Alex asked me to help him find some free animation software so I asked around and got some recommendations from other homeschool parents. We haven’t checked them out much yet but I’m posting them here in case it helps others.
These are all free, with no subscription required. I know there are quality ones for monthly costs, but we don’t really want those. These are also all computer-based. I know there are lots for iPads and android but he has a new computer and wanted to play around on it.
The Wick Editor is a free, open-source tool for creating games, animations, and everything in-between!
It’s designed to be the most accessible tool for creating multimedia projects on the web.
The Wick Editor is a hybrid animation tool and coding environment, inspired by similar tools such as HyperCard, and Scratch. It was developed in response to a growing need for such a tool for the modern web.
Krita is a free and open source cross-platform application that offers an end-to-end solution for creating digital art files from scratch. Krita is optimized for frequent, prolonged and focused use. Explicitly supported fields of painting are illustrations, concept art, matte painting, textures, comics and animations. Developed together with users, Krita is an application that supports their actual needs and workflow. Krita supports open standards and interoperates with other applications.
Blender is the free and open source 3D creation suite. It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, video editing and 2D animation pipeline.
Alex is going to play around with these and see which ones suit him best. We’ll report back on his favorites.
If you know of any others, please add them in the comments!
I’ve always been a terrible procrastinator, especially with the practical stuff like housework and math lessons. I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books to review lately on the topic of overcoming avoidance and procrastination, and one tip that came up in one of them was to do the smallest change possible first.
Something about that appealed to me. I can do tiny things! And I know from experience that I usually keep going once I start something (but even if I don’t I’ve started progress in new habits). So I am going to try to do some micro-homeschooling and micro-housework this week for things that I keep feeling behind in. 😉
Ask Alex to spell 3 words
Pick up the clothes on the bathroom floor that missed the hamper
Do a pushup
Wipe the counter
Go to the church (arts center) and do five minutes of organizing
Play one round of Jackbox with the kids
Read one page of history with Fiona
Take one vitamin/supplement
Anybody else feeling behind and want to join in? (Here I am pretending anybody reads this!)
I’ll keep you posted… Maybe! Since blogging is one thing I’ve fallen behind in. 😉
Winter has always been mainly a slower time for us out here in the Minnesota prairie, but this year it’s especially so. It’s been about 10 months since the kids have been able to see their friends. I’m glad they’ve got each other, but I wish it were different for the world. I miss my friends too!
The boys have been doing a lot of gaming. Jack reads a lot of online stories and comics, and plays his ukulele a lot. I love to sing with him while he plays. He is a very self directed learner and now has banked more than 700 straight days of Spanish on Duolingo, plus a long streak of daily Khan Academy too. Khan Academy is lots more than math now, so he uses it for things like grammar too. Alex is still really into science, and likes to learn everything he can about it. Daryl also taught him cribbage recently and they go to the church to play cards some nights.
I love having the church to escape to for games, music jams, crafts and such. Last week, Toria met us there and the kids did some hilarious improv, pretending to be having truly terrible customer service phone conversations. 🙂
I’m doing lots of reading and working on getting the house more organized. The washer and dryer are taking turns blowing up and a new set of those is in our future. In the meantime I’m wringing clothes out by hand and using the “turn up the radio” mode of car repair on them (pretend nothing is wrong and keep going). 🙂 Daryl and I have taken the washer apart repeatedly and finally gave up. We know what’s wrong and it will cost so much to fix it that we’re better off with a reasonably priced new one. The Maytag salesperson we talked to said not to expect more than 5 or 6 years out of any new washer these days, so we’ll be going cheap. Not that you care about my washing machine woes, but that shows the boring times we’re in here!
Fiona is decorating the front yard’s snow with squirt bottles full of food coloring as I type. I periodically peer out the window next to me and then look away. When I gave her the colors I envisioned some beautiful art scene of colorful flowers and designs, but it looks like our front yard is the side of an abandoned building tagged by neighborhood hoodlums. Ah well. She’s having fun!
Daryl has been awarded another grant to make another short film, and we’re all excited for him. It’s always fun for all of us to help out with those productions, and the kids all get so much fabulous film making experience. This one is a dark comedy called Sicily Street (two mobsters do their own version of Sesame Street). It’s one of my favorites of all the short plays he’s written, and I’m looking forward to it.
I’m hoping to finish any one of the many books I have started soon. I am great at starting projects and then start more and more, and leave them languishing. I’m in a bit of a funk though so it’s going to take some major work getting myself going. I keep reading books about motivation and getting things done, but so far they have been largely useless. I’ll quit yapping at you and go do something now to put one foot forward though. Maybe my word for 2021 will be inertia, just getting going in lots of ways. It will beat the word that seems to have summed up 2020 for many of us, survive. Not that surviving wasn’t a big accomplishment.
I promised to update you on our good news of this year, and I’m finally taking a minute to do so. It’s pretty wild! 🙂
Yes, we bought a church. It’s a 120 year old church just a block and a half from our house. They closed down a few years ago and sold it very cheap last year. Someone from out of town snatched it up right away back then and we were a little sad, but at the time we knew we had no extra money and no need for a church anyway and it was just a fun dream.
Then last spring, it came back on the market. The seller had planned on making a duplex out of it and apparently realized the error of his ways. He wanted more money than he paid for it, which is one reason I suspect nobody moved on it for months. I recently inherited a little bit of money from my grandmother’s estate, and when we found out it still hadn’t sold we decided to just go look at it on a lark. We immediately fell in love with the space and started dreaming about turning it into a community arts center. It was a mess at the time (filled with things the seller had decided to store inside it) but we instantly loved it.
Art is so important to our family and such a big part of our lives — Daryl took part in “jam sessions” at quite a few different sites every month with other musicians before covid and is hugely into acting, Rhia plays several instruments and is very active in the folk punk community plus also does visual and needlework arts for sale and works as a photographer, Toria is a talented visual artist and photographer, every one of our kids has acted in plays and community theater, Daryl writes and stars in films and plays, I’m a writer and a poet, all of us have had at least a cameo in movies at this point, crafts have been a big part of our homeschooling all of these years…. Yeah, art is big for us. 🙂
Not only that, but art was hugely important to my grandmother as well. She collected art and was instrumental in helping to launch the career of a famous Ohio artist. And my biological grandfather on that side was a musician who also wrote and starred in radio plays (about social justice issues way back in the 1940’s, no less). My father was an artist too, both as a hobby (mostly nature paintings) and for a living (he did technical illustration for folks like NASA and the Agriculture Department). Using my inheritance from my grandmother on something that would benefit others in a way related to the arts seemed like such a great way to honor her and the rest of my family.
So we made an offer much less than what was asked for but just over what we knew he paid for it, and he accepted it! We officially purchased the church at the end of October and we’ve been furnishing it with supplies and spending lots of time over there. It needs a ton of work and there is still no running water, but it has been an amazing thing to focus on amidst all of our grief at losing both of Daryl’s parents, how sick I was, the kids’ recoveries, our isolation, and so much more bad this year.
The downstairs will be for visual arts, crafts, sewing, pot lucks and get togethers, and more. There is a small room that we’ve stocked with costumes of all kinds for all sizes and from all time periods (remember, we do a lot of reenacting, so we have a ton from 20 years of it!). I brought over my late mother-in-law’s beloved vintage sewing machine and I’ll be bringing over my modern one as well. Someone from our church donated 4 giant tubs of yarn that she inherited from her late mother. There are all kinds of papers, paints, pens, coloring books, odds and ends, glues, etc. for kids (and adults) to do art with. We also have brought over games that are in the costume room, especially ones related to improv and the arts.
The upstairs is stocked with musical instruments in the sanctuary that anyone can use. The hymnal holders are filled with music-related books. We have a karoake machine and microphone up on the stage area. The office has DVDs and a special section of DVDs that local folks have starred in (even a cameo), which is a lot just from our family. LOL There are also bookcases that will be stocked with writing books, poetry, etc. The front “cry room” works perfectly as a recording studio.
It even came fully stocked with tons of large tables and folding chairs, an antique record player, a desk in the office, a sound system, pews on one half (the other half was sold but that’s perfect because there’s lots of room for dancing and playing music on that half now), two pianos and an organ. We looked up the organ and it alone is worth the price we paid for the church (which to be fair, was not a lot).
I’ve had so much fun exploring and finding all the historic treasures that were left inside. I found vintage silverware hidden behind the coffee carafes (yes, even all the coffee carafes were left behind), sweet Sunday school essays about the history of the church in the desk, plates and saucers and cups to serve a massive crowd in the cupboards, the antique stove and fridge, handmade furniture… Even the chalk and candles were still buried away in places, along with things like tablecloths, construction paper, hymnals, a slide projector, a Christmas tree and more that we have cleaned off and put to use again. And the kids have had a blast exploring all the little hidden corridors and spaces. Jack and Fiona have claimed one tiny room under the stairs as theirs.
We are very mindful of what a special place this was to people for well over a hundred years, and honoring that history. It was home to two churches, one that built it and one that bought it when the original congregation outgrew it 50+ years later (they now occupy a huge church in town). We can tell how much it meant to all of those people over the years and we are grateful and humbled to be able to continue to give it love and purpose to bless new people in new ways.
We also love honoring Daryl’s parents with so many of the things we’ve brought from their house that he and his siblings are clearing out. We love having his mother’s rocking chairs for people to sit in while they knit or listen to music, bookshelves, a futon in the office for relaxing and for friends from far away to overnight there, and even the faux fireplace from their basement. We miss his folks so much but it has been so comforting for so many of their things to find a new home there.
We have tentatively named the church “The Cottonwood County Center for the Arts.” It is very important to us that it be accessible to all, so it will probably be a sort of “donations welcome” thing for activities and events, perhaps with a membership for those who can afford to help pay to keep the heat on. 🙂 Our family missed out on so many cool events because with lots of kids and a low income, even small fees added up to more than we could often afford. We are determined that this is a space where everybody can benefit.
We have been spending so much time there — cleaning and restoring it but also having music jams, family suppers, game nights and more.
Last night, Daryl informed us that there would be a short play at 6:30 and we showed up to see Toria, Jack and Daryl in a short Christmas play. The front stage area is so perfect for performances and the pews are perfect for watching.
There was even a hanging cloth for presentations and we discovered that our projector turns it into a great place to watch movies or for the kids to do pretty epic video gaming. 🙂
Lest I oversell it, it’s important to note that it needs a ton of work and some rather costly updates and improvements. The furnace is over 60 years old and quite temperamental, and we’ll need to replace it very soon. It needs a new roof, paint, repairs and there’s the aforementioned problem of no running water yet so we take lots of trips home to use the bathroom. 🙂 We’ve done lots of cleaning and we have to nicely evict the squirrels from the roof. But this came at the perfect time for us as we have time to put into it and can financially cover the basic repairs. There are also grants in our area for arts organizations, which may be able to help out with some of the future costs. We have been busy with updates, repairs and such but it has been a really wonderful busy to distract us from all the sadness of the year.
If you want to follow us on Facebook, there’s a brand new page that hopefully we’ll start updating soon. I imagine we’ll set up an Instagram for it too at some point, but for now you can check in on my instagram to see occasional updates.
Some of the things we plan to host in the church/arts center are:
Regular jam nights for beginners and experienced musicians
Improv and comedy fun
Craft clubs and classes for kids
Arts and crafts materials for everyone so people can create even if they can’t afford materials
Square dancing and other dance activities
Costumes for all kinds of acting and role playing for all ages and sizes
Free use of knitting, crochet and sewing materials and comfy places to use them
Free use of musical instruments and helpful advice for folks interesting in finding the right instrument to learn
Displays of work by local artists
Potlucks and get-togethers
Free lending library of arts related books
A gaming area for role playing games and fun family games
Art supplies and musical instruments for little ones to use while parents play/create
A quiet space to work on personal art
A gathering space to connect with other artists
A performance space for local musicians and artists
We are beyond excited at what the future holds and the ways this can help spread some good stuff for so many who have been through so much this year. I’ll keep you updated on the progress!
My wonderful mother-in-law, Helen, died last month. We knew it was coming as she had both Alzheimer’s and cancer, but it happened much more quickly than we expected and it was devastating nonetheless. She was an awesome grandmother, mother and mother-in-law, and we have not been able to accept the fact that she is no longer here.
Daryl’s dad took her loss very hard. He was wracked with grief. Family members took turns visiting him and helping take care of an infection on his leg, and on Monday he fell and needed to go to the ER. We spent the day in the waiting room anxiously awaiting news (they wouldn’t let us back because of Covid) and Daryl got to briefly see him before he was transported to one of the only open ICU beds in the state. He was doing well, despite having a pint and a half of fluid drained from one lung, and we were making plans to move him to a rehabilitation center when things went wrong very suddenly and he died Thursday night.
None of us has any doubt that he died of a broken heart. He and Helen were married 65 years and he didn’t want to live in a world that didn’t have her. That said, we’re all having a very hard time coming to terms with living in a world not just without her but without him too.
Chester was a war hero (he was badly injured in the Korean War and insisting on going back once he recovered, then survived another attack that killed every other member of his platoon and left him with lifelong PTSD — he spent the rest of his life giving talks to schools and community centers about the realities of war and working with younger soldiers who were dealing with its effects), a mayor, a fire chief, a die-hard volunteer for every cause in the community and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. He loved to tease and he was the toughest guy I ever knew. He and Helen hand built most of their house when they needed to expand it for their growing family, side by side.
My parents died many years ago and Chester and Helen were our kids’ only grandparents. They were two of the most important people in all of our lives. It’s been a hard 3 1/2 weeks.
Our family has other news that is actually very good in these tough times, but I’ll leave that for another post.
Rest in peace, Grandma and Grandpa. Thank you for being so awesome.
We’ll be officially starting our 2020-21 school year on Tuesday, the day after our 24th wedding anniversary and some sort of family wedding (you might remember we get married anew each year around this time in a new way).
This year, Jack will be in 11th grade, Alex will be in 7th and Fiona will be in 3rd, officially anyway. We don’t really pay any attention to the numbers other than when we fill out our reporting forms. We just keep up with them and keep it at their levels in each subject. Of course, Victoria and Rhia have graduated. They live in houses nearby, though, so we still get to see them lots.
I’m hoping to do more unit studies this year, even with their wildly different grade levels. We’re starting off with some haikus this week. I found some very old Japanese haiku poets whom I fell in love with and I want to do a family haiku reading each day and some writing (improv and not).
I’m sitting down to plan this month today, using the scope-and-standard lists as a general guideline and for inspiration, but following interests and the way the wind blows.
Jack already does Khan Academy and Duolingo every day, for math, grammar and Spanish. He sets his own pace and picks his own rabbit trails. He has a streak over something like 500 days in a row on Duolingo and he did have several hundred on Khan Academy until our internet went out one night and he lost it.
Fiona, Alex and I were doing Duolingo but lost our interest last year. We’re planning on starting up again and Alex already did on his own. He’s begun striking up conversations and asking me for food in Spanish again, always a sign that he’s back to practicing. 🙂
Science is Alex’s big love and he does tons of that on his own, mostly online and in projects he dreams up. I’m planning to do lots more to meet his insatiable need for more science this year, involving the other kids with a lot of it, too.
Music is a big part of our lives these days. We have “family jams” often and have binders full of music and lyrics so we can all play along. Jack plays ukelele really well and also plays guitar and a few other instruments. Fiona is learning ukelele. So far, Alex and I mostly sing along. I love the piano but need to get it tuned and to get serious practicing. Daryl plays an insane number of instruments, all self taught, and Rhia (who’s in her own house now, half a mile away in the house Toria and Gabe bought for $4,000 three years ago) plays the guitar and ukelele really well (self taught, too). I don’t think Toria (in a new house with Gabe and a friend, also purchased in cash like their old one and like ours, just a block and a half from us) plays anything, but I could be wrong.
We’ll be doing lots of reading, lots of science, lots of nature studies, and lots of hands-on learning, as always. I’m going to keep up with our impromptu spelling and to do more writing with the boys (Fiona does tons of writing on her own already). Life skills will be a big part of what we do, as always. I love the fact that my grown kids can get by on so little because they’ve learned foraging, gardening, DIY, thrifting, making and frugal living so well.
Fiona would like to take gymnastics but I’m not sure what things look like in that regard right now with Covid. They’re holding the classes as usual. In our little corner of the world, there’s not much that’s different other than people having to wear masks inside most places. She loves doing cartwheels, wants to learn lots more, and is desperate for some time around other kids. We’ll see what we can figure out to meet her needs. It may involve some creativity.
And with that, I’m off to get back to my canning (copious amounts of roasted spaghetti sauce and not nearly enough applesauce so far) and to keep my promise to play Timeline with Alex and “have quality time” with Fiona.
I was taken in by the adorable cover of the upcoming book How to Hold Animals by Toshimitsu Matsuhashi. I thought it would be a whimsical and helpful guide to holding animals for kids. It is designed for kids and adults, written by several Japanese men (a pet shop owner, a veterinarian, a reptile handler and a wildlife photographer) but I cannot describe it as very whimsical.
I was able to read a digital Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of the book from the publisher. After reading it I can’t say that I recommend it.
I actually really felt bad for the animals in many of the cases. It focuses mostly on the specific animals these men seem to encounter, with a major focus on reptiles and bugs especially. It starts with a little blurb about how children should be encouraged to hold animals but I don’t even agree with this. There’s really no reason a child needs to learn how to catch and hold a dragonfly, butterfly or other insect easily harmed by being held.
Our kids frequently hold butterflies that we raise and release or encounter in our gardens, but they willingly crawl onto their fingers or land on them.
The kids never restrain them or pinch their wings shut like this book demonstrates. There’s also no reason a child needs to learn how to hold a dangerous animal that has painful bites, kicks or stings (or in the case of prairie dogs, is one of the best ways to still catch the plague in the United States!).
I’m just baffled as to why I would want to teach my kids how to catch and hold a scorpion, a monitor lizard or an alligator snapping turtle. Many of the descriptions tell kids that the animals are likely to bite and it will be painful or there will be a lot of bloodshed.
The end section has animals that are especially dangerous like anacondas and crocodiles. It tells kids not to hold them but it has pictures of the author holding them all and still gives advice about how to do it.
I liked the section featuring the vet the best. Those animals struck me as typical pets (rabbits, dogs of different sizes, cats, hamsters, etc.) and it was good advice about how to hold them to treat them as a vet, how to not get injured, and how to make them feel safe.
The wild sections and the exotic pet sections seemed far more exploitative of the animals and just left a bad taste in my mouth. If the book featured the vet then I’d probably give it 4 stars, but that was only a short section and the other sections really seemed unwise, unsafe and sometimes inhumane.
Yes, kids can learn how to grab insects and reptiles in the wild and hold them without hurting them, but how many attempts will it take before they get the knack, and how many creatures will they harm (and bites and stings will they incur, in some cases) before they get it down? It’s not necessary. Leave wildlife alone and take a picture, or just watch them and let them be on their way.
How to Hold Animals (affiliate link) by Toshimitsu Matsuhashi is expected to be published November 3rd 2020 by Scribner. While I would recommend the vet section for helpful information for holding pets (and an injured owl), I have serious reservations about the advice pertaining to capturing and holding wildlife.
We have a shady part of our back yard these days, thanks to a little tree we planted from a bucket that the city gave away 25 years ago when we had just moved in, which is now a massive maple tree that shades most of the back yard.
That space was once roses, delphiniums and other flowering perennials, but now it’s too shady. I tried putting our big farmhouse table there last year but I didn’t like it in that spot, so I suddenly decided last month that we needed a wee little pond.
I never would have thought of putting in a pond, except that I have a fountain that Daryl got me for Mother’s Day a few years ago and it always needs a new pump each spring. This year, he accidentally got the wrong size and I said that we could just dig a hole and put an old kiddie pool in the ground and make a pond with the extra pump (moving water from pumps doesn’t just make a sweet little fountain, it also keeps mosquitoes from laying eggs, so you really want a pump in your pond if you ask me). And then I thought, hey, I wonder how much it costs to just get a cheap plastic pond liner?
It turns out it doesn’t cost much at all, so we ended up picking one up at Home Depot for around $30 and putting in a pond.
Alex decided he wanted to do all the work, and that’s not the sort of thing I’m ever going to argue with.
We rimmed the outside with rocks from around the yard (we collect big rocks from our journeys as sentimental landscaping).
I’ve since added plants and more rocks around it, and it’s become a really sweet little peaceful area (I’ll try to snap a proper after picture soon). The kids like to sit with their feet in it and I have a hanging chair nearby where I sit and just listen to it gurgle.
Well, that was an interesting spring. We took a family trip to the Mall of America for homeschool days at perhaps the worst possible time, just as Covid-19 was quietly invading the country. We stayed in a hotel, went to IKEA and Trader Joe’s, took in all the sights at the MOA (Sea Life, mini golf, laser games!)…. and brought home more than the souvenirs we’d planned.
Jack got sick first, with a terrible cough, fever, fatigue, etc. Coronavirus was barely on our radar at that point even though I had joked about “going to the biggest international tourist destination in the midwest at the start of a plague.” Yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t have thumbed my nose quite so much at fate? 😉
Corona gives you very rosy cheeks
In any case, Alex got sick for about a minute and was better. Fiona developed a high fever, stomach ache, sore throat, cough, etc. and was sick for about a week but never dangerously so. Jack got better but had lingering fatigue and muscle weakness (especially in one leg) for literally months. Rhia and Daryl didn’t really get sick at all, even though I was very worried about Daryl since he’s older and disabled.
And I… good grief did I get sick. Wowza. It pretty much leveled every system in my body. I had so many weird side effects that it felt like it was gaslighting me, since the news certainly wasn’t reporting things like numb toes, bursting blood vessels in your legs, phantom heart attacks, tingling limbs, hypothermia (my body temp dropped to 93.7 twice) or your body inexplicably forgetting to breathe when you fall asleep, just to name a few of the weirder manifestations.
I spent over two months doing breathing exercises (I cannot recommend those enough to protect your lungs, prevent pneumonia, calm anxiety, decrease blood pressure, increase lung capacity and raise your oxygen levels), drinking massive amounts of water (ditto, cannot stress this one enough), taking hot steamy baths and medicating round-the-clock with kitchen/nature remedies that I used to manage and conquer the whack-a-mole of symptoms that is coronavirus. Daryl foraged me nettles every morning for weeks to make me strong nettle tea and I also relied on fresh garlic (you must finely mince it and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before taking it to activate the alicin, and then remember to take it 2-3 times a day just as you would meds), elderberry, ginger (a very potent antiviral that is also excellent for many of the parts of the body this attacks), apple cider vinegar, fermented foods and drinks like kombucha, etc.
Two months into my illness I finally was able to see my doctor and she told me to keep doing “exactly what you’re doing” because all of my levels were so high for things like iron and white blood cell counts. Now three months from our initial sickness, Jack and I are still recovering (he is still weak and tires easily, I still have some numb toes and muscle/joint pain) but we’re firmly in the post-viral phase of recovery and long past the terrifying actual illness.
I have found a lot of ways to find the blessings this gave me. I learned a lot about the honestly impressive power of affirmations, meditation and deep breathing, and the importance of finally prioritizing sleep, stress relief and real self care. I spent time every day on our roof balcony doing light yoga and stretching and getting sunshine for vitamin D. I went for walks and bike rides with the kids to make sure I got light exercise every day that I could (there’s about a month that’s pretty much a blur though). I’ve lost weight and toned my body. I gave up coffee and lost my hot flashes in the process. I gave up wine for a month or two but Daryl and Tiffany convinced me that it would be okay if I wanted to imbibe again and boy, did I want to after all that. 🙂 I spent my time doing things I enjoyed like reading and reviewing books, working in the garden, watching Netflix and Hulu with the kids, and spending quality time with Daryl. And we all made it.
It was intense and there were some really terrifying times (I’m intentionally skipping over the scariest stuff). Don’t underestimate this thing. But boy do you appreciate the little things (like being alive) when life reminds you how lucky you are.
If you or someone you love is sick with Covid-19 and you want more detailed information on the best resources I’ve found, let me know. I found that the media and most websites were really worthless for the most part, but there are a few helpful sites out there and I can round them all up if it’s helpful.
Rhia and I have published a children’s poetry book together!
It came about because Rhia loves to draw these adorable mushroom doodles (among others) and I told her they were so fun that they ought to be in a children’s book. She suggested that I could write some poems to accompany them, and we decided to do a joint children’s book together.
It’s filled with poems that are silly, sentimental and occasionally educational, all about mushrooms, nature, fairies and other related topics.
We had so much fun doing it, and I’m so proud of our finished book!