Cultural Shorthand

One place I believe we discover identity is in the cultural shorthand we share with those similar to us; the stories we have in common.  This can be movies, literature, shared experience and even the Bible– if you have that in common.

For example, in this odd season I find myself in, I’m finding it easier to explain to Biblically grounded people what’s going on.

And I don’t mean that as any species of slur to people who don’t know the Bible.

It is a running gag (mercifully petering out) in *Bones* to have one character make a cultural reference and the title character responds, “I don’t know what that means.”

In the 3rd season someone compared the latest antagonist to the Sith (Everybody here knows Star Wars, right?) And the point: A master and an apprentice, there can never be more than two, which one are we dealing with? was communicated that simply and succinctly.

If you got the reference.

This is one advantage of a shared culture: efficiency.

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The mistake I won’t make this school year

Last year was my first experiment with Homeschooling my own children.

I think the biggest mistake I made was to group and label my three subjects as *school,* thinking their smallness in the context of the day would make them more bearable than the long school day.

It didn’t.

It cemented in my precocious 5-year-old’s mind that school was a drag.  Particularly homeschool, since all those books she gravitated toward show only the *fun* parts of public school.

You know, special friendships, groups for music, art class, recess.  You never see Oliver laboring over letter tracers, or having to sit until he finished his work.

This year, everything we do as we follow the schedule is part of school.

Yup it takes up a good deal more of the day (or will after Monday, when Mother’s done with her outside commitments and plans), but it makes plain how much of school is sitting still and how much is exploring and delighting in the world they love.

This is the image I want them to have of school: yes there’s always work we have to do (just because we have to do it) but there’s many other things, and even the bonus of more time in the day with Mama.

Two Recommended Picture Books

First, A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom.

As a mother who likes to read and write and think (the beleaguered polar bear’s interrupted activities), this book is wonderful means of conveying both my frustration at being interrupted and the value still attached to my relationship with the interrupter.

I found it a couple years ago, but it was just this year that I saw its perfectness for our house and bought it for Elisha’s 3rd birthday.  The goose is oblivious to the polar bear’s expressions of frustration, but my girls have noticed them and we are able to talk about things like polite interrupting and interpreting body language.

Second is the potentially-disturbing Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood.

This was the answer for my (mentioned) desire for a wicked-witch story.

Hansel and Gretel will eventually be one, but I want to wait on that, being very careful about the stories I introduce to my children (and their timing).

For any newbies (or for a refresher) here is the progression I’m trying to use when teaching my children about evil:

  • Saint George and the Dragon: Evil exists and brave people must fight it.
  • Heckety Peg: Evil exists in human form, and can effect children
    • disobedience makes us more vulnerable
  • Hansel and Gretel: Evil exists in human form and sometimes children must deal with it.

This last step is something I’m waiting another two or three years for.  In the meantime, Heckedy Peg emphasizes some good things.

  • Hard work is both necessary, natural (rare in any children’s books) and rewarded
  • Disobedience is dangerous
  • Mother protects her children– both with warnings and action
    • In the end the rescue is effected by how well the mother knows the individualities of her brood (of seven!)
  • Mother won’t give up fighting for her children

For this stage the power and action of the mother is the most important. Most picture books and stories emphasize the autonomy and discoveries of the child(ren), but in this case the goal is not to put the onus on the child to do the saving.

It is utterly appropriate for children to depend on their mother for saving, and that natural expectation is fulfilled, reinforcing the security of the children snuggled in and listening.

Thinking in these terms now I see this is what I saw in Wiley and the Hairy Man, which I would place between Heckedy Peg and H&G in my progression: Wiley has to deal with the Hairy Man himself, but he also has the advice of his far-sighted mother to guide him and herself to (later) protect him.

No clever conclusion here, just the observation that these two books have been very useful beyond simply entertaining my kids.  It’s books like these that I love to discover.

The Blessing of Cluelessness

I just realized this morning that I was being insulted yesterday.

That is, I felt the interaction was unfair, and that I somehow wasn’t saying the right thing, but I was not aware until today how (basically) rude and provoking the people were being.

In their defense, they may not have realized it either. It might just be in their nature to go for what they perceive as an opening; in which case I’m doubly thankful I was clueless, because that precluded defensiveness on both sides.

Anyway, I mentioned  that life will be getting even busier soon since school will be starting, then added the clarification that we are homeschooling.

“Oh,” says Person-A, “Will Jay be teaching them math?”

“He could,” I said, surprised at the question and not wanting to make Jay look bad by saying he’s not currently planning on doing any of the teaching.

“I was just thinking he ought to be able to,” Person-A finished.

Then (this was my moment of lucidity) I realized Person-A had just insinuated it took an engineer to teach 1st-grade math.

“Are you implying,” I asked, genuinely hoping to embarrass him, “That I can’t teach 6-year-old math?”

Yes, that’s what he was implying.  He didn’t even try to defend himself.

I was surprised, but shrugged it off.  It wasn’t important to me what he thought.

It wasn’t until later that night, thinking again of the leggy Darwin fish on the car in his driveway, and remembering the sign during voting season for the local fellow I wasn’t voting for, that I began to feel something about our interaction wasn’t right.

And then this morning I realized that I had gone into the conversation utterly unprepared.

I had gone to admire a delicious new baby and prattle family small-talk and keep up positive neighborhood relations.

It was not in my mind that I was entering as an ambassador of Christ, and Homeschooling, and Conservative Thought, and Purposeful Parenting.

Lord-willing, that will never happen again.

I acted as though I was a friend among familiars, being sloppy in my explanations and imprecise in my reasons.  In short, I did more to reinforce any (diminished) view they may have of those things I represent than to correct it.

And maybe “it wasn’t that bad,” but the problem is that I didn’t enter as an ambassador, aware of what I represented.  If I’d had the right mentality going in, I know I would have done better (If I’d only know this was a job interview…).

I might have recognized the “playing” of me and my ideas before the next day, and maybe refused to play.  I want to think I’d still not be offended (it never serves a diplomat to be offended), but I could have been more “professional” and less of an airhead.

Again, not that I’m sure I was the opposite extreme, it’s just that I muffed a fine opportunity to muck up their stereotypes.

And I find that disappointing.

All the same, I haven’t yet learned how to respond politely to subtle insults, and it occurs to me that had I fully known what was going on I might have been a poorer representative of Christ than I already was.

I am thankful to have had a “learning experience” than didn’t cost too much, and find a renewed interest in investigating both the history and training of ambassadors.

It’s a study I feel could be beneficial even on a dabbling level.

Cut 6,000 words

And it was relatively easy.  I wanted to do more, but found it was easier to see what was unnecessary in the first half that I had rehashed already.

I trust I’ll be able to do it in the second half once it’s done.

Life’s been full.  That’s what blog-silence is supposed to say.

I’ve been without my laptop for weeks now, which means no quick grab-and-go moments with a laptop in the evenings since I have to coordinate sharing with Jay’s.

And since I’ve got enough other things to do that I don’t have much reason to wrestle him for it.

I’ve gotten my first 5-weeks of lesson plans drawn up, which is quite a feat that I am very proud of.  I’ve been finding all sorts of treasures at the used-book stores for school, and a few for me (Ranger’s Apprentice #4, for example, after I picked up #3 with a gift card).

And after looking at Delicious Library 2 I totally want a Mac. (I’ve wanted one for it’s lit keyboard too.  I’m totally fickle about platforms. I don’t *love* either one– I just want really specific things– like being able to type in a dark room and being able to track where I’ve put what books.)

Jay pointed out Dell finally has an illuminated keyboard.  Does anyone know a home-library program for PC that will track what I box I put each book into?

Anyway, I’ve got grand plans for the start of school, and continuing my novel and reading these fabulous finds I’ve collected… all to be enjoyed more fully when I’m not so tired.

With as painless as that major cutting was, I’m really looking forward to finishing the second half and seeing if I can do it again.  I’ll be in almost-normal territory by then. If you’re talking length, like I am.

Still Chipping Away

I’ve officially made it to the half-way mark.  Yay me.

More accurately, Yay God for providing the people who share my world and my kids.

I’ve worked on my novel on the mornings my children play with friends, and in the evenings I’ve been continuing to get ready for school.

(Starting on the 17th of August.  Clock’s ticking.)

One element of preparation has been to work out a schedule, and toward that end I’ve been working my way through the MOTH workbook.  This morning I officially *finished* assembling a (mathematically) workable schedule.

I have made schedules before, and they didn’t “work” for me, but based on how useful I found WW– despite it not actually offering any new information– I figured a very basic, highly structured approach could also be useful.

Best as I can evaluate so far, it has been.  I’m looking at something that seems possible, that I’ll only have to implement half of for at least a month.

The interesting thing about this workbook is how it guides you to begin by listing “What God wants you to accomplish in a day.”  This starts things out with a proper perspective, and keeps my to-do desire  in perspective.

Since we know that God prepares the work he has for us to do, and that he prepares us for the work, there is in my mind the settled assurance that everything He wants me to do for Him (and it’s all to be done as to the Lord, right?) will fit.

With the focused use of time, I can interact individually with my children, and (at least) begin teaching those things I’d be disappointed if I didn’t try for.  I also have a slot for writing each day and for maintaining my home.

Those slots may become somewhat interchangeable if I can prove to myself that maintenance is possible with less devotion, but for now the fact that I can have a sacred hour every day should make it easier to do home-keeping first.

~ ~ ~

Moving into the second half of the novel, I am going to be meeting “younger” work than I have revised in years. And while I console myself by saying these “first-draft” additions are probably already at the 3rd- or 4th- revision level (if I could compare their quality to my first-first draft), they still are very young and un-tried.

So I have to expect the process to be slower.

Still, I am excited, because I now have a level of comfort that I won’t need to abandon the writing altogether, making it easier to spread my focus out as I continue to prepare for school.

I know how to move slowly; I just don’t want to stop moving.

And here we come back to knowing what God wants of one, and trusting that he will provide a way to obey.

I know God wants me to write this story.  I do not know yet if He wants it published, but I know I have to be responsible for my own obedience, whatever He plans to do with it.

The Best Laid Plans…

My computer is now en route to Dell for Doctoring.

Jay transferred my e-mail and Firefox to a stick that I am able to work off of, but apparently my novel and related documents (including the most-current version of my novel) are on a different stick that has been misplaced.

This has only served to be yet another strand between me and finishing my novel.

Before school starts, that is.

And if I don’t finish before school starts it will most-certainly be shelved until we get into our new routine (she said determinedly).

I have chosen a very demanding, high teacher-involvement course of study, and have determined (as a sort of shaping criterion) that I’d rather not have regrets.  So I’m planning in terms of What will I *wish* I had done?

Which, granted, is still very embryonic– since I’m not yet sure how I’ll implement everything I’d want to do.

This last month (June) has been very educational for me:

  • I’ve learned my life can be full enough to push out writing
    • I joined Weight Watchers. Relearning how to cook will fill a lot of your life.
  • I’ve learned I can put writing on hold
  • I’ve learned I can return, albeit with less passion and *need* to immerse myself to the exclusion of my world.
    • This could be good or bad, depending on your goals, but for where I’m at it is good, because “holding loosely” needs to be the MO for this season of my life, and when inclination seconds necessity, I rejoice.

I think all these things were preparation for homeschooling beginning for real next month.

Yes, Fairbanksans begin school in August. It means being done with first semester before Christmas, and out for summer in May.  This is good because, while “newness” will keep kids inside for the sunny days of August, there’s not much can keep Alaskan kids focused once the snow starts melting.

Anyway, one day to not have access is a relief in one way: I can focus on non-writing miscellanea for a bit, and fully focusing on the approaching life-change.

I feel like I’m pregnant again.

Not physically, but mentally.

I’m preparing for an utterly new stage that I simply could not accommodate before– but then, I didn’t need to before.

I am most certainly nesting. Preparing.  And it’s hard not to give in to Natasha’s and Melody’s entreaties to begin early.

But I am determined to wait until I’m as ready as I can be: all texts here, their timing lined out, and the reality check of instruction-hours vs. available hours completed before it runs us over, incapacitating or maiming us in its Joule-like enthusiasm.

If I can’t find the document stick today Jay will bring home a copy of my Lindorm folder from work.  He mirrored my drive before removing my personal stuff and sending it with the laptop off to Dell.

I’m sure my peaceful blandness about the project will be quickly dissolved tomorrow with the opportunity to work uninterrupted.  (The children will be playing with one of their adopted aunties all morning.) “If it is the Lord’s will,” I still think the novel could be ready for its testers before August, but I can’t stress about it any more.

I’ve got more important things to focus on. :)

Another 24-inch Stack from the Library

I considered taking a picture, or listing titles, but then I figured I’d rather be reading than promoting.   So here I am, emerging for a breath of air before I decide how (or where) to dive back in.

I’ve been revisiting my how of homeschooling (never the why or whether to) and that is what prompted my latest stack of acquisitions (never mind that more than half were actually storytelling books I want to explore and see about connecting them to my children…)

But the last day and a half I’ve been feeling a bit as I did when I was 19 and listened to Jane Eyre for the first time.  I remember thinking, I really like this story then freezing mentally and wondering, Is that okay?  Who do I ask?  Who do I go to? (Today I’s probably ask whom…)

That led to an interesting time of introspection where I realized my main survival mechanism through high school was to filter everything I was learning through outside sources, because I didn’t particularly trust my teachers.  Which meant I also didn’t trust myself.

You see, if I trusted myself I would have been running everything through my own filters.  But I had learned very well that teaching most teenagers seem to miss, and that is Your perceptions are not the final word on reality.  And I’m not knocking this, much, but it did leave me with some catching up to do.

~ ~ ~

That said, I have been taking notes as I read, and I’m finding myself falling into a student mindset that is only vaguely familiar and teasingly enticing.  I appreciate the organization of thought I’m seeing in these books, and while I’m waiting to embrace even the things I like, I have certainly gleaned a bucket of new things to think on.

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Natasha’s Path to Reading.

This began as a comment on Karen’s My Two Cents on Learning to Read, but quickly grew into a story, so I moved it here.

I find this topic interesting because my oldest (the only one truly reading yet) falls squarely between the “whole language” and “phonics” models.  (Jay proposed a theory on that, which I’ll get to in a minute.)

I bought the “Teach your child to Read” book when Natasha was almost 4, because she was expressing an interest in learning and I felt the method/approach made sense (certainly the research did).  Her first reading “lesson” was part of her birthday celebration.

Yes, I realize this could make us look like nerds.  I’m over it.

She tried to follow directions at first, but as soon as she saw there were “real” stories further back that she had to work up to, she lost interest in the early stuff.  We shortly gave up on formal reading lessons (she was only four, after all) and returned to our picture books and fairy tales.

She began asking me to keep my finger under the words (always disliked it as a distraction before), and soon had the 1-to-1 correlation down.

She memorized the look of words (a thing decried by some phonics proponents) recognizing them in new contexts and stories.

We got to phonics backwards from there: once she knew words we would sound them out and apply what she knew to a new word.  Homophones became a wonderful game.

At this stage “this is a dress” (to reference Karen’s post again) was quite enough, even preferred.  She wasn’t interested in the deep or why (how to get to the components and sounds) of the language, she wanted the *story*.

At some point Jay pointed out that she had been our prolific signer.  Owned at least 75 signs by the age of two.  She didn’t talk (much) until she was almost three, but then sky-rocketed.  The theory he proposed was that she was wired toward whole-concept.

I’ve seen this as I dink around with leaching her music: she has much more patience to repeat (say) a cord pattern that she can recognize as a song than in a drilling in fundamentals that will lead to meaning later on.

Yes, I’ve thought about the “solid foundation” approach, but for the age she is I think simple delight is all I care about.  Disciplined knuckling down (Jay and I agreed while they were babies) will wait until they are 8-years-old.

Thinking of these indicators, I’m very curious to see how Melody’s reading personality will develop.  She wasn’t interested in signing at all: more in babbling and being frustrated when no one understood her on her terms.  I finally insisted on a few basic signs until her speech was more intelligible.

Elisha was solidly between these two extremes, so we’ll get to test the correlation between signing and reading from several angles.

To return to the original idea, I would argue (based on the “all children are different” model), that “This is a dress” is perfectly adequate for a child who wants nothing more than to play princess.  When she matures enough to desire a *particular* dress she will learn This is a sleeve and  this is the left bodice.  Until that point those details are only a delay or distraction from her true purpose.

I will note again here that I am no longer in a hurry to see my little ones into chapter books.

Knowing how much age and available material can be out of alignment I feel no sense of urgency to move quickly.  And while I can see a tendency in Natasha to lean more toward visual than phonetic (she insisted hoppyness was happiness until I made her break down the word and pointed out the joke), she also has a very teachable spirit that I expect to balance anything that may be out of place.