Saturday, January 22, 2011

Septic Systems, Rural Living and Hardcore Woman

When you live out in the country, far from the nearest store, problems arise that can't be solved by a quick call from some expert. Yesterday I awoke to a god awful smell emanating from one of the sink drains. Yes fumes from the septic were backing up into the house. Despite sub-zero temps, I trudged out into snow and pried the lids off the tanks to check out the flow to the drain field. That part of the system was working, which is good. Then I glanced up on the roof at the main stack and said aw sh*t, literally. The main stack was frozen with a nice ice plug. For those of you who need a refresher, when you flush a toilet or drain a sink the process requires two things, the ability to drain (which was working) and the ability to vent (which was not).

To get a picture imagine emptying a gas can with out pulling out the yellow vent plug. The process needs to replace the liquid gas that is emptying with air to equalize the pressure or the flow will stop.

Into the house I went and told my hardcore wife what we needed to do. At first she thought I was crazy but I convinced her it was perfectly safe, I would spot her. Here is a photo as she scales the roof to unplug the vent

YouTube Video

Some people marry for money, some people marry for position, I was fortunate to marry a woman who is one hardcore chick. Process completed, air smelled good again in the house and $500 service call avoided - Priceless. Girls Rule!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pen Pals and Spelling B's: How We Learn to Spell

We take a relaxed approach to learning around this house. We wait for inspiration. As you may know from reading other posts, one in particular, called "She's Addicted to Reading" I wrote about how my eight year old (seven at the time) learned how to read without much instruction from us. We are finding that when we go with the flow and trust our children to learn, they actually learn faster than when we try to force it on them.

For the past year, since Charlotte has learned to read, she has not been as interested in learning to write. When she has been writing, it's been in all uppercase letters. Some would balk at this, but the way I see it is that as long as I can read the letters, then we can tackle all the rules of grammar, capitalization, punctuation and what not, later. I have not made a fuss about correcting her spelling when she writes her own stories or makes up clues for a good game of spies with her brother. This is what is called "invented spelling". As long as she and her brother can read it, and I can read it, fine by me. With Charlotte, she usually does not like unsolicited feedback about her reading and writing. She takes the direct approach, like "mom, how do you spell..." and I just tell her.

So what has inspired her this time around? Two things: Pen Pals and Spelling B's.

Lately, Charlotte and her good friend Willa have been writing letters back and forth to each other. In the beginning these were just short notes, but now they are evolving into longer, more detailed letters, usually relaying some story or experience. It's also been a while since they have seen each other.

Now, stick with me, because we'll get back to our Pen Pal, Willa. A recent overnight visit to Gramma and Grampa's house gave her ample time to write a story, which she showed Gramma. Gramma also knows about invented spelling and can read Charlotte's stories with ease. I think Gramma read her story and took the opportunity to talk to her about vowels and their sounds and how we can't build words without the vowels. Charlotte was ignited once again with the need to "get it right." She asked me to sit down and help her write her letter to Willa. We sat together for a full hour, alone in the bedroom, making sure all the words were spelled correctly. Most of the time she just needed to say the word out loud and figure out the vowel sound. Sometimes she just needed to be told the correct spelling. (the word 'listened' was particularly tough). Here is the finished product. She was SO proud of herself.

The visit to my mom and dad's was about a week ago. Since then, we had a conversation about how kids in school learn to spell with spelling lists. I just had to go and talk about how this can sometimes be a disjointed and meaningless exercise, especially when the words on the list are just words without context or meaning attached. Just a plain old list. Of course, she had to prove me wrong. She wanted to play Spelling B. When they come up with the idea then usually I don't say no. So, we made up our own game of Spelling B. Charlotte and Finn would take turns spelling the word until someone got it right. It was OK to spell the word on paper. If they just couldn't get it, I would spell it for them. Charlotte kept track of all the words she spelled on a piece of paper, which I just had to record.

She's getting it. On her own time schedule. When she plays, Finn plays too. Funny how that works. Just as a side note, Charlotte learned to read last year at this time. Currently, the book she is reading at night before bed is "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." She just can't seem to put it down.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Book Review of "Poppy" and It's Real Life Applications

When traveling to and from the Twin Cities, we always need good books to keep us entertained on our drive. For this road trip, we chose a book called "Poppy" by the author known as Avi.

This is a story told from the perspective of a mouse named Poppy and her predator named Mr. Ocax. Poppy has just met and fallen in love with an "outsider" mouse named Ragweed who is a rebel, and questions authority. Because of his rebellious tendencies, he convinces Poppy to accompany him for a romantic getaway on Bannock Hill. Ragweed deliberately ignores the rule of Mr. Ocax to ask for his permission to go to Bannock Hill. This infuriates Mr. Ocax. His mice must always fear him, always obey him. On Banock Hill, just as Ragweed is about to propose to Poppy, Mr. Ocax kills her beloved Ragweed and, throughout the rest of the book, pursues Poppy with a vengeance.

When Poppy returns to her family, her father makes an announcement that the whole family will need to move to a new location, as they are running out of food. They must get the permission of the Great Horned Owl who calls himself the ruler and protector of all the mice. Of course, he denies permission for them to move, naming Poppy and Ragweed as the reason. Poppy now feels responsible for the terrible predicament they are all in. She sets out on her own to find a solution to the problem and becomes the Heroine of the story.

This book provided the jumping point for many very interesting conversations about politics at a child's level of understanding. Some of our discussions revolved around the question of how a single person comes to rule over a group of people. We talked about how the owl told lots of lies to keep the mice afraid of him. He lied about other animals of the forest, convincing them he was their protector and to fear these strangers. The mice were taught to never question authority. This eventually led to a discussion about Kings and Queens, and how people came to America.

We also learned from this story about the circle of life. Avi has an amazing ability to describe what an owl is thinking, how it is moving it's body in flight, how it dives and captures it's prey. What is a mouse feeling as it is being relentlessly pursued by a hungry, vengeful owl? And how do the lessons and realities of these fictional characters come to real life? Well, when a Red Tail Hawk is pursuing it's songbird prey and slams into the dining room window.

BAM!!! And it was loud, like a small explosion. We had been sitting at my mom's dining room table doing a craft. Charlotte and mom looked up just in time to see it's red tail going down. Charlotte yelled out, "It's a Red Tail Hawk mom! I saw the red tail!" I was at the kitchen sink and immediately went out the back door. My dad was outside just starting out to walk our dog. He heard it too, and saw that it was now sitting up in the Oak tree. It had dropped it's prey and there was the small dead bird on the deck, with a patch of blood and feathers stuck to the window.

The reaction? Mom, Charlotte and I were amazed. "Wow! Did you see that? That was so cool!" We just could not believe we saw it up so close, and that the Hawk actually hit the window. This greatly disturbed my six year old son. Normally, when we find a dead bird around our house when it hits a window, he is the first to want to examine it, wrap it up, and put it in the freezer. We like looking at dead birds. But it was different this time. He was very upset, tearful, very sad. Why was it so different this time? He said "because the big one can defend itself and eat something else." Like in the book, the predator killed it's prey, and we just happened to witness it.

So, we decided to honor the small bird. This seemed to comfort Finn. He and Charlotte carefully wrapped him up and put him in a small box.

Finn created a small cross for the bird's burial site. I helped him write a message on the cross. It reads, Dear Bird, I hope you live another long life. Love, Finn

Finn buried him in the snow under a tree by a crow sculpture.

It's funny how this incident happened while we were in the middle of reading the Poppy book. But that's usually how learning happens in our family. We focus on something, and then it becomes real through other experiences. We make connections between other books we have read, maybe a movie we have seen, a person we have met either real, or fictional characters.