Thursday, February 28, 2013

Oh, Say Can You See

 We went to Fort McHenry, yesterday!  It was a rare warm (pushing 60) day in late February, and there was a light breeze coming off the harbor.


We went with two other families, so we got an extra teen (very fun!), a sweet little baby, and a gratuitously cute toddler, as well as a big bunch of kids in the middle.

Naturally, I locked them all up while I explored the fort.  That's why they put the jail so near the entrance.  As you can see, they loved it!

But eventually, they made enough noise that a ranger let them out, and we all toured the exhibits.

We learned a lot from the barracks which have been set up to recreate the environment of 1814, and they were great places to warm up out of the wind.

But, really, it's all about the cannons for us.

 Here's Choclo pretending to be a cannon ball!  Can you tell which one is him?

I guess it's all about the cannons, and the cannon balls, and the powder magazines, and the bombs.  

They have an array of cannons from the War of 1812, the Civil War (it was a prisoner of war camp), and World War I (it was a hospital).

 Almost as good as all those, are going down into the "bomb proofs,"  the early bomb shelters from 1812, then climbing up and walking the battlements.

You can walk along the star shaped wall of the fort, or along the cannon laden earthworks which ring the fort.

Originally, there was a third star shaped ring of earthworks, but that has mostly vanished into history.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Centrifuge Brain Project

At what point could you tell it's a fictional movie?

Choclo Says

Choclo (hanging about the kitchen, looking ravenous): When will dinner be ready?

Me: Oh, about ten minutes.

Choclo (in stunned disbelief):  You mean six hundred seconds?!

Me (long pause): Honey, how do you know that ten minutes is six hundred seconds?

Choclo (as if it's a ridiculous question): It's easy, you just count by 60s.  Fifteen minutes is 900 seconds.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Klenda's Got a Blog!

Klenda's starting her own blog, to talk about art, life, and faith.  She is using a Stella as her blog name for that blog. I've put a link in the top right sidebar, or you can take a look here!

In other news, did you notice the blog redesign?  I put a poll up on the right sidebar (under Klenda's blog) so you can let me know what you think!

Chemistry for Kids

 After the enormous chemistry class for high school last semester, I am finally getting around to chemistry for the younger set.  In reality, all six Zoomlians are having fun with this, in addition to four from our friendly neighborhood home school family!

I am loosely following Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid.   Honestly, I love all her books.  I'm pretty picky about science experiments, but her books are gold mines!

We started out talking about matter, and our ability to experience matter through our senses.

We used taste to discover which bowl held salt and which one had sugar.

We used sight to find something made of matter and non-matter (people!).

Smells great!

 We used smell to figure out what was on the cotton balls stuck in film canisters.  This was so fun!  I used extracts from cooking (vanilla, lemon oil, cinnamon oil, almond extract), and from soap making (cedar oil, honeysuckle, bergamot, eucalyptus, lavender).

We used hearing to find my cell phone (which I had hidden with the timer running - sure glad that experiment worked!).

I think it's a...
And we used touch to discover what was in the "feely bag."

I don't know if you've ever tried this, but it's a great party game/ way to settle the shrieking hordes on a rainy day.  Not that I ever get shrieking hordes running around the house until some one gets hurt, you understand.

You just take a pillow case and wander around the house filling it with whatever random junk you trip over a carefully selected array of interesting objects.  The kid or kids have to feel inside the pillowcase without looking inside, and guess what is in there.

We also talked about matter taking up space and having mass.  This is always very interesting, especially as it refers to air.  It's so invisible and hard to sense, that revealing these properties seems like magic.

We did the wad of paper in an inverted jar under water trick.  For once, I had the foresight to write on the paper, "Hey, look!  I'm still dry!"  This amused the kids no end since, it was, in fact, still dry!

We also did the balloon in the bottle trick (which Mxyl is holding).  You put a balloon into the bottle with the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle.  It looks like you could just blow up the balloon inside the bottle, but, of course, the air in the bottle (but outside the balloon) takes up too much space to let the balloon inflate.

To show that air has mass, we weighed an empty balloon and a full one.  A word of caution on this one.  The difference is often only a gram (or less!) so only try this if you have a scientific scale (which I had because I bought on for the high school chem class!).  Also, I needed to add a loop of tape (to get the balloon to stay on the balance) and tare the scale beforehand.

When I was setting up the class,  I tried to make this work on my primary balance, and it actually showed the opposite because the air circulation in the house was adding force to the inflated balloon!

Lastly, I had given each kid a jar partially filled with rice and had them shake it side to side (not up and down - we got the best result by tapping the jar against our hands).  As the rice settled, the ball hidden in each jar rose to the surface showing that two objects can't occupy the same space at the same time.

And then we were out of time!  But tune in next week for at least as much fun!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chart and Compass Part 4 (of 4!)

I feel like I need to say one more thing, lest my philosophical ramblings leave you with the impression that my chart and compass approach has been easy and direct, or the result of my own genius.

When I first envisioned home schooling, I was a solidly "classical education" type.  At the curriculum tea, I met someone who wanted to do the classical approach because she loved it, and she always wished she had had that kind of education.  That is a fantastic reason to go that direction, and I hope she goes for it!

For me, however, "classical education" was about my own excellence and proving that I could do a great job as a home schooler.  Well, you can guess how well that went! 

With my home school, God led me on the path of joy.  But to follow that path, I've had to trust that it really was God leading, and let go of a lot of fears, especially the fear that if I didn't "do school,"  my kids would be "uneducated."  What if I miss teaching them everything they will need to know? 

In our rapidly changing world, I am quite sure that neither I nor anyone else is teaching kids everything they will need to know.   What they will need to know hasn't been invented yet!


If they know how to think clearly, logically, and compassionately,

If they know how to break "impossible" problems into manageable parts,

If they are curious and interested in the world and the people around them,

If they know how to find the truth and incorporate it into their lives,

If their compass of joy points toward God, and that love overflows to everyone they meet,

Then they'll be alright, by the grace of God.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gospel Dessert Week 2

 This week's Gospel is the Transfiguration.  Actually, every Second Sunday of Lent uses a Transfiguration gospel, just from different Gospels.  This year it was Luke.

It's a problem for me!  I've never really been satisfied with the desserts I've chosen to represent this gospel in the past.

This year we tried a chocolate lava cake. 

 The idea is that it looks like an ordinary chocolate cake, but when you slice it open, there is this core of oozy chocolatey goodness.  Sort of like Jesus looking like an ordinary human, but then revealing his divinity.

Hmm.  Divinity.  Maybe next year I'll try making divinity.

At any rate, the lava cake was really fabulous!  We topped it with a billowy "glory cloud" of whipped cream, and it was intensely chocolatey.  It didn't spill out chocolate goo as I had expected, but it's possible we let the cake cool too much.

As was, it tasted like a really fantastic fallen chocolate souffle, lightened by the crown of whipped cream. Yum!

Poem of the Week

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chart and Compass Part 3

I've talked elsewhere about my "chart" of where we are aiming for our kids to be as adults.  I've said that our "true north" is our call to help each kid become who God created them to be.  Now I'd like to talk about the compass of joy.

Simply put, if I (or the kids) don't have joy with the way we are home schooling, I know something is wrong.

Does this mean that every moment is delirious happiness?  No!  Every day (hour?) has it's ups and downs.  Joy is a deeper feeling of peace and wholeness that persists through difficulties.  

It does mean that if long division yields dividends of misery with a remainder of tears, or if a kid must be continually pushed to do a project, or if I dread the start of the school day,  something needs to change.

It does not mean that we just don't do difficult things, or things that don't immediately look fun. There's a lot of joy in challenge!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chart and Compass, Part 2

Time for a shocking confession.  After home schooling for 10 years, I made a sudden discovery:  I don't care about academics.  Worse yet,  I never really did.

It's not that I care nothing about them, just that they are a far distant second to forming the Zoomlian's faith and character.

I came to the realization that, at any age, it's pretty easy to learn more stuff - I'm 42 and I do it all the time.

On the other hand, as an adult, it's really hard to learn to put other people first, to put God first, to love when it costs you something, to forgive when it hurts, if you didn't learn that as a child. 

There's an irony at work here. "Seek first the kingdom of  God, and all these things will be added unto you."

The academics were added unto us.

Honestly, it doesn't seem fair: not worrying about academics  gave me a 15 year old who does Pre-Calculus, and a 14 year old who is shopping for literary agents, a 12 year old who loves high school Chemistry, and a 10 year old who loves the Orestia.

It doesn't seem fair that they all seem to be at or above the level of their hard working contemporaries, when all we did was have fun.  It's all grace.

It turns out that all kids are curious.  They all like to learn.  Given half a chance, they learn no matter what you do.

Brains are hard wired to remember and use only what they consider important or interesting.

Everything your child needs to know is important and interesting (and tests don't count as important in this sense).  Sometimes, however it's a challenge for you to see what's interesting about it.  Trying to get some one to learn something you find neither important nor interesting is usually an exercise in frustration.

When a kid is interested in a subject, they absorb and retain information very rapidly, leaving time to expand and flower as an individual.

You don't get less academic achievement when it's not the primary focus, you get more

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chart and Compass Part 1

Two friends and I are hosting a curriculum tea this Saturday.  Partly it's to exchange ideas on curriculum and swap resources, partly it's a "come and see" for others who are interested in home schooling.  Honestly, it'll be a ton of fun even if no one else shows up; I really like the other two moms!

It's interesting though because the three of us range from straight school-at-home with a packaged curriculum to self designed classical curriculum to eclectic edging towards unschooling.  Guess which one I am!

It's made me think about what I do and why.  It's a curriculum tea, not an apologia for my home school, but, I would like to support those who feel the call to do something a little different, and especially, those who look at traditional home schooling and think, "I could never do that."

I'm an eclectic home schooler (you noticed that in the header, right?).  That means I use anything and everything to home school and I have a ton of fun doing it!  It's a "chart and compass" approach instead of a "turn by turn GPS" approach.  The chart is what my kids need to know to be fully functioning adults (which includes being able to pursue higher education).  The compass is joy.

If I could say one thing to someone thinking about home schooling, it would be, "Why determines how."  The mose essential thing to do, if you are considering home schooling, is to pray as a couple and ask God, "Why?"

For us the answer, the touchstone of our home schooling, our magnetic north, is, "To help our children become the people God created them to be."

There are many, many, MANY other great reasons, and we do have secondary reasons, but that is the one God put in our hearts at the very beginning.  Obviously that why gives you the "how" of an highly individualistic approach.  We adapt how we teach, and, to some extent, what we teach to each child.  And by teach, I mean both directly instructing and supporting their own learning adventures (I am not literally teaching Mxyl Japanese, just supporting him while he takes the class!).
For the rest of the series: part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Weaving Success!

Klenda got a peg loom for Christmas after she had done so much work on the little potholder looms.

She recently finished her first project, this striped table runner. Great job, Klenda!  You'll be taking after Grammy Ann in no time!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Easy Lent Art

This is a fun project that I adapted from Kids and Glitter, my new favorite source for art ideas.

I used "desert colored" construction paper: yellow, orange, red-orange, red, and brown. 

The idea is to tear the paper into wide strips so that you get an irregular (natural looking) pattern.  Before you start, try tearing some in different directions to figure out the "grain" of your paper.  One direction will give you smooth (and boring) tears.

Once you have strips of whatever colors you want, you can arrange them on another piece of paper, then glue stick them in place.

 We then put a black cross over the "desert" background.

On some of the pictures, I trimmed the edges with a paper cutter to give a neater finished product.

Choclo also wanted a skull at the foot of his cross because he'd seen pictures with r and he drew in the details.

In Christian art, that particular skull is Adam's.  No kidding!  There is a very old legend that Calvary was located on the site of Adam's grave, so that the New Adam (Christ) defeated death literally over the grave of the man who let death into the world.

Klenda is miserably sick today, so Mxyl did this extra one for her.  He put in a blue top strip for sky, a great addition!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Poem of the Week

Richard Lovelace. 1618–1658
 To Lucasta, going to the Wars
TELL me not, Sweet, I am unkind, 
  That from the nunnery 
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind 
  To war and arms I fly. 
True, a new mistress now I chase,         5
  The first foe in the field; 
And with a stronger faith embrace 
  A sword, a horse, a shield. 
Yet this inconstancy is such 
  As thou too shalt adore;  10
I could not love thee, Dear, so much, 
  Loved I not Honour more.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gospel Dessert: First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel today was the "Temptation in the Desert," and we went with the desert dessert.

It's an angel food cake (after his 40 day ordeal, angels came and ministered to Jesus), covered with brown sugar "sand."

As you can see, after four days with out sweets, any sugar containing object would have been, shall we say... well received!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Getting Myself Organized for Lent

Whenever I feel really discombobulated, I hear Wallace in my head from A Close Shave: "Get yourself organized down there!".

I woke up sick on Ash Wednesday and was very grateful 1.  that the Emperor could stay home and care for the Zoomlians, 2. that I could stay in bed for some spiritual reading, and 3. I already had some blog posts scheduled.

(The shocking truth is, I don't blog every day.  I usually blog twice a week and schedule the posts so they are more spread out. Shocking! But true.)

Anyway, my lovely plan to visit the Basilica, strip the walls, and put up our Lent stuff in a calm, prayerful atmosphere that struck the perfect balance between serious and cheerful, imbuing our Lent with a spirit of prayerful grace and causing my children to love Lenten sacrifices of all kinds so that we would all be saints by Easter... um, didn't happen the way I thought it should.

Well, I guess we'll let God be God, and go with his plan this time.;)

We did make our Walking with Jesus Poster and our Vine and Branches. And we got most of our winter/castle/valentines down.

Klenda told me that she would like to do a sacrifice bean jar, too, so that will come soon.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Snow Break!

 We didn't have snow here, but, last weekend, I went up to visit my folks and sister in NJ, and they had plenty of snow!

Actually, it was a mere 6 inches, compared to the three feet + some parts of the North East got.

But it was a respectable amount, even to my mountain dwelling sister (visiting from Colorado).

It was loads of fun!  My sister and I made snow angels!  That's mine on the left and hers on the right.  I'm not sure how I missed getting an actual picture of her, but that's OK, she looks angelic anyway.

And we had a snow ball fight that I won (because I had the snow shovel). Bwa ha ha!  It's true, I won, I saw it on the internet!   She evened the score by throwing me into the snow later. She only looks angelic.

Did I mention she's a nun? Seriously, don't mess with nuns!

Anyway, my Dad taught me to use the snow blower (which I had always been too young to do before, I guess, but I'm 42 1/2 now). 

It was so fun, I can see why he didn't let me do it before!

So the reason I was up for a visit was that my dad turned a big milestone birthday!

That's him with my mom on the right.

That's me with him on the left.

I figured that a person his age already had everything they needed or wanted, so I got him something he was sure neither to need nor want. 

You guessed it!  I got him this fine yodeling pickle!
 It's everything you could possibly want in a yodeling pickle:  It is the exact size, shape, and color of a pickle, and it gives a loud melodious yodel that goes on for about 5 seconds after you first wonder "when will it end?"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

40 Days

How is This Even Possible?

These are Oob's shoes.  All the shoes we can find, anyway.

Some are a little too small, some a little too big just now, but all, in a pinch, will go on his feet and get us out the door.

He is the sixth kid, but the first to have nine pairs of shoes, none of which we can find complete.

If you're curious, we put him in snow boots!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


It's Lent?  Really?

Here's a link to all our past Lent plans.

And my favorite Lenten video:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day

 What do you do when Valentine's Day falls the very day after Ash Wednesday?

Celebrate it early!

We celebrated on Monday, so our week is: Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, then the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

We had valentines, of course, and heart balloons, and a big jello heart.  Those are hot pretzels with hearts drawn on with pink frosting. 

The roses, balloons, and decorations are from the Emperor!

I printed heart packets from Enchanted Learning.

 We made strawberry cupcakes.

We had a treasure hunt to find valentine candy.

And we finished off with Pink Burping Cows...of Love!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fun Easy Math

Hand prints!  Choclo, Oob, and I made dozens of hand prints with red and gold paint. 

Now we count them by 1s (number of hands), 2s (pairs of hands - we mostly did red on one hand and gold on the other), 5s (fingers), and 10s (fingers on hand pairs).

Sunday, February 10, 2013


We've been doing more poetry this year, partly because I've had my own love of poetry renewed and that spills over to sharing great poems with the kids.  We are reading poems frequently, but once a week, I wanted to go at a poem more intensely.  The Emperor came up with this schema for us to look at poems more deeply. 


11.      Write the author and title of the poem, using proper capitalization and punctuation.  Titles of poems always go in quotation marks.  Titles get capital letters for their first and last words and for every conjunction or preposition that is 5 or fewer letters.
22.      State two literal observations about the poem.  One should be about the form of the poem, and the other should be about its topic or its plot.
33.      State one personal reaction/reflection that you had when you read a particular statement in the poem.
44.      State what you believe to be the central message of the poem.
55.      State one question that reading the poem inspires.

This has been a lot of fun!  We are tapping in to The Emperor's stash of short and interesting poems, like: Stephen Crane's, "I Saw a Man."

I Saw a Man

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
"You can never -- "

"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Stupid Joke

Did you hear that they are opening a home for retired yaks?

They can't get any publicity because everyone says it's just old gnus.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Further Adventures of Gilwell

 Gilwell, the Tiger Cub mascot is back with us this week!

We took him to the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Annex.

This was our first time back since they got Discovery, the space shuttle that spent the most time in space.

We were amazed at how different it was than Enterprise, the shuttle prototype which used to be displayed here!

For starters, it seemed much larger, and the engines were very different, and it looked much more... used.  It was very, very cool!
We also showed Gilwell the Enola Gay. 

And went up into the control tower to watch the planes take off and land at Dulles.

Choclo's favorite part, however, was the array of different aircraft engines, which I totally forgot to photograph!