September 20, 2014

We Googled It: The September 20, 2014 Edition

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I've come to the conclusion that Google tells us all sorts of things we'd like to know, and even more things we could've gone a lifetime knowing nothing about. So yaaaaay, Digital Age! Here's what we've looked up over the past several weeks.

How do you say 'Volkswagen' in German?  We were reading about good ol' Brother Andrew, and once we got to the part about his Volkswagen, we suddenly had to know how to pronounce it in German. LIKE HAD TO KNOW AND HAD TO KNOW NOW. And forever more I will say it like the good German that I am. FOLKS-VAHGGIN.

What does Seurat's pointillism look like up-close?  This came out of an art exercise about pointillism, where we were painting dots of one color right on top of (dried) dots of another color. Let's just say our dots did not look nearly as good as Seurat's. In other news, I still haven't taken my kids to the Art Institute of Chicago to see Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, so bucket list schmucket list.

Does a leopard's roar sound like a cough?  In drafting a report about leopards, my ten-year-old and I came across this factoid. And so we had to youtube it to be sure.

How did the Jivaros Indians shrink heads?  I know. I KNOW. I can't believe I looked this up, read about it, and then SEARCHED GOOGLE FOR IMAGES. It all came about while reading the story of Jim Elliot, a missionary to Ecuador. That book casually mentioned a neighboring tribe, the Jivaros, who would shrink the heads of their (decapitated, duh) enemies and then wear these heads around their bodies. So I had to know. I JUST HAD TO KNOW HOW IT WAS DONE. In the process, I managed to gross all of us out. I mean, seriously. THIS STUFF REALLY HAPPENED.

What is the difference between a nation and a country?  I was asked this while driving. On the interstate. In the dark. Yes. I often wonder if my kids sit around and think of impossible questions for me to answer--just to throw me off. No surprise, I had to come home and look this up and explain it while not behind the wheel. Is this something you could define right off-hand? If so, YOU ARE A BETTER PERSON THAN ME.

What happens when a person is struck by lightning?  Here again I give you Exhibit A of what it's like to live with kids. They wanna know! They wanna see PICTURES! (don't worry, we skipped that part) So two of my kids (the boys) were endlessly entertained by Humans As Lightning Rods, and the third (the girl) is now convinced we're all going down in Flames of Death by Lightning. Isn't learning something new FANTASTIC?!

How does a drawing salve work?  My ten-year-old got a big 'ol splinter in his hand, and after much screeching and howling we collectively decided to put the tweezers back where the sun don't shine. So off I went to google this problem, and VOILA, who knew there a thing called "drawing salve?" It's apparently used to draw out (HENCE THE NAME) all kinds of negative things from the skin. Did it work for us, you ask?! Well, it took a week for the splinter to come out, which is about how long it would have taken on its own. Harumph.

Can you kill a Webkinz pet?  The only explanation I have for this is "tweenage boys." And I was surprising entertained by the answer myself. Oh, we are in a special category, people. SPECIAL CATEGORY.

How do traffic lights work?  We spend a lot of time tootling around the city, sitting at traffic lights. Hence this question. My tween says he used to think that actual people watched the traffic at each intersection, and flipped a switch to make the lights turn. Sounds good to me. The more I think about the sheer magnitude of what it takes to program and run the lights of a city, the more impressed I get. This video is great for understanding ("understanding") the actual mechanics of a traffic light. And this link now has me looking for loops in the roadways. Who knew?

What tune is the Star Spangled Banner based on?  While making my kids memorize the lyrics to our national anthem, we discovered it's based off a British song entitled "The Anacreontic Song." And the poem it is based on was written exactly 200 years ago, so voila! More trivia to cheer to make us stand up and salute!

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September 16, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years of Homeschooling - Episode 1

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I mentioned in my previous post that this fall begins my ninth year of homeschooling. I decided that made me a know-it-all someone who might have a tip or two to share with those who are just starting out. Though it's been several years since my newbie days, I still remember how overwhelming it was  figuring out the whats and whys and hows of schooling at home. That prompted me to make a list of what I've learned -- not a comprehensive list (you're welcome), but a quick, in-no-particular-order, list. And to make it more interesting, I decided to put all this great wisdom and knowledge (INSERT SARCASM) in audible form, i.e., a podcast. Well, a podcast of sorts. It's a recording of my voice. Eight recordings, actually. And each one is about three to five minutes long.

I'll publish a new one each week... about midweek. Sound good? (SOUND good?! Ha ha, so punny!) Here's episode one!

Operating Like A One-Room Schoolhouse Is Key

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September 10, 2014

First Week Of School Pictures

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Right after Labor Day, we officially started our new school year. This is my *ninth* year of homeschooling, which shocks me because it feels like my ninetieth fifth. Where has all the time gone?! I still have fond memories of cozying on the couch with my preschoolers and reading the day away. Granted, I've forgotten how wiggly and busy and LOUD they were at that age, but still. The memories are primarily good.

Here's a group shot of my kids on the first school day I made them all shower and wear nice shorts and non-graphic tees. Ahhh, they do clean up well.

My oldest, nearly 13, is starting seventh grade this year. I'm guessing he's grown at least four inches since the last time I looked his direction. He continues to be my Man On A Mission, working hard to get his school done so he can goof off or work at the computer. Every day I'm thankful he finally gets the concept of working independently and efficiently. He's naturally wired this way, and he's older, but whooooo-eeey! There were several years there where every assignment began and ended with the Gnashing Of Teeth. Speaking of teeth, doesn't he have a nice smile?

My ten-year-old is in both fifth and sixth grades this year. I know. THOSE CRAZY HOMESCHOOLERS. I mean, it's all so subjective anyway. Since the get-go, he's been doing several subjects with his older brother, and it just made sense to make their grade levels a little closer. So he will be doing a little catch-up (just in math) this year, and by next year he'll be just one grade ahead of his peers and one grade behind his brother. Doubt that makes sense, but anyway, this boy is my Lover Of All Things Natural And Snuggly:

And then there's the Sparkly One. My third child exuuuuuuuudes verbal and physical energy the entire livelong day. All day. The whole day. "Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more..."  I tell myself that I have just as many thoughts as she has -- I just happen to keep them inside my head. Every day is a little bit of Extrovert Meets Introvert, and WHOZA GONNA WIN. Her favorite subject is music and she could spend all day singing (if we'd let her). Introducing, the third grader: 

And then there's me, the forty-year-old Ma'am-Sir. Not much to say, because really, this blog is essentially THE SOUND OF ME TALKING.

But I can't forget to introduce you to our cat, who's truly yet another member in our classroom. I have thought many times how much fun it is to have a pet around while doing school at home. There's just something soothing about a soft, ridiculous ball of fur who is undoubtedly part of our family.

And with that, we're off to a good start to our ninth (seventh) (fifth) year of homeschool. Let the games begin!

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September 5, 2014

What I Learned By Doing My Forty Before Forty List

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Just when you thought I was done talking about that blasted forty before forty list, I hit you with another stinkin' blog post! Bwah ha ha, suckers!!!

Okay. That's enough of that. Now on to the business at hand!

I created my list of forty (or so) things right around my 39th birthday, not knowing if I'd be able to complete the items or not. I specifically filled the list with things I truly wanted to do, and thought could be done in a year. I looked at a lot of other people's lists before making my own, and I saw a lot of BIG ITEMS and HUGE DREAMS but rarely were all the things accomplished in a year. I didn't want that to happen to me--I'm a "finishing" sort of person versus a "dream the big dreams" and "go skydiving" and "use clich├ęd slogans" type of gal.

As I talked to my real-world peeps about the things on my list, inevitably they'd chime in with things they'd put on their own lists, or things they'd take off of mine. Some days I'd look at my list and curse the dumb thing, seeing it as a silly reflection of my own, small life. But on my better days, especially as the year went on--I began to see the list as a perfect reflection of ME.

The hard thing about staying at home with my kids is that with each passing year, I lose a little bit more of myself. Oh sure, I have gained so much and would choose this way again--but some days I just want to BE ME and to KNOW ME. I eventually realized my list was made of forty things that celebrated ME, and I was CONTENT with each one. Hello, age forty, you are kind.

Because organization is what I do in my spare time, I soon noticed that my list was made up of four main categories:

  1. There were fun things that connected me with my past, like playing Pac-Man, getting a ping-pong table, going putt-putt, accompanying, and square dancing

  2. There were events that attached me to the present, like watching hot air balloons, seeing Mt. St. Helens, going on a bike ride, playing board games, picnicking at the ocean, and hiking in the gorge.  

  3. There were steps that propelled me towards the future, like recording a video, test-driving a car, figuring out my enneagram, planting a tree, and growing strawberries

  4. And then there were items done simply to relax, to take it easy and celebrate forty years on this globe. Things like getting a pedicure, retreating to the coast, reading an old classic, eating ice cream, and watching The Hobbit

Several have asked me if I'm going to do a "forty-one before forty-one" list, and the answer to that is, HECK NO. While I enjoyed this past year, I won't miss having a list of forty things nagging at me to get. them. done.

HOWEVER. It's amazing how motivating it was to publish a list of specific, measurable goals knowing that The Great Webiverse was holding me accountable. I got things done! Forty things! So I'll definitely be considering what this means for my personal growth and blogging topics for the future.

Anyway. Thanks for following along with me during my fortieth year. It was a good one!

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**PS: The picture is of me, standing on Mount Hood, right before my fortieth birthday. And YES, I did something FUN that was NOT on my list. Will wonders never cease?! 

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August 21, 2014

In Which I Find A New Way To Bore You To Tears

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I've never done a video of myself. A video of just myself. Merely me, myself, and I talking to the screen. But I realized that there were units, lo, tens of you who've read my blog but have never heard my voice. Surely that needed to be fixed.

Now listen. I am not a talkative person by nature, and truly loathe a long monologue. It took me weeks to come up with anything to say that I thought you good people might want to hear. And then when I finally got some notes scratched on paper, I had to work up the nerve to take on... The Cam-e-ra.

I started off using a webcam and ended up staring at my face for an hour. Not kidding. An hour. Oh, I'd practice talking to myself, but every time I made a dorky facial expression, I'd react to the dorky facial expression and get derailed and my goodness I could not press that "record" button. After much fussing and putzing around, I ended up recording on my phone with the screen not faced my way. Ahhhh, relief.

And then I thought to myself, goodness, if *I* can't stand to look at Yours Truly, then how are my blessed readers going to manage it? More power to ya, my friends.

My ten-year-old watched the draft of the video and was all taken aback at "Professional Marm." I guess they know me in only one capacity--as the MA'AM-SIR. Huh. I wanted to be lighthearted and charming on the video, but hey. Consider the source. Plus, it's awfully hard to be funny when you're sequestered in your room talking to a phone that's sitting atop a pile of books. A stand-up comedienne I am not.


I wanted to do a video for several reasons. One, so you could hear my voice. Two, to prove to myself that I could do it (see: forty before forty list). Three, to add a little variety to my blog. And four, to complete a project with my techie tween. He did all of the editing of this video in Adobe Premiere Pro and I was pretty amazed at his abilities with that software. Kids these days. Wow.

Okay, so here it is. I wanted it to be about one minute long, so as to not waste your precious time. I see that maybe I am a little bit talkative when given the floor. Hopefully you enjoy whatever small portion you choose to watch, or just enjoy skipping the whole thing. See? Such freedom.

PS: Don't overanalyze my choice of words. I was not speaking from a script, as I wanted it to feel more like "natural conversation" and less like "teleprompter." So... any attempts I made at humor sound more like obnoxiousness and isn't that just wonderful. So yes. This is my voice.

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August 17, 2014

Cello? Is It You I'm Looking For?

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There was a brief period in my life where I was an adult who had free time and disposable income and you know what I chose to do with it? I bought a cello. And I took lessons for a year or two, up until I had my first baby and subsequently had zero free time and what free time I did have (naptime) was certainly not spent squawking away on some strings.

I held on to my cello for a while after that, but then came the toddler stage and my instrument feared for its life. I eventually sold my beloved buddy (the cello, not the child) and moved fully into Motherhood. I did not regret selling my cello as we ended up moving four times in about the same number of years and cellos do not travel well.

But then we settled into a house, and my kids got past the "whirling dervish" stage, and I actually had five minutes a day to think about me. And I would think about ye olde cello days and how good it would be for the kids to have a string instrument in the house. Always for the kids, you know.

I put "buy a cello" on my forty before forty list, and then spent an entire year mulling it over and looking at prices and never really got around to DOING THE DEED. Fortunately, my husband knows my frugalness too well, and determined I needed a cello for my birthday present. I couldn't argue with that, you know. He let me pick it out, because he also knows how fussy and particular I am and already had in mind what I'd get.

So here I am, with my new best friend:

It took a few days for the cobwebs to clear away in order for me to recall what I'd learned over thirteen years ago in lessons. But it's all coming back to me and I am back to playing what is simply the loveliest string instrument there is. I'm not saying my playing is lovely, but I figure after 10,000 hours (roughly 54 years if I practice a half-hour a day) I'll be an expert. So if I'm still blogging when I'm 94, I'll post a video worth posting. 

Meanwhile, if you want to hear some fantastic cello playing, here's my favorite piece from The Piano Guys, and my favorite performance from Yo-Yo Ma. Enjoy!

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August 15, 2014

I Turned Forty

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I made it to age forty, yes ma'am I did. And the question all inquiring minds (two) have asked is, BUT DID YOU FINISH YOUR LIST?!?!?!

The answer to that is...


And I did it before my fortieth birthday, because I'm a bit uptight about deadlines and commitments (even made-up ones) and therefore IT IS FINISHED. I've had company in town for the past couple of weeks, so I'm a bit behind in updating the blog, but never fear. I'll give you the nitty-gritty of the last few items I completed on my "forty before forty" list.

Meanwhile, here I am on my birthday:

I did share that enormous piece of cake, in case you were also wondering that. Happy fortieth to me!!

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July 26, 2014

Books I'm Hogging From The Library: The July 26, 2014 Edition

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Here's what I'm doing this summer (besides finishing my "forty before forty" list). Reading! And reading!

Portland Food Cart Stories: Behind the Scenes With the City's Culinary Entrepreneurs  ::  Nothing says "Portland" like "food carts." And coffee. And rain. Oh, and books. But back to the food carts. I LURVE me some food from a cart, and time after time I'm impressed with the amazing cuisine that comes from a tiny little kitchen parked by the street. Since I have a full-time job making zero-thousand dollars, I have to live vicariously through the author of this book. He regularly visits, samples, and writes about the food carts of Portland--now how cool is that?

College Without High School: A Teenager's Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College  ::  This. This is the type of book I love. It takes all my preconceived notions about high school and college and SWEEPS THEM ASIDE. It excites me to think about teenagers taking charge of their futures earlier rather than later in the educational process. I already plan to re-read this another time or two when my kids start "high school" (at home).

The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won't Learn in College About How to Be Successful  :: Okay, so I'm on a bit of a theme these days. It took me days, lo, about two weeks, to read this book because it had that much gold to mine out of it. (Usually I can skim a typical book in a couple of hours.) You guys know how I'm all about learning that is practical and relevant, and how academic navel-gazing makes me cray-cray. Well, this guy gives one example after another of people who made their own path to success--outside of higher education. He's convinced (and I am, too) that that the higher education bubble is about to pop, and getting a Bachelors will not automatically equate to getting a job. I feel this book is a must-read for parents raising the next generation of workers.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir  ::  I'm not sure who recommended this book to me but WOW. I read it in one sitting, stopping every now and again to pat dry a tear. Oh, it's not a tearjerker--it's quite heartwarming and insightful and perfectly captures what it's like to have a mother. I always marvel when an author can write with such eloquence, and capture details from yeeeears ago as if they just happened today. I read this book not only as a daughter, but as a mother with a rather complex relationship with her own daughter. As someone who is consistently trying to figure out who *I* am apart from the whole wife-mom thing, I truly appreciated this memoir.

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness  ::  This is a short graduation speech put into book format, but you know what? Sometime a person can say more in a short speech than in twenty long-winded chapters. That is the case with this book. The one bit of wisdom contained in sixty short pages is solid. And if each person took the words in his speech to heart, wow, what a better world we would live in.

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July 21, 2014

May The Books Be Ever In My Favor

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It's not hard for me to sit down and read. I make it through a ton of books--most of them non-fiction. I like to skim and pick and delve and discuss and meditate on every little bit I'm LEARNING. My ISTJ-ness looooves an ever-increasing pot of KNOWLEDGE. But when it comes to fiction, I always feel a bit guilty, as if reading for pleasure somehow doesn't count as "getting something done." Now don't misunderstand, I love an excellent novel and it's fiction I turn to when I want to relax. However, that relaxing is often so successful that I end up asleep with a book propped up on my chest.

Regardless. I love that feeling (gah! feelings!) of fully immersing myself in someone else's story. It's one of the few things that can "unhinge" me from my busy, anxious mind. So I put it on my list and made it a priority to read fiction. In The Daytime. Scandalous--amirite?

I read Pride and Prejudice first, thus giving me bonus points for tackling a classic. But then I needed to up my "coolness score," so Hunger Games it was. Gotta keep up with the times, you know. Besides, I wanted to preview the trilogy to see if it was appropriate for my tweens. So yes, I was doing something frivolous but I was also DOING SOMETHING PRACTICAL. So take that, re-lax-a-thon!!!

I read all three books in about two weeks. I was shocked at how much The Hunger Games and Catching Fire matched up with their movies (one and two). It almost felt like the books were written after the movies. I enjoyed the books, but it wasn't a case of OH MY WORD THE BOOKS ARE BETTER THAN THE MOVIES, OH YES THEY ARE.

Mockingjay ended up being my favorite, probably because I didn't know the plot in advance. Page after quick-turning page I wanted to know how it all worked out for dear Katniss. I mean Gale! Peeta! WHICH ONE DID SHE CHOOSE?!?!? Of course by now I know the ending, which means I get to spend the next eighteen gazillions months KEEPING IT TO MYSELF to avoid spoiling it for my husband.

The third book is being made into two movies, because the entertainment industry wants to see me go mad. Maybe President Snow is behind it all, who knows. But from now until six months after November 2015 (as we'll wait for the DVD, of course) I'll be playing my own little game of Let's Not Blurt Out The Ending. Who knows if I'll succeed, but may the odds be ever in my favor.

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July 18, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Volcano

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You know how you can live just a couple of hours from something but never go see it? Well that's how it's been between me and St. Helen. I mean, I see her* a lot from my van, when I'm out driving around. There she sits just north of me, all flat-topped and snow-capped.

After seven years of living in the Pacific Northwest, I decided it was time to see the old girl up close. Now, you would think it would be easy to make a two-hour road trip straight north and east of where I live. HOWEVER. One does not simply go to Mt. St. Helens on a cloudy or gray day, as there'd be nothing to see. And in case you've not heard about the Pacific Northwest, it KNOWS how to be CLOUDY and GRAY. So for months I have watched the weather forecast, looking for a completely clear day where all five of us could head out.

That day came this week. This is the view about an hour or so from home (at Elk Rock Viewpoint):


We stopped by Coldwater Lake, a lake formed about thirty-four years ago when the eruption of Mt. St. Helens clogged up a creek. There's a nice little walk around the lake, with views of the mountain here and there:

That area is teeming with old burned-up gray stumps, which you can see dotting the hill behind my tween:

But there is new life sprouting everywhere as well, like these awesome bell-shaped wildflowers, which undoubtedly have a name:

Ahhh.... so serene:

We drove on, up and around, and finally reached the Johnston Ridge Observatory to see this:

Huh. That crater is HUGE, and I mean, ONE MILE ACROSS huge. It was fantastic to see. We decided it looks like some giant took an enormous bite out of his colossal ice cream cone. Not that I am always thinking about ice cream, of course.

Totally worth the two-hour drive. Especially on a clear day.

There's a visitor's center up at Johnston Ridge Observatory, complete with a couple of (old 1990s-style) films. It's worth the money through, but we actually preferred the visitor center we stopped by about halfway home. That place had a more informative video, and lots of educational displays that "scratched where it itched." But Johnston Ridge is where to go for the view. Wow.

I'm so glad I put this on my forty before forty list and made it happen. Veni, vidi, volcano: I came, I saw, I ERUPTED! (with delight!)

*Historical note: Mt. St. Helens was named after Lord St. Helens, a man. However, the mountain always feels like a woman to me, what with her blowing her top and all that.

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