One of the best parts of KidlitCon (as is always the case at a conference) was getting to meet in person people I’ve known for a long time online, including Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Liz Burns of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, Pam Coughlan of MotherReader, Sarah Stevenson (aka aquafortis) of Finding Wonderland (but no Tanita Davis, alas), Kelly Herold of Big A little A, Susan Taylor Brown, Susan Marie Swanson, and—well, this list goes on and on for me. Again, more on this later. For now, I can’t help but gush a little about a new friend I made at the con, someone I’m surprised I didn’t meet earlier via her amazing blog and Poetry Friday.
Homeschooling moms and teachers take note: what Amy does on her blog is really unique. Besides sharing her poems, she writes about the process—what sparks the idea, what stages the poem goes through along the way. Here’s an example from today’s sunflower poem:
See what I mean? I haven’t seen anyone else doing this online, writing frankly and intensively about the process of crafting a poem, and it’s an invaluable resource for young writers. (Heck, and old!)
I’m rerunning this old post full of gift ideas for homeschoolers—or anyone, really! Most of the posts linked below are a few years old and could be added to, of course. For now, a big round-up of posts from the past.
• The Grandpa Gifts (personalized alphabet books & placemats)
• Books we love
• More books we love
• Still more, some real gems in this one
• More, some out of print but track-downable
• A bunch of nature & gardening books I like
Interjection: The above is a series of posts I wrote several years ago. There are, needless to say, many more books I could add to the list of Books We Love. Such as:
• the new Betsy-Tacy reissues
• Shark vs. Train
• Miss Suzy
• everything on my Truly, Maudly, Deeply list
• books about our Favorite Fictional Families
Now back to the original post—
• Signing Time DVDs
• More about Signing Time
• Yet more about Signing Time
• Settlers of Catan, Wedgits
• Books on drawing
• Art prints
• Family memberships to zoos, museums, etc.
• MUSE magazine, CLICK, ODYSSEY, SPIDER, MY BIG BACKYARD—all these have been much-appreciated gifts to my kids by Scott’s parents
• My most widely linked post, one that could use updating itself: Things to buy instead of curriculum
Each of the above links is a longer post on the subject.
Note: these are old posts and may contain Amazon Affliliates links.
Have any of you tried out the Potato Chip Science kit? It was one of the coolest things I saw at ALA last weekend and I’ve got one on the way…looks like something my gang will enjoy the heck out of. Would love to hear about your experiences with it. I’ll report back after we’ve had a go ourselves.
Another quickie post to record some fun learning moments from this morning…I seem to keep doing this lately, these kind of “here’s today’s rabbit trail” posts. Bit lazy of me; I have a separate blog where I (sometimes, sporadically) record these things. Somehow it’s easier to do it here. Never know whether it’s of interest to anyone but our own family, but I kind of like having the archive all in one place.
Anyhoo. We read about Luddites in Story of the World (we’re bouncing, lately, between that and Abe Lincoln’s World and Landmark History of the American People—I may have said this already; and also by “we” I mean mainly Rose and Beanie and me), and then, taking the excellent suggestion of kind Anne in the comments, we visited the BBC Schools website’s section on the Victorians. I had forgotten about this site, which has a smorgasbord of fun stuff. We spent a lot of time there back in Ancient Greece days. Today we mostly looked at the photos and illustrations pertaining to the rise of factories, especially the parts involving child labor. My lasses are fascinated by the contrast between their lives and the lives of, say, an eight-year-old coal-mine door-opener in the north of England, in the days before laws were passed that said you had to be at least ten years old for that sort of work, and could spend no more than ten hours a day at it. Beanie will be ten in just over a week; the notion of spending all daylight hours huddled in a dark coal tunnel caused her eyes to grow as large as if she had, in fact, done just that. Well, almost.
We looked at Victorian architecture a bit, too. And then squeezed in a chapter of Strictest School in the World before lunch.
Speaking of which! Fun news from the author, Howard Whitehouse, who kindly wrote me an email yesterday! He’s offering a very nice deal on the three Emmaline and Rubberbones books: His publisher, Kids Can Press, has made it possible for him to offer a limited number of inscribed, hardcover copies at a much reduced rate:
$5 USD each, plus actual shipping at media (book) rate by the post office. A set of all three, inscribed to whoever you like, would be $21 including a very nice mailer envelope (!) delivered within the US. More outside, obviously.
The books are The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken (2006)—a Victorian prison break tale set at a boarding school involving flying machines and pterodactyls.
The Faceless Fiend, Being the Tale of a Criminal Mastermind, His Masked Minions and a Princess with a Butter Knife, Involving Explosives and a Certain Amount of Pushing and Shoving (2007)—in which a master criminal plans to kidnap lovable-yet-deranged Princess Purnah, with S
...starts next week! Are you ready?
Here’s a post I wrote three years ago about the project. We’ve done it every year since, gosh, 2006 I think? Every year it has been a blast. Always so exciting when you start figuring out where the ten mystery cities are…
We’ve done the project by ourselves as a family, with a group of online friends, with a group of local friends—all sorts of arrangements. The last couple of years have been immensely fun, each year culminating in a big feast where each group brings a dish representative of its assigned Mystery Location.
On Saturday I took the three oldest girls to the San Diego Science Expo at Petco Park. Throngs of people, dozens of nifty hands-on exhibits and activities, a mental overload of Very Cool Stuff. My favorite part was when we’d made it about halfway around the circuit inside the stadium and came to a large ring of booths in a park just outside, and Beanie and Jane were practically cheering with enthusiasm: Look at the guy making smoke rings with that gizmo! Look at the motorized robot-car built out of Legos!
And Rose and I were like: OOH, LOOK AT THAT BUILDING OVER THERE THAT SAYS CANDY FACTORY.
Hey, candymaking is a science, right?
Sadly, the Showley Bros. Candy Factory is no longer operational, and the plans for our next field trip died a-borning.
I took my camera to the Expo but neglected to take it out of my bag. I did snap one quick pic of the smoke-rings guy on my cellphone (which happened to be in my hand because I was googling the Showley Bros. Candy Factory).
The smoke rings didn’t show up in the photo, but I do believe that’s a bit of Beanie’s hair in the lower left.
Freshman year of college, my Voice and Diction instructor assigned a very long poem for memorization. I don’t think we had to recite the whole thing (she’d have had to spend the entire rest of the semester listening to us) but I do recall cramming a massive chunk of it. This came up in the car the other day in a conversation with my girls about words with confusing pronunciations. Without thinking about it, I found myself chanting,
“Dearest creature in creation, studying English pronunciation…”
I didn’t get much farther. Remembered a few more fragments. “Something something who can tell/ Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.”
Today, to my astonishment and delight, my friend Anne Marie Pace happened to share this very poem on Facebook.
Strangely, the Pall Mall line isn’t included. But I vividly remember Sally Waldman-Klauser staring disdainfully at us students over the tops of her enormous dark glasses, and blowing cigarette smoke out of the side of her mouth before informing us that the London Street was pronounced ‘pell mell.’ We were a bunch of Colorado kids who only knew the name as a cigarette brand and didn’t understand why “tell” was rhymed with “Mall” in that couplet.
The poem is called, I believe, “The Phonetic Labyrinth.” Really quite delicious, when no one is breathing smoke at you for flubbing a line.
And I was only there for half of it.
Whew. As has always been my comic book convention experience, the weekend was exhausting but sooo much fun. That it fell on this particular weekend was a bummer, though, because a bunch of my girlfriends were at an entirely different conference on the other side of the country, and I (sob) could not be in two places at once.
Looking at all the beautiful pictures from the FCL Conference gave me such a smile, because talk about a study in contrasts! Here’s what their weekend looked like.
Here’s what mine looked like.
Scott had to work at the con Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday, and through the weekend. My mother arrived bright and early Saturday morning, and I brought her home from the airport, gave her a hug, and abandoned her with the children for the next two days. More or less.
On Saturday, while Scott worked at the WildStorm booth and did portfolio review and all that editor stuff they pay him for, I strolled up and down the convention center taking in the sights. There is always a lot to take in.
View from the DC Comics green room.
Saw eye to eye, Yoda and I did.
After a while, you’ve seen so much it all becomes a blur.
Sometimes you just need to sit down and take a little breather.
Fortunately, Scott got a late lunch break just in time for us to hook up with our beloved (and gorgeous) college friend Kristen, her husband Vinny, and Vinny’s Attack of the Show co-producer, Joshua. We survived the cattle crossing that is the big intersection right outside the convention center
and wandered into the Gaslamp District in search of a good place to eat.
Speaking of cattle crossings, we passed these characters just hanging out on a streetcorner.
Rumor has it they were a promo for the TV show Fringe.
The restaurant that boasted of having award-winning meatloaf had a 45-minute wait, so hmph to them. We found ourselves at Fred’s Mexican Cafe, and oh my goodness. The complimentary chips and salsa were so good they nearly made us weep.
Kristen took this picture of me basking in post-salsa contentment.
She also got much better Comic-Con pix than I did.
After stuffing ourselves with cajun shrimp tacos (oh. my. goodness.) and carnitas burritos, we waddled back down the street toward the Con. OK, I waddled. Scott had to dash ahead to get back for booth duty. Kristen and I took our time. We passed Joss Whedon on the street. Kristen greeted him with what is now my favorite greeting ever. He grinned. Then we reached Kristen’s hotel and said a weepy goodbye. L.A. is just too dang far away. At least, as the car drives.
Back to the Con for me, where I visited artist friends until Scott was finished at the booth. Tim Sale shook his head in amazement at the news that we are expecting again. I told him we figure there won’t be any Social Security by the time we’re old enough to draw it, so we’re making sure we have plenty of children around to take care of us. He said, “Good point. It’ll be an agrarian society by then anyway, so you’ll need all those kids to work the farm.” Ha.
It was around that time that I had a little bag crisis. The bag I’d brought with me (this delicious creation by Beauty That Moves) turned out to be just a leetle too small for the event. My camera was perched too near the top, just begging to be snatched. What choice did I have? There was this booth full of big ole bags with zippers, and one of them was lime green. Seriously, what choice did I have. OK. I admit it. I have a little problem when it comes to bags. In fact, just minutes later when my husband was introducing me to one of his favorite writers in the comics industry (Kelley Puckett, whom I’ve been hearing about—and reading—for fifteen years, but somehow had never met until this weekend!), he broke off in mid-sentence and said, “Hey, is that a new bag?” I said, “Hmm? What?” And he turned to Kelley and said, “My wife has only two flaws.” (He’s wrong about that, but it was sweet.) “Number one: her ridiculous affection for me. Number two: her compulsion for bags.” I can’t deny it. I am so thrifty and purchase-cautious when it comes to clothes and furniture and household items and pretty much everything except books and handbags. I mean, it’s not like I buy a bag a month or anything like that. But three or four a year, yeah, maybe. It’s a quest, see, for the perfect bag. As pretty as this one but with lots of pockets and a sturdy bottom and some kind of inherent magic that will make me always be able to locate my keys when I need to. That kind of bag.
But I digress.
Our Saturday evening wrapped up with what is for me the best part of a comic book convention. We wound up in the Hyatt bar eating appetizers and drinking beer (ginger ale for me) with a group of writers and artists. I love this, the jovial camaraderie and stimulating discussion of a community of creative colleagues. Our Barcelona pal Andy Diggle was there (but no Jock, alas), and Kelley Puckett joined us, and Fiona Staples (Scott’s artist on Jack Hawksmoor), and a bunch of WildStorm people, and assorted other folks wandering in and out. We stayed up talking too late and dragged ourselves home well past midnight.
And then poor Scott had to start all over at 9 a.m. on Sunday. I lingered at home, took the girls to Mass, played with my little ones. I didn’t want to take a second car into the convention-center madness, so I parked at the trolley station near our house and took the orange line downtown. And what an interesting trolley ride that was. I Twittered the experience (scroll down to “waiting for the trolley” and read upwards) and was probably lucky the Loud Girl didn’t know I was recording her rantings for all the internet to see. I told Scott you know it’s been a freaky train ride when it’s a relief to get back to all the nice, sane people at Comic-Con.
Like these guys.
I am proud to say I bought no bags on Sunday (although the blue soldier guy’s messenger bag up there is kind of cute, isn’t it). I took in the sights and drank free DC Comics cranberry juice and met more nice artists and attended the WildStorm panel. And then it was back to the Hyatt for more food & fun with Fiona and Andy (but no Kelley this time) and Mike Costa and Neil Googe and other engaging, talented folks. Scott, Mike, Andy, and I spent a good three hours talking about the nature of story. That, my friends, is why I go to comic conventions.
Later we stopped by a party hosted by Mark Buckingham, Bill Willingham, and Matt Sturges, but I was too tired to stay long. My obliging hubby took me home where I snuggled up next to my baby who is no longer a baby and dreamed about absolutely nothing, because I was that wiped out.
Excerpted from a Lilting House post I wrote in July 2006.
Here is a list of Some Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:
Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.
Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.
Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.
Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.
The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)
Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.
Quiddler. Like Scrabble, only with cards. This, too, can be played online.
Babble. Like Boggle, only online and free.
Chronology, the game. Like Trivial Pursuit, only with history.
Speaking of online games: the BBC History Game site is awfully fun.
And Jane was fairly addicted to Absurd Math for a while there. Need more free math puzzles? Nick’s got a bunch.
A Case of Red Herrings and Mind Benders. Logic and problem-solving puzzles: a fun way to pass the time on long car trips or in waiting rooms.
Zoombinis Logical Journey computer game. Stretch your brain trying to get the little Zoombinis to a village where they can bounce in peace.
Oregon Trail. The game that launched a massive wagon trail rabbit trail for my kids a couple of years ago—and they still aren’t tired of the game.
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots : Gardening Together with Children. Plant a sunflower house! Up-end a Giant Bucket of Potatoes and dig through the dirt for your rewards! Grow lettuce in rainboots! Boots! With lettuce growing in them!
Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Best prices at Timberdoodle. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime.
A microscope. Sonlight sells a nifty set of prepared slides with paramecium and other fun stuff for the kids to peer at.
If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.
Klutz kits. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.
Which reminds me: Sculpey clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.
Usborne’s calligraphy book and markers.
But while I’m on Usborne, my kids also love and use at least weekly: Usborne Science Experiments Volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Muse magazine. The highlight of Jane’s month. From the publishers of Cricket.
Classical Kids CDs. Beanie’s favorite is the Vivaldi. Alice’s daughter Theresa does a fabulous Queen of the Night impersonation from the Mozart.
Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy lad. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:
And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.
A good source for much of the above (and lots more): FUN Books.
Tags: homeschooling, homeschool, unschooling, curriculum, education, educational games
Originally published in November, 2005 as “The Purple Cow Hula-Hooped Boisterously.”
This is a game we played in the car yesterday, all the way to town and back. I assigned each of the girls a part of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb (one girl had to take two parts in each round). From there it went something like this:
Me: Miss Noun, what is it?
Beanie: A giraffe!
Me: Miss Adjective, what kind of giraffe?
Jane: A hungry giraffe.
Me: Miss Verb, what did the hungry giraffe do?
Rose: It bounced!
Me: Miss Adverb, how did the hungry giraffe bounce?
All together: THE HUNGRY GIRAFFE BOUNCED ENTHUSIASTICALLY!
Originally published in Februrary 2005.
It’s been a rough morning. Our wagon tipped over while fording a river, and we lost fifty pounds of salt pork and our only shotgun. Then Rose took sick—cholera, we think—and died before we could do anything about it.
My girls are undaunted by this stunning double tragedy. They push on across the prairie, estimating the number of miles to the next fort. Maybe we can trade our mule for a new gun.
“At least we still have the fishing pole,” says Rose. She seems to have accepted her own death gracefully.
“I don’t like wattlesnakes,” announces Beanie.
Jane cracks up. “Who does? Remember when I got bit, back before we crossed the Platte?”
We found ourselves on the Oregon Trail by way of a great read-aloud, one that vaulted unexpectedly to the top of our Family Favorites list: By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. I began reading this hilarious novel to the girls on a cold winter afternoon, but after Scott got caught up in the story during a coffee break, it became a family dinnertime read-aloud. At times, the kids laughed so hard I feared they would choke. We sailed with young Jack and his unflappable butler, Praiseworthy, from Boston Harbor all the way around Cape Horn and up to San Francisco. Along the way we visited Rio de Janeiro and a village in Peru. We panned for gold in California and made friends with half a dozen scruffy, optimistic miners. We found ourselves caring deeply about such oddities as rotting potatoes, dusty hair clippings, and the lining of a coat.
Our westward journey has occurred at a fairly brisk speed. After Great Horn Spoon deposited us in the thick of the California Gold Rush, there was much conversation about the many reasons and ways in which people migrated west. Our trail led to other books: Moccasin Trail, Seven Alone, By the Great Horn Spoon!, and now Old Yeller. We discovered the absorbing Oregon Trail computer game and have outfitted a dozen or more separate wagons for various westward journeys. Rose got hooked on the food-gathering part of the game. I can’t tell you how many baskets of dandelions and wild onion she collected. Jane seems most interested in the game’s diary function. She clicked her way through the journal of the young pioneer girl who appears in the animated sequences at certain points along the trail, and then she began to write a trail journal of her own. The sad death of our sweet Rose, the disastrous river-crossing, and Beanie’s encounter with the rattlesnake are now chronicled for posterity.
I don’t know what lies around the next bend in the trail. I’ve stopped trying to pave the road ahead of time. The best adventures, it seems, are to be found in the bumps and detours. We’re well outfitted for the journey with books and maps and eyes and ears and that burning appetite for knowledge that can make a hearty meal out of buffalo grass and brambles.
—Excerpted from an article appearing in the Virginia Homeschoolers newsletter.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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As you know, I’ve had bees on my mind for weeks. I keep talking about Fruitless Fall, the book about bee colony collapse written by my former grad-school classmate, Rowan Jacobsen.
How much have you read about bee colony collapse?
I knew the honeybee’s numbers were declining. I remember hearing the wacky cell phone theory several years back, and that was laughed out of the news, and since then I’ve just heard ominous mutterings now and then about the bees disappearing and nobody knows why.
But I didn’t know the half of it.
I didn’t know, for example, that nowadays U.S. beekeepers earn most of their income—far more than they earn selling honey—trucking their hives around the country to pollinate crops. Somehow this gobsmacks me. We are dependent on migrant worker bees for the produce we grow in this country.
I definitely didn’t know that in the winter of 2006/2007, about a third of these hives died, and no one is sure exactly why. There are theories, which is a lot of what Rowan’s book is about: an in-depth and thoughtful exploration of what could possibly be causing the collapse of our bee colonies.
As I said above, when I heard about “the disappearance of the honeybee” I thought it meant declining numbers. Pesticides, I assumed (and indeed that seems to be a major factor). What I didn’t get was that bees literally disappeared. The hives died because the worker bees flew out and didn’t fly back home. There are diseases and pests that kill bees, and you find dead bees in and around the hive. (That’s happening too, in horrifying numbers.) But in other cases, the bees just up and disappeared. One possible reason, according to Rowan, is a kind of disorientation and memory loss known to be a symptom of neurological damage caused by certain pesticides. It’s highly likely the bees are suffering from something like Alzheimer’s due to exposure to toxins meant to kill other insects. They fly off to work and can’t find their way back home. And in other hives, there are bees carrying every bee disease, fungus, and pest known to afflict the honeybee world—all at once. It’s as if their immune systems have been decimated (possible cause: the catastrophic wave of varroa mite infestation that arrived in this country a few years back and is a terrible scourge in many parts of the world right now), leaving them susceptible to other illnesses.
And it isn’t just the honeybees: we know a lot about the decline in their numbers because they are domesticated bees, owned by devoted beekeepers who know exactly how many hives they have lost to varroa and bee colony collapse. No one has good numbers on all the other pollinating insects out there, except it seems clear honeybees aren’t the only pollinators in decline. Did you know vanilla beans are hand-pollinated by humans? The insect pollinator has been wiped out.
Obviously Fruitless Fall made a big impact on me. Shook me up; Jane too. The funny thing is, at the very same time that it was scaring the pants off me (a world short on pollinators is a scary, scary concept), it was filling me with wonder and delight. I know that sounds impossible. It’s the way Rowan looks so closely, with humor, warmth, and affection, at this ordinary (extraordinary!) creature, the honeybee. It reminded me of the John Stilgoe book I kept raving about last year, Outside Lies Magic. Remember that one? What Stilgoe did for me with power lines and telephone poles, Rowan Jacobsen did for me with bees and honey and even figs. The early chapters describing life in a beehive and the life cycle of the bee were so engaging that I read them aloud to Beanie, who was captivated. Jane has read the book at least three times now. She begged me to order Rowan’s book on chocolate—along with our very own copy of Fruitless Fall. Which is a good thing, because I find myself wanting to thrust the book at everyone I talk to. It’s that kind of book.
By: Melissa Wiley
Blog: Here in the Bonny Glen
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What we read today (an excerpt; “the astronomer” is a boy named Dick, who is stargazing with his sister, Dorothea):
“Got it,” he said. “Just over the top of the hill. Come and see it.”
Dorothea joined him. He pointed out the bright Aldebaran and the other stars of Taurus, and offered her the telescope.
“I can see a lot better without,” said Dorothea.
“How many of the Pleiades can you see?”
“Six,” said Dorothea.
“There are lots more than that,” said Dick. “But it’s awfully hard to see them when the telescope won’t keep still. How far away does it say the Pleiades are?”
Dorothea went back to the fire and found the place in the book.
“The light from the group known as the Pleiades (referred to by Tennyson in ‘Locksley Hall’)…”
“Oh, hang Tennyson!”
“The light from the group known as the Pleiades reaches our planet in rather more than three hundred years after it leaves them.”
“Light goes at one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second,” said the voice of the astronomer in the darkness.
But Dorothea was also doing some calculations.
“Shakespeare died 1616.”
“Well, if the light takes more than three hundred years to get here, it may have started while Shakespeare was alive, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, perhaps. Sir Walter Raleigh may have seen it start…”
“But of course he didn’t,” said the astronomer indignantly. “the light of the stars he saw had started three hundred years before that…”
“Battle of Bannockburn, 1314. Bows and arrows.” Dorothea was off again.
But Dick was no longer listening. One hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second. Sixty times as far as that in a minute. Sixty times sixty times as far as that in an hour. Twenty-four hours in a day. Three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. Not counting leap years. And then three hundred years of it. Those little stars that seemed to speckles a not too dreadfully distant blue ceiling were farther away than he could make himself think, try as he might. Those little stars must be enormous. The whole earth must be a tiny pebble in comparison. A spinning pebble, and he, on it, the astronomer, looking at flaming gigantic worlds so far away that they seemed no more than sparkling grains of dust. He felt for a moment less than nothing, and then, suddenly, size did not seem to matter. Distant and huge the stars might be, but he, standing here with chattering teeth on the dark hill-side, could see them and name them and even foretell what next they were going to do. “The January Sky.” And there they were, Taurus, Aldebaran, the Pleiades, obedient as slaves…He felt an odd wish to shout at them in triumph, but remembered in time that this would not be scientific.
—from Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome,
one of the Swallows & Amazons books
Where it took us:
* We read the opening of “Locksley Hall,” a long and complex poem which I enjoyed thinking my way through later in the day. With the kids, I read and discussed the first several stanzas, all of us lingering especially over:
Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.
Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.
* Of course after that we had to see the Pleiades. Discovered Google Sky. Oh. My. Goodness. Truly, we live in an amazing age.
* Spent a long time playing with Google Sky, looking up many constellations including all those mentioned in the Winter Holiday chapter. Rose told me the story of Orion being chased by the serpent, and we read the legend of the Pleiades, those seven sisters, daughters of Atlas. Beanie fetched D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths because both she and Rose wanted to read me several relevant passages.
* Hunted up our copy of Rey’s Find the Constellations and read about the different magnitudes of stars, among other things.
* Rose found Sirius, the Dog Star, her favorite star, says she, because she loves Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasy novel, Dogsbody, so.
“Here about the beach I wandered,” Tennyson’s poem continues, “nourishing a youth sublime / With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time…”
Yeah, that’s the ticket.
I didn’t include Morse code in my list of places our chapter of Winter Holiday took us because it wasn’t mentioned in the passage I quoted. But it was mentioned in the chapter, most enticingly. The book opens with the two children, Dick and Dorothea, beginning to explore the farm they’ve come to visit. There’s a big lake, and they see a boat with six children doing intriguing things around a large island in the middle of the lake. Readers of Swallows and Amazons know at once who these children are…oh, it’s so exciting. Dick and Dorothea long to make contact with them but aren’t sure how, until night falls and they figure out that the light in a distant window belongs to some of those nautical children. They signal with a flashlight, flash flash flash, until oh! The window light flashes three times in response. Contact! (With Mars, thinks astronomer Dick.) It’s terribly exciting.
And then the window light begins flashing in Morse code, but Dick and Dorothea can’t read it. Neither can we. This site is helpful, though we spent considerably more than the “minute” it boasts is necessary, and I can’t say we’re anywhere near mastery. Heh. More useful is the trick Jane remembered from Cheaper by the Dozen: words whose stresses match the dot-dash pattern for each letter of the alphabet, like “a-BOUT” for A (dot dash), “BOIS-ter-ous-ly” for B (dash dot dot dot), “CARE-less CHILD-ren” for C (dash dot dash dot), and “DAN-ger-ous” for D (dash dot dot). We began thinking up words for the rest of the alphabet—GARGOYLish for G, luGUbrious for L, and so on. I can now tap out “bad lad” in Morse code. Or “glad cad.” I’m sure this will come in useful someday.
Since my dad’s fun family-photo coloring pages have garnered such an enthusiastic response (see especially Lori’s comment, which includes a link to a Crayola site that will let you make some of your own), I thought you might enjoy hearing about some of my father’s other grandkid-pleasing innovations.
One Christmas he gave us this set of custom-made placemats. Each laminated mat has a collage of family photos on one side. On the back sides, he made gorgeously colorful collages of other kinds of pictures—an array of his beautiful bird photos, for example (most of them taken in my parents’ backyard or ours). One is a nature collage; one is all kinds of art supplies. I can’t tell you how much my kids love these placemats. My littles use them almost daily underneath their dinner plates or drawing paper.
But I think Wonderboy’s special book takes the prize. My dad really outdid himself with this one. This was a present he gave to my boy a couple of years ago, and it is still one of Wonderboy’s favorite things to look at. Rilla too, actually.
It’s a comb-bound, laminated alphabet book full of pictures of our extended family and objects from around our house. (My photos don’t do it justice.) My dad included both English and ASL fingerspelling letters for each word, which makes it all the more special (and useful) for my hard-of-hearing son.
I love my dad’s choice of words to illustrate—you can tell he understands his grandson’s interests very well.
I know I’m gushing here, but, well, you understand, right?
The back cover is my favorite page.
On another visit, my dad gave Wonderboy a second book, this one focusing on colors and numbers. I especially love this page illustrating the number 4—
—but I would have to say my favorite is the Number 1 page.
Like the wise man said, we can’t help falling in love…with you Grandpa.
It’s that time of year again!
We have been participating in the Mystery Class hunt for five years now. I think it’s five. Could it be six? Five or six, it’s been a blast every time.
Here’s a post I wrote about it two years ago (full of nuts & bolts info).
Things don’t really get rolling until this Friday, when the first set of clues come out, so you’ve got plenty of time to sign up at the Journey North website. (It’s free.) It’s way fun.
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More middle ages fun.
• Roger the Herald’s Notes on Blazonry. Wonderful starting point for learning the language of blazonry. Sable, a lion rampant or, in chief azure three stars or. There’s a game set inside a story, for helping you get the lingo down. Huge hit with Beanie.
• design your own coat of arms
• SCA heraldry primer
• Book of Kells
• The Fitzwilliam Museum’s interactive animation about how illuminated manuscripts were made. This is extremely cool.
• SCA Illumination pool at Flickr Examples of recent work by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. It awes me to see people putting so much care and time into mastering this ancient art. There is some truly stunning work here.
• Gutenberg School for Scribes. A how-to site for people interested in trying their hand at illumination.
• Wynn the Wayward. An SCA scribe doing breathtaking work.
Some Dover activity books have made their way into our middle ages collection.
• Design Your Own Coat of Arms (has been a big hit)
• Life in a Medieval Castle and Village Coloring Book
• Medieval Fashions Coloring Book (there’s a paper dolls version too—these are some of those gorgeous books by Tom Tierney).