Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Taste of Our Town

Every town has its random little festivals and events and weird things that make it unique. My hometown, for instance, doesn't have an Independence Day parade but a Memorial Day parade, and it begins with a genuine Wild West-style shoot-out right on Garrison Ave.

Our town has an Independence Day parade, and an event where people eat soup, and a bicycle race modeled on the Indianapolis 500, and an entire month of chocolate-themed activities, and this particular event that we all went to a few weeks ago, in which a bunch of our local restaurants and food trucks gather at City Hall so that we can eat something from all of them at the same time.

People in our town like to eat.

We fit right in here:
Our deal is that anyone can choose anything that catches their eye, but everyone shares it. That doesn't so much seem to stop Will throwing some shade at Matt while he takes a big bite of her lime gelato, however.

The kids shared the mint truffle on the left, and Matt and I shared the bourbon one on the right. Nom!

Sooo... this is my favorite thing. And yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, it IS a grilled cheese sandwich made with macaroni and cheese inside. It's the specialty of a food truck that only makes grilled cheese sandwiches, and it's my secret boyfriend. Don't judge me.
Garlic cheese fries! The expression on Will's face is there because we're listening to a polka band, and I'm getting super into it. It turns out that there are worse things than having your mother breathing in public right next to you--she could be dancing. And singing along. To a POLKA BAND.
Smoothies! Our Will is a child of unabashed appetites, a girl who isn't afraid to let everyone know how much she deeply adores food, and she was in her own personal heaven at having an entire smorgasbord of every type of cuisine ever created to choose from.
And yes, after the smoothie, we did share a gyro.
There was also a taco in there somewhere, and raspberry ice pops, and some kind of kebab. It's a wonder nobody puked in the bounce house.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Homeschool Field Trip: Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Just in case you were happy, be forewarned that I'm in kind of a bummer mood today. I miss Mac so deeply, all the time, that I get used to it, until I have something that I want to tell him, or something happens that he'd think was funny. Fugazi comes on my Spotify. Someone else shares a memory or a photograph on his Facebook. Or maybe nothing happens to instigate it; maybe I just miss him desperately all of a sudden.

Sometimes, then, I make a mental list of all the people whom I would rather have had a brain tumor instead of Mac. It starts off easy. Evil people, for sure. Donald Trump. That guy who shot Trayvon Martin. And then I add all the people whom I hate. My former next door neighbor. Most of my former bosses.

The trick is to distract myself and move away from the activity before I go much farther, because my best friend from seventh grade? Sure, I’d sacrifice her for Mac. That cousin whom I really like but also haven’t really seen in a few years? I could do without her, if I could have Mac instead. It’s a stupid game, because I love Mac more than almost anyone else, and it’s stupid that you can’t actually burn the world down to get back someone whom you love.

Of course, if one could do that, we’d all be dead a thousand times over from the people who would happily sacrifice us to save their own precious ones.

Okay, deep breath, because I have a lot to do today, and I really don't have time to grieve until I've gotten four people packed for two completely different vacations in two different climate zones, partly with clothing that we do not yet own. Also, we need to mow the lawn, clean out the chicken coop and yard, and I need to write something like six Crafting a Green World posts and adjust the shipping times on every one of my etsy items...

Argh, this is not better! Another deep breath...

How about I show you some photos from the day that we spent at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis this week? We spent half of it in training, as we are now official volunteers of the museum and will be working in the Paleo Lab starting next month, and I know all the secret stairways, and can help you if you've lost your adult, and can lead you to evacuation in an emergency. The other half of the day, though, we spent happily exploring all the happy museum exhibits both old and new:
This is new! The museum has a new exhibit on the International Space Station, and it's awesome.

AND they have Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 on long-term loan! You know what a space nerd I am, and I'm especially super stoked about this guy because this is the craft that almost drowned Grissom in the ocean when the hatch blew off of it before the rescue helicopters had reached him. There was suspicion for a while that Grissom had blown the hatch himself in error, but he always denied it, and I *think* the controversy has since been resolved in his favor. If you can check out video footage of the rescue operation, however, I highly recommend that you do, because it's absolutely harrowing: you can see the helicopter hook the Liberty Bell 7 and attempt to lift it, but because it's full of water it's too heavy, and you can actually see it drag the helicopter down with it, until the helicopter has to let it go. At the edge of the screen, the entire time this is occurring, is Gus Grissom, actively drowning. He was rescued, the Liberty Bell 7 was lost, and it was only recovered from the ocean floor decades later.

The Liberty Bell 7 exhibit is located in the former planetarium, and they've used the screen to make a show centered on the craft.

David Wolf is the museum's Astronaut-in-Residence, and this is his logbook from one of his missions.

It's kind of weird.

This is the elevator to the Treasures of the Earth exhibit, and it's a ride and show all on its own. We've seen it a hundred times, but we still love it, especially Syd, who has a fangirl crush of her own on Josh, the docent who was filmed for this and is also one of the hosts of This Week's WOW.
Terra Cotta Warriors!
I want to use this same electrolytic process in small scale to remove the gunk from some of the treasures that we find with our metal detector.

Not treasures like this, of course, but still treasures!

The museum's Chihuly sculpture is its centerpiece.
Just so I can end on a sad note as well: now that our plans to be regular volunteers at the museum are firmed up, I've made the difficult decision to quit our weekly volunteer job at the food pantry. I'm going to miss it a lot, but to be fair, this new job is probably going to be much closer to following the children's passions than the food pantry was. The kids are hard workers, but it's clear that after several years of labor at the pantry that the work isn't necessarily inspiring to them. Of course being of service isn't about you, the servant, but about the good that you do, but there are so many ways to be of service in this world that you might as well do something that brings you joy, if you can. Working towards food stability is crucial, but working to increase our collective knowledge and to provide extraordinary learning opportunities to children and their families is also pretty great. 

And also, can I just say? Dinosaurs. We'll be working with dinosaurs. There are worse ways to spend two hours on a Friday, I can 100% absolutely guarantee.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Homeschool Field Trip: The Tulip Trestle Beam Bridge

The kids really enjoyed the physics of bridges study that we did in honor of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although they're going to see (and possibly walk across!) that marvelous example of a suspension bridge later this summer, I knew that we have quite a marvelous example of a beam bridge right here in Indiana, so last weekend Matt and I forcibly shoved the children into the car and took them to see it!

This is the Tulip Trestle, a long train beam bridge in Indiana that spans an entire valley: 

Check out this view of it from directly below. From this perspective, you can see how little there actually is up there! Can you imagine crossing this bridge on a train? Shudder!

Although there is a pretty great Little Free Library--

--and some wildflowers just a short trespass away (ahem...)--

--there's little else to do at Tulip Trestle but simply admire it. One child in particular found this... unimpressive:

Self-Promotional Note: Do you follow me on Facebook? I wish you would!
But do not worry, Friends--mere minutes later, she'd been tempted into picking flowers with her sister, then testing her hypothesis that surely she could climb the outside of the Observation Deck without incident:

Conclusion: She could not.

You're not supposed to climb the Tulip Trestle--I mean, obviously--but there is a gravel parking lot just at the base of one of the supports, so...

We only climbed it a little:

This kid who is NOT into having her picture taken was VERY interested in having her picture taken on rusty metal beams (!) sprayed with graffiti. She insisted that she wasn't going to smile, however. Oh, child...

This one enjoyed tromping around, too, even if she wasn't quite as into the particular industrial stylings of her environment:

This was an especially good field trip because all of the study materials that we used for our bridge unit were very clear that beam bridges are the shortest and least strong of bridge types. From that, it's easy to fall into the misunderstanding that beam bridges are only used for very short spans, like overpasses. It's important, then, to see some examples of really great beam bridges, to realize that they, too, can be impressive both structurally and architecturally.

Or, you know, if you're 11 years old, unimpressive. Whatever.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Work Plans for the Week of July 5, 2016: Shark Week and the Rest of California

We had a super-short school week last week, since we spent most of it camping with friends. Our campsite was right on the lake, with a sandy beach nearby--

--and yet most of my pictures show my own personal favorite spot: around the fire--

--with the food! 

This a walking taco. Basically, it's a mini bag of Fritos with ground beef, shredded cheese, and greens stuffed in. Fold the top of the bag closed, shake it up, then spoon it out with a fork. It's proper gourmet food, I promise you.
I asked this kid to roast a marshmallow for me one night, and asked her not to burn it to a crisp, and you'd have thought that I'd asked her to roll a boulder uphill. "Ugh, MOM! It's taking SO MUCH TIME to not burn it!!!"
We've got a short week this week, as well, and yet there's a little more schoolwork that I deeply desire to get completed before we all wander off on our respective vacations for a couple of weeks, so I'm insisting on a three-day school week, with maybe even one more day snuck in next week.

Books of the Day are, of COURSE, everything California and Alaska, with a little bit of Lincoln and the French and Indian War thrown in for good measure. Our Open-Ended Material of the Week is the Snap Circuits. The kids will also work on their Wordly Wise daily, as well as an online sharks class from Cornell that we're taking as a family. It's a wonderful class, and we'll likely continue with more shark study on our own after it's completed, possibly even with some dissection. Instead of cursive practice, I'm giving the kids their travel journals early so that they can get used to writing in them daily--in cursive, of course!

And here's the rest of our week!

TUESDAY: This week in Math Mammoth, Syd is finishing her unit on fractions, and Will is finishing her unit on decimals; they each will have just the reviews to complete next week before their vacation. Syd could have used more hands-on enrichment in fractions than I gave her in this unit, as I'm not quite sure that she's gaining a complete conceptual understanding along with her ability to calculate with fractions, but Will has another fractions unit coming up after number theory, so I can take that time to do lots of hands-on fraction activities with both kids.

There are just a few more California things that I want the kids to do before their vacation, mostly having to do with working on Junior Ranger books ahead of time so that their grandparents aren't spending half the day sitting on a park bench waiting for a kid to complete a word search, etc. On this day, then, the kids will be completing everything that they can of the Marin Headlands Junior Ranger book. I have more that I want to do with them on the subject of earthquakes, which is one of the interesting things that you can explore at Marin Headlands, but for now, it'll suffice to have them play this online game on subduction and construction that I think will help them visualize the geology of the San Francisco Bay area when they're there.

In the afternoon, the kids and I will head over to our regular Tuesday playgroup with friends, and in the evening, Will and I have fencing!

WEDNESDAY: I also want to finish our study of the French and Indian War before we leave for vacation, so that we can start fresh with our build-up to the Revolutionary War when we return. To that end, we're hitting it pretty hard this week. On this day, we'll be listening to the remaining chapters on the French and Indian War from History of US, then the kids will be completing several of these lapbook activities and putting them into their American Revolution notebooks.

For our California study on this day, the kids will be completing what they can of the Muir Woods Junior Ranger book. I would have liked to have studied John Muir more deeply with the kids, but at least they've read a couple of books about him for Books of the Day. We'll delve more deeply into his life another time, for sure!

THURSDAY: Nature Detectives is an online game associated with Muir Woods. I think the kids will enjoy it, especially Will, as she really loves redwoods. Remind me on another day to tell you about the redwood that she's attempting to grow in our backyard.

Now that we've finished the more detailed telling of the French and Indian War from History of Us, we can review it and contextualize it using Story of the World. The review questions and mapwork aid memorization, and the kids can also put them in their American Revolution notebooks.

FRIDAY: The kids and I have a half-day volunteer orientation on this day, and then we'll be official volunteers of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis! Watch out, all you fossils, because we're going to clean and prepare you!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: We'll be celebrating Will's twelfth birthday early on this weekend, with books and daggers and ice cream cake and a French and Indian War LARP game of my own invention, entitled Sucker in the Woods. Y'all, I think it's going to be even more fun than the Midnight Escape from Alcatraz game that I invented a couple of months ago!

And that's our learning for the week! What are YOU learning this week?

Friday, July 1, 2016

My Apprentice Crafters of Kid-Friendly Crafts

Most of my regular writing assignments are "lifestyle" assignments, I guess you could call it. I write about such-and-such, and maybe it's a tutorial or a project to do with children or something that we've done together, but regardless, I only photograph the kids as they are in their natural habitat. I don't pose them, or fix their hair, and you know by now that I certainly don't clean the clutter out of the frame. I just sort of follow them around, and take photos of what they're already doing as they do it.

It's the same, of course, when I write here on my personal blog. It's memories, or projects, or lesson plans, or life, but it's not staged.

Every now and then, though, I score a bigger writing assignment, in which staging is called for. When I need to do that, and I need to have the children's assistance--if I'm writing about kid crafts, for example, or something from our schooling--then I call them my assistants and I pay them.

Actually, I pay the kids for a lot of stuff around here when it's not part of their regular chores, and I pay them a kid-negotiated wage that's probably more than what most kids earn for chores, but the major benefit to that is that when I'm paying them for a job, I expect that job to be completed professionally, with an appropriate attitude, and just the way that I've specified, or the kid doesn't get paid.

Try nagging them to do that kind of job without paying them! Seriously, yesterday Will mowed over two acres of lawn, and she picked up the garden hose and extension cord and outdoor toys first, and she didn't run into any trees, AND she put the mower on the highest setting even though she deeply enjoys mowing the grass down to the bare earth, AND she did it without complaining.

More than worth the seven bucks that I paid her.

So for my latest big assignment, an article on kid-friendly crafts for the Fourth of July, my two assistants were required to put on clean clothes, wash their faces, brush their hair, and do some projects while I photographed them. They were paid a negotiated wage, quite a lot of which Will lost when she pulled a tweeny bad attitude on the job site, and had some art direction, mostly involving keeping themselves in the frame so that I didn't have to crawl around on my belly on the dirty driveway *too* much.

Here's Syd demonstrating how to make melted crayon canvas art:

The biggest challenge of this photo shoot was cutting the chickens and cats out of the frame.

I wanted some good action shots of drips and splashes, but they were so fast!
 The photo shoot for the film canister rocket project was even more challenging, because I really, really, REALLY wanted a shot of the rocket taking off, but it happens in a fraction of a second, and I just couldn't seem to luck out. I kept getting this--

--and this a quarter of a second later:


--and then this:

I finally settled on an image similar to this--

--but with a kid in the background to add interest.

Will got her salary docked during this job, but what she doesn't know is that it's all going to her, anyway, as my salary is what's making the budget for her birthday this year. She gets spoiled a little more than her sister does on her birthday, since she doesn't like parties, and that's what most of Syd's birthday budget goes towards. The kids also really don't receive anything new unless it's a holiday, so I probably enjoy the tradition of giving them two brand-new presents for their birthdays as much as they enjoy receiving two brand-new presents for their birthdays. Unfortunately, Will is the hardest child on the planet to shop for. Reading is an all-consuming passion for her, but she rarely re-reads a book, so I tend to not buy her books, preferring to inter-library loan more esoteric stuff as a treat for her. She disdains clothing. She only plays with toys when her sister can wheedle her into it. She'll immerse herself in art or engineering or robotics or anything, really, when she's encouraged to AND is in the right mood, but I'd love to find her something that she would choose to engage in all on her own, to rest her eyes from reading, if nothing else.

She has asked for (and will receive) a "real" dagger; Syd is going to do the paracord wrap on the handle, I'm going to construct--somehow!--a sheath and belt loop for it out of leather scraps, and Matt is going to burn something cool onto the leather.

Other than that, though... Maybe a LEGO-compatible programmable robot? She really enjoyed Robotics Club, until she dropped it for fencing.

A soapstone carving kit? She really enjoyed her limestone carving class a couple of years ago, but now only picks up her tools when I have a design request for her.

A ceramic skull hanging planter? She likes skulls and decorative things, but doesn't have a good track record with plants.

I had been considering a box set of the Sandman comics, but Matt doesn't think they're appropriate for children. I'd also been considering the D&D red box, but it's awfully expensive.

Ancient coins? Chemistry card game? Balancing cats?


Okay, if YOU had a hundred bucks, what would YOU buy for a tween like Will?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Homeschool Field Trip: Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Bright and early on Father's Day morning, the children and I woke Matt up (some of us by jumping on him as he slept, deeply and unsuspecting of the familiar agony of pouncing little knees and elbows that he was about to endure), gave him presents and cards, and then bundled him up and out the door to parts unknown.

We didn't tell him where we were taking him as we drove him two hours deep into the Indiana wilderness. In fact, we told him that we were taking him to tour a rainbow toilet factory, where we were going to let him pick out the nicest, sparkliest rainbow toilet for his very own--the phenomenon of the rainbow toilet is a family joke of murky provenance. It's best not to inquire too deeply into our collective family psyche.

Finally, just as we were so clearly ensconced into the smack-middle of nowhere that Matt was perhaps starting to believe my jokes that we were maybe planning to dump him by the side of the road and drive away really fast, we reached a place where surely every father in the world super wants to go on his special day:

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

Oh, wait--that's ME who wanted to go there!

My husband is a very patient, very amiable man.

Back story: as part of our prep for our American Revolution road trip, the kids and I had a lesson on the Lincoln Memorial, because we're driving right through DC so we'll surely stop there and surely see it, so of course we have to study it.

Stay with me here.

As part of that lesson, I learned that the artist who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial had made molds of Lincoln, including a life mask. "Hey!" I thought to myself, "I know where a life mask of Lincoln is!" I used to work at the special collections library on our local university's campus, and I've held that life mask in hands gloved with white cotton more times that I can count. As a matter of fact, that special collections library has quite a large collection of Lincoln artifacts.

Obviously I set up a field trip for our homeschool group to go there and see them.

And also the Oscar:

...and the puzzle collection:

She solved it!
As part of preparing for that field trip, we obviously had to have a lesson just on Lincoln's life, and in preparing for that lesson, I kind of became a little bit obsessed with Lincoln. I blame that on this super good, SUPER dishy biography: Abraham Lincoln: A Life. I dare you to get through the first chapter without needing to read the entire thing.

Seriously, Abraham Lincoln, especially the young Lincoln, is astoundingly fascinating. As a young man, he was apparently known for his dirty jokes and stories. He was even quoted as basically saying, "What's the point of a clean story? BOR-ING!" After his beloved sister died in childbirth, he blamed her husband's entire freaking family for her death, even though they were all like, "Jesus, Lincoln, we took care of her! Shit like this happens all the time!", and he hated that family so much that he actually wrote a homophobic song about one of their cousins.

I'm going to tell you that again.

Lincoln hated some guy so much that he wrote a SONG, a song of SEVERAL VERSES, calling the guy gay. I can only assume that he also sang the song.

How does the song go, you ask? GO. GET. THIS BOOK. There's all kinds of crazy stuff in there.

And that's why I wanted to take myself Matt to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial for Father's Day. None of them will read the book, so I was dying to march them all around and regale them with the stories that I got from it.

Oh, and I wanted Matt to have a lovely Father's Day with his children, of course!

Pretend that one of them isn't frowning. I took a dozen photos here, and this is the best. She's not even actively snarling in this one. Trust me--she was for sure snarling in the next one!
 The kids and I had already seen some examples of Lincoln's handwriting during our homeschool field trip to the special collections library, but I can always fangirl over one more:

When you read Lincoln's handwriting, a fun game is to look for misspellings, because he wasn't a reliable speller.
 This, however, is the first example that we'd seen of the handiwork of Abraham's father, Thomas Lincoln:

I thought it looked pretty sweet, but in The Book Thomas Lincoln is reviled as a lazy-ass deadbeat who was a terrible father, and who neglected and abused his children. Also, the book said that he wasn't a great carpenter--sure, he could make your basic stuff, like this giant chest, apparently, but none of the neighbors would use him for anything that they wanted to be especially nice.

He was also a lazy farmer; he'd stake a big claim like all the neighbors, but whereas everyone else farmed above their needs so that they could turn a profit and, you know, BETTER THEIR LIVES, Thomas Lincoln apparently farmed at almost a subsistence level. That's one of the reasons why the family moved around so much--a bad couple of years can really wipe you out when you have no savings.

Also, ALSO?!? When we were watching the memorial's introductory film, and Leonard Nimoy, the film's narrator, stated that both Abraham Lincoln's father and mother encouraged his educational pursuits, I gasped aloud in outrage. Thomas Lincoln most certainly did NOT encourage Abraham's educational pursuits! Why, whenever he'd catch him sitting and reading, he'd chew him out, hit him, and basically try to make him feel like a lazy piece of shit for studying instead of chopping wood. Abraham's step-mother actually had to sneak him books! And that thing about Abraham "leaving school" at a young age?!? That's because Thomas MADE him leave school! He made him drop out and began to rent him out as a day laborer for all kinds of work--chopping wood, farmwork, slaughtering pigs--and he took ALL of Abraham's earnings. Abraham even approached a family friend once and asked for help in running away, because he wasn't legally allowed to leave his family until he was 21. The friend told him it would be better to just stick it out. You might have seen a quote that Lincoln said later in his life--when someone was asking him about slavery, he said something like, "Yeah, I was a slave for a while." That time in his life is what he was talking about, and his words were pretty accurate.

Don't worry, though--I shared this information with the rest of the family in a furious hiss as they were trying to watch the movie.

They are very patient with me, even if some of them are much more interested in giant fireplaces:

It's a short hike from the memorial and museum to the grave of Abraham's biological mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln:

I don't know why I am always forcing my family to pose with graves, but I am:

The kids were completely fascinated with the story of Nancy Lincoln's death from white snakeroot poisoning, and we had an interesting discussion about pasteurization, dairy farming, and the time that I sent Matt to buy us some raw milk at the farmer's market and he came back, looked at the bottle, and then said, "Hey! I just wasted my money! This says that it's pet food!"

And then we discussed what a legislative loophole is!

One of the reasons why I was so excited to go to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial is that it has a living history farm on site, complete with animals, crops, and rangers in period dress:

On the walk there, you pass by the bronzed footprint of the original Lincoln cabin:

After Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston (leaving Abe and his older sister, Sarah, in the company of a slightly older cousin for several months. By the time he returned, the children had assumed he'd died, and they had nearly starved and had hardly any clothes), there were eight people living within this footprint:

 Husband and wife and two daughters slept on the ground floor, and all the boys slept up in the attic:

There was apparently room underneath for the chickens:
Will loved these chickens so much that when I suggested that she go ask the ranger what breed they were, she happily complied. They are Wyandottes, and I want some!
 We spent most of the day hiking around and looking at stuff--

--and then the children joined a certain elite group that they dearly love--

--and we drove back home through the wilderness.

During our ten minutes of daily memory work in the car, I've slowly been working with the kids on memorizing the Gettysburg Address (Will had it memorized a few years ago, but lost it. This doesn't bother me, because I know that it'll be easier to re-memorize this time thanks to that). We're only three sentences in, but in this gift shop, I noticed bookmarks with the Gettysburg Address printed on them for sale. I bought one for each of the kids, then surprised them with them in the car and told them that when each kid had memorized the entire speech, she'd earn herself ten dollars.

They happily repeated the Gettysburg Address over and over to themselves the whole way home.

Here are some of the Abraham Lincoln resources that we (mostly me!) enjoyed during this study of his life and times:


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