Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Advent Activities 2015: December 8th, Christmas Cookies

I'm going to be up front here. It's 4:00pm, and I'm sitting here while my kids watch Sesame Street, waiting for my feet to stop feeling like someone drove railroad spars up my heels. If every day was like this, I'd have quit Advent activities long ago!

But anyhow. In preparation for having some friends over to decorate cookies tomorrow, we made two batches of cookies to decorate. I'll include the recipes below (I made half-recipes of each kind.) Scout Kid and I made the dough while Feral Kid napped BECAUSE I'M NOT INSANE, and then when he woke we rolled them out and used our gingerbread people, heart, star, and Christmas tree cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Feral Kid attempted to bite the head off all the gingerbread people as he was transporting them to the cookie sheet, but otherwise a good, if somewhat chaotic, time.

The first type we made are a crunchy cinnamon cookie fondly known as Moose Cookies in our family. (Long story, don't question it.)

Moose Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cinnamon

1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well until incorporated.
2. Stir in flour and cinnamon. Dough will be on the crumbly side.
3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough to 1/4 in. on lightly floured surface. Cut shapes with cookie cutters and place on parchment-paper-covered baking sheet.
5. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before transferring carefully to cooling rack (cookies are brittle.)

The second type is Eggnog Sugar Cookies. The original recipe called for rum extract, but I used almond extract because, well, that's what I had.

Eggnog Sugar Cookies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs

1 tablespoon almond extract

1. Combine all dry ingredients except sugar in a medium bowl.
2. Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in eggs and almond extract.
3. Gradually beat in dry ingredients until just combined.
4. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half, and form into two flattened discs. Wrap separately with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 1-1.5 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/8" thick. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and arrange 2" apart on baking sheets.
6. Bake until cookies just start to brown around the edges, 7-8 minutes. Set sheet on cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove cookies to rack to cool completely.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Advent Activities 2015: December 6th, Sinterklaas & Trimming the Tree

Such a lovely, frosty morning, with the sun clean and bright, and little funny boys so excited to find that Sinterklaas had indeed left "weets!" in their boots this morning. Scout Kid was legitimately not sure if it was pretend after all-- the carrot was gone, and goodies were there, and that's not usually how a pretend game works! (Apparently he forgot all about going with me to the Dutch store to buy said goodies last week...)

After a nice family breakfast, we put on some Christmas music, pulled out the box of ornaments, and had at the tree. This was fun, in a kind of crazy way. The boys loved it, and I don't mind that 60% of the ornaments are concentrated in the one spot where there was a chair for them. Still, not exactly as peaceful and idyllic as the photos make it look, and Scout Kid was bouncing off the walls in excitement for an hour afterwards!

Now it remains to be seen if they can manage to keep the ornaments on the tree for the next 18 days.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Advent Activities 2015: December 5th, Picking Up A Tree (+ Sinterklaas!)

If you're thinking this photo looks better than usual, that's because my husband took it. Yet another reason to love the weekend...

Anyhow. Today, we did the first half of two activities, and tomorrow we'll do the second half of each. First, we drove 'round the corner to the farmer's market to pick out a "ditmuss dee", as Feral Kid calls them. The boys loved running around offering tree suggestions, and we brought home a sweet little tree that we'll decorate tomorrow once the branches settle.

Then, tonight, the boys will put out their little shoes with a carrot in them for Sinterklaas's horse and in the morning they'll find them filled with pepernoten, dropjes, and candy hearts. We don't do Santa Claus at all (we all have stockings hung at my parents' place that we use as an extra gift repository to open on Christmas morning, and Santa doesn't really come into it), so this will be the closest they get, and they will always know it's just a game, but I don't think that will make it any less magical. Scout Kid is already so excited to put his shoe out, and Feral Kid has been singing "'Poentje, 'poentje, 'poentje..." all around the house.

I'd love to get a book on the historical Saint Nicholas to read for future Christmases, so if anyone has any suggestions, let me know!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Advent Activities 2015: December 4th, Snowman Pancakes

Today's activity was kind of spontaneous. It wasn't on the list, but I woke up this morning and felt like pancakes, so I figured if I was going to spend the energy making them, I might as well make it the day's activity. So, voila, snowman pancakes!

In other news, I am the best at pancakes (this is not bragging, it is just fact) and so can you be if you follow my recipe. I added apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to these, and then made the snowman faces with raisins and dried cranberries and drifted powdered sugar over top as snow, but usually I make them with blueberries and they're also amazing.

Food and Wine's Buttermilk Pancakes
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (can substitute buckwheat flour for 1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1. Place a large frying pan on the burner and preheat to medium-low (I set mine specifically 3/4 of the way between medium and low.) In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. If you are adding fruit, stir it into the dry ingredients.
2. Measure 2 cups of buttermilk in a 4-cup graduated measuring cup, then whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and melted butter.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until flour is just moistened.
4. Generously butter the pan (this is key, do not skip it) and pour in pancakes using a 1/4 cup measure. When bubbles show through the middle of the pancakes, flip and cook 1-2 minutes on the other side. Best served right off the griddle with butter and maple syrup.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

In Search Of An Accurate Nativity

I've been on the hunt for a while for a more Biblically/culturally/ethnically accurate nativity scene. I love the tradition, the idea of making the story concrete especially for little ones, but the typical traditional nativity scene mixes up Bible stories (wise men with the shepherds), uses a stable, and almost universally features a white family, sometimes even a blonde Mary. What's up with that? Seriously.

So, I've been on the hunt, both for more accurate historical information, and for an actual accurate nativity scene. Here's some links if you're interested in the same subject.

First up: Inn and Stable, or Guest Room and Family Room? "Surely a more authentic cultural understanding enhances the meaning of the story, rather than diminishing it. Jesus was rejected at His birth by Herod, but the Bethlehem shepherds welcomed Him with great joy, as did the common people in later years. The city of David was true to its own, and the village community provided for Him. He was born among them, in the natural setting of the birth of any village boy, surrounded by helping hands and encouraging women’s voices. For centuries Palestinian peasants have been born on the raised terraces of the one-room family homes. The birth of Jesus was no different. His incarnation was authentic. His birth most likely took place in the natural place for a peasant to be born—in a peasant home."

Second: Forensic archaeology's depiction of what typical Jewish men of Jesus's day would've looked like. Plot twist: they weren't white!

Finally, the only place I've been able to find non-white nativity scenes: Etsy! Here's my favourite. Once I've saved up my pennies, I plan to ask for a custom scene with shepherds and wise men, and follow some of these ideas for making your scene reflect the Biblical story more accurately. Now the last thing to figure out: how to depict a one-room village home instead of a stable?

Also in the market for non-white Nativity storybooks for the boys. The Jesus Storybook Bible has darker-skinned characters but I'd love to find some specifically on Christmas.

Advent Activites 2015: December 3rd, Christmas Playdough

We kept things simple yesterday because Scout Kid was sick and laying on the couch all day yesterday. We read a Christmas book, but he didn't even really have the energy for that; curled up pitifully and closed his eyes as I read. Thankfully, he's back to his usual spunky self today, so we're back at it.

Today, after dropping off a load of packed Christmas goody boxes for Christmas in King, we pulled out the red and green playdough, along with all my Christmas cooky cutters. Feral Kid, especially, was thrilled-- he had never played playdough before, and mostly used his newfound cutting skills to reduce his playdough to tiny shreds. Scout kid went more on-theme and decorated some gingerbread people and Christmas trees before settling down to cutting playdough into fishing bait. All in all, a good time was had by all, including Mama who did dishes in peace while listening to Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas and occasionally helping out with the rolling pin.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Advent Activities 2015: December 1st, Paper Snowflakes

Along with the Lego Advent calendar my mum got the boys, and the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan, I've planned a special Christmas activity to do with the boys (or sometimes just Scout Kid) every day until Christmas Day. I'm looking forward to making this time special for them, and also really hoping I don't fall off the hat, like, a week in!

Today's activity was paper snowflakes, which a) is about the upper limit of my tolerance for crafts, and b) makes for the loveliest winter windows. I wasn't sure how this would go over; last year Scout Kid got really frustrated at his inability to make snowflakes as good as mine, and as for Feral Kid, his only experience with scissors thus far has been the rare occasions when he's managed to get his hands on a pair and then instantly had them snatched back by whatever parent was handy.

But they loved it! Scout Kid has the motor control now to approximate the shapes he's going for, and Feral Kid was just in love with using scissors. As I handed him his paper and he began making his first clumsy cuts, he kept exclaiming in glee, "I'm doing it! I'm doing it!"

Day One, success!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Writing: Conventicle, Chapter Ten

            The way out of Caethron ran south, through the mountains. Heavy crags walled it on on either side, so that the way was clear and narrow, for which Weiss was glad. “No chance of going astray,” he nodded to himself as he set off, armed with a stout staff from Seto and a packet of dense, fragrant oilcakes from Ovesa. He felt he had had straying enough these last days for one man’s lifetime.

            Weiss’s rest had done him good, and he made good time through the mountain range, travelling steadily, reading his book by firelight in the evenings, downing a few birds by sling, singing half-remembered snatches of songs Ovesa had sung. It was not till he came through the foothills on the third day that his strength began to flag again. He had always been a man used to the outdoors, but the mountains were not like the marshy plains, and the rations were thin, and it seemed with each step, his Deedsweight dug a little deeper into his shoulders. It was a tongue of despair, lapping away at his resolve, and against it warred the map Mare had given him, for every step took him closer to the place marked in gold letters: Jesh’s Land, and beneath, the name Salavus. So courage and weariness tugged at him from both sides for a day and a night, and then, late in the morning, nearly on level ground now, the narrow path opened quite suddenly into a wide valley.


            In a threadbare brown robe, side-by-side with Arris and Mare, Aldous washed her clothes in the basin behind Hallan’s house. It was not a task she was accustomed to—her aunt and uncle had kept servants enough for that sort of work. She tried to copy Arris’ expert scrubbing with only mild success, but accepted it as her best effort in the end, and wrung out her clothes and spread them to dry on the grass alongside Mare and Arris’ when they were satisfied with their own work.
            Perhaps it’s for the best, a sly thought crept through her head. They might still smell of him.
            Cressus! The thought of him still needled at her. These were the clothes she had taken off with him, hesitant at first but then hungry. The rumpled clothes she had put on the next morning in the peace of his empty chambers.  Smoke, hyssop, metal, and leather. She had ridden in the night close against him, and now this wall between them forever.  Surely she could hold onto the smell of him, only, without shame?

            “Your way lies on ahead,” said Hallan, as they broke their bread at noonday. “Down through the village to the Interpreter’s house. And beyond that—to Jesh’s Land. I cannot take you there, not today. With the Blind Eye hanging around somewhere outside the gate, I’ve got to stay close to hand to open it for any travellers in a hurry. But you’ll find the way clear enough: down into the valley and at the south end of the village, a long house with many windows.”
“I will stay too,” said Mare. “For I’ve a wound to the shoulder that could use more rest, and after that—“ she looked at the Gate through the window. “There are many more who need to hear the words of life,” she finished softly.

Aldous suspected that Arris was no more pleased than she was at the prospect of making traveling companions for one another. The same destination they might have, but Arris was a villager, a laborer, terse, strong, uneducated, a woman of action. Aldous was a city-dweller, a scholar, a thinker, a fine lady from the Queen’s Quarter. They would have been ill-at-ease with one another even had Arris not mistrusted Aldous.
Still, they set out, back in their own garments (still slightly damp) but with a few provisions from Hallan to bolster their meager supplies: dried meat, dust-bread, slings for hunting which Aldous could only hope Arris knew how to use. Aldous had tried to return Hallan his book, but he pressed it back to her.
“Keep it,” he smiled, “and read it daily for the courage and grace it will speak to your heart.”
So Aldous tucked it into the pouch at her belt, and followed Arris down the winding path from the Gate to the village. There were trees here and there, scraggly poor things but still bigger than what grew on the marshes. Sheep bleated. Aldous tried not to let her breathing get too ragged, but Arris set a pretty hard pace. Sweat stung at Aldous’ eyes and she kept them trained down, focusing on the next step only: down, down, down. It could not be too far. It was a short way to the village. Just a little ways through the little village and they’d be at this Interpreter’s house and she could rest. Down, down, down—and then she was stopped short by slamming into Arris’ back.
Aldous snapped her head up and there, blocking their path, was Vana, and a strange grey-faced figure. Nay, even Vana was strange and grey-faced.
“Hello, Aldous,” she said with menacing cheer. Aldous whipped her eyes to Vana’s knife belt, but there were no knives. Vana’s hands danced around at her sides; thin and bony, they seemed, and grey, and with the nails sharpened to a point.
“Vana?” Aldous voice was heavy and uncertain, and Vana grinned wolfishly and nodded.
“Vana and not Vana,” she answered. “When Cressus proved too soft for the task of halting you, I took things, as is always best, into my own hands. Perhaps you did not know of the lore—a little place near to that thrice-cursed Gate where the Soul-Eaters make their home?”
Aldous had heard stories of the Soul-Eaters, silly tales told late at night in the dark among youths, stories for the superstitious. Arris had evidently heard them too, for her stony determination evaporated suddenly into a childish shriek. She scrambled backwards, stumbling against Aldous, who fell in turn. The Soul-Eaters were at them in an instant
“Sometimes,” whispered Vana, bending over Aldous almost tenderly, “even the Blind Eye isn’t enough. One can always upgrade one’s membership, and fortunately—“ Vana opened her mouth wide to a gush of cold air, revealing a mouthful of grey serrated teeth—“the Soul-Eaters are welcoming to ambitious women such as myself.”
“Your ears, your ears, cover your ears,” shouted Arris, who had a bony he-Soul-Eater hanging over her. Aldous snapped her arms up to cover her ears, and as she shut out Vana’s voice, her mind seemed suddenly clearer, and Vana less terrible.
Still, Vana only smirked, and, clasping Aldous’s wrists, gave a mighty yank.
“Come now, Aldous,” she said. “You were never lacking ambition yourself.”
            Was that true? Had Aldous been ambitious or only aimless? She couldn’t remember now. Your ears, cover your ears, she remembered, and dutifully put her hands back up. Vana pulled them away again. Aldous felt more and more wooly.
“Join us,” coaxed Vana. “You weren’t really going to go all this way, leaving everything behind, fighting through hardship and enemies and cold, not when what you want could be yours if you’d only stop fighting…”
Aldous shook her head, slow and confused. She made to put her hands up, but Vana pushed them down again triumphantly. She knew she was winning—
but Aldous’s hand danced across the book tucked in at her waist—


The valley beneath Weiss was slant-lit by the sun, and it might have been a place of beauty, but its serenity was marred by two blemishes: a great torture-tree splayed out on the near slope with gears and barbs coiling across its blood-blacked wood, and at the bottom in the gully, the gaping mouth of an open tomb.
A shudder ran over Weiss, but it was not a shudder of horror only, for he knew this place—he had read, and re-read the portion of his book concerning Salavus. Jesh’s suffering, Jesh’s shame, taken not for his own crime, but for the legal debts of anyone, man, woman or child, who would surrender their guilt to him. The agony, the rending of bonds, the cruel bloody torture-tree claiming him as a just punishment. And then, the burial, the closing of a purely legal transaction, the mouth of the tomb sealed over. And next— no wonder Weiss shuddered!—that insatiable mouth burst and toothless, the light breaking slanted across the valley, Jesh himself, alive again and triumphant, the way to Elionae’s city opened, the toothless tomb, aye, the tamed tree!
The tremor that shook Weiss was not horror only, but wonder, and grief, and a curious feeling like a child meeting suddenly in the flesh those characters that had peopled the legends and stories he heard around the fire all his life. It was real! It was his! And Weiss felt a sudden wrench as the legal rectitude of his Deedsweight bit deep as knives into his shoulders, for the cords were drying and shrinking like sinew in the sun. They tightened until he thought he could not bear it, till almost they were ready to draw blood, and then, breathlessly, they gave a mighty twang and—let go.

The shot-grey capsule slithered out from beneath Weiss’s tunic and crashed into the rocky ground at his feet. Weiss skipped back to avoid it and it leapt off, thrumming off rock and hurtling over turf, end over end, down, down, and down, until with a great leap it cleared the slope and plunged headlong into the open mouth of the tomb.

Weiss stood for a long moment with his own mouth wide open, and tears standing in his eyes. Then, he staggered and dropped down to the grass, staring at the valley spread before him, weeping and laughing and saying over and over, “Thanks be!” and “Jesh, Jesh, Jesh,” and marvelling at the lightness with which he drew breath and the freedom with which he could move himself, and the extraordinary gladness which bloomed across his body at the absence for the first time in his life of the pressing presence of his deeds. It was the first rain lashing down into a land that had always been dry, and dusty, and without life.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Homeschooling: Science: Healthy Body Book: Lungs

I was super-stoked to find Teachers Pay Teachers the other day. Basically, it's a bunch of teachers sharing their classroom resources for all ages and grades, and you can buy or download PDFs of activities and lessons for every subject. My wishlist is already as long as my arm, but I started with this Health and Nutrition for Little Kids book. There's no particular order it has to be done in, so we just jumped in. Today we learned about lungs. Here's what we did.

-Watched this great little TED-Ed video about the basic workings of the lungs. Because it's not geared to three-year-olds, I paused it quite often the first time through as we breathed in and out slowly, held our breath, and answered any questions Scout Kid had. He watched it through again while he coloured the worksheet.
-Coloured in the lungs worksheet from the Health and Nutrition Book. Scout Kid's colouring is is a little half-hearted, like, "oh, here, I coloured two little spots, I think that should do it!"but he was enjoying it so whatever.
-Made the accompanying craft: fit two straws into two plastic baggies, secure the tops with elastics, and voila! Lung demo. It's dead simple but Scout Kid loved seeing them in action. We taped them loosely onto the sheet so they're handy next time he wants to demo his respiratory system.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Eight Reasons I Love Screen Time

Watching this TEDTalk this afternoon was the catalyst for this post about screen time. (One of the things I appreciated about this TEDTalk is that it distinguishes between the effects of entertainment screen time vs. educational screen time. I wish there was also more research on the effect of interactive (iPhone/iPad) screen time vs passive screen time (TV). Mostly it seems to focus on TV.) Anyways, I know this isn't the usual kind of post you see about screen time, but I wanted to talk about the ways in which I think screen time is awesome. For me, it's all about quality and balance. We have a few basic boundaries (something along the lines of 'You need to stop playing iPhone now because Mummy wants to check Facebook...' and 'I WILL NOT listen to the Paw Patrol theme one more time today.') but mostly, it's not about time limits or guilt, but about a rich and varied experience. So without further ado, eight things I love about screen time:

1) Screen time is unjudgemental learning.

I'm sure not every child is this way, but I have a kid who is very reluctant to try and fail in front of people. He doesn't like guessing, he likes knowing; he resists situations where he feels he might not be able to perform or answer like he thinks he's should. And while we're working on this, both on addressing his fear of failing, and addressing the way we approach tasks to reduce the pressure on him, one of the great beauties of the screen is that he can learn without performing for anyone.

With a good educational app or TV show, there is no fear of judgement. Nobody's watching over your shoulder. Getting it wrong is ok. So when Scout Kid is using a educational app, he's not afraid to try, because he's not afraid to fail. He's much more willing to experiment, try, and test.

2) Screen time exposes kids to subjects and experiences they can't learn in real life.

Whether it's inside the human body, halfway round the world, in outer space, the distant past, or the microscopic world, screen time takes my kids to places they can't go on their own. We love watching How It's Made or BBC Planet Earth over lunch, and most of Scout Kid's favourite shows work in great exposure to the kind of things he doesn't meet in the everyday, from the wide range of STEM subjects in Curious George, to the prehistoric world of the dinosaurs, to the wild variety in the animal kingdom, to awesome heavy machinery and vehicles. We also love YouTube videos, especially for homeschooling-- it's a lot easier to get a handle on cloud formation, or light refraction, or what a ship in a bottle is, when you see it in action, versus just seeing a picture or hearing a description.

This exposure lets my kids make more connections and understand their world better; one of the things I love about when kids learn something early is that they're ready to learn the next level that much more quickly.

3) Screen time exposes kids to people they wouldn't meet in real life.

In the same way that screen time exposes kids to subjects they wouldn't get to experience otherwise, it gives them the opportunity to experience a broader, richer range of cultures, ideas, and personal experiences. Research has show that this can contribute to more empathy and positivity, and less fear and prejudice, towards those different from your family. Living and going to a church in the country, my kids aren't exposed to the kind of cultural variety they might get in the city-- although our town is growing more diverse by leaps and bounds; when I was a kid, the town was basically a 50-50 split of Dutch and Portuguese people, and the Dutch crowd hung out with the Dutch crowd, you know? I make an effort to buy race- and gender-diverse books, to speak inclusively, etc., but I know it's easy to fall into white/male default even when you're trying not to. TV shows (carefully chosen to avoid shallow or stereotypical portrayals) and YouTube videos can help normalise other perspectives and points of view, and I think that's grand.

Instagram's another great one for this. I make a point of following POC, and women doing non-stereotypical stuff, like welding and skateboarding, so that the boys are just used to seeing those images as part of the morning post-breastfeeding Instagram browse. (If you're looking for some account suggestions, or have some, hit me up in the comments!)

4) Screen time gives kids the power to connect on their own terms.

This is mainly a phone thing, I guess, although computers too, but I love seeing my kids text and Facetime family members. Scout Kid uses voice-to-text to send (admittedly garbled) messages to faraway grandparents or sends his favourite emojis to Daddy at work. Feral Kid loves to send videos of himself to people and get a video response. He talks to the video responses like they're Facetime, which is adorable. Scout Kid even knows how to find people's names in Contacts and phone them up, although I try to discourage that. One of the common criticisms of a screen-based culture is that it makes kids less social, but I think it can help as much as hurt. Through the above-mentioned channels, my kids learn phone manners, initiate social interactions, and enjoy jokes, express love, and connect across distances without needing me to prompt or manage them.

5) Screen time lets kids experiment with art.

Two things I'm thinking of specifically here, is the art of capturing and enjoying images, and of music. Scout Kid, like many toddlers, is a master selfie-taker, but he also enjoys photographing increasingly-less-blurry images of our house, his family, and weird close-up still lifes. He likes editing and filtering them, and favours black-and-white shots. Both boys love Instagram, which a Facebook friend once described as "a picture book created by the whole world that never ends." Like, heck yeah they like that, and it's a whole other ball-game than a frenetic, keep-that-kid-quiet TV show, so why lump them in together?

Scout Kid is also growing into a fine DJ, and has definite tastes. His current favourites are all what he describes as 'beating songs', a genre which encompasses hip-hop, dubstep, and good solid rock songs. I love hearing him sing beautiful, complex lyrics, instead of just typical nursery-rhyme toddler fare, and I love the questions he asks about the meanings of songs, and I love his little air drums when a favourite tunes comes up on shuffle. I'd actually love to make a mix-tape of his favourites some time; everyone wants to have Eye of the Tiger, Shut Up And Dance, Needtobreathe's Brother, Trepak from the Nutcracker, Showbread's Pachycephalosaurus, and Test Flight from How to Train Your Dragon on the same mix-tape, right?

6) Screen time powers imagination.

Narrative is where we experiment with dreams, examine values, and forge cultural values. As a writer, I love this and embrace it wherever I see it. In our culture, our myths and legends are on the big screen, not a story around a fire. Although there's beauty in stories around the fire that I don't want to diminish, I don't want to let a 'things were better in the good old days' attitude poison our experience of the truly great, hilarious, beautiful, or challenging narratives that nowadays come mostly from movies.

Visual imagination employed in reading is awesome, and we love to read here at the Parsonage. But the whole other immersive, visual world of movies, for my kids at least, seems to fire imaginations just as much. The boys have spent solid hours pretending to fly around the room to the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack, their dreams caught on the spark of beautiful freedom in shots of soaring and sweeping dragons. Scout Kid plays Survivorman in deep, involved ways, using all his toys and books and blankets to build elaborate shelters and animal traps, hunting and building fires and collecting the rainwater from moss with concentration and fervour. It's no fun to clean up after, but that's not really the point. The point is, if you're choosing good quality narratives, whether they're on a screen or a printed page or a verbal story, they're going to power imaginations, and as long as you're keeping the variety and balance between the different types, movies can be just as powerful and play-inspiring as books.

(I also give the boys room time every day, because I think involved, alone play is a skill to be cultivated, and I think that helps...)

7) Screen time provides concrete manipulatives and chances to build on or problem solve.

Montessori math manipulatives are awesome. And so expensive. You know what I like? Apps that have Montessori math manipulatives for $3. Apps that teach patterning and give instant feedback, allowing Scout Kid to shift and experiment with arrangements. Movies that use music, visual feedback, and story to teach all the phonics sounds in two days, instead of weeks and weeks of phonics flashcards. Apps that teach coding through play. The chance to get hands-on with abstract concepts that are hard to make concrete in the real world.

8) Screen time saves parental sanity.

Look, I get the fear and guilt. It's easy to lean on screen time when you don't have the energy or the patience, and that's not always healthy. Sometimes we need to develop our own patience and our kids' patience. Sometimes we need to invest more in face-to-face time instead of easy solutions. Sometimes we need to let kids be bored so they get creative about keeping busy.

But sometimes screen time is a great compromise. Sometimes your three-year-old stayed up late every night of the weekend, but it's four o'clock and you can't put him to bed yet so you use a movie to give him downtime and keep him away from situations where his immature emotions plus exhaustion are just going to keep creating friction. Sometimes you and your partner need to invest in each other and Curious George makes a good babysitter for an hour on Sunday morning. Sometimes convenience is good, if there's other things that you also need to invest in-- other people, yourself, your partner, one kid who's particularly needy right now, your relationship with God. If my three-year-old watches a movie sometimes and sees me reading the Bible or helping a friend or putting energy into a special project, than I'm happy.

Balance. You know?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Homeschooling: Science: Cloud Types

Trying to get back into the swing of doing regular homeschooling activities now that the school year is started again. We do have a few regular things: weekly piano lessons with my sister + practices, weekly art lessons with my mama, daily Bible reading/memorization, reading, and practice counting (I'll post about our hundreds chart another time,) and we enjoy those, but Scout Kid really gets most excited about the special activities I plan.

So for this activity, we first spent some time learning about clouds. We read our Field Guide to Weather and watched a few videos on Youtube about weather and clouds, which kind of went in the extreme storm direction instead of the fluffy cloud direction, but hey, guided by his interest and all...

I needed some time to get cotton balls, so we did the rest of the activity a week later; in the intervening time we kept our eyes open for cloud types as we drove or played outside. Scout Kid is a big fan of the cumulonimbus.

Once my cotton balls arrived, we painted a poster (Scout Kid added a moon and some stars up top there) and decorated it with all the 10 main types of clouds (there are a lot more subspecies and special types.) Scout Kid added the rain to the nimbostratus and cumulonimbus clouds, and I labelled everything. There's lots more to learn, so we're excited to keep talking about it-- clouds are more interesting than I was previously aware.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Ok Seriously

One more post on the Target gender-desegregation hoopla. Because I'm really frustrated and kind of horrified at the things people are saying.* I read this post by Matt Walsh because some of my Facebook friends 'like' his page (although I did decide to hide all posts from him in future because I need to live my life not constantly frustrated about this.) Anyways.

I have two sons who are into a broad variety of things, including dolls, construction vehicles, dance parties, and reading. I don't have a daughter, so I can't speak to what she would be like, although I remember being a little girl who loved biology (National Geographic wildlife specials all the way), fat novels, playing in the woods, and riding bikes and playing Red Rover with the neighbourhood kids. Chances are you have a similar story. You loved Barbies, climbing trees, and those foam 3D puzzles of architecture. You loved the Hardy Boys, card games, and a stuffed frog you took to bed with you every night even when you were way too old for it. None of these things was cause for much comment. Now, I'm not saying there were no problems with the expectations on kids in the past, of course, but the truth is that the toy aisle has gotten more gender-segregated in the last few decades. 

The thing is this: toy gender segregation is not about biblical manhood and womanhood. It's about money. Toymakers, broadly, don't give a plugged nickel whether their toys encourage girls to be nice, pretty, and domestic, and boys to be tough, athletic, and spatial.** They do, again broadly, care about their bottom line. If you can get siblings to play with different toys, because one of the siblings is a boy and two are girls, you've just sold that many more toys. If boys and girls can't play together in groups because boys and girls don't play the same group games, you've sold that many more toys. If, however, kids can happily play group games, pretend games, building toys, et al. in non-gender-specific ways, toymakers don't get to divide their markets into smaller, more lucrative categories. 

Why get into a righteous froth on behalf of toymakers' moneymaking categories? I talked a bit in my last post about how most of the toy segregations don't make sense and are actually discouraging the kinds of things we want to see in godly men and women. Let's go over it one more time. If your little girl plays with dinosaurs, wonderful-- she's cultivating a sense of joy and wonder in God's creation. If your little boy plays dolls, wonderful-- he's practicing to be the kind of father who's there, one-on-one with his kids, teaching them the truth as they stand and sit and walk. If your daughter loves hockey, perfect-- she's set on a path for enjoying the physical form she's been given, stewarding her body and health well, and learning to cooperate with others. If your son is dazzled by ballet, perfect-- he's getting set to grow into a man who appreciates the beauty and creativity of art and enjoys God's gift of music and dance as ways to praise him and communicate with each other. None of these things conflict in any way with Biblical categories of manhood and womanhood expressed within marriages and churches. None of these things have the slightest thing to do with sexual orientation or transgenderism. It's a crying shame to see people-- parents, even!-- acting as if it's somehow bad to let kids freely roam the toy aisles without a big sign insisting that what they like is for the other gender. It is also startlingly illogical. Surely letting kids like what they like is doing the precise opposite of encouraging gender confusion, by telling our little girls and boys that there are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be a boy, and in all that beautiful diversity, there is no need for one to long to be something other than what she is, something other than what he is: a unique person who loves, say, science experiments, Lego Star Wars, and paper doll kits, and is just right exactly the way they are.

*People are using words like 'sissifying' and 'pussifying' to describe this move, because A) this has anything to do with anybody being tough? and B) thanks for showing clearly with your word choice that yes, people do still think that female=weak and useless, so we DO need to break down these gender stereotypes; sorry Matt Walsh, when you say "Nobody ever said that girls can’t be strong or boys can’t be gentle" your own crowd is right there giving you the lie...) 

**Which, BTW, not Biblical criteria at all. That's just culture and tradition talking.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

A Quick Crash Course...

...in why I write about gender stereotyping and feminism.

When Target makes a decision that allows kids to enjoy whatever toys they are drawn to without feeling as though they are making the 'wrong' choice, and a big crowd of people hop onto their Facebook page to tell them they are denying our God-ordained genders, kowtowing to the 'transbullies', and leading America further into the 'depraved' dark hole it's already in. GUYS. God didn't give Adam and Eve each a pile of approved toys. Kids are also not born with any particular proclivity to cars/blocks/actions figures vs. kitchen sets/baby dolls/pink dress up. None of these things are sexual. None of these things are inherently gendered. None of these things are treated in the Bible's discussion of gender, which instead focuses on things like honour, servant-heartedness, and love. Those are things I can do and be while moving heavy rocks to build a wall for my garden-- so why not a little girl playing with construction toys? Those are things my husband can do and be while cuddling our little boy before bedtime and singing him a lullaby-- so why not a little boy playing with a doll? These were things Jesus exemplified while heading up a bread and fish meal for a big crowd-- so why not a little boy playing kitchen?

What I'm getting at is, when you're upset about the breakdown of gender divides that do not exist in any way, shape, or form in the Bible, and invoking God to do it, you're doing it wrong. You're gypping a bunch of kids in the process. It hurts nobody to let kids like what they like without judgement. It will help kids, to feel free to explore and learn with a broader range of toys and games. It will help kids by letting them feel more confident in their choices and preferences. Putting extra-Biblical rules and restraints on little children is exactly the sort of thing the Bible frowns very strongly on. Unlike letting your daughter play with Avengers action figures and your son wear fairy wings, on which subject the Bible is utterly silent.

(Or maybe I just read the headline wrong, and Target actually replaced its whole toy section with a squad of evil child-corruptors handing out sexual literature? No? Then let me close with this handy flowchart:)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Writing: Conventicle, Chapter Nine

            The village, if it might be so called, of Caethron, nestled down between the mountains in the valley below the Gate. The houses made a little cluster, like mushrooms sprung up overnight, with whitewashed stone walls, thatched rooves, little gardens, and workbenches and washboards and the occasional sheep or chicken giving them an industrious air.
            “Who lives here?” Weiss asked Hallan as they walked.
            “Just a handful of us,” shrugged Hallan. “Most of us greyheaded now but all of us glad to serve Elionae by guarding his keep here. We are a rest for weary travellers—a simple task but welcome, I think.”
            “And I am to meet the Interpreter?” Weiss’s curiousity had been piqued at the title, the weight which Hallan had given the name as they set off.
            “Yes. He is a Loremaster and a wise man, and he gives all the travellers who pass through here such lore as will be helpful to you in your journeying.”
            The Interpreter’s house was different from the other cottages, long and broad with small windows cut at intervals in the stone. Hallan rang a bell that hung at the door, and for many minutes, the two stood waiting on the stoop. Weiss listening to the birdsong, the sheep bleating, the wind rustling, and tried not to fidget. Then the door creaked open.
            Hallan’s description of ‘greyheaded’ was apt. The man and woman who greeted him matched the mountains, granite-haired, their skin creased and scored, their features craggy. They smiled, though, with a welcome that was ageless and bright.
            The woman was dressed in a long robe, red as wine, with her grey hair wound in a crown about her head. The man wore a pure white tunic belted at the waist, and a fur collar. They both had a regal look, and Weiss felt very solemn.
            “You bring us a new pilgrim, Hallan?” said the Interpreter.
            “This is Weiss, lately of Aiken,” said Hallan, putting one hand on Weiss’ shoulder.
            Weiss bowed, and then was not sure if that was the done thing. It was all rather new to him. When the Queen passed by he and his friends used to do very low, mocking obesiances, but he had never felt so particularly awed by someone before, and the gesture felt as ridiculous as a simple nod or handshake would’ve felt irreverent.
            “I am Seto, called the Interpreter,” said the old man formally, “and this is my wife, Ovesa. Please, come in.”
            The room was long and low, and the sun that shone cool and watery seemed to come in no further than the outskirts, despite the rows of windows. Weiss followed his host and hostess a little ways into the room, and then they turned together and Seto said,
            “Now.” His voice reminded Weiss of the storytellers in Aiken beginnning a tale, and he turned and saw that Hallan had not followed them in. “Weiss, lately of Aiken,” continued Seto, “why have you come here?”
            “Hallan told me that you could tell me things that would help me along my way,” said Weiss. He folded his hands in front of him as he spoke, and then felt like a child and unfolded them.
            Seto nodded gravely.
            “Come in, then, traveller, and I will show you that which may help you along your way.”
            Seto was very serious, but as they walked down the long room, Ovesa turned back to Weiss and smiled, a smile of anticipation, of reassurance, and perhaps a streak of mischief.
            Before he could wonder what it meant, his guide stopped suddenly, between the last two support pillars that arced up into the ceiling, and lifted the candle in his hand.
            The pillars were painted, vivid blue and pine green and blood red, with the figure of a man. The images were almost childlike, and yet with a depth behind them. They showed the man clinging to the book of Elionae, pleading in the face of destruction, overshadowed by a crown of gold.
            “The Man who is Mother,” said Interpreter. His voice was low and sacred in the dim space and Weiss bent closer to the paintings. A thunderhead of awe began to gather inside him.
            “The Man who is Mother, one in ten thousand,” sang Ovesa, her voice dusky-slow. “Travail with child does he, and suckle the children he bears, the children of the Master, unfolding the darkness to the darkened, holding the hands of the children as the children learn to walk in the way.”
            “Watch for him,” said Seto. “Watch for him as you walk in the way.” Weiss nodded mutely. “Now come in,” said Seto, and they passed through the door at the end of the hall.
            The next room was lit by a skylight, which shone a square of light on a painting swirling across the floor. It showed a woman, strong and smiling, bringing water to wash a room where a man swept violently, stirring thick dust into the air. The simple image was yet so vivid that Weiss’s throat tickled just to look at the spattered dust.
            “Euvan, the Grace,” said Interpreter, and Ovesa sang again:
            “Thick the dust of deeds lies upon the heart, heavy the weight. Tirsin, tirsin, the stirring of that dust is worse than the lying of it. But here! Here the sweet water of Euvan lays the dust, washing it away; rest she brings, and order, making the way for the good and the great.”
            “Tirsin…” said Weiss, remembering. “Tirsin was the name of the Lady in the Mountain.”
            “Tirsin, which in the Old Tongue means ‘weight’,” said Seto. “A dragon of the old kind. But we tell not only the fact of a thing, but the meaning of it, too. Here we have painted the meaning of Tirsin. Soon, little brother, you will meet the meaning also of Euvan.”
            “Who makes the pictures?” said Weiss.
            “We do. Together.”
            “And everyone comes to see them?”
            Ovesa laughed.
            “For all your beard and and sun-rough face, you are a boy yet!” was all she said.
            “I’m twenty-five,” said Weiss, a little wounded, having always considered himself rather a hardened man of the world. And then her merriment made him laugh.
            “’Tis only that you watch everything with such wonder,” she placated him, and that made Weiss pause. How long had he been looking for wonder and been unable to find it?

            There were many more pictures they showed Weiss, and after took him to a pleasant sunny room and read to him from his book while Ovesa made red-leaf tea and Seto stoked up a fire. Weiss fell asleep in his chair listening to them read and had a dream of a fire that would not go out, and a palace on a hill, a man in a cage, two children waiting in a room—all vivid green and blood red and blue as a lake in autumn.


            “Stay low,” hissed Mare, unnecessarily, for Arris and Aldous had already pressed themselves flat as they could against the cold rocks. Below them, Vana and Cressus crouched in the pass. The horses were tied up a little way’s further in, their heads low and their ears down. It looked as though they’d been ridden all night—from the Gate back to the place where Aldous had been guarding their prisoners, and then back to this place in the mouth of the pass, Aldous supposed.
            Cressus’ head was low and discouraged, too, and Aldous realised he must think her captured. Of course he wouldn’t assume she’d betrayed him. Her heart gave a fierce twist within her, and almost she wanted to stand up, call to him to come save her, let him believe that she had been overpowered and held captive. She stayed low against the rocks.
            The three women had agreed to take the rougher way over the hills, instead of approaching the Gate by the road, where they would be nearly certain of coming across Vana and Cressus. Now it was proving to be a wise choice. They would’ve walked right into the pair, had they taken the road.
            “Move slowly,” said Mare. “One rock dislodged could be all it takes to let them know we’re up here.”
            They began moving along the lip of the pass in a slow, painstaking creep. Occasionally, they had to double back to find a new path, for the steep slope above the pass offered little in the way of cover and easy places to walk. Aldous looked longingly at the road below.         
            “Couldn’t we go down now?” she asked, when they had put Vana and Cressus behind them around a few bends.
            “Suppose they scout up the path a little ways?” replied Mare. “As long as we’re off the path, we might be anywhere in these mountains.”
            “Not anywhere,” Annis objected. “They must know we’re making for the Gate. If we don’t come into the pass before long, I should think they’ll move to the Gate itself, and they we shall have no choice but to face them.”
            “We could make better time on the road,” mused Mare.
            So they made their careful way down and, at a swift trot now, journied on. Every noise made Aldous start, every shifting rock sounding like a horse’s hooves and every whistle of wind the voice of a pursuer. When the Gate was in view at last, Aldous broke into a ragged city-raised run, forging ahead of Mare and Arris for a few strides before they fell back into step with her. Up the stairs, her legs screaming, her side stitched, Aldous nonetheless matched her two work-hardened companions step-for-step all the way up the stairs to the Gate. Or perhaps they matched with her. Chest heaving, leaning against the stone wall, she wondered if they reallly wanted her with them, their erstwhile captor slowing them down and bringing her assassins along behind them. She hardly listened while Mare knocked, caught in a swirl of confusion, and then as the gate swung open, Vana’s voice cut clear and sharp across the air.
            “Cressus, Cressus, I have them!” Vana called, and Cressus thundered out from around the bend, kicking his horse wildly to pass Vana.
            “Aldous!” he called, and Aldous froze, staring at him. He thought she was a captive. He was coming for her. He was pouring his heart and soul into coming for her.
            Dimly, she was aware that she was alone on the step, that Mare was calling her name from inside the gateway, but chiefly she was aware that Cressus had dismounted and was running up the steps to her.
            “Aldous!” he said again, and she took a step back. He slowed, confused, and for the space of two breaths his eyes held hers. She tasted in memory his sweat and desire; she was riding beside him under starlight, dancing her fingers across the creases around his eyes; he was listening to her, listening as no one had ever listened. Aldous opened her mouth to speak, but there were no words. She turned and passed through the gate, and the gatekeeper swung it closed behind her, with a sound of iron.

            That night, after they had rested and eaten, Aldous sat alone on an outcrop of rock, watching the gate with her knees pulled tight against her aching chest. The sky behind the gate was crimson and orange, and somewhere down there Cressus knew she had left him. She started at the feeling of a hand on her shoulder.      
            “I beg your pardon, do I disturb you?” It was Hallan. Aldous shrugged. “I am here to care for all the travellers that pass through here,” he said gently, “and I cannot help but see that you mourn for something. This is meant to be a place of refuge.”
            “Aye,” said Aldous, sudden and bitter, “and I was not meant to be here. Mare was bringing Arris here. I was their enemy. I am the enemy. I turned my back on my lover for the sake of something I have no part in.”
            Hallan shook his head.
            “You are in good company here,” he replied. “We none of us have any right to this refuge.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “I know the sign your lover wore on his arm,” said Hallan. He was laying something before her, something heavy and grave. “For I myself once wore it. In those days I was called only 'The Executioner’, the swiftest and strongest in the Blind Eye. The last Thron of many to die by my hand, he spoke aloud the words of Life even as I burnt him slowly to death.” Hallan’s face was drawn in lines of pain and disgust, but Aldous had turned from the gate and was hanging on his words. “I could not forget his words even after he was burnt to ash. I could not forget. I knew I had no right to their beauty—yet here I am, guarding the King’s gate. Nay, Jesh makes the right-- you have only to come, traveller. Come before him shrinking that you have no part in his kindness, but come before him bold, knowing that he has bid you come.” Hallan pointed to the east, down past the village to where a long, straight road stretched out between the narrow walls of the mountains. “If it’s a view you’re looking for, try that one. That road takes you straight into Jesh’s land, and there’ll be more joy there than can be found in a hundred lovers or all the power in Aiken.”

            Aldous turned herself to follow his hand, and gazing down into the valley, she said, “Thank-you,” softly. Hallan slipped away, but he left behind him a little book, bound in leather and illuminated in gold. With her face set towards Jesh’s land, Aldous began to read the Song of the Living.