10 Fun Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

It’s been a while since I posted one of these updates.  🙂 Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

1. Fiona has been doing lots of writing and copy work.  She loves writing and fills up page after page of dollar store handwriting and spelling workbooks.

2.  Rhia is learning to play the electric guitar.  She is already a wonderful acoustic guitar player and is now excited to get an electric guitar and learn that.  She’s been practicing on a guitar that Gabe (Toria’s fiance) has lent her.  I got her an amp for solstice and she is hoping to be able to buy the guitar by her (18th!) birthday at the end of the month.  She is not just a great guitar player but also a great song writer.  With her love of music and the connection she already has with small bands in around the country, I’m pretty sure her future will be in music in one way or another.

3.  And she’s still busy with photography… Speaking of Rhia’s music connections, she took some photos for a small Mankato area band last month and she’s done some concert photography for some bands at Minneapolis and Sioux Falls concerts.  I’m pretty sure photography will be in her future, too.  Here’s her photography page on Facebook.  she’d be thrilled if you liked it!

4.  Alex has been enjoying the snow.  It’s been bitterly cold, but any time it’s above zero he’s pretty happy to be making snow forts, building snow zombies and so on.

5.  Fiona learned to play happy birthday on the lap harp.  She and Alex also learned a bunch of other songs.

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6.  Alex has been learning to cook more meals and treats.  His latest accomplishments are 2 minute microwave GF bread (which he made about 30 batches for family in the last month) and scrambled eggs.  He also helps me cook a lot, so he’s become a great sous chef for things like taquitos.

7.  Victoria and Gabe have been in their house for a month.  They got their first utility bill today!  Luckily the house is so small and they’re so frugal that it was a fraction of what ours is.  They come over for dinner just about every night but they are settling in well and finally have reliable heat (a big thing when it’s been 20 below zero!).

8.  We’ve been doing lots of visits to the Washington Pavilion science and art center.  I took advantage of a holiday special and renewed our membership, which Alex told me he really missed.  We try to visit every time we’re in Sioux Falls, which is often since Rhia’s BF lives there and it’s also where I do my bulk grocery shopping.

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They have great science presentations and Alex and Fiona got to take part in one about physics.

And last time we headed over to the art center and the kids got to do some pretty cool spin art projects.  The only thing better than messy art is messy art you don’t have to set up yourself.  😉

9.  Jack is crazy about Hamilton and it’s led to all kinds of history education.  He knows all of the songs by heart and is really excited that the show is coming to Minnesota in 2018.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I could effortlessly teach him his entire high school curricula if I could find musicals for every subject.  😉

10. We’ve been doing tons of learning with Cuisenaire Rods and other hands-on math tools.

Alex and I even tried doing long division with Cuisenaire Roads, which is really tricky to wrap your brain around!

I also published another book (affiliate link: Acorn Foraging: Acorn Foraging: Everything You Need to Know to Harvest One of Autumn’s Best Wild Edible Foods, with Recipes, Photographs and Step-By-Step InstructionsEverything You Need to Know to Harvest One of Autumn’s Best Wild Edible Foods, with Recipes, Photographs and Step-By-Step Instructions) and we’ve been reading lots of books, playing with friends, going to movies (since Daryl and Rhia work for a local non-profit movie theater, our family can go at any hour and put on whatever movies we like, which makes for some pretty fun late-night excursions!), playing music, watching shows and the usual mayhem.

Now, I’ve promised a little girl that we’d do crafts so I should sign off.  I hope everything is wonderful in your corner of the world!

 

 

Fresh Homeschool Starts

2018 homeschool fresh startHappy New Year!

I am honestly so excited about 2018, as I’m thinking that after the epic awfulness of 2017 there’s nowhere to go but up!  🙂  I feel as if a light is being turned on again, or I’m making it turn on.  Things will turn around.  I just know it.

I’m not going to bother talking about the bad going on right now (see a previous entry if you want a taste of what has me up at 4:35 a.m. talking to you instead of sleeping!).  Enough with the bad.  It’ll go on whether I acknowledge it or not.  So let’s look at the good.

Fiona is in such a hurry to get to more homeschooling.  It makes me smile the way she nags me for more homeschool.

She has been playing like crazy with letter cubes, math manipulatives and pen and paper lately.  She happily made up words with letter dice yesterday, bringing me four cubes at a time for me to help her form words from them.  Her reading and spelling are coming along so fast now. I have promised her that we will get to lots of everyday homeschooling on Tuesday after the holiday.  We had a forced (by me) school break with everything else going on.  🙂

Santa gave Alex a 3-month Gamefly subscription for Christmas and as a result I have seen him far less than usual!  He and Jack have had so much fun playing together though, and it’s the dead of winter when it’s hard for him to get out and do as much as he’d like to.  It’s currently -20 F (no, that doesn’t factor in the wind chill and yes, it is really that cold) so he can’t even play in his beloved snow until it gets a bit less life-threatening out there — though this weather is good for the occasional quick outdoor science experiment like freezing bubbles and vaporizing hot water to make instant clouds.

cold weather homeschool science freezing bubblesJack, Alex and Fiona have all been having a ball with library books right now, too.  Toria has a weekly appointment in a city an hour away that turns out to have a fabulous library, so we go and stock up every couple of weeks.  The little ones love it and even Jack has discovered some beloved new book series.  I love the way he’ll say he has no interest in a book and then read the entire thing before we get home that day!

I have made all sorts of resolutions for this new year on every front there is — housekeeping, homeschooling, work, personal, health…  We’ll see how well they all work out but I am really excited about trying, which is a nice change.

Magic and Mayhem -- fresh homeschool startsI’ve been homeschooling for over 15 years now, with one child already completely done and one about to finish (Rhia will graduate in the spring!).  I don’t want to shortchange the younger kids with waning enthusiasm for it all, but it is hard to juggle the needs of so many different ages and stages — especially with Victoria’s scary health issues and now the issues with her new (old) house and all that it’s bringing into our lives (burst pipes and dead furnaces in 20 below weather anybody?).

But I’ve renewed our memberships to the science museum and the zoo, I’ve made up daily plans and I just have this faith that has been missing since the train wreck that was 2017 begun.  Hope, optimism, all that jazz.

I’m ready to blast through a hundred lesson plans, art projects, history games, math challenges and educational obstacles and make some magic again.

Happy 2018, all!  May it be a fantastic one for all of us.

 

(P.S.  Trying something new and linking up with Homeschool Highlights.)

Putting One Foot In Front of the Other

There are some times in life that are just magical.  Things seem to have all clicked into place.  The world seems full of possibilities and I wonder often how I got to be so lucky.

This doesn’t happen to be one of those times.

To be honest, things have been difficult.  For quite some time.  I have been doing my best to put one foot in front of the other and just get through it, but that doesn’t make for much inspiration for blog posting (or much of anything else).

The past couple of years have been hard.  I lost my job as a columnist when Examiner.com went down.  I really enjoyed that job as I got to write about all the things I loved and was passionate about (homeschooling, sustainable living and attachment parenting).  I got hired at a new site and made good money but only if I mass produced content that I found soul-draining.  Yes, I occasionally wrote about topics I was passionate about, but those tended to tank and get me stern messages from management, so I found myself writing about celebrity baby names and seedy news stories.  I decided to quit and try to make it as a Kindle/CreateSpace author even though I knew that would be a drastic cut in pay and we already live on next to nothing.  I don’t regret that (life is too short to sell yourself out for a paycheck) but it has meant no more frugal Florida vacations and some really serious belt tightening on top of what was already an extremely thrifty life.

Then in the fall of last year, our beloved dog, Layla died.  We all still miss her.  Then on New Year’s, my grandmother died.  We had seen it coming and had made the trip to Ohio three times that year to try to take care of her and get time with her, but it was still a very sad loss for all of us.

Then in the spring of this year, three of my friends died.  One was my dear friend “Savage,” an ex-cop who was a close friend of mine from years ago (he even walked me down the aisle when Daryl and I married 21 years ago).  One was a really wonderful homeschool mama friend who was one of the best people I’ve ever known.  And one was an old friend here in town.

And then Victoria’s pseudo-tumors hit.  Things are still pretty dire there, despite lots of visits to the Mayo.  I am not just worried about the pseudo-tumors themselves and the pain and issues they bring, but also about finding the underlying illness that is probably causing them and about the massive doses of steroids the doctors have her on to manage them and the toll those are taking on my poor daughter’s body. Toria has been through so much already — the cancer, the sepsis, emergency surgeries and baffling illnesses.  At 19, she has had three surgeries and all of them have been above the neck. She is handling this so well but nobody should have to go through this.

There have also been lots of other little catastrophes and sadnesses.  Daryl is recovering from major shoulder surgery and has been in pretty severe pain and quite limited in what he could do for the past two months.  Someone stole things from our van that was parked in our driveway this week.  Victoria and Gabe are in their new house but have no heat (in Minnesota December).  Fiona wants far more of me than there is right now and would prefer twenty times more homeschooling than she is currently getting, which leads to great guilt on my part.  Alex, at 10, has hit his first existential crisis and cried for an hour at me the other day about things that were making him sad and about not wanting to leave his childhood.  And the teenagers — well, parenting teenagers has never been a joyful and worry-free time in this house.

And those are just the things I can make public.  There is a lot more that has been keeping my insides full of rocks and waking me up in the night. (Not to mention what’s been going on in the country and the world, which has been a pretty endless string of awful.)

So I have been sad.  Just sort of bone-crushingly sad for a pretty long time.  I keep trying to turn things around for all of us and start the day fresh and make some magic, but more often than not I have just been trying to put one foot in front of the other.

I keep thinking about a blog post I made 6 years ago when I said I was too tired to talk about cancer anymore and then unloaded here.  I guess twice a decade I need to just call everything out for the train wreck it currently is and then put one foot in front of the other again.

So that’s things here.

As always, I am brainstorming ways to turn everything around and make us all happy today.  And also just to keep going.  It will get better.

As one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell, sang, “Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know.”

“Hope The High Road”  (Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit)

I used to think that this was my town
What a stupid thing to think
I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown
I myself am on the brink

I used to want to be a real man
I don’t know what that even means
Now I just want you in my arms again
And we can search each other’s dreams

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

I heard enough of the white man’s blues
I’ve sang enough about myself
So if you’re looking for some bad news
You can find it somewhere else

Last year was a son of a bitch
For nearly everyone we know
But I ain’t fighting with you down in a ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in
To a world you want to live in

Here’s to better days.  And I promise to blog something fun next time.  🙂

 

 

Holidays, Health and Houses

Happy Holidays!  Hard to believe it’s December already.  I guess that’s a good thing, as it means we’re that much closer to spring.  😉  I’ve never been much of a fan of Minnesota winters, though with global warming they’re not what they used to be.

Such a lot is going on here!  Where to start….

I can’t post the usual “fun ways we’ve learned and played lately” because a lot of it hasn’t been fun in the least, so here is just a bit of what’s been going on in our little corner of the world.

Victoria has been dealing with yet another medical crisis.  As her grandma put it last week, “Things just always happen to her, don’t they?”.  First cancer, then sepsis, then a long series of strange ailments.  Then, during the week of History Fest in October, one eye swelled up.  It went down over the next couple of days and then the other eye swelled up.  And up and up.

She went to a local doctor who had no idea what it was and put her on a 5 day course of both antibiotics and steroids.  It turns out that was a particularly terrible guess to make, as short term steroid doses like that tend to make things much worse, which they did.  Her eye swelled to a terrifying size and we rushed her to a specialist in Mankato.  She was diagnosed with an orbital pseudo-tumor (basically a swelling of the eye that causes pain and symptoms like a brain tumor but is not cancerous and not a true tumor that can spread) and put on high dose steroids for a longer time to see if it would control it.

To make a long story short, it didn’t help enough, things got worse, and she ended up at the Mayo Clinic.  Her doctor there did surgery a few weeks ago and performed a biopsy of the area behind her eye.

The biopsy revealed that the swelling is granulomatis and it could be related to any of a number of diseases or it could be idiopathic (just a random thing with no cause, which we highly doubt since she has had so many other strange things going on for the past few years).  She has been seeing various specialists at the Mayo and going for tests.

It has been very painful for her and pretty terrifying. In addition to the pain and vision problems caused by the pseudo-tumors (which are now affecting both eyes, though worse in one), the high dose steroids are causing all the standard weight gain and medical issues, so she is also stressed about that.  The doctors are trying to wean her down off the steroids slowly since every time they lower the dose her eye swells to an alarming size but they can’t leave her on them.  For now she is just tapering down and letting her eyes swell (and I have started giving her supplemental herbs and such to help, which seem to be helping when the steroids aren’t).

There’s much more, but I have to make supper and still wanted to update quickly about the good things going on for Toria right now.  Firstly, her boyfriend Gabe proposed to her during the solar eclipse in August and secondly….  they have a house!

To say that it’s a fixer-upper is quite the understatement, but it’s a house!

We have been searching for months for a house nearby that would be cheap enough that we could afford to buy it outright.  We bought our own house for $2,000 cash 25 years ago and living mortgage-free is one of the reasons that we’ve been able to live on so little all of these years.  Our town is so small that homes are inexpensive but we needed a REALLY cheap house to be able to afford it.

House after house fell through, but this one house that we had called about for months finally opened up and we bought it this week for $4,000 (yes, really!).  I have money invested in a retirement account from my mother’s death that I have set to deposit a small amount of money into my bank account every 6 months to help pay expenses.  There is not a lot left in it but I was able to withdraw the money to buy the house outright and they will pay me $200 a month rent until it’s paid back, at which point I’ll transfer the deed into their names.  Or, if they decide to move to a larger house, a nicer house, or another city, the payments will just count as rent and we’ll keep the house for one of the next kids coming along who can use it as they start out.  🙂

The house is teeny tiny and in really rough shape, but it has good bones, so to speak.  The roof is solid, it has a fairly new furnace and it’s on two lots.  We are already talking gardens and fruit trees.  You know our family!

If you want to read more about the house or Toria’s health situation, I created a WeCare fundraiser to help them fix up the house and I’ve been posting pictures and updates there.

Hopefully they’ll have power turned on next week and things will start turning around on the health front and more.

I’ll post more about the rest of us soon!  I miss yapping here and really do want to start posting regularly again.  But for now, I have three children at home tonight who think food is a really good idea.  🙂

 

An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.

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Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.

Well.

I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?

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Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.

Nothing.

Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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!).

10 Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

We’re 2 weeks into 2017 and hanging in there.  I had a birthday a week ago and Rhia has a birthday next week.  She’s turning 17 (how did that happen?) and I won’t tell you what age I turned.  😉

birthdayselfie

(Yes, our kitchen ceiling is completely covered with the children’s art!)

We had some more sadness, as my grandmother died right before the new year.  She was 93 and impatient to move on to her next adventure, but that doesn’t make it easier.  I am very glad that we made so many trips to Ohio for the kids to really get to know her, especially this year (3 trips in 6 months).

That doesn’t mean homeschooling was happening, though.  Or magical moments.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

  1. Daryl has been doing “Teach Your Monster to Read” with Fiona just about every day.  She is beginning to get the hang of how phonics and words work, and she enjoys it.
  2. I got out an old science kit that I found at a thrift store years back, dusted it off, and started doing science experiments with Alex.  It contains a hand-held scope and lots of gadgets and chemicals.  We did things like examined different cloths under the scope, compared types of salt under magnification (black lava salt just looks dirty!) and did some simple experiments.  We’re going to try to finally start putting it to regular use.
  3. Daryl is acting in a winter play.  He has the lead in a community theater production in Worthington.  It’s a comedy and he plays a detective.  Rhia goes with him to rehearsals and all of the kids help him run his lines.
  4. Toria is working on getting our family Etsy store running.  She has some beautiful glass fox pendants that I got her for her birthday as a start to her own business (I purchased a large assortment wholesale for her to sell).  We are planning to sell a variety of things out of a family store.  Rhia creates elaborate zentangle-like artwork that she’d like to list and I have been creating magical homeschool sort of printables (such as colorful cards of hands-on ways to do all different subjects).  It has been a fun learning experience for all of us so far. Toria is taking pictures this week and then we should be able to finish creating the storefront.
  5. Rhia has been writing songs.  She is very talented on the guitar and writes amazing songs.  She wrote one last week that is quite feminist, and wrote another for a friend who needed cheering up.  She also has been learning how to cover other songs on the guitar.  Daryl and I heard a song I really liked during “Listen to Your Folks” on campus radio last week (Painting Houses) and she and Daryl learned to play it and performed it for me.
  6. I wrote a Kindle book.  I decided that it was time to start writing about the things that I am passionate about again, and that I finally needed to learn how to write Kindle books and give it a try.  There’s a steep learning curve but I got my first book written.  It is part of a series I’d like to write under the umbrella of “A Magical Homeschool.”  This one is A Magical Homeschool:  Nature Studies (52 Wonderful ways to use nature studies for science, math, art and more).  I am working on the cover today.
  7. Rhia is learning Spanish.  She has started doing Duolingo and has progressed quite far already.  Toria has been using Duolingo to master German for years, and Daryl does the free language app daily in German, French, Spanish, Norwegian and Swedish.
  8. Jack has been running D&D games for Alex.  This role playing game involves creating a world, drawing out maps, storytelling and running the game to create the adventure as the players go along.  Players roll dice to determine the outcome of decisions, battles, etc. and use miniatures to represent the players and the world.
  9. Alex, Fiona and I played a US states geography board game.  It involves drawing cards of states that you need to travel to and then answering questions about the states to move across the board and try to reach your state.  Once you visit all four of the states you’ve drawn (driving across the country in your car token), you win. A friend lent it to us and Alex really enjoys it.  Fiona doesn’t have to answer the questions.  We just let her roll the dice and travel across the country, and she is still picking up geography from the states she “visits.”
  10. Daryl and the kids have been shooting winter footage for a movie.  Daryl has a friend making a movie down south and she needs to incorporate footage of winter memories for the characters, who are supposed to be in Montana.  They have been shooting footage of snowy scenes and of the kids running in the snow and so on.  Daryl, Toria, Jack and Rhia have all shot footage, and Alex and Rhia have been in some of the scenes.

Of course, we’re doing all the usual homeschool stuff too — reading books, playing games, texting, blogging, using educational apps and shows, nature studies, cooking, chores, math pages and so on.

And now, I’m off to work on that cover and pretend I’m going to get housework done.

Okay, really try to at least get a little housework done….

Have a magical week!