Fall Update

We were so happy to see our friends in Northwest Arkansas a few weeks ago. We lived there between 2006-2010 and I count them as the greatest four years of my life. No wonder Rogers, Arkansas is consistently touted as one of the best places to live in the U.S. The people there are the friendly, the landscape and weather beautiful, and the amenities as family friendly as I've ever seen. Though you can never really go home again, it was great to catch up with everybody. We crammed a lot into two days.

First, we met Anna, Aura, and Lavender Thomas at AQ Chicken on our way through Fayetteville. AQ is the boy's favorite F'ville restaurant because of the chicken, mac 'n cheese, and especially because of the toy chest near the front door. Aura and Rich became good friends through various homeschool groups and eventually through speed skating together. Aura is the perfect "third man" for Rich and Brennan's comedy act - it's like watching a Looney Tunes episode when the three of them are together, and they spend more time laughing at each other than anything else.

Aura, Rich, Brennan

Anna and Lavender
Anna is a bit like my sister from another mother. She's the hippy, earth-mother pagan your parents warned you not to hang out with. Tons of fun, full of spirit, and always uplifting to everyone she's around. Aura is the same way for the boys. Little Lavender barely had any hair when we moved and now - BOOM! We ate then headed over to Wilson Park so the kids could play on the castle. Anna's husband, Eugene, actually designed some of the pieces around the castle pond.

Eugene designed this bridge that crosses the pond

Anna, Rich, Brennan
Next, we visited Rich's dentist who informed us that his braces can come out in another 6 weeks (3 weeks now!). Then on to Aly's house in Rogers.

Sasha and Brennan. Brennan got tired of
us taking pictures because the camera
wouldn't focus. 

Sasha and Brennan

Malia, Rich, Sasha, Brennan

Anna, Sasha, Brennan

Aly's a great friend who has been a huge encouragement to me in our homeschooling efforts. We met at the Treehouse co-op in Springdale during our first semester of homeschooling. Our kids hit it off immediately and so did we. Her three girls are awesome and we've spent many hours playing hookey at Chik-fil-A and Cambridge Park, but I honestly don't think I would have survived the first year of homeschooling if she hadn't kept me sane. Sasha is Brennan's first real friend that was his own age and enjoyed being around him just as much as he liked playing with her. I thought I took more pictures of Malia, Rich, and Anna but they're usually so busy running around it's hard to catch them.

The next day we headed for Siloam Springs, about 45 minutes west of Fayetteville. The last year we lived in NW Arkansas we were involved in a small co-op there called Imagination Village. It was headed up by our two favorite Treehouse teachers, Bay Greenhill and Joanna Reid. We have such great memories of just hanging out while the kids played. One of those rare situations where ALL the kids get along, and the parents enjoy hanging out too. We were able to make it to the monthly gathering for a picnic.

Aura was also in Imagination Village for awhile, so they
joined us for the picnic.

Silvie and Brennan

Brennan and Silvie. Silvie is Brennan's Village bud. They
go everywhere together, holding hands. They started out
at Treehouse when he was 4 and she was 3 and no matter
how long they are apart, they always manage to get back into their
own little world when they meet again. 

Mosely Greenhill, Brennan, Stella Greenhill, Rich in the awesome
treehouse their dad built. 
It was comforting to see the group together again and for the boys
to be able to jump right back in like no time had passed.
The last day was Saturday, so the boys went to play at Aly's while Christie and I did some work in our storage units nearby, trying to prepare them for the inevitable move to New England. It was a really fun trip all in all, and I feel so fortunate for all the families we got to know during our time in NW Arkansas. Truly good people who inspired us to be better parents, teachers, and examples to our boys. Our lives, and especially Rich and Brennan's lives, are richer for having them in it, though our time together seems so short now as we look back.

Hopefully we'll see everyone again soon, or as soon as we can. If anyone's headed up north soon, give us a call.


We Are A Geek Family

The boys haven't been old enough for me to declare this before, but now that their strong interests are starting to emerge, it's become obvious. I attribute this partly to the fact that I am a geek (and Christie, by proxy), but we have largely avoided sheltering them from non-geeky things. They know about Nickelodeon, Disney, and Cartoon Network. They've tried most of the popular video games that kids love too. But given a choice, they always seem to gravitate towards stuff that's off the beaten path or more obscure, whether anyone else knows about it or not. In fact, sometimes they seem to kind of like the fact that they've discovered some hidden thing that few know about.

Of course, they've been exposed to this stuff way more than the average kid - I assume most Dads didn't write an obituary for Firefly when it was cancelled by Fox. Neither do they own Star Wars military manuals detailing the missions of back-ops Clone Troop forces prior to the infamous Order 66. Neither do they keep a leather bound copy of the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy on hand for those times when the universe just makes no sense and you need to know that that's okay. (See? If you're a geek as well, you're still with me).

Still, that's me, and I've tried very hard not to force them into liking things that I like - we try to make sure they are aware of and have access to the same cultural touchstones as their peers. It's weird enough that they're homeschoolers, we can't have them running around not knowing who Sponge Bob is or thinking the Naked Brothers Band are actually, well, naked. But they much prefer Avatar and The Barenaked Ladies. I know it doesn't help that Mom can also be found leveling up her Wood Elf character on The Elder Scrolls IV into the wee hours either (she doesn't want to be a geek, but it's contagious).

Here are some other things I've noticed:

* We own a PS2, XBox 360, and a Wii. We have bought many used games for these units but they never get played. They both prefer PC games. They like the feel of a keyboard and mouse, and many of the PC titles they like aren't available on consoles.

*The reason they aren't available is simply because they're not kid's games. Rich prefers real-time tactical games like Age of Empires or Company of Heroes. Brennan enjoys MMO's like Wizard101. Some of the games they enjoy are HARD to win. But they enjoy the mechanics of the games and figuring out how to beat the computer. Still, given a choice, they'd rather play chess. Geeks.

*Despite watching many episodes of Sponge Bob, they don't know the character's names. They don't pay attention. They value fart jokes just as much as any other 6 and 10 year old, but they only have so much mileage. However, ask them what they're going to do today and Rich will reply with a cryptic, "Same thing we  do every night. Try to take over the world."

*That is to say, they enjoy meta-humor. They like the joke behind the joke, or the snarky deflation of the punchline. To that end, they are bigger fans of Statler and Waldorf (and especially the Swedish Chef) than of Kermit and Fozzie.

*Their heroes are guys like Tim Schafer  and Jim Benton. Tim because he created their favorite game (Psychonauts - yeah, I know you've never heard of it). Tim is one of the greatest comedic minds of our times, and playing his games have elevated the boy's sense of humor beyond most of the dumb one-liners in kid's shows on the Cartoon Network. Jim Benton's books appeal the mad scientist in Rich, and Brennan loves Frannie K's bizarre menagerie of mutant animals.

*Last year Rich went trick-or-treating as Hannibal Smith from the A-Team. This year they both want to be characters from Tiny Toon Adventures - and not recognizable ones (Sneezy and Gogo Dodo). When I informed Brennan that everyone was going to think he was Jerry (from Tom and Jerry) he said, "I'll know it's Sneezy." Geek.

*Despite constant exposure to Disney music and other kid-pop bands through friends and our year long fling with cable TV, Rich remains a staunch fan of Queen, Rush, and Dream Theater. Brennan is more of a pop fan  and wants Michael Jackson, Van Halen, and Winger. Know any 6 year old Winger fans? Now you do. They dig Maroon 5 too, which is about as mainstream as it gets around here.

*Rich's big goal for school this week is to learn how to take apart our desktop computer and put it back together (though he's more enthused about the former than the latter).

*Brennan's big goal for this school year is to make his own computer game. How you teach a 6 year old to make a computer game is beyond me. We've started him with the Magic Pen and Fantastic Contraption as a lead-in to starting basic coding, but I'm a little overwhelmed as all my game design has been with pre-built (and rather user-unfriendly) game engines. Most homeschool parents are scrambling to find good math curriculum. I'm trying to find a freaking C++ for 1st graders manual. (This is not to say he's conquered math already, or has the developmental capacity for C++, just that when able to choose anything for a school-year goal, this is what he picked).

*We have serious debates about the differences between dwarves and elves, and on-going Morrowind vs. Oblivion debates (for further reference, see The Elder Scrolls link above).

*They prefer classic Transformers to Transformers Animated (don't get us started). Avengers isn't on their radar quite yet but they know that Dad has Very High Expectations for a certain Joss Whedon and there will be consequences if he screws this up. Oh yes, there will be consequences.

*They do however know the difference between Iron Man's Mach I, II, III, and IV suits and can tell you all about them IN GRAPHIC AND LENGTHY DETAIL.

*When Kree-O, rather than Lego, got the Transformers contract, they started building their own Transformers that actually work. This was partly because they were impatient for official Transformers, and partly out of protest that Lego lost the contract (they've since given in and purchased the Kree-O versions, but Rich has expressed the feeling that he has betrayed the Lego corporation - talk about brand loyalty).

I could go on. Point is, I've quit trying to expose them to "mainstream" stuff because they're largely un-interested at this point. I figure they'll get enough of that from peers, and they don't automatically shun things that are popular (they love Phineas & Ferb, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Legos). I like that they're discerning and actually think about why they do or don't like certain things. I like that they're able to articulate it. Hopefully they don't turn into cultural snobs like me, but it's fascinating to see their individual tastes develop as they explore new things.


Rich's Blog

So I'm STILL not updating very often, but we're full into the school year. I want to give a shout out to Rich's Blog which you can access from our link list on the right sidebar. He's trying to update it every few days with tidbits and would love to have some comments. Feedback is a huge encouragement for him so take a few seconds to comment if you don't mind.

As for school, we're taking a bit more of a traditional approach right now. Brennan has started reading and we're spending a lot of time on that because while I prefer to let him struggle through in many cases, he was becoming very frustrated by the roadblocks of not being able to read. The same thing is true for Rich with math. He keeps hitting a wall in other areas because he hasn't yet memorized his multiplication tables.

So we've set aside a block of "no-media" time every day and ask them to complete a certain amount of work in these areas before moving on to art, piano, etc. So far we've spent the majority of our learning time on very basic reading and math skills, but I hope that once we master these, it will allow them to finish other work more quickly and have lots of time left over for other interests. It's way more structured than I like, but hopefully it's only for a time.

We're using magnet letters A LOT to reinforce and teach new
spelling words. This is a good tactic for visual spatial learners
who tend to see whole words rather than the letters that comprise them.

Brennan is enjoying writing his own stories - or at least
dictating them to dad and arranging the chapters and pictures. He's
currently brainstorming the final part of his epic Beaker the Penguin trilogy.
Rich reading "Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great" (Judy Blume)
and Brennan practicing subtraction on coolmath.com