Thursday, March 31, 2005

Beaver day

We had a nice homeschool field trip today. We got together at the home of a family that lives near a beaver habitat. We watched a National Geographic video "Rocky Mountain Beaver" or some such title, then had a potluck lunch and headed out to see the work the local beavers had been up to recently.

Things were very mucky, snowy and wet, but we walked along the trail beside beaver dams and marshes and saw tons and tons of beaver handiwork. We were at a small lake where it drains into one of the main creeks that feed our large (Slocan) lake, leading us to wonder if the beaver-gnawed sticks we'd discovered at the GRUBS beach were from that very spot.

Alas no live beavers were seen, but that was no surprise as they're mostly nocturnal. Interestingly, the video suggested that they hadn't been nocturnal until the advent of extensive human hunting. Sophie got lots of snow in her rubber boots and turned back early. She discovered some dry socks in her pocket at just the right (miserable) moment so all was well. Erin and Noah got mucky and wet and rosy-cheeked. I carried Fiona most of the way, and she cuddled inside my jacket like a little marmoset. Those visceral experiences with spring are so memorable.

We also collected some pussywillows, got to meet some Curly Horses, saw a large bat-house that in the summer houses at least 350 bats, and visited with all the chickens and ducks at the farm. Spring feels like it's really taking hold.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Last week we ran out of dishwashing detergent. Almost. Again. Clearly I have a subconcious desire to run out of dishwashing detergent. When we moved into our house 11 years ago it had a dishwasher. When that one died, we replaced it, lest we have a hole in our cabinetry.

The thing is that lately I've realized that dishwashing is a great opportunity for family communication. There's something about working beside each other at a relatively mindless, routine task, that opens the communication floodgates. Between Chuck and myself as well as between we parents and the child-of-the-day.

I love the empty counters and the satisfaction of actually finishing a job while enjoying time with one of my family members. I love the quiet routine of warm water and clinking plates at the end of a day. Knowing we're on the verge of renovating our kitchen, I decided to see if I could make a case (to myself and my family) for not having a dishwasher. I put off buying the detergent for many days.

I failed to make my case. We enjoyed clean counters not filled with "leftover dishes" destined for the next load, the clutter that attracts other clutter. We enjoyed working together. We enjoyed chatting as we worked. I enjoyed the help the kids gave. They felt useful. But for whatever reason, doing without a dishwasher is just to radical for the rest of my family.

Ten months ago when our breadmaker died I started madly baking the traditional way and managed to convince everyone this was better than a new breadmaker. Alas I haven't managed to convince them when it comes to the dishwasher.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Screen-Free Day

For the first time in a long while we decided to have a 'Screen-Free Day' yesterday. No e-mail, no Sims, no web games, no quick Google searches, no word processor for writing stories, no DVDs or TV. Here's what happened instead:
  • lots of K'nex play
  • imaginative play with Playmobil
  • Noah and Sophie learned to make knotted hemp bracelets; Sophie made one as a gift and wrapped it, Noah made a nice one for himself
  • Fiona made herself a beaded pipe cleaner bracelet
  • I made a couple of simple beaded necklaces for Erin and Fiona
  • I made a small hardcover book using marbled paper Noah had made
  • Erin learned to make a new recipe for dinner
  • practising got done easily
  • Erin and Sophie made peanut butter brownies
  • I got my sewing table tidied so that all the papercraft stuff that had been living on top of it got put away and I can now get to a couple of sewing projects
  • the house stayed tidy
  • we hand-washed dishes because we're out of detergent
  • lots of reading
  • we painted the pole we'll use for measuring lake levels
  • we had a family meeting
  • I planted some seedlings
  • the kids tended to the chickens
  • Sophie did the last two big review exercises in her 2A math book, thus finishing it up
  • Noah did a big math exercise
  • Erin did two-thirds of her week's music theory assignment
  • we sat at the table together and drank herbal tea
  • there was some outside play even though the weather was terrible
  • the kids got along conflict-free for the whole day

Everyone agreed that it was a wonderful day. It was a reminder of the sorts of things the computer insidiously pushes out of our lives. We have agreed to continue with weekly Screen-Free Days for a time, to keep ourselves in touch with those things.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Bald Eagle, GRUBS and "When You're Smiling"

The GRUBS momentum continues to build. We're into weekly meetings now, and the sod is coming off thanks to a benevolent local guy with a Bobcat. The club is going really well. I love the families who are coming. The energy is positive. The biggest surprise to me continues to be how enthusiastic my own kids are. They generally balk at anything I initiate, or anything that they sense I believe to be particularly important. I expected them to warm up to GRUBS very gradually and begrudgingly. But it's not like that at all! They are loving it, brimming over with enthusiasm. "Being together mostly outdoors with other kids doing real work on something worthy and largely child-directed" seems to be a formula they can't resist.

Yesterday we had a great sunshiny meeting at the garden site. Got lots done. Then we went to visit a bald eagle that had been found on the beach unwilling to fly but looking perfectly healthy. It was given over to the care of a local guy named Jim who had cared for a starving Barred Owl last winter. He's been feeding it salmon and venison and trying to figure out what's up with it. My husband was asked to bring his ophthalmoscope over and have a look at its eyes. Jim had figured it was blind in one eye and is therefore unable to fly and hunt. Chuck took a look and his guess was that it has a complete retinal detachment, although our subsequent research revealed that eagles have something peculiar called a pectin which helps supply blood to its packed retina, so that may have been what he was seeing that looked like a detachment. He was able to get in very close (within a couple of inches) of the right eye with his tool and have a look. There was no way to get anywhere near the left (good) eye ... lots of hissing and flapping!

There were about 12 kids there, so we didn't all go up and touch the bird but we were able to stand really close, within three or four feet. What an amazing bird. And what a wonderful opportunity for the kids.

The bird is being fed lots to get its strength up. Assuming its vision doesn't miraculously return it'll be flying (commercially!) out to the Delta BC to live out its life at the O.W.L. raptor rescue centre.

Later that day the kids went with their musical-unschooling compatriots to the nursing home to do their monthly Tea-time Musical Entertainment. They enjoyed themselves and the residents enjoyed the music and the kid-energy. The arrangement of "When You're Smiling" that I had worked out for Noah and me to play on the piano together was a real hit and he was pleased.

The kids have been outside so much the past couple of days. The cycle of daily computer use seems to have been broken, at least temporarily. Ahhhhh!!!!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Welcome to Planet Egypt

It's official -- my kids are weird. It started about 5 years ago with "Bad Hailey", and imaginary annoying child who the kids would tell stories about to each other. They would build Bad Hailey effigies and do nasty things and enact punishments. Eventually Bad Hailey accumulated a few imaginary acquaintances, some "Nothing Pets" and several evil compatriots. Then a couple of years ago, Ookie Bungo joined the fray. Erin invented her and briefly fooled Noah into believing that she was an ugly and disruptive member of her art class.

In the last 6 or 8 months, though, this imaginary stuff has really taken off. They are constantly enacting imaginary play, writing stories, making up jokes, composing poems and songs. The kids realize adults think this is funny and strange so they've begun delightedly sharing bits of their complex inter-connected "Stories" with the public.

They live on Planet Egypt, all these folk. Some are fashioned after real people (friends and family) but with strange twists. Paul and RoseAnne (two teenaged friends in real life) have a baby called Pepper Oni who was stolen by Mr. and Mrs. Scrappy. Characters from favourite books are modified and adapted for Planet Egypt citizenship. There are the Euwy people who make up the Euwy Choir and sing awful songs, including Cheesus's favourite "It's the Song About Me." Fat and Skinny sit in the back beside the Deerwolf family (including DiaryWolf, DiarrheaWolf, DireWolf and DairyWolf). There are complex lineages, sometimes incorporating ancient Egyptian or Greek mythological deities or heros. Set and Isis are the parents of a few characters. Cheesus is the child of Amanra and Anubite. Anubite, the male member of the dyad, gave birth to him, because when men have babies on Planet Egypt (and they can!) they have swiss cheese. Anubite's favourite restaurant is "Brown Teeth of the Ukraine" so-named because of an unfortunate accident with leather, bright lights and mud. Grotchy & Grotcha, and their children Babotchy and Babothcha, are the frequent subject of cartooning. They perform most of their complex tasks with their nostrils.

There's a lot of free-association and just plain bizarre stuff involved in the stories but each of my kids is totally clear on every last detail. They've begun to codify it in a notebook at my suggestion. They have just over 150 names written down, though they haven't yet recorded the details of more than a handful of the characters.

They spend at least an hour a day, and sometimes several, expanding and embellishing their stories, songs, drawings etc.. It must be important stuff for them to be doing so much of it. Still seems weird.