Monday, August 31, 2009

Things We Did This Weekend

While Annabeth and I were at dance on Friday night -- the 7-8pm session, not the 4-5:30 session (yes, we spend our life there) -- Rick and Thalia went to a redbox video thingy and ended up getting Get Smart, which we've never seen. When we got home the kids put on jammies, popped popcorn, and made ice cream sundaes; we stayed up watching the movie, then. It felt like we were at a slumber party. And it was a fun, silly movie that was just perfect for that sort of thing.

Saturday we spent enough time poking around in the vents and raising bits of the basement's dropped ceiling panels to finally figure out why the vent in Annabeth's room has such poor airflow -- it had detached at the joint where it goes up the wall from the basement ceiling on up. This probably got jarred loose while the contractor was doing some wiring this past summer. We spent an amazing amount of time getting it back together.

The kids decided to learn to do handstands. They watched the appropriate video on this page and, yes, clickered/tagged each other for those points.

We decided to roast a boneless turkey breast for Sunday lunch. For the past year I did this sans thermometer or any other sort of gauge (having lost them in various household moves), but decided I hate the uncertainty of whether I'd cooked it "just right". I had gotten one of those re-usable pop-up gauges to try, but when I tried it last spring it NEVER popped up. So I'd gotten a brand new meat thermometer, which I stuck in the turkey Sunday, carefully following directions. And when I checked the turkey after the appropriate time, it showed no temperature whatsoever. When I nudged it a bit, the thermometer fell apart. By which I mean, I had to cut the end out of the turkey because the entire top had broken off. And I've decided that if Ma Ingalls could cook without so much as an oven gauge, timer, and precise weight information, surely I can figure it out too. (By the way, turkey is one of the proteins most of the family can eat without issue -- we can't have soy, most beans, proteins derived from grains, several kinds of nuts, peanuts, beef, dairy, halibut, haddock, various other seafood I can't remember off the top of my head, etc. etc., so it's worth trying to figure out).

And for supper we had a fire in the firepit again, mostly because it was so amazingly cool out. Rick was reminiscing about when he started working for Anheuser-Busch years ago on this very date, and was living in a flat in a fourplex in south city near the brewery (and even nearer the intersection of Chippewa and Grand, for those who wonder about stuff like that), and his very first shopping trip was to buy a window air conditioner because the temperatures were in the 100s and people were dropping dead from the heat (as opposed to the following winter when people were dropping dead from the cold -- gotta love St. Louis weather). Further fueling the nostalgia was a newspaper ad for Mateker's -- didn't they used to be in south city? Because I swear every time we talked to Grandma she would tell us the price of bananas at Mateker's, and also tell us how she loved using their ground beef because it had so little fat that you wouldn't get more than a tablespoon of grease off of a meatloaf.

Thalia and Annabeth decided that the cool temperatures made it a perfect day to bake cookies. They did not find it the perfect day to wash the cookie sheets when they were done, mostly because by then the fire was going outside and they needed to set sticks on fire.

And I discovered a new obsession which replaces the clicker/tag training obsession -- floor barre. I spent much time surfing the internet reading about Zena Rommett and Stephane Dalle , as well as others who claim to have the "best" floor barre. We may need to invest in a DVD. Which will probably be by Rommett, because although I like how Dalle keeps exclaiming voila!, his accent is a bit too thick for me. So, of course, I couldn't wash the cookie sheets either because I was watching at every single youtube video and googling every permutation of words like "floor barre".

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weekly Report 8/28/09


Thalia is working in Jacob's Algebra, and, frankly, it's pretty easy here at the beginning. She's reviewing things like order of operation, and working with 1 and 0.

Annabeth is in RightStart D. Earlier in the week she was working on multi-digit multiplication, and by Friday was doing division. She has about 40 lessons left in this book, and we've discussed whether she'd like to work 4 days per week to finish in about 10 weeks, or 5 days per week to finish in 8 weeks. She said she'd rather work 6 days per week.


Annabeth has started to work on First Language Lessons vol. 4. We're zipping through the lessons, which are mostly review.

Weird coincidence -- Bridgett mentioned rules for capitalization on her blog one day, and the very next day we had a lesson about it in FLL. And I discovered that various style manuals treat prepositions in titles differently, per FLL. I'm pretty sure that Annabeth won't retain that information (that different style manuals have different rules) but it is now firmly fixed in my mind. Although I've managed to live many, many years without having a clue about this, so I'm not sure what difference it will make now.

Thalia was in an "off" week for Analytical Grammar, and thus didn't do any grammar. She only has one season left, and has been asking what she's supposed to do for high school. What, indeed?

In the meantime, the new writing program she asked for, Jump In. Well, actually she hadn't asked for this specific program, but after looking at samples of various choices she decided that this one didn't look too dumb. Writing Strands was one of the other choices, in case you wondered. Anyway, I haven't been that thrilled with Apologia material before -- I think their science books are sort of dippy, and can't make it through a chapter of them without deciding to ditch them -- but maybe the tone is just right for a writing program.


Review test week in Latin Alive for Thalia. Annabeth and I haven't started back up in Latin for Children, due to inertia.


I've picked up several history-related books from the library, and the kids seem to be randomly reading them without any over-arching scheme of "this one first, then that one follows chronologically". I've decided that this is a great way to do things, since then we can move ahead in Story of the World as needed, without worrying whether we're reading the "correct" corresponding literature.

Having said that, we haven't read anything out of Story of the World this week. Thalia read an essay in National Geographic's Almanac of World History on European Imperialism, and then outlined it. Our plan is that she will read essays related to our reading in Story of the World, then outline, giving her more depth in her studies and bonus practice in outlining.


Thalia is gearing up for her co-op science class by reading the material that should be covered before the first class. They'll be studying Physical Science this year (using Apologia, of all things, but at least I don't have to deal with it). She set up an experiment using a battery, some copper wire, and some water ... I was out mowing the lawn at the time, and no smoke billowed out the windows, so I guess it worked.

Annabeth and I have been puttering around with plants. She wants to continue learning botany. I spent part of the week trying to figure out what we'd done with all of the books when we re-did the kitchen. Annabeth spent time looking through the books as we found them, noting interesting projects.


We continue with The Secret Garden and Little HIstory of the World.


Piano, dance, theatre class. The weather was warm this week, so we spent a lot of time at the pool. It's been a fairly cool summer, and we haven't gone to the pool much at all, so we made up for it by going nearly every afternoon this week. After all, we can do Latin when the weather is crummy, but we can't swim and play in the sun much longer this summer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

Okay, first things first. The camera was dropped on the floor while it was turned on -- in other words, while the lens was out. Which means it now has the dreaded "lens error" message. Which translates as "time to go buy a new camera because the pins have been knocked out of place and that's a really expensive repair".

So, the only camera I have available to show you how far I've gotten with the new collar is the camera on the computer.

which sort of lacks.

Oh, hey, I wonder what would happen if I put the collar on and stood really close to the computer.

I think I'll be spending some time today looking over camera reviews. And crocheting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Q is for Quantity

This is the amount of coffee I can drink.

Any more and I'll be too jittery to sew, crochet, knit, or read a book. Or type, for that matter.

(Actually it's a Starbucks Frappuccino Mocha -- every once in a while I buy a small bottle, drink about a fourth of it over the course of a week or so, then pitch the rest in the trash. This is what I consider exciting and daring. Also, a fairly cheap thrill.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

100 Species Challenge

1. Strawberry
2. Black-eyed Susan
3. Rose of Sharon, Althea
4. Potentilla
5. Vinca
6. Grape Hyacinth
7. Tiger Lily

8. Lespedeza

When we moved here we inherited a fairly weedy lawn. The slope is really funky and the soil is crappy, so it's in sort of a permanent drought. Plus the previous owners didn't care, which typically translates to "don't mow very often, and then scalp it down", which is a technique that favors weeds over grass.

Anyway, there's a bunch of some plant that I hadn't seen before. It looks sort of like clover

and in some areas it's totally taken over.

So the other day some guy came to our door selling lawn chemical applications. I'm not big on lawn chemical applications -- I figure if it's all sort of green and approximately the same height, we're good (except I hate zoysia grass, but that's another story). So I don't place a high priority on killing various short green things and then fertilizing other short green things.

BUT, he commented that he could get rid of the lespedeza (well, except he pronounced it differently -- more like les -pi--dee-jah). Ooooooh, how cool. I used the word in sentences while I was talking to him, fixing it in my brain. And then when we were finished talking I ran inside to google it.

(As an aside, he also assured me he could get rid of crabgrass, clover, and violets. We have virtually no crabgrass, and I happen to like the violets. I'm neutral on clover, aware that it was considered part of a healthy lawn until about the 1960s and the dawn of lawn chemicals. On the other hand, I've gotten my share of bee stings from walking barefoot through lawns with clover patches, so I don't consider it quite so necessary.)

And discovered varying opinions on the plant. I found a place to buy seeds so you can use it for erosion control and for "food and shelter for wildlife" such as deer and quail. Obviously it's growing taller than it does in our yard if it's shelter wildlife. And we seem to have no trouble attracting deer, although they prefer daylilies and hostas over lespedeza, in case you wondered.

And yet, in Kansas it has been declared a noxious weed. And I found a comment that Missouri may declare it a noxious weed also. It seems to be a case of an okay plant running amok and killing off the competition.

Other bits and pieces of lespedeza trivia: Goats and sheep will eat it more readily than will cows. It has a high tannin content, particularly late in the season. I imagine this makes it bitter. And there's been research on using it to help with internal parasites in ruminant animals. I haven't found any human uses for it yet -- I always like finding out which plants we can forage, assuming we don't spray them with chemicals.

I couldn't find any organic controls, other than using herds of goats and also burning it off. I don't think either method would be popular with the neighbors. Not that the neighbors object to chemical applications -- I need to go take pictures of what happened to our lawn when one neighbor decided to "help" with the "violet problem" we supposedly have.

More about the 100 Species Challenge here, and a link to all of my 100 Species entries is in the sidebar.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our Weekend So Far

Along with several hundred other people,

we went to the Fabulous Fox

to see Mary Poppins.

We went with Aunt Linda. And sat in the Fox Club (although I think other seats would've been better for this show -- the balcony overhang made it hard to see a couple of the special moments).

Aunt Linda had her iPhone with her, so most of the pictures of the day are on that, as she let Annabeth use it. Annabeth took pictures of everything -- the pink lemonade they were drinking beforehand, all of us sitting around the table, the theatre. On the way out she took dozens more pictures of houses along Lindell and then people walking around Delmar, where we went to the mecca of

Fitz's to wallow in root beer (Annabeth's favorite drink). We had supper there, and discussed what we liked about the show.

And it was tough to say what was THE favorite -- there are so many good parts! The statues, the chimney sweeps, the trip to Mrs. Corry's gingerbread shop, what the various actors brought to their parts, the sets (I was enchanted by the scrims used in the park scene -- nerdy but true). The show will be here another week -- we highly recommend it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekly Report 8/21/09

Okay, back to something resembling a reasonable week. We're continuing to gear up to "full schedule" mode, and are still missing several subjects, but feel like we're accomplishing a lot.


Thalia decides she would like to try Jacob's Algebra, and since she likes to work through things sequentially she starts at the beginning. Which is easy-peasy work in addition.

Annabeth picks up where she left off in RightStart D, lesson 93 "Square Inches in a Square Foot". We don't time the Quick Practice sheet, which is just as well since she's totally out of the groove of quickly answering 50 multiplication problems. The lesson itself, though, is easy -- simply finding the area of various rectangles.

Somehow we end up reading the section of the first chapter of Story of the World 4, The Modern Age, entitled "Victoria's England". We discuss the questions listed in the Activity Guide, and I suggest that Thalia work on the outline while Annabeth does the map. Thalia objects since she wants to do the map -- she used to HATE the SOTW maps, so this is a new twist. But, okay, they each get a map. I'm not really planned out on how we're going to do history this year, so this is sort of experimental as far as what we do and how much we do. While putting the Activity Guide away I notice that the book At Her Majesty's Request has a note that it should have a parental preview; I had checked it out of the library, and when Annabeth asked what it was I handed it to her and told her she should read it. Well, hmm, maybe that wasn't so clever on my part. I ask the kids, and they say, yeah, it has some fairly graphic parts about people being killed -- Annabeth had shown them to Thalia. Welcome to the Modern Age, kids, where we explore man's inhumanity to man.

Thalia also works on her beloved Analytical Grammar. I really don't understand the attraction, but maybe if someone had helped me choose a grammar program I liked and understood I wouldn't have developed such a bad attitude towards the subject.

Annabeth wants to start grammar, but, alas, her books aren't here yet. She'll be using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Child, Year 4.

Thalia also picks up Latin Alive and reviews vocabulary.

In the meantime, Annabeth decides to do some art. She wants to paint. I suggest that she paint from photos, as that's a bit easier. We end up in Artistic Pursuits 1, looking at the chapter on Degas, who painted ballerinas from photographs. She decides to paint portraits of our cats.

We do some read alouds -- another chapter of Little History of the World. And we finally made it back to the top of the hold list for Theras and His Town, which we had started several weeks ago. We all remember the plot line fairly well, so we just start in where we left off, as Theras is heading to Sparta. The book is due back soon, and has more holds on it, so we'll be reading several chapters each day.

Both kids practice piano, and we go to piano lessons, during which we discuss with Mrs. Piano Teacher what to look for in voice lessons -- Thalia has been asking about these.

And the day ends in dance lessons.


Annabeth is now working on 2 digit multiplication in RightStart D. This seems fairly easy for her -- is this review material? It seems like so long since we've done math that I can't remember.

Thalia continues with Jacob's Algebra. I notice a tendency to get sort of showy with her answers -- she can see how some of these problems could be expressed as functions.

More Analytical Grammar for Thalia, then she requests that we do spelling. In the past we've used Spelling Power -- she likes the program, I'm somewhere between "neutral" and "active dislike". We pick it up exactly where we left off months and months ago -- Level G Group 42. Bleh.

Annabeth paints another cat.

We read more Little History of the World. -- we're up to Charlemagne. Several more chapters of Theras and His Town are read. And Annabeth asks if we can return to reading The Secret Garden.

Piano is practiced, Annabeth takes off to photograph the neighbor's cat for future painting projects, then comes home to go to another dance class.

Thalia starts back in on actual lessons in Latin Alive.


More 2 digit multiplication for Annabeth.

More Jacob's Algebra, Analytical Grammar and Latin Alive for Thalia, as well as more Spelling Power. Sometimes her algebra answers are better than those in the answer guide.

More Secret Garden, Theras and His Town, and Little History of the World.

We go through all of the art bins and boxes to see what equipment we have. We have 2 sets of everything for Artistic Pursuits K-3, an extremely random selection of drafting and drawing equipment (pencils, Rapidograph and points, Design markers, a nice compass set), a selection of Waldorf-type art supplies (Stockmar block crayons, Stockmar stick crayons, Stockmar watercolors, high quality paintbrushes, a wooden jar holder, brand new box of colored beeswax for modelling). And, of course, the box of 48 Prismacolor pencils and box of Prismacolor markers. We rarely "do" art, by the way. We discuss the possibility of signing up for an art class, but Thalia would rather work on things here for now. We also have the Middle School version of Artistic Pursuits, and she decides to start on the first lesson.

More piano practice. More dance classes.


RIghtStart D is a review sheet, which is always a nice break from the regular lessons.

Our new copy of First Language Lessons, vol. 4 has arrived. Annabeth considers waiting until Monday to start, but I point out that the first lesson is almost exactly like the first lesson in vol. 3, so she decides it would be okay to do today.

Thalia fits in some algebra, some spelling, some Analytical Grammar.

We attend a scout meeting, which is mostly a planning session.

At this point the kids are taking sketch pads around everywhere.

Annabeth remembers to practice piano. Thalia subs for a ceili team practice (dance team). Annabeth has to go along, since Rick isn't home.


Theras and his Town is FINISHED.

Another chapter of Little History of the World, and of The Secret Garden are read.

We read the next section of SOTW4, The Sepoy Mutiny (hey, I read about this in The Far Pavilions earlier this summer), questions discussed, mapwork done, work on homemade timeline, and outline completed.

Thalia finishes chapter 6 of Latin Alive, commenting that the book's explanation of Indirect Objects is fairly lame, but she understands them from Analytical Grammar. I notice that she seems to have totally missed the entire Dative of Reference concept, probably because the book's explanation is weak.

She also completes Level G Group 47 of Spelling Power, leaving only the various review tests to go in Level G.

Annabeth continues reading At Her Majesty's Request independently.

Piano is practiced. We visit a place that gives acting classes and sign up for the semester.

Still to come: 2.5 hours of dance class for Annabeth.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Clicker Training

Last night I was talking to someone about something unrelated to my new obsession with clicker training, and managed to rather awkwardly steer the conversation to my preferred subject. She just sort of gave me The Look -- the one that says, "why are you babbling about this and what does it have to do with the subject we were talking about? Are you nuts?"

So in hopes of sparing the people I see this afternoon and evening from listening to me go on and on and on about the (tenuous) relationship between clicker training and Girl Scouts and/or dance, I'll post this here. No guarantees I'll actually shut up, though.

This is Day 2 of teaching the cat to give a high-five.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

I decided to cut out a knit top -- I've made this pattern before, and figured it would be a quick project.

It took 3 days to cut out. The fabric kept twisting around funky, going off grain. Plus, every time I tried to work on it the cat decided to be involved, walking on the fabric, burrowing under the fabric, jumping after pattern pieces. Finally I cut it out one layer at a time. While the cat was asleep.

By which time I'd started to lose interest. So here it sits.

In the meantime, last year someone gave Rick this t-shirt. Unfortunately, the neck is wonky

because the shoulder seam is wonky.

He asked me to fix it, and I put it on my dresser to deal with later. So here it is, a year later, and he's going to see these people in a couple of days and would like to wear the t-shirt.

But I can't just sew up a new, straight seam along the ruler. For one thing, it has this fabric covering the seam; I suspect it also adds stability to the shoulder area so it doesn't stretch out quite so quickly. It runs from one shoulder to the other, around the back of the neck.

I removed part of the fabric strip (which has purple on it from my fabric pen), sewed a new seam together with a narrow zigzag, then trimmed that up. Next, split open the neck and serged the raw edges of that, then stitched those bits down with a narrow zigzag (not that slick looking, but got the job done). And, finally, sewed the fabric reinforcement back down using that stretch stitch that looks like 3 lines of stiching side-by-side (no clue what that's called, although I think it has a name).

Not precisely straight, but a good application of the Secret Weapon -- a hot iron blasting plenty of steam -- should whip it into place. Also, frankly, the other shoulder isn't that non-wavy, either.

As for crocheting, well. Maybe the little crochet-elves will come out tonight and do that for me while I sleep, sort of like the shoemaker's elves. I'll let you know next week how that works out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Clicker Training

Last year when we were having issues with our cat I was exploring various options for improving her behavior (side note: sometimes Thalia expresses a desire to become a cat psychologist, and believe me, this particular cat could be her Master's thesis). One of the books I got was Karen Pryor's Clicker Training for Cats. Thalia had a great time teaching the cat some tricks. And then we sort of set the whole clicker thing aside.

The other day I waltzed into the library and looked through the new nonfiction shelves. Hey, Karen Pryor has a new book out -- Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals. Figuring it would be full of fun animal training anecdotes (it was -- if you like reading stories about animals having positive training experiences, this is the book for you) I checked it out and started reading it.

And there on page 14 encountered the idea of clicker training in sports. "The first public application of clicks to human muscle moves was in children's sports, particularly gymnastics and track." Really?? So, like, you can train kids to improve physical performance using positive reinforcement instead of yelling at them?? I immediately started googling the idea and discovered that it has the name of TAGteach. And my mind started exploding with ideas, particularly when I read this PDF file that tells about a dance studio that uses the concept. And teaches kids to dance without a huge amount of shouting and negative reinforcement. No person standing there declaring, "No no NO, you're doing it all wrong, try again," just a simple click when the legs are "dead straight". (In my head I'm saying all that with a British accent. Hee. If you're in our dance studio you know what I mean.)

I finished the book. Which, by the way, is excellent, and goes fairly in depth with the concepts while maintaining an engaging tone. I read about clicker training in dolphins, other sea creatures, cats, dogs, wolves, horses (including the ponies that learned to surf), zoo animals (ibis, rhino, gorilla, etc.). I learned that conditional reinforcers always go through the amygdala , how clicker training affects the hypothalamus, what the SEEKING circuit is (other than a really tough concept to google, so no link -- it has to do with dopamine and is mostly in the hypothalamus).

And also in chapter 11 discovered an entire chapter on TAGteaching. It was fascinating. I explained the basic concept to the kids, and we decided to give it a try. We would use one of Annabeth's typical competition comments -- "arms" -- and see if we could improve her reel. We analyzed how we would tag this, and decided that she tended to raise her right arm during leaps, so we would tag for correct arm placement during leaps. I got out the clicker we had used for the cat, and plunged in. I soon realized that it would be better if Thalia clicked the tags, partly because Thalia was seated where she could see Annabeth's right arm more clearly, and partly because Thalia is more familiar with the dance and therefor knew when to expect the leaps.

It worked great, except Annabeth started raising her left arm to compensate. But before we tried to tag for that problem we had discovered a new problem -- the cat, hearing the clicker clicking away, had trotted in to see what we were up to and find out if it involved treats for her. Indeed, the book mentions that animals remember the clicker training seemingly forever. IT'S TRUE. And we need to find a new clicker if we're going to explore this further. I looked around at Target the other day for toys that make an annoying beep when you press a button, sort of like the Nemo car keys, but came up empty handed. I hate toys like that and refused to buy them when the kids were little -- now I'm searching stores for them. You just never know where parenting will take you, I guess, since I never would've expected to be interested in this sort of plastic-electronic craptastic toy.

In summary, this is a great book whether you're interested in animal training or in kids' sport/dance performance. Heck, it even has application for your own golf swing or softball pitching.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Summer Reading

I decided to sign up for Summer Read at the library this year. The kids do this every year, signing up as soon as the program opens, then spending about 2 weeks in a reading frenzy during which they complete the entire number of books/hours needed to turn in a completed form. On the other hand, I'd never tried the adult version.

The choices for adults were to read 10 books or read 50 hours. I thought the hour count might work better for me, given that I rarely finish entire books.

I started out withHow Lincoln Learned to Read by Daniel Wolff. After about 3 chapters it became quite apparent that 1) I really didn't care about the subject as presented (summary: sometimes people get interested in stuff they aren't taught in school, so they pursue that knowledge and learn it outside of a classroom ... not really a startling concept for a homeschooler) and 2) it's really annoying to keep track of how many minutes I read, since it tends to happen in little bits and pieces.

So, I decided count my reading on a per book basis. And, furthermore, I'd concentrate on reading fiction that's written about an 8th grade level, figuring if I read fast enough I wouldn't notice how silly it was and therefor not toss any given book before I finished it.

First up was The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. Someone had given me a 2 volume hardback set ("book club edition") of this, and I'd been using one of the volumes to prop up the bathroom window when the sash cord broke. I'd never read the book in all the years since it came out. The kitchen remodelers flipped off the electricity for a few hours, and with nothing better to do, I picked up vol. 1, sat down near a sunny window, and started reading.

It was really an engaging book. We'll be studying this period of history this coming fall, and this really gave a sense of the tone of the times. I can see why it was such a popular book, and why people love it so.

After I finished vol. 1 I tried to start vol. 2, but, alas, the covers of the 2 volumes were exactly the same and I kept picking up the wrong book. Finally I decided to come back to it later, and to count vol. 1 as an entire book (after all, it was about 500 pages long on its own).

Whenever I see a book by Elmore Leonard on the New Book Shelf at the library I pick it up, and thus read Road Dogs. You gotta love an author whose advice to other authors is to "try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." Quick, fun read, leaving me with a desire to swear a lot.

Next, I indulged a passion that typically doesn't work out. Whenever I watch a bunch of video of certain franchises -- Star Wars, Star Trek -- I get an urge to pick up one of the fiction books of the series. This is pretty much always a terrible mistake. For example, last Christmas we watched all 6 Star Wars movies back-to-back; later that week I picked up a Star Wars novel at the library and it was soooo bad ... ack.

So when we went to see the new Star Trek movie I had an urge to read Star Trek novels. I grabbed one,Gods of Night by David Mack, wondering if I'd make it past page 50. Imagine my surprise to discover that it was fairly engaging. Also, it was the beginning of a trilogy, which I ended up reading at the pace of a book per day, the next books being Mere Mortals and Lost Souls.

Of course, I do have some quibbles. Deanna Troi and William Riker are now married, and Deanna is pregnant and insufferably whiney. I was never a huge Deanna-Riker-romance fan anyway, so that undoubtably influenced me. Also, Picard and Crusher are now married and, get this, Crusher is pregnant ... I found this very disturbing. Also, the author apparently had the word "susurration" on his word-a-day calendar, as it appears at least once per book; it's a cool word, but throwing it around in every. single. book. is a bit much.

Of course, zipping through those 3 books at high speed left me with no library books. So I grabbed another book someone had given me, a used copy of Dorothy Sayer's The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. I'd never read a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery before. He seemed to be a twit, frankly. I only finished the book so I could put it on my Summer Read list.

Next up, another trip to the library revealed a new Lisa Lutz book on the New Book Shelf, Revenge of the Spellmans. There's something about these books ... the characters are beyond quirky, the writing fairly clipped. Also, I'm consistently entertained by novels with footnotes.

By this time I'd purchased the latest edition of The Well Trained Mind and was perusing it for ideas on spiffing up our homeschool experience. I didn't count TWTM towards my Summer Read total because I just read the bits I'm currently interested in.

For example, I was looking over literature suggestions for 8th graders, which are matched up to history studies by using authors from the era under study -- in this case, the Modern Age. The pointless, random, fluffy reading I'd been doing all summer was beginning to wear on my (I really, really wanted to read Pride and Prejudice or something of that sort by this time) so I decided to switch over to pre-reading some of the suggested literature. First up, another Lord Peter Wimsey -- Strong Poison. Which turned out to be a fairly engaging novel. Lord Peter Wimsey's character wasn't nearly as irritating, or maybe the strong supporting characters diverted my attention. Who knows. Anyway, Thalia will be reading it this year, and we can discuss what we like and dislike about it.

In a totally out-of-character move I purchased a current best seller for myself for my birthday -- The Guernsey LIterary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I was a little nervous about this bold move -- generally when people tell me I've gotta read something I end up hating it (I'd gotten 3 pages intoThe Likeness, another currently popular book, and decided I didn't like the characters and probably never would, so I stopped reading it). Honestly? I loved this book. It was engaging, and mildly educational. It's set in the time period we'll be studying this coming year, and touches on some of the events. I might have Thalia read it for history.

And for book number 10 I chose a book out of Story of the World Activity Guide vol.4 The Modern Age -- Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang, which was a fascinating look at life in China during the Cultural Revolution. A young adult book, it took just a few hours to read. And I think it will be a good choice for our history studies this year.

And now? Back to nonfiction, of course!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Week in Review

No school accomplished this week. We were busy with a dance workshop, which consumed almost all of our time. I offered to do some read alouds in the evening, but the kids wanted to stare at mindless television. Their mindless channel of choice was Disney Channel ... we also have a free sample of XM radio in the car right now, so it's been tuned to Radio Disney all week while I've been driving them back and forth to dance. In future years as I descend into senility I'll swear that Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato moved into our house this week.

We did have time for a few other things. Thalia got her ears pierced. Here she is biting her lip and deciding if she likes the placement of the dots where they'll be pierced.

We played with Photo Booth. A lot.

"Hello, I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox's younger sister."

We discovered New York brand garlic bread sticks -- in a yellow box in the frozen foods a Dierbergs. Very popular with the Choreography Lunch Break crowd. This is the same crowd that took quite a bit of video of themselves, declaring that it should be put on YouTube -- I'm not really sure the general public is quite ready for it, though. I'll see if we have some blank DVDs around here and put the videos on that, and then they can all marvel at their cleverness.

And we discovered that a friend makes really good chocolate chip muffins (which were really "thank you" enough, by the way).

Another trip to Raging Rivers. This time we found a table up the hill a little, and I spent some time there in the shade reading a book (Murder on the Prowl by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown). This was my view:

Doesn't it look like we're at a lake instead of a water park? What a great day! And a great end to a busy week.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

Here's what I'm sitting around staring at this morning. I'm supposed to take this collar (which is off of a Ladies Solo Dress):

and make something like it, but in white, no metallic thread, no jewels (I think they'll be gluing on crystals) and with a v-bottom. Something more like this:

But with these stitches:

I've decided to work with size 3 cotton this time (the regular dress collars use size 10, which is finer).

And I discovered a cool technique for making the foundation row -- instead of chaining a row and then using single crochet to give it some body, you do the chain and the single crochet all at the same time. There's an incredibly detailed tutorial on this technique here. My understanding is that this can also be used with other stitches, like double crochet, etc. Anyway, this is great news for me because I really hate chaining out all of those tiny little stitches, trying to keep track of them, trying to keep them loose enough so that when I go back and single crochet through them they don't pull up all wonky.

My first try:

Some uneven stitches, but overall I think it's working out okay.

While I was working on this Thalia and a friend were watching Twilight with the sound on LOUD, so now that's sort of stitched into it -- every time I pick it up I think of the vampires burning James in the ballet studio, jumping around like a bunch of 5 year olds on a camp out. Or some other equally silly scene. You other crafty types know what I mean about it being "in the stitches" now. But I'm not sure what to watch next while I work on this -- what really "goes" with Twilight? And will watching this sort of thing turn the collars a little too goth?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Just So You Know

The time spent babysitting the 3 year old went okay. He was here for 3 hours, and overall had an okay time playing on our myriad bikes (wow, we have a lot of tiny bikes and trikes our kids have outgrown and we should get rid of). He sort of fell to pieces at one point. That was soon after the arrival of the girls from dance class -- 7 girls dressed alike, with long hair in ponytails, all chattering away and carrying on like a bunch of 9-11 year old girls -- enough to startle anyone, I'm sure, let alone a small child whose life is in upheaval. And, in the meantime, the parent didn't get into some big fight with the people in the house, although somehow they still have to go back and get clothes. I don't get how that happened, and I'm probably never going to understand just what's going on with all of this. I'm mentally putting a lot of this down to "cultural differences", since the parties involved are from overseas. Maybe this is just how people treat each other in their culture.

I paid for the Graham feis entries, although they seem to have extended the deadline to August 28th.

I found the Summer Read form, and turned it in at the library.

Also at the library I found an interesting book on crochet which showed a different way to do the foundation chain. Which I'm counting as "working on the crochet collars". So even though I haven't even picked up a hook, I've made progress there.

I stayed awake all day. No nap. Sigh. Thalia wanted to go to the mall to look at clothes. I mostly pointed out clothing that I had owned in previous decades. Thalia was in search of leggings; do you know how many pairs of leggings I threw out years ago?

Still need to RSVP that party. And people keep sending me emails about Girl Scout related stuff, apparently thinking that I'm organizing some things. And I had a cunning plan to sign Thalia and Annabeth up for theatre classes, thus luring them away from all the dance classes. But I haven't felt like I can have a coherent phone conversation with anyone, so none of these things are happening. Yet.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Staring out the window in a daze while rambling incoherently

A friend called last night and started out by asking what all I was doing Monday. And I started to recite what all I was doing, beginning with taking Rick to the airport early this morning, and stopped and said, "What do you need me to do?"

She needed me to take care of a 3 year old at some unspecified time during the day. And after chatting some more it occurred to me that Thalia is going to be home all day, so even if I'm toting someone else someplace, she can look after the child. And get Girl Scout service hours for doing it, since this is someone else's kid that my friend just needs a place for while she helps the parent get clothing and stuff out from the house they were living in (the living situation was deteriorating, and I think the parent and child spent the night at her house last night) (long story).

But I ended up thinking about this situation into the night, plus contemplating that I never RSVPed for that party, I never turned in the Summer Read form to the library (not even sure where it is), and I never paid for the entries to the Graham feis. And then a storm in the middle of the night woke me up. Then some sort of weird scream in the early morning hours, like someone was killing a rabbit in our house, except we don't have any rabbits in our house ... I got up to try to figure it out, and one of the cats was awake, but everyone and everything else seemed asleep.

So I should be child-proofing the house right now (Thalia already tucked her archery set away, figuring it might be a little too intriguing), and figuring out what I need to pick up at the grocery, and getting started on the new crocheted collar, but mostly I want to plot out when I can take a nap.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Weekly Report 8/7/09

We've started a gradual glide into school mode. We had planned to get a jump on schoolwork back in July, but the general mayhem of this summer, especially the kitchen remodel, intruded on our plans.

This week we've been reading quite a bit of history. Our plan for the school year is to learn about the Modern Age ; since we were learning about the ancients this year we've been zipping through Gombrich's A Little History of the World as a read aloud to get us through the Middle Ages and on to the present.

I was browsing through some of the literature suggestions in the Story of the World Activity Book, and asked the kids if they remembered reading The Secret Garden. We'd read it aloud years ago, and Thalia has apparently read it a couple of times since. Annabeth doesn't remember it at all, so we've picked it up as a read aloud.

The other day at piano lessons I was pre-reading The Drummer Boy's Battle to see if it would be something Annabeth could read. Afterwards the kids asked me what I'd been so absorbed in. I explained that it was a book about the Crimean War, which raised the question of what the heck the Crimean War was. Since I have no memory of ever studying this or hearing it mentioned AT ALL in school, I pulled out Story of the World vol. 4 and read the section in chapter 3 on the topic. We discussed some of the review questions. And Annabeth took the Drummer Boy book and started reading it to herself.

Annabeth also read an abridged version of Treasure Island as a taste of literature written in this general time period. Thalia plans to read the unabridged version at some point.

In the meantime, I had picked up a copy of A Year Down Yonder when I saw it at the library since I remembered seeing it inthe Sonlight catalog in American History 100. What a funny book! I passed it on to Thalia immediately. She read it, then borrowed the book that comes before it, A Long Way From Chicago, from a neighbor (Thalia has issues with reading books out of order).

Girl Scouts has started, dance is never-ending, piano lessons continue ... yet we still have plenty of time to try to dress the cat in a halter top "prom dress".

The cat is hoping we start math and Latin and other time-consuming subjects soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mirabella Cardigan

Okay, I finally finished this. I really, really didn't want to sew on all of those buttons. And I really should go back and reinforce the upper ones -- wouldn't it be awful to be wearing this and have a button go sproinging across the room?

Anyway, here it is, the Mirabella Cardigan from Interweave Knits Spring 2008. Knit in Lion Brand Cotton-Ease on size 9 needles.

I used 12 buttons instead of 13, mostly because that's how many matching buttons I could find. Also, I put them high up towards the neck.

Things I like: The double knitting on the collar. The hems, which give more body and weight to the bottom of the bottom edge. The darts. It looks more like a sewn garment than a knit.

Things I don't like: The length from the arm to the waistband. The top of the ribbing is at my waist -- I could've taken out about 3 or 4 rows in the area from the top of the darts to the bottom of the armscye. Actually, I still could -- cut it out and then weave everything back together -- but I won't. Because if I make it too short it will look like my waist is directly under my armpits, which is pretty much true but we're aiming for an illusion here. Plus I'm ready to move on to something else. This is, after all, the "kitchen remodel" knitting project, and it's time for that phase of our lives to be over.

Next up, another collar crocheting extravaganza . I know we're all just quivering with anticipation about that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

P is for Peach-Blueberry Crisp

Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free ... also free of tree nuts, although after I made it I thought, "wow, pecans would've been good on top of this."

Unfortunately unable to support birthday candles, so we just used a candle in a holder instead.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vacation Day

We never did make it to Holiday World ... I kept having visions of zooming along the roller coasters, kleenex streaming behind us ... Rick kept having visions of trying to sleep in a hotel room with a kid who's coughing all night long ... neither were very pretty pictures.

The thing Rick most wanted to do at Holiday World was go to the water park. Which we realized could be accomplished closer to home. So we headed up to Grafton, Illionois to visit Raging Rivers. Right before we left I had the inspiration to google Raging Rivers coupons, and discovered that the Alton Visitor's Bureau had a link to a buy-one-get-one-free coupon. We still had to pay the $5 parking, but our admission price was sliced in half with a quick print-out.

We packed a picnic lunch and arrived before noon. The weather was cloudy, with a breeze coming off of the river. Overall, it felt pretty cool out for 75 degrees. But we had confidence that the sun would come out and warm us up. And by the time we left it was nearly 90 degrees.

So we headed over to the wave pool to jump waves.

And then tried out the various slides coming down the hills. Annabeth tried out the tubes first.

Thalia preferred tube-free.

The park is built into a hill next to the Mississippi River -- really a pretty setting. You can look out over the rails and see the river, the boats, the barges -- it seems like you're in a huge expanse of water.

In spite of repeated applications of suntan lotion, the kids managed to get sunburned. I think wave-jumping and tube-riding will do that -- it wears the lotion off more quickly. I'm sort of glad that we're not doing a multi-day visit to a theme park, as today would've been sort of a drag. It was nice to come home to our aloe vera plant and slather shoulders and cheeks with the juice (Annabeth was wearing a slice of the leaf around on her nose -- very goofy-looking). And I'm not sure the kids are going to wake up any time soon.