Sunday, March 30, 2008


This is the Chicago skyline participating in Earth Hour last night. It still looks pretty bright to me, but it is darker than normal.

Our family was very excited to participate in Earth Hour, going all out and shutting off the breakers in the basement to lose all electricity for the event. We had our camping lantern, some candles, some led puck lights and flashlights. But we didn't use them all. Roomba cleaned the dining room and kitchen on his battery, but got confused when he had no place to dock at the end of his cycle.

Three of us played Yahtzee and the other two played Uncle Wiggly. I was only able to participate in the Yahtzee game because my friend Lori taught me how to play on Friday. What a great game it is. We had a really peaceful time, talked about conservation a bit and glanced out the windows, disappointed that more of our neighbors weren't participating. Actually, it didn't look like any of our neighbors participated. We'll have to pass out fliers next year. Maybe hold a lights out party here or something.

Earth Hour helped us to reconnect. The kids asked why we couldn't do it more often. Maybe we will. The Tribune article this morning said that ComEd registered a 5% reduction in energy consumption in that one hour. That's pretty impressive.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Old-Timey Learning

Yesterday we went on a field trip to the Naper Settlement with CAHFT and had a great time. We had been there once before as a family last summer, wandered around all the buildings, watched the living history guides doing their tasks and learned a lot. Being there as part of a guided tour group was even better!

We visited the blacksmith shop and learned all about that craft. We learned why our letters are called uppercase and lowercase at the printing shop. We went to a one room schoolhouse, which was amusing for the parents. The guide was pointing out differences between one room schools of the 1860 and school rooms of today to a bunch of kids who had never been in school! While many of her references were lost on them, we parents got them. And the children learned about schooling. From there we went to a frontier log cabin, also one room and the children participated in chores that were typical for children their age.

My older two chattered the whole way home about what they had experienced. All the kids were split along an age line to accommodate the size of the buildings, so they were separated. They eagerly told each other what they had seen and learned. When we arrived home we heard the wonderful call of migrating sandhill cranes overhead. After searching the sky, we found them flying right above our house! It was the perfect end to our field trip.

And when Mark got home in the evening, my little man kept saying "I went to 'chool!" I highly recommend the trip. You can join the CAHFT (Chicago Area Homeschool Field Trip) group here:

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Click to join CAHFT

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do It

My family and our Roots&Shoots group is participating in Earth Hour this Saturday from 8 to 9 p.m. Click on the link on the upper left to sign up, watch this clip. It's a good thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Our Brush with Greatness

Dr. Jane Goodall spoke to Roots&Shoots groups last night at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We were the only family in our Westside R&S group that were able to attend, but we had a great time. All the groups had displays of their projects set up so we could share information and resources. Our display consisted of a DVD I made playing in an endless loop on my laptop. We didn't have the sound on, as it was loud in the room, but it was a good representation of what we've done.

Dr. Jane worked her way along the tables, causing great excitement among the young people and old folks alike. When she stopped by us, my kids explained breathlessly the work our group has done in the Forest Preserves. Dr. Jane is such an intense presence, she listened quietly, focused in a loud, noisy room. She smiled and asked if the kids also had fun doing their projects, showing them that work and pleasure don't have to be mutually exclusive. Little Missy was being perhaps a bit too serious.

Later, after presentations from the Great Lakes Region Roots&Shoots office and from four school-based groups, Dr. Jane spoke about her commitment to youth involvement and community action, her dedication to the youth movement as one of the remaining hopes for our planet's future. She told stories of her own childhood and of her life with the chimps at Gombe. It's amazing how such a larger than life, awe-inspiring person can be housed in such a small frame. The children clearly were overjoyed at meeting her, impressed by her life's work and yet felt comfortable enough to consider her one of their own. She has a gift.

We stayed for the book signing, which really must be an exhausting thing for an author to go through. We were very tired, but the kids were filled with wonderful fresh fruit put out for dessert and had eaten an unbelievably safe buffet before her talk. We were tired, but mostly happy as we headed to the car. Only the little man suffered from too much sitting in an auditorium and too little patience on his mother's part. I don't enjoy driving at night, my vision is affected, so we were exhausted by the time we got home.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is really a great place, we were reminded in this brief visit. A bit snow covered now, but we'll try to make the trip up this spring when things are in bloom. If only it weren't all the way up in Glencoe! The Chicago metro area is just too big.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

World Water Day

It can be difficult for those of us who live near Lake Michigan to think of water supply as a problem. We have a huge body of water to swim in, drink from, shower with, do laundry, dishes and water our plants. And now we have a fresh dump of snow, low lying areas deep in water and mud and flooding to look forward to when this all melts. Water is a global problem we tend to think of locally.

Watch this video, it's nicely done. We've vowed to time showers, soak instead of let the water run continuously, save for a front loading washing machine. We already catch more than a five gallon bucket a day from our humidifyer in the winter and the air conditioner in the summer. We have a rain barrel. We need to do more.

Friday, March 21, 2008

This is Spring

So, I took a bunch of kids and parents out on a hike today. Actually, I just told them where to park and generally what to look for and then brought up the rear with the little guy. They took themselves to the woods.

We were on a trip to hunt for antlers. We were planning to leave them in the woods for their intended purpose of providing calcium and minerals to the wildlife and eventually decomposing to nourish the soil.

Mother nature wasn't exactly cooperative with our schedule. But it was the right Friday and it was 1 o'clock and despite the dire weather predictions, we met an a gravel patch along the side of busy Route 83 to hike the Esker Trail at Cap Sauers Forest Preserve in Cook County. All wildlife - deer, squirrels, birds - were taking cover from the heavy snow falling down. We could actually hear the snow out there. Billed as the most secluded part of Cook County, it lived up to its name and allowed us to hear wind, snow, feel the water and wet. It did not, however, allow for us to find any antlers.

I am prone to hyperbole about my Roots&Shoots group. Our experiences out in the wild are always life-affirming for me. One is always better than the other, building to an never ending crescendo. To hear these kids squealing with delight as they lost shoes in the mud brought warmth to my heart. We walked on a path on top of the remains of an ancient, glacial river that had become another river trickling under foot. We crossed little creeks, climbed over fallen trees, sunk in the mud and got soaking wet.

This March snow was heavy and very wet. Rain and slush-like, foggy even. Grey, very grey. My glasses were so wet it felt like swimming. No one complained. Some got cold, but warmed up with moving. No one cried. Great snowball fights ensued once it became clear than any antlers remaining after poachers had taken them were now hidden in the snow. The kids were excited to learn about the esker, inspected a strangely red bottomed creek, poked into dead and live trees, peered at trunks looking for signs of antler rubbing and generally had a great time. Mud and snow usually make for a great time.

Passing great brush piles, one child said "Wow, they must have a lot of people here working like we do," referring to our restoration work days at Ted Stone Forest, also in Cook County. Connection made, mission accomplished.

We didn't realize how very wet we were until we got home. We weren't cold, exactly, but damp. We ran the defroster the whole way home and still couldn't see well out the windows. But when we dumped our wet stuff in the bathroom at home and discovered only our underclothes were dry, we realized how much smarter animals are than the humans. Of course, they don't have heated homes to return to.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tubs Galore!

I so wish I had taken a before shot. But those of you who know me and who have been here will understand. This is my kitchen table. I just can't believe it. I had stuff piled on top, unorganized stuff beneath. Some bins, labeled but not the right things inside. Not organized in a way that made sense to the kids. So, I hired someone to help me fix it up. Before there was not a single inch of space on these two tables, now it is a vast open space, a clean slate for the kids to work on.

That's the rabbits' dinner on the floor, by the way. They have been really excited to have the company of the kids as they create shrinky dinks, color, sketch and generally use the table for it's intended purpose. The project took two of us four hours to complete. That's what bad shape it was in.

And then there is this masterpiece of organization! Our learning bookshelf. All our homeschooling materials, or at least those that are school-y are here. Each child has a shelf, library books go here, composition books, writing projects, manipulatives. You name it. My girl's is the fullest shelf, we went to the library last night to stock it. We plan to put all the magazine files on top, once we find them. And I'm sure we haven't gathered up all the resources we have strewn throughout the house for our homeschooling adventure. The top used to be home to whatever was on the dining room table when dinner was served - games, puzzles, etc. that were soon forgotten because of their high placement.

And look at all those extra plastic tubs, waiting to be filled and put in other places in the house! I'm on a roll here, with help. I can't believe this is my house, can't believe we can find things we have been looking for and that we haven't trashed the system in the past five days.

I think the clutter in the house has been a real stress on me, on my family. The kids have responded magically to these two very small changes. They've been more relaxed, more creative, more helpful and a wee bit nicer to each other. It brings me such peace to walk into the kitchen now and not be greeted by a pile of stuff with no proper home. I feel so much calmer with these two projects done, it's motivating me to do others, a little bit at a time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pushing Spring

Mark took the kids on a work day at Ted Stone Forest, one of the Cook County Forest Preserves near our house and now near and dear to our hearts. There were many, many people working, burning brush, clearing brush, hauling logs cleared by contractors. They worked hard and warmed up by the fire, eating hot dogs. Hot dogs cooked in the woods on a brush pile taste better than regular hot dogs!

I stayed home with an organizer lady I know who helped me with the kids crafts stuff. It was equally as exhausting and rewarding. That's another post...

We went back to Ted Stone the next day, and also to Pioneer Woods, further south in Cook County. We mapped out our frog monitoring route, which was great fun. But also much colder than we wanted it to be or dressed for! Pushing spring, Little Missy and I went out in fleece. Everyone went out without gloves. What were we thinking? It's March, not May!

We learned a lot of things on our mapping trip. We learned how to use the GPS unit, or sort of. We learned that bringing the children along on our frog monitoring sessions will be impossible. And we learned not to jump to the conclusion that every sound you hear is a frog. I'm so anxious to monitor these little critters, I'm practically making them up!

We can't take the kids to monitor frogs because the walk will be too long for them and because it will be dark. Some of the stops on our route are off path, through brush. Frog call monitoring start one hour after sunset, so we need to get there in the light, hike out and walk back to the car, listening for frogs along the way. The kids would likely be miserable and it's difficult to carry the youngest in those conditions.

On the bright side, we'll have date nights for the first time since we went on our debt-free life change almost a year ago! And as the kids get older, their legs get longer and their eyes are out of the brush, they can come along to help. The frogs will still be there, hopefully even more of them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

OK, What?

So, I'm at the gym today, minding my own business, riding a bike and listening to frog calls on my mp3 player. Just a normal, quick workout for me, right? Frog calls are important, but I actually know some of them now and my mind wanders a bit. I glanced at the TV and saw a news report, or talk show report about Sally Kerns in Oklahoma.

Oh, my.

Comparing homosexuality to terrorism and a spreading cancer? Thank goodness we live in a country where we have freedom of speech and can respond to this elected representative.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An End and a Beginning

Is it really over, do you think? Winter, I mean? Ice and mud turn into just mud? I'd really like to think so.

We returned from the completely fabulous InHome Conference two days ago and haven't gotten sick yet! It's probably too early to tell, but maybe we'll walk away unscathed this year. We paid our dues up front, in my opinion.

As usual, the conference was great fun. The kids took classes in American Indian folklore, Mayan Pottery, Illinois Biodiversity, Geology, Wildlife Education, Lego Robotics, Scrap booking, Juggling, Theater Games, Tye-Dye, Comic making, Petroglyphs, and Rainbows. In between they got to hang out with friends, go swimming in an indoor/outdoor pool (in the snow!) and walk a lot. Mark and I got to volunteer in sessions, direct traffic in an immense hotel/resort facility, meet new homeschoolers and hang out with friends.

The conference is always an exhausting adventure. This year's exhaustion was compounded by the time change. I was unable to explain the time change to the kids at the time. They have lost interest.

Despite extra Starbucks, I slept for 2 hours when we got home. Mark took a walk in the woods. The big kid played with schooled friends on the block and the other two watched Jungle Book. We all decompressed in our own ways.

It's sad so see the conference end, but spring is just around the corner.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Just a really quick post from the fabulous InHome conference, which we are attending this weekend. Of course, I didn't get a picture of the kids doing anything learning related - we've been too busy trekking between classes in a huge facility to remember the camera! This was taken at the family dance, before it got crazy crowded and LOUD.

The conference moved to a new facility this year and it's really a great change. It seems like there are more presenters and things are more relaxed, but it could just be that we are more spread out and the thousands of attendees have room to breath instead of being packed in like sardines. We are all having a great time between the volunteering, kids classes on acting, pottery making, petroglyphs, biodiversity, etc. and a couple of adult sessions on homeschooling panic relief and artist trading cards. Plus, all our homeschooling friends are here, it doesn't get better than this!

We are exhausted, but happy and - finally - healthy. There's nothing like the conference to boost your spirits.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Needs and Wants

Our dryer just arrived. For the second time, but it is actually hooked up and running now. It will be running all day. I've been really cranky since the delivery folks took it away a week ago for want of a shut off valve. Shut off valve was installed yesterday and the dryer today.

It is making me think about needs and wants, though. We really could have lived without a dryer. A lot of people in the world do. We've been congratulating ourselves for not considering it an emergency and spending money we didn't have, but I'm wondering if we haven't spent money on something we didn't need.

And just where are they taking the old, dead-as-a-doornail dryer? Will it be used for anything? Will the metal be recycled? Will parts be put to good use? What kind of parts are there in a dryer?

I've reconciled myself with my affluenza with one word. Lint. This house has a lot of hair. My kids all have long hair, we have rabbits and guinea pigs. My own hair is short and Mark's is less than it used to be. But the past 10 weeks with no dryer have left us with lint like I've never seen before. Big balls of it over every possible surface.

Here's a little song for you:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stop Mom

Learn more about this project

This is what happens when a mom gets her hands on a stop animation program. Stop action cleaning! Stop Mom.

Has everyone heard of scratch? A very cool program from MIT that we downloaded for free and the kids have been playing with all day. Actually, I've been playing with it too. It's not just stop animation, it's all kinds of things.

A combination of family members still have the flu. Our second go at the flu in the past month. We're pretty tired of it. Scratch has helped today.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Just keep knitting, just keep knitting, knitting, knitting

Like Dorie would have said in Finding Nemo if the movie had been about knitting. Here's the glove I made to match Mark's hat. Fits him just fine, if a little loose around the cuff. Next time I'll do the ribbing on smaller needles. Now I need to do the other glove, although the temptation to NOT do the other glove is huge.

I finished the glove in record time while the Little Man has been asleep on the couch since Wednesday. I'm trying very hard not to worry, knitting helps with that. He takes little sips of a Gatorade/pedialyte mix every so often, but hasn't eaten in 48 hours now. This morning his fever is gone and he's sitting up. Those are all good signs, except that he looks like this:

And Little Missy woke up with a headache and a fever. And so it goes.