Thursday, May 26, 2016

A dog story

Because writing about frontal lobe injuries and executive function remediation research isn't terribly interesting (well, it is to me, but I'm going with it's not likely to be interesting to the general public), I will tell you a Kenzie story instead.

Kenzie loves me. And since I love Kenzie, that's very gratifying. Except that when I'm around, Kenzie has got it in his head that I am the only one who understands him. I will be in another part of the house (or in bed, asleep) and he will come and nose my hand. Thinking he wants some attention, I will pet him and tell him what a good boy he is. (And he is.) But then, he continues to nose my hand, and this quickly escalates to him doing little hops on his front legs and barking. Have you ever seen a dog movie and the dog is desperately trying to get the person to follow him because, "Timmy is in trouble!" It's just like that. I eventually clue in and get up to follow him. He is happy, though a little wary that I might get distracted and keeps checking back with me and giving me encouraging little barks to keep me moving. He leads me all the way to the back door and then looks at it, wagging his tail happily that he has finally brought me to where he wants. I let him out and he runs out the door.

This would all be terribly endearing if not for the fact that there are usually no less than three people sitting in the kitchen within sight of the back door every single time this happens. I'm not sure the problem lies more with the people or with the dog, but I think the solution is a bell to hang by the door.

With our first dog, a Bouvier des Flandres names Simone, we trained her to ring a bell whenever she wanted to go outside. She quickly caught on and would happily ring the bell whenever the whim struck her to go for a walk. This would have been grand except that we lived in a third floor walk-up and didn't have a fenced yard for her. Sometimes we would come upstairs and within five minutes she would ring the bell to go out again. Eventually the bell lived on top of the refrigerator where she couldn't reach it and we checked the box, 'humans trained.'

With Gretel, dear dog though she was, we were quite sure that ringing the bell to communicate what was going on inside her fuzzy head was a non-starter and never tried, but Kenzie seems to be a different story. When we were visiting my friend a couple of weeks ago, she had a bell by her door. After a while, Kenzie went purposefully over to it, rang it with his nose, and waited. Of course we took him out. (And by 'we', I mean I asked P. to.) He obviously knows what a bell is for and maybe, just maybe, other people in the house can learn what it is for as well, and I can stop having to rescue Timmy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Today's lesson is brought to you by the stag beetle

I apologize to the non-homeschoolers among my readers. I realize it's been a lot of homeschooling posts in a row, and now I'm going to add one more. Evidently, this is currently a season of trying to get back into our homeschooling groove. Ever since coming home from China (and then a month off for our Arizona trip and then another bit of time off for house renovations) I haven't really felt as though we have a good rhythm. It is really beginning to bother me, and so I've become a little fixated on trying to sort out the problems. Thus the number of homeschooling related posts.

I also don't want to leave people with the impression that every day sails smoothly along with cooperative children and fantastically creative educational ideas. If only....  Yesterday was particularly dire and by the end of the day I was feeling pretty much like a consummate homeschooling failure. Yes, it was that bad.

It was so bad that I really wasn't looking forward to starting again this morning. I was putting it off. I was bracing myself for more unpleasantness. It was a recipe for a continuation of yesterday's fiasco because feeling pressed for time is a guarantee of a bad morning. Not a great start, especially when you add in a small girl screaming on the front porch because her father had to leave for work and leave her with the crabby mother. 

Yep, life is just rainbows and happy trees around here all the time.

I headed out to the porch to carry in the screaming girl with another child happened to spy a very large beetle on the sidewalk. Who would've thought that when in need of extreme parenting help, God would send you a beetle? I'm convinced that is what happened because this not-so-little beetle turned our day around. 

Our beetle so engrossed everyone that the screaming stopped. I decided that he was such an interesting (and large... about an inch long) beetle that we should bring him inside and spend some time looking at him and drawing pictures. This made the children very happy and everyone sprinted upstairs, colored pencils in hand. Having a well-stocked library, I grabbed our insect field guide to see if I could discover what kind of beetle we had. 

It turns out he was a stag beetle (just Google it for a picture, I forget to take one before we let him go.) and we were all amazed at how strong his pincers were. Everyone spent time looking at the beetle and drawing. We talked about what makes an insect an insect and labelled body parts. We read about stag beetles and discovered what they eat. Everyone participated. Everyone worked hard. It allowed us to move on to other things and we got through the rest of our usual subjects.

It's hard to see the drawings, so I only took a close-up of K.'s.

I hung everyone's work up on the wall. Like the blue painter's tape? It turns out that it is the only tape we have in the house at the moment.

(K's picture is labelled ground beetle, because we didn't realize it was stag beetle at this point.)

Even R. gave it a try. This is pretty huge that she was aware of what everyone was doing and was even able to approximate what they were drawing. Hers is on the bottom, below. She definitely got th idea about bug-shaped bodies with legs sticking out.

What I had really planned on writing about, before the terribly, horrible day happened yesterday, was how I'm rethinking how we do math. Sometimes revelations come from the oddest places. A week or two ago, I finished a book called, Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington. It is a memoir about an American family who goes to China to teach English. There was one little bit that has completely changed my relationship to math. Really. Well, at least to teaching it. I've written about my lack of enthusiasm for the subject, so I won't go into that here. As much as I love creating different projects and resources to use in teaching my children, math has never played much of a role in that. In the memoir, the author recounts asking her students if they ever felt they could be creative in school since most of their schooling involved rote memorization and writing the correct answer on the test. Her students all agreed that math was one area where they felt they could be creative. She was shocked... and so was I. I had literally never thought about the ways math could be creative.

I was an AHA! moment. Math could be creative. Who knew? Just that one idea has opened up the possibilities for me. I feel as though I should have put these things together long before this, but, no such luck. I was too busy focusing on the sheer facts of math.

Since my children love to write stories, we were going to begin to figure out how to write math stories together. Our little stag beetle seemed to be the perfect introduction. I drew some stag beetles and some leaves (it's what they eat.) Then we started to make up some stories, followed by how to put those stories into a number sentence. I realize that this is hardly earth-shattering for many of you, but it felt as though I was really able to integrate math into what we were doing in other subjects in a meaningful way. And for at least one child, I saw the light bulb click that and and the '+' sign were pretty much the same thing.

Not bad for one little stag beetle, huh?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


You'll remember that when Gretel died, no one had any idea what had happened. It completely mystified our vet and he was very upset that he didn't know what was going on with her or how to help her. As a result, he volunteered to do the autopsy at no charge so he could try to figure out what happened.

Last night, J. received an email from the vet with a diagnosis. It turns out that Gretel had multifocal lymphosarcoma. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds. It was a rare form of cancer that had infiltrated every organ of Gretel's body. The fact that she died as calmly and quickly as she did was a blessing. She was very sick. It is also something of a relief to know that no matter how much money we could have thrown at treatment, it wouldn't have made a difference.

So now I think that having two animals die within six months of each other, both from not terribly common diseases, means that we have had our fill of 'animals dying from rare diseases', can check it off the bucket list, and never have to worry about it again.

Right? Isn't that how it works?

Humor me because that's what I'm running with.

Monday, May 23, 2016

How to manage out of control laundry

When I don't do at least one load of laundry a day, the laundry starts to develop a life of its own. When I don't do laundry three or four days in a row, say because I'm sick and am not doing anything, it becomes completely out of control. (This picture is after having done four loads, and you can see the pile that fell behind the laundry cart.) It kind of makes me not want to descend to the basement.

So yesterday, when the weather was gorgeous and everyone was home, I did what every self-respecting person would do. I ignored the laundry. Yep, not one load. Instead, having become a little obsessed with my paper mache book boxes, I sat out in the sun, while the children played and painted around me, and made another one.

And what do I have inside? Well, the title kind of says it all. There are little plastic cats.

And 3-piece cat word cards.

See? Some of the cats can even be matched to the pictures on the cards.

And they all fit nice and neat inside their box.

This is ever so much better than doing laundry in a basement, right?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Night at the Museum

Last night was one of the Field Museum member open houses. We love this and look forward to it every year. Essentially, the museum is completely opened up. You get to wander back behind the scenes and through offices and departments that you would never usually get to see. There are museum workers showing what they do and there are displays of collections that are normally not on display. It is a lot of fun and it's FREE! I'm not sure there is more to like.

Due to family schedules, we didn't get down to it as early as we would have liked, so we didn't get to see a huge amount. The bulk of our time this year was spent in the insect department. Everyone loved looking at the hundreds of different insects from the collection. H. was thrilled at the huge amounts of butterflies. There were even some live insects, such as these huge cockroaches.

These are Y.'s hands. I was amazed that she was willing to hold it, as any type of insect has caused her to shriek up until now. Nearly everyone held one... even R.

It was just a fun night. The icing on the cake, though, was as we were leaving. R. had been pretty attentive and involved in looking at the various things we were seeing. That alone would have made me happy, since engagement with what everyone else is doing has not been a high priority for her. But it gets better. After we left the museum and were heading for the car, I noticed that R. was just a little bit behind me and we were coming to a street. I call to her, "Hey, R.! Come on... catch up to us!" AND SHE DID! She RAN and caught up to us! Sorry about the shouting, but that is how excited I am about it. This was huge! Huge! Huge! Huge! Actively acknowledging that she is part of our family has not been something she has felt comfortable doing. In fact, anything but acknowledging this fact has been pretty much where she has been. And coming when called at any time has been something we have been practicing. A lot. There are moments when I would be happy with even an acknowledgement and slow shuffle when I call her because we haven't even been seeing that. So for her to come and RUN... well... there are just not words.

Friday, May 20, 2016


I am feeling better. Much better. As in I got dressed and even left the house better.

There are certain things which stink about being sick, especially when you are a parent. I'm pretty sure I don't even need to elaborate on that. It's just not fun. (Though, it is made a whole lot better when a dear friend shows up with dinner one night!)

But you know what no one talks about? That whole re-entry period after you've been sick. I can't believe we are the only ones to experience this. (Please tell me we're not the only ones to experience this.) I find the day after being sick, that first day when you seem to be back on your feet and life is returning to normal again, to be just about as bad.


Because having a sick parent is stressful to children. Even if it seems as though people weren't holding it together, they really were. Once the parent seems to be well, then all that stress comes out in less than pleasant ways. It has not been a quiet day around here and I've been spending a lot of time holding children and reading stories and diverting (or trying to divert) meltdowns.

It almost makes me want to be sick again.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Moral: Friends don't eat other friends' species

The joys of using a reading program written around 1967 is coming across things such as this. I think I would find it is pretty odd and hilarious even if I didn't have a post-fever addled brain.

This is verbatim, and no, I'm not making it up.

Pig Wig and the Ham

Kit Kat met his pal Pig Wig. Pig Wig was fat. Kit Kat was not.
"I can get a bit of jam," said Kit Kat.
"Get a lot of it," said fat Pig Wig.
Pig Wig and Kit Kat had the jam. "It was not a lot!" said Pig Wig.
"I bet I can get the pot Dad had," said Kit Kat. Kit Kat got it. The pot was hot. In the pot was ham.
Kit Kat began to cut a bit of ham.
"HAM!" said Pig Wig. "Get rid of the ham!" Pig Wig was mad.
"A pig IS ham,"said Pig Wig.
"And I am a pig. Get rid of the ham." 
Kit Kat set the ham in the pot. Kit Kat got rid of it.
"Kit Kat, get a lot of jam. Get figs and nuts. I can get fat. I am not a ham in a pot yet!"

I mean, what else is there to say?
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