Category Archives: children

The Kind of Day I Need to Trust


My Girl got braces yesterday morning, and while she was at the orthodontist, the Boy (who is very math-phobic) and I worked on some cryptarithms. These are logic puzzles where the numerals are replaced by letters, and you have to use logic to figure out what the problem is.  For instance, HH + HH = OOT is (and can only be) 55 + 55 = 110.  (Letters next to each other represent place value, not multiplication.  Each letter must be a digit from 0-9.  Within each puzzle, a letter’s value is  constant.  In the above example, two matching 2-digit numbers with the same number in each place value spot add up to a 3-digit number.  If you add matching double digits, starting with 11 and continuing up, you’ll find that the first pair that makes a 3-digit number is 55.  Numbers high than 55 don’t produce a pattern that fits “OOT,” so 55 + 55 = 110 has to be the answer.)  This  is math he gets, and has fun doing.

After that, we picked up the Girl from the orthodontist’s office. Before she went in, she’d been studying the palette of color choices, and I was leaning on her, kind of heavily, to opt for the one labeled “obscure,” which looks like teeth.  The other options included black, hot pink, neon orange and what I call spinach green, among others.  When I was growing up, the only kids who got braces were the ones who had severe dental issues or a parent who was an orthodontist, and you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was silver. Having colored brackets seems weird to me. But I realized that they don’t seem weird to her and she’s the one who will have to deal with them.  She’s the one who will see them in the mirror when she’s brushing and flossing.  Yes, I will be seeing them a lot, too, but I’d rather see her happy and smiling with colored brackets than scowling because she doesn’t like the way she looks.  So, I backed off on the “obscure” brackets and said, “You know, I guess if I were the one getting braces, I’d get those, but I can’t wait to see what color you pick.”  She picked lavender.  And she’s beautiful. 🙂

New Braces
Turns out, you can hardly see the color.

After ortho, we went to lunch at Wendy’s (a Frosty seemed like a tempting treat after two hours of work on her teeth – even if it was -13 degrees), and had a big juicy conversation about the science of post-apocalyptic dystopias – what would it take to wipe out most of Earth’s population (short of nuclear war)?  How do nuclear weapons work? (The Girl surprised me by giving a pretty good explanation of that process.) What kind of diseases could wipe out millions?  How high would sea levels get if the polar caps melted? Etc.  We talked about math – if you are writing a book in which Earth’s population was reduced by, say 6 billion, what would a tsunami hitting New York City get you? (God forbid, for any of this, of course, but both kids love young adult literature, and you work with what you have!)  NYC has about 8.5 million inhabitants, so after the tsunami hits, you’d still have to bump off 991.5 million more people just to get rid of the first billion.  The Girl came up with a disease passed to humans from sea creatures that were now swimming in closer contact with humans, due to sea level rise.  The Boy proposed the classic comic book theme of a science experiment gone wrong, by suggesting that maybe, in trying to splice plant genes into humans, so we could make our own food from sunlight, something went horribly wrong and the plant-people hybrids became . . . zombies? Pod people? I don’t remember, but we were all giggling by then.

After lunch, they had a 2-hour indoor rock climbing class at Fairbanks’s Ascension Rock Club 

 While they were climbing, I went home to take in a webinar from Julie Bogart, of Brave Writer and the Homeschool Alliance.  I encourage any readers who are currently raising kids, and struggling, to check out Julie on YouTube, whether you’re homeschooling or not.  She is a fantastic parenting coach/cheerleader, and, although her business is focused primarily on homeschooling and the homeschool community, she has lots of insights that can be translated to just life.

After I picked them up from rock climbing, the kids played on School of Dragons and watched YouTube videos on Star Wars conspiracies (Just who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Whatever happened to Mace Windu – could he have survived the fall from that window on Coruscant?  Why does Finn seem to be Force-sensitive?) as I made dinner.  After dinner, the Girl and her Dad worked for more than an hour on a boat design she wants to build.  He helped her calculate water displacement (unit conversions! density considerations!) to figure out how much weight she wants it to carry.  They talked about physics while designing a workable propulsion system.  She had to draw plans to explain clearly what she had in mind – and she spent another couple of hours making a water-resistant scale model of her design from cereal box cardboard, packing tape and toothpicks.

I love these kinds of homeschooling days.  So much learning happens – and without any “school.”


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: CSI Alaska

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: CSI Alaska




The perps after their capture.



(The title of this post is “Summer Through Kids’ Eyes, and What We’re Doing for School this Year” – I don’t know why it is not at the top, in big, bold type like the titles usually are, but it does show up at the bottom of the post.  Weird!)
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Kids for their impressions of Summer 2016.  Though it wasn’t an assignment (Why would a homeschooling teacher-mom ask for a “What I During Summer Vacation” essay?  Except for one week when they were at Bingle Camp, I was with them 24/7.  Well, maybe 18-22/7.), the Girl wrote the following short essay:
This summer we went to the lake two times, went swimming at our grandparents’ hotel pool twice, learned how to swim, still didn’t get our tree fort, but I did get a door.  We went to Denali Park for three days with our Youth Group, which was pretty fun, except it rained for two out of three days.  We also went on a really long hike in Gulkana, and volunteered at our local Stone Soup Café [an organization providing meals to those in need].  I auditioned for the Fairbanks Youth Concert Orchestra last week, and I got in!
-The End- 
The Boy said that, though he could remember everything, due to the fact that he has an excellent and deep memory, he has trouble accessing the memories on demand. 🙂  We’ll see what he comes up with in a few days.
This year I am trying a more structured approach to school.  I’ve tried being structured before, but always in the back of my head was the idea that I should be letting them choose what they want to study, and that I should trust that they will learn what they need to learn in their own time.  Well, I’ve tried that approach, too. (Probably not as well as I could have.)  The thing is, I have not really committed to Unschooling / Project Based Homeschooling,  or a more formal approach.  Inconsistency is worse than choosing a “wrong” approach, I think.  So, this year, since the Girl (7th Grade! When did that happen?) has repeatedly asked for tests and quizzes in the past, and since the Boy (5th Grade! What??) seriously needs help learning to focus on tasks that are not of his choosing,  we are going formal.  Here’s the rundown:
Language Arts:
Daily Grammar Practice, Levels 5 and 7 (Both)
Cursive Practice with Pictures (G)
 -Cursive Practice with Jokes and Riddles (B) (An example: Why did the teacher go to the beach?  She wanted to test the water.)
The Writer’s Jungle/Bravewriter (Both)
-Reading and writing across the curriculum (Both)
Foreign Language:
Rosetta Stone German (G)
How to Train Your Dragon Dragonese (B) 😉
Real Science Odyssey: Biology Level II (G)
Sassafras Science Adventures, Vol. 1: Zoology (B)
-Dover Human Anatomy Coloring Book (Both)
-Selected Topics in Marine Biology, as requested (G)
Social Studies/History:
Layers of Learning, Year 2:  The Middle Ages (Both)
-Many, many historical fiction books, and readings from several history texts (Both)
Crash Course History videos (on youtube) (Both)
PBS Learning Media
Social Studies/Geography:
-Layers of Learning, Year 2, focusing on Europe for the first semester
-Mapping The World By Heart – This textbook is one we will use over several years, and by the end, they might actually be able to draw a map of the world by heart…but even if they can’t, they will certainly have a better idea of where things are than they do now!
 –JUMP Math 7.1 and 7.2 (G)
JUMP Math 5.1 and 5.2 (B)
-Supplementing as needed with Khan Academy
Physical Education and Health:
-Swimming at Fairbanks’s Mary Siah Recreation Center (Both)
-English Country Dancing (think Jane Austen) (G)
Janice Van Cleve’s Nutrition for Every Kid
Home Economics:
-Sewing lessons with Mom (Both) (Girl wants to learn to make her own clothes; Boy wants to make his stuffed toy designs real.)
-Cooking – Raddish monthly cooking kit subscription, the cookbook produced by our PAC (Parent Advisory Committee – Kind of a PTA/Booster organization for homeschool) (G, though B might participate sometimes), and Janice Van Cleve’s Nutrition for Every Kid
Art and Music:
Atelier video-based art program (Both)
Beethoven Who? CD-based music appreciation course (Both)
Layers of Learning Year 2 arts topics as appropriate (Both)
-Harp lessons, concert orchestra practice and performances (G)
Whew.  I think that’s everything.  Looks enough, doesn’t it?  It might actually be too much – we’re almost through September and still haven’t had any formal art lessons (though both kids produce plenty of artwork, daily.  Boy has piles of drawings all over the house.  The piles themselves are becoming art installations.  Sigh.) I’ll give details and examples of coursework for each class over the next few weeks.


Summer Through Kids’ Eyes, and What We’re Doing for School this Year

The Home Project, part 2


Nothing much has happened indoors since part 1, thanks to June being the month to get the Farmlet tilled, raked and planted.  We have also been working on enlarging the cleared area and planting a new raspberry patch.  I’ve been madly picking rose petals (for wild rose petal jelly – yum!), too, but now things are settling down and I can get back to the mess at hand.

Today, I took advantage of the Kids’ absence (yea for summer camp!) to start “cleaning” their rooms.  Now, before anybody objects to the idea of throwing out kids’ stuff while they are away and unaware, that’s not what I’m doing.  I told them both I would be sorting the stuff in their rooms and throwing away only the obvious trash.  The Boy grunted his assent while making Lego Harry Potter and friends play Lego Quidditch.  The Girl wanted a definition of “obvious trash.”  She was wise to ask, since I was assuming water-damaged papers and old princess stickers were clearly rubbish.  She disagreed, so those items are safe.  Sigh.

My plan is to separate the considerable amount of clutter in to piles – flotsam in one corner, jetsam in another, chaff over by the bed, etc.  Bits of tissue, old band-aids, broken bits of old toys, partial pencil erasers, dried-out markers – TRASH.  Usable but possibly outgrown toys, clothing, books, etc., in their own piles for inspection (and, with luck, removal).  Current toys, clothing books – in piles near where they belong – I am helping them clean, by doing some preliminaries for them, not doing the whole job for them.  Also, they will only be gone for 4 days.  That may not be enough time to excavate all the way to the floor in both rooms.

They, like me, have a ridiculously difficult time sorting stuff.  Each object they touch must have the memories associated with it aired before it can be dealt with; this often means an object that seems unimportant – even to the Kid who owns it – will become indispensable once they pick it up.  I am hoping that having the categories ready for them to go through (with my help, and not all at once) will make it easier to see what’s important enough to keep, and what they are ready to let go.  We shall see.  If it works, I might have them go through my space and categorize my junk.  I’ll have to be careful to define “obvious trash” really clearly, though. 🙂

Weekly Wrap Up for May 15, 2015


But first, a few words about history.

For History, we are following the progression outlined in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, which is a four-year rotation through time.  The first year is Ancient Times, then the Middle Ages, then Early Modern History, then Modern Times.  If you start out teaching your first-grader about ancient civilizations, by the time he or she graduates from high school, you will have covered the entire span of human history three times, each time with a little more depth.  Our history focus for most of this year was Modern History – from about 1870 to the present.  We got to the end of Bauer’s The Story of the World, volume 4: Modern Times a few weeks ago. (That book ends a little past the fall of Communism.  When it was published, in 2006, Bauer considered 9/11 and its aftermath to be current events, too recent to see just what impact they would have on history.)

We have started over, at the beginning, and I am SO glad.  Modern history is, of course, worthwhile as a subject – interesting, intriguing, invaluable for understanding our world – but my kiddos, at 9 and 11, want Good Guys and Bad Guys.  Trying to explain the subtleties of shifting alliances and what “national interests” are – meh.  It’ll be much more interesting to me (and hopefully, to them) when they are 13 and 15.  We know so much about the whys of modern history that the details bog the kids down.  3000-year old wars between the Sumerians and Akkadians are just fact.  No need to interpret which group was in the right, it’s enough to know that Akkad overran Sumer.  And hey, let’s make clay tablets to try out writing in cuneiform!

So, here’s the wrap up:

(Pre)History (and a little science):

-Studied up on archaeology and human ancestors like australopithecus, homo habilis, and homo erectus.

-Watched documentary on differences between early modern humans and Neanderthals.

-Used Stone Age tools (rocks!) to open a coconut. 🙂

-Discussed what collection of traits makes us uniquely human.  Kids settled on language, tool use and art.


-Discussed 5 themes of geography (location, place, human-environment interaction, movement and regions).

-Investigated patterns of migration of early humans.

-Noted that movement of information and a different way of interacting with the environment helped early modern humans edge out Neanderthals.


-Continued multiplication facts practice.

-Read up on early number systems and different systems for counting on body parts. (Look up Papua New Guinea counting systems!)

-Learned how keeping track of stuff lead to beginnings of writing; and how the Nile river’s annual flooding helped Egyptians get really good at surveying and geometry, as well as keeping track of time.

-Investigated the invention of zero.

-Went back to last year’s books to review and regain some confidence (both kids do fine with math, but they have a bit of mathphobia).


Science was pretty broad this week, with lots worked into history, but we also:

-Reviewed several earth science documentaries for Daddy (How the Earth Was Made series from the History Channel).

-Investigated bats, spiders and scorpions, at Boy’s request.  These are the “Crawlers” from Lego’s “Legends of Chima” series, and so are of infinite interest to him.  We watched a couple of Magic School Bus episodes and he read lots of library books on the subjects.

-Started an experiment to see if we can grow bacteria from some toys that were left in the bathroom sink for way too long.  We are also testing whether soap and water or bleach and water is more effective at killing bacteria.

-Are working on hatching our second clutch of ducklings. (Sometimes just life is science!)


-Checked out prehistoric cave art online.

-Attempted to grind pigments from rock to make our own “cave paint.” (Might need to try different – that is, softer – rocks for this…or maybe just sidewalk chalk!)

-I’m not really sure if this is art or science, but Girl flaked a rock into a spear point!  The point wouldn’t do much harm to a wooly mammoth, but the beast might get distracted by the sparkly gold ribbon she used to attach the point to the shaft. (Photo coming!)


-Girl had her harp lesson, as usual.  We have neglected practice a bit this week, though.  Daddy is the practice overseer/task master, and he has been super tired lately, as he always is at the end of the school year.

-The kids and I have been discussing the relative merit of Billy Joel’s music in different periods.  In other words, Piano Man and The Ballad of Billy the Kid vs. Uptown Girl, Allentown and For the Longest Time.  Um, probably can’t claim this is vital to their education.  But really, Uptown Girl?  Gah.


-Still plodding along, looking for the Goldilocks curriculum (not too hard, not too easy).  At least the Girl has some familiarity with basic vocabulary.  We checked an interactive program out of the library, and she has been doing about 20 minutes a day this week, but it is a bit too advanced and I can see the “I’m-beginning-to-get-immensely-frustrated-with-this” look on her face.


I can’t keep up with all they read, though I do check over what comes home from the library.  I don’t teach reading, though occasionally I have each of them read aloud a bit, to check fluency and pronunciation.  Didn’t do any of that this week.


Surprisingly, I got both of them to write a decent amount this week, with very little moaning.  Instead of giving them a specific topic and asking them to write, or asking them to write on a topic of their own choosing, I handed them each a sheet with the following typed at the top:

Tell me about the last book you read for fun.  What is the title?  Who is the main character?  Does he or she have friends?  Enemies?  What is the problem in the book?  Did you like it?  Why or why not?

I told them they didn’t have to answer all those questions directly – they were there more as a guide, something to think about if they got stuck.  I wanted complete sentences, and they had to give real reasons for like or disliking the book.  No “I like this book because it was AWESOME!” type answers. –

Boy wrote a good paragraph – he loved his book because “the cats are funny, there’s action, and adventure.”  He needs a little work on punctuation and capitalization, but very little, actually.  I was quite pleased.

-Girl filled the entire page with a very nice summary of her book (which she likes because of the “incredibly sweet” way the main characters always help each other out and work together to find the “best possible solution”).  She only made three teensy errors! And she summarized, instead of trying to retell the whole story verbatim!  Believe me, that’s HUGE.

-They both did a good job on this assignment.  I must have hit on the right amount of structure versus freedom.  Now to try and hit that sweet spot again!

Farm, School, Love


1. Farm-y stuff:

The last clutch of ducklings included 12 little fluff balls, six or seven boys, five or six girls. (It’s kind of hard to tell before they get their grown-up feathers.)

Today, we are starting to collect eggs for the second clutch of the year.  We have one duck from our first generation who is remarkably consistent with laying daily, and we would like to make sure to pass those genes on … but in the first clutch, the eggs we collected from her did not develop.  This time around, she has been isolated with a drake (we didn’t dim the lights and strew rose petals around to set the mood or anything, but you get the idea), to make sure it is not a lack of attention that caused her eggs to be infertile.

The snow is almost completely gone from the grain field.  Weekends will soon be spent prepping the ground for this year’s crops.  I’m not sure what will happen, kitchen garden-wise, since we are contemplating a visit to the family on the East Coast during the main part of the growing season.  (Can’t wait until after Hubs’s retirement – some time in the future – so we can travel during the COLD months!!)  Hopefully we will get the greenhouse built, at least, so that next year we can extend the season long enough to suit me.

2. School-y stuff:

Quarterly work samples and twice-yearly progress reports are due May 15th.  If I could figure out how to use LEGO Chima as a basis for all subjects, my life would be much easier.  Hmm. Perhaps, I could have my Students research the history of the LEGO company (history), and the molecular structure of LEGO plastic (science), locate LEGO headquarters, factories and distribution sites  on a map (geography), write a fan-fiction episode of “The Legends of Chima” (language arts), create posters of the world of Chima (art, and foreign language, if Girl did the writing on hers in German), learn to play the theme-song on the harp (Girl’s music), and figure out the profit LEGO, Inc. makes with each new ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY set of characters/”speedorz”/etc. (math/marketing/propaganda/brainwashing).

3. Love-y stuff:

11-years ago today, my darling Girl arrived and changed our lives forever, and for the better.  ❤

Girl at about 2 months.

Girl ON THE DAY OF HER BIRTH, with Sir Moose-alot.


For those of you who know me personally, this is actually a picture of my daughter – not me!

Beauty at the Beach

Beauty at the Beach. (She prefers “Tomboy Covered in Muddy Sand.”)

And, because I was on a blog-hiatus through March, I MUST add that the Boy’s arrival in March, 9 years ago, was also a life-changing and blessed event!

My Boy

My Boy. ❤



Boy Covered in Muddy Sand

Boy Covered in Muddy Sand


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. 🙂