A Little Women’s Studies Field Trip

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Victoria and Rhiannon each took a bit of a field trip yesterday.  They participated in the #WomensMarch in St. Paul (Minnesota), along with roughly 100,000 others (and several million around the world).  🙂

Victoria went with a charter bus from New Ulm, a city about an hour from us, and Rhiannon went with a friend and some of her friends and their children in a van that left from Mankato.  Poor Daryl had to leave at 5:30 a.m. with them to get them to their respective drop-off points so they could get up to the march in time.

They both had phenomenal times, to say the least.

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Rhia stayed up late the night before embroidering feminist statements on her jacket.  I’ll have to get a picture of some!

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(I gave Toria that hat for Christmas.  Wasn’t it perfect for the day?)

It was a profoundly empowering experience for both girls, and Toria called it one of the coolest experiences of her life.

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I’m very proud of my girls (and all who marched around the world!).

The Dystopian Homeschool

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Well, that was quite a week.

I’m not going to go into any of my feelings about the election here.  I’m sure you can guess them, or you can take a look at my Facebook page to see them (along with a lot of articles I’ve been writing for my new gig at Inquistr).

I went to our little UU church yesterday hoping that the minister would somehow rally us up, give us inspiration and new energy and directives to go back out there and magically make things better.  I realized afterwards that I sort of expect her to be like the pit crew that services the race cars in the Indy 500.  I screech in when everything is blowing and failing, and she is supposed to fill my tank and fixes my shortages, then I go speeding back into the fray again.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, she offered a scrambled-up sermon reworked from one she had already planned on preaching yesterday.  It turns out she didn’t plan on these election results either, and had originally written an intellectual sermon on dystopian worlds.

(Yeah, UU churches are like that.  Don’t come expecting a lot of talk about sins or bible quotes.)  😉

But in her mixed-up, crazy dystopian sermon, she said something that took me by surprise.  She said that dystopian stories are always written about some terrible time to come, but at some point we needed to acknowledge the truth —

We’re already in the terrible time, and we were before Tuesday.

“an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

Not exactly a cheerful thought, huh?

But it’s true for much of the world.  Sure, some of us have been existing in a fantastic little bubble for a while.  Some of us are white, straight, upper class, two-parent families who have been awfully blessed.  But for the poor, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, people of color, people of other religions, LGBTQ families, refugees and others, things have already been unpleasant and bad.

Our environment is already degraded.  Climate change is a reality that’s affecting us more every year, from unpredictable winters to droughts to super-storms to rising sea levels.  Animals are going extinct at unprecedented rates.  Our air is poisoned.  Our water is contaminated.  The average child now has at least one chronic illness, not to mention the average adult.  We have finally reached the generation that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents. Scientists have been warning us for a while that it’s already too late to stop the catastrophic changes coming, and unless we radically change our ways of life very soon, we can’t even slow it down.

Well, huh.  Okay then!

While this is a pretty bleak conclusion to reach when one is already feeling pretty bleak, it also can be seen as liberating.  As Janis Joplin once sang, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And how does that translate to homeschooling?  Or even parenting?  How do we protect our kids and give them hope, when things feel hopeless? 

Well, first we look to the people who already knew all this, who have had boots on the ground for a long time while.  DAPL protesters at Standing Rock.  Black Lives Matter organizers. Environmentalists. Even parents of vaccine injured children driving buses across the country to tell their stories.  People who act to be the change they want to see in the world.  They’re happy to train us, happy to have our help.  (Miley Cyrus has already set up a web site to match people to local organizations who could use help in whatever issues are close to your heart.)

And we teach our children.  We teach them how to make positive changes in the world and help others — and also how to take care of themselves when they’re feeling fragile and shocked by the dark in the world.  We need to model that, too, and take care of ourselves in the midst of all of this darkness.

We prepare them for all kinds of futures — not just a straight line into college and some utopian job waiting at the other side, but for learning trades and volunteering for the Peace Corps and taking gap years and starting businesses and doing freelance work and all of the many ways that we can live in the modern world.

We teach them how to live well on little money, how to meet their own needs, how to survive — not in some melodramatic sense like the zombie apocalypse, but in the sense of knowing how to do well in unpredictable times.  And how to share that knowledge to help our communities.

We fight the good fight, and raise aware kids who do the same.

And then we hug them and love them and read them stories and watch silly TV shows and play, because now, more than ever, they need boatloads of that, too.

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Ten Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these lists so I thought I’d post quickly before catching up on my mile-long to-do list.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

1.  We got a ton of snow last week and the kids had a blast building snow forts, making snow ramps for sleds and playing in it.

2.  Victoria has taken up knitting again, and she’s so good (and fast!).  She made a lovely multi-colored scarf for a lady at church, and this hat for Fiona.

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3.  Our couch was sagging and shot, so this morning Daryl and Jack took it apart.  They repaired and reinforced the insides so it’s as good as new.  It’s always been important to us that the kids get an education not just in academics but in life skills — knowing how to cook from scratch, repair household items, sew and mend clothes, preserve foods, find bargains, treat minor illnesses and so on.  I love that they’re growing up learning these skills that we had to teach ourselves much later in life, and that they have the knowledge to live well on very little since they won’t have to pay others to do jobs for them or just toss things out and buy new.  (See 10 Homesteading skills every child should learn for more on that).

4.  Victoria and Fiona keep drawing together.  I love that Victoria has passed on her love of drawing to Fiona and I love seeing their little joint drawings.  🙂

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5.  We’re reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever as a read-aloud, which has been a family tradition for as long as I can remember.  The kids never get tired of hearing that book.  🙂

6.  Rhia has kept busy with her photography, art, politics and her boyfriend, among other things.  She and Tyler are still going strong.  He continues to teach her things like car repair.  He fixed an old rusted manual typewriter for her that they found, and got it working as good as new.  He also fixed an old light that they found, wiring it and everything.  His mechanical skills are impressive and I love that she’s learning that from him.  She teaches him things too, and it’s nice to see how well they complement each other.

7.  I got a 75 cent calligraphy kit from a thrift store and got it out for the boys to use for handwriting practice.  They both need work on their handwriting but they say they hate to write.  With the pen out, they couldn’t wait to write.  Jack spent quite a long time writing out words and phrases, and Alex took a turn, too.  Later on, Victoria even asked if she could use it.

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8.  We’ve been watching Drunk History with the kids.  The older kids and I get a lot out of it, and there have been so many times that I turned to Victoria and asked, “Did that really happen?” and she did a quick google and declared that yes, amazingly, that did.  It’s been a fun way of learning less-known history.  🙂  The younger kids have been watching more respectable Netflix shows like MythBusters, Odd Squad and Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

9.  We’ve been participating in Bountiful Baskets, a non-profit produce coop that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to cities around the country every weekend.  They also have different add-ons every week, such as organic bread, granola, fruit by the case and themed boxes (such as all different kinds of citrus  or masa mix with corn husks and Mexican produce to make tamales).  Last week we got a 40 pound box of organic Fiji apples for $32.  It’s entirely volunteer-run (even the women who run it at the national level) and our family volunteers every Saturday to help out.  The little kids help clean laundry baskets (they use designated laundry baskets to portion all the food out for people to pick up and put in their own containers), smash boxes and carry things.  The older kids help people carry their boxes and baskets to their cars, and Daryl and I help check people in, load the baskets and so on.  It’s been a fun way to volunteer as a family, a great way to extend our grocery dollars (a basket full of fruits and veggies is only $15 and an organic box is only $25) and a neat way to discover some new fruits and vegetables.  Some of the produce we get in the boxes isn’t even available in our grocery stores.

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10. We learned all about wassailing and it’s very pagan roots.  Daryl and Victoria tend to go down educational rabbit holes on our long car drives, and Victoria googles the topics and then reads everything she finds out to us.  Last week, that led to our learning more than we ever thought we could know about radon (which states have the worst problem, how radon led to lung disease in coal miners, which homes are at risk, what it does…).  This week, it was wassailing.  Now THAT was a wild tradition once upon a time.

There’s been all of the usual stuff, too, of course — Khan Academy, reading, worksheets, playing with friends, doing art, nature studies, games, cooking, talking, blogging, educational apps, playing Minecraft, playing with pets, fighting illnesses and so on.

And with that, I’m off to go read another chapter about those awful Herdman kids and try to get my downstairs remotely tidy looking.  Happy Wednesday!

 

History Fest Recap

I’m finally suitably recovered from History Fest, which took place this year October 6-10.  It was even more fun and amazing than usual, and that’s saying a lot.

This was the 20th anniversary of History Fest, which is amazing in itself.

Keep in mind that this is an annual event that was created just because a wonderful local man (Jack McGowan) went to the Renaissance Festival and said that the Mankato area kids ought to have something like that to learn history in a fun way — and then made it happen (with the help of a whole lot of other people).

For twenty years now.  For no profit.

(Admission is only $5 to help cover the costs. Teachers, chaperones, children under 5 and volunteers get in free.)

And it also has become one of the most magical, educational, fantastic things I have ever experienced.

Jack McGowan didn’t just get some people together to reenact some historic events.  He used his own land and an adjacent sheep farm that was later donated to the cause, and built a historic playland.

There’s a saloon, a jail, a lodge, a troll tunnel that goes underground and comes up at a grate far away, a massive sandbox stocked with treasure to dig for, a house front rigged with a gas line to stay on fire with a fire hose attached to a working pump going into the river, stilts, carts, an enormous trebuchet that takes teams of kids to wind to launch pumpkins into the river….  And so much more.

All built by Jack and volunteers over the years for the love of the kids and “playfully preserving history.”

That’s Jack in one of the whimsical creations he’s constructed.  🙂

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

There are just no words for how incredible it is to take part in History Fest, and how proud I am of all of the people who come together to do this incredible thing.

This year, I took part as Lucrezia Borgia (Lucrecia for the Americans).  Our friend Dané , a local homeschool graduate whose mom helps run History Fest, made my gown — in under two weeks!

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Daryl even got me a compartment ring that we filled with pop rock candy (I mean poison!) so I could drop it into drinks to fizz mysteriously for the kids.  🙂

Of course I told them that I was an innocent and it was all nasty rumors.  The little girls especially were always on my side by the end of my story, with big eyes and outrage at all of the things my father the pope and my awful brother Cesare had done to me (and to my poor husband #2).  I told them that historians now say that Lucrezia was probably just a loyal victim of her family’s, and not involved at all in their corruption or killings.

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(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

I didn’t mention her fondness for extramarital affairs or the illegitimate child born while she was “resting” in a convent at seventeen (in between arranged marriages #1 and #2), though.  I did tell them that her third husband greatly mourned her when she died, and the people of her land did, too.  I told them that she was a patron of the arts and loved poetry, and had eight children, and died at age 39 after having her last (stillborn) child.

Perhaps sometime they’ll hear the name Lucrecia Borgia and offer up a bit of “inside information” from when they chatted with that infamous lady one October at McGowan’s farm.  🙂

As for the rest of the family…

Daryl once again played the gambler in the saloon.

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Jack manned the Huck Finn raft and taught old fashioned games like rolling hoops and playing graces.

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He also helped out in the saloon.  He runs a mean chuck-a-luck game.

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Victoria was Joan of Arc but mostly helped out behind the scenes feeding the hordes of volunteers and reenactors.

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On the last day, she donned a gown we picked up at a thrift store for $3.

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Alex allegedly helped out at the Huck Finn raft, but mostly he just ran wild and played.  It’s hard not to run wild and play at History Fest.

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Rhia played the part of a fairy, doling out dragon tears and treasures to children (and hung out with her boyfriend, who was helping to park cars in the mornings).

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

And Miss Fiona played one of my daughters, Leonora d’Este (who became a nun), and also turned four years old on the last day.  Four!

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It should be noted that Fiona is a History Fest baby.  Her birthday always takes place during or right around History Fest.  I actually scheduled her C-section for that date so our family (minus myself) could still volunteer at History Fest that year.  🙂

Here are a more pics of the magic.

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

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(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

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(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

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(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

Sorry to deluge you with photos, and this is still only a fraction of the things to see and do at History Fest!

Now this is how to learn history.  🙂 

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Jennifer McLaughlin Ware)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

(photo by Mike Huerkamp)

Siamese Genetics, Zombie Volunteerism, Homeschool Freebies and More

10 ways we've learned and played here latelySorry to be such a lax blogger lately!  Life has been frantic, as usual.  I’m still working on balancing the blogs with my columns with homeschooling 5 kids and all of my home duties.  At least it keeps life interesting!

Here are a few ways we’ve learned through life lately…….

1.  We’ve had our first real snow and cold of the winter.  Toria and Alex went out and built an impressive snow fort with blocks made from a 5 gallon bucket.  The walls are about 18 inches high now (it’s got a huge circumference, like igloo sized!) and I think they’re hoping for a huge snowfall and help make more snow.  I personally am not! Perhaps I’ll ask them to figure out its square feet once it’s done.  Tricky, eh?  😉

2.  The kids all fell in love with a free math site online (I wrote about it here) and they all begged to upgrade to premium memberships, which would have cost a fortune.  I found out that there’s a group rate that’s far cheaper and ended up taking over a group buy that was a monumental amount of work but I was able to get all four of my big kids premium memberships.  Even my teenagers wanted in on it even though it technically goes to 8th grade (it’s a lot like Pokemon and they have fun doing it with their younger siblings).  I figure extra math practice never hurt anybody. They are now spending a ton of time doing math willingly so it was worth it to me!

3.  We went to Sioux Falls yesterday to look for new (to us) winter boots for the kids and to run errands.  We have a zoo membership, so Daryl took the kids to the zoo while I was at an appointment.

4.  Fiona napped in the car on the way home and that always means she won’t fall asleep at bedtime.  She was up until some insane hour (2 a.m. or so!) and Toria took her downstairs and read her dozens of picture books so that Daryl and I could sleep.  Bless her heart, she came down from her bedroom and held out her arms to our bouncy Fiona, and told me “I stay up later anyway, Mom, and you have to get up early.  This way you can get some sleep.”  Sometimes teenagers are pretty awesome!

5.  I suggested to Toria and Anna that they could each self publish a Kindle book for a homeschool project this semester.  It would give them writing experience but also work experience and a skill that they could use well in life to earn extra money.  I gave them the task of researching how to do it and left it completely open as to what sort of book they want to publish.  Anna is really excited and is planning on doing a book of her poems and may illustrate it with some of her poetry.  Toria is thinking of converting a public domain short story into a play.

6.  Toria and her dad volunteered at a haunted house set up as a fundraiser in a nearby city for most of October, every Friday and Saturday with lots of extra days thrown in.  It was an elaborate, impressive set-up in an old high school that is now a community center.  There were three floors of haunted areas and the basement was full of prom zombies.  Daryl played a homicidal principal in one of the offices, and Toria and a friend played dead girls (they would do things like twitch or suddenly turn and look at people as they went by).  They had a blast, and they helped with the clean up and the planning meetings for next year’s event.  Toria made friends, she helped a great organization, and she got some pretty crazy work experience.

7.  I’ve put out the art box again, and it’s been a big hit. The basic premise of the art box is that I keep a box or tray of art supplies that the kids can use to do anything they like.  Its contents change all the time so there are new things to do.  I also keep out a glue gun and the kids (other than Fiona) know how to safely use it.  Jack has made billions of adorable little creations out of odds and ends (he uses everything from little wooden shapes from the thrift store to knobs to broken toy bits).  I have to get some pictures of his creations, because they’re so fun. Toria made sweet little paper stars and multi-media collage projects, among a hundred other creations.  Fiona mostly sticks little foam stickers all over things and cuts everything up with scissors.

8.  We adopted a kitten and named him Boots.  Our other two cats were rescues as adults from a shelter, but this little guy needed a home and I broke down and said yes.  He is a real sweetheart, patient with all of the kids loving on him and playful.  His mother is a Siamese and we were surprised that he didn’t look Siamese at all, so we researched cat genetics and found out that the Siamese traits are recessive so a part-Siamese cat will almost never look Siamese (and will typically be black and white or all black no matter what the other cat looked like).  It was fascinating!  We learned so much and I had no idea about any of it.

Siamese cats have a unique coat pattern. The gradual shading of the extremities is caused by a recessive gene with temperature-sensitive expression. The resulting pattern is essentially a heat-map of the cat’s body…

The albino mutation in Siamese cats results in a defective form of tyrosinase which does not function at normal body temperature. Therefore, dark coloration can only appear in parts of the body that are cooler than the core body temperature. The extremities are always the coolest parts of the body. The face is also cooler because of air passing through the sinuses. The back is warmer than the extremities, being closer to the body core, but it is also exposed. The result is a medium degree of tyrosinase function, resulting in a medium degree of shading

You can read this article (read the comment too!) for more about the genetics and science of Siamese cats.

Wikipedia also has some interesting info like this:

All Siamese kittens, although pure cream or white at birth, develop visible points in the first few months of life in colder parts of their body. By the time a kitten is four weeks old, the points should be sufficiently clearly distinguishable to recognise which colour they are. Siamese cats tend to darken with age, and generally, adult Siamese living in warm climates have lighter coats than those in cool climates.

We will be fostering his Siamese mama for the next week before passing her on to some friends who are coming down for Thanksgiving and will be adopting her.

9.  I’m still involving the kids in as much cooking as possible, hoping they will enter adulthood really knowing well how to cook most foods from scratch.  We were talking last night on the way home from Sioux Falls about a conversation I had with a massage therapist earlier in the day about how she needed to switch her diet on her doctor’s orders and was going grain free.  I told her that soups and salads were good, easy meals sometimes where you didn’t miss grains and she said she couldn’t have soup.  I asked why not, and she said her doctor said it often has added flour.  I forgot that most people don’t make their own soup these days, but this lady is close to retirement age and had never made homemade soup!  I told her how to make an easy broth and she was excited to try it, and then I gave her tips on easy soups to make from there.  I consider cooking an essential homeschooling skill that is so important.  Homemade foods are generally ten times healthier, cheaper and tastier.  I have a Pinterest board of cooking and foraging with kids posts that Daryl has written up.

10. We got this free poster through the mail and I’m putting it up along the basement stairs.  I’m a big fan of sneaky homeschooling with posters.

And the kids have done lots of reading, watching documentaries, playing with friends, painting, photography, computer games, LEGOs, drawing, thrift store shopping, nature crafts, listening to music, blogging, decorating, researching, talking, and so on.

Gearing Up for Pageant Time

It’s that time of year again.

Opening night for the Wilder Pageant is in two days.

The next three weeks will be crazy.

  • Most of my family will be at the pageant every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night until after 1 a.m.
  • Every evening there will be the frantic search for clean costumes from the dryer, missing shoes, bonnets, etc.
  • My kids will walk around during the day with smudged black “fishtails” around their eyes from stage makeup.
  • Thousands of people will be filling the hillside by the banks of Plum Creek in Walnut Grove to watch the show every weekend.
  • For two hours each performance night, the stage area will be transformed with real fires, horse drawn wagons, a grasshopper plague, singing, dancing and drama under the stars.
  • My cast members will bring Sharpies every night to sign programs, t-shirts and the occasional car (!) after performances.
  • My kiddos will fall asleep exhausted within minutes of getting home in the wee hours, and sleep late.
  • Our lives will be transformed in the frantic, exciting, magical annual passage back to the past.

This will be Anna’s 9th year in the pageant and Daryl’s 8th.  Victoria is sitting out this summer, after doing it every year starting when she was six.  This is Jack’s 2nd or 3rd year and Alex’s very first.

Click here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here or especially here if you want to see pictures or read accounts of some magical memories from earlier years in the pageant.

Let the exhaustion begin.  🙂

Good in the Face of Evil

Our family, like many around the world, has spent a lot of time keeping up with the news about the shootings. It has led to many discussions, many tears and many hugs.

I am holding a sleeping baby as I type this, listening to the president speak at the memorial for the victims and crying again for all those affected.

One quote that has been repeated is that a teacher told her hidden students at one point, “Wait for the good guys.  The good guys will come.”

The only way to respond to this and try to heal is to flood the world with our good.

It is not enough to love our own children. Yes, peace starts in the home, but it must not end there.

It is not enough to pray.

It is not enough to talk about what should change.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article profiling ten kids who were making a difference in the world.  It has made me think a lot lately.  If an eight year-old child can raise enough money selling lemonade to free 500 child slaves, what could a community of adults do if they put their energy into doing good?

It’s something I plan to work on now more than ever.