Saturday, January 17, 2009

95 Reasons I Love T-Bone

T-Bone is not in any way my friend. He is actually my enemy. I have on many occasions enthusiastically suggested that he be firmly hurled into the sea. But because I lost a wager, I have to compose 95 Reasons why I love him, and nail them to my blog door. If you get that reference, you just might be a Lutheran! Anyway, here we go.

1. He smiles for the camera.
2. There isn't very much of him.
3. He has bitten me fewer than 20 times.
4. He has never actually severed an arm.
5. He hasn't severed a leg either.
6. He has bitten the children fewer than 20 times.
7. He has never tried to actually ingest the children, only their food.
8. He gives Porque Choppe someone to feel superior to.
9. He gives Porque Choppe someone to bite and malign.
10. He gives Porque Choppe exercise.
11. He's not a bigot.
12. He makes "The Dog Whisperer" especially relevant for us.
13. He makes my dog look good.
14. He eschews pants.
15. He is portable.
16. He's kind of goofy and funny-looking.
17. There's only one of him.
18. So far he has not burned down the house.
19. He has simple taste in dog food.
20. He has no intentions of running for president.
21. He doesn't carry a man bag.
22. He is pretty good at the groomers.
23. He has a cool name.
24. His poops are small.
25. He matches Ahno's sofa.
26. He hardly ever burps.
27. He really loves my husband.
28. He has not yet had any expensive medical problems.
29. He doesn't run off and get lost.
30. He likes to play with Leroy.
31. He runs maniacally through the house, and that's funny.
32. He doesn't demand to be given milk with his cookies.
33. He doesn't ask me to put shoes on Polly Pocket.
34. He doesn't play any instruments.
35. No one annoys us by wanting to make a fur coat out of him.
36. No one pesters us wanting to put him in the movies.
37. He isn't made out of glitter.
38. He isn't made out of okra.
39. He's never had aspirations of becoming a famous novelist.
40. He is not an agent of a hostile foreign country.
41. He doesn't encourage me to try okra, just try it.
42. He can't drive.
43. He hasn't got a blog.
44. He can't turn on the stove.
45. He can't use the telephone.
46. He doesn't mind having his fingernails painted for our entertainment.
47. He can't operate heavy machinery.
48. He can't talk.
49. He can't jump very high.
50. He's not one of those freakishly beautiful dogs.
51. He does have a sort of nutjob charm about him.
52. He doesn't try to hog the Playstation.
53. He doesn't fit into my skinny jeans.
54. He doesn't suggest movies that we could watch.
55. He doesn't judge me if I didn't brush my hair.
56. He and Leroy put on "The Dog Show" at the farm.
57. He tolerated my children playing with him on the leash all summer.
58. He tolerated being put into "the hole" resulting in this picture:

59. When he bit me all those times, I didn't actually die.
60. He taught me that being bit by a chihuahua is not all that big of a deal.
61. He keeps the carpet nicely clear of food bits.
62. He doesn't require batteries.
63. He has no android parts that need replacing at great expense.
64. Knitting him a dog sweater takes very little time.
65. Sadie likes him, and claims that he is hers.
66. He doesn't have any oozing pustules.
67. He can see clearly.
68. Nothing wrong with his legs.
69. His ears stick up perkily.
70. All his joints are in proper working order.
71. He can't fly.
72. He can't create recipes and demand to experiment in the kitchen.
73. He doesn't know kung-fu.
74. He doesn't have any TV preferences, happy to watch whatever.
75. Doesn't hog the remote.
76. He's not a poststructuralist, nor has he read the French feminists.
77. He doesn't keep big collections of knick-knacks.
78. His crate is pretty light.
79. There is no T-Bone-scented candle, inspired by him.
80. He has never killed anyone.
81. He doesn't absorb all light and matter, destroying the universe.
82. He doesn't leave wet rawhide rags lying around.
83. His head is on forwards, not backwards.
84. He is not explosive.
85. He doesn't cause pacemakers to malfunction.
86. He doesn't experiment with faux finishes and get halfway done and quit.
87. He doesn't leave droppings in the toilet without flushing.
88. He doesn't play practical jokes on people.
89. He hasn't ever bragged about an advanced degree.
90. He doesn't show off using chopsticks.
91. He doesn't buy into the whole Disney Princess craze.
92. He isn't stuffed with artichoke hearts.
93. He doesn't require special supplements.
94. He doesn't mock the drapery.
95. He gives Ahno something to do.

So there you have it. I hope I don't lose that particular bet again because I have nothing left to say.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Homeschool Camp-In at the Virginia Air and Space Center

What a fantastic program. Seriously, if you get a chance to do this, do it. It was so much fun.

This was the program, for the 4th and 5th grade class that Benny was in:

1. Stomp rockets. They made stomp rockets with foam tubes, plastic eggs, paper and tape. Their teacher gave them freedom to do whatever they liked with the fins. Then they went out in the big part of the museum and did many many launches, trying to stomp their rockets, trying to get them into the pickle buckets that had been set up as "planets." Very cool! Here they are working on the rockets:

2. Mars Colony. The teacher talked about how a Mars Colony would need different parts to survive and support itself -- a science and research center, a recreation center, a food and shelter center, and... I can't remember the other one! But the kids were divided into teams and given boxes with different cool materials to create their section of the colony. Then they each gave a little presentation about their creations.

3. Robots. The kids got to build cool robots with Robotix parts, giant beautiful bins of all kinds of parts and motors. After they'd built their robots and figured out how to make them go forward, backward, and turn, they had robot wars where they played a type of soccer with the robots -- trying to push a little block off a table through a goal before their opponent did. This was FUN!


Robot war:

4. Space Freeze. The children went out of their classroom to see a cool demonstration with liquid nitrogen. Everyone loves liquid nitrogen! Here's Benny getting to freeze a carnation and then crush it up. Very enjoyable.

5. Rockets. After the demo, we went back to the classroom and built real actual model rockets with real actual parts. This was very exciting! There was feverish measuring, gluing, and decorating. Then we left the rockets there, to be fueled and launched in the morning.

6. Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream. At 10 pm, the longsuffering and wonderful ladies in charge of this event made ice cream in the cafe using liquid nitrogen in huge buckets of cream and sugar. The kids LOVED this. Here's a picture of the concoction being made:

Finally it was time to bed down for the night. I had brought the air mattress, at great cost to my convenience in dragging all our stuff in from the car. I had also remembered the air pump, amazingly enough. However, I did not remember to *charge* the lousy, pea-pickin' air pump, and so it immediately died when I turned it on. I did experience a moment of sadness, yea in the midst of this very exciting and valuable educational event, when I realized I would be sleeping on the cement floor of the museum, protected only by my great grandmother's quilt.

Fortunately, my socially adept son procured a pump for us by asking other people with air mattresses, and we were in business. Benny pumped it up himself, with his foot. The children were allowed to pick anywhere in the museum to sleep, including under airplane wings, next to space capsules, and all kinds of exotic locales. Benny chose to set up next to the Christmas tree that was decorating the museum. Nice and bright, all night. Okay, so here is our campsite:

Here was my view, looking up, when I woke up in the morning. This bank of windows probably had something to do with the fact that I was cold all night:

Apart from my anti-camping whining, the experience was quite wonderful. And the best part of all was the next morning when we launched the rockets. I have a video, but it's still on my camera. Here's the picture I took with my phone:

Thank you, huge and amazed thank you to Louise Schaeffler and the Virginia Air and Space Center for a program that went far above and beyond my expectations. There were families that had come from as far as Lynchburg, and it was totally worth it! A brilliant job by the teachers and organizers, and a wonderful experience for the children. Please do this again -- we will be back!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

National Geographic Geography Bee: Homeschool Style!

On Friday we went to Midlothian to compete in a geography bee sponsored by the Richmond Regional Home Educators. This is part of the national bee run by National Geographic. I saw a post about it on a list I'm on, a month or two ago, and asked Benny if he was interested. Benny, not one to be deeply interested in much of anything academically, unless you include Inventing Things class, Chess Strategy class, and Runescape Statistics class, immediately wanted to try it. I keep tossing things at Benny, waiting for something to stick. So far, he tolerates a lot of stuff, enjoys some of it, takes a workmanlike approach toward other things, and some things he firmly rejects. So far, academically speaking, there hasn't been anything that he really yearns to do. Geography was an instant hit. He actually asks to study it. The last month has been all about geography around here.

I should tell you: I am not a geography type. Geography to me, a month ago, meant knowing vague facts about imports and exports (coffee! coal! tobacco!) and knowing where the Ural Mountains are. I am still not sure about those particular mountains, but I do know that geography is full of hidden depths. State capitals for example. I did not know the capital of Kentucky. Nor did I know the capital of Oregon. It is not Eugene. We have been contemplating, Benny and I, how best to go about this, because there are really so many hidden depths: the rivers, the mountains, the cultural stuff, the native animals and plants, the capital cities, the landmarks, the historical events -- I mean, it is endless.

For this round, we decided to do a wide overview, and then spend the last couple weeks focusing on US geography. My goal was just to do the best we could, keep it super fun, and try and get one question right in the bee. To be honest, I didn't think he'd even manage to get through the state capitals. After seeing how enthusiastic he was, I felt like just going to scope it out would be worthwhile. This would be his first year to be eligible, and he'd have much more time to "get serious" if he figured out that's what he wanted to do.

Here's Benny on his way to the bee:

Here's Grace Gospel Chapel in Midlothian where the bee was held:

The stage, all set up for the bee, with Benny in happy anticipation:

And here's how many questions Benny got right:

That's right, he got FOUR RIGHT, and in the preliminary round he tied for 6th place out of 18 kids in the bee. I was absolutely thrilled with his performance. He answered questions that I never thought he would get right. Without giving away the questions, in case that's illegal, he answered a question comparing two cities and asking which had the higher immigrant population. He answered a question asking which of two states would be more likely to have a broadleaf, deciduous forest. He answered a question asking which of three states did not have a city with a population over 15 million. It was impressive! He answered loud and clear. He did incorrectly answer Kazhakstan twice, in fact he answered that Berlin was the capital of Kazhakstan. We'll have to work on that.

Here's the astonishing thing, for those of you who know our Benny: He sat still. He did not fall out of his chair, did not tap his shoes relentlessly, did not chat with the kid next to him, did not wander off. He did space out a couple times -- at one point his question was read and the time was ticking away, and he had no idea it was his turn. One of the judges said, "Benny?" and he almost jumped out of his skin -- it was pretty funny, like Kramer from Seinfeld had wandered into a geography bee.

What was the first thing he did when he got in the car and got his seatbelt on? He pulled out the atlas and started quizzing me on state capitals again. Which is how he spent the car ride getting there. It's going to be a long year, and I am guessing I'll know where the Ural Mountains are by the time we get to the end of it!

A few words about the bee itself. It was run splendidly and efficiently by Pam Foster and graciously sponsored by the Richmond homeschoolers. I really appreciated how she clarified everything for the kids in advance so they knew what to expect in a new and complex situation. We will be back next year for sure.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bee Season: Three Spelling Study Tips

Looking for spelling games? New ways to study? Gearing up for that big local homeschool spelling bee? Trying to figure out how to pronounce the schwa sound without giving away the vowel?

We are too. Here are three things we've been using to help us get ready:

1. Spelling City. This is the best spelling web site I have seen, and it's free. You can enter your own list, manage multiple lists, and edit them as needed. There are three levels of interaction: Teach me (the child hears the word spoken and sees the word spelled), Test Me (the child clicks a "say it" button, listens to the word, and then spells it in a blank field), and Play Games. The games on Spelling City are much much better than those on any other site I've found. They're big, bright, interesting, and actually reinforce the spelling of the words. After the child takes the test, he/she can retake it with only those words they missed. Another cool feature of Spelling City is that you can print out handwriting practice sheets with your words in cursive or printing, even including words the software doesn't "know" like gopak or raj.

2. Spelling Stairs. This game is particularly good for active kids who have trouble sitting still to practice spelling. Not that I know anyone like that. No, no, my children sit perfectly still and look expectantly at me, waiting to be told what to do. This is just fun for us, not at all a method of keeping my hair rooted in my head. Anyway, the child starts at the bottom of the stairs. With each word he gets correct, he leaps wildly up to the next step. With each word he gets incorrect, he drops back to the next lower step. At the top of the step he gets... something. A cookie, or a sticker or a bead to put on a string, or whatever bribing device you use. You could say "You have to get to the top of the stairs five times before you can go outside to play" or something like that. Benny loves this game and while we're playing it I do not have to tell him not to tap his toe, not to rock in his chair, not to chew on his collar, etc.

3. Spelling Stumps. This game is best played in the car, in line at the post office, or shouted up the stairs last thing at night. The idea is that you try and stump the other person as you're both trying to think of spelling words without looking at the list. I say a word, Benny spells it and then Benny gives me a word, I spell it and give him a word back. Any hesitation, saying "Ummm..." or scratching your head in bemusement results in the other player gaining a point. This game tends to focus on problem words because those are the words that you most clearly remember. Benny always goes straight for "adamant" and at this point I know he will never forget how to spell that word.

I hope these help you like they've helped us! Do you have any tips for me? I'd love to add some more games and methods to our a-r-s-e-n-a-l.