Friday, October 31, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Halloween Hodgepodge

Happy Halloween!
We greet this spooky holiday after another good busy week.  As always, there was lots of reading.

Of course it was after bedtime...but who can spoil a party like THIS?

I got an extension cord that works with our bat, so it is now glowing happily!

Finished Bat!
Finished bat viewed from outside!
And of course we had our violin lessons (in mouse ears, because HALLOWEEN)

And everyone worked hard at parkour, working on climbing, balancing, coordination, and all that good stuff.

Cadence has also started taking a homeschool computer class this 'semester'.  They will be covering a variety of topics - photography, filmmaking, and video game is offered via the microsoft store, so I have no doubt that it will be mostly focused on proprietary hardware, but I was encouraged by the intstruction I was privy to, (in this photo the teacher is discussing the rule of thirds in  photography) and am hopeful that the base skills they pick up here will carry over to whatever context they chose to take it to.

Can you even see Cadence in here?  She's so tiny compared to everyone else...
We've also had some practice in creature care this week as Pita, a very spunky little pug belonging to Rob & Alexis, is staying with us while they are in India for a wedding.  It's really great for the kids to learn to care for her (and of course they are loving it) and try a hand at planning around the scheduled needs of another being. (Our cats are pretty laid back and are fine if we are out for an extra hour or two...but they don't need walks to pee!)  We've all been enjoying playtime with the pup.

And of course, it being Halloween week, we had to carve jack-o-lanterns.

James kept Pita safe away from the cutting instruments
I don't have any pics from the carving process as it was messy and, for safety reasons, I was focused on helping, but everyone worked diligently to create the final creations, within their abilities.  Cadence did almost all of it completely solo, though I did help her with a couple of particularly frustrating parts.  Hazel did all of the dots to mark the outline herself, and did as much of the actual carving as she could stand. Calliope did some poking for outlines and then abandoned me to finish it...which was fine, because those blades are so flimsy I'm constantly afraid they are going to snap and hurt someone.

Finished carvings!
I think Hazel is on a raccoon kick, since I have two racoon related shots this week. This one was from our trip to the "log playground."

And as a special, we-won't-have-many-outdoor-days-now cool activity, our friend Acoatzin invited us over to use his brand spankin' new rig!  Aerials outdoors is a special sort of happy place, but you have to be safe about it, so this was a great treat!

Acoatzin helps us with a little mother-daughters Lyra fun!
There was much reading this week, and we did some math worksheets for Cadence.  Hazel still prefers oral math problems, since reading the symbols can be confusing...but she's four, so I just love that she's happy doing the problems at all! (Calliope, meanwhile, stuck to creeping me out by sneaking quietly into the kitchen and then singing Dido's Lament behind my back while I was cooking.)

Happy Halloween, all!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Once Upon A Death

Mom left this for me to find after she was gone.
Last night, my mama visited me in my dream.

I don't mean I got some divine message from her or anything, but last night my dream was of an old wooden house, filled to the brim with activity - kids, family, chaos, lost socks...The place seemed new, and perhaps unfamiliar, but we were settling into it with the intention of letting it become a safe place for us.  And mom was there, too - it was a dream beautiful in its banality, we were just spending time together, like a family trip home for vacation.  With one notable exception: we all fully acknowledged that mom was dead, but that just added to how wonderful this brief time we had together was.  I think we knew it was just a day or so, and it seemed implicit that this would happen every so often, these visits... It was so surprisingly nice to get to talk to her about how hard this year has been, and how much we miss her...the same old comfort from mother's counsel that I could always count on.  No drama, just an acknowledgment of "Man this sucks.  It's really hard.  I'm so glad I have you to talk to about all of this." Plus jokes and laughter, was just such a nice visit.

Up until today, I have been able to explain away my forgetfulness, my wistfulness, my loneliness, my tears. "My mom just died." But now there are only a few hours left wherein her abscence is "novel." Moments in the turning of the seasons that I have not previously experienced without her. Starting in mere hours, the time will begin to overlap. I will have experienced this moment in the cycle of time without her once already... Just last night, the darkness fell without her on an October 26th for the very first time. But tonight, the darkness will fall on an October 27th for the second time.

And somehow I find this one even harder to fathom.

The first year was somehow built into the event of death; you lose someone, part of your heart goes with them, and you spend a year mourning in an emotional darkness. 
But what do we do now, at the advent of the second year? 
Another trip around the sun without mother? This is no longer the fresh wound, understandably bleeding. This is now the old injury that doesn't fully heal, aching under gray skies, no longer obvious to passers by. A silent, private pain, devastating, but to the outside eye, invisible.

Mom's amazing laugh
I am used to invisible pain, though. All through my teenage years, I struggled with a chronic pain disorder called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.  While it is (thankfully) mostly in remission now, I learned a lot from my experiences with it. One of the hardest things I learned was that sometimes, the things that hurt the most are the very things you need to do in order to continue on as a whole being.  Giving in to the pain can lead to atrophy and eventually the loss of the limb...or worse, it can spread and consume your entire body.

And so I find inspiration here.  I know that hiding from this pain won't help me find a path through it, and I know that the world at large isn't going to hold my hand while I try to find my feet, and so I dive into it on my own in the dark, quiet nights when my family is safely sleeping.  I write, I sing, I imagine, I explore, I cry...

Earlier this year, I performed an aerial silks piece that I created in honor of my mother, about the experience of losing her.  I haven't shared it because it was underrehearsed and not at all up to my own standards, but last night's dream really drove home that she would be saddened by my decision not to share it, and if I really want to honor her as I meant to, I should put it out there anyway.

So this is for you, Mom:

This song hit me square in the gut last fall as we prepared for your departure. Everything about it spoke directly to how I felt.  And though I knew we were heading towards goodbye, I knew that I would never stop wanting you back.  That there will always be a huge place for you in my heart. It spoke to the little kid in me that will always be looking for you out the window, waiting for you to come home.  It was very clearly written about a lost lover, but that didn't matter, the sense of loss and longing at the point of departure, the calm acceptance that this was happening even if we didn't want it to, the sense of strength in the face of huge change, and the preservation of the all hit so close to home.  The chorus became my wish for you to have an easy, peaceful death, and no more promises became my way of releasing you from feeling like you were letting us down by leaving too soon.  And never loving again was simply never getting over this loss.  The song became the anthem of that time for me, and helped me, hugely, to grieve.

"The sky looks pissed
the wind talks back
my bones are shifting in my skin
and you my love are gone.

my room feels wrong
the bed won't fit
I cannot seem to operate
and you, my love, are gone

So glide away on soapy heels
and promise not to promise anymore
and if you come around again
then I will take, 
then I will take the chain from off the door.

I'll never say
I'll never love
but I don't say a lot of things
and you my love are gone.

So glide away on soapy heels
and promise not to promise anymore
and if you come around again 
then I will take the chain from off the door.

Then I will take
then I will take
then I will take
the chain
from off
the door."

I took that song and used it to create this piece.  I was going for a disjointed feel, where things seem backwards and upside down, at odd angles, and things that should be beautiful seem somehow awkward...all while looking skyward in search of something that is missing.

Unfortunately the video didn't come out very well.  It's dark, and all of the shape work I did in the fabric at the start is totally lost, and because it is in closeup a lot of the vertical dimensions I was playing with don't translate, so I consider this a poor documentation of it on top of feeling like it wasn't the homage you deserved...So it is only with the understanding that this is just a first step, and I will be holding you in my heart in everything that I do that I am putting this out into the world now. It may be flawed, but it is for you, mama, with so much love.

Maybe the chain is on the door to that old wooden house in my dream.  Maybe, every so often, you can come around again, and I will take - I will always take - that chain from off the door.

Love always,

A first UnMothered mothers' day.

NOTE:  I originally wrote this piece on Mother's Day, 2014.  I ended up not publishing it, because I felt it was more appropriate as a commemoration of this day, the first anniversary... so I have scheduled this to publish without my deliberate intervention on October 27, 2014, as I have no idea where I will be, emotionally or physically, six months from this writing.

*   *   *

The best term I have yet found to describe what today feels like came, unexpectedly, from my elementary school violin teacher, thanks to the wonders of Facebook.  She shared an article in which the author described feeling "UnMothered" following the passing of her own mom, as opposed to being "motherless"-and I could very much relate to the emotional journey she described as I thought about my dance with grief over these past weeks. Months. The yet unexplored years...

I feel that October 27, the day my mama let go, will become in my heart "unmothering day"...the day we-my sister and I-said goodbye and moved into a realm where we exist without her physical presence. Not motherless, we still have the love and experience we gained from her, and always will-but we don't now. So while we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful, loving mother, we don't still have her in the present, making us, indeed, UnMothered. We don't have her there to wipe our faces (as Mike Rowe's mom reportedly still tries to do, in his lovely tribute to her this morning) or to call up to straighten out a bit of family lore or ask for advice on how best to complete some task, but we still-and will forever-still have all the lessons she taught us about being good people, and caring for ourselves and our loved ones fully, and how to occasionally embarrass ourselves in the name of living life. We will never be motherless. She will always be our mom. 

But today, for the first time on this day set aside for honoring moms, we are UnMothered.

I breathe in the absence, and then let it go, and breathe in the abundance I have, and try to balance my grief with my gratefulness. 

She gave me so much, and what's more, she taught me how to appreciate it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Gloves on, Hands on

Proper fall enjoyment
This week we had a little mini trip, as I headed north for a circus conference, which let James and the kids spend some quality time with his folks.  They spent a lot of time outside, enjoying the New England-ish autumn.

This visit also meant Calliope had ample time to explore what is still novel in her life experience: STAIRS!

I get the impression that James spent a significant portion of the day spotting this kid on the stairs.
Since this trip was just a few weeks shy of a certain little lady's birthday, her grandparents decided to throw her a mini birthday party before we left so that they could celebrate with her!

Let the celebrations begin!
Calliope was a little confused by it all, but seemed to really enjoy it anyway.

Yeye helps her to figure out "two" on her fingers
Back home again, we headed out to some new trails with the 4H group.  This time we headed to a little island with a few different trails.  After starting down a long, meandering trail, we turned back and opted for a shorter, muddier, woodsier trail that would allow us to go in a full loop around a little outcropping off the island.  Some of the older kids lapped the grown ups and smaller kids twice.

I think one of those tiny white dots might be a heron...
Along the way, we found this gross, rotten carcass of a fish.  It is not every day you come across something like this and everyone was pretty fascinated to actually be able to see some detailed, if disgusting, anatomy outside of a textbook.  (though admittedly, some of it, er, fell out when disturbed.)

Handle with care and gloves...or a stick.

from the underside

found some pretty polka-dotted berries
The kids have also begun working with a new violin teacher, and it seems to be going quite well.  Even Puy, our notoriously picky-about-humans kitty, seems to really love her.

She really appreciates Hazel's enthusiasm for writing her own music, and teaches her form that angle, which is FABULOUS.  Hazel is much more engaged when she feels like things are happening on her terms.

Cadence catching up on some reading while it's Hazel's turn
We also tackled some of our planned projects this week.  We gloved-and-smocked up for some tie-dyeing!  This is the first step in our plan to make dresses.  Starting with large, adult sized shirts, we experimented with how to twist, tie, and bind them with the rubber bands, and then moved on to the fun part.  Colors!  We had great fun discovering how the colors would (or wouldn't!) mix, and how the order of application mattered to the final result.  Everyone got good and (actually not TOO) messy for this one.

painting with squeeze bottles is remarkably fun
Once everyone was satisfied with their color combos, we wrapped them tightly in plastic and left them to set.

the waiting game
We also finished our Bat project, which we had started a while back but took a break from after some frustration.

The first step was to do a bunch of research about bats, and what their important characteristics are.  Obviously the wings are important - and iconic. But what else?  Well, since bats use echolocation to navigate, we determined that the ears much be very important, too, so we knew we wanted to include them.  The kids decided the feet were important to include as well, since they use them whenever they are at rest!

After designing a rough sketch of what they wanted the bat to look like, it was time to start sculpting. We constructed our bat out of a black wire which is usually used in jewelry creation. It was slightly unwieldy to work with, but it was thick enough to hold its shape surprisingly well and still pliable enough for little hands to manipulate, which was just about perfect.    First, the head (including the all important ears, and then the body, wings, and feet.

I've also been having the kids do some of their own documentation...a little blurry, but definitely taking shape!

bat taking shape!
Cadence consults the reference material to tweak the design and make sure it looked right.
Next was the fun (and certainly not anatomically accurate) part: installing purple and orange LED lights to make it glow!
Hazel wrapping the wire in lights

Hard at work!
Now came the tricky part:  giving our bat substance without distorting the shape or making it too heavy.  Black tulle seemed to be just the thing for the job!  Being careful not to pull it too tight and distort our bat shape, we wrapped the tulle around the wire to fill in the interior space.

round and round and round it goes...
Once that was done, it was time to hang it up!  I was a little worried that, with everything put together and then suspended from a few points, gravity would overwhelm the shape and it would become a deformed lump of a bat, but thankfully our strategic choice of suspension points and construction seemed to be sound, and the bat is flying without issue!

Hazel sitting proudly with the completed bat.
I forgot to take a picture of this before it was hung, but the kids also decided that, since the idea that all bats are blind is a myth, they wanted to give out bat a proper set of giant googly eyes...
The bat is currently keeping watch over the yard...while we fold laundry.

So we definitely encountered some dirty situations and some great hands-on work this week...not too shabby!

Friday, October 17, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Food in our environment

Busy busy week!
Branching out in cultural explorations a bit, James took Cadence and Hazel out for Sushi (Calliope and I opted out of this excursion due to food allergies...we hit up Shake Shack instead!).  They thought the little conveyor belt thing was pretty cool, and James reports that they did a decent job sampling foods outside of their comfort zone...even if they didn't eat all of it.

You can tell they enjoyed the experience!
We also went with our friend Laura and some of her friends on an apple picking adventure!

it evoked much emotion
Adventure it certainly was, as we hopped to multiple orchards and ended at a (kid friendly) vineyard.

Callie liked that she could reach some apples herself
Going to more than one location is exciting since we get to explore the similarities and differences in how the different orchards grow their apples - what types they have, whether they use chemical pesticides or not, how they handle their picking operations - and the reasons behind those differences.
Afterwards (of course) it is exciting to taste all the different varieties and see how they differ from one another.

unexpected camouflage
We also stumbled on this vine with what looked like wee melons growing on it.

Our attempts at identifying it were mostly futile, it might be mouse melon - but they seem too round for that!

We had a little picnic at the vineyard, and were joined by this spider.  The kids thought it was cute and asked me to take a picture so they could identify the species later.

Add caption
The kids went across the field to visit the resident horses and goats, but Calliope got tired of walking about halfway back.  Score one for having awesome older sisters willing to carry you back!

Still slightly unwilling to believe that Cadence is big enough to do this.
Back at home, Kelly came bearing...even more fresh apples.  (Not knowing of our picking adventures, she had procured a bunch of apples to bring us from the farmers market where she was working.)

obligatory group shot...that we almost never remember to take.

The haul...clearly many apple-y dishes are in store.
I have asked the kids to try to document their work even if I am not involved.  My thought is that it will give them a sense of ownership over their educational journeys, as well as providing me with an opportunity to see elements of it from their perspective.  I was very pleased to come across this photo, which I am told was part of a 'wild safari' they went on to learn about how to rescue animals.  This photo lead to discussions about ferrets, mink, weasels, and the fur trade.

The big main event this week, however, was the 4H homeschool camp, which the kids COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY ADORED.  (Yes, all caps necessary for that one.)
These were full days of classes and workshops held at the VA 4H headquarters.  The activities were roughly structured by age and everyone was invited to participate. They ranged from simple things like making model animals out of play dough:

To more complex topics, like insect anatomy:

We actually found this mama  on our way *to* the insect class, but it was too good not to share. Can you see all the babies on her back?
"The bug guy" brought lots of specimens to show the class, and delighted in talking to the kids about his work.  He talked to them about studying different species/families, collecting specimens for study, and even brought his "pets" - some live critters - to let the kids meet and handle.

Afterwards he had then take butterfly nets and try their hand at specimen collecting. Most kids didn't find much, but one kid caught something noteworthy, and he used the opportunity to show the kids the complete collection process...which, yes, does involve killing and preserving it, which my kids were not exactly thrilled by. (They much preferred the buggy meet-and-greet.)

Cadence and Hazel with their butterfly nets
The next class pushed them to think about their food sources better than most of what we have previously discussed:  Cooking with Bugs 101.  The first half of the class was a lecture/discussion on global diets, in which we learned that 80% of the human population on the planet consumes insects as a major source of sustainable protein.  The teacher did a good job of playing up the fact that, however weird this class of American kids might think that is, we are actually the weird ones for not partaking in buggy delicacies.

And to that end, she shared some recipes from around the world with us, and then, using the limited resources at hand (mostly portable hotplates), helped the kids to cook up three different bug-based dishes.  While Calliope and I refrained from tasting anything because of food allergies (there were some "spice mixes" that I didn't entirely trust...I didn't want to take a chance) I encouraged my allergy-free big kids to give it a try.

Cadence liked the spiced meal-worms, but was not as much of a fan of the fried crickets, and everyone agreed that the silk worms (which, to be fair, were canned - the teacher insisted that they are really good when fresh...but it is hard to come by fresh food grade silkworms in the US.  She was lucky to find even the terrible quality canned ones here, she said, but you can find them in most asian groceries) were rather unpleasant unless cooked in a significant about of sauce.

Dinner's on!
Hazel couldn't bring herself to taste anything, not so much because they were bugs, but because the mealworms had been cooked live, and she couldn't bear to eat them knowing that.  I thought this was an important lesson, actually, because it is one thing to know that your hamburger used to be a cow, but it is a totally different thing to actually see something go from being a live animal to a dish on your plate.  I can totally relate; I actually became a vegetarian at the age of 12 for similar reasons...anyway, we used this as an opportunity to discuss (on the long car ride home) the idea of food ethics, and why our family tries to get what we call "happy meat"...meat sourced from animals who were raised as naturally as possible on small farms, and not in big streamlined factories.

Cadence offering hazel a handful of spiced mealworms

Next, we moved on to a lesson about owls and (drumroll please)...dissecting owl pellets! Both big kids did a really good job with this, though afterwards they reported that they hated it with a passion because of how it smelled.  But then they wanted to keep the bones they found...but they wouldn't hold the bag they were in.  I think they were a little conflicted about it all.

our intrepid researchers hard at work
The teacher for this class supplied these handy charts showing which bone fragment was likely to be from which animal, and what bone it actually was.  This was actually a really fascinating way to not only get an idea of the variety in an owl's diet, but also to get a feel for the shape of different bones and how they were similar/different in various different species - and how you could tell what kind of bone it was, and what kind of creature it came from just by observation and a little bit of practice.

Hazel's pellet ended up having quite a few skulls in it, once she dug them all out.

On to leaf art! The idea was to make animals out of leaves, but the kids took some liberties and created some pretty cool stuff.

Calliope got pretty into this one.

Cadence and her butterfly
Calliope's abstract creation, great composition!

Hazel's pine forest of leaves
And they got to meet the chickens!

Big chicken!
This is a terrible picture, but I had to include it because it was such a wonderful we were closing out a long, soggy day of exploration, and discussing what each 'H' in 4H stands for (Head, Hands, Heart, Health), a huge, gorgeous, picturesque rainbow spread over the hill.  Everyone stopped to take it in, but I unfortunately didn't get a good shot of it.

I just love this shot of these three.

Another day, it was back to the classroom for a skeletal anatomy lesson.

And to the hills for a hike through the woods!  This was a really informative hike, where we stopped to discuss all sorts of things, touching on various topics related to orienteering and survival to simple environmental awareness, though of course we didn't delve too deep into any one subject.

Discussing berry types
If I recall, this started as a discussion on lichen but quickly changed upon the discovery of an inchworm in the bark.
The view from the bottom of the hill we hiked.  Pretty spectacular!
Next up, some light mineral explorations! I actually missed much of this lesson because Calliope needed some attention, but the big kids had great fun exploring the different properties of the various mineral types.

Cadence enjoyed learning that baby powder comes from rocks.

Then it was time to play in the mud!  Actually, it was time to study dirt, and what dirt was made up of.  After the discussion, they were given a 'recipe' for dirt and sent off in groups to make it.  It was raining, so it was more mud than dirt, but no biggie.

Dirt in progress.  I think at this point it had leaves, twigs, rocks, and an earthworm.
They also did a big craft project whereby they made holiday ornaments to send to soldiers overseas.  Some of the kids got really into it.

Hazel's wreath
This was a particularly interesting bit of teamwork...The kids had been getting a little crazy, and instead of threatening or yelling, the teacher gave them what was essentially a listening exercise: walk down the very steep stairs, backwards. It worked pretty well.

I admit I was a little fearful for my tiny kids, but they were totally fine, and not a single kid fell or acted up at all.
At the bottom of the stairs was arguably the most exciting event of camp (at least as far as Cadence & Hazel were concerned.)  CANOEING.  They did some dry instruction on the ground before they got anywhere near the boats, and then they were off. And oh MAN did these kids love it!! They can't wait to do it again.
If I hadn't snapped this myself, I'd assume it was staged for a brochure!

trying out a different grip

Hazel's turn with the oar

Calliope slept through the dry instruction and boat launch, and thought it was very strange to wake up to see her sisters paddling around the water.  She didn't seem to mind not riding herself, and had a grand old time playing with the rubber ducks they had on the shore.  She enjoyed lining them up like the kids had been in line earlier!

Row of ducks!
After boating, they all made their own pizzas (no bugs this time!) though they had to be trucked away & back for the actual cooking portion, so while we waited, it was time for classic camp songs/games.

And after dinner, of course, came gathering around the campfire for s'mores.

soooo stiiickkyyyyyy
A special little visitor showed up as we were finishing up, and the kids were really excited to see this deer after having seen numerous sets of tracks but no animals on our hike and walks.

There was actually supposed to be much more, but we got rained out -flooded out, actually, as the road leading to the site was washed out, so no one could get through!  We were disappointed not to get to do everything on our agenda (like launching rockets!) but hopefully we will get to make those up.  

I do have one last cool project to share from you from camp week, though.  During down times between classes/after lunches/etc, the kids were invited to help make this amazing group project.  They made this bottle cap (and soda tab) mosaic in the spirit of environmental awareness...I thought the result was really beautiful!

4H homeschool day camp 2014

It was a busy week, and I know I am leaving a lot out, but I think I will stop here regardless.  On to the next adventure!