Monday, May 31, 2010

Week 32, day 1

Monday: Language Arts. Having reviewed all our memory verses last week, this week's review went more smoothly. After finishing our catechism review and hymn and updating the calendar (I let P write the time on the calendar today), I asked P to read her reader. She picked it up, flipped it over, and started reading the parent information on the back. The format of the books is that each features a different animal (in this case, a newt). It is often hard to tell from the illustration just which animal the main character is supposed to be, and its actions are rarely consistent with what such an animal can do in real life. On the back of the book, there is a paragraph giving details on the true lifestyle of the featured animal, using vocabulary and phonics rules the child has not yet encountered. However, P made it through the first sentence without any help. I told her that if she read the entire back, we'd switch and I'd read the story - previously, the deal has been that I refuse to read the reader itself, because that's P's job. She needed help with words like "poisonous", and because the letters and spaces were smaller than she's used to, she struggled with keeping track of where she was on the page, but she ended up reading the entire thing, figuring out phonics rules by herself. She has gained so much confidence this year! When she was done, I told her, "Now, you can read anything you want!" As promised, I read her the story about Ned the Newt.

Both P and E did their writing assignments happily. E traced his name (all capitals) pretty well, but he preferred to continue each "big line down" about twice as far as necessary, so that the E looked like an F with an extra small line near the top, for example. He thought this was funny, and I let him get away with it for now. P has gotten so good at writing, she did her copywork with no trouble at all. P then dictated a friendly letter to my mom (yes, Mom, you'll get it in a few days or so) about starting violin lessons. She copied the entire thing and drew a picture of herself. It's so neat to see how much she's learned this year.

This afternoon, we went to the optometrist because I had broken my glasses and needed new ones, and it had been about 4 years since my last eye exam. I scheduled an exam for P as well, and she turned out to have 20/20 vision. Hopefully it stays that way. E wanted an exam too, but he can't recognize the letters individually though he can say them in order, and the optometrist wasn't set up for kids who can't name their letters yet. He was disappointed until the optometrist gave him a pair of sunglasses to match P's (after having her eyes dilated). Who knows? Perhaps he'll suddenly want to learn all his letter names and sounds as a result.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Week 31, days 4 and 5

Thursday: Bible. Last weekend, I went through all the verses we've memorized so far, put them on 3x5 note cards, and organized them in a card box. I filed some under "daily" review, some under "odd" or "even" (referring to the day of the month), and some under "Monday" through "Friday", based on how well I thought the kids knew them. We've been using this system all week, and it's helped to remind the kids of some of the verses they had almost forgotten. Once they're really down pat on some of the verses, I'll file them under "1" to "31" to be reviewed only once a month. Hopefully, this way many of these verses will end up in their long-term (lifelong) memory. This weekend, I intend to do the same for our catechism questions and the hymns we've learned so far. I introduced a new memory verse and catechism question, and we read 3 Bible stories: the stoning of Stephen, Philip and the Ethiopian, and the conversion of Saul/Paul. The remainder of the school day was a fairly uneventful set of our usual review exercises.

In the afternoon, we went to the library to pick up books for the next week and a half's worth of geography lessons. This ended up taking 3 times longer than I had planned, because my library card initially didn't work. A month or so ago, I had returned a pile of books from 2 different branches using their shiny new computerized return system. Unfortunately, computers being (fast, accurate, and) stupid, the system didn't acknowledge half of the books as being returned. (I had inserted them into the machine at a slight angle, you see). A week later, noticing that some of the books I had returned were listed as ovedue, I complained, and they tagged the books as "missing, claims returned". They found all but one of them, but apparently the search time had expired and I was now automatically charged for that book. If I hadn't had a distinct memory of putting that particular book into the machine, I might have been open to the possibility that it really was somewhere in our house, but I refused to pay a $30 fine for a book I had truly handed back. So this took a while to sort out, but eventually they cleared the fine and made my library card work again. I'm glad, because I rely pretty heavily on my library card.

Friday: Geography. Today, we learned about Jordan. I went through a long decision-making process on which countries we're going to cover before the end of the school year, and I've narrowed the list down to Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa, possibly adding in Antarctica at the end. I skipped Turkey, Iran, and Kenya, which had been on my list, due to time considerations and the fact that I couldn't think of anything on my short list to remove in order to put one of them in. But then, my dad lived a perfectly happy life knowing nothing about how amazing Turkey was until he was my age, at which point he was incensed at his entire schooling experience for denying him an inkling of how phenomenal their art and architecture are. So my kids will be happy too, and I'll let them in on the wonders of Turkey (and other places) before they're 30.

My box of games from RightStart Math arrived yesterday, and I started teaching the kids the mnemonic rhyme "Yellow is the Sun" for how the numbers 6-10 relate to 5. I plan to include some RightStart games on P's 5-a-days for the rest of the year, and then just play occasional games throughout the summer, incorporating more of them in our math lessons in the fall.

For language arts, I had P describe how to play a favourite game. She chose Uno, and ended up being able to summarize the rules quite effectively. She wanted to play it as well, but it was getting on towards lunch time and I wanted to make hummus. Given the choice between playing Uno and helping in the kitchen, both children chose the latter. We enjoyed our lunch of fresh-baked pita bread (such fun to watch them puff up!) and hummus as well as zaatar.

After lunch and P's violin practice, we started our study of Jordan by looking at a book about the Nabatean city of Petra that I found on my brother-in-law's bookshelf (he's in the Caribbean, so he won't mind me borrowing it). I loved explaining the pictures based on my memory of the place, trying to give a fuller sense of the place by my descriptions than the pictures alone could give. Living in Jordan for 4 1/2 years in my teens gave me the chance to visit Petra a number of times, and I fell in love with the place. One day, of course, our whole family will have to go there and probably spend a full week exploring it and the surrounding areas.

We marked Jordan on the Markable Map (there was only space to label it "J"), and discussed how, though it was hard to see on the map, Jordan did have a tiny coastline on the Red Sea - at only 16 miles long, you wouldn't expect it to look impressive on a world map. We then looked through a library book on Jordan. This took ages, I confess, because I was able to tell so many stories about the different pictures. The kids saw a picture of King Hussein and heard how I sang a solo at a school concert he came to (his daughters went to our school) - the choir teacher only told us on the day of the concert that he was expected to come, which didn't exactly make me less nervous. We looked at pictures of Jerash, and I told how my high school graduation was held at the main amphitheatre there, and how Queen Noor, our speaker, flew in by helicopter. We read about mensaf (the national dish, consisting of lamb meat cooked in yogurt on a bed of rice and pine nuts), and I told how my dad had once been the guest of honour and was served the tongue - pulled by our host out of the lamb skull in the middle of the platter. Looking at the pictures in the book made me homesick. A picture of a shepherd on a donkey with his sheep could have been taken from our back yard. Okay, Lord, when do I get to move back to the Middle East?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Week 30/31, day 3

Wednesday: Geography. I'm shuffling our weekly schedule a bit here, in order to get through 2 weeks' worth of geography and language arts per week for the next 3 weeks - so that we can be done before my brother comes to visit. We followed the same review and language arts pattern as yesterday, which went well. On P's math 5-a-day, I had as one of the items "Play with MeasureUp! Cups". These are a set of 12numbered stacking cups which are volumetrically correct; that is, it takes 5 "1" cups to fill the "5" cup, or a "2" and a "3" cup to fill the "5" cup. So I hauled out a large bowl, a bag of rice, and the cups, and we worked on finding combinations that would fill different cups. P enjoyed using the "2" cup to fill various larger cups, so I explained how the ones that could be exactly filled using a "2" cup were even numbers and those that had too little or overflowed were odd. This will be useful when we get to multiplication and division, too.

Our geography lesson covered India. We traced and labelled it on the Markable Map, and talked about its proximity to the Himalayas on one end and the Indian Ocean on the other end. We read the atlas pages and a children's book on India, and P made a book featuring the flag, a map, and pictures of a Bengal tiger, the Taj Mahal, an elephant decorated with gold and blue, someone growing tea, and a monsoon flood. I cooked a kidney bean curry recipe I got from Jeannette ages back as well as an "aloo paratha" (bread stuffed with potatoes and peas) from my "Healthy Bread in 5 minutes a day" book. The kids liked the aloo paratha, but they object to curry. More for Ari and me!

Today was also P's first violin lesson. Ari stayed home with B while he napped, but E came along and was unusually well-behaved, looking at the pictures in books I brought for that purpose while P had her lesson. She learned the parts of the violin, how to hold it in position, the "music alphabet" (letters A-G, which she is to practice saying in reverse order) and whole, half, and quarter notes and rests. Her 1/8 size violin is too small for her, so we need to rent a 1/4 size one. Since her teacher gave her specific things to practice, it should be fairly easy to enforce a daily practice habit. The teacher seems, at least on a first impression, to be completely worthy of the high recommendation I heard about her. She has patience, a good way of explaining things, and a good rappor with P. What a blessing!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Week 30/31, day 2

Tuesday: Science. In addition to our regular review items, I had both kids write: E his name, and P the second half of this week's copywork and a vowel worksheet. We played "rhyme jump-up": I gave the kids a word, and then said other words. When they heard a word that rhymed with the first one, they jumped up. Both of them loved this game - the physical aspect of it appealed to E, in particular. I'm confident that we'll get through 2 weeks' worth of language arts this week, and I'm hoping to do geography tomorrow as well as Friday.

For our science experiments, we investigated some of the properties of air. We took 2paper towels, crumpled one of them up, and weighed them on the balance. Having determined that they weighed the same, we took turns dropping them simultaneously from the same height. Air resistance caused the uncrumpled one to fall more slowly, so we discussed how the air had more surface area to push on for the uncrumpled paper towel than for the crumpled one. We then filled a basin with water, and put the crumpled paper towel at the bottom of a clear plastic cup. We turned the cup upside down and put it in the water. The paper towel stayed dry, because the air in the cup took up space and the water couldn't come in. Then we tipped the cup sideways, and the kids saw the air bubbling out and the water coming in to wet the paper towel. After that, we looked at the effect on the water level of filling the cup with water and pulling it out of the basin inverted (the level of the remaining water went down, until the cup came all the way out, whereupon the water returned to its original level), and pushing the cup underwater inverted, so that it, filled with air, displaced some of the water, raising the water level. I let E do some independent play, during which he discovered that if you just put the cup in the water, it tips over and sinks, but if you put a bit of water in the bottom, that stabilizes it and it floats. Eventually, of course, letting a 4-year-old do independent water play makes the kitchen rather wet, so we mopped up and declared school over for the day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Week 29, day 5 and Week 30, day 1

Friday: Geography. We studied Australia on Friday. Both P and E were already able to identify Australia on a world map, but we labelled it on our Markable Map and looked at our kids' atlas page. We also read 2 books about Australia as well as a couple of chapters of "How to Scratch a Wombat". According to this book, wombats can sleep so soundly as to appear dead. The author found a favourite wombat of hers conked out on the doormat. Its heartbeat and breathing were undetectable, and it was rigid, so she sadly dug a grave, lowered the wombat into it, and it woke up and ran off. P and E enjoyed this story. P made a book on Australia, featuring the flag and map, and pictures of a kangaroo, the Sydney opera house, a boomerang, Uluru (Ayers Rock), and the Great Barrier Reef.

When we were done with school, the kids went outside and started digging a hole. I was stripping our basil and parsley plants of leaves in order to make (delicious) pesto, and they got tired of helping me and used E's digging tool that my parents gave him to get through the wood chips behind the garage and into the clay. They made a fairly deep hole, about as long as P's forearm. Then on Saturday Ari helped them to expand and deepen the hole, and they filled it with water - 6 buckets full. The water is sloooooooowly draining out; the clay soil is not very porous and there's still a lot in there.

Monday: Language Arts. I'm going to try to get through 2 weeks' worth of Language Arts this week and another 2 next week, in order to have time for a proper summer break. So we'll probably be doing some language arts every day in addition to what we usually do. We did the rest of our review items first. Before P read her reader, I had E trace his name on a dry-erase stencil I made for him by writing his name on a piece of paper, gluing it to cardboard, and covering it in clear self-adhesive plastic. P's math 5-a-day consisted of 3 problems and 2 games: Subtraction War and experimenting with our balance. We weighed a variety of small toys, and the kids grasped the idea of starting by adding the biggest weights and then adding smaller ones as the bigger ones overbalance the scale.

Once we got to language arts, we made a letter page with pictures we found online - an activity that both children enjoy. P was quite reluctant to do her copywork, so I decided we would do only a little more than was on the schedule for one day, and do more of it each day this week. I gave her the choice between the reader I had her start at the end of last week and a new one, and she chose the old one, feeling that the practice was good for her. Finally, she was to write a story based on a drawing of a pilot encountering a flying windmill. Her story turned out pretty well, I thought. I introduced her to the idea of a "point of view character" - the character through whose eyes the story is told. Ari has focused on this while editing his novels, so I've thought about it quite a bit as well. It seemed to me that P grasped the idea well and it helped her know where to start.

Speaking of Ari's novels, Ashes of our Joy is ready to purchase. Now you can find out what the Norkaths have been up to.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Week 29, day 4

Thursday: Bible. We introduced a new memory verse - one I might end up reminding both P and E of quite a bit in future - and catechism question. We've been working on the hymn "To God Be the Glory" all week, but I forgot to review it today. We read the story of Pentecost in their children's Bible storybook.

P found her old handwriting workbook that she finished near the beginning of the year. It's neat to see how her handwriting has improved since she finished the book, and certainly since she started. She insisted on looking at every page, and she and E acted out the animals that represented some of the letters and numbers (Z for zebra, 6 bears, etc). Once they were done, I gave P the choice of reading the same reader we've been working on, and reading next week's reader. She chose next week's, which was what I expected, and did well with it. My plan is to try to do 2 or 3 weeks' worth of language arts next week, since it's introducing the letter E and there are 2 review weeks after that letter. P already knows her letter sounds very well, so I don't feel we need the review, and I'm getting antsy for a proper summer vacation. I'll try to fit in 4 or 5 weeks' worth of geography in the next 2 weeks, doing a country every 2-3 days instead of once a week, to keep pace with language arts. Now that all our outside activities are done for the summer, we have more time that I can devote to moving us along in school. I'd like to be done altogether before July so we can completely relax on our planned road trip and still have some unstructured time at home before starting first grade for P and Pre-K for E.

I put 2 games on P's math 5-a-day this time. I'm glad I started doing this, and not always having her solve 5 pencil and paper problems. She solved her 3 problems and then we played Subtraction War (played like War, but with 2 cards at a time, and the biggest difference wins) and Uno. I started teaching the kids Rummikub, but they're really too young for it and I did most of the thinking for each child's turn. I noticed after we were already playing it that it's recommended for ages 8 and older. Ah, well, there's good family tradition for doing that kind of thing. I remember my dad starting me on Monopoly when we were in Durban when I had just turned 6.

After lunch, P wanted to do a project from her new sewing book. I showed her the lazy daisy stitch, but we didn't really have good materials for embroidery around the house, so we went to JoAnn and picked up basic cross-stitch materials. She made one 4-petaled flower shape using lazy daisy, and it looks pretty good. I'll help her do another one tomorrow. I noticed while teaching her that, since I haven't really thought about how to teach sewing the way I've thought about teaching lots of other things, I don't have a good idea of what sorts of things are likely to trip her up. Learning to sew involves a lot of separate, complex skills: threading a needle, keeping the needle threaded instead of pulling it off the thread each stitch, figuring out where to put the needle in, tying a knot in the end of the thread so it doesn't come out of the fabric, etc. Of course P wants to be able to start and finish a project in an afternoon, so she needs me to pay attention and help her with each of these skills. With a baby to look after and dinner to cook, I'm not as helpful as she might wish. She did manage to thread the needle by herself, so hopefully she won't need me for that as often in future.

A child is constantly working on learning so many complex tasks! It's no wonder they sleep so much. I need to try to remember how much is being asked of them in just learning to navigate the world, so I can be more patient with all 3 of them.

Week 29, day 3

Wednesday: Math. I decided to continue working on the idea of the "math way" of saying numbers (five-ten eight instead of fifty-eight). This is basically a lesson on place value, a good concept for the kids to internalize. Even with reviewing what I taught both kids yesterday, our entire formal school only took half an hour. We looked at our experiment from yesterday, but there didn't seem to be any difference in the amount of water evaporated from the light-coloured metal pan or the dark-coloured silicone pan. I wish I had a setup where both containers were made of the same substance, but I don't. In any case, the idea of evaporation and condensation was effectively communicated. Later in the afternoon, we went to the library. I found books on Australia (which I plan on studying with the kids on Friday), including a book called "How to Scratch a Wombat", which was written by a woman who has spent 30 years interacting with wombats. It's heaps of fun, and she tells fascinating stories as well as giving basic information about wombats. I didn't realize how big or strong they were. I certainly don't want a pet wombat - it sounds like they are untrainable and have very strong opinions on what they want you to give them Right Now.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Week 29, day 2

Tuesday: Science We're back after roughly a week off. We spent Thursday through Monday in San Antonio for a homeschool convention where Ari sold his book, and a bit of a vacation. At the convention, I picked up a box of math games (actually, just placed an order, but got free shipping by doing it at the convention), some educational toys including a balance with varying sizes of hexagonal gram weights, books on Biblical character training, and a sewing instruction book with patterns for P, who has recently demanded to be taught to sew. I also stopped by the Sonlight booth to drool over the curriculum I plan to use next year (Core K, Language Arts 1, and Science K for P, with E listening in as he has ability and interest). We're going to have heaps of fun! We are already, of course. We went to the Alamo on Sunday, and it seemed like the kids got a lot out of it. It helped that I checked out 3 kids' books on the Alamo before we left for San Antonio, and read them to the kids on the way.

Today we resumed the week's worth of school where we left off. P remembered her memory work remarkably well. I decided to spend more time paying attention to E, and this helped a good deal. I had P read her reader to him specifically, which he liked, and I gave both of them a math lesson of sorts before I had P do her 5-a-day. From a session on RightStart Math at the convention I had picked up the idea of counting "the math way". Basically, English doesn't make place value transparent the way some Asian languages do, with numbers like "twelve" bearing no obvious connection to "ten plus two", so you instead teach the child to call that number "ten two", and to call 27 "two-ten seven". Even E was able to catch onto this pretty quickly, and I reviewed it with P on her 5-a-day. Once that was over, we played addition war (I let E help me add my cards) and Uno. We then set up the evaporation experiment from a week ago again, this time using 2 colours of container. I used a light metal bread pan and a navy blue silicone bread pan to hold the "dirty water" and same-sized ramekins to catch the "rain". We'll look at them tomorrow to see if there's any difference. In the afternoon, the kids played with the balance. It comes with containers that are marked in mL, so we weighed and found that 200 mL of water weighs 200 grams. I accidentally rediscovered Archimedes' principle (which I only fully grasped for the first time in sophomore geology at Caltech) when reaching into the water to retrieve a weight one of the kids had dropped in. The balance had been perfectly level, and as soon as my fingers entered the water, it dipped down on that side, even though my fingers weren't touching the bottom, because my fingers displaced a certain mass of water. I let P experiment and she found the same result. When we were done with the water, we weighed a banana, an apple, and a clementine. E then wanted to know what weighed less than a clementine, and we found that a playsilk weighed less even though it had a larger volume. This led logically to a discussion on density. Once we were done playing with the toy, the kids neatly put it away without being asked. WOW! I thanked them profusely - it was a very pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


We didn't do any formal school today, because I hoped that a day spent without rigid expectations would help us all get back on a more even keel. It seemed to work. We went to Titmouse Club in the morning. It was the last session of the year, and the theme was pond ecosystems. The kids got to fish around in the pond with nets, and someone had caught a crawfish (crayfish? crawdad?) for the kids to look at. They also got to touch a box turtle and a stick insect (gently), and they painted plaster figurines of frogs and turtles. Once home, I gave E a badly needed haircut, and read lots of books to both of them. One of the books I read was What's So Special About Planet Earth?, which we checked out from the library because we enjoy the author's other books, How Do You Lift a Lion?, What's Bigger than a Blue Whale?, and What's Smaller than a Pygmy Shrew?. This one discusses why none of the other planets in the solar system would be a good place for humans to live, and goes on to describe the water cycle, among other things. I came up with a fun experiment to do: E and I poured some water into a medium-sized bowl and added salt and food colour (to represent dirty sea water). In the middle of the bowl I placed a small ramekin, empty at the beginning of the experiment. I covered the entire bowl assembly with cling wrap, using a rubber band to hold it in place, and put a marble in the middle to create a slope on the cling wrap. We put the experiment outside. Several hours later, some of the "dirty sea water" had evaporated, condensed on the cling wrap, and dripped down into the ramekin underneath the marble. We noted that the water in the ramekin was completely clear. There wasn't enough for us to taste it, but hopefully by tomorrow we will be able to investigate the effectiveness of our small solar desalination plant. Later on, next time we go to Galveston, I'd like to get some real sea water and redo the experiment. I'd also like to see what difference the bowl colour makes - we have a navy blue bowl as well as a white one, and I imagine the darker one would be more effective. When we were in Bahrain, the tap water was clearly desalinated ocean water, and tasted distinctly odd. I don't know what desalination method they use there, and I'm curious to see how our water will taste.

I guess I'm such a geek, even on days we don't "do school" I'm still educating the kids in some way or another...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Week 29, day 1

Monday: Language Arts. The first part of the school day went quite smoothly. P and E both happily participated in reviewing our memory verse, catechism, and hymn, and in updating the calendar. However, when it was time for P to read her new reader for the week, E found a plastic grocery bag, which he wanted me to tie shut so that the air would stay inside. Plastic grocery bags are never airtight, even when thoroughly tied, and they are also noisy, so after a few iterations of the rustling grocery bag deflating and E demanding that I reinflate and retie it, I sent him downstairs. He then returned upstairs to ask me to sort out the bag again, twice. I refused, twice, on the basis that P was completely unable to concentrate on her reader, and he finally stayed downstairs long enough for her to get through the reader.

When P started her math worksheet, E returned upstairs and asked to have a story read to him. We compromised by having P do one problem on her math for each story I read to the two of them. The last two "problems" were games: a hundred chart game they both completed, and playing Uno (which P asked to play dos times, and then laughed about her Spanglish). Although E is intellectually capable of playing Uno, he is emotionally incapable, at least at times. He doesn't want to put his blue 8 on a blue 4 because he feels that he should be allowed to play his red pick-up-2 card whenever he wants, and he throws his blue 8 across the room, picks it up, and bends it by holding it too firmly. Fortunately, after that outburst he willingly played by the rules, and even won the second round.

Both kids were compliant and pleasant when we introduced a new letter and made the letter sheet. However, P was thoroughly reluctant to do her copywork, and I had to be sneaky and manipulative to get her to finish each segment. We didn't get around to the creative expression assignment (we just barely finished 1 day's worth of language arts), and I hoped to do it after lunch. At that time, however, both kids decided they wanted to hand-wash the dishes and vacuum and mop the floors. It's hard to argue with that kind of industriousness, so I decided against pushing any more school on them.

When they were done cleaning they hauled out some colouring pages, which they worked on together. I heard yelling from their room, and when I came in they were sitting with their heads about 6 inches apart, yelling at each other at the tops of their lungs. I physically separated them, and asked P (the first one to regain her capacity for human speech) what had happened. The substance of her story was that she had coloured more of the fish on her own colouring page than E had wanted her to, so he hit her in the mouth. I asked E what had happened, and he refused to talk, so I asked him if P's summary of the events was correct. He said that it was. I wanted to have him apologize to P and have them reconcile and go back to colouring, so I asked him to stand up. He refused, and I gave him a small warning spank. I asked him a second time to stand, and his refusal earned him a proper spanking. I tried a third time, and he raised himself to a kneeling position and then slumped back down. Since the spanking wasn't working, I carried him downstairs, strapped him to his chair, and let him sit facing the corner for 5 minutes. When his time-out was over, I leaned over him to unsnap his straps. He jumped up so quickly that his head knocked my lip against my teeth, drawing blood. It did hurt his head somewhat as well. He was quick to apologize to me when I told him he'd really hurt me, and by that time he was willing to apologize to P as well.

Does this portend a continuation of a difficult week? Perhaps I should just ignore school for the next few days, since we're going to a homeschool convention starting Thursday morning. If I just spend 2 days reading to the kids all day long, perhaps they'll feel happier in general.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Week 28

And the week is over. We actually did school every single day this week, though I wasn't expecting to on Monday and Tuesday. Instead, I was planning to help Ari edit Ashes of Our Joy, which he sent off to the printer on Wednesday, but it turned out he had a bit of work to do on it that I couldn't help with which gave me time to do school with the kids.

On Monday morning, P and E decided that they did not want to do school, and they would use as much creativity and strategy as they could muster to avoid it. When I got out of the shower and announced that it was time for school, the two of them were nowhere to be seen. However, the trundle bed was pulled out. I called their names, and there was silence. I looked behind the trundle bed, and there they were, hiding under a blanket. P was upset that I had found them, and neither of them came out. So instead of wrestling with them or turning it into a battle of wills, I simply asked them to review the memory verse. E was completely caught out by this, and repeated it after me. P, not to be outdone, answered the catechism question. Then it was time to update our calendar, so I announced that since P and E didn't want to do school, I would put up the day and date and I would go, all by myself, to look at the weather and water their corn plants (a highlight of the day). My strategy worked! They were unwilling to let me have that much fun all by myself. The rest of the school day went fairly smoothly.

Monday afternoon, P had a dentist appointment. Poor kid, she seems to be cavity-prone, and at the kids' checkup last week the dentist decided she needed another filling, as well as getting sealant on her 6-year-old molars. While I was driving the kids to the dentist, my phone rang. It was the dentist's office, telling me that E had won the monthly drawing for a stuffed animal and asking me to bring him in. When we arrived at the dentist's office, E was handed a huge, light blue stuffed bunny and photographed for the dentist's bulletin board, and P just got a filling and sealant. Needless to say, P felt ill-used. The following morning, she wrote on a Post-It note, sticky side up, "Plees giv me a pris." (Please give me a prize). She asked me to take her to the dentist's office so she could put the Post-It on the window of the door and make the dentist have pity on her. I said no as gently and diplomatically as I could manage, with a discussion of probability and her likely odds of winning the next prize. I didn't think either child understood the odds that well, so I made a mental note to include it in our math lesson. On Wednesday, we played a game with dominoes: players take turns drawing dominoes from a pile, looking at the numbers, and stating the numbers and their sums. This was enjoyed by both kids, as E was able to do the addition problems by counting all the dots. P has grasped the strategy of starting with the larger addend and counting on the number in the smaller addend. Once we were done playing the game, we discussed the "Dentist's Office Problem". I asked them to estimate the number of children the dentist sees in a day. After discussing how many children they had seen in the waiting room during the time we were there, P estimated that he sees about 17 children per day. This seemed a reasonable estimate to me. We counted work days on the calendar and came up with 20 per month. I did the multiplication for them, and informed them that this meant that he probably sees about 340 kids per month. I suggested that maybe half of the kids leave without putting their names in the stuffed animal lottery, leaving us with roughly 150 names. So I wrote the numbers from 1 to 150 on a piece of paper, cut them all out, and had each child choose and mark one. P coloured hers pink, E coloured his blue. Ari came up, having submitted his book to the printer and wanting a break, and asked if he could play too, so he chose a number and coloured it green, and I coloured one purple. We now had 4 marked numbers out of a pool of 150. I put them all in a Ziploc and shook them around, drawing one at random. Not surprisingly, it was an unmarked number. After a few iterations, the kids started to lose interest and played quietly nearby until, on the 57th drawing, I retrieved Ari's marked number. Several other numbers had been drawn twice by this time, and one had been drawn 3 times. I discussed how, if each of those drawings represented 1 month, and each child visits the dentist 2 times a year, it would have taken 28 years for one of the 4 of us to win, by which time any child who started out at the pediatric dentist would have moved to another dentist. So it is unlikely that any given child will ever win the prize. This demonstration fortunately communicated to P that she ought to give up her hopes of winning this month's drawing immediately.

To continue the theme of dental-related unfairness: on Friday, I went to FedEx to obtain a prepaid envelope. I was filling out a second form (because the first person to help me had not accurately answered my questions and had me fill out the wrong form) with the baby strapped to me and the children at my feet. P started asking me questions about a piece of trash she'd found on the floor, put in the trash can, and the pulled out of the trash can to show me. I lectured her harshly on the subject of keeping her hands out of trash cans, and she and E started scuffling somewhere below my field of view. P then placed on the counter what looked like another piece of trash, a small white piece of what could have been plastic but wasn't quite. I was about to lose my temper when she said, "It's my tooth!" This tooth had been hanging by a thread for over a week, but had come out suddenly when E kicked her in the mouth. She was very brave and didn't wail, although her mouth filled with blood (he'd busted her lip at the same time). She moaned quietly all the way from FedEx to the grocery store, while E plugged his ears. I unplugged one of his ears to hold his hand across the parking lot, to his chagrin. When you've got a baby strapped to your front, a moaning child on your left, and a screaming child who you are holding by the elbow on your right, people tend to make "You have your hands full" type comments. You bet I do - which one would you like to borrow for a moment while I bang my head against the wall? Fortunately, the opportunity to weigh our bananas on the produce scale distracted both P and E from their distress. And it turns out that our local tooth mouse has a sense for what will soothe emotional wounds - he left a larger remuneration than usual along with a note expressing sympathy for the manner in which the tooth was lost. And with her newly-gained wealth, P was able to buy a tiny, soft baby doll, which somewhat makes up for E winning a large rabbit.

Other school-related activities: Titmouse Club covered frogs, and the kids were able to see tadpoles which had been caught in the pond. We checked out two library books on frogs, and pored over the photographs of strawberry poison dart frogs carrying their tadpoles to bromeliads, of tadpoles with legs, and of a frog's tongue grabbing a caterpillar. On Thursday I introduced Psalm 119:105 and another catechism question, and the kids started learning the hymn "To God Be the Glory". We read the story of the Ascension in their Bible storybook. On Friday, we studied Thailand. We read The Gods Must be Angry and had a great discussion about people who have not heard about Jesus. I talked about friends of ours who recently moved to Thailand to do Bible translation, and why that is such a necessary job. We looked at pictures in a library book about Thailand, and I was able to add some details that our friends told us about in a recent letter. For example, during Thai New Year, the entire country has a 3-day-long water fight. Our friends rounded a corner and the neighbour kids set upon them with buckets of water and water pistols, completely drenching them. Apparently, it's hot enough already that no-one minds getting wet. P made a book containing a flag, a map, and pictures of people riding an elephant, a tropical butterfly, people with umbrellas during the rainy season, a flooded rice field, and a Siamese cat. For dinner, I made Thai curry, which turned out delicious. With coconut milk and pineapple juice, how can you go wrong?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Story Elaboration

The doorknob broke. We fixed it.

For several weeks now, it's become increasingly difficult to get into our house. The front door has long had the idiosyncracy that some of us have keys that work instantly to unlock it, and some of us have keys that take 5 minutes of jiggling to work. I have a good key; Ari has a bad one. However, the latch that one has to push down in order to open the door once it's unlocked does not discriminate, and it became increasingly hard to push down. Ari took to karate-chopping it in order to get the door open; I simply went around to the back door.

The doorknob in the back had also been deteriorating over the past few weeks. Turning the doorknob didn't always have any effect on the bolt that holds the door shut, so one had to try several times. The average number of turns it took to get the door open increased gradually with time, until it took about 5-10 iterations to get the door open. My mother-in-law went to the hardware store to purchase new doorknobs for both the front and the back doors. Her attempt to remove the back doorknob was initially unsuccessful, and led only to the door being entirely unopenable, serving the same function as a solid wall. We began using the windows.

On Friday night, we were taking pictures for the cover of Ashes of Our Joy when we broke a window. Note that holding a battle axe (actually a sledgehammer, but he'll paint a battle axe for the cover) makes you less stable when balancing on a platform than you might expect, and it gets harder to avoid knocking a ladder into a window. The cleaning-up process involved several iterations of climbing through the unbroken windows in order to clean up the glass from the broken one, and we went to bed with a determination that Saturday would not end unless the doorknob had been replaced.

Saturday morning, I helped my mother-in-law remove the knob part of the doorknob, leaving the internal mechanism and bolt in place. The nature of its breakage was that the bolt was no longer attached to the mechanism, and thus no manipulation of the mechanism resulted in any motion of the bolt. The door was permanently stuck. My mother-in-law and I used an assortment of screwdrivers and hex wrenches to remove what we could of the internal mechanism until she had to leave for a bridal shower, whereupon Ari and I took over. He used his hacksaw to remove a portion of the mechanism, but the bolt would still not budge. When I suggested hacksawing through the bolt, Ari told me that it would take 2 hours and leave him sore for days. Nix that idea.

After breakfast, Ari and I worked together at getting the bolt out and the door open. A portion of the internal mechanism which we had accessed by removing another portion of the mechanism seemed to possibly have some effect on the bolt, so Ari left me to experiment (since I have a bit of experience with locks). I discovered that I could slightly retract the bolt using a screwdriver, but I didn't have enough leverage to hold it in a retracted position. The final solution was a combination of finesse and brute force. Ari hacksawed a notch in the top of the bolt, and I used a screwdriver to pull it back as far as I could while he hacksawed another notch in the bottom of the bolt. After several interations, the bolt would not retract any farther, but it still wasn't pulled back enough to get the door open. At this point, Ari inserted a screwdriver between the door and doorframe, and wedged the two apart. The door opened.

From there, it was easy - we followed the step-by-step instructions to install the new doorknob and rekey the lock. I resisted the temptation to dissect the doorknob to figure out how the rekeying process worked. Each member of our family can be heard exclaiming delightedly each time we use the door. Later in the afternoon, my inlaws repaired the front door latch with much less drama.

Doors are so much better than windows!