20 May 2008

Learning about time ...

When he was about five years old, TJ, my eldest son, wondered whether I remembered dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers. I was a baby myself at the time - - not yet 30 -- and I was half appalled and half amused.

Then I remembered asking my mother (we were probably around the same ages) whether she remembered settling the old west. Hmm.
Jack is far too sophisticated to make the mistake his brother did. He knows full well that dinosaurs were around long before people existed. He has learned a lot about the evolution of people from Australopithecus Africanus through Homo Sapiens, and he has learned about the diaspora of Homo Sapiens out of Africa and over the planet, encountering our older cousins the Neanderthals when we reached Europe.

But his mind is whirling as he tries to put it all in perspective. It came out last night.

"Mamma, was your father a hunter?"

"Well, sort of; my father hunted once a year for fun".

"Was your grandfather a hunter?"

"No, both of my grandfathers were farmers. Why?"

"I'm thinking about homo sapiens hunters"

"Ahh, I see. Are you asking me when humans were hunter gatherers? Trying to understand time and learn what happened when?"

Big grin "Yes!"

"Ahh, well, my grandfathers were born during a time we call the Industrial Revolution. That was many years after we started the "Agricultural Age" when we started farming. Before that, people were hunter-gatherers. A loooong time ago. (gesturing with my hands.)"

"When we get back, we'll put up the timeline and start putting up pictures for everything we know, OK? We'll put pre-dinosaurs over near the basement door, and Jack right on the edge of the timeline over near the china cabinet, and then we'll put in different things as we learn about them -- OK? Sound good?"

Beaming "Yeah!"

And then we were on to watching Jack squeeze the juice out a green bean and a discussion of table manners.

Now, does anyone know of a good Ancient Greek language curriculum for tiny tots, similar to Minimus for Latin?

17 May 2008

Do you know TED?

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. They now have a great web site on which I can spend hours exploring ideas through their videos of TED talks.

Everyone from Clifford Stoll, to Amy Tan, to Jill Bolte Taylor, to Stephen Hawking, to Michael Pollen holds forth on the subject of their passion for about 15 minutes and I walk away with a whole new view of the world.

You explore the talks based on a number of sort -- most recent, of course, most beautiful, most jaw dropping, most persuasive ... and a number of others.

It's great fun!!

16 May 2008

Still the Long Distance Grandma

I've written before about the challenges of having your heart walking around (in the form of your children and grandchildren) on another continent.

I continue to read everything I can get my hands on, and the ideas continue to be focused on the Grandmas who live 80 miles from the grandbabies and are fretting because they can't pick them up from school or babysit for them a couple of times a week. I'd love to be able to record stories and then send the file and the book so the children can hear me read it to them...but I can't read Swedish well enough and they don't speak English!

I'd love to send a package of delightful surprises once a week -- but that quickly becomes very expensive! (A fat letter can cost $4 -- can you imagine how much a pair of mugs and some instant cocoa and a book would cost?!?!)

A few of the books do have some good ideas, but mainly it seems to come back to writing letters. If you don't speak the same language as your grandchildren, then a translator is immensely helpful -- maybe critical. Even though I speak a tiny bit of Swedish, as Bella got older, I felt more and more limited by having to stick with topics I knew the words for. My wonderful translator, Johanna, has been helping me since last June and after a year, I am starting to be able to "hear" how my "voice" sounds in Swedish. I can even pick through old letters and adapt phrases to send short notes between my monthly letters, which increases my ability to be "in touch".

But after a year of chatting about the routines of my life, I find myself getting repetitive and I started to wonder what to write about next...I can only hold the children's interest with planting a garden and canning and building snowmen for so long. I can discuss the books Jack and I are reading, but many of those haven't been translated into Swedish and so they are of limited interest. And always writing about books gets dull, dull, dull. I write about some holidays ... especially the ones we celebrate that Swedes don't.

And of course, when I can get an anecdote out of Grandfather or Mamma or Pappa, I comment on that, but it's relatively rare -- certainly, I don't have an anecdote to work with once a month! (If you're a young parent, please don't put your parents, your children's grandparents, in this position. It may seem of limited interest that your child is on a 'pirates' kick or can name all the numbers up to 20 -- but, honestly, it's the stuff of life for a grandma!)

One thing I have carried away from all of those books on grand parenting, though, is the important role a grandparent has in a child's life. We are the keepers of the family history and our traditional role has been to pass that along. Having a strong sense of history and a strong sense of belonging to one's family grounds a young person, gives them confidence, and helps to protect them from the emotional battering that ordinary life can impose. I am not a psychologist, so I can't speak to the long term effects of knowing their family story has on a child. I can say, though, that if you as the grandparent don't tell those stories, who will? Will you allow your family's stories to be lost forever?

I wasn't able to share much of my family's history with my older children. At 30, I really didn't have much idea myself. In the decades since, though, I have been investigating, collecting, and recording those stories I can find. I started this new project of sharing my family history on Mother's day this year by recounting just a bit about *my* grandmothers for my grandchildren. I also made a small "scrapbook" by folding a few sheets of paper and sewing them together by hand with great big stitches. Then I cut out the part of my letter that was about each grandmother and pasted it, alongside a few photos, into the scrapbook, with comments about what they were seeing in the photos. In November, when my babies will celebrate Fathers' day, I will do the same for my grandfathers. Later, I'll do a book for each of my parents. (I know a lot more about them) and eventually, I will tell the tales I have heard about other ancestors, so those stories aren't lost completely. That's a good start -- but it's only few letters and we'll have covered what I know.

So, I kept looking.

That's when I remembered The Remembering Site! The Remembering Site is a non-profit initiative that lets anyone create an online autobiography by answering a series of questions. It costs $25 for a lifetime membership, and when you're done, you can e-mail your story, print it out at home, or you have have it printed and bound for a reasonable fee.

I started recording my memories there years ago to "someday" have printed as book for my children and grandchildren, but it occurred to me that the memories don't have to be in the form of book! The site consists of thousands of questions that you can use as a springboard in telling your story, and those questions can be used just as easily as a springboard for letters! (I can even paste the contents of the letters into my biography and get the two goals met at once!)

Of course, the rest of the letter can be more chatty and less important and when there is something more immediate to write about, I'll write about that -- but those memories will make the letters worth saving! As the kids get older, the letters will mean even more to them.

I am feeling a lot happier about my ability to forge a real relationship with my children's children... I still wish we could communicate more directly, but I am also working on that. Jack and I are studying Swedish using Rosetta Stone. So far I can talk about being under an airplane or over a horse...but eventually I hope to be able to use it to actually have a conversation. ;)

15 May 2008

Smiffy's Herbal: Blood Root

I managed to ask the right friend, and we have identified our new discovery as blood root.

We missed our chance to photograph it open, because it opened one day and was pollinated and gone the next, but Rod assures me that it does indeed look like the pictures in the books for the 15 minutes it's open.
We've researched it and found that blood root is also called Pauson, Red Paint Root, Red Puccoon, Tetterwort, King Root, and sanguinaria.

It's a perennial, so we can expect it to reappear every year and (hopefully) spread. The root can be used a red dye or stain, and it has medicinal uses, such as in a poultice for sores and excema. It shouldn't be eaten or used in tisanes except by a very experienced herbalist since the proper dose is minute and slightly more than that can be fatal.

Ruled by Mars, and its element is fire. Not surprisingly, it's very protective -- a good thing to have growing around the periphery of our land! The biggest, reddest roots can be used (carried or worn) to draw love or to deflect negativity.

This has been so much fun that I've started exploring a lot of our green neighbors and I am working on Smiffy's Herbal. Not being an herbalist myself, its all going to be very derivative, but it's a start.

We have also hired an herbalist friend, Linda, to come over and guide us on an hour-long herb walk of our land in June. It's an open party, so if you live nearby let us know if you wan to come along. (Linda hasn't said yet how much she charges, but we'll let you know if you voice an interest.)

12 May 2008

Germination problem solved?

I may have found another problem I had with germination this year, thanks to my friend, sweet Celeste.

Celeste and Dame and Grandpa John were over yesterday to help close out Jack's birthday week. (We were supposed to go to the zoo, but it was cold and wet and not zoo-like weather at all, so we went to the Dinosaur museum and then came to Chez Smiffy for dinner.) At one point during the afternoon, Celeste and I started talking about gardening, and as she desriberd her new "baby greenhouse" it dawned on me ...

Last year, I used those tiny peat pots, and I put them in a covered lettuce box to keep them warm and damp.

This year I used bigger containers and didn't put them in anything. They may have simply been too cold! So, I plan to rush out and cover the new plants from this weekend and see what happens. (Since I used fairly large cow-poop pots this time I'll need a solution other than lettuce boxes, but I'll think of something.)

Fitness Update
In other news, evidently my walking, though not as regular as I'd like, is enough to make a difference.

Uncharacteristically for me, I was quick and energetic all though the trip to the dinosaur museum! It actually felt good to be striding around. I haven't felt that way since last fall!

As I remember, this was what inspire me to get more regular in my walking last years, so here's hoping.

08 May 2008

Thank you notes and kids...

It's that time again ...
With birthdays, comes the writing of thank you notes.

I think that getting into the habit of writing thank you notes is a very important thing for a young person. The younger we start writing them, the less daunting they are.

I am convinced that a part of the the reason so many people think with horror about writing their 'thank yous' -- and then end up postponing it forever, is because no one expects Thank You notes until suddenly, at age 8 or 9, we are handed cards and told that now we have to figure out how to write a formal Thank You notes. If we're lucky, we get a book to crib from.

That's not fair! What should take a few moments and a reflection on the kindness of a loved one becomes a horrible chore. There is a very simple form that makes it easy -- and with a bit of practice, we can embellish the form to make it very personal. But we have to be taught how!

Jack has been writing his thank yous pretty much from the time he could make an impression on paper. His first "thank you notes" were scrawls of crayon on a card to which Mamma added a handwritten "thank you". Then came the elaborate sticker creations to which I added Jack's dictated thank yous.

Once he was old enough to understand the concept (around his third birthday, I think) we started working on form. One day, it will be important to hand write his thanks, but at the moment, Jack doesn't write yet so we're using the computer. Much better to focus on the parts that he can learn reasonably easily and add the others parts as he develops. I never want him to think of this as difficult!

There are several standard parts to a thank you letter, and I coach Jack through each one. The nature of these things is that we do one after another, so he gets to practice what he's (re)learned several times.

First, we assemble the gifts. Next Jack picks one up (and if there were several from the same giver, he gathers all of them in one stack.)

I write "Dear" and I ask him who the gift is from. He tells me and I repeat "Dear Grandpa John".

Then I write 'Thank you for the" and I ask him what Grandpa John gave him, and we write down the name of the gift(s) and I read the whole letter to Jack.

"Dear Grandpa John, thank you for the Winnie the Pooh book."

Next, I ask Jack what he likes best about the gift, and we write that down. "I really like the pictures in this book!"

Then, I read the whole thing back to Jack and ask him if there's anything else that he wants to say...if there is, we add that (this is often moderately incoherent at the moment, but it's his letter. As long as the basics are there, I stay out of his way.)

Then we add another thank you "Thank you so much for remembering my birthday!"

and the signature "Love, Jack"

and we're done. I still do *a lot* of coaching, but because it's easy, we can do all of his notes in a half hour. (Cut and paste the first letter, delete the details, pick up the next gift and discuss it and add the new details...et voila!)

This way, Jack is learning the form for thank you notes, the idea that they're easy and reasonably quick to write -- and most of all, he is learning to think about the people who love him enough to give him gifts and about the effort they put into picking a gift especially for him.

Gratitude is good -- but if we don't express it, it's impotent. Everyone wants to be thanked! It's not hard to do...you just have to know the trick!

Now that he's older, it's time to start reading my own thank you notes to him, so that he can get the idea that once the forms are in place, we can embroider them to make them our very own! I think that birthdays are a good time to start that, because he won't be making an immediate comparison to his own notes like he would at Yule.

06 May 2008

Happy Fifth Birthday, Jack!

Edited to add: No, that cake isn't pink. That, sir, is a Blueberry cake with blueberry frosting, decorated with dried blueberries and blueberry jam. Pink! Indeed!! *chuckle* Ok, so I failed to realize that blueberry juice in amounts small enough not to make a runny mess o the friosting ewas going to be pink. Jack liked it.

03 May 2008

We had our first barbecue of the season yesterday, in honour of Jack's fifth birthday. Turnout was light -- and we had a blast!

Jack and the beanstalk
In other news, I have a chance to audition my photography to show locally. I have been pondering whether to do it or not and keep coming back to "Yeah, but none of it is 'presentation ready', and I don't want to spend the money...and then be stuck with large, display ready pieces afterward." Of course selling just a few pieces could pay for the printing and matting. Selling a few more could actually turn a profit. But...what's the chances of that? I'm still thinking. ;) But it looks like a few pieces may be picked up for publication in a small homeschooling magazine. That's fun!

The Mothers Day cards are coming along -- two are ready to go, so I guess my muse is back. And to help her along, a friend of mine loaned me an Accu-cut last night. I'm not sure how long I'll have it to play with, but I am, needless to say, immensely excited!

A different friend has lots a lot of weight recently and gave me some of her cast-offs. Thing is, S has far better taste than I will ever have. The clothes are front office-quality and look great (and very professional) on me. Every time I wear something to work, several people comment positively. That has been such a boost to me confidence!

Speaking of work...I'm not sure where the time went, but it's time I was in the shower!

Homeschooling Update

Jack turns five next week, and as his birthday has gotten closer and closer, we have seen all the signs that he's getting more ready for more organized schooling.
His awareness of the world has expanded amazingly, as has his interest in exploring ideas. Rod isn't ready to buckle down to "schooling" just yet, so we're sticking to what I can do on the evenings and weekends, which actually seems to be just the right pace.

I have mentioned before that Jack has been going through a serious dinosaur period. He loves them -- he knows their names and periods, what they ate and how big they were. Huge gobs of facts that he has collected from books, videos, and web sites. I'll admit that the fascination has always puzzled me, but I am old enough now to just accept that that seems to be how little boys work. ;)

Jack borrowed "Walking with Monsters" from the library, then "Walking with Dinosaurs" and Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special" and finally "Walking with Prehistoric Beasts". In the Prehistoric Beasts video, we had a brief introduction to hominids -- a perfect entry point for human history.

I borrowed Walking with Cavemen and bought him the companion book, which added a LOT more detail ($3 used...can't beat that!). Then I showed him my copy of Journey from the Dawn. Next we found Becoming Human, which though very interesting, is not exactly Jack's cup of tea. It's a photo-based documentary that was a little too in-depth a slow for a wiggly five year old. He watched it with some interest once through, but hasn't asked to see it again. I have visited the Discovery Store and found Ice Age Columbus and The Real Eve which both look pretty good and will problem be in Jack's stack of gifts for his birthday.

Frustratingly, I can't find much literature to help us learn about pre-civilized life. I found one called First Painter in the library catalog - - but the book has disappeared. Another was there -- but Anoonka's Answer is about a 13 year old girl, and I have a hunch that it's not going to be the sort of thing to keep Jack's attention. (I checked it out with the intention of looking it over myself. I am hoping I am wrong.) Of course, in running those books through Amazon to create links, I did find more. *laugh* I'll put them on the list, too.

So, that's history.

Using dinosaurs, Jack has been studying comparative measurement (math) using his new tape measure. He looks up how long a dinosaur was and measures that from Dad's desk chair and then compares that with another dinosaur, measured from the same point. Over and over and over and over...

He's also using dinosaur names to examine Latin and Greek root words. (pachy = thick, cephalos = head, etc.)

Since we want to use a Classical foundation for his education, I have also introduced Asterix and Obelix to give him a context for studying Latin. It's not a really literate introduction, but Asterix is available in Latin, so it will be one of the things he can use to practice, once he's finished with Minimus Book One.

It will also give him a context not only for studying Latin, but also for eventually studying the Roman Empire. Eventually. First we will be exploring the first settling of Australia and America, then the Sumerians and Mesopotamians, and on through time.

But of course, all of that is still at the planning and laying groundwork stage.

Mostly, on his own, Jack is obsessing with the Magic Tree House and Magic School Bus books. They're side by side at the library and not far from the Boxcar Children and the Bobbsey Twins. Mostly twaddle, I'm afraid. (Between that and all the videos and computers, this whole homeschooling thing is *not* going the way I had envisioned.)

We do read some really good literature, though...we have read Little House in the Big Woods and a lot of Thornton Burgess stories recently and we are now reading Ronia Robbers' Daughter. I was only familiar with Astrid Lindgren from her Pippi Longstocking stories and so I was honestly not expecting much beyond fun...but Ronia has surprised me by introducing depth of character, complexity of motivation, and some interesting ethical questions. We also have The Brothers Lionheart and Mary Poppins on the stack (though the stack is about 20 books deep, and we may end up pulling something else off first.)

And of course, there is "noticing" almost every day.

And now, abruptly, I have to go and actually keep company with the little man, who wants to show me what he's learning on the San Francisco Symphony's kids website.

01 May 2008


It has been the sort of week that is both too busy to find time to blog much -- and not interesting enough to try harder. ;)
Between endless rounds of laundry, we have been on the run.

Fitness update: I have only managed to walk once so far this week. I have, however, established (thanks, Mark!) that I was 1.8 miles per hour. Way behind the 4 miles an hour I walked as a teenager, but not too shabby for the tired old fart I am now.

Crafting Update: I have been struggling with crafting. Even when I sit down with a very specific design in mind -- one I have made before, things aren't working well. Partly, I think, it's just a lack of creative energy right now and that happens from time to time. Partly, maybe it's my eyes. I have broken my glasses on a number of occasions and I think the lenses are scratched beyond usefulness. I'll see an ophthalmologist for my annual diabetes check and then I'll worry about getting the lenses replaced. Meanwhile, I have two Mothers Day cards and three birthday cards to get made. Hmmm...

Gardening update: I was not sure how much to worry about moon phase in gardening.

Last year, I wasn't specifically paying attention, but I did note that my planting happened at good times anyway. and as I talked about endlessly last year -- my results were astonishing.

This year, Ostara fell in a "bad" gardening moon, but we went ahead anyway. I have complained about the results...we have very few germinated seeds and none of the ones that sprouted seem to be thriving. I tried again under a better, though not ideal, gardening moon and already those plants are much larger than the many weeks older seeds, though not everything has germinated. I plan to try again next week under the 'optimal" gardening moon on Tuesday and see what happens.

I'll update the homeschooling stuff later. Now, I am off to the shower.