Friday, February 28, 2014

Plato, Socrates and 6th Grade

Though my daughter is in 6th grade now officially, we took some time out to read aloud the last dialogue, Phaedo, of Socrates together, looking at the meaning in more depth than we had previously in 5th grade. In Waldorf education, each level is meant to build on the foundation you have built in the past, taking it to new levels and new places in each cycle.

Why did we choose to go back to the Greeks? Why, in order to better understand the Romans, of course! Valentine, 12, chose a project that highlighted the lives and features of 15 Greek/Roman gods and goddesses. She realized early on that the Roman gods were often a newer, renamed version of their Greek counter-parts.

Roman civilization borrowed so much from that of the conquered Greeks. Romans were smart that way; they adapted and adopted the culture of the peoples they overtook in order to better rule. Their law and forms were instilled everywhere they went, but the writings, beliefs and wisdom of the new part of the empire became enmeshed with what it meant to be Roman. Nowhere is this as true as with the Greeks.

Socrates was a precursor of so much that is part and parcel of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Many times in literature there is an explanation of how this or that "came about through the christianization of the world", but some of those very points can be found in the dialogs of Socrates. One example of that is the notion that suicide, as an idea, is immoral. In many cultures, it was viewed as an honorable way to redeem a failed life. Socrates disputes this, saying that we belong to the gods, they created us and we may not destroy their creation. Sound familiar?

The Waldorf sequencing of teaching makes sense as it follows a child's development. What makes sense in homeschooling, however, is knowing where your own child is in her journey and meeting her there. Build on the old wisdom, it has always been there and it will guide you to new places. Look around you and into your reading with new eyes each day. Have fun, this is childhood, a time for joy!

Native American Unit: Tipis and Walks in the Woods

This is what happens when you take a PTC to pick up some PVC for your Tipi:

And in this crazy, cold, snowy winter with Mama in a boot for my stupid foot, this was the first walk we took together in an eternity. Mrs.Thaw made an attempt at melting it all one day, but it is back down to 3 degrees again. Last week's warm weather bliss:

I have been in the throes of indecision concerning the tipi. Charles and I have researched the ways different peoples traveled and lived in tipis in times of yore in our block on Native Americans, and researched the ways different experts today recommend replicating one. I am not sure if he needs more authenticity or quicker results. Today will tell...there should be a tipi pic tomorrow. 

We searched high and low for poles this time. When we built a (very unsatisfactory) tipi for Valentine's third grade, we used bamboo poles that splintered while trying to drill holes and shortly afterward as well. Not fun. Not safe. 

Charles, Gael and I spent 2 interesting but grueling hours at the hardware store looking for poles. The only ones long enough were either poplar, at $12.95 a piece, or curtain rods, ranging from $17 to $59.95 per unit. We wanted 6 this time. Out of budget. Charles astutely suggested we give up and get PVC pipe. He knew it would not quite feel or look authentic, but he also knows, from multiple boffer-building sessions, that it is cheap, easy to saw and comes in 10-ft.lengths. 

For the "hide" we also spent hours exploring options. The craft store options were not the best (which was determined only after an hour of shopping with two young boys in a store full of...stuff), but the fabric store had just what we needed; fake leather and cheap. The craft store did, however, yield a whole section of "leather work" kits, and Gael went home with a neat moccasin kit that he badgered his siblings and I into making NOW, so he could feel like an Indian too. 

We shared a story and tea when we were all home and snug; a Hopi legend of the Warrior Maiden by Ellen Schecter.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Homeschooling and Daddy

I don't think I mention enough the great importance of the man I love in our lives, in my life. When I dream of what sort of people my children will be when they grow up, their father is the role model of a loving, unselfish, disciplined, impassioned, life-long learner I hope they will become. 

I can teach them about so many things; make sure they can read and count and know a bit about the world now and in the past. Yes, I believe fiercely in education, travel and hard work...but an educated, well-traveled, hard-working yet cold-hearted, greedy, power-monger is a more dangerous entity than an uneducated, lazy one. The latter will know better how to work the system and do more damage.

Kindness and a strong sense of accountability are to be developed as they move through childhood and out into the world. There are ways to cultivate it, as I try to cultivate wonder and curiosity too, but the best method is to have a good example of it right in your own home and heart. The ways their father proves this love and responsibility every single day, are, for starters, in the long hours he works. They are in the care he takes of us and the extras that go beyond it all. He is the one who will stay late to help with a church or show choir event, and still be up on Sunday morning making pancakes for everyone. He will take the sheets to the washing machine in the middle of the night while I help a sick munchkin get into clean jammies. He'll make sure the snow is shoveled for me, even if I have to leave at 4:30am for work. That's love.

I HATE the presence of phones, i-pods and computers at our table at any time...but I have to admire the ease with which we can share new information with each other. Thierry is an advocate for technology, and he is amazing at finding and sharing relevant, fascinating stories with us about events and people past and present. 

He uses the library; reading books he has heard of, books on topics he is pursuing (favorites: computer technology, relationships, money management, science and biographies of old heavy metal stars), and books he finds out on shelves that peak his interest. Duncan has picked up on his style; reading an eclectic mix and sharing endlessly with us bits and pieces of what he reads, both in books and on his dreaded i-pod. Cate emulates this in a different way; checking out each week a monstrous number of books on topics ranging from naval architecture to learning Italian.

As for self-control; Daddy wins every contest. There can be cake, donuts, fresh bagels, candy and soda in every corner of an office space, and he will calmly ignore it all, warm up his lunch from home in the microwave and eat it, rejoicing in his thrift and calorie-consciousness. He gained 4 pounds while in Germany a couple of weeks ago; he's lost them again already. This does not mean he does not have all the "savoir-vivre" of the French. A seven-course meal with wine is one of his greatest pleasures in life, especially if there is a drop of good armagnac to follow. 

And he's funny. He is way more fun than Mama. The kids used to have a "Mama's Gone Dance" they would do if I were going out, leaving Daddy in charge. Of course, he made this up to keep them from getting sad, but they would jubilate all over the living room if he started up the song. I think they still do.

His enthusiasm for adventure makes life a joy. He loves his travel time for his job, and, once we get everything packed into the car or plane, even likes to explore new worlds with the whole family. Although homeschooling was not an option Father would have Thought Best when we first started, at all. his support and belief in me have made it the marvelous experience it has been thus far. Thank you, honey!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Visit to the Putnam Museum

 Sometimes a science and natural history museum can be more than you bargained for on a cold winter's day. A playground:
A building site:
A young artist's canvas:
A space in which to collaborate:
Or to cringe before the explosion...a lieu of discoveries.

Quiche, a Recipe

Quiche may be for you the only word you know in French or a favorite dish you remember from the eighties. In France, it is a perennial favorite and considered "quick cuisine". Let me share with you my composite recipe, based on collected recipes from expert quiche makers over the years.

Thursday, February 13, 2014 in Iowa

I have vowed not to post again until I could come up with something either witty or wise to write. As it has been almost a month, I guess either this blog comes to an end or I renounce my vow. Zut.

Weather report: Snow and sub-zero temps.  Again.  I guess it's weird being just fine with this weather. It beats 90 degrees in the sunshine any time.

Fashion report: long pants, boots, sweaters and big, warm coats, hats and mittens.  Still.  Anything less = stupid...or being a teenager.


Reading (just finished a read-aloud for 3rd grade Native American studies; "Indian Captive"), fabulous read! I forcibly signed the two youngest up for the reading program at our library. This is the program that I boycotted when the two oldest were young, back when I lived my belief in reading for reading's sake. With the introduction of video games in our lives, reading has taken  a backseat and I'm having none of it. Bribery it is; they have one week to complete the month-long program. What can I say? The prizes are good.

Writing; cursive and printing, English mostly, some French and a smattering of Spanish. I think Cate is learning Runes or Swahili this week, along with the German she is pursuing consistently. 

Arithmetic; the two girls, 12 and 17, have the pleasure of a weekly math seminar with our excellent math tutor. I attend too. I am almost up to the level of my 12-year-old. Determination WILL trump math phobia.

Geography and History: water has been our favorite topic the past few months. After Cate spent a week on a tallship, we were all curious to know more about our national waterways and islands far away. Last week, the Straits of Gibraltar were mentioned while learning to spell and not spell the word "straight". (Danggit, English is a tough language to spell.)  From there, we talked about other "ways through the continents," and the creation of canals to make that feat possible.

This weekend at the library I found a great documentary on the Panama Canal that we are watching this week; "A Man, A Plan, A Canal." The narrator is David Mccullough; an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer, whom we know and love as author of books such as "Cathedral", "City" and "Mosque". Do you remember how many lives were lost in the first years of the largest construction project ever? Do you know how they resolved the problems that were killing workers? What the conditions were of the laborers and of the engineers? How about how it was changed from a digging to an elevation endeavor? Do you know the original name of the country of Panama?

Duncan, 15, is able to chime in on the dinner table discussions, as this is a topic he has been studying in school. He likes to be outraged about (and report on) the slave labor used, the horrendous conditions, the French failure and other unsavory aspects of the Canal. It's great to have a teenage perspective on the world; justice and defense of the underdog.

We baked an unpopular dish for our Native American study unit; corn pone. Charles insisted on making 2 versions of it; the unsalted, unsweetened dish that Molly Jemison of "Indian Captive," discovered upon her first breakfast among the Seneca, and the version her mother would have made back home, before she was kidnapped. The second version was delicious while hot, but lingered as a leftover. Clearly, my children have never known hunger. It was great corn pone, as corn pone goes! Recipe below.

We've been going to the Y to run around, swim and play basketball. It has honestly been consistently colder than the deepest level of  Dante's Inferno around here for way too long. I love sitting inside, by the fire, watching the snow fall, but it does not make for good outdoor play weather. The gym membership has been a blessing this winter.

Wisdom; none of my own, but brought to you by Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet I've been reading for an evening class. He has something to say on every topic. Here are a few, from Goodreads. 600 more can be found at this link.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  
And one last gem,  really more appropriate for a Friday than for mid-week;
"Sit, be still, and listen,
because you're drunk
and we're at
the edge of the roof."

Corn Pone

11/2 cups cornmeal
11/3 cups buttermilk or yogurt with a little milk
1/4 cup shortening, melted
3TBSP. vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
11/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar or honey

 In a cast-iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Heat oven to 370.

Mix together; cornmeal, salt and sugar (unless omitting these last two for Indian authenticity). Add in buttermilk, melted shortening and eggs (add honey now, if you choose this option). Stir/whisk 2-3 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat for a minute, pour batter into skillet (watch the splattering of hot oil, this is an adult job.) Turn off heat, put skillet in oven, bake 20-25 minutes until done. Try to remove before the edges become black. This indicates burnt pone, not the best. Enjoy with a hot drink!