idea.

If you are thinking the last two are looking aggrieved, well, I did devote a lot more brain power to the costumes for Kids Old Enough to Have Their Own Ideas. Don't worry, they are now in a happy sugar stupor.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Unanswerable Question

Me: Why did you put toothpaste on your ears?
Anonymous Child: ....

Eventually I stopped asking "why?" and switched to "how?"
I suppose I actually meant, "What were the circumstances?"
At any rate, "How?' turned out to be an answerable question.

Anonymous Child: But everybody knows how to put toothpaste on your ears, you just squirt it out and put it on.

Clash Day

I don't think words will help...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Questions Without Real Answers

Question 1:
Leena (6) to Mxyl (11): So, what are you going to do when you are 42?

Mxyl: (very long pause) um (longer pause) I really don't know.

Question 2:
Choclo is an ideal 3 year old: rough and tumble one minute, sweet and snuggly the next. In the morning he greets me with , "I love you soooo much!"

But why, oh why, when he wants a butterfly kiss does he stick out his tongue?

OK, fine, Question 3:
Have you ever seen a kid whose response to a camera is to smile nicely? Or do they all do this?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apple Recipes: Apple Butter

I'm going to give two recipes here.

What I usually do:
Chop the apples into quarters. (maybe 5-10 lbs)
Have preschooler count apple pieces as he puts them in the big pot.
Put in whole spices: maybe 3 cinnamon sticks, a dozen cloves, (cardamom pods and ginger slices if I have them on hand!)
Add water and/or apple cider until the apples are just floating.
Simmer for hours while the smell fills the house (or until apples are tender - less than an hour)
Scoop out the apples and put them through a food mill (I have one for my Kitchen Aid) to remove seeds, whole spices, and peels.

Boil the left over water/cider to reduce it.

Add brown (or white) sugar to taste and enjoy some of the pulp as applesauce. If it is getting late, I save the pulp til tomorrow.

Now there are several options:

If I am making pies, I continue to boil off the water/cider until it is thick and syrupy. It is then boiled cider and makes fantastic pies as well as oatmeal/ice cream/pancake topping.

You can also add the pulp back to the water/cider and simmer it until you get nice thick apple butter. Or You could boil it down and add the boiled cider to the pulp. You can also serve the water/cider as mulled cider (this works even if you started with water, as long as you simmered the apples for several hours). Or you can toss the water/cider and just start simmering the pulp!

If you are starting with plain pulp, the easiest thing is to spread it in a pan and bake it for a few hours at 350 , stirring every hour or so. Otherwise, simmer for a 2-3 hours (or longer depending on how much water you had in with the pulp and how thick you like your butter.

I do it this way because I like my apple butter very thick, and I like boiled cider in pies (and I like my house to smell fantastic for 2 days!) . Most of the pectin in the apple is in the peel and the core, and the pectin is what thickens the butter.

I have also done it this way way: All Day Apple Butter. Still very good, the best option if you have no food mill, but not as thick unless you take the cover off the slow cooker.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apple Recipes: Fabulous Fritters

Tracy, this is for you and your dh! I fell in love with The Emperor over a plate of begneits at the Cafe Du Monde. Ah, the romance of fried food!

Favorite Fruit Fritters

Oil for deep frying (I use an 1 1/2" of peanut oil, just don't use canola)

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 c milk
2 tsp vanilla

4 sweet apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I use this) If slicing by hand, 1/4" to 1/2" is good. This also is fantastic with peaches or pears (use ginger with pears).

Powdered sugar for dusting

Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
Mix the dry batter ingredients and then add the wet ones.
Dip the slices and fry, flipping once so they brown on both sides. If they don't brown in 20 -30 seconds, the oil isn't hot enough and they will be soggy, so toss em and try again!
Drain on paper towel lined plate and dust with plenty of powdered sugar! Yum!

Monday, October 13, 2008

We Went Broccoli Picking!

OK, so we picked apples and pumpkins, too, but I had never picked broccoli before. It's fun! And it really does taste better than the store stuff...

We had a great time! Choclo was in tractor heaven.

Anyway, a toddler, a preschooler and 30 lbs of apples were enough for me to carry, so I asked Mxyl and Klenda to handle the camera. All these were their shots. No broccoli pics, alas.

What to do with 30 + pounds of apples? We've made apple butter, apple sauce (twice), apple fritters (twice), apple pies, and gone bobbing for apples. Oh yes, we've also just plain eaten a lot of apples!

If you're wondering about that last one, no, my children were not so scarred by a day at the farm that they all curled up in a fetal position. They were trying to look like pumpkins.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Leena's Page at 3

Here is Leena's page from when she had just turned three, shortly before Choclo was born.

Sorry about the size: I had to scan it because I can't figure out how to get Blogger to import things from Word. If you can't read the text, try clicking on it.

Any good ideas for what to call these pages?

Not Scrapbooking

I don't do scrap booking, I'm not really doing so well on the baby books, BUT, every 6 months, each kid old enough to express an opinion makes one of these. I don't know what to call them; they're easier to do than to explain!

I put a copy on the wall and one in a binder we have for this purpose. So far we have them going back about 3 or 4 years and it's amazing to look through and see how each kids preferences have changed.

We started out just asking,"What would you like to tell your grown-up self about what you are like right now?" Since then, we've evolved into some pretty standard questions for the sake of comparison, but they're free to add odd details. And they do.

Here is Leena's from this September. I'll also post her earliest one separately so that you can compare them.
My name is Leena. I am 6!
My favorite colors are yellow and pink.
My favorite music is Beethoven's Wig (5th Symphony).
My favorite animal is a squirrel.
My favorite sea animal is a dolphin.
I wish my name were Dolphinny.
I like to eat pizza.
I like to read books, especially Amelia Bedelia.
I like to play Hide and Seek.
I'd like to learn about sign language.
I like to play on the swing.
The most wonderful thing in the world is rain!
I like God! I like everybody in the whole world!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Oob's First Fingerpainting

It took him a while to figure out why I kept giving him paint.

I mean, it was shiny and all, but it tasted terrible!

But, when he finally got it, he loved it, spreading the paint with wild windshield wiper motions that flung paint everywhere.

It took a long time to clean up; in fact, he still has blue paint on his left foot.

Oh, no! It's a Blue Footed Oobi!

The Sojourn in Egypt Part III, or, It's a Wrap!

We didn't actually do everything I had thought we might, but we did food. We made flat bread (but didn't put sand in it, I was thinking of it for authenticity...) and date-honey candy (yum!).

We skipped the costumes, but then, a lot of Egyptians at the time skipped the costumes, too.

We made cat statues! Paper mache around water bottles. That was fun!

We made shabti (small statues buried with the dead to do all their manual labor in the after life) out of grated soap. You grate the soap (we used Ivory), wet your hands and then mold the soap. After it hardens a bit, you can carve the details. I couldn't quite get the camera to show the details on ours. Actual shabti are sort of plain and mummy like also.

We really liked the grated soap thing - it lends itself to all sorts of sculpturing possibilities! Alas, I used my food processor to grate the soap and it was really tough to clean out and tossing it into the dish washer was not the right move. Unless you like your dishwasher to foam at the mouth.

On the plus side, unlike most craft projects, they can be recycled as soap!

The Grand Plan called for a fabulous finish: A play in which one of the Zoomlians was mummified. This would use the outfits we didn't do, and tie everything together in a memorable way which demonstrated their thorough grasp of the subject.

But we got distracted, so we're just going to wrap all the kids in toilet paper and call it a day.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ebb Tide

I really must finish the last blog about Egypt, but that means taking pictures, uploading them and thinking more than I have time for just now.

We have, er, wrapped up Egypt and I had been thinking about what to do next. We've had two high tides in a row: electricity and Egypt, and we've started our home school co-op and assorted activities:CCD, Cub Scouts, etc. We are still repairing from the household disasters. We are also in the midst of making Christmas presents.

Time to de-stress and let the tide go out.

We'll keep working on the basics, of course. Klenda and Mxyl each just started writing stories. We all read pretty compulsively. I want to read aloud to the kids more. Math U See is gaining excitement as 3 of the kids finish up their levels. Science is all around us. We are still going on Child's History of the World. Several of the kids need extra individual time (like Leena playing store). But I think the extra stuff will be art for a while (also known as making presents).

We try to get all the presents done before December so that we can concentrate on Advent and the spiritual meaning of Christmas (also it looks like we'll do the annual December co-op play this year). And we can mail the packages to distant realations in time!

In practice, this means figuring out what we will make in August, gathering materials and starting to knit in September, and starting kid projects in October. Crazy! But last year I started thinking in late September and had avery stressful December! This way we can go at whatever pace we like and still be sure of hitting the mark.

Good thing this is low tide!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Problem With Me and Math U See

First let me say that there isn't a problem with Math U See. It's a great program. The problem is with me and Math U See.

When I was pregnant with Oobi I was on bed rest a lot. Pretty rough going with 5 kids being home schooled. Something had to give and it was the house, the cooking, and the math.

We kept reading (from bed) and we kept a loving, God centered, learning environment, so I think we did pretty well, over all! The fact remained, after the dust from Oob's arrival settled, that I could easily catch up on cooking (everyone had gotten used to not eating) , eventually catch up with the house and... hmm... needed to find some way to get back on track with math.

This wasn't about grade level so much as the kids continuing to learn. Before Oob, they had (almost all) really enjoyed math, and were on a good trajectory; after Oob, they seemed hazy on the details.

I had been hearing (over in the Bonnie Glen) about how great Math U See was and how well it taught how and why math works. Sounded great!

I sent for the demonstration DVD. The kids wanted to watch it over and over! Heck, I wanted to watch it over and over! I was sold.

6 months later:

Mxyl is doing very well.

Klenda understands and enjoys math more than ever before.

Zorg is having a great time.

Leena... well, not so much. I am having a hard time figuring out what she gets and what she doesn't.

Then one day I realize she doesn't really know the values of coins.

That's my problem. The reason I don't usually use a prepackaged curriculum is not that I can do it better than the experts; it's because I unconsciously think that if they do the curriculum it's enough. Bingo! Box checked off, let's move along.

Math U See does teach the value of coins, but what Leena needed was for me to sit down and play store with her. She needed to find 100 random things around the house and put them in groups of ten. She needed to play games with many sided dice. She needed a bazillion games of Chutes and Ladders and Heigh Ho Cherry-0. And she needed to play with the Math U See blocks.

Honestly, I don't think there is a better prepackaged math curriculum than Math U See, and I am certainly continuing to use it. Still, this was a wake up call to me: the best curriculum in the world is no substitute for paying attention to what my kids need.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oobi Gets Shoobis

Yes! We finally got Oob his first pair of shoes!

No! You can't see the shoes in this picture!

In fact, it is very hard to ever see Oob wearing the shoobs, I mean shoes.

Partly, this is because he loves his shoes: he loves to bite his shoes, he loves to play with his shoes, he loves to carry them around, and, of course, he likes to rub them on his head (and why does this child need to experience everything by massaging it on his scalp? Is that a Zoomlian thing?).

Partly, as the picture shows, he has better things to do than wear shoes.

Even cute Oobi shoobis.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Words of Wisdom

Just because your dishwasher is leaking, it does not mean that the pipes in your walls are not also leaking. The only way to find out is to repair the damaged ceiling on the floor below....

Hope to get back to blogging soon, my camera/computer/etc. are acting up.

Things are not as bad as all this sounds! We are having a grand time! The pipes are repaired, we have learned (perhaps more than we wanted to know) about what is inside our walls, we have plunged back into Ancient Egypt, the home school co-op, the 2 mile morning hikes, the math-u-see, and tons of other stuff I want to blog about.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guest Blog by Mxyl: Oob, Terror of Things with Plugs

I was following Oob up the stairs , which I like to do.

When we reached the top, Oob suddenly started charging wildly toward The Grand Emperor's bedroom!(Yes, even Zoomlians go to sleep.) I followed him, and soon we were in the bedroom.

I lay down on the bed, while Oob turned on the radio built into our clock and then tossed it and our lamp down to the floor.

Ah, Oob. Always so delightful. Crazy, but delightful.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Istanbul Not Constantinople

In case you have had this going through your head for the last few days/weeks/months/decades (for which we thank Organic Learning!), this video has a slide show of Istanbul with some stunning shots of the Hagia Sophia (high on my list of imaginary travel plans).

And here is an excellent explanation of why the name was changed to Istanbul. Yes, yes, I know it is nobody's business but the Turk's... The answer is long and complicated (well, um, it's Byzantine, actually), but it's worth it! I, for one, learned that the city had a different name for nearly a thousand years before it was Constantinople!

I also did not realize that the song was a cover from the 1950s. We watched a number of Jazz and Big Band versions on You Tube, comparing notes with the ubiquitous They Might Be Giants version (which itself must have a dozen videos). It was interesting to watch so many versions of the song and talk about different musical and artistic styles and interpretations: how and why do artists and musicians see the world so differently?

Real Life Education

Klenda came to me with a look of concern. "Mom, when I really, really wanted Oob to start walking on his own, I didn't realize he would get into everything!"

It took me til I was 28 (and Mxyl was 15 months) to figure that out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bumps in the Road

Sorry about the lack of posts, we hit a few bumps in the road.

Blue Streak (12 passengers) went into the shop, so we spent a lot of time carless or "squeeeshed" into White Knight (7 or 8 passengers).

The dishwasher died a gory death which caused the ruination of the ceiling in the chapel (and, even more dreadful, the hand washing of all dishes for a week!).

The washing machine died a less gory death (bailing but almost no mopping). It's old friend, the dryer, does not want to go on without it.

One of my closest friends lost her job.

My beloved MIL had a health scare.

Blue Streak is back and fixed. I was glad to have the intermittent problem make up its mind to break and be done with it in a visible way while still under warranty.

I've never been so happy to have an appliance die as I was when the dishwasher went. It had stopped actually cleaning the dishes a while back and it was driving me crazy.

We put a washer and dryer on the top floor when we built it a few years ago (suggested by my brilliant MIL!), and it was the 30 year old pair in the basement that quit. Hard to find fault with that!

My friend is starting her dissertation and will be able to focus on that before she needs to look for another job. Not what we would have chosen, but we'll stick together through it.

My dear MIL's scare was by far the worst thing, but it looks like she's all right.

It's really a matter of perspective, isn't it? Also last week, my SIL asked for prayers for a friend of a friend. Her name is Hyatt and she is a young mom with a three year old and a 5 month old. Last week her heart suddenly stopped. She was fine and then her heart just stopped and she stopped breathing. She's in intensive care now and basically needs a miracle. If you'd like to know more, her family started a blog here. We're praying for her. Please also pray.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sojourn in Egypt Part II, or, Shaduf!

Half way through as I write this, this is what we've done so far.

First off, resources:
Hands down best book ever: Great Ancient Egypt Projects You Can Build Yourself by Carmella Van Vleet. This book is a well thought out unit study! Fantastic information, interestingly presented and tons of interesting, impressive, not too difficult projects about meaningful things. Umm. I like it. And she 's written a bunch of other books! The first 2 pictures are from projects from this book. The first is a "gilded papyrus" boat (floating in my yellow bathtub.) The second is a working (!) miniature shaduf (imagine a seesaw with a rock on one end and a bucket hanging from the other end. It allows you to draw enough water from a river or canal to irrigate your fields). The book also tells you how to build a much larger shaduf, but we lacked space. And big enough sticks. And a pond. The only down side to this book: no color photos. But there are other books for that!

Like the Egyptian Mummies Pop Up Book! And if you want eye popping photos, there is always the DK line of Eye Witness books, including one on Ancient Egypt, one on the pyramids and one on King Tut. But really, that's just going to the library and picking out books with good visuals. One of the best things about a popular topic in early September is that you can choose the 15 best books about Egypt (as opposed to their one book about samurai...).

I also had a ton of stuff from Dover books including a nifty pop out book of 3 mummy cases (photo by Mxyl).(Oooh! On sale for $3.18!). I like Dover a lot. Great stuff, cheap and they send out free samples every week (which is what got us hooked on Beowulf)! We have several Egyptian themed coloring books from them also.

We have a number of Egyptian themed (store bought) posters hanging around, including one that came with stickers to make a scene. I am hoping to make a mural later.

Naturally, when I asked what the weekly cookies should be, they wanted mummy cookies. Hmm. Yummy Mummy cookies. I found some recipes online, but decided they were too much work, so I adapted my favorite candy cane cookie recipe. I dropped the mint and red color and added almond flavoring. They were a bit like Mexican Wedding cookies with out the nuts. The main thing was they were sculptable into mummy like shapes... I used powdered sugar at the end to make the lines more visible. I made a double batch but am giving the recipe as a single batch.

Recipe for Yummy Mummies:
1 c. butter (can be part shortening)
1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 egg
2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp salt
extra powdered sugar for rolling

Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar.
Mix in egg, salt and flavorings.
Mix in flour.
Roll into oblongs or mummy shapes.
Make diagonal crossing lines (for wrappings) with a knife.
Bake 9 minutes, then roll or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

That brings us to yesterday. I decided we needed to see an actual mummy, so we had a "Take Mommy to See a Mummy" day. For all the times I've wished for a more rural lifestyle, I must admit it was nice to think about which free world class museum to visit to look at their mummies.

We went to the Walters. We saw 3 mummies (a woman, a child, and a cat) complete with canopic jars and nesting sarcophagi (but none of black stone!). We also saw 2 large stone statues of the cat goddess Sekhmet, which Zorg loved. She's the one with the lion head instead of the more peaceful Bastet.

We have talked quite a bit about Egyptian religion, belief in life after death, and the intersections of Egyptian history with the Bible. It's been a good way to talk about how and why other people have different beliefs than our own.

I forgot about the cat statues we made! And the ancient Egyptian candy! What would an immersive unit study be without food! Ah, well! More later.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Sojourn in Egypt Part I, or, Who Wants Their Mummy?

Actually, aside from birthday shenanigans, we've spent the last week and a half in ancient Egypt. It looks like we'll still be there quite a while, too!

This was not the plan.

The plan was to go through Child's History of the World and make side trips into interesting time periods as we came to them.

The Zoomlians laugh in the face of such linear thinking!

"Can we learn about Egypt?" Zorg wanted to know. Usually it's Leena who asks that question. Usually followed by, "Can you wrap me up like a mummy?"

I was hesitant.

I remembered a remark from the Queen of Carrots that the down side of unit studies was the repetition of subjects.

We've done Egypt. Then I thought some more: it had been 3 or 4 years since we had really "done" Egypt. Zorg would have been 3 or 4 years old!

I thought some more.

Egypt is one of those topics that begs for in depth immersive unit studies. There are so many fabulous resources it's hard to narrow it down. We haven't done a big, knock your socks off, sustained high tide thing in a while.

Plus... I was 6 years old when I went on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw their Egyptian collection. I'm not sure I ever got over the wonder and the realization of how vast and old and amazingly different the world is.

Fortunately, I did get over the terror of seeing the stone sarcophagus! It was massive, hewn from black stone. At that time it was lying in the center of a room on a dais. So big I couldn't really see inside except for the steel rod which held the lid ajar. Looking it up now was the first time I had seen it since. As a child, I don't think I saw the carving on the lid; to me it was just cold, black, primal stone. I had several nightmares about being trapped inside for thousands of years...

Looking back, I wonder if that fear is part of what made the wonder so vivid. If so, I'm thankful for it. The fear ebbed, but the wonder at the wide strange world remains.

OK! Lets do it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy Golden Birthday, Zorg! (II)

Happy birthday to Zorg from Toa Jaller!

A boy and his Bionicle...

Plus the laser sword does a great job cutting ice cream cake!

Get It/Don't Get It

This is a problem the Emperor and I have been discussing. We both had this problem as kids, and he sees it in his students as well (he teaches honors and International Bacclaureate). We presumed it wouldn't be a problem with home school, but we were just starting to see it crop up in some of the Zoomlians.

Here's the deal: sometimes smart kids grasp things too easily. They "get it" instantly and, depending on the schooling they are receiving, either wait around while the teacher explains things to the rest of the class, or they move on to the next interesting thing.

Because they grasp so much so easily, when they run into something they don't immediately "get" (say a kid who can do math and reading intuitively but can't play the violin on the first try), they mentally file it as "don't get it" and avoid that activity in the future. Often enough, the "don't get it"s really are things like the violin, things they aren't positively required to do.

Why worry if the "don't get it"s are non-essential? Because what they are actually missing is learning how to learn something challenging. A kid can be doing algebra in 2nd grade and not be being challenged in the sense that they are intuitively grasping the concepts as they are presented.

A person needs to know what to do when they're "lost in the sauce." They need to know that when they hit the "don't get it" wall in something essential, they can outline a door and start hacking their way through.

Here is our suggestion: If you have a kid who seems to easily grasp everything, look for the things they have difficulty with and provide them with structure and support to help them learn what is difficult for them. Point out that they are learning how to learn. Be patient with them and try to teach them to be patient with themselves. I would not force a kid to stay for years with a hobby they hate, but use discernment as to what opportunities you have to teach perseverance.

Get it? ;)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy Golden Birthday, Zorg!

Zorg is 8 on 8th: it's his golden birthday!

We went to Mass and got a special birthday blessing (as well as the birthday song from the assembly).

Then we went off to Watkins Park, known around here as: the-big-enormous-playground-with-the-teeny-tiny-zoo.

And we played, and played, and played.....

Then we went to their Nature Center (had the place to ourselves!) and looked at all their animals.

They rehabilitate raptors, so there were a lot of birds, but also turtles, snakes, bugs and a lizard which Choclo identified as a dinosaur.

Then back home for lunch and to play with some of those presents!!!

We'll be having the (Bionicle themed) party later. After 3 straight years of asking for cheesecake for his birthday, this year he asked for an ice cream cake.

Specifically, he wanted a chocolate cherry ice cream cake shaped like a Lego brick.

Easy peasy! I softened cherry and chocolate ice creams in the refrigerator, then put them in a loaf pan in the freezer yesterday. I separated the layers with chocolate cherry cookie crumbs from last weeks cookies (very yummy but fragile). I'll frost with some home made (cherry flavored) whipped cream.


Until this morning, when he asked if it could be shaped like a Bionicle mask.


We settled for decorating it with his birthday present from Mxyl: Toa Jaller.

I hope to post pictures tomorrow.

And happy birthday to someone else special!