Monthly Archives: January 2014

Not In Vain

There’s a meme going around Facebook. Basically, if you click like on a post talking about the meme, the person who posted gives you the name of a poet. You post a poem from them. When my dear friend, Angie, posted, I liked her post –  even though I’d already done it once.

When she gave me the name, I knew immediately the poem I’d use. You see, after my parents got broke up, life felt really chaotic. For quite a long time. But not time at Grandma Ellen and Grandpa Parley’s house. For some time, I went over there fairly often. Grandma had lung cancer and she had to spend quite a lot of time in bed or otherwise being “restful”. And being there was, indeed, a much needed rest.

I spent so much time at her house, in her room. I can see still a good amount of it clearly. Like I’m there. In my mind, I AM there. Want to join me?

Step into the room. Across the room is the desk and on the floor, a scale. Turn to the right. You’re facing the bed. I think there was a window above the bed, but that detail is fuzzy. On the right side of the room is… a dresser?

But on the floor was a carefully organized box, with cutouts from cards and magazine and calendars and who knows what else. She used them to make these amazing books. I remember one that was a brown photo album, with writings and pictures and some of these cutouts. Sadly, my sisters and I were not always gentle with things. I wish I still had that book.

Look up. There she is, on the left side of the bed (well… if you’re looking at the bed – she’d probably say it was the right side of the bed), lying down, smiling. She always suffered through with an amazing amount of calmness. And against the wall is a bookshelf, with only a narrow space separating it from the bed. In that bookshelf, is a book.

Pick up the book. “101 Famous Poems”. The cover is yellowed somewhat and the book smells slightly musty. But the pages are fairly pristine. Open it. The poem you’re looking for will be a small one, on the left side of the page. Page 30, I think. You’re looking for Emily Dickinson. The poem? “Not in Vain.”

Grandma always loved poetry and memorizing things. With her help, I practiced repeating this poem over and over and over… and I still know this poem by heart, twenty years later.

“Not in Vain”

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

– Emily Dickinson

I’m not sure if my grandmother knew how much that meant to me, that I would remember it into my adult days, or how much my time there meant to me. What I do know is that her efforts to help one little girl were not in vain.

I still remember, Grandma.

I still remember.

Discovering Dinosaurs

Sometimes, an intense interest comes out of repeated exposure to something combined with the right timing.

Kai had a vague interest in dinosaurs off and on, but it really blossomed through a combination of factors: a dissolving “hatching” dinosaur egg seen at the science center, wanted, and received for Christmas, a viewing of Jurassic Park, a bit of creativity, books checked out from the library, a DVD of a mini-serious called Prehistoric Park (happened upon accidentally at the library), and a birthday gift of a set of dinosaurs.

So, Kai has been studying dinosaurs. And playing dinosaurs. And pretending to be a dinosaur.

Dinosaurs battling penguins.

January 7, 2014

Jurassic Park, the first.

Kai's Jurassic Park January 3, 2014

Kai's Jurassic Park January 3, 2014

Note the “J” for “Jurassic Park.”

Kai's Jurassic Park January 3, 2014

Attempting to climb over a large hill/mountain.

January 24, 2014

….and being covered in lava.

January 24, 2014

“All the other dinosaurs turned on Ceratosaurus.”

January 24, 2014

More dinosaur battles.

January 22, 2014

Using what’s around him, including the cat’s string.

January 22, 2014

January 22, 2014

Jurassic Park, the second. On the paper, he’s drawn lines dividing it.

January 28, 2014

The water dinosaur is hanging out, just offshore.

January 28, 2014

The dinosaurs bust off the island.

January 28, 2014

He has learned so much from playing. He’s gotten better at identifying which dinosaur is which. The “T-Rex with the horn on his nose” became “the Ceratosaurus.” He pointed out that Ceratosaurus sounds like Triceratops and was, with minimal prompting, able to come up with what “cera” might mean. When protested the name of the Stegosaurus and the Plateosaurs (“Why is it called Stegosaurs when THAT is the one with the plates on it?”), we researched why it was called that.

Children learn so much through play. I doubt he’d have picked up so much without the freedom to play as he wanted with them.

And the dinosaurs are STILL running amuck around here…

Six. (Or, Happy Birthday, Kai!)

“But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever. So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever…”
― A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six

January 18, 2014

Dear Kai,
Six years ago today, you were being born. I was not there to see it. I do not have a wonderful birth story to share, no memories of bringing you home, no “you were such a cute baby” – other than a few baby photos I’ve seen, I never did see you as an infant.

But I did see you when you were three. My first memory of you is of you telling me not to get the carpet dirty. You always were way older than your years. Perhaps now more than ever.

I don’t know if five-to-six is so dramatic a change in everyone. You had some really hard things happen this year, so I don’t imagine it to be so.

This is the year you lost your first tooth, that you deepened your reading skills, that you made more friends, that we really started “focusing” on homeschooling, that you learned to read to yourself silently, that you started reading chapter books all on your own. This is the year you first got allowance and spent it – sometimes capriciously, sometimes saving for weeks for things you wanted. This is the year you stopped sucking your fingers. This is the year that you moved out of your toddler bed. There have been no nighttime accidents in a few months.

This is also the year that Mama died, that changes were made, that life looked very different. Once again. There’s been some stumbling, but you get back up and keep on going.

The other day, we went to the indoor gymnastics playground, you and I. When you turn six, you age out. So we went one last time. On our way out, you told the staff that it was sad that you couldn’t come back, but that you’d have fun getting to do other stuff you can’t yet do.

There are things I’m feeling wistful about. My little boy is getting older, growing up, outgrowing things. But I’m so looking forward to the fun things ahead in our lives. And I’m so lucky to be a part of your family.

I love you so much, Kai. Thank you. Thank you for being a part of my life, for being my son, for sharing Daddy with me.
Happy birthday, Kai. I hope you have many many more happy ones.

And may the odds be ever in your favor.
Family picture January 2014

Unschooling a 4 year old. Or any young child.

This started off as a response to someone in a forum, but I decided to add to it and put it here because it might be helpful to other people, too.

When I had a 4 year old and was looking into homeschooling/unschooling, I was really overwhelmed. I wanted to do right by him and I didn’t quite have faith in the process, but I sure wanted to. What I did know was that a lot of ways of homeschooling required lots of “seatwork” and that wasn’t for him, for various reasons. Anyway, there were a few things that helped me, aside from support groups.

A Homeschool Curriculum for Preschool and Kindergarten was one of the very first. It was simple and not overwhelming and not too different from how we’d lived life before.

This page BestHomeschooling’s Preschool and Learning Activities page is where I found the link the one above this. Lots of the links on that page are really good.

Sandra Dodd’s page, Young Children and Unschooling, is one that was amazingly helpful. I believe that’s where I found 4/5 Year Old Activities, which was also very helpful.

But a lot of things we did were just things I found or things I came up with. We would roll a ball back and forth and count to 100. We had letter magnets and we played with those. He learned a lot from ABCMouse and Starfall, which he just considered “fun”. He watched the LeapFrog shows – their Talking Words Factory is the BEST and helped him a lot.

As a family, we instituted a board game night every week and that’s been immensely helpful. We went to museums and science centers. Also, we played games like domino addition, where we took turns picked dominoes, adding all the dots on them, and whoever got the higher number got to to keep the domino and the person with the most at the end won.

We looked up answers to questions in books and on YouTube.

We read a lot and went to Preschool Story Time at the library every week for months.

We DID pick up some workbooks at Costco, but he hated them, so we never really did much with them. We worked with things I found through Pinterest, through, through Teachers Pay Teachers. But if it wasn’t fun, we didn’t do it.

Somewhere along the way, I was introduced to Lori Pickert and Project-Based Homeschooling (PBH). I cannot say enough good things about this. Get her book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, and take the Master Class, if you can. She also has a PBH Tip Sheet that I’ve found to be very helpful to keep up the enthusiasm. Do this even if your child is not 4 years old! Join the forums to get support.  PBH can be a way of unschooling, too, but you’re helping support specific interests. And even if you decide to do another form of homeschooling – or public/private schooling, for that matter – this can transform the learning process.

They’re only 4 for a year. Each year is different and some of these things are applicable to the other ages, some things they outgrow and move on from. And it differs from child to child.

How to unschool a 4 year old, though, is really how you unschool ANY age: It isn’t so much WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it. Love them. Spend time with them. Be engaged, help them do things. Answer their questions. Better yet, help them figure out how to answer their own questions. Be there for them. Help them feel secure.

Help them learn to how to learn.

A day in the life: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kai woke up sometime after Joe did but before I woke up. So he watched Mythbusters while I took my shower and asked if he could watch another episode when I got out. I agreed and he finished watching that while eating a bowl of cereal.

After that, he spent a bit of time reading, then he played a bit before asking to watch Minecraft videos on YouTube with me. He and Zelda (one of the cats), snuggled up on the couch with me while we watched the videos.

Jan 15, 2014

Then, while I made lunch, he played with his toys – Army Men vs Cave Men and Superman and Zod.

The water was off, so we talked about the possibilities of why (there was a leak downstairs – they eventually turned it back on). Kai used a bottled water to give the kitties more water to drink and tried to explain to them that there was no reason to freak out. Of course, they WERE, because there was noise coming from the floor. Kai went back to playing until Joe came home for lunch.

We had lunch – Kai spoke animatedly about various things he was thinking of – before Kai went back to playing and Joe left for work.

I then had Kai help me pick out a photo for him to bring with him to the grief counselor. We talked a bit on the way about the importance of discussing things rather than avoiding them.
We also had a brief discussion about handwriting. Kai expressed frustration that his letters often don’t turn out the way he wants. I explained that part of the reason is that he always starts his letters at the bottom instead of the top and that I’d tried to help him figure out how to write them before, but he became sullen and angry, so we stopped. He asked if I’d help again, “Because my way isn’t working so I need to try something else.”

Also, got to hear this gem, “Kai, earlier: “Mommy, you should NOT get in a car accident and us die on the way for us to see grief-counselor’s-name because that would be funny not funny.” Okay, then. (I see we’re learning irony.)

While we waited in the grief counselor’s waiting room, Kai asked to sit on my lap (a very rare request) and play games on my phone. I agreed and he ended up playing “Medieval Math Battle” until the grief counselor came.

At the appointment, he got a new stuffed animal, a dragon. He named it “Mr. Dragon.” On the way out, he clutched his dragon tightly. “I have to keep him warm, especially his wings. Dragons wings are cold-blooded so they don’t make their own heat.”

Jan 15, 2014

On the way home, we listened to more of our current audiobook, Redwall. When we got home, Kai played with the kitties for a while, played with some of his toys, read some of one of the books he’s currently reading, Mossflower (a prequel to Redwall), then wandered around looking lost and asked for a suggestion of something to do. I gave him a list (this is something we’ve been working on lately – I’ll have to write more about it) and he decided to play “Rush Hour” for a while, which is a one person puzzle “board” game. Throughout the game, he told Mr. Dragon all about what he was doing.

Jan 15, 2014

Since it was Wednesday, it was family game night, after dinner. Kai was a little out of it after the long day, so we played a fairly quick/short game that he got for Christmas, called Love Letter. Then he played for about an hour, mainly with a magnetic numbers and letters set, while Joe and I did various other things.

Jan 15, 2014

Then, it was time for bed. Joe read him a chapter from one book, I read him to him from another book, then he went to sleep.

Our days vary greatly from day to day. If you’re interested at a look into another day, please feel free to check out a prior “Day in the Life” post. I did one for October 14, 2013, which was a Monday, which means it was a Minecraft night. Feel free to check it out. We don’t have a set schedule for our days, but our M/Tu/Wed nights are fairly set in stone, at least for now.

And then they say, “What could you have done differently?”

We drove past a pretty bad car accident today. Kai asked, “Why are the police there? There were no police in our crash. Do they send you to the hospital or the jail?”

So we talked about what police might be doing there, what might happen, etc. Kai said, “So… if somebody had been drinking alcohol maybe the police would send them to jail?”

I said I wasn’t certain, but maybe. It would depend on the circumstances. “A lot of times, the police are there to find out what happened, in case it was needed in the future.”

“You mean, like if the person was arrested and had to go to jail? Maybe if they were using their phone or they had too much alcohol?”

“Well, partly, yes.”

I could see him puzzling this through. “Do they say ‘Why did you do this?’”

“I’m sure they do.”

“I bet they say, ‘Were you drinking too much? Were you looking at your phone? Were you looking in the back seat? Were you just not paying very good attention?’”

“Well, I’m not sure. That’d probably be a little leading.”

“Hmm. Well, I bet they do, Mommy.”

A few minutes later, we arrived home. As we were climbing out of the car, he said, “And then, after you tell them what you did wrong, I bet they ask you not to do it again. And then they say, ‘What could you have done differently?’ I’m sure they do, because it’s important to think about what you can do differently in the future. So you know. That’s how people learn. And if they don’t want to learn, THEN maybe the police send them to jail, until they can figure out how to be nice.”

If only it were that simple.

Kai started work on a doll house (for his peg people)

After seeing one that somebody else made (protecting privacy by not mentioning who because it just occurred to me that I haven’t asked!), Kai has been wanting to make a doll house for his peg people for a week or two now. He’s been trying to find good cardboard to use and try to figure out what to make, how to make it, etc.

Finally, after a trip to Costco, he had a box he wanted to use. He got to work.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

He got frustrated by tape.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

Then, he started to get the hang of things.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

He decided to add a garage and was very overjoyed with the results.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

Parker-cat was less thrilled. He wanted the box for sitting.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

The bendy dolls move in.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

They came via car, by the way.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

“The peg people family collect cars and have their own airplane.” – Kai

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

Then, while I was doing dishes, he made a bookshelf.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

And had a massive use of tape. I think he was trying to build a roof.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

Eventually, he dug out some of my stencils and started decorating the box.

Kai, working on his doll house for his peg people

I don’t think he’s done. We need to find more cardboard to make the “floors” more stable. And he talked about building furniture after was done. I’ve also offered up scrapbooking paper I used to use for art purposes for him to use as wallpaper, flooring, etc. I’m not sure if he’s going to use them or not. That is, however, where he found the stencils.

I also made a Pinterest board of “DIY Doll Houses” to let him look at pictures for inspiration. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

5 good things from 5 days

Since the start of the year, I’ve made a note of five good things each day, five moments to savor or that I enjoyed. It’s been interesting. I find that I’m looking for things throughout the day, which means I’m looking for GOOD things, when I often focus on bad ones and kind of ignore the good ones. The habit of “looking for bad things” is one I’m trying to replace with “looking for good things”.

So, here’s five good things I’ve savored since the start of the year.

  • Climbing in the car after our trip to the Museum of Flight, Kai and I stopped to watch a plane on the runway at Boeing Field. It turned and we were SO CLOSE. It reminded me of airplane watching at the airport before that kind of thing was no longer a possibility unless you were actually flying that day.
  • Becoming deeply absorbed in our current audiobook, Redwall, while Kai and I ran errands. (The audiobook is great – if you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it.)
  • My cat, Parker, walked up to me, meowed, and climbed into my arm. He promptly started purring and within half a minute, was asleep.
  • Watching one of the Star Wars movies with the family, kitties sprawled about us, one on my lap.
  • Joe made a breakfast that was so delicious. He made toasted cheese bread with an herbed cheese and fried an egg EXACTLY the way I like – crispy edges on the white, but still mostly runny center. I’m so grateful to have a husband who not only cooks, but is good at it, and does so often, without complaint.

The value of a three dollar toy.

The other day, Kai bought a little toy called, “Army Men vs Cave Men” from the “novelty toy” section. He paid three dollars from his allowance ($1.50, if you count the two for one coupon he used so he could get something else, too). There are fifteen of each.

I mentioned that I didn’t know that it was a good value but, that, of course, it was up to him. Kai bought them anyway.

After getting them home, one of Kai’s first observations was that they didn’t have hexagon-shaped bases and that he found that frustrating. Most of the miniature games he has seen or played have hexagon-shaped bases. Once he got past that, though, he found all sorts of ways to use them.

December 31, 2013

Every day, multiple times each day, he has staged mock battles.

Yesterday, he was pretending that the soldiers and cave men were Storm Troopers, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Rebels.

December 31, 2013

Today, there were the army men versus the cave men. He also used penguins to make “fighter penguins”. He said, “These are my fighter penguins. They’re bursting in. War has a lot of bursting in.” Indeed.

"These are my fighter penguins."

It’s funny, because I never would have thought these toys would have such long-lasting appeal. Certainly not something from the “novelty section” –  toys, I typically think of as “junk”. We work pretty hard to find “good toys” that he’ll enjoy. Sometimes, though, I think maybe we work too hard, try to find the “perfect thing”. I mean, we’re usually very successful but I can’t help thinking that part of why Kai has done so much with these is that his preconceived notions were blown to smithereens, that the imperfections freed him to do it “his way”.

Or maybe it’s just that he used his own money for these? I don’t know. But I’m enjoying watching the mock battles, enjoying hearing his thinking and line of reasoning on things. I’m enjoying this three dollar toy way more than I ever thought I could.

Turns out, the three dollar toy has a lot of value after all. It isn’t how much it costs, it’s what you do with it that creates real value.

Moments from our New Year (2014) celebrations

Joe comes home from work, makes a black-eye pea casserole. Bacon. Spinach. Cheese. It tastes divine.

After hours of Minecraft, we stop to have ice cream with chocolate syrup.

We turn on the fireworks at the Space Needle but the fog is so thick it is hard to see anything. We toast the New Year with sparkling apple cider in plastic cups, to flashes of color amidst the fog.

It is after midnight but we have not yet set off our own fireworks. So climb back onto our Minecraft server to watch bursts of pixelated beauty.

New Year 2014 Minecraft Fireworks

We finally open the last board game from Christmas – Lords of Waterdeep, from me to Joe. The three of us spend a couple of hours playing.

Lords of Waterdeep

Joe and Kai work on a LEGO set – an airplane – while I make “porcupine balls” and a cheese dip with black-eye peas. When we eat, Kai does so without much complaint – he’s been fairly tolerant of new and different food lately, a major change for which I am so grateful.

The guys read while I relax online for a few minutes. Then, they work on the LEGOs again while I grab a few moments to write.

Later, as requested by Kai for his holiday treat, he and I dip strawberries in chocolate. We have extra chocolate so we try to find other things to dip and manage a few prunes before switching to potato chips. These effectively become dinner. Kai is giddy.

In the evening, we watch The Empire Strikes Back, snuggled up on the couch, in the dark. Kai reads the intro script out loud and falls asleep – but only for a few minutes – somewhere in the middle of the movie.

When the movie ends, he stages a mock battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader with an army of Stormtroopers.

Of course, Luke wins.