Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Falling Barometer: Just One of Those Days

Last night while our class was discussing the Brown v. Board of Education decision, it did it again! It started snowing. By the time I reached my truck after class, it was starting to stick. By the time I drove through the canyon and started up Via Sedillo, I was slipping and sliding. That part of the drive seemed surreal because the snowflakes appeared to be forming a tunnel in front of the windshield as I drove. I did not need my wipers!

This morning we woke up to an inch and a half, and Bruce decided to shovel the driveway path. He shouldn't have bothered, it has all been covered again as I write. This morning, though, there was a great deal of wind and the clouds were racing across the sky. We thought that it might be frontal weather indicating clearing, but, alas, it was only the storm front for a second wave of snow.

N. woke up with more energy today, but he was still coughing. He was not motivated to do any work, but I made him do some anyway. We read more of Coolidge's The Golden Age of Greece . He didn't mind that so much, because we cozied up on the couch under a down comforter (my Australian friend over at the Homeschooling Aspergers calls it a doona). Then I suggested he do a picture from the book and write a short explanation with it. He was not thrilled to do the picture, but he took his board into the living room and did it. I showed him how to lay out the caption: Title, date, short explanation. He waved me away and I went to prepare the next activity--Brain Engineering exercises--while he actually wrote the caption.
When I checked his work, he had run several words together and misspelled others. So I told him that he had to correct it. Oy vey iz mir! You'd think I'd asked him to go to work in the salt mines. He muttered that I was making him into a Helot (the Spartan term for slaves) and clattered his pencils around, giving me a truly thunderous mad face, as he did the corrections. (I am glad he remembered what a Helot was). He was mad at me all through the Brain Engineering exercises--which involved finding hidden pictures and identifying what is wrong in other pictures. He was still mad through the memory exercises that went with it. He was really mad when I started to fix lunch and asked him to fetch apple juice from the garage.

I admit it. I let his mood affect mine. I snapped at him and banged a few plates around myself. When I got a grip, I checked the barometer. Sure enough, it was It went down several hundreths of an inch in less than an hour. Kids are little barometers! I noticed that when I was teaching high school science--the whole class would suddenly become cranky in my chemistry lab, and I knew, with no window, that a low and a storm was coming in.
Come to think of it--I am a barometer, too. The sudden sense of frustration came to me from a sudden physical discomfort. The pressure change. As an adult, I am the one who had to identify the problem and deal with it--even though I really wanted to bang around more plates. So I forced myself to breath s-l-o-w-l-y in and out ten times. Then I explained to N. what was happening and showed him the barometer. I told him that I was sorry I snapped and that his behavior does affect others, as does the weather.

We ate lunch. We cleared up. I gave him some free time so that I could prepare for Neurobiology class. But I never did go to it. That falling barometer was a harbinger of more snow. It started snowing hard as I was getting into the truck. The temperature fell to right at freezing. I ended up pulling the notes off the class website, and by looking at the power point as well, I think I have a reasonably good understanding of Action Potential.

But I did take this picture this morning from the kitchen window. A raven was being blown before the rotating storm clouds. The bird very gracefully changed directions and moved across the flow of the wind. Beautiful. "To live with grace, to ride the swell, to yet be strong of will..." The balance can be difficult.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Connections and Freezing Fog

ALOHA! The 57th Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at the Palm Tree Pundit . Anne has put together some good reading about Connections for homeschoolers. Visit the carnival and make some connections .

Yesterday, after math and reading, N. came with me to my Neurobiology class because he had boy scouts soon after and I don't like to drive into town more than once. Gas is still pretty pricey and there's greenhouse gases to consider.

Here is a picture of N. relaxing in the new Domenici Medical Sciences Center before class. We went to the Medical-Legal Student Bookstore and found a really neat pen called the PenAgain. It is shaped so that you hold it correctly for neat writing and it reduces hand strain. They can't keep it in stock at the Medical School! Heh, heh.
I was going to buy one for N. and for me--we both have really messy handwriting--but unfortunately I left my purse in the truck. That was the first in a day of forgetting. After class, we went to Borders where we would meet DH and he would then take N. to Boy Scouts. But N. somehow left a bag with his scout uniform and book at Borders (or somewhere!) because by scouts he did not have it. GRRRRR!

Today N. is sick. A coughing, feverish, stuffed-up kind of sick and he has no energy to do anything. We are missing his science class at Explora! as I write. But I don't want to take him out. It is very cold here, and windy, and we have had a freezing fog over us all day.
I am having such a hard time getting us into a routine since the Bar Mitzvah and now that UNM has started up again. But if the kid is sick, he's sick! I will have to adjust and that's all!

I used the extra time today to clean up my office and get organized to study for a test next week in Neurobiology. The test will cover cellular organization of the brain, anatomy of the brain, membrane potentials, action potentials, electronus and propagation along axons, ion channels (in cell membranes), and sensory transduction. I have not taken a test like this in at least 10 years. I'm just a little nervous! I think the freezing fog has entered my brain!

I've got to go study and prepare for my Special Education Law class. I had to download a copy of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution and prepare a definition of justice. That class will not be too bad, although I can tell that I am starting with a different viewpoint about rights than are most of my classmates.

I wanted to close by showing a picture of one of our Juniper trees coated with freezing fog. We just don't get this kind of weather around here very often. This winter has been a bonus for us. And it is really beautiful! A fact of which I will remind myself as I scrape the truck to drive to class today.

Every day in winter during the Amidah (standing prayer), we praise G-d "who
causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall." If we change the word "rain" to "snow", we are getting exactly that. We are grateful for the El Nino and for the precipitation, even the freezing fog.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Subtle Change in the Light

Yesterday morning when we took the dogs for a Shabbat walk up the ridge in front of our house, we saw the most amazing sight. Fog surrounded our mountains on three sides--covering Juan Tomas to the south, the Estancia Valley to the southeast and Mountain Valley to the North. We don't get a lot of fog here--so this was truly a time for us to "turn aside and see this great sight."
Above is the morning sun above the fog over Juan Tomas and the Estancia Valley.

We noticed something else as well. The light is changing. We are yet one week out from Groundhog's Day, which is the cross-quarter day between the Winter Soltice and the Vernal Equinox. The change in the quality of the light as well as the length of the day is becoming very noticable. The sun is rising about 20 degrees north of the winter solstice point.

It is still cold in the mornings and evenings.
Snow still covers the ground as it has for six weeks. But the light is stronger and is the unmistakable harbinger of the coming spring.
In the old calendar, next Saturday would be the beginning of spring. And we can feel it coming.
And the birds are singing in the mornings in the snowy woods now.
Next Saturday is also Tu B' Shevat--the Jewish New Year of Trees. I am planning a week of study surrounding that holiday culminating in a Tu B'Shevat Seder next Saturday afternoon. This is the first time in a number of years that I have felt excited about this minor holiday. I think that living up in the mountains now, and the real winter we are having, has contributed to my sense of the change of seasons.

One of the rewards of homeschooling is that we can turn aside to see the miracles that surround us everyday. We are not always hurrying. Hurrying to be "on time" according to someone else's schedule. When we were always hurrying due to being oversheduled, I am not sure we achieved more (which is the goal) and I know we often could not turn aside and see the great sights that lie right in front of us.

There is a midrash about the burning bush in Parashah Shemot. The midrash states that the burning bush had been present for anyone to see, but only Moses took the time to turn aside and "see" that the bush burned but was not consumed. If you think about it, noticing a bush on fire is something anyone might do. But it would take someone who had the patience to watch would see that it was not consumed.

I am so grateful we can take the time to notice the change in the light. The fog over the valley. Who knows if we will every see this sight again?

Above is South Mountain as seen from the Via Sedillo. The Mountain is up to her waist in fog.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Day with the Brain

Yesterday was a good day for N.

In the morning, we did our usual routine--Shacharit (the morning prayer service), then math and critical thinking.

But after critical thinking, we had set up an internet conference with Dr. Cheri Florance in New York City. She is an audiologist who has developed techniques to help very visual people use verbal pathways effectively, so that they can be successful academically. She did this first to help her son Whitney, who had symptoms of auditory processing problems, hearing loss and autism. You can find her story in the book Maverick Mind if you want to know more about it. Click on the hyperlink to go to her website.

Anyway, Dr. Florance tested N. yesterday, giving him an Auditory-Visual Learning test and a Sound-Symbol Associator test. N. did stunningly well on both, indicating that he is very gifted using his visual pathway. The problem seems to be that he uses his visual pathway in ways to interfere with the use of his auditory sequential pathway, this creating problems for reading and other sequential tasks like organizing himself. We are working with Dr. Florance to teach N. how to use the best pathway for different tasks so that he can realize his great potential and become successful in academic environments.

It is interesting. N. carries a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS) which is a high-functioning form of autism. It is thought that some people with autism are extreme visual thinkers. This appears to be the issue for N. So he has difficulty communicating with people who are highly verbal in their patterns of thinking.

After the internet conference, N. went with me to my Neurobiology class. He goes with me on Wednesday because he has Machon (religious school) in the evening. This week, we met in the Gross Anatomy Lab, so that we could do a brain dissection and learn the major anotomical landmarks of the brain. N. was allowed in the Gross Lab--there were no cadavers out--and the professors were delighted to let him hold the brain and they answered his questions. N. noticed a lesion in the occipital lobe of the brain. The professor said: "See what happens when you eat too much candy! Just kidding--but this brain might have had trouble with processing vision." So N. learned that visual processing takes place in the occipital lobe. He told me later: "My occipital lobe must be very big--I am a visual learner!"

The other graduate students are determined to persuade him to become a neurologist.

The openess of the professors and other students to my son's questions is something that I deeply appreciate about science. When I taught science, I took a student to the Intel International Science Fair. There I saw internationally known scientists and Nobel prize winners on the floor with students in the exhibit hall, tracing pathways, drawing diagrams and having a great time discussing their field.

I imagine that my N. will become some kind of scientist or engineer. He is the son of a physicist and a biologist-turned-teacher, and the step-son of an engineer. His older sister, ML, spend her mid-school and high school years vehemently insisting that she would NOT be a scientist. NO WAY! She'd heard enough of that at the dinner table to last her a lifetime. She is now finishing a B.S. in Chemistry and she is planning to intern this summer at Sandia National Labs with an organic chemist as a mentor. She plans to go for the Ph.D. in Chemistry. You could say the lady did protest too much!

Some statistics show that a child of one scientist has about a 40% chance of going into science and a child of two scientists has a 75% likelyhood of going into science. It appears that certain ways of thinking have high heritability--probably due to differences in brain structure and function that we are only beginning to discover.

We had a great day with the brain yesterday!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling #56

The 56th Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at The Thinking Mother.
And Christine is really in thinking mode this week with the theme January Musings.
There are 45 entries to choose from.

I am going to curl up with my laptop for the next few evenings and enjoy them all!
I love what I am learning from the diversity of the homeschooling community.
You are all amazing!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Once Again Unto the...Drift!

Weather Report: On Friday night-early Saturday morning, we got about one inch of snow here in Sedillo.

On Saturday afternoon--evening, we got about 3 inches more. The yesterday, from afternoon--night, we got about 3 and 1/2 inches more. (The measurements are approximate because we had strong winds that blew and drifted some of the snow. To the left is snow drifted against the neighbor's fence.

The drift symbolizes where I feel we are right now!

Today, the East Mountain schools are closed, as are the Moriarity schools. Although I allowed N. to go outside and play with his sled this morning, I do feel the need to get some work done today. N. disagrees and is working under protest. So we are having one those days where it is very difficult not to get into a power struggle with him. I think one of the problems is that I did not start the routine right away. We did not pray the morning service and that part of our routine is missing. Missing a piece of the routine really puts N. out of sorts--and of course, the fact that the "school" kids are having a snow day, increases his frustration.

How did I manage to "forget" the morning service? Well, my morning routine was somewhat upset because I had to check the goverment, business and school closure list (at KKOB online--thanks KKOB!) in order to see if there were any delays for UNM (ML, my 21 year old had class today) and Sandia National Labs (for DH). There were no closures or delays for any place in Albuquerque. So ML went off to school. Just as I was feeding the dogs, she called to say that she had slid into a ditch. DH and I began clearing his car so he could pick her up. Then, just as we were leaving to rescue her, ML called to say that a guy with a "mongo" truck got her out of the ditch. She missed French and managed to throw the routine.

N. is not the only person who gets out of sorts when the routine changes. I do too, although I cannot have a melt-down.

So today, we are feeling somewhat out of kilter, and I am feeling very unproductive in the homeschooling department. I guess we have to chalk it up to "one of THOSE days." I know they happen in school, too. It's just that my goal has been to hit the ground running now that the Bar Mitzvah is over. However, it has been feeling more like start, fart, stumble and fall!

We've been rather "drifty" instead of organized of late.

One productive thing I have done today is take a picture (right) of the beautiful ice sculpture in my dooryard.
It is melting now, even though the air temperature is below freezing. The intense solar radiation against the house wall (two feet to the right in the picture) makes it much warmer near the porch than it is further out in the yard. Isn't this pretty?

The snow falls when it is time to fall. The snow drifts before the wind when the wind blows.
I make plans--but sometimes I forget that those plans are not set in concrete. Sometimes the wind changes and my plans need to change too.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Da' Bears"

There are two times in the year when our household acts like rabid sports fans. They are during the playoffs and World Series for baseball and again during the playoffs and super bowl.

Some years are better for us than others because we are not just general sports fans. We are loyal to our regions.
My DH is from Oakland, so he tends to get really excited when the A's or the Giants are involved in the baseball playoffs. He loves the game of baseball the best of all.
He also can remember the "Hail Mary" pass and some other great moments in football.

I was born in northern Illinois, so my team loyalties are a matter of faith rather than intellect.
And I have transfered that tradition on to my children.
N. is an avid Bear fan and this is a good year for him!

Another piece that adds to our great enjoyment of the Bears being in the playoffs is that Brian Urlacher played football for our very own UNM Lobos before he went "pro" with the Chicago Bears. Lately, we have all sorts of connections to "da Bears."

Here is N. modeling his special Urlacher shirt, printed just for UNM's Lobo store. The front has UNM colors and Urlacher's Lobo number, 44. The back has Chicago's colors and Urlacher's Bear number, 54.

When our relatives were here for the Bar Mitzvah, my mother bought all the adult males in the family these shirts (and Lobo wear for everyone else) as souvenirs of the trip. The Lobo store manager who helped us in this large order was Born in Streator Illinois and taught in Galesburg. He only recently migrated out Lobo way. He told us that the first printing of these shirts had the Bears logo on the back. For some unknown reason, the Bears management did not continue permission for the continued use of the official Bears logo. So now the shirts only have the Lobo logo on the front. You'd think that the team management would understand the need to expand the fan base outside of Illinois! Oh, well!

Anyway, the Bears are currently ahead and, according to my mother, it is good "Bears" weather in Chicago. Cold, windy and some snow on the field. It would be really cool if they go to the Superbowl.

We'll stay tuned!


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fifth Weekend in a Row

Take three guesses. The first two guesses don't count!
It began snowing late last night. The forcasts first said that it would start yesterday by noon on the I-40 corridor. Then they said by 2 PM. I checked just before lighting Shabbat candles and they said it would begin by dark. But it began with a freezing fog late last night.
This morning we woke up to about 1" of new snow. The sun was vainly trying to peek out, but the clouds were lowering again over Sandia Peak as you can see in the picture above.

One person was delighted! When we returned from walking the dogs, N. was out on the driveway, checking out the speed of his new Snow "Boogie". He didn't even wait to have breakfast.

Here is N. ready to begin his run!

He is really loving this winter--which is the first real winter he has known. He was born at the beginning of the drought. Although we had a few snowstorms in the years following, there has nothing like this winter.

And he is really happy now that he has proper snow boots and a sled.

Here he comes!

Here is N. halfway down the driveway.

He is flashing a peace sign with both hands and steering with his knees.

I am sure there must be something educational about this.

Anyway, he is certainly having a lot of fun!

He really loves the speed! And the snow flying in his face.

Look out below!

Here is the big finish!

Look at this happy kid on the the snow.

He said: "Mom, we have a six inch base and one inch of powder."

I said: "You've been listening to the ski reports on KKOB."

He said: "Sponsored by Wolf Creek."

I think he could possibly have a career in radio.

Here is what it looks like now. This is the view from my dining room window.

We were advised that the wind would shift in the late morning and that the second system would move in. The wind shifted. The second system has moved in.

It has been snowing steadily since about noon.
I think we are going to have a lot more powder when this is through.

We have now had a major storm every week since December 15. This is really unprecedented for us. As I have said, we tend to measure precipitation in tenths of inches, not feet!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Weather Forcast

You might not believe this.

We don't believe it.

But apparantly it is going to happen.

We are expecting our 5th weekend in a row of this:
Yep! It's supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow here.
The higher elevations (that's us) can expect between 12 and 14 inches.
And our roads just now got cleared.
But we are aware of how lucky we are. We actually had a break. We had sub-zero temperatures during that break, but no precipitation. We are ever mindful of our midwestern bretheren and "sisteren" who are without electricity and running water due to ice storms. We read about a family in Missouri who have finally gotten their house to a relatively warm 62 degrees. We are thinking about the price of oranges, which is doubling due to a freeze in California. And we heard it snowed--that's right, S-N-O-W-E-D in Malibu. Imagine those hip California girls in bikinis and stocking caps! N. said it most succinctly: "Mom," he wanted to know, "What exactly happened to global warming?"
(Yes--there is an explanation, but why ruin such a plaintive question?)
So although we are grateful for the precipitation, we are wondering what the rest of this real, actual winter is going to be like here in the arid southwest. There are no snowboots to be had in town. No snow shovels, either. And we are used to measuring our years precipitation in 10ths of inches at a time, not feet.
But for now, I've got to run! I am going into town. I need to go for groceries--just in case! And I am going to stop at the library. I may need another thick novel to see me through this one.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Creeping Eclecticism

Slowly, we have altered how we are "doing" history. Yesterday we altered how we are "doing" science. I think we have creeping eclecticism going on here. I am still using some classical methods and I am using ancient history as the theme for our unit study, but I am altering the process by which we study.

When I started this Homeschooling journey, I began by planning an ambitious schedule according to one method: Classical Homeschooling. However, almost immediately, I made some changes. We are Jewish, so I began ancient history with a Jewish history spine. Jewish history is actually a very good way to focus all of world history because Jews have been around for a long time and have encountered most of the western civilizations in that time.

However, when we started, I did history with the recommended text, the Kingfisher Atlas of World History. I added James Michener's The Source as a supplementary text and we have been reading it aloud. I am still using Kingfisher and I am having N. do some outlining--but we are doing less of it and I am choosing the parts we read with more care. We did Ancient Egypt and now we are doing Ancient Greece and Rome. Instead of following every chapter of Kingfisher, N. and I are focusing on the shifting centers of Jewish civilization and the impact that our people have made on western civilization. We are keeping up the timeline but we are outlining less and discussing more. This fits better with N.'s learning style.

We finished reading the first 10 chapters of The Source in January. The first chapter tells the story of an achaeological dig in Israel, commenced in 1964 at a fictional location called Tel Makor (The Source) in the Galilee in Israel. Michener then tells a very well researched story of the history of the Jewish people by centering the story of each chapter around a particular artifact found at Tel Makor. Some of the information is out of date, but that is easily corrected and the stories are compelling.

Today, we decided that N. would draw the artifacts discovered by the fictional archeologists at Tel Makor, and explain how they relate to the ancient history of the land of Israel. Although the stories are fiction, the artifacts themselves can all be seen in various museums in Israel. N. traced three of the nine, expanded their size and then wrote a short caption below each in which he tells what each one is, the approximate date at which it was deposited, and what it tells us about the history of Israel. To the right is a picture of N. cutting paper for his drawings. The Source is open before him.

To the left is N.'s drawing and explanation for the artifact described in the chapter "An Old Man and his G-d," which is about the initial conquest of the Caanan by the Hebrews between the time of Abraham and our later adventures in Egypt. He did drawings of the artifacts for the first two chapters as well.

The caption reads: Two clay pots made in ~ 1419 B.C.E. They were damaged by fire. They are evidence of the Israelit(e) conquest of Caanan.

I think it was important to choose a path and make plans for how we would do homeschooling. It is important to have a plan if only so that it may be altered as needed. The plan gives structure and direction. However, it is also really important for parents and child(ren) to collaborate on how best to manage the process so that the goals of education are reached. I like the intellectual rigor of the classical method of education. However, there are other important human characteristics that have to be nurtured as well. What about the spiritual and social and emotional needs of the child? I have been looking at ways to incorporate methods that address these needs as well.

I have ordered a book on the Waldorf method. I do not like everything about it. The narrow focus on Christian holy days and celebrations would not work for us. However, I do like the emphasis put on the times and seasons of human life and on community. These can be used in concert with the classical intellectual rigor to meet the needs of my particular child.

Over the past six months, I have had good days and bad. I have had worries about whether I was doing the right thing. However, the beauty of teaching my son myself is that I can adapt the curriculum to his needs instead of trying to change him to fit the curriculum. This is not news--it is supposedly the premise of IDEA and special education. However, the increasing rigidity of the current school reform makes it impossible to really carry out this ideal. Homeschooling is making my son into an autonomous learner--he has a say in what and how he is learning. And it is making me into the teacher that I always wanted to be!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Busy Day--but the Home School Carnival is UP!

Today we had one of those days that required much time away from the computer.

I had a parent conference call with Dr. Florance in New York.
N. had his Homeschooling Science Class at the Explora Museum.
We had to eat lunch and run to Borders where DH would meet us to take N. home because...
I had my first class of the new university term: Special Education Law.

More details tomorrow!

BUT--I have something to share anyway: The new Carnival of Homeschool # 55: Parents Meeting is up at Dewey's Treehouse . Get a cuppa and enjoy!

And thanks to Mama Squirrel over there in the Treehouse! She helped me increase my Geek Index by teaching me how to do a fancy link.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Spring 2001 Term Started Today!

...And it was a pretty good start!

N. grumbled a bit when I shook him awake at 7:30.
He was drowsy at the breakfast table--but who wouldn't be? The outside temperature was -1.5 degrees F.

He perked up when we prayed the morning service. I let him lead today even though he still uses the Shabbat nusach (tunes). Tomorrow, I will take charge so that he can learn the weekday nusach and so that I can shorten the service to a manageable time.
After the service, I asked him to collect his dirty clothes before we started math. (He left some things out as I discovered when I went to sort them).

Math was LONG! There is a lot to do with Saxon and it took him 20 minutes to practice 100 simple division problems--even though he had the Times Table Grid right in front of him!
He was easily distracted and the dogs kept barking at some MLK day skiers who were cavorting in our meadow. I chalked it up to first day back after the Bar Mitzvah and a break. We'll see how it goes tomorrow. However, it was nearly 11 AM by the time we got done with Math.

I sorted the laundry while he did the Lesson practice sheet. I noticed that there were some missing socks from his skiing trip--so when he finished and checked his work, I had him do a "redo!" on the dirty clothes gathering. This time, we got it all.

After the "redo," we did our first activity for Brain Engineering. In this one he had to find 17 hidden pictures in a picture puzzle. As he circled each one, I dropped a coin into a cup. This is supposed to help him connect his "Opticoder" (that part of the brain that processes visual information) with his "Lexicoder" (that part of the brain that processes verbal information). He did this readily in a little less than 3 minutes. He wanted to do more of that--he felt very successful with the hidden pictures after having a difficult math morning.

However, he had an appointment with his room! I gave him a trash bag and told him to go through his room and pick up every piece of trash. "Trash in the trash bin, on the floor, under the bed, in the closet, on his desk, under his desk and in his book crates." He pointed out that I forgot to mention the trash on his night table and under it, but cheerful did the job. His room was a royal mess due to having his cousins sleeping in it last week--but after 15 minutes of "trash detail" it looked considerably better! (I was happy that pointed out my omission because it means that he is "getting multi-step directions).

After "trash detail," N. took the dogs for a (short) walk--it was only 17 degrees F outside, and nobody wanted to be outside very long. While they were out, I made hotdogs for lunch.

After lunch, we began reading "Black Ships Before Troy" together. I find it easiest to get him to read some of the literature that goes with the Ancient History spine, by reading it together. He has one book and I have another. I read aloud most of the time and sometimes he does. Reading aloud is difficult for him, although his Bar Mitzvah gave him a significant boost in ease and confidence. We talk about the story as we go along, giving N. a chance to identify important characters and events that move the story along.

When we were finished reading, N. and I loaded Word Roots A1 onto the computer. This program is from Critical Thinking Press. We had begun last fall with the workbooks--but N. hates workbooks! I think this goes back to third grade, when he called his teacher "the ditto queen" and claimed that she "worshipped at the altar of the Xerox machine." (This is what comes of reading the Torah to your child with emphasis and meaning!) At NAGC in November, I visited the Critical Thinking Press booth and purchased the Word Roots series for computer. So anyway, N. worked happily away on the computerized version, in which he is building a city out of bricks made from Latin roots.

Now he is writing Thank-You notes to people who gave him giftes for his Bar Mitzvah. I gave him a template:

Dear _________________,

Thank you very much for the _________________________. (e.g. check for
$18.00). I plan to ______________ with it. I was happy that you joined
me for my Bar Mitzvah.

When I checked his first cards, I noticed that he wrote the message on the back of the card instead of inside of it. I corrected that, but I left his other innovation alone. He was putting a smiley face instead of sincerely! (Anything to get out of writing more words!). N. has great difficulty with writing out anything by hand, much preferring to use Microsoft Word (TM)). But Thank-you notes must be handwritten! (We discussed the meaning of the word etiquette). So he will do 5 a day--I will address them for him because the envelopes are so small and his printing is so big. (He is much better at cursive--but refuses to use it! Go figure).

Soon, we will watch a video about Ancient Greece from the Wonders of the Ancient World series.

For tomorrow, I have to figure out how to add a 1.5 hour phone conference at 8:30 AM to our schedule. That is the weekly Brain Engineering "Ask the Doc" session. Unfortunately, I think I will have to get up half-an-hour early (6:00 instead of 6:30 AM) so that we finish the morning service BEFORE 8:30 AM. Then I can start him on his Math and Logic work. We can check the work after the conference. OY! One point for homeschooling was that I could rise a little later in the morning! Like at twilight instead of full dark. Well.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Four Weekends in a Row...

Last night, when I went to sleep shortly after midnight, it was clear above, I could see Orion and Canis Major in the southwestern sky, and the temperature was 37 degrees F.

This morning, I woke up to 2 and 1/2 inches of new snow, wind and a temperature of 15.1 degrees F. Although they had predicted some snow, I thought we had escaped this one.

Look at our street, unplowed, but you can see our footprints as the dogs and I returned from our walk.
South Mountain is gleaming beneath the clouds in the middle left of the picture.

To the right is a picture of the snow blowing at the top of the drive, as we returned from our walk. It was a cold walk, but the front porch bench area was actually warm from the sun hitting the outside wall of the house. I sat comfortably to take off my boots and soak up some rays--but the air temp was well below freezing.
So far, it has snowed here every weekend since December 21st! We really need it, but, oy! the shoveling! I am trying to persuade DH Bruce to get a snow blower. He says we're not old yet and we need the exercise. :)
In other good news, the Bears won today against Seattle, 27 - 24 in overtime. I am not much of a sports fan, but I do follow my Bears and Cubs. So far, the Cubs have managed never to go to the World Series in my lifetime. But the Bears did go to the Superbowl in 1985. They could go again. Along with the Whitesox, the Bears give this Illinois girl some hope.
They still haven't plowed our road, so I took the opportunity of being alone in the house to vacuum the bedroom, wash our bedding and dust and vacuum the living room. Tomorrow, the spring term begins at Los Pecos Homeschool and at the university.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Just me and the girls...

Today it has been just me and the girls!
Aren't they cute? They are currently sleeping on "their" daybed here in my office as I write. (They posed for their picture in the dining room).
The men in my life are at Angel Fire with the boy scouts, skiing, tubing and (snow) boarding. They are also freezing--the cold snap made it into northern NM today, but it is still above freezing here in the partly-cloudy center of the sunny southwest!
I was feeling that post-major event letdown today. Haven't had much energy. So I went into town and got my toes done. I also bought Loreena Mckennitt's new CD An Ancient Muse. I had Thai food with my daughter. She told me to leave the porch light on for her. That means she'll be home late. I'll be asleep. Funny, but today seemed like a quiet Holy Shabbat and last week was such a joyous, noisy one. We get approximately 52 Shabbatot a year--and each one is a little different!
We will be starting back with the routine on Monday. My university classes start on Tuesday. I am taking a course in Special Education Law and one in Neurobiology. I am not ready! Oh, I am so not ready for the daily round to begin again. But at the same time I know that it needs to or my energy crisis will continue indefinitely! Spring term--here we come!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Winter Break Field Trips

N. didn't really have a winter break during the holidays because he was so focused on the Bar Mitzvah. So this week we took a "winter break" and we will be starting up with school work next week.

On Sunday and Monday, while the relatives were still here, we took two field trips.

On Sunday we went to Old Town Albuquerque. Old Town is the original village that Albuquerque once was. Here's the five cousins and Grandma at the Gazebo in the middle of Old Town Plaza.
Old Town was also the site of a little-known Civil War battle. Although New Mexico was a territory at the time, the southern half was allied with Texas and the south and the north was indifferent. Two battles took place in New Mexico, first the one in Albuquerque and then a more famous one at Glorieta Pass.

Here are the boys, N. (at left) and cousins D. (ducking) and T. (at right). N. is pretending to set off the Canon, and D. is ducking. T. is looking at the plaque.

On Monday, the cousins went to the Lobo store to get Brian Urlacher T-shirts and UNM sweatshirts. Since they are from Illinois, they got T-Shirts with the UNM Lobo and Urlacher's number on the front, and the Chicago Bears logo and Urlacher's Bear's number on the back.

After the Lobo store, we went up to Sandia Peak on the Longest Tram in the World. (No Sherpas, No Oxygen Tanks, and Dinner at the Top). Here is N. on the tram. He was a little unhappy because I made him turn around so his face would be in the picture. Fish Rock is in the upper left of the picture.

The Sandia Mountains are about 300 million years old. They rose from an epi-cratonic sea long before the Laramide Revolution raised the Colorado Plateau 65 million years ago. They are fault-block mountains
that rose due to faulting along the Great American Rift, and they tilted as they rose, so that the Albuquerque side is steep and the East Mountain side is gentle. The rock that was exposed is pink granite and the mountains are capped with Pennsylvanian limestone. The same Limestone that is a mile above Albuquerque on Sandia Peak is about a mile below the surface in the Rio Grande Valley. Here is the mountain front looking south from the Tram. In the foreground you can see pressure ridges that were created by the mountains going up.
And here is the five cousins at the top of Sandia Peak. We had the perfect day for our Tram Ride. It was perfectly clear and there was no wind. It was actually warmer at the top of the mountain than the bottom.because of the solar heating of the west-facing rock. The kids took their winter jackets off.

After coming down the mountain on the Tram, it was off for Pizza and a movie. We saw Eregon together. The perfect ending to a very good day. Next morning the cousins flew back to Illinois.

It is amazing how much was learned during the two field trips. The history of Old Town. The geology of the Sandias. And what a perfect beginning to our new unit on Earth Science.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

D'var Torah for Shabbat Vayechi

As promised, here is N.'s D'var Torah (Words of Torah = Sermon) about his Torah portion from the Bar Mitzvah. Our rabbi and I helped with the structure of the piece, and our cantor helped with editing and font, but the ideas are all N.'s. ("And they told me he would never read or write...")

D’var Torah for V’Yechi
January 6, 2007

by N.

Shabbat Shalom! My parasha is called V’Yechi. V’Yechi is the last parasha in B’reshit, which is Genesis in English. In my parasha, the action takes place in Egypt. Israel, who is also known as Jacob, knows that he is about to die and he makes Joseph swear to bury him in the cave of Macpelah in Hebron, in the land of Israel. Near the time of his death, Jacob claims Joseph’s two sons as his own and blesses them, crossing his hands so that Ephraim, who is younger, is favored over Menasheh, who is the older boy. Then Jacob calls his 12 sons to him and blesses them, telling each son something that is important about him. After Israel dies, Joseph and his brothers take his body up to Hebron to the cave of Macpelah to be buried with his fathers Abraham and Isaac. At the end of my parasha, Joseph makes his sons swear that when they are redeemed from slavery in Egypt, they will take his bones with them to the land of Milk and Honey.

The part of my parasha that I find the most interesting is the last part, where Joseph asks his sons to return his bones to the land of Israel. I think that this is a story about assimilation. According to, assimilation is the process in which a minority culture adopts the customs and attitudes of the prevailing group. Minority cultures are often pressured to assimilate because it can make the dominant culture more powerful and more unified. When Joseph and his brothers went down to Egypt, the Egyptian Empire was busy making itself richer and stronger by assimilating conquered peoples. Joseph was assimilated into Egyptian culture and he even became the prime minister who ran the government for Pharaoh. Joseph had an Egyptian name, an Egyptian wife and children, he spoke Egyptian and he dressed like an Egyptian. He probably even “walked like an Egyptian.”

When I think of Egypt, I think of the Borg: “We are Egypt. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!” In the Star Trek series, the Borg is a culture of evil. It destroys worlds and assimilates other intelligent life-forms into the Borg Collective against their will. The Borg has the hive-mind, a collective in which there is no individuality at all. The Federation and its allies, fight the assimilation of the Borg. In Star Trek Voyager, there is an episode in which some Borg are infected with a virus that allows them to go to a place called Unimatrix Zero. Infected Borg come to Unimatrix Zero and are able to remember their individual cultures. The Borg collective tried to destroy Unimatrix Zero and three Voyager crew members went to the Borg ship and infected the hive-mind with a virus that allowed the infected Borg to remember Unimatrix Zero all the time. In order to continue to be who they were, the Voyager and the infected Borg had to continually fight total assimilation. For Jews, the Torah and the synagogue are like Unimatrix Zero. When we read the Torah and come to pray and study in the synagogue, we can remember who we are all of the time.

The story of Joseph in Egypt is like the first encounter with the Borg. Even though he seems to be totally assimilated, Joseph had a kind of Unimatrix Zero in his bones. He knew deep down that he was really a Jew. Because of that he was able to save Egypt and rescue his brothers. And he knew that G-d would eventually bring Israel out of Egypt. So he told his sons to bring his bones out of Egypt because he knew he was a Jew.

Jews throughout history have encountered the Borg. They were Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Europeans and Nazis. The message was the same as the Borg: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” But we have Torah, which like Unimatrix Zero, helps us to remember who we are and defend our values. Jews have always stood for the value of life and human freedom. The story of Joseph teaches us that it is vital that we remain who we are in order to bring holiness into the world.

My education at Congregation Albert taught me that I do not need to allow the dominant culture to dictate my values. By becoming a Bar Mitzvah, I have accepted the responsibility of being a Jew and living by Torah. I am now a member of the congregation and it is my responsibility to serve the congregation and be an example of Jewish values to others. One Jewish value is to keep on learning! I will continue my Jewish education through confirmation and beyond.

Another Jewish value is Tikkun Olam—doing something to make the world a better place. My Mitzvah project is volunteering at the Albuquerque Animal Care Center in order to help homeless animals. My dog, Lily, was rescued from the shelter. I am collecting needed items to make “welcome home” baskets for people who rescue dogs from the shelter.

Many people helped me to become a Bar Mitzvah. I want to thank Cantor Finn and Rabbi Black for teaching me Torah. I want to thank my mom for always being there, tutoring me in Hebrew and teaching me to pray and chant Torah. I want to thank my step-dad Bruce for encouraging me and driving me to religious and Hebrew school and for taking me to get my T’fillin. I also want to thank my sister because she is the one who insisted that I go to camp! And I really want to thank my teachers, especially Cookie Gillespie, for seeing my individuality and finding ways to teach me so that I could learn. All of you, my parents and family, my teachers, and Congregation Albert, are part of my Unimatrix Zero!

Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, Sovreign of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this joyous time!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Bar Mitzvah

The party is over, the relatives have departed for California, Illinois, and Orgegon. And I am still kvelling! N. became a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday morning, January 6, 2007. He lead the service, read from Torah and Haftarah...and he made it look easy!

To the left is a photo of my husband Bruce adjusting N.'s tie after helping him don his tallit (prayer shawl) before the service.

Here is N. pointing to the first word of his portion with a yad (pointer) before he practices reading his portion. (We do not take pictures during the service, so this one was posed on Friday morning).
The Torah is written by a scribe and does not have vowel marks or cantillation marks, so the student of Torah must chant with the proper cantillation without these aids. Leyning (chanting Torah) takes much preparation.

To the right is a picture of N. putting on his tallit in the Cantor's study just before going into
the sanctuary to begin the morning service. He was very proud of his new suit and the Tallit, but he was just a tad bit nervous!
Praying with a Tallit is a commandment for adult Jews, so this was the first time that N. donned the Tallit while saying the blessing for fulfilling the commandment. Some communities have reserved the tallit for a married man and others for anyone over the age of Bar Mitzvah. Our community follows the latter custom. We ordered the tallit from Israel. I had N.'s Hebrew name embroidered on the shoulder of the tallit.
Here is another picture from Friday's practice. N. is chanting from the Torah and the Cantor is preparing the roll the Torah forward for him. His portion was Vayechi, the last portion in Genesis. The Torah had to be rolled to the very last line: "...And Joseph died at the age of 110, and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt."
In the foreground is one of the Torah crowns, called "Rimonim" (pomegranates). Just as a pomegranate has many seeds, so Torah has as many meanings as there are people to interpret it.
Here is Netanel ben Elisheva, Bar Mitzvah, holding the Torah before the open Ark on the morning of his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Rabbi Joseph Black is on the left side of him and Cantor Barbara Finn is on the right.
My baby a suit and tie. He looks so grown up!
And he did such a good job of his Bar Mitzvah responsibilities...I am still kvelling!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Our New Year: Digging Out, Home Improvement and Puzzlemania

It's been a quiet New Year in Sedillo. On New Year's Eve we woke to clear skies and 32" of snow. We took the picture above as we started out on our morning walk on December 31, 2006.

This is what the road up to the top of our ridge looked like on Sunday morning. Great for walking, but horrible for driving, although our friend K. did drive it with his 4-wheel drive vehicle. Most of Central and Northern New Mexico was like this. We decided on a quiet New Year's Eve at home. As of today (January 3, 2007), the city of Albuquerque is still digging out.

We did not lack for things to do while waiting for the snowplow. We are putting in a new tub for the master bathroom. On New Year's Eve,we

moved the tub into the bedroom so that DH would have an easier time making measurements for the plumbing and the tile. The bathtub is still in the bedroom tonight because of difficulties with the cutting of tile. It breaks every time that my husband touches it with a drill. He says he'll need to call in a tile expert. And I have relatives coming in less than 48 hours! Oy vey iz mir!

DH says that we'll move the tub back to the garage and he will get everything else ready to go. We will then deal with it AbM (After the Bar Mitzvah. I can clean tomorrow.
We have already spent a good deal of energy on this weekend (?) project.
It has been four (4) weeks since the old bathtub was taken out. Here is DH working on cutting the tile in order to fit the new bathtub. That job and the using a rented jack-hammer to cut the concrete in order to accomodate the new plumbing created so much dust that I had to vacuum twice--and wash every towel and piece of clothing in the bathroom. It will be worth it when we get the new tub up and running. I am just wondering when that will be....
DH has big cracks in his hands from the drying effect of the concrete dust, the wood, and the tile.
My bathroom looks pretty bad at the moment. But I have been promised that I can get in there and clean tomorrow.

We have had other amusements over the New Year holiday, however.

N. received three different puzzles for Hannukah and his birthday. He is a great fan of puzzles and his current wish-list includes a three dimensional puzzle (and a snow board). He set us his new map of the world puzzle on the coffee table in the living room on his birthday. Since there was no place else to go (Let it snow!) we all had a hand in working the puzzle on New Years Eve. Here is DH and our dog Zoey supervising while N. finds a piece of Greenland.

We all helped at one time or another, although N. has done the bulk of the work. This puzzle is really cool because there is no picture, so N. has had to learn the geography of the world in order to put the puzzle together. On the oceans, he used longitude and latitude lines as well an piecing together geography facts that are printed on the ocean pieces in order to find the right pieces. To the right is the puzzle as it looked at 12 AM, January 1, 2007. It is now nearly finished. This is good because I need my coffee table back! Tomorrow! As my contribution to the puzzlemania that has overtaken the family (my DD helped yesterday), I bought a puzzle map that rolls up around a central pillar so that the puzzle can be rolled up rather than be taken apart. (Target, $5.95). This has been our sole non-Bar Mitzvah educational activity in the past 3 weeks.
N. did not take a winter break yet--we have been too busy with all of the learning surrounding the Bar Mitzvah. We are going to take next week off. Monday and Tuesday we will be accompanying relatives to old town, and other interesting places. Wednesday-Friday we will be resting. We will start schooling again on Monday, January 16.