Saturday, June 01, 2013

a beautiful mess

We had endless days of sunshine in April, and I spent most of my extra time in the garden.  Digging new ground takes quite a bit of work.  With only a shovel and a hoe it is slow, back-breaking work.  Square meter by square meter.

We removed the grass and uncovered rusty nails the size of a baby's arm, tin foil, old plastic pots, and stonework.  We pulled up nettle roots and an army of cockchafer grubs.  We dug up kitchenware, half-burnt logs, and the remains of a forgotten compost heap.  We watered the soil with our sweat by day, and discovered our bodies awash with a multitude of harvest mite and midge bites by night.

We also cleaned the greenhouse, overrun with moss and algae from years of disuse.   Without an outside tap, this meant lugging bowl after bowl of hot water and scrub brushes from the kitchen sink down the hill to where our greenhouse rests near the back garden.  Once the sun could shine through the streaked glass, we started on the soil.  We discovered that soil that hasn't seen rain for several years actually repels water.

Tucked around the side of the greenhouse we found a large rain barrel.  It was full to the brim with a thick layer of slime on top and smelled strongly of algae and something I couldn't put my finger on.   Next to the barrel was a coiled up hose, and we used it to siphon some of the water out.  The pungent smell only intensified, so we tipped the barrel over and let its contents run down into the small apple orchard.  In the bottom of the barrel remained the carcass of a large rat.  What wasn't already decomposed was still bloated.

We lugged more water from the kitchen faucet.  More buckets than we could count.  We dug in large amounts of compost, and still the rising dust choked my lungs.  It wasn't perfect, but we planted.  Slowly at first.  A few purchased starts, some seeds.  We cleaned off the potting table and began in earnest, sorting seeds, checking the calendar for optimal planting days, filling our pots, watering, and waiting.  Slowly, ever slowly, things started to grow-- both things we planted and seeds that had been waiting in that soil for years.

And naturally, we weeded, both inside and out.  We pulled out dandelions and couch grass, horsetail and bindweed.  And then we pulled out an inordinate number of weeds we could not name.  The more we weeded, the more weeds seemed to grow.  Gardening is like that.  Initial effort leads to the need for continued effort.  It is never finished.  That's not the nature of gardening.

But after weeks of steady work, we have something to show for the effort.  We have a garden teaming with both vegetable plants and weeds.  Though the forces of nature are forever trying to enclose itself back upon our work, we now have spinach, salad greens and arugula ready for harvesting.

Despite the fact that it was a heck of a lot of work, it still doesn't look like much.  I could get down and capture the magnificence of individual plants, particles of soil where the weeds have been cleverly pinched out.  I could find the right angle and photoshop around the edges so you can't see the dying cucumbers or the teeming piles of rubbish in the neighbor's yard.  I could show you the overflowing colander of freshly washed spinach leaves, the bright arugula pesto, or the delicate ornamental salad arranged on our best plate with just a trickle of mustard-laced balsamic and fresh mint.

As bloggers, we do that all the time.  We aim to inspire through minutiae, through cleverly focused shots of our food, our children, our clothes, and yes, even our gardens.  Even though the big picture tells a similar story, we can't see it.  When we pull back our focus, the line between extraordinary and ordinary gets blurred, and suddenly we are drowning in the mundane everydayness of it all.  We are small.  Our accomplishments are dwarfed by the lens, so that we appear puny in our normalcy, by the realness of it all.  And we are not anything, if not extraordinary.

I just don't have the energy lately to appear extraordinary, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

With the lens pulled back, this is my garden.

As you can see, it's far from perfect.  It's actually somewhat of a mess.  It's a beautiful mess, though.  A mess with a history, wrought by countless hours of sweat and tears.  A mess with promise, possibility, and potential.

Oh, how it reminds me of homeschooling.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

One, the Sun! (part 2)

A couple of months ago I posted the first half of our Quality of Numbers main lesson.  I honestly didn't mean to leave off on posting the second half for so long, but life had other plans.  Apologies to anyone who was worried that those kids would never get out of the enchanted tunnel.  I hope it hasn't kept you up at night. ;)

If you find yourself wondering what the heck I'm talking about, please see part one of this story here: "One, the Sun!"

For those of you who wishing I would just get on with it, I will try to keep it short and sweet-- just like tunnel number six, which was....

6 - a drop down into a deep room filled with huge crystals... OR a beehive loaded down with honey (the sound of buzzing is a nice effect).  I did the crystal story with Sunburst, and her characters had to actually stack up the crystals to climb out.  Luckily, they were able to carry just one back to the dragon. With Moonshine and Kitty Bill, the treasure was a bit of honeycomb, and we were mesmerized by the perfect six-sided forms.

7 - this tunnel leads out to the afternoon sky where the rainstorm is ending.  And of course they see a the most glorious rainbow.

8 - a spider web with a spider.  This one landed on the prince's head!  My son laughed so hard he fell out of his chair.

9 - they meet a fox who had previously stolen the dragon's 3 golden scales.  If they can answer a riddle, he will return the golden scales.  If not, well... they must agree to lead him out of the cave and he keeps the scales.  I used "When I was going to St. Ives..." and changed the central number in the riddle from seven to nine. We drew three golden triangles (dragon scales) and noticed that there are not only nine points, but nine lines as well.

10 - they find fireflies, but this poses a problem, for without jars how will they catch ten?  Or do they need to catch ten?  ---With a bit of make believe firefly catching, we come to the stunning realization that it is the child's hands which holds the treasure of ten.

Now this is where the Quality of Numbers lesson gets a bit fuzzy, because not one of the resources I have ever encountered mentions any suggestions for the number eleven.  Like the last day of creation in the Grade 3 Creation study, the number eleven gets no mention.

11 - When I first tried teaching this block, I tried to stay in the natural world for number eleven.  I couldn't think of anything, so I settled in with a suggestion from my good friend Moxy Jane to use moonbeams.  That worked okay for Sunburst, but by the time I taught Moonshine, I had realized there wasn't a wrong answer for this number.  Eleven is simply ten plus one more, and it doesn't matter what you're counting.  So you might as well make it fun!

For Moonshine's story, at the end of the eleventh tunnel there was an eleven-piece matryoshka doll (for a girl who has a VERY soft spot for nesting dolls, this was a real treat).  And for Kitty Bill, who has been developing a new interest in all things dinosaur, there was a shovel and the boys dug up eleven dinosaur bone segments.  (Yes, segments, because as you and I know, eleven bones does not a skeleton make.)  He was thrilled, both by the story and by the drawing.

If you're still struggling with the number eleven, Eva of Untrodden Paths has contributed some wonderful suggestions:
"For number eleven: I used Joseph's dream of the eleven sheaves of corn bowing to him. You could also use the eleven stars bowing down to Joseph in his second dream.  For another, more grade one-like, idea: H.C. Andersen wrote a fairy-tale called "The Wild Swans," which is about eleven swans (eleven brothers). That would be perfect I think!"

And finally... 12.

There are a few different things people use for the number twelve-- a clock, a dozen eggs, the Twelve Dancing Princesses... They all felt like such an anti-climax for me.  I wanted to end the story with something marvelous, and in my exhaustive search I found a very strange video that spoke to me.  I called it further proof that inspired story ideas can come from anywhere, including marketing videos designed by internet marketing firms.  Who knew?!

12 - this tunnel opened up directly upon a field of twelve horses all under an enchantment.  As this was the final tunnel, it was our most outrageous story.  The story characters had to figure out A. why aren't the horses responding?, and B. how to break the enchantment.  It was a favorite with both the girls and Kitty Bill, and it really spoke to them deeply.

I borrowed the above "legend" and the horse constellation for our "twelve" picture, but in my version of the story the chariot belonged to the Sky Queen.  The adult in this story remembered the legend and shared it with the kids, who exclaimed, "These must be the horses!!"  But how do we break the enchantment and bring them back to the dragon?

The characters in the story tried many things-- as many things as my children could think of to "wake up" the horses... yelling, whispering, sitting on them, pinching them, tickling them, kicking them... it went on and on, until finally, they sat to ponder the problem over lunch.  The main character took out his handwork, and as he worked, he began to hum.  A horse twitched!  The other characters noticed, and after much guesswork, they began to put the clues together.  There was a lot of humming, but this only produced twitches from the horses... curious!  Finally, with much guesswork on behalf of both the characters and my child, our main character decided to sing from his heart.

"Ponies, now ponies, don't you worry.
I'm not here to steal your fire away.
I want to fly with you across the sunrise.
And remember what begins each shining day."
--the chorus from "Ponies" by Michael Martin Murphy.

As the character sang to each horse, it awoke from the enchantment.  Each time we sang, it was louder and bolder, until we were bursting with song.  The pure delight and joy on each of my children's faces, on the separate occasions they heard this story, was priceless.  
It touched something deep in their hearts and souls that I can't even begin to put my finger on.  But these moments?  That's what homeschooling is about!

After the enchantment was broken, the dragon came soaring out of the cave to thank and congratulate them.  The Sky Queen, in all her radiance, appeared before the story characters.  She thanked them dearly, and presented the story child who first broke the enchantment with a special gift... a flute made from the magic pear tree.  This was the GREATEST GIFT (as the video legend says and thus interpreted by me) --giving them the means with which to communicate without words and with nature itself.  Music is its own kind of magic, after all.

At the end of this lesson, I presented my child his/her very own flute made from the magic pear tree --the quinta Choroi pentatonic flute.  It's with this flute that, at the end of the alphabet lesson, our characters can call an animal friend for a lift home-- for Sunburst and Kitty Bill it was the dragon itself, and for Moonshine it was a great white bird.

This was another one of these moments that no words can adequately describe, but I feel like presenting them with their very own flute in this way gave them a heightened reverence for it.  Music touches us so deeply, both man and beast, and I wanted them to start out on that footing.  This is a special way of communicating.  Guard it wisely.  Honor, revere, and develop it.  And know that music is a sacred gift.

Of course this was the end of our first mathematics story, which was really just a story inside another story.  Filled with joy and happiness, we then continued on with the original alphabet journey which culminates in a cheerful, happy ending.

Afterwards, the flute accompanies us as we work our way into another form drawing block and on into another maths lesson.

As for the last few drawings above, I left those completely up to my children to work on independently.  Funnily enough, they each chose to draw the horses, the Sky Queen, and the dragon.  These are all Kitty Bill's drawings and text.  I am completely charmed by his red dragon, golden scales and all.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Life and butterflies

Sorry to have disappeared for a bit.  Our last two months were filled with a lot of things-- travel, snow, holidays, illnesses, celebrations, and of course homeschooling.  I also finally finished painting all the wooden furniture as a protection against future mold.  While I prefer the color of natural wood, I will admit that I am really liking the bright new colors.  Lime green and turquoise make me smile.

In my last post I mentioned a possible move on the horizon.  In the end, we decided not to take the job offer up north.  Making decisions about our future is often agonizing-- weighing all the pros and cons, ifs and whats.  I often feel like we're living in some alternate retelling of the Grimm's tale The Fisherman and His Wife as we weigh things like cost of living, location, homeschooling environments, and lovelier views over the landscape.  And where does it all stop?

I'm not going to deny that, like the fisherman's wife, I have often wished I could control the rising sun.  However, I don't think this makes me any different from the other people on this rainy island.  At the end of winter we're all a bit sullen and desperate for warm sunshine.

As luck would have it, these early days of March have been quite sunny.  The kids and I are loving sitting in the sunshine every morning.  It's a bit blinding at times, but I'm not complaining.  I feel like a bear unfurling from her wintery sleep.  It's amazing how a few days without clouds can be so rejuvenating.

Inside this den, my days have been so busy.  Homeschooling my three has definitely become more than a full-time job.  I know that others manage to homeschool even more children than I have and still find time to blog, but for the life of me I can't figure out how they do it.  I have some theories (mostly involving gremlins), but suffice it to say that I wish I had more time in the day to share the wonderful things that are happening over here.  These children continually leave me awestruck by their growing minds and abilities.

We've also taken a couple of field trips with the not-quite-local homeschooling group.  One of which was to the little butterfly house in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I'm not sure what I loved more-- seeing all the amazing butterflies or being so warm that I had to take off my sweater.  It was a nice change!  The last time that happened we were in Italy.

This is the life!

Speaking of change, there is more of that afoot.  I'm reminded of a card my mother-in-law gave me while we were sorting and packing for our move to Switzerland five years ago.  It said, "If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies." --Our lives are so full of transitions, I think of that card fairly often.

Einstein recently received some grant funding that necessitates a temporary move to Italy for some unknown quantity of time this summer, and he has also been invited to apply and subsequently interview for another job-- this time on the mainland.  It's almost funny.

All of these transitions definitely make me think about butterflies-- do they know what's happening when they closet themselves up?  Are they cognizant of their own form metamorphosing... of what their future holds?

I watched some of them emerge bleary-eyed and soggy from their chrysalises, and they didn't quite seem to have it all together.  I can relate to that.  Some of them found a perch where they could drip dry, but some of them didn't.  They fluttered about in a wild panic, but were weighed down by their damp wings.  They hit the stone walkways with an inaudible whack and just lay there stunned by their own predicament.  One minute they are a fat caterpillar, the next minute they're stewing in their own soup.  And next thing they know? They are airborne into a completely different creature. What am I?  Where am I?  What has happened to me?

Again, I can relate.  Moving overseas with children has some stinging similarities.  So I hung around the chrysalis cage for awhile and gingerly picked up my fallen comrades.  Not all of them were going to make it, but a few of them gave it another try.  They latched onto a branch and hung there in stunned silence, feeling the heat warm the last few drops of soup from their bright wings.

My own wings have finally dried out after this last move, and it definitely shows.  We have been getting a ton of homeschooling done lately-- meaningful, artistic work that leaves me speechless at times.  In our enthusiasm we are making huge progress.  It's the kind of progress one can only make in times of complete stability.  Who knows how long that will last around here, so we're making the most of it...

Kind of like these cute ants.  Steadily onwards.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

A new start

A new year has arrived, and with it comes so much promise.  I haven't made any real resolutions yet, at least nothing beyond finishing the unpacking, but I definitely feel that twinge of excitement that comes with the mere idea of a new start.  Just about anything is possible.  I like that.  If I could just have that feeling year-round, who knows what I could achieve?!  Regular blogging, perhaps?

I didn't manage to make any posts in December, obviously.  Moving house was more exhausting than I had anticipated.  I thought I had cleaned up all of the mold in the month of November, but it was so much worse than I had expected.  I could list my mold-saturated moving discoveries until the cows come home, but I'd rather not.  Suffice it to say that unpacking moldy Christmas ornaments was definitely the final straw on my English cake... er, pudding.

I am utterly certain that the worst is behind us now, and it really is a fresh, new start.  I can not only sense it in the air, I can smell the difference.  And with any luck, by the end of the week I will have proper internet hooked up at the new house.  I have been fighting to keep a connection on one of those mobile wifi sticks for the past month.  I had such high hopes that I could keep connected during the six-week waiting period for internet and phone service, but it is only in the last few days that it has actually been working with any sort of consistency.

Consistency is not something that seems to come easy in my world.  On a personal level, I would say I'm as consistent as they come-- ten, twenty years can go by and I'm still wearing the same interests, ideals and ratty t-shirts that you last saw me in-- but in my world, change seems to flow from every direction.  New beginnings slip through the cracks under the doors and tumble off of lamp posts at random.

As much as I like the idea of possibility and promise, open doors and excitement, sometimes I just want to leave it like that.  I want to linger in the space between the old and the new.  I want to stand in that moment between past and future and just savor the electric taste of it.  I want to relish the moment just before my feet leave the ground, because once I land in that puddle of the future, it's going to be wet and undoubtedly muddy.  Change always is.

December brought many changes for us.  A new house.  Bright-colored paint to save our moldy furniture.  New passports for the kids after an excruciating half-day wait in line at the embassy.  And before we even had the dishes unpacked, a phone call inviting Einstein to interview for a new job in a new city.

Clearly I need to be more vigilant about plugging those cracks under the doors and avoiding lamp posts.

In all seriousness, now that the New Year has blown through the door and taken off her coat, I am definitely curious to see what she will pull out of her bag of tricks, but I have not fully given her my attention.  Not yet.  I am in no hurry to greet the bottom of the puddle.  It's enough to know that the doors are open, that possibility and promise and puddles exist.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Moving in circles

Some of my favorite circles!

Today was the last day of homeschooling in the old house.

Tomorrow is moving day.  If you've been following our adventures in England, you know that this is a big deal.  The house we're in now seemed so pretty from the viewing, but after we moved in we quickly got a crash course in the dreaded rising damp.

This damp house has been the source of so much stress for me.  It's an old house, and moisture is not only rising from the ground, it's creeping in through the walls because of poorly constructed gutters, and creeping in through the roof because of, well, too much rain and poor construction.  Flat roofs belong in the desert, not in England!

For the better part of the last month I have been cleaning mold off all the wooden toys in the house, off all the wooden furniture, off picture frames and nature tables.  I have been cleaning it off windows and walls, ceilings and floors.  It's more than disgusting.  It's heartbreaking and it's wrong!

So moving day is finally here!  I'm so thrilled to be leaving this house behind, but I am still wary.  I have no idea if the new house will be any better.  Surely, it can't be any worse.  Other English people have assured me that most houses here do not have such problems, and I hope they are right!  When you move to a new country, you just never know what "normal" is supposed to look like.

So tomorrow we will embark on a new adventure.  Perhaps a less than perfect one, but hopefully much better than this.  There really is no perfect when it comes to homes*... or well, anything, is there?  Life isn't perfect.  Homeschooling is certainly not perfect.  Not even circles are perfect.

How fitting that part of today's homeschooling involved talking about our perceived perfections in the natural world and the reality of their imperfections.  To ice the cake of imperfection, we spent some time calculating the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, a.k.a. pi.

Sunburst and I have been playing with irrational numbers quite a bit lately, and she is completely undaunted.  In the last couple of years her love of all things mathematical has really bloomed, and I am absolutely thrilled.  Having a 13yo girl who excels in and is excited about mathematical processes is something I consider one of the greater successes of our homeschooling.

As a bit of fun, Sunburst got to enjoy Vi Hart's hysterically funny and smart math video on irrational numbers and the Pythagorean Theorem.

I've been admiring Vi Hart's math videos for quite some time, and I plan to show each one of them to the kids as they come up in our lessons.  Not only are they wonderfully clever, but they're done by a female who so obviously embodies the passion for mathematics that I want to instill in all my children.  The underlying message is clear: Girls can (and DO) excel at math.  It's an imperative message to give our daughters, but I think sharing this message with our sons is equally important.

  *Gaudi's Casa Batllo in Barcelona seems pretty perfect to me.  When I think circles, I can't help but envision the front rooms of Casa Batllo, one of my most favorite buildings on earth.  Can't we just live there? (smile)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grade 3: Creation paintings

A couple of months ago I made a promise to Cathy, who leaves some of the nicest comments, that I would show some of our Grade 3 work on the blog.  It has taken me longer than I anticipated to go through the books and get pictures taken, but I hope they're helpful.

I'd like to start with our work from the Old Testament, specifically the Creation.

When I originally did this block with Sunburst several years ago, I didn't have any images to go on, just this vague idea that one should paint it.  There weren't as many beautiful resources then, so it was really a work of labor (and love!) to bring a pictorial quality to the days of Creation.

Nowadays, I can think of at least three resources that have examples for this work: Thomas Wildgruber's Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools, Elizabeth Auer's Creative Pathways, and the Grade 3 files at Millennial Child.  I had recently purchased a German copy of Wildgruber's book when I brought this lesson to Moonshine, so it was kind of neat to finally see what kinds of paintings one "should" do for this lesson. --- These are not those paintings.

Of course being the kind of homeschooling parent I am, as I presented each new day of creation, I showed Moonshine both Sunburst's image and the one from the book and let her choose.  Most of the time she was drawn to the ones I had created for Sunburst, but other times she had her own ideas about what she wanted to paint.  Of course she did!

I used the wonderful telling of the creation from Jakob Streit's And There Was Light.  I absolutely adored this book, and the girls did, too.  The accompanying writing came from their own summaries, something I think homeschooling allows us to encourage from them at an early age.  Most of them are different, but with a few, Moonshine fell in love with the words her sister used to summarize it, and Sunburst was happy to share her words.

In looking back over their work as a whole, I think it's a good example of not only how one child can inspire another, but how things can change from one child to another, even in the homeschool setting.  Each child is different and has something new to bring to the table, so why shouldn't the homeschooling reflect that?!

In the beginning:


Day One:


Day Two:

Day Three:

Day Four:

Day Five:

Day Six:

None of the resources I listed at the beginning of this post have images for day seven.  Coincidentally, Sunburst and I didn't do a painting for this day either because it was the day of rest, but Moonshine insisted on it.  So we brainstormed and came up with the following painting, and BOTH girls then wanted to paint it for their books.

Day Seven:




Both girls are so proud of this work.  It really speaks to the beauty and magic of Grade Three, don't you think?

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