Friday, August 29, 2008

Finally, He Noticed

During the Beijing Olympics, we talked about people's countries of origin and Benny could see the difference in appearance between people from different parts of the world. When we learned about voting and did the suffrage worksheet, we discussed how voting rights were limited depending on where your ancestors lived. We also talked about how Barack Obama's nomination was the first time that someone whose ancestors lived in Africa had a real chance of being President. Somewhere in there, I think Benny has finally noticed ethnicity. He is eight.

Today we went to the spray park. It's the last day of the summer that the outside pool at the YMCA will be open during the week, so even though we were worn out with travelling, we had to brave the threats of thunderstorms and go play in the spray.

I overheard Benny saying to a guy, "Did your ancestors live in the United States of America?" I don't know what the guy said, but it didn't really make that much of an impression -- Benny talks to everyone and asks weird questions. I've given up trying to interpret for him, since I noticed that rude responses don't really bother him. People just have to do the best they can, or ignore him -- it doesn't grieve him either way. But later I heard him approach one of the lifeguards, and say, "So, did your ancestors live in China?"

My first reaction was to shush him. I decided it would be worse for me to leap over there and apologize or try and explain, so I just breathed deeply and listened, hoped that she wouldn't be offended. I couldn't hear her side of the conversation but he told me afterward that she was from Korea, that Korea was divided into north and south, just like Egypt was before King Menes, and that they were getting to know each other. He kept going back and back to talk to her -- she must have been treating her very sweetly. Then he would report to me how the friendship was progressing. At one point he said that she looked like her ancestors lived in China. I briefly explained that just because her ancestors lived in Korea didn't mean that she had lived there, or would be able to answer all his questions about Korea.

I didn't say anything else in terms of generalizing about appearance and ethnicity, but I gathered from the things he was saying to me and others that he now realizes that different people look different based on race. He truly had not understood this until right now. I don't know whether to be proud or horrified, or just to be amazed that he could have lived eight years in this world and just think everyone looks different from each other in random ways, like I look different from him, like he looks different from his friends, and that race and ethnicity had nothing to do with it.

As for Sadie, she liked the ice cream:

Do you talk to your kids about race? At what age? I suppose it's something that kids just pick up from paying attention and making connections, if they are inclined to notice and absorb things like that. But I wonder, how do you handle it?

Barack Obama Has My Vote

Okay, I'm in. I get it. I will vote for Barack Obama. Not with hesitation, not with regret, but with the firm desire that he becomes the next President.

I don't quite honestly know if it was the speech he made or the biographic video that came before it, but at some point between the time Dick Durban left the stage and the time Michelle and the kids walked out to greet the guy, I took a great big swallow of the famous Obama kool-aid. Mmmm... tastes like hope.

Look, for me, the question has always been simple: Is this guy for real? Here's a guy who says it's not about the money, it's not about the power, it's not about him. It's about me, and everyone else. He wants to help people, and he wants people to help each other. He challenges us forthrightly and unapologetically to be better. He wants to change the world. When I hear someone say they want to change the world, and they're over 30, I roll my eyes.

I am a pretend optimist because I am a parent. I have to be hopeful, on some level, so that I can trust the world not to ruin my children. If I didn't trust the world not to ruin my children, I would probably make like a hamster and eat them. Or burn down the universe. You get it, right? But beside the sternly-enforced optimism, there is a concurrent and equally necessary streak of pure, nasty, grit-flecked cynicism.

Nobody wants to change the world. Nobody says, "We need to be better people." Nobody says, "Forget the money. Take care of each other." At least nobody smart says that. Nobody realistic. You hear someone talking like that and you can't believe it. I found myself listening tonight and asking, Are you really that guy? Is that some political BS designed to snow the dummies, the kids, the goofy sign-wavers? I'm smarter than that, harder than that, older than that. I was twenty once. I protested the war and the war happened anyway.

At some point tonight, I became convinced. I think he is that guy. I think he means it. And for me, that is enough. He's smart, and he means well. I am not being sarcastic when I say that is enough. Just that makes him palatable. Just that alone. When I think of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton as the other two people I'd like to vote for, I think of all their qualifications and experience. It took believing in Barack Obama to understand that all I really want from the candidate is brains and truly good intentions. That's kind of shocking but it explains a lot.

I don't really care what my criteria are, as long as I understand them. I think I do now.

In a way, I feel relieved. In the words of the indomitable Fox Mulder, "I want to believe." On the other hand, I had two horrible worries almost immediately. One is that someone will bring him down, literally, in the flesh. It was poignant to have this speech coincide with the anniversary of "I Have a Dream" but also chilling. The other worry that I had was that some moral failing would bring him down. They've done so much to build up his family to us, his young and happy family. I'm sure he knows what he's doing and would never, ever jeopardize what's happening to him by cheating on his wife, but... he is human.

Obama, you've got my vote. But please be careful. Be careful with yourself, in this hostile, racist world. And be careful with your family. I choose to trust what you say, and look forward to seeing what you do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Night Two with the Democrats: Hillary Clinton at the DNC

Who do I love? Hillary Clinton. I love her.

#1. The intro video was completely awesome. I laughed, I cried, I had five more daughters so they could appreciate her awesomeness too. Whoever is making these DNC videos did a brilliant, magical job. I liked Michelle Obama's, I liked Hillary Clinton's, I am all about the mini-documentaries that are like music videos, campaign commercials, I don't know what. Thunderous applause.

#2. Orange is the new black. Hello, I told you this like eight years ago. Approximately the time I gave birth to a baby who sported improbably orange hair. I reiterated this four years later with another orange-headed child. Hillary's orange pantsuit was like a special message just for me. In fact, Hillary and I are now BFFs and I need to go now so I can call her and make plans for shopping. She also wants to mentor me through the rest of my life choices. Which is just so like her, you know?

#3. Hillary's speech was the best I have ever heard her give. It was strong, funny, inspiring, smart, and it was delivered with class and composure. All day long I had been hearing people saying "Hillary has to..." and "Hillary needs to..." You know, like "Hillary has to unify the party!" and "Hillary has to convince her supporters to embrace Obama!" I even heard "Hillary has to apologize!" There was this sense that she was going to pay lip service to Obama while winking at her supporters that she really wants them to stick with her. There was NONE of that. I kept thinking, hearing all this punditration about what Hillary has to needs to must do, and I thought, you know, what if she just gives a badass speech. That is what she did. When she hit the Harriet Tubman part, I was almost on my feet, sitting here in the living room. It was very good. Here's the full transcript.
#4. The parade of governors that lead up to Hillary's speech was so cool! In particular, Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Wow, that guy was awesome! I was ready to buy a car from him. I also enjoyed Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and of course our own dear Mark Warner, who is so smart and original and just exudes confidence and competence.
#5. I am skipping the convention tonight so I can watch Project Runway and go to bed early. I like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden as much as the next girl (well, maybe not) but I need an injection of BRAVO to give me hope for the future, after that lady on CNN broke my heart last night. Did you see her? Post-Hillary Tomorrow we're heading back to Virginia. We'll be watching the acceptance speech on the big screen tomorrow night.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Night One with the Democrats: DNC 2008

I want to vote for Obama. I do. I am hoping that during the course of this convention, I can make that choice. Last night didn't do it for me though. It didn't work.

First, I was annoyed by the "American Voices" idea. Interspersed with the "real" speakers, there are lots of little nobodies who get to stand up there at the podium and say, "It is so unlikely that I would be here! I am so honored because I am just a county organizer!" Honey, there's a reason you're shocked to be up there. It's because you're not a good speaker, you have nothing interesting to say, and your story about how Barack Obama changed your life with his magical magic is nothing new or interesting.

Everyday Americans do not entertain or engage me, unless they are being made to eat llama guts or sing Stevie Wonder songs. Media, take note. I watch the political conventions to see roof-raising speeches delivered by politicians who are analogizing for their lives. If I wanted to hear average Americans tearfully testifying about Obama, I'd stop hanging up on those volunteers who keep calling my house. Political conventions are for rip-roaring, for spit-flicking, for fist-pumping.

Which brings us to Michelle Obama. Total, abject failure of a speech, in my opinion. You know when the pundits are calling your speech "well-delivered" and congratulating you on doing what you "needed" to do, you're in trouble. To me, the words she was saying were okay if a bit generic. However, the delivery was all high school public speaking coach. Too studied, too robotic. At no time did she look like she was speaking from the heart. She was performing. Now, hey, I don't blame her for practicing, for studying, etc. But she needed to show us something real, something moving, a little raw, a little spontaneous. There was nothing like that. It happened as it was supposed to happen, and there were no moments.

Wait, I am wrong. There were moments -- awkward, desperate, superfake moments during the live teleconference between Barack Obama, in someone's home in Kansas, and Michelle Obama, on stage with their two daughters. Today the media is calling it Huxtable-like. I found it completely horrifying. It was too scripted and not scripted enough. There was a difficult delay in hearing what they were saying to each other. The younger daughter, when Obama asked her, "How do you think Mom did?" replied, "She did good." I like kids as much as anyone else, and maybe it's for that reason that I kind of resent them being framed and delivered like that. There was nothing natural about the little girl asking, in Shirley Temple tones, "What state are you in, Daddy?" to lead him to his introduction of the family that was hosting him. There was nothing cute about the older child's mike getting cut off and her looking around nervously, unsure. The whole thing stank. By all means, bring them up on stage, let us ooo and awww and "How cute!" It's great that Obama has school-age children, and an awesome wife. But having them put on some kind of Neo-Rockwellian tableau was insulting to us and to them. Double plus ungood.

So, was there anything good about the evening? YES.

Benny donned his convention hat and eagerly watched the early parts of the program. We all shouted "McCain Was Wrong!" along with Obama's sister, and noted her use of the rhetorical device -- saying a repeated phrase that the audience can use to participate. Benny noticed and pointed out a *lot* of vocabulary words that he knew from our studies. We noted the "a man who" speech that Caroline Kennedy delivered about Teddy Kennedy. We noted the different "a man who" approach in the video that preceded Michelle Obama's speech. He hooted and cheered and jumped around. That made me feel happy. I think he is enjoying this, and will continue to enjoy the conventions this week and next week. It does my little political heart proud.

Instead of moving on to the next part of the class, since the conventions are only beginning, I think we will spend another week on political conventions. I'm going to be posting some additional activities after the Democrats are done and before the Republicans get rolling, and then we'll segue into producing our campaign materials next week.

Politics at the Laundromat

I have been laid low by a stomach virus for three days. This is the last week of our stay here in Pennsylvania and I'm missing all kinds of lovely outdoor activity because I'm chained to the bathroom. Yesterday I emerged long enough to go to the laundromat with four bags of laundry, sheets, comforters, and everything else we need to clean before we leave.

At the laundromat yesterday, the TV was tuned to the local ABC affiliate. I saw two political commercials during the afternoon programming, twice each.

Here's one:

Message: If you liked Hillary but don't like Obama, John McCain wants to be your new best friend. Highlight: This woman, straight out of my demographic, looking at me, acting a little ashamed, a little conspiratorial, saying "It's okay to vote for McCain. A lot of us are doing it." Or whatever. Lady, if you talk to me like that, I'm expecting you to try to hand me a wrinkled ziploc bag, not a wrinkled Republican candidate. This ad made me feel ill all over again.

Here's the other:

Now I know that Obama has tried to get this ad blocked and some stations have blocked it (Fox News for example). It is certainly a low, cheap smear that plays fast and loose with the facts. I look at it and I can't imagine how sitting on a board with someone who was a radical 40 years ago but is now a distinguished professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago could merit such an elaborate attack ad. It just seems ridiculous to me, like a Sean Hannity wet dream come to life. However, I listened to the clucks and tuts of the people around me in this laundromat, and I realized: the ad is effective. Obama is, for them, dangerous anyway.

Here in extremely rural PA, there are very few people who personally know someone who isn't white.

Watching the depths to which the opposition is willing to sink, and the effect these attacks have on people around me, I can't help thinking that the Obama campaign and the Democratic party in general was a little naive, a little too optimistic, about how serious these issues were going to be in the general election. This wasn't paid for by the McCain campaign. McCain won't have to do this dirty work. There are plenty of people who will do it for him.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rural Suzuki

Since we've been here at the farm, we've relaxed our practice schedule somewhat. I'm trying to get him through the Vivaldi A minor 2nd movement at least once a day, so he can firm up his memory on where the shifts are, but that doesn't always happen. We've been working on the shifting exercises and tonalization, string change etudes in Book 5, but we haven't been working very seriously on anything. Benny will be graduating from Book 4 at some point in the fall, so we are also vaguely reviewing the Seitz concertos and the rest of the Vivaldi in A minor. The thing is... unless we practice right away in the morning, our days are so full of activities and outdoor exertions that neither of us have the vim and vigor for a really serious violin practice.

I have to work against my reaction to the A minor 2nd movement -- this was my Waterloo as a violinist -- past which I could no longer really get by with my fake vibrato. Second movements always my downfall. Allegros, Gigues, more my style.

Two good things have happened:

1. Benny wrote a song -- not a classical song but a rock song. He has a violin part for it that I think is completely hooky, adorable, inventive, and amazing. I say that without patronizing him -- it's a riff Rasputina would be proud of. His teacher has been encouraging him to write down some of the improv tunes he comes up with, and he doesn't really do it, partly because he doesn't have the theory enough to do it, and mostly because I think he just doesn't care. When he does want to write something down he can -- he used staff paper to write down an Irish-ish tune that was in his head the other day and did fine with slurs, ties, key signature, etc. So, I think that maybe writing songs for him is going to take a different shape than we envisioned. Not so much with the Gavottes and Etudes. More with the Verse-Chorsus-Bridge. Which is so fine with me. He asked me if I want to be in his band, and I said, unreservedly, YES.

2. He's been playing outside a little bit, and in different spaces, and I think it's improved his tone. Sometimes at home we play on the front porch or on the back deck, just for variety, but standing under the trees in the front yard, which are ancient maples five stories high, or inside an evergreen house of pine branches -- I think it creates a different feeling for him. Anyway, I think he's sounding pretty good!

After he gets the A minor wrapped up, it's on to the G minor. Hard to believe he could be done with Book 5 by spring. He already knows the 1st violin part of the Bach Double. So we're one concerto and a few dances away from Book 6.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Does Tootle the Train Somehow Bother You, Too?

Sadie unearthed this book from one of the shelves here at the farm. I guess I must have read it quite a bit when I was a child -- it's worn. Sadie, being obsessed with trains, wants to read it every night, so I've been obliging her, but... I'm really starting to hate this book.

Tootle the Train irritates me. The book has always bothered me, but I think I just realized why it bothers me as a parent.

The historic reason that Tootle the Train made me cringe was trivial and potty-related. When I was but a blonde little tot, my parents taught me to refer to urine as "tootle." Tootle was a noun ("There's tootle in this diaper!") and also a verb ("You're tootling in the toilet!"). As I was exposed to other colloquial uses of the word, I was often moved to giggle primly at phrases like when someone wants you to call them on the phone ("Give me a tootle when you're ready to go!") or when someone's planning a short trip ("I'll just tootle over to the post office on the way home.") or saying goodbye in a quaint way ("Tootle-oo!") -- you get the idea. If you're having trouble relating, imagine the train was named Tinkle or Tee-Tee or Pee-Pee or whatever you call it to your kids.

Incidentally, the other variety of natural excrement was called a turtle in our family. No, they eschewed chaste euphemisms like BM, and crude ones like brown bomber --they chose the cryptic and alarming "turtle." Try to imagine the painful confusion that this caused when I went to the zoo for the first time (IT CAN WALK?), or even the time when I was asked to sing a song called "Jenny Jenkins" in which Jenny states flatly, "I won't wear purple; It's the color of my turtle." I can't remember if I ended up singing it or not. I think I was too mortified. What decent six-year-old describes the color of her turtle to an audience at an elementary school?

Aren't you glad you stopped by this blog today? Class, that's what we deliver. Style. Elegance. Toilet angst.

Anyway, I think I have a new reason to be irritated with this Tootle the Train story. Allow me to refresh your memory on the plot.

Tootle is a cute little train who wants to grow up to be a big, fast locomotive. Hey, who doesn't? He is in training at the train school, where he primarily studies the following inspiring curriculum: Stay on the tracks. This brilliant bit of pedagogy is supplemented with the Eternal Wisdom of Trains II: If you see a red flag, stop. There's not much more to train school. Red flag means stop. And stay on the track. The straight, uniform, regulated track.

Tootle goes out each day to practice staying on the track and each day he gets distracted by something. Beautiful flowers in the field, a horse who wants to race, or whatever. Stuff happens, Tootle goes off the track, and the frowning trainmasters with the serious eyebrows at the train school are disappointed and alarmed. They cannot figure out how to deal with this issue. The train will like totally not stay on track. It's those damn flowers and that lousy horse. Distracting him from his job of track-staying and flag-stopping.

Finally the head engineer has a plan to completely traumatize poor little Tootle and scare him back onto the track for good. He gives red flags to everyone in town and hides them all around the fun meadow, so that when Tootle goes off the track to have happy times with Mr. Horse in the pretty flowers, he is met by screaming townspeople waving garish red flags in his face. Paralyzed with panic, he casts his gaze about the earth! He sees the head engineer waving a green flag over at the track, and returns to its sweet confines with relief, never to leave again. At the end of the story he is a big, fast locomotive who never ever leaves the track.

So many problems.

The moral is that you never leave the track, if you want to reach your destination. I get that. Don't get distracted, etc. Stay with your goal. Head down and do your work. Seems all very well, I guess, except that the levels of the parable don't exactly match up. For example, who built the track? Why do you have to stay on it? Where does it go? If you're a magical train that can actually move without rolling down tracks, why would you ever, ever, ever in this world want to go on the tracks again? Who are the people, in this story, and who are the trains? Are the people teachers? Are the trains human children? Do I want my child to value track-rolling over meadow-scampering? Do I want my tiny little four-year-old girl to accept this idea that the tracks made for her by teachers are the only acceptable way to learn about the world?

I'm sure the author meant well. The book is sweet and so innocuous in appearance -- it's one of the oldest Little Golden Books after all. One of the best-selling children's books of all time. But really, how complex is this message? A train coming off the track, in real life, means bad news. It shouldn't ever happen. But trains are machines and anthropomorphizing them is tricky. Children should come off the track, run around the meadow, race the horse, swim in the river, go back by a different route. My paranoid, skeptical mind is shouting at me that this is wrong programming. Be submissive. Follow the road. Be ordinary. Answer the appropriate flag with the correct behavior. Do not deviate. Being different is wrong. Pleasure and play are transgressions. Is Tootle the antithesis to "The Road Not Taken"? Am I overreacting?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vote for Me! Elections Unit Study: Week 2

Hello class members! Welcome to week 2 of our campaign! This week we are going to be learning the ins and outs of an introduction speech, the significance of the "running mate," and we're also going to be listening to and yelling political speeches and documenting our physical respones to these experiences. Getting through this material before the conventions get underway will help us understand what we're looking at when we watch the speeches on TV.

Here are some links that may be helpful as we contextualize the speeches and rituals at the conventions:

Famous Political Speeches, with text and audio.
Speeches from the Democratic National Convention, 2004.
Speeches from the Republican National Convention, 2004.

Here is the PDF for this week's lessons: Vote for Me! Week 2: Unconventional Conventions

Now that we’ve created our political parties, it’s time to throw a party. This week we’re getting ready to watch the real conventions on TV, so our purpose is to learn the vocabulary, become familiar with the different types of speeches, so that we will understand what we’re watching.

Read-Along Teach-Along Sheet: Political Conventions
There is a lot of information to pack in here and I glossed over some of the details of the nominating process in the interest of not overloading the students. When they watch the convention on TV and see each state’s delegation casting their votes, it will become more clear.

Writing and Reading: The “A Man Who” Speech
Beginning readers may not be able to wade through all of the two introductory speeches I linked to. If you are reading them aloud to your students, make sure to do it with high drama. After the students’ own introductions are written, have them practice introducing each other as well as being introduced. I purposefully made the format very short so that multiple ones could be written. Write an introductory speech for the dog. Write an introductory speech for Jack and Annie. Etc.

Science and Reading: The Physical Effects of Political Rhetoric
Here’s a miniature science project. This will be more interesting if the student delivers the speech at top volume with many gestures. Also, make sure the clapping and cheering during the listening segment is very enthusiastic and possibly even aerobic. Make sure you check your pulse and breathing rate when you're watching the keynote address in each convention. Who gets your pulse rate up higher?

Thinking Activity: Choosing a Running Mate
I had originally planned for siblings to be each other’s running mates, but I think now that it’s better if the students invent someone to fit the ticket. If your student has someone in mind that exists in real life, that would be cool too.

Art: How to Make a Duct Tape Hat
Make a tough, colorful, waterproof hat out of two rolls of duct tape! Wear it to watch the speeches on TV! This lesson is available online with how-to illustrations in the post previous to this one, or follow the link in the header.

Multimedia Assignment:
Watch the Conventions on TV!

Individual PDFs to download, in case you don't want the whole lesson:

Readalong Teachalong: Political Conventions

Writing and Reading: The "A Man Who" Speech

Science: The Physical Effects of Political Rhetoric: What a Feeling!

Thinking Activity: Choosing a Running Mate

Benny continues to blog his assignments. I'd love to hear from you and see how you're doing. Have a great week! To see all the lessons in this unit click here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How to Make a Duct Tape Hat

Want to learn to make an awesome, waterproof, colorful, duct tape hat, using two rolls of duct tape and nothing else!? Welcome! This project is part of the Vote for Me! Elections Unit Study hosted here at Little Blue School. All the lucky people who are attending the political conventions are going to be wearing those crazy, ridiculous, fashionable hats, so I decided to get us in the mood with duct tape hats. My dear friend Lori, adored playmate of my childhood, brought her kids over today to play. They are also homeschoolers! Naturally, I roped them into some hatmaking, particularly Eden, who is 11 and handy with the duct tape.

Here's our result:

So, how did we get there?

Duct tape in many colors. We used Duck brand which comes in purple, orange, blue, red, chrome, pink, aqua, yellow, and other silly choices. I used approximately two rolls per hat. Some rolls have more on them than others. I had no problem getting a whole hat out of two small rolls, with leftovers.
Scissors you don't care too much about. They will get sticky.

I can think of a million variations to this hat, but here are directions for my hat, my method:

1. Build the Brim Square. First, you build a square from which to cut the brim.

Lay down a piece of tape, about 18 inches long, sticky side up.
Next tear off another piece of the same length. Lay it on the first piece, sticky side down, staggered halfway up.
Now you have two pieces of tape stuck together, with half the sticky side exposed on each side.
Turn the piece over to expose the sticky part of the tape you just added.
Stick another piece on, same length, sticky side down, over that one.
Continue until you have a square.

By laying each piece of tape exactly over the other, arranging these two-sided strips next to each other, and then laying another layer of tape perpendicular to the first layer, to join them, you can create a stronger piece. Like I said, there are other ways, but this was my way.

2. Cut the Head Hole. When you have built a square, cut a circle out from the middle of it.

You'll need a circle that will allow your head to go into it, but be careful of making it too loose. Duct tape is actually pretty stretchy. To get a circle, fold your square in half and then cut a quarter circle away from the center point, then unfold. If you start with a 3.25 inch quarter circle, you will probably be in the right neighborhood. Big math points to older students for figuring all this out exactly. Fit it onto your head to make sure it will go:

3. Create the Crown Rectangle. Now it's time to make the crown. Figure out how high you want your hat to be. I did about 12 inch strips. Your vertical strips will be joined together in exactly the same manner that you joined strips to build the brim. If you want stripes, alternate colors -- two blue (one in the front, turn, one in the back) then two red (one in the front, turn, one in the back)

Here's me making the striped crown of Sadie's pink-and-chrome hat:

4. Join the Crown Tube. When the crown has been built up to a length that will wrap around your head and fit approximately into the hole you made in your brim, finish it by joining the two ends together.

Here I am with the "stovepipe" part of the hat, measuring it against the hole in the brim, while Dan explains something about trading to me:

Here's Eden measuring her crown against her brim, checking to see if she needs to add more strips:

5. Cut the Tabs. Now cut slits in the bottom of the crown, about two inches long, all around the bottom of it. These will become tabs that attach to the brim. This is best illustrated in a picture I took of Eden making her hat:

6. Connect Brim to Crown. When you have your tabs cut, tear as many 3 inch strips of tape as you have tabs, and stick them to something closeby, like a table edge or your leg, so they'll be handy. Start by taping down one tab, then do the tab opposite, then the tabs between, and work your way around. So, do the north tab first, then the south tab, then east and west, etc. This will keep your project even. It's a good idea to try on during this process so you can gather it in or stretch it out a bit, as needed. Tape all your tabs down firmly. If at any point the hat becomes too big, create a gather and tape it down. If it is too small, cut the crown apart, add more tape, tape it back together, and you will *never know* there was a problem. Duct tape is awesome!

7. Attach the Top. The only thing left is to make the very top of the hat. If you still have the piece you cut out of the brim, you can use that to finish the top, or you can create a new piece using the same strip-on-strip method, and cut it into a circle. It's not necessary to make it perfect at first cut, you can trim it to fit later, after you tape it in. Attach it with tape strips inside the crown where it won't show:

8. Embellish. Now you can trim the brim into whatever shape you like. Zig-zag, circle, scallops, or whatever. You can cut out embellishments and tape them on, add a hat band, flowers, whatever you like. We added stars on this hat to turn it from this:

To this:

Eden rolled her brim to create a cowboy-hat-like effect:

That's it! There are more pictures in my Flickr Set but I can't resist posting a few more here. Any questions, please email me. If you do this project, I would love to see the results! Stay tuned for more Vote for Me materials, and happy campaigning!

Benny's hat:

Jordan's hat:

Cameron's hat:

Happy Homeschoolers:

Is this your first time at Little Blue School? Welcome to the blog! I hope you'll stick around and visit some of my other posts for more homeschooling ideas, projects, songs, and crafts. If you found this page helpful, would you bookmark it on your favorite social bookmarking site? Thanks!

Sock Monkey Pants

Hi! I warned you about sock monkey pants, did I not?

I will blog the elections class materials this afternoon. We are doing the "Funny Hats at the Convention" project today with some other kids that are coming over, and I want to include pictures and whatever variations we come up with. So that lesson will be available tonight.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Quest for the Falls

The little bubbly creek at the bottom of our valley winds on down through the woods, joining up with other creeks, getting wider, deeper, and eventually meets the Allegheny River, seven miles from here. When I was a kid, my Nana and I used to walk down about halfway, to a beautiful waterfall. This waterfall is accessible via the creek and also via logging trail. My friend Lori and I went there, with Nana, multiple times every summer. With a deep, curving channel leading up to the falls, a drippy cave behind the waterfall itself, and a huge flat collection basin like a giant wading pool, it's a natural waterpark. We would hike down the creek, hopping rocks and dipping into any swimmable spots, and then walk back out the logging trail which you could reach by cutting up the side of the hill.

A few years ago, Lori and I and all of our little redheaded children (Sadie in utero) hiked down that logging trail to where we thought the falls must be. We looked up and down and all around, ranging over what we thought was a vast stretch of creek and valley, and could not find the falls anywhere. A lot had changed in the 20 years or so since we had been down there. We gave up. That year Sadie was born and my mother died, and we didn't come back here to Pennsylvania for a while. When we did come back, I had little Sadie, and didn't think about trying to make the hike.

This year, we have been hanging out with our neighbors who have little children. They are also homeschoolers -- surprise! The other day we were watching the kids play and she asked me if I knew where there was a waterfall down the valley. As I was recounting my trip with Lori to look for the falls, it occurred to me that Sadie could stay with Ahno while Benny and I walked down to the falls the old fashioned way -- down the creek. Then there would be no question about which branch of the logging trail to take, or when to cut down to the water, or anything like that.

So today, we went out in search of the falls.

After two hours of hiking down the valley, we found them:

Benny was so excited, he was exploding out the top of his little red head. All the way down, he had been identifying smaller, less glamorous waterfalls and saying, "Is that it? Is that the falls?" And I would say, "Well, I don't know, maybe, maybe an earthquake came and changed up the falls and now I don't recognize them." So he had no idea how big it was actually going to be. He was very surprised.

Here we are just starting out:

Little old red bridge at the bottom of our valley. This was our old swimming hole when I was a kid. A local farmer would dredge it out yearly and move some of the huge rocks, so you could actually swim and the water was over my head in spots.

Benny on the way down the creek:

An old stone foundation:

My Nana and I used to spend hours sitting here talking on this "look-out" spot, high above the creek. The ridge is kind of bounded by one giant root of the tree, like a railing. Now it's all overgrown and the tree has been cut down. She is someone who can talk to a child in a way that makes the child feel like a real person.

Here's Benny getting his first look at the falls. I let him go on ahead a little bit when I knew we were almost there, so he could "discover" it. He was whooping and hollering like he'd been stung by a rhino. It made a big impact.

For some reason I can't embed the videos, but if you go here, you can see Benny narrating his sliding out from under the falls, and if you go here, you can see the falls from on top.

So, after we were done goofing around at the falls, we headed up the hill to find the logging trail. After two hours of rock hopping Benny was still full of energy and leaping and running ahead of me as I clambered up. We got to the trail and Benny took off, while I marked the way at each fork with a lavender ribbon so we can find our way again coming in via the trail. We had been hiking out for about ten minutes when Leroy started looking weird and sniffing at something up the hill. I stopped, looked up, and I could see, silhouetted against the sunlight, the shape of a bear's head. Two big round ears, big round heead, a bear. Looking at me. My heart stood still. In that moment, I thought, no, it's too still, it's a rock formation, but it's so symmetrical! I actually thought for a second that someone had put a bear statue out in the woods. That was just the beginning of my irrational reaction. As I watched, paralyzed, the bear turned its head slowly around to look at something else and I saw its nose, unmistakable, real.

Let me digress for a moment and tell you that when I was very small, I mean very very small, I read an article in Reader's Digest about a man who had been attacked by two bears. The account was very graphic and included a description of him being disastrously mauled, having to pretend to be dead as he bled out like a fountain, and then crawling away, clasping his scalp to the top of his head to keep it on. Ever since I read that, at the wise, rational age of four or something, I have been super-freaked about bears. When I went walking in the woods by myself as a kid, I used to carry a big stirring spoon and a sauce pot and bang them at intervals to ward off the herds of slavering bears with their red-rimmed eyes, their trumpeting, lip-quivering yells, and their knife-like claws. When I started taking walks with the kids as an adult, bears remained in the forefront of my mind.

Now, here was a bear. Probably twenty feet up the hill from me. Yes, I should have let Benny look at it. Yes, I should have taken a picture. How I wish I had taken a picture, to silence my sarcastic husband who keeps chortling about "pickanick baskets." But I did not take a picture. I walked briskly forward, grabbed Benny by the hand, whistled briskly for Leroy, and we marched along the path. "Sing," I said to Benny. "Loudly." Benny, who spends much of his time being told *not* to sing, was happy to oblige. When I felt that we had briskly walked far enough, I told Benny, "RUN." And we ran as far as I could run. Then we walked until I could run. Then we ran. Like that, back to the van. What had taken us two hours by creek, hopping rocks and chatting, took us less than 30 minutes by logging trail, running like there was a bear snapping at our heels.

The bear was probably fine. Benny was never worried. When he finally was convinced that I wasn't kidding, he pleaded to be allowed to go back and LOOK AT IT. Madness. When we got back to the van, I realized I had been inhaling one long inhale ever since I saw the thing. I had so much adrenaline in my blood I probably could have torn it limb from limb, given the need. But we made it back to the van. We marked the trail for future use. And when Dan gets here next week, HE can take us back to the falls. I will be carrying my sauce pot and spoon, thank you. And Benny will be singing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vote for Me! Elections Unit Study: Week 1

Welcome to the Vote for Me! Elections Unit Study week 1, in which we begin to develop our own campaigns! Last week was great. We figured out what the President does and learned a song naming all the Presidents. We learned about the reasons voting is useful, and about majority and minority. We learned about the electoral college and sang about it. We discussed voting rights and how our country's ideas of what is right have developed and changed over time. You can see last week's lesson here if you missed it. You're welcome to join in any time!

Here is the PDF for this week, containing the entire lesson:Vote for Me! Week 1: Let's Get This Party Started!

This week the fun really begins! As our students take their first steps toward defining themselves as candidates, we’ll need to be very positive and supportive of their ideas. Guide them toward understanding the process rather than focusing on specifics they’re coming up with. I guarantee that by the time they’re 35 and ready to be President, they will not still think that donuts are an important political issue.

Read-Along Teach-Along Sheet: Political Parties
It’s very hard to define the different political parties in a succinct way that’s both accurate and easily digestible by children. You may want to polish this section to suit your own tastes. My intention is to stay very positive about every candidate, every party. There are intelligent, honest, moral people in all parties. This is not a time for us to communicate our own possibly strong political opinions in a negative way, because we don’t want the children to be negative with each other when they’re campaigning. So, as hard as it may be for you to say nice things about a party to which you do not belong, suck it up!

Thinking Activity: Defining Your Issues and Priorities
A lot of the work we do during this class will involve introspection and self-analysis. We as teachers have to work with whatever comes out. If my student wants to start a bike-riding party, I’m going to have to use that to teach the ideas I want to teach him. This can become an interesting exercise, maybe the first time some of the younger kids have really asked themselves who they are and what they believe. We are not looking for “liberty” and “democracy” among their core values. We may be looking for freedom, but it may come out in the context of freedom to stay out after dark.

Creating a Political Party
Some questions to work through on page 1, and a kind of charter document to fill out on page 2.

Group Activity
This game will work best with more than one child, but can be done with one. Introduces the concept of facts vs. opinions, and gives the kids an active, non-verbal way to take a stand on issues.

Individual PDFs to download, in case you don't want the whole lesson:

Political Parties Readalong Teachalong

Defining Issues and Priorities Thinksheet

Inventing a Political Party Worksheet

The Opinions Game: Agree or Disagree?

I love hearing from students. Benny is blogging some of his efforts at his blog. Last week I particularly enjoyed hearing an MP3 of Phillip, who is five, singing himself to sleep with the Presidents song. Of course, he seems to be listing Jackson Pollack as every other president, but... it was very inspiring to hear that, nonetheless! Keep going!

This is the first week of Vote for Me! Elections Unit Study! For all classes to date, click the link.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sadie's Face

Sadie and I are working on our photography skills. Well, she's working on her posing and I'm working on my pictures. What do you think of these?

I think my favorite is the one where she's frowning. Or the first one. The smile is difficult to capture properly. I'm waiting for that picture where she's looking straight at the camera and smiling.

Here's one with awesome brother and dreadful chihuahua:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Arts Bash: An Unlikely Explosion

You have heard of the Book Arts Bash, right? It's a new writing program and contest for homeschooled writers, with twenty categories across the full spectrum of literary arts from novels to poetry to storytelling, dramatic skits, and book cover art. With five age groups in each category (including homeschooling moms and dads!) the Bash has something for everyone. Shez and I have been working hard to promote and organize the project, in this our "beta" year, and we've run into some major shocks.

First, the judges. Now peel your eyes open. I know you had a late night watching the Olympics. Take a deep breath. Shoulders back. Just have a look at a few of the people we have on our roster of judges for the Book Arts Bash.

Bestselling authors: Sara Gruen, Karen Abbott, Joshilyn Jackson, Dan Elish, Michael D'Orso, Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart.

Industry Pros: Caryn Karmatz-Rudy and Emily Griffin (Editors, Grand Central Press), Kirby Kim and Daniel Lazar (literary agents in NYC), Caitlin Roper (Managing Editor, The Paris Review), Cressida Leyshon (Fiction Editor, The New Yorker), David Lynn (Editor, Kenyon Review).

Then we have homeschooling moms who are also published authors: Julia Devillers, Jennifer Roy, Melissa Wiley. Storytellers Bobby Norfolk, Odds Bodkins, Joel Ben Izzy. Internet Favorites: Ann Zeise (A to Z Home's Cool), Mir Kamin (Woulda Coulda Shoulda), Michelle Mitchell (Scribbit).

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.

Are you kidding me? Does it not bring a tear of joy to your happy eye to see such glorious support for homeschooled writers from all over the literary world? I cannot tell you how shocked and amazed I am at the response from everyone we've contacted. Many more have said they can't help this year, but asked to be kept in mind for future years. These are busy, busy people who are juggling speaking engagements, new projects, book promotions, and regular jobs, as well as parenting and grand-parenting and the rest of life. They have agreed to help us with our project, to get more kids to try different types of writing and art, and to encourage homeschool teachers to use writing and art across different areas of the curriculum. A big booming thank you to all our judges, the ones I listed here and the other twenty exciting names I have not yet announced.

The judges will be reading the world of all 300 finalists in each of 20 categories, 5 age groups each. All of the adult groups will be judged by industry pros. All of the winners will receive critiques and comments from the judges, glory and recognition on the web site. The younger kids will get prizes too. One early critic of the Bash sourly and openly speculated back in June that the prizes would probably be pencils, and the judge would probably be the lady down the street who edits the local homeschooling newsletter. I can assure you (and her) that this is not the case.

Here's another shocker: This was originally intended to be a rather localized program, reaching out from our home base in Norfolk, maybe across Virginia and down into North Carolina, possibly up to DC. The idea started as a book fair to complement our science fair, to showcase literary efforts of local homeschoolers. However, when we started getting "yes" replies from big names like judges Robert Pinsky and Sara Gruen, we also started getting urgent interest from elsewhere in the country and even in the world, as far away as South Africa and Australia. We had never meant to exclude anyone, but we didn't think people from other areas would really be interested. But they were. So, would we open the contest to people outside Virginia? We decided yes.

Such a swell of interest from such widespread locations led us to really examine the original idea, which was to have an event in Norfolk, at the Chrysler Museum, where we'd invite in one or two visiting authors, showcase the finalists in a reading and a display in the museum lobby, and party down to celebrate homeschoolers' creativity. We can't celebrate finalists from Oregon if the party is in Norfolk. Then there's the question of the visiting author: We've been in conversation with Christopher Paolini's publicist, but will we be able to actually swing a visit from that homeschooled superstar?

How many people will ultimately enter? Is it fair to have an actual Book Arts Bash event in Norfolk when our finalists will be from all over the country and mostly unable to attend? Will we get a great big name for the event? Will Walt Whitman sign on as a judge? What will the prizes be for the younger age groups? Trips to the moon? These questions are all still in the air. As we put together this experience for homeschooled writers, illustrators, and teachers, we are watching it unfold in front of us. As we were shocked with the level of judges we were able to get, shocked with the amount of interest from around the world, we hope to be shocked by more developments as we move into fall.

The entries have started to come in. Will you be among them? Do you have any advice for us? Can you help us promote the project? Are you a close personal friend of Mary Pope Osborne, and can you convince her to speak at the Book Arts Bash in November? We welcome all your comments and suggestions. And of course your best work!