Friday, October 24, 2014

In Memory of Ballantine, a Good Kitty

Our Ballantine came to me and Matt twelve years ago as a tiny, tiny kitten, back when our local Humane Society was not the nice place that it is now, but instead bank after bank of dreary, small cages, and they'd give you tiny, flea-riddled, ill kittens just because they had a better shot with you than with them.

In fact, we adopted two kittens that day twelve years ago, but even tinier, even more flea-riddled, even more ill grey Prudence didn't survive her first night. After that, tiny Ballantine slept in our bed every night, in between our two pillows, so that I could wake up, reach a hand out, and check that she was still breathing every hour or so.

I named Ballantine after the building that houses the English department at our local university, since that's where I spent the vast majority of my time in those years. On the weekends or evenings when I had work to do in our grad student lounge in that building (they had MUCH faster internet than we did at home back then--we were still on dial-up!), Matt and I would actually bring little Ballantine with us, because we couldn't bear to be away from her for that long--she was too cute! We'd sneak her in and bring along little dishes of food and water and even a litter box, and I'd work and play with her and watch her explore.

Ballantine grew into a fine, sleek, sweet-tempered cat--

--who was good company for me when I got pregnant and suffered terribly from hyperemesis gravidarum, and near the end of my pregnancy when I was too paranoid about going into labor to leave the house alone. After Willow was born she switched much of her loyalty to Matt--what was that small, yowling, grabby thing that I always insisted on holding now?--but remained fine and sweet-tempered and good company.

When we moved house to a safer neighborhood, Matt and I, after a giant amount of angst, tentatively made the decision to let Ballantine roam outside, as she clearly so longed to do, and were happily rewarded for our risk by the fact that Ballantine never, to our knowledge, left the yard, never hunted small animals, never did more outside than make a comfy little nest for herself from which she could watch the world go by.

Still more Matt's cat than mine, Ballantine's favorite time of day was night, when Matt and I would finally lie down to watch a movie together before bed. Sensing the very second that Matt lay down, Ballantine would appear from whatever indoor nest she'd made for herself and run to the bed, leap onto it, and settle herself down onto Matt's chest, her face exactly right in his face. Matt would try to scootch her down so that he could see past her, and she'd gradually, with all the subtlety she could muster (which was not much), scootch back up until their noses touched. Matt would scootch her down, she'd scootch back up, and so the night would progress.

In the last few years, Ballantine suffered constantly from some sort of mystery rash that made her want to scratch her back and her belly until they bled. Vets had various theories, none of which panned out, and so she lived a life of constant itching and discomfort with the same even temper that she lived out her years of perfect health. Her suffering ended abruptly, unexpectedly on Wednesday morning, however; she had a delicious breakfast of dry cat food, then just fell over--seizure? stroke?--gasped a few times, and with the kids and I looking on, horrified but still totally uncomprehending, she simply died.

We laid Ballantine to rest in a fine spot in our backyard, a multiflora rosebush behind her, a Syd-made plaque at her head:

She had a happy life, she made all of our lives happier because she was a part of them, and as is the reward of all good kitties, she will be deeply missed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Solve AMC 8 Problems: Year 2013, Problems 1 and 2

I have mentioned before that I don't expect my children, a third-grader and a fifth-grader, to be at all competitive in the AMC 8 exam this year, but nevertheless, the exam is actually quite accessible even to these younger students, since much of the math involved utilizes the four basic operations in ways that require only clever, logical thinking to suss out.

The exam is also a great, free opportunity for the kids to get some experience taking standardized tests, as well as to deal with specialized mathematical formatting (that dot is a multiplication sign!) and multiple choice trickery (is your answer one of the choices? It still may not be correct!).

And the AMC 8, in particular, is maliciously intent on asking its students to be very thoughtful and VERY observant as they work the problems, as you'll see in a minute.

Fortunately, all the AMC 8 past problems are available for study, and this is not only helpful when preparing for the exam, but it also makes an excellent part-time math curriculum, and the kids have been enjoying spending one day a week with me, going over a couple of problems and solutions each time. For each problem, I first have them work through the solution using a hands-on method, and then I show them the "short-cut" pencil-and-paper calculation that will also solve the problem.

Problem #1 from 2013, for instance, is obviously and easily solved using Hot Wheels. The kids actually set up 23 Hot Wheels in rows of 6, and then could easily see that they needed to add one more car to make the final row equal to the others. They counted by sixes to count the total cars, and I helped them connect this to the 6x table; you would use the 6x table to calculate how many total cars you would need, then use subtraction to calculate how many you would still need to buy.

Problem #2 from 2013 is only a little more complicated. Will glanced at the problem and immediately said, "Six!", AND was pleased to find that six is, indeed, one of the choices (see? Multiple choice trickery!), so I had her physically underline the parts of the problem that she'd used to calculate that answer, and then showed her that there were parts of the problem that she hadn't taken into account yet.

Syd drew a big fish--

--cut it in half to make two "half-pounds" of fish (it would be better to use half-pound weights as the manipulative here, but I don't have any at hand), and placed the sale price on each half:

They can both easily see, then, that a pound of fish at this price would, yes, equal six dollars, but that's the sale price, and the problem is asking for the regular price. 

Although we haven't done a lot with fractions and percentages yet, both kids know the easy ones, and so 50% wasn't a hard one for them to figure out. They simply doubled the sale price to find the regular price! 

To calculate this on paper, I pointed out to them that doubling is the same as multiplying by two, and it was a piece of cake from there. 

The kids LOVED working through these problems with me--most of this, I know, was the opportunity to play with toy cars and real money and draw fish, but nevertheless, some if it was definitely the fun of figuring out tricky math problems and discovering how to solve them. 

I love math so much precisely because of that feeling!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkins from our Next-Door-Neighbors

The family who owns the drive-in that we live next door to also owns a pumpkin patch! And when your next-door-neighbors own a pumpkin patch, well, it just wouldn't be neighborly not to stop on by one Sunday afternoon, now would it?

We are nothing if not neighborly, especially when movies and pumpkins are involved:

The Freemans open up one of their barns so that you can pet some of their animals (and yes, this is the place where a pony bit Syd ON THE FACE one year--she has much better horsemanship skills now than when she was five), and they've also got plenty of toys out for the toddlers.

Like this one!

Only I guess the toddlers aren't riding their ponies like a bucking bronco...

Part of the fun of a visit to the pumpkin patch is taking a long, long hayride around the Freemans' property, across a creek and through the woods:
Will is behind Matt, who was completely incapable of getting out of my way so that I could photograph her.

See this photo of Syd?

The guy driving the tractor for our hayride was smoking (I know, I know...), and so Syd, of COURSE, pulled a piece of hay out of the bale underneath her and pretended to smoke it while pretending to be a tractor driver. I said to her, "What are you DOING?!?"

She said brightly, "I'm smoking wheat!"

Now you say it. Say it out loud, like an eight-year-old would.

I laughed my butt off, absolutely inappropriately, then of course got her to tell me what she was doing about eight hundred more times, and each time it make me collapse into gales of inappropriate laughter all over again.

I know, I know. But to be fair, our family anti-smoking campaign clearly isn't that effective thus far, if the kid is happily pretending to smoke just like the tractor driver. Mental note to show her some photos of cancerous lungs during our human biology unit.

Our haul was two perfect Jack-o-lantern pumpkins and one perfect pie pumpkin. The Jack-o-lanterns have been kid-carved and made their debut at last weekend's housewarming party, but that pie pumpkin is going to have to wait til after all the party clean-up has been completed (crock pot liners SUCK!!!) before I settle down to prepping it.

So, like, next week? Week after? 

Thanksgiving, maybe?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of October 20, 2014: Field Trips, Fire, and the Sun

We've got one last school week all together before the kids head off to California adventures with their grandparents for a week, and it's a bustling one!

MONDAY: Right now, the kids and I are in a study lounge in the basement of the building that I used to teach in at our local university; Will is meant to be coloring in the chapter 2 vocabulary flash cards from Song School Spanish, while Syd is meant to be researching the Dartmoor for tomorrow's horseback riding class, but mostly they're getting me to look up how much bounce houses cost (a lot), and speculating where they would keep a bounce house if they bought one (the field at the bottom of the hill behind our house, although the ground might still need to be leveled some), and how much fun they would have with their own bounce house (again, a lot).

Soon, however, we'll wander up to the first floor parking garage of this building, where I'll collect several more little girls, and then we'll all wander over to the campus greenhouse, where we'll take a tour, search for flowers, identify their parts, and generally have a fabulous field trip together.

After our field trip, the kids and I will go immediately over to our weekly volunteer gig; Will was able to man the meat counter entirely by herself last week!

In Math Mammoth this week, Syd is finishing up multiplication and moving into a review of telling time; Will is finishing up long division and moving briefly to averaging, and then into fractions.

TUESDAY: The kids have their last rehearsal for their horse show during this day's horseback riding lessons. I also found a picture book about the Lippizaner for them to read; I don't remember if they've had this breed to research yet, but it's a great story that highlights what makes a horse breed special.

I'm not looking forward to helping the kids with their Halloween costumes, to be frank, but it's one of those things that a parent must do. Syd's costumes, in particular, are generally elaborate and require lots of parental help; for this year's Tinkerbell costume, I believe that I will be required to take her shopping for white yarn and the exact green fabric that she requires, and teach her how to make yarn pom-poms.

The kids will continue to work on the Junior Ranger badges that they chose last week; I do ask them to put the location of the park that they're working from on our big wall map, but I'm fine that the badge books themselves are cross-curricular--there are so many interesting, unexpected things to learn!

I realized that I haven't yet asked the children to memorize our new address, so we'll be doing that, as well as crafting our fire escape plan, under the auspices of the Girl Scout First Aid badges for Brownies and Juniors. We're going on a field trip to the fire station on Thursday, and I know the fire fighters will ask them!

WEDNESDAY: Don't tell the kids, but I am NOT signing them up for an aerial silks class this week. The rest of our calendar week will be VERY busy, and so will their trip to California next week--fun, but busy!--and so I want them to have one last completely free day to rest, recharge, and play.

THURSDAY: We've got our regular homeschool group's afternoon at a local park, and a field trip to the fire station in the morning (there will also be an ambulance there, and EMTs who will discuss first aid, also for the First Aid badges), but I am the most excited, by far, by the partial solar eclipse that clear skies will allow us to witness on this afternoon! And just two weeks after the lunar eclipse--what a treat!

A couple of units of First Language Lessons will finish off the day. The kids don't really seem to be understanding adverbs, so I'm finally thankful for how slowly this book moves.

FRIDAY: Ten Times Better has some fun, easy multiplication poems to memorize, and then I'll be going over a few more problems from the AMC 8 with the kids; I don't expect them to ace this upcoming exam, by any means, but studying for it has enabled us to discuss a lot of interesting math concepts, as well as learn that a dot is the same as a multiplication sign, what an ellipses means in math, and how to work a multiple-choice question.

After this day's spelling test, the kids will be writing sentences with their new words, again, as well as playing Spelling City. The sentence-writing turned out to be a GREAT activity last week; I had no idea that the kids would have trouble writing complete sentences! We'll be repeating this activity weekly until that whole subject-verb business is an absolute no-brainer.

The kids had their first ice skating class of the season last week, and once again had a fabulous time. This week, they'll be heading straight from there to a friend's Halloween party; since we'll be missing spending Halloween with the kids (they'll be in California with their grandparents), I'm glad that we've got *some* Halloween festivities to experience with them here before they leave.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Busiest. Weekend. EVER! Syd's got ballet class and Nutcracker rehearsal, both kids have the horse show performance that they've been practicing for months for, and the university is hosting its open house for the science departments, AND there's a big end-of-the-year party for 4H that afternoon. We will all sleep well that night!

On Sunday, Will only has chess club, but I'm sure there will be tons of frantic shopping and packing and laundering and panicking, because the next day will dawn with us on the way to the airport to send the kids to their grandparents in California.

And yes, I will spend next week weeping/working/partying/missing my babies.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Walk in our Woods

Our woods may technically be only three-ish acres, but they're deep and full of mystery and fabulous discoveries--
peeping into a sinkhole/former well site

--and they connect seamlessly with woods on both sides so that what's actually available for us to explore seems quite vast.

Of course, the woods are also scrubby and full of greenbriers, so whenever I hike there, I bring my favorite toy with me:

I hike our woods fairly often, as does Will, and Syd is in and out of our woods and beyond several times a day, but poor Matt suffers terribly from allergies and contact dermatitis, and so a recent chilly day, after much of the summer foliage had withered and he could comfortably cover up from head to toe, was the first time he felt comfortable exploring with us, poor guy.

But now he knows why we like it so much!


The kids were thrilled to show him the sink hole, and the creek, and the spot where the natural spring emerges, and the "ravine," and the tree growing out of an old tub, and the old garbage dump site (we collect old glass soda bottles and brown glass bottles there), and the random section of barbed wire fence (gotta stay on your toes in our woods!), and the "meadow" where the woods finally emerges:
In the early summer, this was filled with grass as high as the kids' heads, but a bunch of construction equipment later in the summer tamped it down while they worked on those power lines.
It's the perfect little woods--big but not too big (you'd have to work hard not to eventually run into that meadow!), full of lots of excitement and a reasonable amount of danger. Every once in a while, I realize all over again that it's ours, and I find myself with this goofy, sort of astonished smile on my face.

And yes, I'm smiling that smile right now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Work Plans for the Week of October 13, 2014: Spanish, Silk, and Science

MONDAY: More multiplication for Syd and long division for Will in this week's Math Mammoth; Will needs the drill, but I'm actually skipping much of the multiplication lessons for Syd, and just giving her the practice/extension problems, because she's got her facts pretty well memorized. Mental note for those with kids in the younger grades: if you can encourage your kids to memorize their multiplication facts early, they'll be able to skip past about half of third grade math!

The Connemara pony is the kids' research subject for their horseback riding class this week; as usual, one kid will research the pony, the other kid will research the pony's geography of origin, and they'll perform a Youtube search for interesting videos of the Connemara to see it in action. The kids also need to choose a song for their drill team performance--the current favorite is an instrumental version of "The House of the Rising Sun." I suggested a song from My Little Pony but was shouted down; apparently that would be "embarrassing." At what age do children develop an appreciation of camp, I wonder?

Tired of waiting for our local university's children's language class to sort out its funding, I'm starting the kids on Song School Spanish this week. The vocabulary in this volume is roughly equivalent to the vocabulary in the Latin volume Although I hate to book more than one extracurricular per day, we've got both our weekly volunteer gig and the kids' aerial silks class today. And although it would conflict with Syd's ballet class and so she can't do it, Will says that she wants to perform in her aerial silks program's winter recital, which would mean two-hour rehearsals on most Saturdays until late December. I'm not eager to take it on, but there's no other reason not to, and I'm loathe to discourage Will, who works so hard at aerial silks and yet struggles with confidence, from goal-setting and performing.

TUESDAY: I'm excited to watch this prehistoric flower documentary with the kids, and although I'm not sure that I'll have completed their display materials by tomorrow, the kids can still get started on prepping and labeling their fossils.

The kids blew through their last Junior Ranger badges, loved them, and I think got a lot out of them. I'm eager to see what they choose next.

Will has Robotics Workshop (she's becoming a LEGO Mindstorms expert!), and Syd has a playdate during that time. She and her little friend both like cooking, exploring our woods with walkie-talkies in hand, and pretending to be animals on obstacle courses--they get along great! I consider playdates as a "subject" because they're something organized into our day, and take away from the kids' free time, so I need to make sure that I've accounted for them, lest I book the day too full. And for Syd, unlike Will, they're absolutely crucial, so I've also got to make sure that I've got at least one one-on-one playdate scheduled for her each week.

WEDNESDAY: A true Free Day, for me, means zero scheduled activities OR an all-day outing, but the kids really, really, really want to take this Minecraft workshop at the library, so we will.

THURSDAY: First Language Lessons is a bore, but it's an easy lesson to delegate to Matt. After this week, though, we may need to take a break and just practice sentence diagramming; the book is so formulaic that I think the kids may be simply memorizing the book's formula, not necessarily the diagramming method.

I loathe carving Jack-o-lanterns, for some reason, but at least the kids are old enough now that I can pretty much just hand them the supplies and leave them to it.

I've got to prepare the dyes for this play silks project, but I'm interested in seeing if the kids really can "paint" play silks using the dyes without incurring a ridiculous amount of bleed. The date of the discovery of silk (2696 BCE) is the memory work for this lesson.

FRIDAY: I'll be going over this problem and this problem with the kids, to prepare them for the AMC 8 next month.

We've been studying spelling during the daily memory work, so I plan to have the kids take their spelling test before they write their sentences. Will they scream less about fewer sentences? We'll see!

I wanted to start the Flowers badge this week, because my first Girl Scout Co-op meeting about it is next week, but Will is really into her Digital Photographer badge right now, so she'll likely want to continue working on that. Syd has a few more activities to finish up for her Dancer badge.

We're going to see La Boheme this weekend, and I had hoped to have a more expansive unit of study on it for the kids, but unfortunately, there's really not much out there geared to studying opera at the elementary level, and I didn't feel like creating my own materials this time. Instead, we'll simply read this summary of La Boheme, listen to the music, and get excited for the show!

The kids have their first ice skating class of the season on this day. Will adores ice skating so much that I often feel sad for her that we don't have an all-seasons ice skating rink, but I admit that it does feel good in the spring when we can drop it from our schedule!

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: This weekend is going to be insane. Just... insane. Saturday morning brings ballet class, which I also have to attend, since it's Parent Observation Day. After that, we'll zip home and get a bunch of party food started in the crock pots that I'm borrowing, but a few hours later Matt's got to take Syd back for Nutcracker rehearsal--my little snow angel is going to be performing in our local university's production of The Nutcracker! I'll stay home from that, at least, to continue party prep, because later that afternoon, we're throwing a housewarming party!

At least some of us will likely need to sleep in on Sunday, so the plan is to go out to brunch and then go to the opera. And then Matt and the kids are going to have to do all the party clean-up, because I'm clearly going to have to lock myself in my room and bust out all my weekend's work.

And after this, I only have one more week before my babies leave me for a week with their grandparents in California!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Latest: Pants, Pallets, and Flashlights

a write-up of PalletFest

and a tutorial for the cuffed pants that I sewed for Will

 I used the Pajama Pants for Everyone pattern from Weekend Sewing. Even though this is only one size up from this pair, it's quite roomy on Will:

And now, finally the poor child has ample clothing for cool weather--just in time for me to turn my attention to assisting in Halloween costume preparation.

Skeleton and puppy, at last account.


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