Friday, November 27, 2015

some people take notes...

from The Story of Diva and Flea
as told and shown by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi

My favorite homework related exchange of the week was this:

Nicholas:  Hey Julia!  Munch.  Munch.  Swallow.  Do you have math homework?
Julia:  Yup.  Pops leftover breakfast pancakes in microwave.
Nicholas: Wanna do it together?  And listen to 39 Clues at the same time?
Julia: Slam.  Yeah!!  Looks for something to glam up the heating pancakes in the fridge door.
Nicholas: head in snack cabinet, rustling, spilling, leaving bags open, I can hear the granola getting stale.  Cool!

They actually kind of sort of skipped off into the family room to do their math homework together that day.  So there's that...

With two children in middle school, our afternoons often contain a good deal of school work.  Which leaves Elliott on his own sometimes when he gets home from school, without the company of siblings he usually has to play a game with or listen to an audio book with, or pester a cat with.  He fills his time, working along side them, often drawing, reading, listening to an audiobook with headphones on, so as not to distract someone who might be writing an assignment.  

I find I have Elliott sitting across from me most nights while I am cooking dinner.  Reading aloud to me sometimes.  Reading silently at others.  Working on some kind of wacky craft project usually.  He is very good company in the kitchen.

I had snatched up Mo Willems and Toni DiTerlizzi's new book, The Story of Diva and Flea as soon as it came into our library branch.  Yes, I may have been lurking online waiting for it to come in...


Because it is Mo!  And Tony!  Need I say more.  Which leads me to what just may be my favorite Author's and Illustrator's Notes ever.


Elliott was as excited about this book as I was.  He read it for his nightly independent reading assignment.  


I was stirring the stew pot, but I took a quick break a few minutes in, after he called me over, saying, Mommy! Look, I love this picture.  It's what dogs see. 


And I dashed into the living room to grab a pencil and a few sheets of paper.  Without saying anything I set them next to him.  He glanced at them, didn't say anything, and read on.  I returned to the stove.

I stirred on.  Elliott finished reading, set a can of tomatoes atop the book to hold it open to a certain page (sorry, Portland librarians) and grabbed the pencil and got to work.  He first filled out his reading log.  Added his doodle, the completely sweet and special dialogue he has going on with his teacher, closed the log and slid it to the side.


Meanwhile, in the living room, I heard Nicholas ask Julia how to spell a word he was using to annotate Shakespeare. And in the kitchen, Elliott was taking notes on his text.  In his own way.



He even added dialogue.


Elliott headed off to the living room to practice piano and Julia arrived in the kitchen.  Famished.  So hungry my soul feels empty, she announced.

She slammed around in the cabinets for awhile, snatched a few things I was chopping on the cutting board threw everything in a bowl, and still had a free hand to snatch up Diva and Flea and take it back to her homework area.  A few minutes later, I heard giggling coming from that spot.  And I suspected it wasn't the algebra.

Friday, November 20, 2015

smashing pumpkins

Ah yes, ye olde smashing of Halloween pumpkins on the way to the compost pile. Do you celebrate this as well? We do this every year. And this year, I finally got wise and thought to have them do it in the garden, where the chickens have access and can enjoy the post smashing vittles. Kids and chickens were both delighted.

That was my upgrade. The kids' contribution to stepping this holiday up a bit was to scurry about the now close by garden shed and emerge with tools. To add to what already feels a bit gruesome. And Julia grabbed my phone to document the carnage.

















Elliott was happy rescuing seeds, of course.







It was, this unique celebration, 2015 style, epically messy. As well it should be.



And really, it was all a thinly veiled solution to getting "remove the rotting collapsing pumpkins from the front door step (where the general public is witnessing my neglect) and carry them down the hill to the compost pile" off my to do list.

Friday, November 13, 2015

cotton balls and hot glue, stop motion style



Family movie night can be a bit tricky for us.  We do a lot of head scratching at our favorite movie rental place, Jet Video. We now have one child who does not like anything too sad, another who would like there to be a 13 at the end of its movie rating and some action, suspense, and maybe an explosion or two to go along with it all, and one who would prefer to watch something about...well, something fuzzy.  We have some favorites that everyone is happy about, but usually, compromises must be made.

One movie that we selected recently was met with looks of terror and gnashing of teeth,.  It was none other than the Lego Brickumentary -- partly because, I do believe, it had -umentary at the end of it.  And partly because some people in this family who actually still love to build with Lego now only do it in the attic when they are really only there to help their siblings build.

But viewing that movie has led to this:



It's a lego building resurgence.  And it is awesome.  In this case at least, I love the mess. It is, after all, in the attic.  And apparently there was an exploding clown.  So this activity is PG-13.  And everyone is happy.



And I won't mention that a certain too-old-for-Legos child made a stop motion Lego movie as a book report for school last year.  Nope.  I won't mention that.

And so, compromises last week falling in favor of the older crowd, (Tomorrowland, thoroughly enjoyed by all, and leading to a common saying now between us:  keep asking me questions and I will shut down), it was Elliott's turn to have the ultimate decision.  So while other customers came in, easily, chose a video, paid, and left (huh? who does that?) we waited for a decision made in his favor.

The result? We rented and watched the Shaun the Sheep Movie.  I know.  We live large and wild.  It was met with varying levels of attempted enthusiasm (it is Friday evening, after all, and children are tired and efforts at forced enthusiasm are limited and hence...the reason we have movie night) and it may be that I pretended not to hear the child who asked, If I wanted to, could I just go to bed instead?  
But I must say, once settled in, and once talking to each other was limited, which sometimes on Friday night can be for the best, it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  And it led to this the next day:







We use the Lego Movie App for stop motion movie making here.  I am sure there are a lot of good options out there.  But this is the one my tech savvy children found.  And it works very well for them.

I could pretend that Elliott's pajamas were a gift, and that all his organic noncommercialized pjs were in the wash, and that it was early in the morning still.  But none of those things are true.  It was midday.  Afternoon even.  And I bought those pajamas.  Because we were on a road trip and options to replace a pair that suddenly and unexpectedly gave up their elasticity and were becoming obscene in the campground were limited.  But really, honestly, even that would be partly a fib, because I bought these pajamas knowing that Elliott would love them.  He has a bit of a Minion crush.  And a Minion-esque quality to him, at times.  And he does love them.  Which is why he is wearing them even as the sun is just beginning to go down.  So judge not the pjs.

We had gotten a few minutes into Shaun and Julia asked, is there no talking in this movie?  She was only slightly horrified.  But soon, we were all completely enjoying it.  And the wordlessness of the movie was forgotten because there was so much to see.  And we completely enjoyed the bonus feature/behind the scenes clips as well.  Showing how these movies were made.

I think the wordlessness inspired attention to the artistry of the movie and a fascination with how it was made and the materials used.  So I am going to go wordless here for a bit.











I will interrupt this wordlessness here to say, ever so quietly and unobtrusively, that my husband has the patience of Job. And asbestos fingers. And may no longer be able to be identified by his fingerprints.

Now, shhhh.














And so, we had a stop motion theater in our breakfast nook for a bit.  Complete with sun shielding shower curtain.  Very fancy stuff.  Which made me think of the part of the Lego Documentary in which there is a young man who is making stop motion movies in his parents garage.  Which is totally cool.  And totally, well, it's okay, we don't have a garage.



And I realized, after looking through the pictures I was able to snap when my fingers weren't sticking together, that I had kind of made my own version of a stop motion movie.

And it was all...quite...awesome.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

windows without walls, benches without a floor



We have this pile of old windows in the barn, placed there after home improvement projects made these old storm windows no longer necessary on the main house. But they are old and wooden and the panes are old wavy glass, with bubbles and all kinds of gorgeous imperfections. I love to look through old glass windows, at the distortions they make of the landscape beyond.

This pile of windows persists due solely to my desire to save them; I have also finally won Jonathan over despite his desire to reclaim the space they occupy in the barn. So now we have plans for each window, projects that will place them in locations where we want to open up a view, let light in, frame a view of our property.

One such project is the ever present, rarely progressing, treehouse project. But motivated by the pile of unmovable beasts covered in flaking paint and occasionally creating shattered glass in the barn, and by an unseasonably warm fall here in Maine, Jonathan is back at the treehouse project.

And it is coming along.



With Jonathan at the helm on this one, I am the official child labor organizer, as well as she who carries things from here to there. She who, when a two by four is needed, heads off to the river bank staircase and digs with a stick under the kayak landing until she finds that piece of two by four scrap that she spied months ago. And she who fetches the seventh pencil when the sixth goes missing in the fallen leaves. But really, we all have been helping. And we all have our skill sets. For example, Nicholas, with 14 year old muscles and a crow bar, completely demolished and then removed all traces of the rotting old "treehouse," a small plywood platform that was so dangerous and precarious and rotten that it needed to be removed before visitors took a serious tumble. And then he climbed several trees to unnerving heights. And promptly retreated to the house to play his electric guitar. Ah, 14 year olds.













And given that Jonathan is primarily using materials already on our property, left over from home improvement projects and scavenged from piles of scrap wood left all over the place, the basement, the attic, the barn. With an occasional trip to our local mill to purchase rough hewn lumber harvested and milled within a few miles of our home. And given the offers of help by children of differing skills and patience, and given a wife who keeps asking if it is completely safe up there. Sometimes things happen in a strange order. Sometimes, windows that I have carried down one by one from the barn and that need to be placed someplace safe so the wind does not blow them over and shatter the precious glass on the river bank, need to be installed before walls to prevent said disaster.







And this seems just about right to me. That we have placed the view holders before the walls. The parts of the construction that I have been dreaming about before all those much less interesting things like walls and a roof and a floor that is attached to the beams.

It is just how it goes when you are working with children (and a safety conscious wife). When your plans may be to frame out the walls and get the windows in before dark, the children are trying to figure out how to help, what they can do when power tools are buzzing and ladders are tipping, and floor boards still more like seesaws when you step on one end. It's really no surprise that during those moments, someone might take a look at the scrap wood pile and decide to make something of their own. To grab a handful of nails and a hammer and get to work.







And then, at least in our family, come to the point when the plans are there, the desired outcome known, but just how to make it all happen and pull out that errant nail is unclear. And very frustrating.

And so, last night, in the then almost complete dark, I retreated to the kitchen to make dinner while shouting to be heard two rooms away in the living room, about guitar power cords and fingering for piano practicing. And Jonathan and Elliott stayed down on the river bank. I could hear the power drill and saw whirling from time to time. And somehow in the morass of homework and practicing and stirring the soup and making lunches and finding a missing boot, those two slipped back into the house and we never talked about what happened with that scrap wood project.

Until the next morning, when I went down to open the coop for the day, and spied through the trees, this.





A bench. A situpon, as it is called in my family. Carefully placed in front of my window, the one with the perfect view. The window placed because it was what inspired this whole project. Well, that window and the view it frames. And now, we have the next most important part. A place to sit upon and enjoy it.

Walls, schmalls.