Monthly Archives: January 2014

Super Hero Project


My Boy is interested in our history project on the Civil War, and is learning a lot by his (usually reluctant) participation in it.  He can tell you, for instance, that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all slaves in the US, just those in the Confederate States (slave-holding border states loyal to the Union were exempt).  He can tell you that Harriet Tubman led over 300 slaves to freedom and spied for the Union during the war.  And as I mentioned previously, he wants to visit Gettysburg to see the monuments (this would require a cross-country trip that would take us very close to the grandparents, so there may be an ulterior motive here.)

So, yeah, some of this stuff is sinking in.  The thing that really floats his boat, though, is anything having to do with comic book super-heroes.  Mostly from the Marvel universe, though he’s not anti-DC.  His favorites are the X-Men (Wolverine and Nightcrawler in particular) and Spiderman (and his various enemies).  It’s easy to see and understand what he is learning when we study the Civil War, or do math worksheets, or watch Nova videos.  How or what is he learning with his obsession?

He has been making origami versions of many, many heroes and villains.  These are based on a pattern for Boba Fett he found online after reading the “Origami Yoda” series by Tom Angleberger.  After making the basic figure (just a head and body), he draws different features appropriate to the character and colors them.  They are adorable.  Usually he uses recycled copy paper for these, but certain characters call for different materials.  The Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), for instance, looks great in tracing paper.  The X-Men’s Colossus, who can turn his skin metal, works well made from aluminum foil.  He’s also adapted a pattern for Star Wars’s four-armed General Grevious to make Spider-Man’s foe, Doctor Octopus.  This is an ongoing art project that he is extremely invested in.  He is learning problem solving, creative use of materials, and origami techniques.

Origami X-Men 1

Origami X-Men 2
A Selection of Origami X-Men and Friends

(On the far left of the 2nd and 4th rows above are back and front views of Nightcrawler, who has a tail. 🙂 )

Both kids will spend hours playing with these little paper people.  They have discovered that there are more male characters than female; that the comic book boys are ridiculously over-muscled; and the girls are, as my kids delicately put it, “showy.”  They’ve noticed, on their own, the way costumes and gender roles evolved over the decades.  Sue Storm started out as the “Invisible Girl,” and the X-Men’s Jean Gray morphed from the sorta wimpy “Marvel Girl” to the powerful Dark Phoenix (of course, she had to go bonkers in the process – we haven’t talked about that yet.)  We’ve had some mighty interesting discussions about fairness, societal expectations and the changing roles of women.  This is modern history and sociology.
A mistake I made (letting them read a couple of X-Men Origins issues without previewing them –duh! Way too much violence and gore for my relatively sheltered kiddos) has resulted in conversations about whether a character (in this instance, Wolverine) can be good if he kills bad guys indiscriminately, and the power of redemption.  I guess this one is more a “values” kind of lesson.  We believe in the idea that people are “innocent until proven guilty,” not “an eye for an eye.”  We also believe that people can change, and that doing the right thing might be hard, but it is worth it.  They’ve also learning that Mommy can make mistakes (I’m sure they didn’t know that before….), and sometimes books get taken away before you’re finished with them. 🙂

The fascination with comics has also led to a lesson on the anatomy of the human arm (where do Wolverine’s claws go, anyway?), investigation of how cats retract their claws (completely unlike Wolverine…) and 2nd grade spelling lists like this (all taken from an X-Men comic book):

  1. wolverine
  2. abandon
  3. mystique
  4. Cyclops
  5. nightcrawler
  6. weapon
  7. colossus
  8. cavalry
  9. telepathic
  10. academy

There will be writing, as well, since both Boy and Girl have a zillion ideas for comic book stories to write (thanks for the templates, Aunt Sally!), and they are in the process of creating new characters.  One set of new characters are the Arctic X-Men (local nature study).  Another is a family of super-heroes (Bro-Boy! Sis-Girl!), with equipment they are building, costumes they are making, and powers that fit them.  Bro-Boy evades enemy fire by being in constant motion (could not be more accurate).  Sis-Girl is a smart inventor, who shoots darts tipped with potions she has concocted, such as power-neutralizer, confusing potion or paralyzer.  This is creative writing.

Boy has also learned how to use my camera’s delay feature to take pictures of himself as Spider-Man, crawling up the wall. 🙂Climbing the "Wall"

He hasn’t quite taken to heart that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but we’re working on it.


It is not a tidy way to learn, and it can be hard for me to value the eight million origami X-Men littering the living room.  But this kid is fascinated, engaged, learning all the time.

Boy As Wolverine



The Land Provides


Seed catalogs have started to appear in our mailbox!! Yea! Spring is coming!  I can’t wait to see dirt (outside dirt, of course.  Sadly, we have plenty inside…).  Well, of course, I can wait.  I’ll need patience for another three months. (Four, if this winter holds on as long as last winter did.)


The Garden in January 2014

May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013

Still, I love when the catalogs start arriving.  I’m going to have twice as much space for growing veggies this year, and no away from home job to interrupt.  And last year the property gave us most of what we needed to make a green house.  That will be going up as soon as we can remove a few small stumps.  What’s that you ask?  How did the property give us a greenhouse?  Well…

We had been pondering how we could build a greenhouse cheaply.  I’d seen a prefab one at Sam’s Club; it didn’t really look big enough or sturdy enough, but the price was decent (less than $200).  Husband went to check it out and discovered the much larger carport for about the same amount.  With some modifications and additional structural support, he thought that would make a really nice greenhouse for between $300 and $500 dollars.  He thought he might even be able to use some old pipe he’d noticed half buried in the woods on the property to lengthen the carport, or as replacement parts, if needed.  Turns out, the old half-buried pipe was all the pieces of a similar carport.  Only a few were damaged, and of those, most could be repaired.  And it wasn’t super old.


Pipes Laid Out on Driveway, Summer 2013

He got some new pieces to replace the few unusable ones and lengthen the structure a bit, and built the first end wall last summer. We already had most of the plywood for the wall, salvaged from remodeling the inside of our house.


Structure Complete. Sorta

This is a good sign, I think.  It’s like magic.  We have a need and the land provides.  I’m tempted to go stand in the middle of our field and say, “Golly, I could really use someone to clean my house….”

The Past is Made of Family History


For the past month or so in our homeschool, we have been investigating the American Civil War.  What a fantastic topic for a unit study!  It can include history, geography, science (Physics of cannon balls? Anatomy?  Biology and bacteriology?), art (photography, battlefield sketches done for newspapers), math (percentages, averages, distance, multiplication – if 26 soldiers received $13 per month for a 3 year tour of duty…), writing (recruitment posters, letters to and from the front, newspaper articles, speeches), debate, reading (many historical novels for kids deal with this period, in addition to textbooks and nonfiction accounts); philosophy;  human rights…we could probably work in P.E. if it weren’t January in Alaska.  I doubt any Union or Confederate soldiers did much drilling or marching in temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

All of this is wonderful stuff, and lets us dig deeper into the topic than we would if my Boy and Girl were public school kids.  The best part, however, is the connection we can make to history through our own family.

My father is an avid genealogist, as is my mother-in-law.  Thanks to my dad’s research, I knew long ago that when we got to the Civil War, I could share with the kids the story of their great-great-great-great grandfather, the Union soldier, but I didn’t have any details for him, other than the name “James B. Hawk,” and that he survived the war.  I emailed my dad for more info on James B., and any other ancestors he knew of who were involved.

Dad came through with FIVE relatives and their military history.  I wondered if there might have been any relatives who fought for the Confederacy; he remembered about a multiple-great uncle (Andrew Hawk) who left Pennsylvania in 1784 for the South, eventually ending up in Augusta, Georgia.  It was possible … After checking with a Hawk cousin in Oklahoma (whom he’d met through previous research), he discovered that there were many, and sent on some military detail and stories of life in the South during the war and Reconstruction.

Knowing that my mother-in-law is also interested in genealogy (and her grandkids education), I cc’d her on the emails going back and forth between my dad and me.  She looked into that side of the family.  With the help of another distant relative, she came up with some more great stories, including one man who was a prisoner of war, one who retrieved his company colors twice on the battlefield after his comrades were wounded, and one who refused to fight, as he was responsible for the welfare of several female relatives.  He was sentenced to three years in a Federal penitentiary.

So, now our little unit study includes research by three generations in at least five states.  When we read stories or our textbook, we can listen for mention of Company E, 130th Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Maybe we’ll read about the Battle of Sharpsburg, where James B. was wounded by getting hit in the neck with pieces of a fence hit by a shell.  Maybe we’ll read about a brave soldier who carried the flag, and remember Samuel S. Bierer, the great-great mentioned above.  Was the army surgeon who was killed by guerillas near Rappahannock Station in Virginia a good one?  He was my great-great-great-great uncle.  There were Bierers at the Second Battle of Bull Run – fighting Hawks who called it Second Manassas.  What was it like to life on a cup of cornmeal a day, mixed with dirty water and set in the sun to “bake”?  That was prison life for one Bierer ancestor.  And there’s a Hawk relative buried in Marietta, Georgia, near where he died in the Battle of Peach Tree Creek, who’s not descended from the Hawk who went South in 1784.

My dad asked me the other day if the kids were as excited about all this Civil War stuff as I am.  Honestly, they are not. But they are more excited about American history than I was at age 7 or 9, which is not to say that I was not interested.  I was pretty good in history in fourth grade.  I even won a little Liberty Bell for getting 100% on a test, once. 🙂  But this is different.  This is deeper.  Even Boy, who would definitely rather make origami X-Men than look at a map or learn about 1860s weaponry, grasps that the people who fought  and died, or lived with the scars of battle, were real people, not just cannon fodder.  Some of them happened to be our ancestors.  Some of the people we know are probably descended from others.  Some never got to be ancestors, but they, too, are part of someone’s family history.   And that’s what history is, after all, the connections between people over time.

Thanks, Daddy and MIL, for helping to strengthen the kiddos connections to family and to the past.  Oh, and Daddy –  Boy wants to visit Gettysburg, to “see the monuments,” and Girl has memorized the Gettysburg Address.  I didn’t assign that. 🙂