Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

How could I not love a holiday that is all about dressing up and eating chocolate? I pretty much enjoy any occasion to celebrate, but Halloween definitely ranks as one of my favorites. There just aren't very many occasions where grown ups wearing costumes in public are considered socially acceptable, and I for one appreciate the opportunity.
Being the good mother that I am, I have the chance responsibility to save my children from consuming all that sugar on their own. I do this by raiding the candy stash while they are sleeping, and pretending I have no idea where all the good chocolate has gone. Eating their treats may be slightly tricky of me, but I am doing it out of love, and the reality that I pay their dental bills. Besides, I consider it my commission for years of costume design and assistance.

And in the spirit of the holiday, here are some spooky snacks whipped up by a craftier friend than me.
Happy Halloween Everyone.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's Almost NaNo Time!

It's almost time for NaNoWriMo! If you aren't familiar with it, November is National Novel Writing Month. It's "thirty days and nights of literary abandon!" NaNoWriMo is a ridiculous name, but a fun thing to try, and the whole family can get involved. Someone, somewhere had the grand idea to challenge aspiring writers around the world to attempt writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. Now it's a big annual to do, and every year, tons of people participate. Obviously, 30 days is not a lot of time to write a book, so you're going for quantity over quality in this case. There's no time to edit, revise, and perfect. It's a mad rush to get out all your crazy ideas as fast as you can. Some people may wonder what's the point? It's not like they have some awesome grand prize, like an all expense paid tropical vacation or anything. I guess the point is just to see if you can do it. There's not a lot of glory, but it's an experience. Maybe, somewhere among the piles of drivel you churn out, you might find a gem that you can use. Chances are, it'll get your creative juices flowing, and I think it will be entertaining.

At first, I considered trying to combine Nano writing somehow into my blog, imagining myself diligently writing and publishing daily. Then, I considered the fact that most of what I write at that speed will probably be complete nonsense, and it probably isn't that great of an idea to publish large quantities of nonsensical writings on the internet under your own name if you plan to continue doing any writing for a living. Hopefully, I'll be able to come up with enough to write about in both places, and blog readers will at least get a semi edited version of my ramblings. I'm not making any promises though.

There's a kids, or "young writers" challenge, too. They can choose their own word count- my daughter and a couple of her friends are aiming for 10,000 words each. There are writing exercises, forums to toss out questions, and kids can connect with other writing buddies for advice and support. It seems like a great way to encourage some creative writing, and I can't wait to see what my daughter comes up with this year. Last year, we all did our own independent versions, and it was amazing to see how motivated they were, and much writing they churned out.
I'm curious, is anyone else up for the challenge this year? Check it out here, and if you try it, let me know how it goes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Not Everyone Can Write Right

Why is it that whenever I make fun of other people, it always comes back and bites me in the butt? It really takes the fun out of mockery and any form of smugness.

My latest slice of humble pie started with the classes I've been taking online through my local community college. They've really made me feel secure about our family homeschooling for the long haul. This isn't because I am suddenly feeling more well educated and capable of teaching than I was a few months ago. Although I am certainly learning some interesting things, and enjoying the process, what has boosted my confidence is seeing first hand the wide variety of abilities from people who have had a typical education. To think that we can probably accomplish something in this range is not really all that intimidating, at all. A person can graduate high school, and probably even pass college classes with really bad spelling and grammar. Lots of people don't follow written instructions, or work within timelines well. While these skills would certainly be helpful to them, and they will hopefully be attaining them in college, there are plenty of people over the age of 18 who never learned them in traditional schools. While I'm definitely shooting for my offspring to be equipped to be academically competitive before they reach college, if there is an area that they struggle in, they surely won't be the only ones.

As homeschoolers, we always get the question, “How long are you planning on homeschooling? What about high school?” People act like it's rocket science or something that we should be terrified to even consider attempting. I feel like if I really learned anything while I was in high school, I should be somewhat capable of passing it on to my kids. Actually, there are plenty of things I learned in high school that I don't want to pass on to my kids, but that's another story. There's always the “What about chemistry?” type of questions too- as if most people really need to know chemistry in everyday life- as if most people who took chemistry didn't forget all of it within a year anyway. I think if my kids want or need chemistry, or any other class I am not “qualified” to teach, that is what the local college is for.

Back to my humble moment... when I started noticing chronic errors in other college students' work- errors that my 6th grader was able to find, and correct- I got a bit cocky, and may have even made a few jokes about it (being the cynical and sarcastic person that I am, it is hard for me not to joke about things.) Well, within a very short time, I found myself making embarrassing typos in public forums. They were all mistakes that I could glaringly see were wrong after I hit “enter,” but had missed in my hurry to go on with my life. I did this on multiple occasions too; I actually considered that I might be losing my mind, getting some form of early dementia in my 30's. Then, I realized that it was probably just one of life's little lessons teaching me humility. I am just hoping I won't have 5,000,000 more public typos here to reinforce the lesson. So, in order to not jinx myself any further, I want to be clear that I'm not making fun of anyone here. I'm just noting that the idea that everyone comes away from their formal (and in many cases forced) education with the same abilities and knowledge is false. Maybe most of them were exposed to similar ideas, but what they absorbed and retained varies a great deal.

As my husband pointed out, writing is not everyone's strong point, and it doesn't need to be. I agree completely. I may be good at spotting other people's typos, but I am painfully remedial when it comes to mechanical things. In real life, the ability to fix a broken car or washer might actually be more useful than the ability to spell well. In the end, everyone has their own gifts. I am just very glad that my kids have the opportunity and time to explore and develop their own strengths, as well as their weaknesses, on their own timeline. They can bloom into what they are meant to be, when they are ready, and that is something to be grateful for.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Even the Cat is Coughing Up Science Lessons

Since I've been on my current science theme, I am seeing science lessons everywhere on our little farm. Just this afternoon, we had a gross little piece of science shoot out all over my daughter's favorite blanket. It was one of those fascinating in a disgusting way kind of things, and I guess it was technically more of a chunky pile than a piece. Our dear CatCat was lounging in her usual foot of the bed spot when she began out of the blue gagging. Well, my daughter picked up the cat to put it out, since it seemed on the verge of vomiting and all. The cat stopped retching, and daughter put her back on the bed. Immediately, Miss Meow Purr hacked up a smelly mess. Of course these things never hit just one blanket- it skimmed several. As I'm sure you can imagine, even a splash of cat vomit goes a long way, so everything has to be washed. On the way to the washer, we accidentally dropped some of the mess, and spread the joy even further. This was when we saw the interesting part. CatCat apparently swallowed a baby lizard- whole! The poor thing was only a few inches long, and was perfectly intact, except the missing tail. Well, we scooped it up and took it outside to check it out. After we poked around to get the cat hairball off of it, we discovered the little lizard had a beautiful blue patch on it's throat, a lovely pattern in its' scales, and tiny, perfect little fingers and toes. I considered bringing back in and looking at it under the microscope, but the whole mess smelled too bad for that.
So, we got online to see if lizard eating could be hazardous for a cat, and it looks like it's possible. I went back outside to see if I could get another look at the lizard, in order to identify it, but I can't find it now. I am thinking that my #1 chicken, Miss Puffy Cheeks, may have cleaned it up for me. Well, Google gave me about 12 million sites on cats vomiting lizards, most of which had no connection to anything remotely official, so I'm not exactly sure of the credibility of the information. Heck, any goofball blogger, like me, can post things on the internet. In any case, the cat seems fine now though, and is recuperating outside, so we won't be rushing to the vet to check for lizard toxicology. I am just hoping chickens are immune to lizard toxins.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Challenging Science Fun

My science pick for this week is the Kids Science Challenge. We are so glad it is back for it's second year! It's a fun and inspiring contest to get kids in grades 2-6 thinking about science. It breaks down into a few chosen areas of science where kids can submit an idea or experiment to real scientists in that field, and possibly meet the scientists and win cool prizes. This years chosen areas are sports on mars, bio inspired design and detective science. The website has games and projects to get you in the mood; but be warned, there is a loud and rather overstimulating musical lizard intro that comes blaring at you on the home page. You might want to reduce the volume there, but once you get past that, there is lots more to enjoy.

Last year, both of my kids enjoyed brainstorming ideas and experimenting with outcomes. My son entered an idea in skateboard technology, and my daughter submitted her idea on water quality and conservation. She was a finalist and won a really cool digital microscope, along with some science kits and activity books. The microscope has given us hours of marveling at the beauty of ordinary objects magnified. We've been looking at just about everything under this thing- bugs, leaves, flowers, rocks, our skin (warning- magnifying wrinkles is not good for parental self esteem) and there's a constant "wow" or "eeeeew" going with it. We had read that butterflies have spiral tube tongues, but to see one in real life was just amazing. In many cases though, magnification leaves us repelling in disgust- a scab on a child's knee for example is really gross at 40 times it's normal size. Either way, we are continually fascinated by the natural world.

Of course winning fabulous prizes is always a bonus, but we enjoyed this fun contest in and of itself. We'll definitely be spending some time on it again this year. Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Science Fun

I am a firm believer that education should not be boring. Kids start off life wanting to learn, and in an effort to keep that spark alive rather than smothering it with formalities, I spend a lot of time researching (goofing off on the internet, browsing library shelves, crafty catalogs etc.) finding cool things to enhance our homeschooling journey. It keeps it fun and interesting for both my kids and me, which is, after all, why we are doing this.

In the spirit of creativity and learning fun, I'm going be posting links to some of the many wonderful resources and awesome goodies that our family enjoys. I'm starting off with science, since there are so very many free and cool tools available online. Science is an experiment waiting to happen just as much as it is a series of formulas. My first pick is "The Happy Scientist."

I think everybody should be familiar with this guy- he is great! He's like a semi mad, but happy scientist who is really good at explaining things. The guy can even make boiling water interesting. He regularly sends out really fun and facinating science experiments, photos and videos, many of them FREE! If you love the free stuff, you can join for a very small fee, and have access to lots more science goodies. You can also follow him on Facebook!

We've tried a number of his experiments with mostly successful results. He has a great way of explaining concepts and making them understandable, without sounding like he is dumbing them down. (We really appreciate this) The kids love the videos, especially the bloopers- seeing professional adults mess up on camera is endlessly amusing for them. Although we don't check them every day, we check out several of his Science Photos each week. They always capture some amazing part of our natural world, and he poses a question about each one. After exhausting our ideas, we can check his explanations, which almost always lead us to some interesting new bit of knowledge.

This is so much more fun than a textbook.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Understanding Human Behavior

As part of my life long learning campaign I have been enjoying taking classes online through the local community college off and on for a couple of years now. I'm not sure when or how they will all add up to a degree but I am enjoying learning new things in the mean time. This semesters picks include a psychology class called “Understanding Human Behavior.” Since humans behave in all sorts of odd ways that are quite a puzzle to me, this ought to be interesting. I thought I'd be analyzing everyone around me, but we seem to be starting out by looking at ourselves. While it might not be nearly as fun as thinking about other peoples bizarre issues, I suppose it will be more useful in the end to understand my own.
Besides analyzing my own behavior, my dear family members are getting a big dose of my newfound knowledge and analytical skills. I am finding plenty of entertaining opportunities to throw out phrases like "Hmmm, it sounds like you might be displacing your anger and projecting it onto inanimate objects." Although people who are yelling at a printer that won't work or cursing at a shopping cart with a bad wheel don't seem very appreciative of my psychological assessments, it is still very amusing for me to make them. I should probably try analyze why I find so much humor in messing with already frustrated people, but that sounds like a little more deep thinking than I'm into tonight. I could probably come up with some way to rationalize it, but in the mean time I think I'll just keep having fun with it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Not Back to School

Now that fall is here, and most kids have gone back to school, we are getting plenty of curious questions about our homeschooling adventure. Learning happens year round for us, but that's a hard concept to explain to folks with a standard view of education. It's equally hard to explain the concept that education should not be forced or boring, nor does it need to take place in a classroom or make your head hurt. While most of the questioners are friendly, I can often see a look in their eye that says despite the smile, they just can't help but think that what we are doing is a little weird. I doubt many of them will come around to my way of thinking and suddenly let their children be free during the course of a 5 minute conversation at the dentists office, but at least we are a presence, hopefully normalizing the face of homeschooling. I don't wear denim jumpers, and while I am a Christian, I am far from a religious extremist. My kids are not dressed like they are on Little House on the Prairie, and although they are smart and mostly well behaved, they are not timid, or ill adjusted and neither is a prodigy. The idea of homeschooling really isn't that strange, and neither are most of the people doing it. We're a mixed bag of all kinds of people who chose this path for different reasons and go about it different ways. So, I try to be glad to answer the questions, and to show the side of homeschooling that is out having fun, learning and enjoying life. I certainly choose my moments to mention homeschooling. If my children are running through the store being exceptionally loud and crashing the shopping cart into each other, or worse, the wine shelf, I am not about to tout what a great educational alternative we have going on. I can't convincingly pretend I don't know who they belong with, since one of them looks like a miniature version of me. Fortunately, most of the time, I think (or at least hope) we are pretty good at containing obnoxious behavior in public. So when a stranger takes the time to ask us why the kids aren't in school, or what grade they are in, we probably seem approachable and normal. And hopefully, if the strangers have never met a homeschooling family before, they will at the very least see that we are real people, and not just stereotypes. Maybe they will consider the idea of home education or life learning a little less odd, and maybe they won't. Either way, we'll still be out in the world, doing our thing, and answering questions as they come along.