Playing with Sticks

Every little boy (and girl) loves them.  In our house they are represented in varying sizes, shapes and textures.  Some are long, others are shorter.  Some are thin and rough and are bandied about in twirling, frenetic fashions.  Others, however, are stocky, smooth and are useful for solid, quick jabs and are more realistic for taking with you in the car, on a walk, and, yes, to a family photo shoot.  Sticks.

Here are a few of G's collection.
Here are a few of G’s collection.

Sticks collected from a nearby nature trail – around us they are plentiful and frequently visited.  Sticks nabbed from a neighbor’s or friend’s yard – a souvenir of sorts from a play date.  Sticks from parks and even a stick from a trip to Arizona – a stick lovingly and diagonally padded inside a checked suitcase and brought out of the toy box for special occasions.

Yes, I said toy box.  I know, a little boy playing with sticks may not seem particularly unique.  However, I am not sure how many treasure their outdoor finds quite like G does.  Every stick- well, every stick his mother allows him – he has kept from his ramblings and filled toy boxes.  Balls, plastic toys,and wooden blocks are set aside so that the go-to toy for G on any occasion is the stick du jour.

While playing with G yesterday in his pop-up tent, he began to collect a smattering of sticks from here and there, from a couple of stashes upstairs.  Somehow, he had the right job for each stick.  One was a fishing pole, another was a shovel.  A narrow, curved one was the obvious choice for a nimble bow.  The arrows were swift and imaginary.  G found a sword, a spoon for a stuffed buddy and a flashlight – all made from his imagination and sticks.

I began to make application.  Why are sticks such a big deal to G?  There are a few reasons, I think.

  • It’s personal.  He has found them all by himself and even more importantly, he has carefully chosen them for their intrinsic and special qualities.  Not just any stick comes home, only the ones which are specifically chosen to fulfill a task.
  • Sticks are infinitely malleable to any task at hand.  By malleable, you understand, I do not mean the sticks themselves are soft and pliable, but rather they are conducive for open-ended play.  His mind and imagination are malleable as he plays with a small piece of wood, once as a weapon, then as a flying broom stick.  The next time it is a musical instrument- a flute or an alpenhorn.
  • They are from nature.  They have texture.  They are real.  They are legitimate objects, not a toy or a modified version of something.  They are not fabricated in a factory.  They are from God.

And here, in G’s pop-up tent is where I began to reflect on this simple thought.  God offers us daily something real, not artificial, but authentic, created.  God throws blessings down upon us daily.  Thousands of little things for us to make use of, millions of tiny things for us to glory in.  They are a myriad of promises on which our imagination and gratitude may stretch and grow.  Why do I spend my time preoccupied with the artificially fabricated things?  Sticks.  Blessings scattered about on the ground.  G claims them as his own, takes them home and knows just how to appreciate them.

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Dear Father, thank you for providing G with sticks.  Help me to truly see as I gather together my daily blessings scattered around like the endless sticks upon the ground.

Looking at bark

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Are you able to discern this variety of tree simply by its bark?  Could it be a sweet gum?  There are certainly a number of sweet gum pods, or the fruit, about the ground nearby.  Why are you uncertain?  Are you not familiar with trees?  Can you more readily recognize them by their blooms or leaves?  is the photo simply too close?  The closer we study something the more difficult it may be genuinely to see it.

Is it a beautiful tree?  Perhaps.  It is hard to tell now.  I am merely examining one small part of it. It is nearly impossible to see your hand half an inch from your face.  As I cannot even remember if this really is a sweet gum, I cannot be sure.  I know it is not a beech, which has a smoother bark.  What I do know is that if I were to take a few paces back I would see a thing of fractal beauty, an example of a social yet stationary giant.

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This is how my son appears to me, day after day.  Rough.  Bumpy.  Craggy.  Too close. There are too many petty fights, too much time spent on incidental worries, and certainly not as many moments appreciating where he is now.  When I look exclusively at the details, become hyper-focused on the minutiae in the necessities of the day to day, it becomes increasingly difficult to see him as he truly is now, in all of his beauty.  I need to step back a few paces every once in a while, smile at him and take in all of him at this stage –  bark, leaves, limbs, branches, shaggy hair…..

 

…Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

they will sing before the LORD…

Psalm 96:12b-13a

Resources: “What is that in your hand?”

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What is the mightiest tool I possess?  A keyboard?  A recipe for spaghetti puttanesca?  A seemingly pointless master’s degree in Slav(on)ic  studies?  These meager resources seem insufficient to tackle the task at hand- namely, raising three boys from childhood to boyhood, and eventually to manhood with grace, strength, consistency and wisdom, turning their hearts solidly toward God.  It is more than I could do on my own.  It is more than any of us can do.  As I sigh over bread crumbs kicked into distant kitchen corners, or over another petty squabble between my boys, or even a missed opportunity to encourage someone, my impoverished resources appear pathetic.  As I focus on my weaknesses, I largely see problems and never solutions.  I get bogged down in the now and forget to rejoice over the future’s victories.

I see my puttanesca recipe only as a means of getting dinner on the table until I remember a couple of loaves of bread .

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?

John 6:9

My arms seem weak and tired until I recall a shepherd’s staff.

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

Exodus 4:2

A random and ancient oxgoad.  A slingshot and a smooth, well-chosen stone near running water.

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.  He too saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

Could they be synonymous with a pen’s scribblings?  A healing conversation?  With words of truth spoken in earnest?

What they have in common is their negligibility.  They are nominally useful things in human hands.  Yet in the hands of a foreign judge, backed by the LORD Almighty, an entire nation gains freedom by way of a farm tool.  Guided by the Jewish Messiah, surrounded by crowds, a boy relinquishes his lunch and feeds thousands, highlighting deity in human form for all in the vicinity.  Leaning on a staff a shepherd strikes fear in the world’s leading ancient empire.  Alone in a remote town, among an insignificant tribe, a married couple turns construction and home design into a powerful sanctuary for a holy prophet.

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.  Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

2 Kings 4:10

Whatever we find in our hand He infuses with power and substance and relevance.

And there are times that as we search about us we may discover that we have inadvertently dropped whatever had been in our hands.  There is no longer a shepherd’s staff or even a small stone.  Or maybe we had never even grasped anything at all.  A flash of light, a midnight escape in a basket, (Acts 9:23-25) a couple of Roman floggings, and we no longer possess our prestigious diploma in the Torah.

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And that is when we fall, only to take up the most powerful tool of all – prayer.

Lepidoptera


DSC_0008Tuesdays and Thursdays this year have been filled with lunches with friends, and gym and art classes for A and S.  For G, it has meant preschool.  Out-of-the-house, pack-your-lunch, play-with-friends preschool.  It has been a great thing for our four-year-old guy.  Up until now he has tagged along for the ride, sitting back seat to whatever the brothers were involved in.  Preschool, however, has been wholly his.  He has loved each moment.  

With fewer than twenty students, our little church preschool has been a wonderful place for G to learn, play and grow two days a week.  Not only has it provided him opportunities for learning and social time, but it has also given our family support.  G sees his teachers as positive, loving reminders of his own capabilities.  We are so grateful for that.

This month they have been concentrating on caterpillars and butterflies.  The teachers have displayed monarch caterpillars in jars.  They have learned about the chrysalis.  They have talked about colors and defense patterns, such as false eyes.  Watching the process from caterpillar to butterfly only serves to excite him about his own growing and changing body.  G seems to have a direct understanding that because God created everything, he has executed it all in astounding and loving ways.  I wanted to capitalize on their studies and explorations  at school, and bring them home.  I love how they are able to observe live caterpillars.  Below are some of our favorite butterfly books.  Here I need to give kudos to our local librarian who helped me become acquainted with two of these titles recently.  They are both new favorites with G.

Butterfly Literature-


51rVkztDKyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_A  Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long – I cannot describe how exquisite the details of this book are!  The illustrations are like something to be found in a high quality nature journal.  Both the text and colorful artwork urge you to race outdoors….to sit and observe.

eb14c1abc1a3212fd824c758cfd6b3caSummer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle and Julie Paschkis tells the true story of Maria Merian, who as a teenager, became a lepidopterist and artist of nature during the Middle Ages when the wisdom of the day stated that insects were evil and sprang up out of mud.  Maria was insistent and carefully studied their life cycle.  The simple text is a gentle introduction to the beauty of science and learning, giving children an inspirational role model.    The illustrations are bright and colorful, almost folk or naive in style.

61J9X28RWPL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons is one of the best places to begin to understand details of the life cycle and habitat of the popular orange and black lepidoptera.  Her books of non-fiction are some of our favorites.  This one introduces vocabulary such as migration and proboscis.

51mofq0deWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Bob and Otto by Robert O. Bruel and Nick Bruel is an incredibly sweet, witty story of two friends – an earthworm and a caterpillar.  When one of them grows and changes, the other feels neglected.  Not only is this a story of the differences in creatures, but a tale of the importance of friendship.

Gottago-210-expGotta Go!  Gotta Go!  by Sam Swope and Sue Riddle – The persistence and intrepid spirit of the monarch caterpillar is contagious in this repetitive and charming book.  The basic illustrations add to the sweetness.  Your little one will enjoy chanting along with you, “Gotta go!  Gotta go!  Gotta go….to Mexico!”

G has been bringing home butterfly crafts, but we wanted to do one more simple one at home.  This is where my creativity breaks down a bit, so I need to keep art projects as basic as possible.  On a folded sheet of paint paper I drew half a butterfly.  G painted it in and we folded the page over to press the other half of the butterfly to the other side – symmetry!

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I’ve watched you now a full half-hour;

Self-poised upon that yellow flower

And, little Butterfly!  Indeed

I know not if you sleep or feed.

How motionless!- not frozen seas

More motionless! and then

What joy awaits you, when the breeze

Hath found you amongst the trees,

And calls you forth again!

~William Wordsworth “To a Butterfly”

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G used tempera paints for his creation.  Because there were no green or orange in our box, we had to mix up our own colors.  Not only did G enjoy swirling his paint brush about on his paper bag “palette,” but it was a gentle reminder of what red/yellow or blue/yellow make.  Another bit of science for us.

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.

~Vladimir Nabokov

Why Atticus Finch could have raised a child on the autism spectrum

DSC_0002Lately I have been spending time within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s not my first time to read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  This might be my fourth or fifth.  Between reading the novel for a book club and reading it in preparation to make use of it as a read aloud with A and S early next school year, I am reading for curriculum – for historical setting, thematic elements, symbolism and life lessons- just as much as for narrative enjoyment.  From spending time in quiet reflection adjacent to Atticus and the Mobile Register to racing past the Radley place behind Scout with my jeans rolled up, I have been reflecting on the significance of Harper Lee’s story for myself.

Jem.  Calpurnia.  Mr. Heck Tate.  Maudie Atkins.  Tom Robinson.  Reverend Sykes.  Mrs. Dubose.  Lively characters with much to say to us even today.  While it is widely recognized that Atticus Finch was a good father doing his reticent best in solitary and difficult times, I have also come to a more personal conclusion: Atticus Finch could have successfully raised a child with Asperger’s.

Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-a-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life.  I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.  She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge, but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 9, p. 89

The beauty of Atticus’ statement to Scout is in his acceptance of her.  No only does this make me smile for its understating qualities but also for Aunt Alexandra’s usage of the word “sunbeam.”  Atticus’ connotation of the word seems substantively different.  Not only did Atticus “not mind” her differences, but he did the hard work as a parent to help her stand out against her society insomuch as she was standing on her own two feet.  He didn’t mind her wearing overalls.  He didn’t mind her being addressed as Scout, instead of her given name Jean Louise.  He didn’t mind her running around half wild with an awkward neighbor boy and no girls for friends.  He didn’t mind her swearing, not really, because he understood it was for attention and want of expression (and incidentally a last-ditch ploy to avoid school).  These were unequivocal traits which made Scout stand out as an oddity in polite, accepted Maycomb society.

How is all this important to me?  Because he wears the baseball cap 24/7.  Giggles uncontrollably at things no one else finds even slightly amusing.  Uses archaic phrases.  Recites stories from memory that at times have little to do with the flow of conversation.  Interjects tidbits of trivia on baseball, presidents, car models, world countries, etc. apropos to goodness knows what.  Why should I find this difficult or offensive?  Like Atticus I am learning to accept.  Whereas he fought the battle of Aunt Alexandra and Maycomb County, I fight my own internal battle.  Hard pressed between how I feel others may perceive him and how I should just let him be.  My own quirky sunbeam.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – ”

“Sir?”

“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

chapter 3, p. 36

Atticus teaches Scout and Jem to take stock of another’s perspective multiple times in the novel.  He offers this advice concerning those he genuinely cares for like Miss Caroline or Mr. Cunningham, and for those he does not, such as Bob Ewell.  We need more empathy, more walking around in each other’s skin, more children who can say, “I don’t agree with you, but I understand why you think that way.”  More people who are strong enough to wield grace and patience.  Not condoning immoral behavior but a loving spirit and empathy for someone else’s struggle.

Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.

chapter 15, p. 164

Empathy and theory of mind can be difficult for people on the spectrum.  Difficult, but not impossible.

Atticus pushed my head under his chin.  “It’s not time to worry yet,” he said.  “I never thought Jem’d be the one to lose his head over this – thought I’d have more trouble with you.”

chapter 11, p. 113

As a member of our bookclub noted, Atticus never blatantly tells the children when it is time to worry.  He teaches by example through a forbearance that supersedes worry and despair.  Through these words he gives credence to the seriousness of the situation, but allows them to know that someone is sharing their concern.  He is listening.

Isn’t this what we all desire, for someone to say, “Yes, I hear you are scared.  Yes, those are legitimate worries.  Let’s deal with this together.”?  Unfortunately, fear and anxiety can be the primary emotion for people on the spectrum.  Atticus might have been able to successfully parent his way through these daily struggles with an Aspie son or daughter.

Certainly I am not proposing that Jem or Scout were intended to have Asperger’s.  They were precocious, yet neuro-typical.  Nor am I proposing that acceptanceempathy and anxiety are things exclusively children with Asperger’s need to learn, but as I have often heard expressed: People with Asperger’s struggle with the same issues everyone else does, only more so.

Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break.  Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him.

Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

chapter 31, p. 294

Building a case for picture books

The first time I intuitively felt someone dismiss picture books as only for little kids, I was genuinely surprised.

“Oh, we don’t read picture books anymore with Connor.*  He’s reading chapter books on his own now.”  This mother’s statement perplexed me then as it was unexpected.  And it still perplexes me today.  My oldest two were six and eight at the time, and while they were both independent readers, I felt we were a long way from discarding picture books.  Chapter books.  Picture books.  Are they really so mutually exclusive?  Must I give up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder once I have begun to read Willa Cather?  So, it stands to reason, I refuse to abandon Jane Yolen for Katherine Patterson.  Let us linger a bit longer on the delights and purpose of the picture book.   There is a case to be made for the necessity of high quality books with beautiful illustrations, specifically targeting independent readers 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, and beyond.  Here is why we still read picture books.

SENSITIVE MATERIAL

Just as Margaret Wise Brown‘s charming Big Red Barn may be a perfect bed time read for  a three-year-old, but not so much for a ten-year-old, so there are some subject matters best left for older children.  Many authors/illustrators provide safe places for older children to explore potentially scary or sensitive issues through the haven of clear illustrations and well-intentioned words.  Death, war and severe prejudices can be broached in ways a chapter book may not be able.  Here are a few examples.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday  by Patricia Polacco

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber and Adam Gustavson

SPECIFIC INTERESTS

Whereas an eleven-year-old may not pick up an entire biography on a famous mathematician or botanist, a picture book can usher them into a brand new world with ease.  Through more complex storytelling, greater vocabulary and unique interests, the older reader may enjoy these great finds.

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Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M. D. Usher and William Bramhall

When Jesse Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and P.J. Lynch

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sis

My Brothers’ Flying Machine by Jane Yolen and Jim Burke

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter and Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham

EMOTIONAL SAFETY

For some tweens, there is a sweet reassurance that our pains and feelings of inadequacy may be universal.  There is a comfort in knowing we are not the only ones.  This is true whether we are four, fourteen or forty.  Here are some wonderfully written stories full of emotional intelligence.

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Odd Boy Out by Don Brown

Chowder by Peter Brown

Basket Moon by Mary Lynn Ray and Barbara Cooney

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

GREAT STORYTELLING

Just as it is a little sad that the short story genre is dwindling, it is also unfortunate that we may not appreciate the genre of picture book in its own right.  I marvel at the craft of these below. With fewer words, they transport us to magnificent places, and succinctly help us in learning new perspectives.

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park and Julie Downing

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Crow Call by Jane Yolen

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

Lassie Come-Home by Rosemary Wells(adapter), Eric Knight (author)  and Susan Jeffers

VISUAL ARTS

Once you open the cover to the books listed below you will not wonder how they might appeal to an eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old.  These books for older children can easily be appreciated for the visual humor, charm or poignancy.

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Locomotive by Brian Floca

Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Zen Shorts, Zen Ties and Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth

Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter Sis

NOSTALGIA

While the following books may readily be enjoyed by younger children, older ones may feel the thrill of nostalgia as they read them again.  Reading them later, after a span of time, just might give them the gift of growing perspective.  If they related to the little girl at six years old, now they can see things through the older sister’s or mother’s point of view.  I know we all re-read stories from our younger days, simply because it brings back some of those warm memories associated with reading.  Here is my list.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

Days of the Blackbird by Tomie de Paola

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, but this should get you started if you need to re-aquaint yourself with this genre.  Does your family have a favorite not listed?  Leave it in the comments.  There are so many great ones lining the library bookcases, as well as our own at home.

Easter Sunday

Easter didn’t come with chocolates, jelly beans or an egg hunt for our family.  There was not ham or roast lamb for a big Sunday feast.  As much as I love family traditions, I just haven’t prioritized the organization it takes to pull it off for holidays and special events.  Without extended family nearby, and now that my first two boys are getting older, it just seems less of a priority.  Sometimes I allow it to make me feel a little frustrated, a little sad.

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Yet, when I reflect on our Easter weekend, I honestly don’t know how I could be disappointed.  The Midwest has been enjoying the first true signs of spring.  Trees are budding, I have seen daffodils, and the robins are plentiful .  The weather is mild, and for the most part, a light cardigan or long-sleeved t-shirt is all you need during the warmth of the day.

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My family has been out enjoying the graciousness of warmer weather for the last several days.  I can tell, because there are flakes of dried mud in my entry way where my boys have tromped in and out multiple times throughout the day.  The bicycles, scooters and skateboards  are all askew in the garage from their constant use (and apparently we need to work on training them to return to their proper place).  Although G opted for riding his scooter over an egg hunt, it has all been good, solid family time.

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Easter Sunday church services provided us with a reminder of the unbelievable nature of what we profess.  A man 2,000 years ago rose from a tightly sealed tomb, and we meet every week in his name.  We were encouraged to live boldly, bravely and pray for those in imminent physical danger.  My family was confronted with the miracle of resurrection, as well as the challenge of living out our faith even in the most potentially heinous of times.  A serious message for an eleven and (almost) thirteen-year-old.  I am thankful we were present.

As always, we read the Bible together as a family.  I am determined to find a way to practice this more regularly and meaningfully for my boys.  A gentle retelling of Christ’s death and a joyful narration of his resurrection helped us celebrate the weekend.  There is something special about Easter, but I am grateful  that every Sunday we have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that He still lives.

As I look back on our “uncelebrated” Easter,  I smile.  No, I hardly missed the jelly beans.  I hope I am correct in saying that my guys didn’t miss them either. Spring, family time, encouragement in our church, and Bible reading.  It was all more than enough.

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Inspired by Potter: Trivia and Treacle Tarts

Although I did read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while in my late 20s, not long after it first came out, I read it quickly and dismissively.  I wasn’t that impressed.  My life has been fairly Potter-less until this fall when my middle son S picked up the first in the series at the library.  Now, my vocabulary has enlarged to discuss Quidditch, snitches and quaffles, along with horcruxes, floo powder and apparition.  And I use these terms every day as if they were REAL WORDS!

S inhaled the first three books on his own, then we began reading the rest as read alouds.  Needless to say, we have some Potter-obsessed preteens around the house.  They also seem to be fully indoctrinating their four-year-old younger brother.  The other day while reading a Bible story out loud, I catch G.

“And Jesus apparated to his disciples…”

“Uh, G, I think you mean appeared.”  Well, what’s the difference, right?

Not long after beginning Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireI created a trivia quiz loosely inspired by British culinary culture as it appears haphazardly in the series.  I asked them questions during our morning time together to motivate them for the day ahead.  Here are some questions: (Please keep in mind my children, though worldly and knowledgeable in Indian, Italian, Japanese and Central European fare, are woefully ignorant of British food).

BRITISH FOOD QUIZ

1.  Would you rather eat…

A.  Hagis

B.  Bangers and mash

C.  Marmite

 

2.  Which item would likely appear on a dessert tray?

A.  Treacle tart

B.  Black pudding

C.  Yorkshire pudding

 

3.  Which unusual food combo would Brits eat for breakfast?

A.  Barley or oatmeal soup

B.  Scones with clotted cream

C.  Beans on toast

 

4.  What does “pop into a chippy” mean?

 

5.  What is the actual name of a famous dish made from leftover potatoes and vegetables fried on a stovetop skillet?

A.  Sizzle and snap

B.  Bubble and squeak

C.  Spitter and spatter

 

6.  What are sticking out of the crust in stargazy pie?

A.  Fish heads

B.  Balls of dried fruit

C.  Sausage and sultanas

 

How did you do on the quiz?

We celebrated the end of each book by watching the movie together (that is, once we put G to bed, much to his profound chagrin.)

Our latest Harry Potter activity has been to indulge in our title character’s favorite sweets – the treacle tart.  We found a pretty good recipe here.  Many typical local U.S. supermarkets carry golden syrup, which is the closest to what Aunt Petunia might purchase in her local shop in Little Whinging.

When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates leaving them sparkling clean as before.  A moment later the puddings appeared.  Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate eclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries…

As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.

from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 93

I have to admit, however, that I did not make the shortcrust pastry.  As usual,  I was executing most of this on the spur of the moment.  This worked out just fine for using my family’s beloved “Miracle Pie Crust” recipe, which I originally learned from my mom.  It goes something like this:

1  1/2 C flour

1/2 C oil

pinch of salt

4 T milk

With a spoon or fork mix all ingredients gingerly in pie plate and press out as best you can.  That’s right, just in the pie plate.  Believe me.  It is flaky, moist and delicious.  And it “miraculously” works with everything from quiches to cream pies.

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Here is how ours turned out.

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Super sweet, tangy, and a bit of a cross between a chess pie and the filling of a pecan pie, it almost smells as good as the scent of Ginny Weasley’s hair.

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Who wants pi?: Book suggestions

Days away from celebrating a well-known mathematical constant, our family is eagerly planning how we will spend it.  Eagerly? Well, maybe not eagerly.   We did mention a couple of times how cool this year is.  Not only is March 14th National Pi Day, but this year is now being tauted as EPIC.  Why?  It will be 3-14-15.  Get it?  3.1415…?  And if you really want to geek out about it give a big shout out to pi at exactly 9:26:53am. epic pie day Being mathematically challenged most of my life, I am certainly not a numbers or formula kind of person.  Sitting in Mrs. Lombardo’s algebra and geometry classes, I remember the unblinking digits of pi circling the room close to the ceiling, inspiring me to absolutely nothing but a slight fear of too many numbers. And why were they about to topple over onto our desks? Language, literature and history were rife with creativity and imagination.   Mathematics, however, bored me to tears of frustration.  Years later, not feeling the stress of grades and textbook problems, I can distance myself from my mathematical distaste.  Why not have fun with something anyway?  The following books certainly help.

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Sir Cumference series  These clever picture books by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan do justice to the practicality of geometry.  Set in medieval times each character’s name is a play on words, such as Sir Cumference, his wife Lady Di of Ameter, their son Radius, and a niece Per of Ameter.  Geo and Sym of Immetry, as well as Vertex are also important characters.  The stories and illustrations seem to suit the 5-7 year-old age range, however the math concepts are really geared for an older child, possibly 9-12, depending on their exposure and mastery of math.  This week we plan on calculating the areas of circles making use of pi.  There are several books in this series.

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter

Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland

Sir Cumference and all the King’s Tens

513wGK37C9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Navigating Early Written exquisitely by the 2010 Newberry Award winner for Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool has also penned this 2013 adventure of a boy named Jack Baker.  Navigating Early is set just after WWII and focuses on 12-year-old Jack, who is still mourning his mother’s death as his taciturn father drops him off at a Maine boarding school for boys.  While there, Jack is befriended by Early Auden, “the strangest of all boys,” who is also dealing with his great loss, the presumed death and disappearance of his brother Fisher.  With no other plans during their spring break, the two sail off down the river in search of adventure, answers and healing,  Early, although not stated as such, likely has Asperger’s, and a savant gift for memorizing numbers.  He not only knows pi to the thousands of digits and does not believe it to have an ending, but also sees the digits of pi as a distinct story, a narrative which eerily unfolds in real life as the boys continue further on into their journey.  Early’s tale of pi and the boys’ acknowledgement of what is happening to them unfolds simultaneously.  Without revealing anything further, Navigating Early is a novel of friendship, loyalty, family and endurance. Not only is this a beautiful story, but a surprisingly imaginative and heart-warming way to celebrate Pi Day.

Or any day, really.

Of historical importance

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It seems peculiar that I should feel the need to write something in defense of spending so much time with history.  There has been such a push in education, however, in recent times to concentrate almost exclusively on “necessary” academic subjects, the three Rs, that is reading, writing and arithmetic.  Even science and foreign language take priority over history, cursive and art, which seem relegated to extras, or even worse.

For us, however, history seems to be at the heart of our academic day.  And I don’t mean the memorization of dates, quotes and people, but the love, deference and analysis that we give to the study .  I do not pretend to know enough to speak intelligently about educational philosophies, although I researched them heavily before beginning our home education.  If pressed into explaining what I am attempting to do with my guys I guess I would say we are definitely eclectic, influenced most by unit studies and Charlotte Mason.  As you can see in the blurry photo above, we happily make use of Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and supplement periodically, trying to find “living books,” which fit best into our current study.  Although Bauer is closely associated with classical education, her history works well with narration and my own ideas about literature-based learning.  I am not necessarily concerned that my children remember every important detail, but more that I am able to point the way for them to educate themselves, not merely while they are “of school age,” but far beyond. I want to teach them to teach themselves, to learn how to learn, and to love learning.

The question is not, -how much does the youth know when he has finished his education- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

Charlotte Mason in School Education

What follows are a few simple reasons we find history significant to our studies:

1.  It is a means of incorporating multiple disciplines, such as reading, narration, writing, and geography, as well as developing other skills like note taking.

2.  It is easier to appreciate art and literature through the ages as it relates to major historical events and shifts in thought.  Not convinced art is significant in and of itself?  Some argue it is what defines us as human.

3.  It is a built-in venue for teaching writing and thinking.  Beginning with narration (or retelling stories) we can make use of historical events as a natural springboard for writing summaries, analyses and eventually drawing important connections.

4.  Closely tied to number three, the careful study of history teaches us to think.  There are no obvious or objective answers in history.  We glean from it what we will.  A proper study of history forces us to be critical in our view of world events.  Learning how events are interconnected, or how one event may precipitate another, is an important exercise for growing minds. Particularly important for middle schoolers who are naturally black-and-white in their thinking, history provides a way for us to discuss the morality, meaning and potential consequences of major decisions, thoughts and events.

5.  It helps us appreciate where others have been and where we are all going.  It is difficult to understand the present, and project appropriately about the future, if we do not have a grasp on the past.

6.  It helps us to appreciate different cultures, foods, languages and peoples.  Training our children to accept others begins early.  History is a natural way to cultivate this.

In spending our days looking through books on the Vikings, Napoleon or what precipitated the Great War, we are not merely looking up a date or a concise list to satisfy the requirements of an essay question.  Rather, we are the ones asking the questions.  We are drawing pictures and maps.  We are questioning who we are, and are learning to express it.

*Does your family enjoy history?  Is there a beloved subject you and your family find yourself defending?*