Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mama's Growing Vocabulary

I am absolutely delighted with the new word I learned today.  It is a term I've been searching for since I was maybe 5.  A single noun for the experience of being dumped by a friend.

According one of the hippest sources in my world, the right way to express this is "frump.ed". Quite helpful vocabulary at the moment as I believe I have recently been frump.ed.  Also, what with a 5 year old girl in the house, I fear we'll be talking about it from the shorter perspective soon. Now it will be easier to name.

Just a warning, I choose to put and extra "." in the word as some of the other apparently hip people in the WWW have a different and less friendly definition for the word, and I'm not ready to attract their attention. So you might be careful in any initial public usage of the term! Here's to hoping you won't need it soon anyway.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

At the End of the Day

This post on ThirdMom set me deeply thinking and feeling today.  I love my daughter so much, I ache for her pain so much. We're doing what we think is right here in our household to help ease that, both in regards to race and adoption.  But at the end of the day, it is still her life and her history that she has to absorb and integrate, with all the pain and sadness and rage that is appropriate for her. I hope there are many moments of peace for her along the way.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mellow Chess Camp

Theo's on-going interest in chess and his desire to be with his homeschool buddies lead me to propose a homeschool chess camp to the Seattle Homeschool Group.  At first we planned to do what seems to be the normal chess camp plan: hire a coach and spend hours learning about and playing chess.  

After some serious sticker and commitment shock (5 day chess camp is about $250/"camper" and you are required to provide at least 15 players), I decided to create a plan B.  Otherwise known as The Library Plan - picture, me, my Seattle Public Library Card and every single juvenile chess book in the library system. 

Further feedback from interested families showed that while our 5-8 year olds really wanted time everyday to play chess, they didn't like to lose and they didn't want anything super structured.  So mellow seemed to be the distinguishing feature of what our camp would be.  We planned 2 hours for 5 days to play and learn about chess, with our primary goal to be having fun.  

In every email I sent out, I made sure to include the fact that "I have NO idea what I'm doing. I'm just making this up, and all ideas and suggestions are welcome." 

Monday morning, 6 families showed up at our house.  We talked a little about what kids wanted to get from camp, how to be a good sport, what to do if they weren't having fun.  Then kids set themselves up to play.  And they played all week long.  Sometimes 1 on 1, sometimes as teams, they did chess puzzles and mini-games, they built chess-piece towers and played hide-the-pawn.  We adults tried to keep them focused and be flexible and responsive to their needs and energy levels.  Seems they all mobbed their dads in the evenings to play chess with them, and they all finished up Friday excited to play more chess again another day.  Mission accomplished!

Oh, and did I mention the total budget for the entire 5 days? $0.  The whole dang thing was free!  

Here are a few things I learned along the way:
Being an expert in the field is not a prerequisite to hosting a camp.  I started out the week knowing how to move the pieces around the board.  But I needed to keep ahead of the kids and have something interesting for the next day.  So, in working with another mom who knew more about chess than me and pouring through the 17 books I got from the library, I learned a lot about chess.  Enough at least to keep the kids interested, enough in fact, that I'd like to spend plenty more time this year learning and playing. Hey - it was fun for me too!

Playing chess is work.  After about an hour, the kids needed a break.  Maybe next year I'd only plan an hour for playing, or plan 3 hours so there could be an hour of chess time, and hour for "recess" and food and then a third hour for another game.

Teams are great for kids who don't like to lose.  Somehow these kids didn't take a team loss anywhere near as personally as 1:1 loss.  That said, letting kids team up on their own isn't a great idea, too many messy social issues can occur.  Lesson learned, we had an adult pre-determine the teams and kids were fine with it. She was very clever and broke up the "best friends" pairs that tended to exclude others, but set them up against each other so they still got to play on the same board.

Homeschool families come in packages.  So when one hosts a camp for the 5-8s, one also gets the siblings.  Fortunately, one also gets the parents.  We adults split up, the chess interested ones took over coaching responsibilities, the others took the "non-chess player" siblings.  Next time I do this, I'll have someone come up with a daily plan for them, too. Probably doing most of the same things the siblings ended up doing, but with more purpose and better supplies: a trip to the park, finger painting, other craft projects, water play if the sun cooperates. 

A little hyperventilating over not being perfectly ready never actually hurt anyone. And it turns out, nice people don't care if I'm not perfectly prepared at all time.  Go figure.

Chess was not the most important thing happening this week.  In my opinion it is always the social dynamics that dominate.  Having a high number of moms on hand who could be attentive to how kids were interacting, reading the general energy level of the games and providing coaching on how to handle interpersonal challenges provided more benefit than I think my 7 year old would have gotten out of any fancy $250/week professional camp.  

So is an on-going Chess Club next?
I don't know yet.  We'll have to see how our fall schedule shakes out.  However, if we do, I have a list based on my perusal of the 17 books I check-out.

Sara's Chess Learning Plan 
(based on the understanding that I really have very little idea what I'm doing and I'm making this all up as I go along)

Work through these books from SPL, presenting the information and doing the exercises, I think the whole of these books would take about 9 months to work through. Many of them repeat much of the same information, but at more complex levels.

1. Chess for Children by Murry Chandler.  This is a basic, yet delightful how-to book with lots of cartoon drawings and random kid jokes.  Probably 10-12 "lessons" worth of information.
2. Chess From First Moves to Checkmate by Daniel King. The how-to in this book doesn't differ much from the Chandler book, but it has a great couple of pages on the history of chess and the VIPs of the chess world.
3. Comprehensive Chess Course, Volume 1 by Roman Pelts.  This is a 12 lesson tried and true curriculum that I think might be a little too dry for very beginners, but a great 2nd pass of information for slightly less beginnery beginners.
4. Chess Tactics for Students by John A. Bain.  This book features introductions to 13 important tactics with lots of exercises/puzzles to practice the concepts.
5. DK Chess: Strategies to Master your Game.  This is a flashy book with too many words and pictures on a page in the finest of DK tradition.  But it also has some truly interesting and helpful tidbits on individual pieces and their strategies.
6.  202 Checkmates for Children by Wilson and Alberson.  101 mate-in-one puzzles and 101 mate-in-two puzzles that the kids (and moms) enjoyed once we learned to set them up on our own boards. I might hand a few of these out each week for kids to work through (together?) each time we met.

Other Resources
At home, Theo and I spend lots of time working through the tutorials at ChessMagnetSchool.  If we were to do a club, I might recommend everyone joining (it's $30/year) so kids could progress at home at their own pace and play each other on-line in between meetings, maybe even over speaker-phone. Kind of like World of Warcraft, except NOT.

One resource book sheerly for adults that  impressed me and helped keep the time fun yet still focused on chess is Chess for Success by Maurice Ashley.  

The book I really wanted to find but never did was a thinking strategy book.  One that set out a concrete process for the kids to work through one each and every turn that would go something like this:
- What did my opponent just do - what is their plan - which of my pieces are threatened?
- What is my overall plan - what piece would I best move this turn?
- If I move that piece, what will happen to it and the game?
If you know of that book, please, leave me a comment!

In closing
I highly recommend hosting a camp for something you know nothing about! It can be great fun, an easy opportunity to share a learning passion with your children and a fantastic way to grow connection to your community.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Year of the Rat, not Year of the Garden

So did I mention we moved?  In January?  

We did.  From Montlake to Columbia City.  About a 20 minute drive. We really, really love our new neighborhood.  

In the Chinese calendar, this is the Year of the Rat.  Boy howdy!  

When we first took possession in I noticed this smell.  And then other people started noticing the smell. The nice pest control guy came and promptly got mighty excited about the nasty abandonned opossum den in our basement crawl space.  He said it was the worst mess he had ever seen in all his years of pest control work.  Promptly, we had the crawl space totally redone. 

He also put lots of those industrial looking little rat poison boxes around the outside of our house. A couple of months later, there were birds in the roof. He screened all suspicious looking holes. A few weeks later, gnawing behind our bedroom wall. Now all our attic crawls spaces have traps set with peanut butter (we have 4, count them 4, separate attic crawl spaces). I figure a weird insect infestation comes next?

As an exercise in personal growth, I work carefully to keep from letting the opposum/rat/bird/spider pest issue make me crazy.  Also, the mold in the dishwasher issue.  And the one-butt kitchen for a 6 butt household. And the methodical breakdown/giant leak-fest of every water appliance in said kitchen in 4 successive and surreal weeks. And the squeaky carpet that crunches like walking on dry snow and somehow smells like cat pee at all times. And the total lack of fung shui issue. Fortunately, we know this nice architect guy.

The yard, however,  is great.  The backyard out the kitchen door is private, has lovely soft grass, a brick patio, two fruit trees and a large sandbox. There is a side yard with garden space and more lovely green grass, though the hill makes any ball games challenging.  There is a front yard separated from the side yard by a partial fence. 

Last but not least, we have a secret forest!  Really it is the space between our house and our neighbors, but it is full of tall trees, bushes, fallen branches and a little child-worn trail that leads from the front yard along the side of the house, behind the backyard's privacy fence to the driveway. Perfect for my children's busy bodies and imaginations.

I'm finding the separation of the side yard from every other part of the house means that our 
garden lives a lonely life.  Last year, we babied our plants daily in the early morning when we 
first woke up. This year I occasionally notice some thirsty looking plants from the kitchen window and try to remember to water them later.

Fortunately, nature is mightier than my short-term memory and we still get to harvest the fruits of a few spurts of labor. We leave for Pact Camp tomorrow.  I hope the housemates remember to indulge!

A little sun ripened goodness for lunch today.  There were strawberries, but we ate them all before I could get pictures.

Our little square foot gardens hold their own against the voluptuous flowery bushes that the previous owners left. Can you see all the lovely ripening tomatoes?

My square foot gardening book says I can grow my pumpkins up my trellis.  

Birthday present blueberry bushes promise treats for last August.

Raspberries, off in their own quiet corner of the yard, still manage to ripen, though not staked and rarely watered. I ate most of these myself before being detected by small children.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reasons to Homeschool

People often ask why we decided to homeschool, if we are enjoying it, and how long we intended for this to go on.  I have happy little pat answers for the first two, but kind of defer on the third question, something alone the lines of, "uh, we'll see."

Mostly I find myself unable to generate an opinion about whether or not we'll homeschool for high school because I can't begin to imagine my small children becoming teenagers, passing through puberty, growing arm-pit hair.  Apparently all kids eventually do, but it's beyond my mental grasp.

Today, though, someone presented me with a compelling argument to homeschool older kids. Basically it is the socialization argument all over again: high adult to child ratio, many models and coaches for appropriate conflict resolution skills, multiage groups and family attachments. Except apparently the stakes are higher once you add in teenage hormones.  Here is her article in full.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Escape from Music Coma

For about the last 8 years I've pretty much been in a music coma.  You know, the same 4 cds played over and over day and night. Not good for the soul.

The Ebony June 2008 magazine is here to save me, though.  It is full of music recommendations from a whole range of genres.  I'm sticking (most) everything on my library hold list so I can work through them and find at least 4 more favorite cds.  Hopefully I'll renew this stack before we change into the next decade!

Here's what my car will be emanating over the next few months:
- Ayo (heartfelt with lovely guitar)
- Al Green (eclectic soul music)
- Measha Brueggergosman (opera)
- Trombone Shorty (loved him on Studio 60)
- Miko Marks (country music, I'm looking forward to this one!)
- Ziggy Marley (Love what I hear on the radio)
- Corinne Baily Rae (British soul)
- Rihanna (several other mamas have known and loved her for years, I'm slowwww)
- Gnarls Barkely (this is an experiment)
- Angelique Kidjo (world music)
- Ben Harper (can't resist someone called "The Optimist)
- Ritz Changer Players (classical is my first love)
- Lupe Fiascon (hip-hop, the world I don't know at ALL)

Monday, July 7, 2008

888 review

Time to update on my 888 Challenge.  We're over half-way through the year, I'm feeling like I'd better get my game on!

First, I wanted to review the rules as my internal to-read list has been shifting.  Now I'm ready to update on what I have read and tweak my list. Books I've read are in bold, changes in color. Doing this makes me want to post some reviews of the books I have read.

Sara's 888
Adoption and Race
1. Outsiders Within
2. Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Tatum
3. Can We Talk about Race? by Tatum
4. Real parents, Real Children by van Gulden
5. Bone Black by bell hooks
6. Rock My Soul: Black People and Self Esteem by bell hooks
7. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla by Wright
8. … Looking for a book by first moms… ideas anyone?

Parenting (some of these are re-reads)
1. Kids are worth it by Coloroso
2. Playful Parenting by Cohen
3. Kids, Parents and Power Struggles by Kurchinka
4. Protecting the Gift by deBecker
5. The book about raising healthy black children on my desk
6. How to Really Love You Child by Campbell
7. Temperment Tools by Neville and Johnston
8. Mama Rocks' Rule by Rose Rock

Education (for me about teaching the kids)
1. Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African American Students by Steele
2. Smart Girls by Barbara Kerr
3. Dumbing us Down
4. The African history book hiding in one of the unpacked boxes
5. Brain Rules by Medina 

Homeschool (novels for us to read together)
1. Battle for the Castle
2. D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
3. Return of the Indian by Banks
4. The Trumpet of the Swan – E.B. White
5. The Sword in the Tree – Clyde Robert Bulla
6. Thimble Summer – Elizabeth Enright
7. Call It Courage – Armstrong Perry
8. The Door in the Wall – Marguerite di Angeli

Graphic Novels
1. Usagi Yojimbo book 7
2. Usagi Yojimbo book 8
3. Elfquest 4
4. Elfquest 5
5. The next Girl Genius
6. More Usagi
7. Elfquest 9
8. More Usagi, again

Make me laugh, make me cry
1. Thank you Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
2. Right Ho Jeeves
3. Something by bell hooks
4. The Tower at Sony Wood by Patricia A. Mchillip
5. iPhone, The Missing Manual
6. Strong Enough? By Mark Rippetoe

The Wanna Read Someday Shelf
1. Healing the New Childhood Epidemics by Kenneth Bock
2. Home Comforts by Mendleson
3. Body Clutter by FlyLady
4. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Taubes
5. Fiber Menace by Monatryrsky

8 Great Plays (to accompany the lecture series by Leonard Peikoff)
  this catagory was "Victorian Pulp Fiction"
Antigone by Sophocles
2. Othello by Shakespeare
3. Le Cid by Corneille
4. Don Carols by Schiller
5. an Enemy of the People by Ibsen
6. Saint Joan by Shaw
7. Monna Vanna by Maeterlinck
8. Cyrao de Bergerac by Rostand

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Homeschooling Advice

I seem to be on a writing tear today.  Something about having gotten enough sleep and my children off entertaining themselves.

So I have to tell you a story.

Half way between here and I-5 North is a little coffee stand.  You know the tiny little storage sheds turned drive-thru coffee shop kind?  It is tiny and cute and sports an "organic coffee" sign.  Having worked for a small business or two in my day, I have a soft spot in my heart for these places, so every few weeks we drive by for a cup of coffee, despite the fact that the coffee is bitter.

Last Thursday, the kids and I swung by there on our way home for lunch.  The man at the window, who lights up when he sees kids in the car, now recognizes us and asked if the children were out of school today.  "No, we are homeschoolers," lead to the anticipated series of questions.  He's from Africa, and I wanted to communicate that we weren't some sort of dangerous anti-government rebels, so I turned off my car engine and explained a little about what Washington State law says I need to know and the freedom around what I am required to teach my kids.  He handed me my coffee, and we talked a little more about his kids and mine. He asked if my kids played soccer, and I equivocated some answer about how they're interested but there are so many fun activities to pursue.  We talked about how homeschoolers do compared to school kids.  He seemed interested and slightly skeptical.  

As the children in the back seat were starting to agitate, I said my goodbyes, started my engine and prepared to drive away.  He looked meaningfully at me for a moment and said, "Teach them soccer.  They will be fine."


Maybe our homeschooling theme for this month will turn out to be self-image.

Somehow it percolated into my consciousness over the past few months that my encouragement for Rosie to prize the lovely tight curls that are her birthright while hot pressing my own waves danced way too close to hypocritical for my comfort.  Mental brew completed, off to the salon we went, daughter and mama: her for a trim, me for a new do.  It has been years since I've expressed my curliness and what a surprise to find all those babyand nursing hormones added to the spring.  Still strange to see myself in passing windows, but it feels good.

We're off to Pact camp in a week.  Camp is, at least for my family, a week devoted to exploring who we are inside and out.  In fact, this year, Theo's group will be doing an identity collage.  I'm fascinated to see what comes out of that project.

More superficially, hair coloring was on sale at Whole Foods last week.  Theo looks spectacular!