Building Flower Gardens

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For several years I pretended not to notice it.  I’d drive by and keep my gaze firmly in front of me.  Except when I did notice, I’d tell myself that grass would grow over it.  Except that grass only grew over parts of it, and the remaining open areas would be engulfed with weeds.  Weeds, weeds and more weeds.

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There’d been a flower bed in the same location many years ago when the previous owners lived here.  But it had not been taken care of for awhile and one of its borders was not well defined.  Sadly, most of the time it sat forgotten and abandoned with its only guests being some bright yellow dandelions.

Fortunately the warm spring temperatures have a motivational effect on me, and I develop these wild bursts of energy to start involved projects.  And come up with a plan I did: I decided to build a new flower garden in the very spot where one once stood. But I did not have to embark upon my plan alone.  My 14 year old daughter stood ready and willing to help me accomplish a blossoming goal, and together we built our first flower garden.

To begin, we found shovels from the garage and began digging up walls of weeds.  In what was the most difficult part, we pulled out the weeds and turned over the remaining dirt across the rectangular space.  In the front sat a pretty green shrub that was part of the original flower garden. We decided that it should stay.  To give the garden a well defined northern border, I dug up a trench.  Up to this point we’d spent a few hours working, and it was exhausting using muscles I’d forgotten about.  As I sit and write this, I feel soreness in my arms and aches in my back.

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Preferring to plant only hardy types, we next brought down a wagon full of perennial flowers to adorn our garden.

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After thinking about color for awhile, we set the flowers upon the freshly dug up dirt to decide placement.  Included were a rainbow of vibrant colors: lilies of hot pink, golden yellow, and tiger orange; blue hydrangea; purple iris; hostas; and few other interesting looking plants whose names escape me.

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Next I read the directions and prepared to give the lively plants a home.  I dug holes and my daughter filled each hole with about one inch of water.  Then I placed each in its spot and firmly packed the holes with dirt.  This part went surprisingly fast.

To give the garden a more decorative look, my daughter and I traveled to our local hardware store and found some arched maroon brick.  We’d measured the length of the side of the bed using my quilting tape to get an estimate on how many bricks to buy.  Then I had to redefine my ditch to make the bricks lay as level and straight as possible.

Lastly, we covered the new flower bed with a generous quilt of red mulch to help prevent new weeds from forming.  Certainly the weeds will be returning, I just hope this mulch will decrease the amount I’ll need to pull.

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After working for about six hours, we were done.  Now we both knew how to design a flower bed.  And we could behold the view!

What could’ve been an overwhelming job was made pleasantly simple with my daughter’s presence.  She was cheerful and supportive, and we had ample time to visit.  We’d spent our day together working towards a shared goal.

And as I see it we built more than a flower garden, we also built happy memories.

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Notable November

November has been a busy month for the Artist, 13, with both a writing program (National Novel Writing Month Young Writer’s Program) and a math competition.

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She aspires to be a writer someday, and this is her first year participating in NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program.  I hope it will give her some experience and insight into what it’d really be like. We decided that rather than having me interview her, she would write a summary about how it’s going. Then she would be able to write her thoughts in her own words. Here is what she has to say about it so far:

“Hi, it’s the Artist. This year I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It takes place every November for aspiring writers of all ages, the goal being to reach your Word Count Goal by the end of the month (example: 50,000 words).

Of course, the deeper meaning is to write a novel. I was really pumped to sign up earlier in June. Being a think-ahead kinda girl, I spent the entire summer forming an idea of exactly how I wished my novel to be. Every time a scene would pop into my head, I would mentally apply it to the list of scenes I wanted in my book. I knew every detail about my characters: their personalities, their full name, exactly how they looked, the way they talked. I even went so far as to Google them all to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently named them after some celebrity I’d never heard of.

Then November came, and I went into a trance. Every free second I had would be spent hogging the upstairs computer, typing up a storm. At first it was easy. All I had to do was walk into the scene collection room of my brain and pluck one off the shelf. Then I would type it and edit it and move on. But gradually I ran into some problems.

Problem 1: The voice didn’t sound quite the way I had originally pictured it. But as time went on, I discovered that I was okay with that. My characters were just taking charge of the narration. Plus if I stuck a few instances of grammatical pedantry into my main character’s dialogue, that pretty much took care of the issue for me.

Problem 2: Somehow in all my planning, I had left about 200 pages in the center of the story to be adlibbed. This was a little harder to get around, and it gave me some concern as I was typing the beginning of my novel. Then a miracle occurred. For the first time in my life, I was saved by my bad habit of procrastination. See, being a natural procrastinator, I tend to look at deadlines as distant lands which I have plenty of time to reach. Since I hadn’t paid much attention to my NaNoWriMo deadline, it didn’t stress me out that much. Therefore no panic was in the way of me and any ideas I might have. Sure enough, I began coming up with scene ideas as I needed them for the main portion of my story.

As of today, I have written 31 pages and am 88.09% to my Word Count Goal. In other words, I’m on track to win. NaNoWriMo has been really fun for me, and I am happy I made the decision to sign up way back in June. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys writing.”

** Update:  She reached her word count goal on Sunday, November 24.  Finally, she’ll be able to rest. I’m thankful she’s finished NaNoWriMo before the Thanksgiving holiday!  **

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The Artist also competed in her first Math competition of the school year this week.  I am again her coach, but my role is minimal.  Now in our second year competing, we more fully understand how things work.  The previous experiences were helpful preparation.  We won’t know her results for a few weeks yet.  I am proud of her no matter what.  All my children inspire me.

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This has been an exciting, yet busy month with plenty of learning experiences.

I recommend these extra-curricular programs to parents whose children may have similar interests; I think the benefits are worth the effort. To learn more, check out: National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program or the American Mathematics Competitions.

Forming First Impressions: Kindergarten Math

The Explorer, 5, recently told me that his favorite subject is Math.  At this age he’s forming early impressions on the blank canvas that will become his Math Education.  Developing a strong base is important, but so is lighting a spark of interest.  Led partly by his fascination levels, I focus on three areas with my Kindergartener: math facts, new concepts, and problem solving.

1. Math facts

Mastery of the math facts will greatly reduce frustration for him down the road with things like muti-digit multiplication, long division, and many other areas.  It’s important that he learn the concept behind the idea.

I start him on skip-counting by introducing a hundred number chart.  After he’s learned to count to 100 (by ones), we learn the two’s, five’s and ten’s.  We then cover both odd and even numbers and what digits each type will end in.

We recently learned the three’s. For example:  I have him start at zero and count up three, and then cover the number with a rectangular counter stopping at 30 – for starters.  The idea is that he’ll begin to notice a pattern.  [He observed that the three’s have both odd and even numbers.]

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Hundred number chart, counting by 3’s starting at 0.

Then he removes the counter and writes down the numbers – beginning at zero then up to 30.  (If he gets frustrated writing the numbers down, I just have him read them while I write them for him.) What I like about this is that not only does he learn to count by three’s, but he also realizes that it starts at zero.  He reads them forward and backwards a few times.  Then we focus on memorizing.

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Recording the 3’s as he removes them

After he’s mastered the 3’s starting at zero, I then have him pick another starting number – say one.  We then count up by 3’s but notice that our numbers are now different depending on our starting point.

So far this year, we’ve covered the one’s (0 to 100); two’s (0 to 100); three’s (0 to 30); five’s (0 to 100); ten’s (0 to 100), the hundred’s (0 to 1000) and the odd numbers (1 to 21).  Next week we plan to start the four’s (0 to 40).  How many we’ll cover depends; I use his interest level to help guide me about how far to go.  It is not a race, though, and it’s far more important to me that he understands the idea.

2.  New Concepts

By this I refer mainly to the learning of the arithmetic operations:  addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  I often use a curriculum as my guide, and some of my favorites are Singapore Math, MEP Math, and Miquon Math.  However, I believe that any curriculum is a tool that should help and not hinder.  I often find myself filling in concepts that I think a curriculum should have spent more time on.  I use a Place Value Activity Kit to demonstrate all four operations.

We start by learning the plus and minus facts up to 10 (all the combinations), then we expand it up to 20.

Interestingly, we recently learned three different methods for subtraction. For example, consider:  15-8 = 7.

 Method 1: Start at 15 on our number line and count back 8 steps.  We stop at 7.

 Method 2: Think of 15 as a number bond of 10 and 5.  I ask my son if we can take 8 away from 5. (We’ve not learned negative numbers yet.)  He replies that we cannot, but we can take 8 away from 10.  So we calculate (10-8) and we still have our 5 from before so our answer is 2 + 5 = 7.

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Method 2 demonstrated with place value kit

 Method 3: Start at 15.  Think about where our nearest ten is when subtracting. Answer:10.  Think about how many units we would take away from 15 to get to our nearest 10.  Answer: 5.  Then subtract 5 from 15 and next subtract 3 more. (15-5-3=7)

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Method 3 explained.

Having learned three different methods hopefully causes him to analyze, compare, and develop a greater number sense regarding subtraction.

So far we’ve worked though the concepts of addition and subtraction mainly, and also a good start in multiplication.

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Multiplication demonstrated with place value kit, and noting that ‘x’ means ‘groups of’.
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More multiplication showing that multiplying can be thought of as repeated addition.

Having already introduced multiplication (with skip counting),  I then use examples like the one above with a place value kit to go into more depth by showing that multiplication is repeated addition and that ‘x’ can be thought of as ‘groups of’.  For division, I only introduce it with the place value kit and show how division is related to multiplication.

[As an aside: If a student is confused by a concept, I recommend trying another curriculum to explain it a different way.  Use the curricula that best helps your child understand OR simply explain it in your own words how you understand it.]

3.  Problem Solving

How I interpret it, problems solving means that a student has enough mastery of a concept that he can apply it to solve a problem.

Thus far for this type of activity, my favorite curricula are Singapore Math Intensive Practice and Challenging Word Problems workbooks.  What I like best about these are the way they encourage a child to visualize the problems in order to better understand and solve them.  Also, questions are asked from many different angles so that the child has to really think about what is being asked.

Recently we worked on a problem where he had to think about how a larger number can be made out of two smaller numbers to solve puzzle-like problems related to subtraction.  We pulled out our Cuisenaire rods to help visualize the combinations that make 10: (1,9); (9,1); (2,8); (8,2); (3,7); (7,3); (6,4); (4,6); and (5,5) – to remind us of our math facts. (Hopefully he sees the pattern that addition is commutative). Manipulatives can be a great addition when solving a complicated problem.

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Looking for a pattern and using C-rods to visualize.

Of course, problem solving can also bring feelings of frustration. During these trials of deep thought, he grows in knowledge and develops math endurance.  I’ve found that giving praise when he’s solved a problem works wonders, and it’ll likely light a fire and make him want to learn more.

Overall, our plan is that we cover math fact practice and new concepts daily.  Problem solving (puzzle-type questions) may only happen two or three days per week.  We touch on all three areas every week.

It’s my intention that Math time be fun for him at this age.  Demonstrating that problem solving can be both rewarding and enjoyable [hopefully] paints a positive first impression.

Lego Swords – Wordless Wednesday

The latest original creations from the Lego enthusiasts around here:  Lego swords.

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Designed by the Investigator and the Artist.
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Designed by the Architect.
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The Explorer, of course, also designed his own sword.  He named it Orcrist the Clown Cleaver.

It’s always an adventure.

Caught in a Blizzard

When we really want something, we are not easily deterred. We try everything we can think of to go over, under, or around obstacles. And when we want something bad enough, sometimes we’d rather join a caravan of denial than face the painful truth. Perhaps that is why I decided to attend a relative’s wedding this past weekend rather than let the threat of a blizzard blocking our path stop me.

I’d read an online weather report about possible bad weather near the location of the wedding. But hey, it was 70 degrees that day where I live, so whatever they were predicting – it couldn’t be that bad. I mean most big snowstorms don’t happen this early in the year. And how many times has the weather man overblown his predictions?!

I’d been looking forward to this wedding.  I’d pictured in my mind the groom on his big day with his new bride walking down the aisle.  I’d planned on a night of catching up with rarely seen family members.  I’d rewritten our homeschool plans to allow for a lighter schedule for traveling.  I’d booked hotel rooms and plotted our itinerary.  But that’s where it ended … mother nature had her own plans.

We’d made it quite a few miles down the road. There had been a little rain, but nothing serious. The kids had done their lessons, and I was feeling relieved the closer we got to our destination.  Yet I couldn’t help but notice something unusual: there were not many cars on what is normally a lively interstate.  The cows in the fields huddled together.  As we got within our final 60 miles, I began to notice eerie white sheets of freezing rain appear like fog misting around us.  The leaves on the few lonely trees along the increasingly silent road were beginning to rustle.  Over the next hill a giant flashing sign read that no travel was advised ahead.

We got off at the next exit.  While we gassed up, I spoke with some locals who warned me that others had gone ahead on that road only to end up disoriented and in the ditch.

We stopped and got a room.

From our hotel window, we watched as the weather conditions continued to deteriorate.  The snow was now coming down heavier and the wind was picking up.  About an hour later, the road that we’d arrived on was now closed ‘until further notice.’

During the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of harsh winds hitting the walls, and not long after, our electricity abruptly went out.

The next morning when we went to our continental breakfast by candlelight, I realized that some of the men and women who operate the road plows were also stranded with us in one of the worst blizzards I can remember.  I could tell from the stern looks and the serious tones that we would not be leaving the hotel that day.  And worse: the wedding was not going to happen.

For the next several days we hung out in our hotel.  At one point, the kids thought it would be great fun to go out and run around in the snow.  They tried it…and were back within 60 seconds.  The winds were so fierce that it was painful to even walk across the street to a convenience store to buy our daily, picked through junk food. The snow drifts had reached over seven feet high in some places.  Locations west of us were reporting up to 48 inches of snow.  We were caught in a blizzard.

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Card stacks designed by the Architect,8, in our hotel room.

In these types of situations, even though in the back of our minds we knew this could happen, we still feel a sense of loss. Our expectations (realistic or not) haven’t been met.  I felt so bad for the bride and groom, and I also grieved for our not being able to see them marry.

This is the time to focus on and be thankful for what we do have.  At least we did not keep going down the road and end up trapped in our car alone in a ditch.  We were stranded where we had shelter, food, and cell phones.  We had interesting conversations with others who also could not leave the area.

Eventually, the lights came back on.  We dug our cars out of snow caves. The wedding was rescheduled.

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The view from our hotel window: digging out after the blizzard.

We gained perspective in that sometimes things like this happen.  Life does not always go how we want it to; we have to make the best of whatever situation we’re given.