Thursday, January 31, 2008

Freight Train

"In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of..." If you know that it's a picture of the cow jumping over the moon, you probably have had a toddler in your life (if not, that's the start of Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown).

How many board books do you have memorized?

I think I've got a dozen or so, but, near the top of the list with every child has always been Freight Train by Donald Crewes. It's a great book about a, well, freight train that teaches colors, train terms, and the excitement of travel.

Way back with Mxyl we cut out the cars from construction paper and laminated them: "Red caboose at the back, orange tank car next, yellow hopper car [Choclo calls it a yellow hopping car], green cattle car, blue gondola car, purple box car, a black tender and a black steam engine. Freight train." Crewe's illustrations are simple, elegant, and iconic. Those trains have long departed, so we cut out new ones this week, laminated them, scotch taper the backs and laid an electrical tape track.

Now Choclo spends time each day putting up and taking down the train cars, telling himself the story, shabby book (this is our second copy) firmly tucked under his arm. Then he sits down on my lap and we read it together. It's nice. I don't need to look at the book; instead I get to watch the side of his face curving in angles of delight.

With Mxyl, it seemed as if he would want this story forever, but 10 years later I see: board book time is like Donald Crewe's freight train: "going, going . . . gone."

(If you are wondering how much time Choclo spends with his face covered with chocolate, the answer is: A. Lot.)

Monday, January 28, 2008


BUT, he has the same intelligence as if his brain were the exact size and shape of a hot dog!

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Many thanks to my sister The Sister for making these hats! Oob and I love them!

Finishing Beowulf

The only proper way to finish up with Beowulf was to stage at least part of the epic. Here you see King Hrothgar (Zorg) holding aloft the bloody arm of Grendel. Mxyl portrayed Beowulf. I was Grendel. Leena was the edible Thane (the only child willing to be seized and eaten). Klenda was the inedible comrade who stayed far on the other side of the mead hall. The Emperor declared it a thrilling performance!

Oooh! A Non-Beowulf Post!

I found Choclo talking to a very happy Oob. He was saying over and over, "You are sooo cute!"

Beowulf the Movie

Since we have been so deep in Beowulf, I thought now would be a good time to talk about the movie. I don't like it. This post contains spoilers.

Neil Gaiman wrote the script using the historical critical method. If you follow Biblical scholarship, this is the method which was so woefully misused by The Jesus Seminar to "prove" that Jesus didn't actually perform miracles, rise from the dead, or claim to be God. The theory of the historical critical method (when misapplied) goes like this: "the writer and subsequent editors each have their own agendas" and "the older the text, the more changes have been made." Therefore, they try to "discover" what the original text might have been. Alas, having their own agendas, we often discover only what the scholar would like to have been true.

In the case of Neil Gaiman and Beowulf, the reasoning went like this: this is a very old text, passed down in the oral tradition in a pre-Christian culture and it must have been written down by monks since they were the only ones who could write. Fine. Therefore, (uh oh) the monks must have Christianized it by adding all the stuff about goodness and removing all the stuff about sex. Excuse me?

In the movie, therefore, Grendel is the son of King Hrothgar (the king whose hall he is pillaging) and, well, Grendel's mom (who is a shape shifting monster who can look like Angelina Jolie). Queen Wealtheow is removed from the story. Beowulf does still kill Grendel but only claims to have killed Grendel's mother. He is, instead, seduced and becomes the father of the dragon who kills him many years later.

Hmm. That's pretty creative. There could be a great story there (maybe portrayed in a less titillating fashion) about the wages of sin being death (have we heard that before?). BUT IT IS NOT THE STORY OF BEOWULF!

Beowulf is, at its core, a story about heroes. It's a story about goodness, courage, self sacrifice, generosity, and humility. Why is that not allowed? It's not realistic. Unlike the shape changing monsters. If we really believe that sin and degradation are the ultimate reality (see reality TV) then we have accepted a rather stupid lie.

The message of Beowulf is that we grapple with flesh eating monsters which take all our courage, strength and virtue to overcome. Do I overstate the point? Can monsters like Pride, Lust, and Envy really tear apart your home and devour your heart? Look around and say it isn't so.

But, the dark struggles with the light and can not overcome it. Maybe that's a Christian part of the story which Mr. Gaiman should have left in.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beowulf Lunch

I just announced that lunch was almost ready and that we were having "Ultimate Mac and Cheese!"

Leena informed me, "You sound just like Beowulf."

Mmmm. Maybe we'll have mead with that Ultimate Mac and Cheese....

Ultimate Mac and Cheese Recipe

Cook the elbow macaroni.
While waiting:
In a skillet or pot melt 3 T butter and mix with 3 T flour
Add pressed garlic/garlic powder to taste
Add 1 t salt
Add 2 c milk and cook while stirring until bubbly
Remove from heat and add shredded cheese - we used 8oz mild cheddar and 6 oz smoked gouda
Add 1/2 c sour cream and 1/4 c real bacon bits
Stir til blended, then mix the sauce with the (drained!) macaroni.
Call your thanes, kin and comrades in arms to lunch!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beowulf Housekeeping

In a bizarre crossover of posts: The Zoomlians and I swore undying fealty as thanes of the Emperor and were sent on a quest to prove our valor. To wit: we were sent to dispatch the evil mountain of laundry which had been terrorizing the top floor.

Eight full loads it was, a brute the like of which would quell the courage of the stoutest mortal. Undaunted, we stalked it to its dismal lair. No enterprise for a coward, this.

Gathering our courage we leaped upon the monster. Yet here was a task in which our keenest blades could not avail us! Seizing it with our bare hands we rent it into a thousand neatly folded pieces. Indeed, here was a task for all our courage, strength, speed and cunning!

Within the quarter of an hour the mighty deed was done. The vile mass of fresh smelling fabric was reduced to neat piles, carried away as the spoils of war.

Did our good lord fail to reward his thanes? Indeed, no! Great was the feasting on chocolate, honeyed was the speech of our noble king, praising the heroes. Many were the swords he gave us, finely wrought and inlaid with plastic. Many were the rings and treasures he heaped upon us and great was our honor and that of our lord.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Joyful Housekeeping

Some one at Tidal Home Schooling was asking about this, so this is an expanded answer. How do you get all the chores done without whining and fighting? We are a work in progress with this, and we do NOT have a spotless house cleaned automatically by merry minions (every home schoolers ultimate goal, right?). But, we are clean enough to be comfortable and happy, and my kids don't generally complain about chores.

Here's what I've learned so far: I've found that 5 and up respond well to the concept of "fair." It really isn't fair to expect you to do all the work or live in squalor. We talk about why we do chores and how we want to live. Below 5 they want to do chores to be a Big Guy. There are chores like vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms which you are not allowed to do until you are 5!

Also, teach cleaning just as you would teach any other skill: modeling, guided practice and gradual release of responsibility. Sometimes I team a rookie with an older child.

I have the younger kids do chores related to things they will want to do (ie they will want to eat, so setting the table/doing dishes makes sense, they want to wear clothes, so laundry, they want to use the bathroom... you get the idea!).

Some chores we do together as a team (like folding laundry, I have the fastest laundry folding team east of the Mississippi), some we do in blocks, see here for the block explanation.

One fun way to do a big (overwhelming) job like a disaster room is this: pull out a fun game and before each turn pick up 5 things. Another good no-nag thing is to set a timer either to get dressed/set the table/clean the bathroom in X minutes, or, if you have a bunch of kids, every 10 minutes switch jobs!

Lastly, when you get a big job done, celebrate!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gratuitous Cute Toddler Post

He's just such a lovable two!

Even if he did crawl over the front of the pew Monday morning at church and have to be dragged silently back to our pew by his feet by a heroic older brother (thanks Mxyl!).

Oh, Deer!

I was talking to Klenda and I referred to her (as I often do) as "my dear, my dear, my dearest dear." I then went on to say that she was so dear that she had antlers. She gave me The Look and stated, "That means I'm a reindeer." Why? Because those are the only deer in which the females have antlers.

Airing Laundry

There's nothing like the smell of a clean, fresh from the dryer, baby!

Map and Compass

A friend asked me if I had a math or science curriculum I followed or if I...ah...made it up. I think I scandalized her by telling her I made it up (she follows a school model for her kindergartener), and, after some thought, that's not true, really.

I know where my kids are (except maybe Leena). I know where they need to be at the end of high school. This is a trip I've taken myself. And I use a variety of maps to see how others make the journey (and to make sure I don't miss any interesting stops on the way). I would call looking at the "What your ____ Grader Should Know" series, looking at state standards, seeing what my friends are doing in their home schools, looking at CM, having a basic skills workbook on hand, etc. all kinds of maps. Lastly, I have a God given internal compass: a sense for what is right for each child on their journey, and when I need to try a new direction.

Do we ever get lost? I've found a few dead ends, sure, but most of our off the map wanderings have taken us to new and interesting places. I respect anyone's right to home school their kids as they see fit, of course, but I don't personally believe the school model is the best way to learn.

That's why I'll use plenty of maps, but, in the end, I'll chart my own way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Super Girls Night Meets the BIG Noooose

Leena, as you may have noticed, doesn't just march to a different drummer, she waltzes to a whole nother orchestra.

The dresses were Christmas presents, carefully squirreled away from Halloween.

The girls were dancing and drinking tea from the fancy tea cups. We had made a craft (fleece hats, scarves, and mittens). It was time to bring out the make up kit.

No sooner had I put out the make up when Oob awoke. I'll be right back...

When I got back, Leena met me with delight, "Look at my NOSE!!!"

Indeed. If you click on the picture, you too can get an up close look at Leena's nose.

Thank You Grammie Ann!

For funding the foozball/airhockey/pool table!!! I think foozball counts as PE, don't you?

We bought it late and assembled it on the last day of Christmas (the Baptism of the Lord, yesterday). It was great to end the Christmas season with one last hurrah!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

DNA Lab at Home

This is great! We got a DNA kit for Christmas, but you can do this on your own.

I do think the kit is worth getting. There are 15 other experiments including one where you are genetically engineering bacteria to glow under UV light. That would be hard to do without a kit! Also, the kit has very good, kid friendly, full color explanations. The kit says 8+, Mxyl, Klenda and Zorg are very into it, Leena comes and goes.)

Here's how to extract DNA from fruit.

You'll need:
  • alcohol (rubbing is fine, ethyl works too) Put it in the freezer right away, it takes a while to chill.
  • fruit: banana, kiwi, strawberry, or onion. (Yeah, I know onion isn't a fruit... but it's got such huge cells you can see them with a good magnifying glass!)
  • laundry detergent
  • hot and cold water
  • ice cubes
  • thermometer
  • plastic measuring cup
  • funnel/ cups
  • coffee filter
  • 2 large bowls (that the measuring cup will fit it)
  • knife/cutting board/plate
  • fork and spoon or coffee stirrer
  • measuring tablespoon
  1. Cut half of your fruit (maybe use a whole strawberry) into small pieces and then mash them with a fork. The idea is break it up as much as possible. With an onion you could use a blender. Put this into the measuring cup.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of warm water and a tablespoon of laundry detergent to the mix and stir it.
  3. Put the measuring cup into one of the bowls and fill the outer bowl with very warm (125 degree F) water. You can use a mix of boiling water and tap water to get the right temperature. This is called a water bath. Keep it here for 12 minutes, adding hot water and stirring every now and then to keep it warm.
  4. While you wait, put ice cubes and cold water in the other bowl so that when 12 minutes are up you can put the measuring cup in the cold bowl. Let it chill maybe 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Drain this goop through your coffee filter (placed in a funnel set in a cup is the easiest).
  6. When you get about a tablespoon of filtered liquid, that's enough (but you can collect more a do this several times). Take one tablespoon of the liquid and add one tablespoon of ice cold alcohol (this won't work if it's not ice cold) and a pinch of salt.
  7. Swirl to mix. It will suddenly turn goopy and clumpy as the DNA comes out of solution or "precipitates". Put the cup on ice for 10 minutes or so to get as much DNA out as you can (you can even stick it into the freezer overnight).
  8. Pull the DNA out with a spoon or fork, or just dump it onto a plate and mess with it.
  9. Eat the other half of the fruit! Did you ever think of how much DNA you eat?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Choclo's Favorite Animals

1 The Optocus
2 Pigalens
3 Plingos, also called Mingos

Can you guess their non-Zoomlian names? All of them are Earth animals.
Answers in the comments.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I find I almost always end up with a high tide unit study in January. I think it has to do with taking down the Christmas stuff and seeing all that blank wall space again.

We are having a fabulous time with Beowulf, reading and coloring. I would like to extend the moment, and do a unit study. Poking around, most things seem to be geared for high school.

I'm not doing the Old English version, though I'd like to show the kids what it looks and sounds like. I think we will act it out (with me or the Emperor as Grendel with a detachable arm made from my big roll of paper). I'd like to explain about thanes and gifts and the warrior culture. And make food (danish?). Any ideas?

Saturday, January 5, 2008


1. We have found something Choclo will not take off.
2.I finished his truck pjs!
3.I chickened out on Oob's matching truck pjs.
4. I had enough extra fabric to make a matching sheet for Choclo.
5. Flannel sticks to flannel.
6. Choclo now stays in the toddler bed.

In Other News

Censored Choclo has learned how to remove his clothes.

I like January!

We do low tide "school stuff", high tide spiritual/Advent stuff all December, so it feels like a new school year now. I just finished the paperwork for my mid year portfolio review and that jazzes me up. Especially after a "low" December, it's like, "Oh, look at all the cool stuff we did! We've learned so much this year! We could do all this other stuff..."

Plus, all the great educational Christmas presents are here! We got a DNA lab!!!! We all can't wait to try it! Lots of fun stuff.

We are meandering through Child's History of the World and are in the Middle Ages and I feel a unit study coming on... We've done this before, but it's just so fun! I need to ask the kids and see what they think.

We just finished The Silver Chair (Narnia) read by the Emperor and are midway through Beowulf, read by the Prime Minister with a SCARY Scottish accent. If you were really Scottish you would be terrified, I'm sure. The kids are using the matching Dover coloring book. Fabulous fun. So far Grendel is dead and his mother is hiding with the sea dragons ( that would be "drrrragons").

I asked the kids to make resolutions about things they will learn this year. Most of them had to do with learning to cook particular things. It's looking like a scrumptious new year!

In our copious spare time, I am contemplating a repaint of the house interior... and shuffling the kids' rooms... and since we discovered that Zorg, Klenda and Mxyl could use the sewing machine, we're all discovering our inner tailor. I've been inspired by Melissa's posts on beauty!

One great thing about tidal home schooling, you don't get the dreaded February blahs.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Joy of Matching Pajamas

Oops! That was the joy of looking goofy for the camera. Here is the joy of matching pajamas.

The kids actually do love having matching pjs, and, really, what better way to start a new year than with new pjs?

This is the second year in a row I've made pjs for the kids in January, but this time I got fabric for Choclo and Oob as well. I haven't got to them yet, but we'll see! Considering that it took literally 80 shots to get the three "good" ones you see here, if I do manage to get the other pjs done, I will cheat! I'll photo shop the two youngest into my good picture of the older 4!