14 September 2012

Taking advantage

One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is having the flexibility to take advantage of gorgeous weather when it comes. Today is sunny and clear. It's warm in the sun and cool in the shade. Just about perfect.

So we started with the library after lunch, where Mr. Beeb got a shiny new library card (in our family, the magic age is five though the library will issue cards earlier). Next, we picked up a few things from the Co-op, followed by a trip to our favorite bakery. However, today we got our doughnuts to go and headed to the park.

As a bonus, we have the state park almost to ourselves. We can listen to the birds, climb the "mountain", look at the trees and flowers, talk to the bugs, build fairy houses, throw rocks in the lake, or just sit quietly and knit a sock and enjoy the view.

13 September 2012

New...residents? employees? pets?

Last night, I scurried up to Madison for a class at Olbrich Botanical Garden about Vermicomposting. It was an interesting class. She demonstrated setting up a worm bin using a small storage container and talked about caring for and maintaining the worms and bin, as well as finding supplies around town. With her description, it would have been quite straightforward to get the parts together and set up a worm bin, but she had sample bins for sale for $10 at the class. I figured that the convenience of not having to run errands up in Madison to collect parts and to find the time to put the pieces together made the price seem like a pretty good deal, so I came home with a worm bin complete with worms and a first bit of food for them to eat.
The bin:

and one of the residents:

We added some coffee grounds and scraps from prepping tomatoes for canning tomato today. We will still be feeding our compost bin in the yard, but picking out the choice bits to feed the worms. Especially this time of year when there is a whole lotta canning going on, we generate a ton of compost! All three kids are pretty excited about it, but my bug boy Beeb is especially taken by them. Before bed last night, he came up to me and said, "Thank you for getting us worms, Mommy."
So are they merely new residents in our household? Employees who are producing some fantastic soil amendments in exchange for room and board? Or pets that we have to check on and talk to regularly throughout the day?

25 May 2012

Chaos and Mayhem on a Budget

The kids have long been fond of swinging any sorts of sticks at each other for, well, pretty much as long as they could hold them in their tiny little hands.  The most recent incarnation has been pseudo-martial arts and fencing using broom and mop sticks.  After a few too many stray whacks and the resulting dramas, I decided we needed something softer.  I had seen swords and such made out of pool noodles at some of our homeschool park days and we set to work.  Since my troop is clearly made up of space geeks and not swashbuckling pirates or professional fencers, the obvious route was lightsabers.

They each selected their favorite color from the pool noodle selection at a discount store ($0.99 each), we stopped at the hardware store for a 3/4” PVC pipe ($2.79) and PVC end caps for the pipe ($0.49 each).  From our personal stash, we contributed silver duct tape for the handles and bits from red and black duct tape sheets for the buttons.  For an extra $0.39, we added a PVC pipe coupler and used the last little bit of leftover PVC so we can convert one of the lightsabers into a double ended lightsaber a la Darth Maul in Episode I.

Total project budget for three lightsabers: $7.23 or $2.41 apiece and $0.39 plus leftovers to make the other end of the double lightsaber.


06 May 2012

Homeschooling Conference

The beginning of May brings the WPA Homeschooling Conference.  This has become an annual trek to Oshkosh for our family.  I think that this was our fifth year going.  They have hands-on workshops that the kids enjoy and sit-and-listen talks for the grown ups.  There is a wide variety of people ranging from people just starting to think about homeschooling to folks that have grown-up former homeschoolers to share encouragement.

Since Daddy took Friday off of work, we went up early and spent the afternoon in Appleton at the Paper Discovery Center.  The museum is in an old hydro-powered paper mill on the Fox River.  Our Madison Children’s Museum membership got us in, so we spent some time learning about how paper was made and making some ourselves:


Then we headed back to Oshkosh to do more fun things.  We learned about baking and acting and paper airplanes and gravity powered cars and playing games and letterboxing and making things with duct-tape:


and tying knots:


One of the knots was a handcuff knot and, conveniently, we came away with three pieces of rope.  Mama is thinking smooth sailing from here on out.

A dear friend took our little Mollie dog while we were gone and when we came back, she had a new boyfriend (if you ask him) or a new stalker (if you ask her).  So now, when she pulls attitude and tells me that Melinda took her for better walks or had more time for cuddling, I just remind her that Melinda also has her main squeeze living in.

We came home expecting to finish the weekend off with a potluck picnic that wraps up another (local) conference I attended, but it was postponed due to rain and thunderstorms.  It worked out well though.  We still have a potluck with unschooling friends to look forward to and had a gray rainy day at home to unwind from our trip!

18 April 2012

Tempus fugit!

IMG_0864-001One of the fun things about unschooling is that we don’t have a set schedule or a list of tasks that need to be done at any given place or time.  If something comes up, we can run with it.  Last weekend Miss Bean and I were reading a book that was talking about a park with a sundial.  She asked what a sundial is and we looked it up on Wikipedia and found some pictures of sundials.  I tried to explain how they worked, but it was pretty clear that it just wasn’t clicking, so I promised her that we would make a sundial on the next sunny day.

Sadly, we went through several gray, cloudy days, but today the sun was shining brightly, so we dug out the chalk bucket and had some fun.  When we started, I drew around her feet so she could stand in the same place every time.  Then I traced around her shadow.  We set an alarm clock to ring every hour and then ran outside to draw a silhouette.  Little brother didn’t want to be left out so we did him too.  The picture is actually Beeb’s sundial since it ended up to be a bit easier to photograph.  Bean’s outlines crossed between the sidewalk and the driveway and I just couldn’t get a decent picture.  As it was, I had to crank up the contrast on Beeb’s to be able to see the chalk.

She now understands better how the sun moves across the sky during the day and how the shadows get longer as the sun moves from more overhead to closer to the horizon.  If the sun cooperates tomorrow and it doesn’t rain and wash the chalk away overnight, we’re going to try and go outside at a random time and see how close we can get to guessing what time it is by comparing the shadow to the chalk outlines.

17 April 2012

Wildlife, Part Two: Ants in our Pants

Mr. Beeb is our resident bug boy.  Last summer, when we would go pick up our CSA veggies, Beeb would be on his belly on the slab of concrete in front of the barn.  There were some anthills in the cracks and Beeb would put his hands in front of the ants so they could climb up on his arms.  By the time I was done collecting veggies, he would be covered in ants and transfixed watching them crawl around.  I would brush him off and off we would go until next week.  As as result of this fascination, we went a but buggy for his fourth birthday last September.  He got a bug box for collecting bugs and a big (orange) magnifying glass for studying bugs, as well as a gel-filled ant farm.  Being the johnny-on-the-spot that I am (Blogging about a September birthday in April?  Shush.), I didn’t get around to ordering his ants for a couple of months.  Immediately, I got an email saying that our ants wouldn’t be shipped until the weather was reliably warm enough to keep them from turning into antcicles.  Rats.  But patience is a virtue.  We finally got the ants toward the end of March and put them in their house:


I don’t think he likes them, do you?


That week when we went to the park to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather, the first thing he did is make his own anthill in the sand.  It’s in the foreground on the right.  The light was too flat to get a decent picture, but he’s pretty proud of it, so I tried anyway.


At home he watched them dig, providing a running commentary for the rest of us: "Look how good they doin' mama!"

So inspired, they dug…


…and dug…


…and dug…


Until they had dug all the passages they wanted:


All of the stuff they dug up ended up at one end because we took them to the park to show our homeschool friends and they got blown off the picnic table.

He still doesn’t seem to like them much!


30 March 2012

Wildlife, Part One: Neigh, I say

Miss Bean has been obsessing about horses for about as long as she has been able to obsess.  I have to admit, that I didn’t quite understand the whole concept.  My entire history with horses goes something like this.  Hmmm, horses are kinda pretty.  Yeah, I guess it looks like fun riding them.  And that was pretty much the extent of it until I went to a week long camp in junior high that included some horseback riding.  Putting on the tack (with someone else telling me what to do) I added the idea of “Whoa, these things are kind of large.”  Getting up into the saddle, I amended that to “Holy Crap these things are humongous.”  When the horse started walking, I added “Hmmm, not too bad.  I don’t get it, but I suppose I can see the appeal.”  Then we trotted.  From then on my thought train was pretty much “Get me off this thing!”  Fortunately the camp had other redeeming qualities so the week wasn’t a total wash.

Now, fast forward a few decades.  I have a little girl with boxes full of plastic horses that she spreads out on the living room floor with barns and fences.  A bed full of stuffed horses to snuggle as she falls to sleep.  Cowboy hats, cowboy boots, bandanas, stacks of horse books coming from the library.  Long discussions about the horse farm she was going to have when she grows up.  Not surprisingly, I find myself rather ill equipped to deal with this.  Well, except the dream farm.  Since she promised to also have a sheep or alpaca or two, I am fully behind this dream.  The addition of barn cats got Bug on board and Beeb was persuaded with a turtle and frog pond.  Otherwise, pretty much “Hmm.  Horses.  Nice.” and a bit of smiling and nodding.  But not long after Christmas, the newsletter from one of our local homeschooling groups had an item advertising a Homeschool Horse Camp.  It was going to be for three hours on Monday mornings for six weeks at a cost that I thought was reasonable.  I emailed back and forth with the folks at the Country View Equestrian Center for a while and further learned that a good chunk of the time would be doing chores and learning how to take care of horses in addition to riding.  For the most part, the camp met my criteria:  enough hard work to be a reality check, a chance to try out riding on a real horse, once a week to not be completely disruptive to our schedule, a commitment that was short enough while still allowing a real taste for horses, price that I considered reasonable.  The only downside is that it is in Monroe, which is home to some fabulous cheeses, but a bit of a hike from our house.  Since it would be just six sessions, we took the plunge.

IMG_0358Here she is during the first week.  I have to confess that I was kind of hoping that she would take after her mama.  Embiggen and draw your own conclusions.

IMG_0359 This one is actually a bit more focused, but she’s too busy concentrating.

IMG_0371Week two and she’s already looking more confident getting settled into the saddle.


The third week she got to ride on a humongous horse.  The woman had been there training and let some of the campers take turns while she walked her horse around to get her cooled down


When she got back on one of the ponies, it’s pretty clear who is boss now!
We have two more weeks left and I’m sorry to report that she is not a bit like her mama when it comes to horses.  I guess now we will have to start looking for something closer to home.  While we both are happy with the stable the camp is at, I have to admit that I am getting tired of driving an hour each way to get there.  Hopefully, we can find something reasonably priced and a bit closer to home.  Until then, I suspect we will have a sad little cowgirl.