Monday, June 27, 2011


More books completed for Adult Summer Read. I've decided to start working my way through the pile of scifi we set aside for a possible literary analysis course for Thalia this coming school year.

6. Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I think I've read this before, but I've absolutely, utterly forgotten it, except for There Will Come Soft Rains which I've read in some anthology somewhere in the past year or two.

One of the first stories, Ylla, reminded me of Italo Calvino (some of whose books I love). But, alas, as I kept reading I became more and more disenchanted. By the end of the book I was recalling that the reason I haven't read anything by Bradbury for years and years is because I don't like reading things by Bradbury. Many of the stories have a 1960s sitcom vibe -- very embedded in the time in which they were written. But where, say, The Beverly Hillbillies had a certain affection for its country yokels, Bradbury seems to dislike his characters. By the end of the book I'm not so sure Bradbury doesn't dislike most of humanity, including me, the reader. So he and I are even, I guess.

I could enjoy these as short stories read over several months. Plowing through the entire book at once, though, was ... annoying.

7. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I've never read this before. Wow. I absolutely loved it. Could barely put it down. I found myself mentally comparing it to other books I've read this summer. For example, the climax didn't come as much of a surprise, yet it was still thrilling to read how Card portrayed it; contrast that to Demon's Lexicon where the climax wasn't particularly surprising OR interesting by the time we got to it.

I was tempted to run out and get all the other books from the series out of the library, but I'm worried I'd be disappointed. What I enjoyed about the book is how the writing style meshed so well with the subject; the same writing style would probably be inappropriate for the next segment, so, what then? What if I dislike it, and then the magic is gone?

As a side note, I had left these 2 books out on an end table in the family room during the cast party Saturday night, thus discovering that one of the other moms is an absolute scifi addict. What fun! Too bad I was so exhausted that my brain was practically nonfunctional -- she was flinging authors names around a mile a minute, and I was staring into space trying to remember what the heck those people had written that I'd read. Totally drawing a blank. I woke up the next day with an entire list in my head of books I wanted to discuss with her, but the moment had passed, alas.

So, 70 percent of the books read, approximately 50 percent of the time elapsed (I'm staring at the calendar coming up with this thing lasting 11 weeks instead of the 12 weeks they say it lasts -- where am I missing a week?). I've started Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness (I thought I'd read it before, but it's not seeming very familiar) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (definitely never read before, and seems pretty necessary for a scifi course), but I'm not sure I'll finish either any time soon. I might need to find another quick read in the meantime, just to pad the list with quantity -- I can worry about quality some other time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shakespeare Family Festival 2011

Time once again for the Shakespeare Family Festival at Millenium Park in Creve Coeur. Last year the festival lasted two days. This year the Powers That Be decided to try having it all on one day.

It seemed to work pretty well, particularly since the weather was about 30 degrees cooler than last year.

So, we had many of the same entertainments as last year, such face painting, crafts, fencing demos, the Tower Grove singers performing music of the era, and people dressed as Shakespearean characters:

And at 11am we had a performance of Comedy of Errors:

Then an break for the early afternoon where the concession stands shut down and the various performers took some time off (many of the kids in the play went to someone's house for a swimming party, which I heard was fairly crazy).

Then the fair resumed at 6pm with Morris dancers, roving musicians:

the Classical Guitar Society

Only one clown this year, but he's very noticeable:

Then the mayor of Creve Coeur welcomed us all

And we had another performance of Comedy of Errors

After the bows

the kids struck the set and the concessions packed up. I got all the costumes (I have become Official Costume Transportation over the past couple of years), lightening and thunder started as they were loading the pieces of the set onto the truck, we packed kids into cars

and everyone came to our house for the cast party.

(very small sampling -- I think we had about 30 people running in and out, up and down the stairs)

Which was supposed to last until 11:30, but accidentally lasted until 1am.

What a day. Can't wait until next year! And if you live around here, you really should stop by next time. Free admission, and lots of fun.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Lunches

Okay, right now I'm peeved at an insurance company (Allstate), so I'm going to breathe slowly and think about something bland, like what we've packed in the bento boxes the past couple of days.

The kids were really impressed with the look of the Chicken Kijiyaki Bento in The Just Bento Cookbook, but I wasn't really inclined to actually MAKE Chicken Kijiyaki. We decided that it bore a strong visual resemblance to chicken drummies, so we decided to use the package of frozen crispy, spicy chicken wings we had from Trader Joe's (I don't recall the actual name of the wings and have thrown out the package).

Thalia also wanted the cucumber and turnip salad with yuza, except I've no clue where to find yuza around here and wasn't interested in running all over town looking, so I used lime instead since we usually have plenty of limes in the house. Also note that I figured the kids wouldn't want the sliced pan-steamed sweet potato, so I used the stash of mini-muffins. And for fruit we used raspberries and blueberries, mostly because they're in season.

For Annabeth I just chopped up baby cucumbers, since she thinks these salad-type things Thalia is trying are weird.

Then today was the quick-and-easy Orange Mandarin Chicken from Trader Joe's.

Sliced red peppers and chopped green onions for garnish on the chicken, rice, and some chopped up apple for a fruit.

Okay, I'm fairly sure my head isn't going to actually explode as long as no one says the word "Allstate", particularly if I can find something else to distract me, like, say, vigorous, vengeful housecleaning. Thus we move ahead through our days....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


B: So, is your mom Japanese?
My kids: Uh, no ... and you've met our mom before, remember?
B: Well, she keeps making all these bentos, so I just wondered.

Monday the kids each took basically the same thing -- mini-burgers, cheese flowers, veggies, grapes plus blueberries (on sale for a really good price last week), rice.

The rice has a face because when I asked Thalia what she wanted in a bento (as opposed to a plain ol' sack lunch) she said, "food with faces on it." Which certainly wasn't the answer I was expecting.

The mini-burgers were based on the Idea from The Just Bento Cookbook by Makiko Itoh, which suggested that they be made more like little meatloafs, with bread crumbs and egg, since that way they wouldn't be so tough and dry when they were served room temperature. She also suggested that they could be wrapped in bacon and fried up that way, so we tried that for Annabeth's:

She said it was really sort of disturbing when it came time to eat them. But it was pretty easy to just take the bacon off and eat the burger plain. Both kids had a side container of Ranch dip.

On Tuesdays they are allowed to bring peanuts and tree nuts into the building (those are outlawed on MWF due to allergies of another student in the building those days). Annabeth wanted an almond-butter-and-jelly sandwich, so I made a couple out of thin sliced bread, then cut them into butterflies. Down below on the "ground" are tulips made out of hotdogs, skewered with cucumber leaves, and a couple of apple-slice bunnies nestled in lettuce leaves. Some grapes and grape tomatoes fill in some of the gaps. A garden theme.

Thalia wanted something more exotic, so she selected a box pretty much straight out of the Just Bento cookbook:

Soba noodles with nori strip garnish; also toasted sesame seeds and snipped green onion for garnish (I put these in Saran wrap because I didn't have any appropriate little containers). A hardboiled egg -- first time I tried cutting one so fancy, which was sort of fun (she was supposed to do it herself this morning, but by the time everyone got showered and dressed I'd already done it -- Annabeth was covered in paint from painting sets yesterday, and it's held up to repeated showers and scrubbing). Slaw of cabbage and crab. Grape tomatoes. An extra apple bunny (I wrapped this in Saran wrap also since I didn't trust the slaw to keep to itself during travel). A side container of dipping sauce made from dashi stock and kaeshi. THIS was the type of thing I expected her to ask for -- she's more adventurous about food than Annabeth. But they're both trying new things this week, so that's great.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Sleeping in to the decadently late time of 6:30am Saturday morning, I awoke with a start when Rick asked, "Is that the tornado siren?" I couldn't tell over the sound of the storm outside and the sound of the fan inside, so I went a window to listen. No siren. But I decided to check the weather maps since the tour bus was driving through the night to get home that morning, and I wondered if they were in the wicked weather. (Side note: they drove through the night partially in order to save money on a hotel stay, partially to get home earlier.)

Let's see, their estimated time of arrival is 10am, so they should be just east of Kansas City now ... the map shows KC is clear, so they must be on the west side of the storm ... the worst of it should be past us by the time they get here.

About 5 minutes later the phone rang. "Hey, Mom? We're passing the mall now, just to let you know. We'll need to unload stuff when we get to the church, though, so no big rush."

Apparently the tour leader likes to pad her trip estimates quite a bit (her daughter was chastising her about this, saying she does this every single time they drive home from Colorado. "But we had to change bus drivers this time, so I added more time." "Mom, it doesn't take 2 hours to change a bus driver!")

Anyway, the kids were all home safely. They had slept some on the bus overnight, so Thalia was reasonably coherent. And after she unpacked and we started laundry we took a trip to Animeggroll to get bento supplies. Thalia had been wanting to go there, and this was the only time we could go that they were actually open in about a 3 week span.

In addition to a beach towel from a favorite manga, she selected a bento set:

bento box, chopsticks, and bag. I know I've seen this one on because I remember the reviews commenting on the mysterious wording on the top:

Lube Sheep? Really? Boggles the mind.

And Annabeth got a new 2 tiered box that matches her old box and bag, plus we found the matching chopsticks:

which has the more sensible phrase of

on it. We also saw this one on, but would rather support a local merchant. Plus it was cheaper at Animeggroll, plus that instant gratification thing. So, a big win.

Then, having satisfied our bento "needs", the kids sort of hung around the rest of the day while we go usual Saturday stuff done, although no yardwork due to all the rain and storms.

That night I took Thalia, Annabeth, and a friend to the park in St. Charles to see Much Ado About Nothing.

Pretty good crowd, thousands upon thousands of mosquitoes, and, wow, it was insanely muddy -- standing water in spots. But we enjoyed the show. Dogberry and the watchmen were FANTASTIC -- definitely our favorites of the evening.

I'd forgotten how angsty the play gets in spots. Sheesh. Scene from Hero's wedding and supposed death:

The last time we saw this particular play was a high school dress rehearsal for a Shakespeare-in-a-week performance, and we were struck by the fact that 1. it's much more fun to watch when everyone remembers their lines, as they did this weekend (which I should've said more loudly in earshot of Antipholus of Syracuse, who was with us and will undoubtably forget his lines during Comedy of Errors next week), and 2. we actually thought the high school Benedick was better in the part, interestingly.

Then up the next morning for the final performance of the 2011 choir tour

which was also the final performance ever for this director, who is now moving on to other things. The performance was fantastic, reflecting that the kids had been on the road with it for a week -- it had that amazing energy you get at the end of a good run of a show. And was followed by a reception for the director.

Father's Day was spent relaxing, playing Stratego, and going to the pool. Good weekend overall, but many complaints of tiredness and sleepiness this Monday morning. Woops.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday's Lunch

When we remodeled the kitchen a couple of years ago I streamlined what I put back insofar as gadgets, pots and pans were concerned. And I apparently got rid of the mini-muffin pans, little realizing that less than 2 years later I'd be baking batches of them while thinking about how much easier my life would be if I had a bunch of nori punches and silicon baran tucked away in the drawers. So much for streamlining.

But I found a fairly cheap new muffin pan at Walmart, and have moved ahead. Another of Annabeth's favorite foods is cornbread. So, why not tiny little corn muffins? And, while we're at it, why not some little banana mini-chocolate chip mini-muffins?

So today we have 2 of each kind of muffin -- the brighter yellow are the corn muffins, which have been carefully split and spread with butter, then reassembled (by Annabeth).

Also, celery sticks, a hotdog cut in half and made into 2 octopi (only eyes for a face per her request), grapes and blueberries, and a couple of monty jack stars. I offered a side container of dips -- ranch for the celery or ketchup/mustard for the hotdog -- but she declined.

I froze the muffins for use as the weather heats back up (that would be today and tomorrow) but she ate a ton of them anyway, giving them a quick thaw in the microwave. Wow, mini-muffins are so fun to eat. What was I thinking when I got rid of those pans?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prissy Food

We're now in the midst of Shakespeare camp, which meets all day MWF this week, then daily next week. This means the kids (or this week "the kid" since Thalia is currently in Denver where she sings somewhere at noon, then goes to Estes Park to perform tonight) need to pack a lunch, which is sort of a novelty for homeschoolers.

Another novelty this week -- cooler weather. We're talking a high of 78F, which is about 20 degrees cooler than last week. That means we can use the oven without worrying about how much we're heating up the house.

So I decided to prep some things for Annabeth's lunches this week. Given that her favorite foods are potatoes, cheese, and bacon, I had the inspiration to make some miniature twice baked potatoes out of size B red potatoes.

I based this loosely on the directions here except I didn't bother slicing anything off of the bottoms -- my potatoes were pretty flat. And I simply stuffed them with things I knew Annabeth would use on her own potatoes -- she prefers Monterey Jack, for example, and feels any sort of onion or chives are an abomination. Also, bacon makes everything better in our household. And all the proportions were eyeballed.

I didn't tell her about this until this morning when I packed it all up in the Bento box:

Also appearing with the 3 potato halves: blanched broccoli, stars cut out of Monterey Jack, and grapes (which are actually the most astounding part of the lunch considering the U.S. grapes aren't in the stores yet and I usually don't buy imported fruit).

She ate one of the potatoes for breakfast, and gave it a thumbs up, saying she couldn't wait until lunch. I'll freeze the rest of the potatoes for future lunches.

Coming up: whatever happened to those mini-muffin pans we used to have?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Continuing the Adult Summer Read program:

4. Star Wars Fate of the Jedi: Conviction by Aaron Allston. Book 7 of a 9 book series penned by 3 different authors. Actually, I've not been a big fan of Star Wars books -- I generally get about 7 pages into them and then quit due to the crappy writing. But I was reading the free short stories on Kindle -- Lost Tribe of the Sith -- that tied into this series, and decided to give the books a try. Very, very fluffly and fun. Here it is 30 or 40 years after A New Hope, and Han and Leia, now married, are still going on about things that happened when they met. Hee.

I will say that you can't read book 7 without reading books 1-6. I've been blasting through them, getting them from the library. Don't worry about the new characters you've never heard of -- you can look it up on the Star Wars Wiki if you really care. I find myself skipping through certain story lines because I'm not invested in the characters and I think they're boring -- like the babe on the cover of this particular book, who I think is named Tahiri, is on trial for something or other that happened in an earlier series, and, really, I don't care ... so I just sort of skim those parts. The babe on the back cover? I looked her up on the Wookipedia, and, wow, what an incredibly absurd life she's had -- glad I missed THOSE books. Also glad there's not much about her in this book, since her very existence seems silly. I think her picture is on the cover to appeal to the Star Wars groupies.

Longtime fans seem to hate the series, probably because they've read too many books in the Star Wars universe for too many years, and are starting to realize that they've been at this too long and need to get a life. This series isn't so bad if you skip all the intervening stuff. Plus by skipping all the preceding books and series I was unphased by continuity issues -- I've no clue what Jedi Grand Master Luke Skywalker's been getting up to in the past 30 years, and don't much care if his character is consistent (or redundant) with earlier stuff. He's still reminiscing about hanging out with Yoda, and that's good enough for me.

5. Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Brennan. I kept thinking there was something or other I read BEFORE I read the Star Wars book this week, but was totally blank on what it could've been. Then I found this book in a stack -- aha, that's it. And that sort of sums up the book for me -- very forgettable. I had it on my to-be-read list after seeing a review of it on someone's blog a couple of years ago. Wow, I'm so glad I didn't run out and buy it, even though it's been on my Amazon wishlist all this time. For one thing, the US hardback cover is incredibly, embarrassingly dorky (the cover shown on Amazon is much better).

And, frankly, the book is sort of repetitive and predictable. I had read a bunch of reviews of it (I love book reviews) which all mentioned The Big Plot Twist, so I thought, "Okay, this thing I've figured out about a third of the way through the book? That was pretty obvious because the author foreshadows it on about every single frickin' page? That must not be The Big Plot Twist, because it's easy to figure out." But, alas, it WAS the Big Plot Twist. Disappointing. I had checked out the second book in the series from the library, but can't bring myself to read it because the characters were so very dippy.

So, 50% if the books read, about 33% of the time elapsed. No clue what to read next -- too much drivel in too short of time, and I'm starting to get sick of it. The next Star Wars Fate of the Jedi book isn't due out until mid-August. I might have to switch over to something thought-provoking, heaven forbid.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Brief Stint as Camp Followers

Saturday we took Thalia to board the Big Bus

for the trip her choir is making to Colorado. And then we hopped in the car and drove to Kansas City, where we met up with them again, just in time to go to Cedar Cove, which is a tiger sanctuary that has all sorts of big cats, including this lioness

who was mighty intrigued by the little kids who had just had a birthday party there and were running around like little attractive bits of prey -- her expression reminds me of our cats when they're watching chipmunks, know what I mean?

The next morning Thalia's choir led worship at church (25 kids -- a handful are seen here before the service -- Thalia's in the middle to the left of the microphone).

And we also had a chance to see some relatives.

Here we see a cousin trying to pretend he didn't inherit the Short Gene from his mother, and is actually taller than Thalia

but he couldn't sustain it.

Then the choir loaded back on the bus and headed to Limon, CO. In the meantime, we headed out to lunch with family, then back to St. Louis.

The choir should be chugging up Pike's Peak right now on the cog railway, then they'll head over to Garden of the Gods, and finish up by singing at another church in Colorado Springs tonight. They'll also hit up Denver, Estes Park, Rock Mountain National Park, the Alpine Slide at Winter Park, stopping at least once a day to perform. Then home for a final performance next Sunday morning, and probably a HUGE sleep deficit.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Horsemanship Clinic Wrap Up

By the end of the week the kids were riding through an obstacle course,

(Random peacock shot since this bird seemed to think the cameras were all there to capture his beauty)

engaging in horse graffiti,

trotting around bareback

and developing enough balance to do it one handed,

and splashing in a creek.

We would highly recommend this particular camp to anyone in the area that's interested in horses -- it's a great introduction, and a great price. The people who run it are amazing.

Also, chickens! They remind me of the ladies of River City, Iowa Pick a Little, Talk a Little from The Music Man.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Days Are Just Packed

This week Annabeth is attending a beginner's horsemanship clinic in the mornings. This sounded like a great idea a couple of weeks ago when the weather was cool; now it's so stinkin' hot and humid that it's in the mid 80s by the time we get there at 9:30ish and climbs on into the 90s by the time we leave 2 hours later. So, we're expending a lot of energy just being hot.

The clinics are based on Parelli horse training methods, so the first day the students and horses played some Parelli games

and also learned about grooming the horses.

Then we zoomed home, threw on clean clothes, and headed to Shakespeare auditions -- this year's play is Comedy of Errors. That took up most of the afternoon.

Then up again the next day and down to the farm (which is in Jefferson County) where the kids worked on balance

and finally got to mount the horses ... bareback. Not even any reins -- if they wanted to hold onto something, they held onto the mane ...

or not, if they felt like they could balance (you can pick the Irish ceili dancers out of the crowd -- they're the ones who can hold their arms up in the air for long periods of time while smiling the whole time whether their arms are tired or not)

Then some work with reins

And finally, some more Parelli games with one student on the horse and one on the ground. Note that by this time they'd moved to the shade, which also featured long grass. And the horses had reached the point of, "okay, enough of this -- I'm gonna hang out in the shade here and munch some of the excellent grass while you try to get my attention".

Then home, immediately take Thalia to her choir director's house for a rehearsal followed by a pool party (side note: the cicadas were so loud over there you could barely hold a conversation, but out in the country they weren't that bad. The difference? The choir director lives in one of those neighborhoods where it looks like everyone has a lawn service, and out in the country the folks have chickens and guinea hens running around gorging themselves on the 24 hour all-you-can-eat cicada banquet. Obviously more people need to stop worrying about appearances and let chickens loose in their yards.) Home again, talk to neighbor about pet sitting, then to piano for Annabeth only (since Thalia was at the pool party) home from piano, pick up Thalia, go to grocery and Target, home, and ...

just hanging around the house speculating on Shakespeare casting (should be announced tomorrow) and reading No Fear Shakespeare. Too tired to even go to the pool. I didn't even wake up for the earthquake last night, at least not that I recall -- I vaguely recall thinking the cat was jumping around on the bed.

I feel like my new hobby is sweating. And driving -- I've put an amazing number of miles on the car in the past 2 days. Today it was all accomplished without a single cicada splattering on the windshield.

Coming up the rest of the week: more horsemanship clinic, more choir practice, shopping for more clothes for Thalia's trip to Colorado, more sweating, and more driving.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Homeschool Happenings


Has finished Life of Fred: Fractions and moved on to Life of Fred: Decimals. This alternates with RightStart Geometry.

And is also working on Jr. Analytical Grammar.

Both math and grammar are proceeding at a leisurely pace at this time. During the school year she had science, geography, etc., in a co-op, but that has ended for the summer. Now she reads a lot, gardens, does crafts, and generally spends much time outdoors. I think that's about right for an 11 year old.


Attended a learning center for Biology and Composition this past year. The classes are over, and we (finally) received her grades: As in both. She added an Analytical Grammar High School Reinforcement to her composition class to beef it up a bit (also, she really likes grammar, and thinks Analytical Grammar is fun -- go figure).

Co-op classes are also over, but this spring we decided to add on to the art class she was taking to make it into a half-credit course -- she started working on the art history lessons from Harmony Fine Arts at Home. These aren't quite done yet, since we got a late start on them. We already had all the books needed for the art history portion of the program, so this provided Thalia with a schedule that she can check off as she moves through the program. She loves checking things off a syllabus, so its been a really good fit for her. She plans to have the course finished by the end of next week.

And the 9th grad Harmony Fine Arts meshes nicely with her ancient history course. She's reading through Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Ancient World. Honestly, she isn't a big fan of history, particularly Roman history (which, let's face it, is what a huge amount of ancient history tends to focus on). She reads chapters and writes summaries. She hasn't finished the book yet, mostly because she's slogging through the Romans now.

On the other hand, another component of her history study is literature, and I'm thrilled to announce WE HAVE FINISHED THE ILIAD! Okay, actually we have one more lecture to watch to wrap it up. But, wow, I wasn't sure we'd survive the Iliad. I vaguely remember studying it in high school -- we did some lame play about the characters, and I hadn't a clue what it was about or what was going on (although in later years we did name a cat Ajax). I'm hoping Thalia retains more from our listening to Derek Jacobi, reading along, then watching Elizabeth Vandiver's lectures. Thalia is determined to forge ahead into the Odyssey. I'm not sure I'm ready for anything more complex than a children's version.

She has completed the last test of Jacobs Geometry with great aplomb. She mentioned that the background in RightStart Geometry helped make the work with solids quite simple. Also, for those contemplating teaching geometry at home, the end of the book doesn't have those messy-to-grade proofs -- it's pretty straightforward. We've been using the Ask Dr. Callahan syllabus, which doesn't cover chapter 16 non-Euclidian geometry (the final chapter of the book) but she wants to do it anyway. So that's still hanging around on the things-to-do list. By the way, the syllabus also skipped over chapter 13, which she decided to do anyway ... she commented that the things she learned in chap. 13 applied to chap 14, but perhaps the DVDs explain the bits you'd miss by skipping it (frankly, we lost the DVDs, so what Dr. Callahan had to say on the subject remains a mystery).

Theater classes have wrapped up for the year. It occurred to us that we could use these as a half credit of Fine Arts, although she didn't quite have enough hours in for that (we're not counting musical theater, which we'll list as an extra curricular activity). The theater teacher offered to assign a paper that she would grade, but I think we're going to count the Shakespeare camp (with the same teacher) that the kids will be taking in a couple of weeks -- an intensive experience in which they put together a performance in 2 weeks.

(I had considered doing an entire Shakespeare unit for a half credit -- going to see Taming of the Shrew in Forest Park, reading the play, seeing Kiss Me Kate at the Muny, then doing the Shakespeare camp ... but the teacher commented that she went to Shrew over Memorial Day weekend and absolutely hated it, and her theatre friends were contemplating gouging their eyeballs out with the plastic forks they'd brought for their picnic supper rather than have to sit there watching it, so my enthusiasm waned. Plus it's supposed to be 97F today and tomorrw, which is when we'd go, so sitting in intense heat watching a crappy play isn't really appealing. Maybe next year.)

Phys Ed has become a constant. She should be at the half-credit mark on that soon, having started in January. She's working on lifetime fitness skills including aerobics, weight lifting, Pilates, yoga, and the various resources Lisa Howell offers. We've got piles of resources for this type of thing -- both books and equipment (free weights -- hundreds of pounds worth -- including bench and rack, Bosu ball, Swiss exercise balls, exercise bike, treadmill, resistance bands, gym mats, etc. etc. -- total fitness nerdiness going on here in our basement).

So, that pretty much sums up where we stand at the moment schoolwise -- finishing up some odds and ends by June 30, which the official end of the Missouri school year. And looking towards the summer for new experiences and coursework. After all, the REALLY fun part of homeschooling is the planning.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Reading

Okay, THIS is going to be the year I actually complete the library's Adult Summer Reading program. I know I say that every year, but I think this time I've got a shot at it.

For one thing, this time I actually know when it starts and ends thanks to Facebook notification. It's taken me this many years to figure out that it runs at a slightly different time than the Kids Summer Reading program. But this time I was on top of things and signed up as soon as it opened. Unlike, say, the year that I didn't know about it until it was half over and then checked out Dune as my first book to put on my list (which ended up being blank for the year since the program was over before I even got through the first couple of chapters).

Also, I know that I'm going to count my progress by books instead of minutes read. You can choose to read 10 books or 50 hours. The timed reading seems easier, since most books I like take more than 5 hours to read (see Dune above), but timed reading involves things like keeping track of time, possibly even owning a watch.

So, we're about 10 days into the 12 week program, and this is what I've got so far:

1.Electric Barracuda by Tim Dorsey. I've been following the adventures of serial killer Serge Storm for years. Love it. Mayhem, gore, and random sex scenes ... come to think of it, that's how I described the Iliad. Except Tim Dorsey is funny. Also, much profanity, which is possibly different than the Iliad. Did the ancient Greeks use cuss words? How would we know?

I was thinking that this wasn't the type of thing you'd see done up in fanfic since Serge seems to be such a product of Dorsey's brain. Indeed, when I checked I didn't find any written up for this series. On the other hand, the Iliad has a handful of fanfics. What does this tell us? Also, why am I comparing everything I read these days to the Iliad?

2.Night of the Living Trekkies. Okay, I'm not a fan of zombie lit. As a matter of fact, I think the last time I had anything to do with zombie culture was in the 80s when I saw Dawn of the Dead. Also, I'm pretty much an amateur Trekkie. Really. I didn't even catch on to the chapter titles of this book until half way through (although that's partly because I tend to ignore chapter titles, not to mention those quotes at the beginning of chapters which thankfully this book didn't have). But this, THIS BOOK WAS A RIOT! Really.

Another admission -- my favorite line wasn't even about Trek or zombies -- it was when the red shirt commented on the zombies wandering around the hotel atrium, saying he thought maybe they were a flash mob. It was just so ... perfect.

And on our Iliad comparison chart, one of the Iliad fanfics involved zombies. But this book was better written.

3. How to Grow Microgreens by Fionna Hill. When I go to the library I typically cruise the new gardening books (also the new knitting/crocheting/sewing books, and look for any new Terry Pratchett novels). My first thought on seeing this was, "why in the world would anyone want a book on THAT? Wouldn't you just look up what you need to know online?" But the pages were that nice, heavy paper and the pictures were pretty, so I checked it out.

Then, here's the truly amazing thing -- I decided to actually try reading it. Usually I just check a book like this out, flip through it a couple of times, then return it. But since it was Summer Read I decided to actually see what the text was like.

Introduction: Much blah blah blah about microgreens being the hot new trend. Then, "Microgreens are termed that after they have produced at least two 'true' leaves after the cotyledons appear." The following lines toss about words and phrases such as embryo, seed leaves, dicotyledonous plants ... with no explanation. The author assumes we can look these words up if we don't know them. The author actually assumes we are adults with brain power. I was spellbound. Fionna Hill, you had me at "cotyledons". (By the way, there's a glossary in the back.)

So, moving forward, the writing was at times clunky, repetitive and disjoint. BUT, the author also had a totally charming tendency to explain that she did something a certain way because that worked for her and perhaps we readers should just give it a whirl and see what happens. Whoa -- sounds like me explaining knitting and crocheting! Also, this is pretty much my approach to gardening -- give it a whirl and see what happens.

And then I got to the descriptions of 25 microgreens she likes to grow. This is where the book truly shines. Loved this part! By now, of course, I was mentally cataloging the contents of our house and garage whilst reading (to see if I could start planting any of this) when I discovered that she grows flax seed and popping corn. Really? Because I have those things in the house! And I've no clue if the popcorn would be viable, but, hey, why not give it a whirl and see what happens. Which I plan to do later today.

And I've moved from wondering why anyone would own a book on this subject to wondering if I should go ahead an buy this particular book because it's so amazingly cool.

In summary, approximately 12.5% of the way through Summer Read on a time basis, and already 30% of the way through the needed books. Woot. And I've read new things I don't ordinarily read (zombies! fluffy-looking gardening book!). I've also read a free book on the Kindle that I haven't listed here, but I might not put it on the list unless I get desperate to add another title -- it was one of those self-published jobbies that needed an editor.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

That Business With The Tree I've Been Going On About

During one of last weeks' storms a large branch split off of this tree. You can see the split in the upper right of the picture.

I'm pretty sure it's a boxelder tree, in spite of the lack of boxelder bugs hanging around it. It has the triple leaves that look like poison ivy. It has weak wood. Both of those are typical boxelder traits.

It also has a hollow trunk, which is sort of cool looking:

When we first moved into this house it had a huge branch arching over our lawn that looked like it could possibly fall and damage something (like, say, a child) so we had it taken down by some tree guys (you know, the guys that show up in your neighborhood in a truck and ask if you have any trees you want trimmed or taken down -- they also have firewood and mulch). It turned out the branch was full of ancient honeycomb. No honey left, but it was really interesting to see. Plus it was interesting to burn in the fireplace since the bits of comb clung to the wood.

Anyway, the tree has just been sort of hanging around there in the back corner for the past few years minding its own business, doing its tree-thing (produce leaves, change leaf color, drop leaves, support squirrel nests). But during last Monday's storm a large forked branch split off and came cartwheeling down, shaving off the pine next to it:

Okay, it didn't shave off the top missing branches. Or maybe it did. Who knows. Those top remaining branches are awfully high up. The pine is down a hill from our 2 story house, and the top branches are up above the roof line.

So, the whole pile of branches (pine and boxelder) landed in a mass of honesuckle, forsythia, and other shrubbery. And my first thought was along the lines of, "crap, it's going to take forever to get a crew out here to clean this up, what with all the storm damage from this storm and the tornado earlier and all." So we grabbed clippers and started cleaning up what we could, filling leaf bags

We had at least this many, or more, bags that went out to the curb last week. Just clipping away at all those little tree branches, clipping them into little bits. By the way, the exact same muscles are used for the large clippers that are used for opening the sliding glass door -- wow, I was so sore after that first night that I could barely open the door.

But gradually we got stuff cleared up. A neighbor loaned us his chainsaw, which Thalia learned how to use. Rick also used the Sawzall. And we even dragged out one of the other saws (the one you use to cut miters -- I can't remember what it's called, but you drop the round blade down on whatever you're cutting and SHAZAAM it's cut through). Much of the boxelder wood ended up in the woodpile where the big stuff will season for a year; the woodpile is now about 75% boxelder. The little stuff we'll probably use in the outdoor fire pit.

Annabeth asked that we keep a remnant of the branch to sit on back there.

This used to be solid greenery. Annabeth thinks we should make a little bower here. Mostly I think it looks so weirdly bare, like shaving a dog in the early summer.

Waxing philosophical, I was going on about how this has been a good example of how you can deal with the huge messes life hands you -- you just plunge in with your little clippers and start chipping away at the problem every day, and eventually ...

"Yeah, then someone comes along and hands you a chainsaw," observed Thalia. Um, yeah. Sort of.