Monday, July 23, 2012

Bathroom reading

A few days ago, while Woody was on the toilet with the door open (not unusual here), Fox wandered in. He had brought Woody a book--Sandra Boyton's The Going to Bed Book--and asked Woody to read it to him. Woody did, so we made a little collection for them to choose from should the opportunity arise again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Rush before the Departure

We travel next week, headed south to Florida to visit family for a good, long time. But in the last several days, we've had a handful of pretty terrific new-to-us experiences. It's good. Things seem to work well for us in pushes, followed by periods of relative quiet, and nineteen hours in the car is a lot of quiet.

Thursday was our first family trip to a real arcade for our good buddies Aley and Arlo's birthday party. It was Fox's first time in one of those tube-tunnel playplaces, and Woody's first time parceling out tokens and figuring out how to spend tickets at a prize counter.

Friday we went to a working grain mill--the last under-water waterwheel in the U.S.--and then to the nature center for a program on snakes of Arkansas. The grain mill was really neat, but mostly all there was to do besides eat at the restaurant and look at the wheel outside and the machinery inside, was shop. Woody got really excited about one of those rainbow unicorn-style lollipops, and acted pretty badly by waving it in the faces of our friend Leah and the cashier while they were trying to make a sale. I was surprised and embarrassed. It took me a long time before I could trust myself not to rail at him, so we rode in relative silence to the nature center afterward and then talked briefly about the lollipop on the way home.

In the snake program, Woody and his friend Hudson sat in the front. They were both really into it. They touched a king snake, learned how to identify venomous  and nonvenomous snakes, and learned particular facts about rattlesnakes, coral snakes, cotton mouths, and copperheads. The visitors center itself was fantastic with tons to look at and touch.

I had a moment on the way home of considering putting together a bimonthly interactive calendar of fun opportunities for homeschoolers in the area, but I wisely talked myself out it. It's about as much as I can handle to seek out and participate in activities for just my own boys' interests.

An acupuncturist once told me that Sagittariuses are expansive people who like to share their discoveries with the world. I think that rings true for me a lot of the time, but I think I do better when I temper that impulse with a reality-check about what I can do, or what I'll want to do a week from today. I'm a real, true introvert, and often my desires to share things are quickly followed by a desire to sit in a quiet room and be alone with my thoughts.

Saturday afternoon we went to a wedding in a historic hotel that was featured on one of Ghost Hunter's most acclaimed episodes! Fox was disappointed that we saw no ghosts, but he liked that there was a gravestone at the burial site of one of the cats out in the garden. Woody was a big fan of the asparagus served at the reception.

And today, I co-led a workshop on making orchard mason bee houses at UU church summer camp. Woody came with me. It was a terrific workshop, if I do say so myself!, and it let me see pretty clearly that Woody's attention span for things like that--even really interactive things--is about 25 minutes. Good to know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pickle Making

We've been spending some time up at the community center this week where there's a freeplay-type camp going on, but also open-gym time for families. I've been the only parent there, though, with twenty-or-so kids and then my two. We've played basketball, learned a couple of other kids' names, kicked a soccer ball around, rolled around on these flat scooter things, and gotten chastised for using the jump ropes in a way that was against the rules. It's like Friday P.E. all over again, but with the knowledge that we can leave if it stops being fun!

But yesterday I learned that three days a week there was a city-sponsored community gardening program in the early mornings at the garden at the edge of the community center property, and that today was going to be refrigerator pickle-making. That sounded way fun. Woody was looking forward to it all morning as we got dressed and ready.

When we got there, Fox wasn't that into it, so he and I played on the playground down the hill while Woody attended the session all on his own. I popped up only twice, to snap a couple of pictures. There were four adults for maybe nine or ten kids--a really nice ratio--and there were all kinds of tasks to choose from: harvesting, washing, chopping, making brine, sterilizing jars, packing the jars, making labels, etc. The adults were kind. They listened to the kids and had real conversations. The tasks were real. Woody even sprinted down the hill mid-way through to be sure I'd be OK with him using a real, sharp knife to cut his cucumbers with.

I may be wrong, but I think this was Woody's first (mostly) solo structured group-learning. He was really happy. He told me that his garlic pickles would be ready to eat in two days, 48 hours, because the flavors had to soak into the cucumbers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sunflowers by the front stoop

We painted the porch this weekend, my favorite color--periwinkle. I wish there were another name for that color, but that's it. Woody got really into his technique, telling me which brush strokes worked best for which spaces. He was careful and diligent. Fox wanted to paint everywhere, not just the porch, so we stopped after only a little while and picked it back up when he was napping and busy doing other things. 

And Woody got a bike today. We'd been wondering when would be the right time. Casually bringing it up before, he'd not really be interested. But today, he saw a sign on a bunch of bikes outside of the store. They were all gently used and inexpensive. He told me he wanted to take a look. We did, and there was one just his size, so we bought it.

He's a little unsure about it, and it's tough figuring out where we plug in as bike-riding mentors. He wants us to listen while he explains why he's having a hard time. And he wants us to hold as much of the bike as possible while he rides, which is hard to do. He's excited, but put off. I have a feeling this may be a long process.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Really Beautiful Picture Books

My boys like that I have favorite picture books. When we go to the library, they suggest I go get some of my own choice to add to the pile. This tickles me. 

Their favorites are often wild and wooly--tales of knights and goblins and clever, fierce animals and powerful battles and high shenanigans, while my favorites tend to be books that are lovely to look at and have thoughtful, poignant stories. Sometimes, my stack of precious tomes goes mostly unread.

 I once went up to one of the children's librarians at the downtown branch of the Tallahassee library when Woody was much younger and asked what I thought must have been the most naive question--can you help me find the really beautiful picture books? The librarian nodded, knowing exactly what I meant, and walked with me for twenty minutes pulling her favorites of the shelf. 

Barbara Berger's Grandfather Twilight was the book I had in my hand when I asked--I wanted more of that! My friend Terra Beth, who once owned a little store with creaky floors and an old woodstove where she sold "the really beautiful picture books (a whole store of them--can you imagine?)," suggested the illustrator Greg Couch, whose work is new to me.

And today, I found this list.

My friend Candice and I talked a while back about getting ahold of favorite children's books in hardback so they'd hold up to many re-readings and be nice to touch. That favorite list is getting long! But even if it takes years to amass, we'll be the crones with the most popular reading corner on the block. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Art Show

My first and earliest mentor in homeschooling was actually my co-teacher--Sharon--at the small,  mixed-aged middle school where I taught in Florida. She had homeschooled her own four kids growing up, and brought all that creative energy and individual focus to the classroom. Every Valentine's Day, she's built elaborate personal mailboxes with the kids from the simplest materials to hold their valentines. Her Halloween tunnels, which took up half of the playground, were made from huge cardboard boxes suspended from PVC pipes and secured with duct tape and insulated wire. They were legendary.

Something Sharon once said about herself struck me--"I consider myself first and foremost an arts and crafts teacher." At first I thought she was giving herself short shrift, since her skills and interest clearly exceeded those two subjects, but I came to see that what she was communicating was that she saw the world through an artistic, creative lens and privileged the hands-on experiences that allowed children to make things.

There's a lot of art in Fayetteville--First Thursday gallery hops, huge public installations, art museums, art classes, and a month dedicated to the arts broadly in our community. It's a rich environment for art,  but as far as I could tell, there was nothing that celebrated the art that kids created spontaneously, for no purpose other than the joy of creating, or a way for them to connect with one another as artists. So, I set about to make such an event. I created a Facebook page and made some flyers advertising the Summer Children's Art Show and sent out the call for help.

Immediately, several friends volunteered, and we got a good, solid response from families in the area--some friends, some friends of friends, and some folks who saw our flyers and wanted to take part.

Thirty-five pieces were submitted by fifteen kids, and at its peak the event hosted 45 people. Kids talked to each other about their art, they made art together--seed mosaics, tissue paper window stars, salt dough sculpture, post cards, and drawings, they watched an ongoing slideshow of favorite and famous art, and acted as their own art pieces with dress-up clothes and a big hanging frame.

I was so happy with how it came off. Every kid there had a good time. Every one. And the adults were clearly glad for the opportunity to gather to celebrate their children's endeavors as well as get together with other parents and friends.

It was the best kind of learning--freeform, colorful, multigenerational, and mixed media. Plus, there was punch and cookies.

What I think our kids will take away from this is that we care about them and what they make, that their creations are valuable, and that what we do together--from collaborating on salt dough snowmen to multi-actor cowboy-movie play pretend to putting on an art show--is all the richer for the many perspectives included. It's arts and crafts, yes, but it's also everything else.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

100 Great Licks

We played guitar a lot again today. And watched this, a one-take compilation of 100 great guitar licks played by Alex Chadwick of the music store Chicago Music Exchange. Woody identified at least half a dozen new favorite bands based on the snippets alone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wading and wandering

The public library has a stand of fishing poles provided by the Arkansas Fish and Wildlife Commission that can be rented out for two weeks. We borrowed one on Sunday and took it to the lake. Four bream and one yearling bass later, we declared it a good pole and hope to get a few more fishing trips out of it before we give it back.

This drawing occurred during a conversation Woody and I had today about butt-wiping. It wasn't one I expected to have, but it did make me wonder something important. What does Woody think about the stories I post about him on the Internet? Fox is too young to understand it, but Woody knows I keep a blog. He knows I write stories and take pictures to share. There's a story with this picture that I don't feel quite right telling, because maybe it isn't mine to tell entirely, at least not without Woody's informed blessing, which I'm not sure he could give just yet. So, I am going to have to think about that one and figure out what to do.

I have been trying (lazily) to learn guitar for a couple of years now. Today I thought to pull up the chords on my phone to look at while practicing, and Woody, Fox and I all took turns strumming. I like learning something brand-new in front of my kids. I can't quite explain it, but I think it helps them to feel big in what they do, even if they struggle. It's good for me, too, to play around in beginner's mind. It's a place I like being.

We met Daddy Honey on his walk home from work and did a little urban hiking. 

Woody collided with Fox on the sidewalk at one point, and he scraped an elbow while Fox scraped a knee. We sat on a grassy hill to recover for about ten minutes, but for the rest of the trip Woody was very concerned about the blood, the tingly pain, the forming scab, and the specter of a bath later which promised more stinging. 

But we spent a good while at a new art installation downtown. It's called "Out of the Woodwork," and was made by artist Patrick Dougherty. We had the best kind of fun--freeze tag, hide and seek, playing castle, and just moving in and out of the space looking and thinking and being. To me, it felt like being in a birds' nest--cozy and curvy, warm-smelling and sky-lit. 

We wandered back home a touch past the too-tired point, two hours total of hiking. There was some whining and kvetching. It was OK. We've had far too little of this kind of time together lately, and we're all getting back used to it. 

It's hard to believe that we're only a month away from our year-mark living in Arkansas. We are past the crush phase, which is maybe what the Honey House Kindgarden featured, and are settling into the relationship we have with our new home. It's a different thing.