Monday, February 28, 2011


Little Mister has always expressed a strong inclination for building things. I remember a picture I took of him at just over a year old, stacking baby-food jars on the kitchen floor.

Since we've created a Bean-free zone in which he can work unmolested, Mister's building creations have become quite elaborate.

Today, this construction rose from the top of the sideboard. Little Mister's comment was, "Popsicle sticks make good flat pieces."

Yes, indeed they do.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Does He Talk?

The Bean talks constantly. So far, I'm not sure what it's about, though.

Better Make It Good

If you get one date night every six months, better make it a good one; that's our current thinking.

Although our anniversary was nearly two months ago (and I ate leftover pizza for dinner alone that night), not to mention Valentine's Day going almost unnoticed by my busy Hubby, we did plan to roll all of these romantic celebrations into one and really make a night on the town.

Hubby used some income from a moonlighting job and made us reservations at the Red Door, an eclectic little restaurant where we went on our engagement night. I hired a babysitter (thanks, Bri!) to come and stay all night so we could really party. We ordered cocktails and split a 12oz. steak.

Later, we met E&K, who came down from Cd'A to join us for a Jazz concert. We saw the fabulous Manhattan Transfer, a group I have never seen before. Another concert followed that by the bassist Victor Wooten, which turned out to be a little more hard-core jazz, and not really to my taste. Still, I stayed until midnight without a poopy diaper in sight!  That alone made the evening worthwhile.

Afterward, we headed to Bucer's. Drinks flowed, and the repartee was filled with wit. They closed, so we came home to keep talking until after 2am. We partied like we were young, but in my case, I didn't party that hard even when I was young!

We had a great couples' evening and then this morning we all went shopping downtown, discovering a newly renovated used bookshop, along with more coffee.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rhythm, not Schedule

Putting into words the life we lead as unschoolers can be simultaneously simple and incredibly difficult. Our lives are generally uncluttered (unlike the tabletop, which is covered with markers and paper), but to truly explain unschooling and why it works so well for us would take pages and pages, and even then the skeptical might still not understand.

Our days have a rhythm, a flow. We don't school by the clock; we try not to live life by the clock at all. The only reason I fix lunch at 11:30 each day is because I would forget to do it at all, and since regulating my blood sugar is healthy, I assume the same holds true for my kids.

I have a curious baby who recently learned to walk. Daily he is acquiring language, both sign and spoken. I don't sit down with him at set times to teach him these things; rather, he is immersed in a world full of words, in a world full of interesting and colorful objects that beckon him to walk to them. He is surrounded by siblings who walk and talk and laugh and tell jokes.

Years ago, I read a book by Steven Pinker called The Language Instinct in which he outlines the amazing way in which babies learn language. He went on to generalize it to other information we acquire throughout our formative years and how much of it is based upon things that are meaningful to us. Teacher jargon abounds with terms such as "relevance" and "synthesis" which are just fancy terms for the idea that facts stick in kids' brains only if the kid is somehow convinced to care about the facts. Teachers attend conferences to learn how to make their classrooms more "dynamic," and "integrated," and "cross-curricular," which basically means that teachers struggle to show their students that what they're teaching matters out in the real world.

Early on, I decided that instead of artificially trying to make learning meaningful, we would reverse it and take what is meaningful to us right now and learn about that. This type of exploration encourages intellectual thinking by rewarding curiosity. Just as I carry my baby around the kitchen letting him touch the things he points to and telling him the word, I also teach my older children in much the same way. I watch for things to which they point. I immerse them in language, in math, in history, in science. We don't DO science, we LIVE science. A textbook strains scientific observation into photographs on a page. Instead, we make glaciers out of ice cubes. We catch frogs. We study Venus through a telescope (well, we will when we get a better telescope) and watch movies about the International Space Station. We read books the kids want to read because I feel like that is the purpose of reading. We gather information from the printed word like a farmer harvests wheat. We go exploring to find new things out there to capture our interest.

Now, I'm not one of those unschooling moms who shuns workbooks as evil. I think traditional teaching tools fit quite well, when applied to our exploratory paradigm, rather than used pedantically, one page every day until you're done. We use the textbooks and workbooks as a resource, not as a taskmaster. If our goal is to investigate the way numbers combine during addition like droplets of water in the rain, a workbook can easily facilitate understanding of such a concept.

To me, learning has always been delightful, in spite of school that did its best to stifle me with painfully boring repetition and senseless assessments. I would sneak learning in anyway. It was in this way I learned Braille in eighth grade, studying and memorizing in classes where I was supposed to be reviewing X-squared for the twelfth time. When I finally decided I would probably be homeschooling my own kids, I figured why not keep the delight and simply toss out the boring? If it really doesn't matter what order you learn things in, if it's arbitrarily set anyway, why not learn about the thing that interests them the most at the moment? I learned just how arbitrary curriculum really is when we moved during the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year. The science textbook used by my fifth grade teacher ended up being the exact same one used in the new school by my sixth grade teacher. It wasn't even that interesting the first time!

Obviously some things build on one another and you have to learn a certain skill set before moving on to the next one. But just as an infant learns to creep, then to crawl, then to walk, then to run, learning math or science or history or woodworking or programming or music follows a natural progression. We look forward to the next skill while practicing the current one.

So, back to our days, we don't learn by the clock. We play a lot. The kids are little still, after all. We read a lot of books, Hubby snuggled on the couch with kids on either side. We ask questions and learn together. We don't stop learning at 3:00 or on Saturdays. When other homeschoolers ask me if I'm looking forward to summer break, I'm not sure what to say, because not only do we keep learning all summer, the way we learn during the winter is so much fun, I wouldn't want it to stop anyway! Our days fall into a rhythm: we eat meals, we talk and color and play and tell each other stories. The kids have a bed time, if only because the adults need a little time with each other in the evenings to stay sane. We do daily music practice at roughly the same time each day or it would not get done. We do the chores as they need doing and the kids help me, while learning to work hard themselves. I let them know that their work is appreciated and valued.

The more I let the necessity of living by the clock go, the more simplified our lives become, a refuge in the sea of busyness that surrounds us each day. I have found that all of us are much less stressed, much more peaceful and happier when we release ourselves from the necessity of participating in every activity or checking off every subject every day. Learning becomes streamlined and efficient when kids are allowed to pursue meaningful subjects; their interest guarantees that the material is retained, making review completely unnecessary. Because school is so natural and simple, there is ample time in the day to play, to tell stories, to build forts, and those things turn back around in the hands of eager, curious children into more questions, more investigation, more learning.

If you want to read more about unschooling, this post describes the process from the perspective of an adult who unschooled and now holds a Master's Degree from Columbia University.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Doofus Dog And The Bean

(click on any picture to view larger)
Bean looking at our 80 pound black lab in our living room

bean using dog as a step to climb onto the couch

dog kissing Bean on the head

Bean hugging Dog

Hope For Spring

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops — at all –

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

~Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A dollar's worth of fun

While at the Dollar Tree the other day, Hubby picked up a package of glo stix. Tonight after bathtime, we had a half-hour or so to kill before it was time for bed. He and the kids toured the house, turning off every single light. Then he got out the glo stix and lit them all up.

In the hands of my imaginative family, they became lightsabres, robot faces and Native dance sticks. Then they made necklaces and circus-twirly-thingies(TM). For thirty minutes, our house was full of noise and joy and neon glow.

Lunchtime Thoughts

It finally feels as though we're settling into a routine around here.  The Bean sleeps through the night on most nights and eats people-food now with the other kids.  I think it's the calm before the storm, though, because in a few short months we'll welcome Little Sister and life will turn upside-down again!

Note: Yes, Little Mister has earplugs in his ears. The Bean's Velociraptor screech causes physical pain to the point that Mister cried trying to eat his lunch. Until Bean outgrows the screeching phase, or I find a way to eliminate that behavior, I gave Mister earplugs.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snapshot: Double-jointed

Little Mister's thumbs are both double-jointed.  While this will come in handy someday at cocktail parties, it makes teaching the correct position for holding a violin difficult.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Today, the Bean...

  • got part of the vacuum out of the closet
  • pulled the cat's tail
  • did his Velociraptor shriek 871 times
  • tore the missionary newsletters off the bulletin board at church music practice
  • broke his wooden block toy

  • chewed up a pair of my earbuds
  • rubbed his nosebleed on the bathroom curtains
  • pulled all the wipes out of the box
  • pinched his sister
  • hit the violins with a basting brush (don't ask)
  • pulled the hair of a little boy at the Tree Slide and made him cry
  • fell off the couch (but did not get hurt)
  • smeared spaghetti in his hair

During days like these, I always think to myself, "It's sure a good thing God made that baby cute!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dragon Vs. Velociraptor

Happy Valentine's Lunch

Mommy, the pancakes are shaped like a heart, and so is the butter, and so are the strawberries! And the milk's pink?!

Artist's Series #231

I call this series "On the Coffee Table." Betcha can't guess why.

Bean on the coffee table

First time successful.

Careful not to fall off.

Touching the Rose

Signing "hot" at my coffee.

Play "nigh-nigh."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Preschool Sunday

Every year the Preschoolers do a few songs during the church service at the Lutheran church. Little Mister participated this year, and as you can tell from the wide grin, absolutely drank in all the attention.

Walking in line, feeling so big and looking so handsome!

Waving to Mom and Dad. 

Mr. Cool And Suave!

This is the end of a salute during the song "I May Never March in the Infantry."  His salute went vertical, not quite regulation, but he thought it was perfect.

"Who are you and why are you taking my picture?"

Delighted audience member... or not.

Clap when the song is done!!!

After the songs, we hightailed it to the kids' room due to the Bean shrieking like a Velociraptor in the middle of the reading of Matthew 5.  Shortly thereafter we headed home due to the Bean shrieking like a Velociraptor in the kids' room and me not having the right kind of snacks.

Thus endeth Preschool Sunday.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Crayon Hearts

I got this idea from ZachAboard, but it delighted my little craft-lovers and their friends. The only casualty: some of the trays were not hi-temp silicone and I melted them trying to get the wax off. Oops!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


"A little higher, please."

Baby standing on Daddy's back to reach the piano keys

"My lumbar has been somewhat tense lately; if you could work on that, it would be great."

"You have a really experienced touch, thank you."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Goodbye, Grandpa

This picture was taken over six years ago and shows four generations of our family.

Grandpa Wally died this morning. Oddly enough, I feel sort of numb and sad, but not wildly heartbroken like I thought I might. It's been coming for a while. He'd lost most of his hearing and all of his short-term memory, so it feels like the real "him" had gone long ago.

I like to remember him back in the days when I was little. It's times like this that I'm glad I have such a good memory. I remember back even before I lived with him that summer I was 17. He wasn't well, even then. No, I remember him back in the 80's when we'd visit for Christmas and the snow would be piled up on either side of the walk like the sides of the Red Sea. I remember going on three-mile walks with him and his dog. His favorite thing to do was to sit on the deck of the cabin after a long day of working or fishing. He'd have a glass of homemade fruit wine in one hand and he'd laugh about anything that came to mind.

He worked for most of his life as a mining engineer. In fact, in googling his name this morning, my mom came up with a technical piece he wrote for a mining textbook. (see here) He handled complex math and technical engineering concepts with ease.

The thing I remember the most from him was his continual good nature. He hardly ever got ruffled, and no matter what life threw his way, he generally found it interesting rather than upsetting. He told wild tales of life in the Navy during World War II, getting torpedoed in the Pacific Theater. He worked hard, often at multiple jobs, to raise a family in the not-very-affluent Silver Valley. Yet he never failed to find a weekend free to hunt and fish, or in the winter to ski.

It's odd, trying to summarize ninety years of life in just a few hundred words. Nothing I can write can capture the magnificent personality. He was such a jewel of a person, and I don't write that as a gushing eulogy. He really did have a refinement that was rare in the people I have known. I'm glad I knew him and have a part of him inside myself and in my children.

Wallace Eugene Crandall 1920-2011.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Real, Live Baby Doll

Curly dressed the Bean up in her pajamas, putting them on over his own clothes. She even put her beloved "How to Train Your Dragon" hat on his little head.

For his part, he lapped up the attention and loved every minute of it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Two Blessings

Yesterday I saw the title in my email inbox: "Notice to All Families Adopting From Ethiopia," and I mentally cringed.  How many times have these emails contained frightening news?  International adoption is a constantly shifting, changing process that might, at any time, become longer or shorter, that might require new paperwork or might suddenly produce difficult roadblocks.

This one, however, had only good news.  Our agency had just conducted a conference with the US State department and their Ethiopian staff to assess the process of adoptions.  A recent tangle had been unraveled and they confronted the problem of a high rate of relinquishment by parents in Ethiopia, a problem which doesn't affect our case.  Still, I appreciate our agency's efforts to provide international adoptions while doing everything possible to avoid the ugly practices of child-trafficking.  Providing aid to third-world countries in the form of adoption often comes with the dark side of turning children into commodities, a practice which makes my stomach turn to consider.

This week has given us two big blessings along the road to bringing home Little Sister.  The first is that we have received our official "match" with her!  In a normal adoption, this would be the time when we first see pictures and receive information about our child.  For us, though, it's more of a formality, but it's also a reassurance that there will not be another family given her information, ever.  That's a breath of relief after the scare a few months ago.

The other blessing feels even bigger at this point.  As I wrote last fall when we started this process, we proceeded in faith with regards to the finances.  We had used all of our savings to adopt the Bean and we really had nothing left to move forward with this one.  We had even decided to be wise and wait, saving our money and getting out of debt.

Then we found our little girl.  We prayed hard.  It seemed as though God was encouraging us to go ahead and move forward.  It seemed a little counter-intuitive, since all of the current Christian wisdom and even advice from family was to reduce our debt, not increase it!  But we wanted our family to solidify and bond while the children were small.  We wanted to bring a child here sooner to get good medical care and to have a better chance at emotional health.  God seemed to be opening those doors.

We said yes.  We signed papers.  The first $2,000 miraculously appeared, but after that we were a bit stuck.  Reluctantly as the next fees came due, we took out a line of credit, wishing there was another way.  We even questioned our decision, since God had been so clear that He would provide.

Skip ahead to this week when Hubby started working on the taxes.  It turns out that our government passed a bill that makes all adoption reimbursements both retroactive and fully rebated, so the money we paid toward the Bean's adoption can now be claimed in full, to the tune of more than $10,000!!  Hubby at first did not believe what he read!  He called a friend who also has adopted kids to verify the facts.  It's true!  The amount we have paid this year using the line of credit can be fully refunded and the amount still to pay next year will be received next Spring using the same program.

The most amazing part of all of this is that this program is good only for these two years.  After that it drops to almost nothing and if we had waited and missed this window of opportunity, we would have had to pay mostly out-of-pocket.  God knew, even if we did not, that now was the time to move forward.

As the realization hit us fully, Hubby and I simply looked at one another.  Emotion ran too deep even for tears.  We see yet another example of God's hand on this little girl and on our family.  We felt, too, that we had been faithful, even during the testing of our faith, listening to God's will for us and obeying His guidance even thought we didn't know quite how it would work out.  Because of that, we both shared in the excitement of watching our wonderful God unfold His perfect plan.

Of course, we suffer no delusions that the road ahead will necessarily be an easy one.  We're bringing home a young child from a different culture who speaks another language and who has a significant disability.  But we believe even more strongly that where God calls, He equips.  He has called us to parent this child, has put her on our hearts to bring into our family and He will give us all we need at the time when we most need it.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us.  Please continue to pray as we pass the midpoint of the process.  Now our paperwork needs to pass approval from several agencies; then in four to six months, we'll travel twice to Ethiopia, a 23-hour trip.  On the first trip, we'll visit her and formally adopt her in court.  On the second, eight weeks later, after she has her visa, medical exams and citizenship, we'll bring her home.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Learning Curve

Out of the blue the other day, I received an email from my boss. "Would you like to learn how to make a podcast?" she asked. Since I had done a little recording once, reading my work for a hometown radio show, and because I had already used Audacity to record tapes to mp3, I figured I had at least a ball-park in which to work.

She showed me a sample site, emailed me a transcript and a recording of an interview and I set to work. I had to write a script for myself and check the details. Then, for recording, I waited until the Bean was napping and the other two Goombas were playing downstairs. I hooked up a microphone to my computer and put a blanket over my head to simulate the dead acoustics of a studio; also I needed to muffle our enthusiastic parakeets.

I wouldn't call it high-tech, but it got the job done and I ended up with a fairly clean take after a couple of tries. Unfortunately the Bean woke up in the middle of it, his shrieks effectively ending my recording session.

Later that night Hubby kindly took all the kids down to Bucer's for half an hour so I could record the rest of my script.

Then I began cutting and mixing and adding music. I thought I was doing fine until my boss decided we needed to tighten up the interview itself and my job suddenly went from cut-and-paste to highly technical audio engineer.

I also ran into a learning curve with the program. For a day or so, I didn't realize that it had a "play" mode in which the rest of the functions were grayed out and did not work until I pushed stop. I thought the program was buggy and I spent a miserable few hours restarting it and even re-downloading it once.

At last, though, I figured out my problem, and merrily went on from there, zooming in on the audio until I could cut precisely in the right location and keep the sentences still flowing smoothly.

At last I was ready to add it to the historical blog on which my boss had decided to publish. Of course I had to learn the podcast plugin too, but Hubby came to my rescue and simply told me which bit of code to use.

At the end of the week, I feel the same sort of brain-drain I used to feel after a particularly difficult test in college. At the same time, learning something new lights me up inside. I guess I'm a bit of an unschooler at heart! Already I have several tricks up my sleeve to streamline the process next time it needs to be done. I hope eventually I'll become comfortable enough with the process that I can whip out a podcast in a fraction of the time.