11/4/12

Odds & Ends

I know I haven't posted in awhile, but I have GREAT excuses.

1) We have a new puppy named Blitzy" (Blitz for short) and there is a lot of pee and poop. 

2) Our furniture, boxes, books, toys, washer/dryer, etc. arrives here on Tuesday, courtesy of my awesome in-laws who are driving it up to us in a trailer and very uncomfortable truck. I intend to feed them well while they're here visiting. Total labor of love. 

3) FM Archive project - you Taffers who follow this blog know what this means, but for everyone else: I help moderate a website called TTLG (Through The Looking Glass) that is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the now defunct Looking Glass Studios (the creators of games like Thief, System Shock, Ultima Underworld, etc.). Imagine something like a Beatles tribute site. So people make their own little game maps and missions (fan missions = FM's) using the tools from some of these games. This has been going on for 12 years and it's one of the most robust communities like this on the web - there are literally hundred's of these fan made missions, custom tweaks, contests, and reviews. Unfortunately, the database has been in neglect for about 5 years, so it's time to get it cleaned up, organized, repair links, etc. I'm only helping with it but getting all the tools running on my Win7 laptop again, and the research has been a bit of a time suck. (Yes, this is the same game and community I spent 5+ years working on a large fan made project with in the early 00's. The insanity never stops)

4) NaNoWriMo - I'm trying to be more serious about writing every day and sending out samples and queries to agents. With that in mind, I have been working feverishly to complete a draft of a book I've been working on since 2005, so that now in the month of November I can begin a rough draft on a project that's been circling my brain for a few years. The boys are also participating in NaNoWriMo this year so we're spending a chunk of the day, faces buried in laptops, checking each other's work and keeping word counts. So much fun, but also time consuming. 

5) I've started singing in the studio with a local band and have been tasked with writing lyrics/vocals to 11-12 pre-existing songs. Lots of time caterwauling here at home and most of my Saturday afternoons are spent collaborating with the band. Lots of fun to be back in a casual, creative atmosphere. I have a lot of pent up lyrics and ideas. 

6) School - the boys are moving really quickly in math and I'm spending quite a bit of time on Kahn academy trying to stay ahead of Rich. He's due to start algebra in a few weeks and I needed a major refresher. Brennan is about half-way through second grade math and will be finished with it before the end of the school year. At this rate, he'll be almost 2 years ahead by the time we start back next fall. Whew!

So I know I keep saying this, but we should be back to some semblance of normal life after we're completely settled in here and sink into our schedule a bit more. My goal is to post at least once a week if not twice. 

In the meantime, you might enjoy THIS POST over at Sushi & Pizza, the blog of our great friends the Foley's. It's their angle on our trip to NYC this summer and it's a really fun read. We have so much fun with them anywhere we go, so it was awesome to do the Big Apple together, a trip we'll never forget. 

9/18/12

Rolling To A Stop

Not much blogging lately, but it's because big changes are coming!

Christie has been offered not one, but TWO jobs at Baystate Medical Center here in Springfield, Mass. It looks like she'll continue as a full-time employee on the Thoracic ward (where's she's been since we got here), and filling in at the Cancer Treatment center when she has the time. She's actually been offered a job at nearly every place we've been assigned, but we really, really like the Springfield area and can see ourselves living here for quite a while.

Consequently, we're burning up the road looking for a house to rent in the area. We like the apartment complex we are in right now, but it's not in the greatest part of town, especially for the boys. Christie's contract will be up here on October 15th, so we need to have a place to live by then, or sign another 6-month lease here. We have our hearts set on an older place we found in a nearby town called Hadley. It's in a neighborhood, but the houses are very spread out, so lots of privacy. Beautiful view from all the windows, a nearby garden that we can eat from, plenty of yard for the boys. I'll post pictures if it works out. It's about 30 minutes from the city, but we feel like the academic and recreational activities in this area far outweigh the extra time Christie will spend on the road. Plus, the school system is fantastic in the even that the boys ever decided to re-enter public school . The area is chock full of colleges, libraries, coffee shops, music, art, and community events that make it feel like a small town, yet with all the amenities of a larger city. It reminds us a lot of our beloved Fayetteville and Rogers/Bentonville in the heart of the Ozarks.

Our furniture situation is quite complex, as we knew it would be. We have been living in furnished apartments through Christie's company since we hit the road last February. If you've seen the old posts, you know that we have our own kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, the boy's toys, etc. but all of our "real" furniture is in storage in Arkansas, 24 hours away from here. It's going to take a considerable amount of time and money to relocate all of that, which is not easy to come by with Christie starting a new job. Our current plan is to use blow up mattresses and lawn chairs (which we already have with us) until such a time as we can afford plane tickets down, truck rental, laborers, and time off work, etc. Not sure how long that will be - hopefully mid-November, but possibly next spring. After all - we don't want to buy or rent temporary furniture when we have our own just waiting to be rescued from storage.

So it may be a camp-out for a few weeks or even months, but we're really liking the idea of a permanent job and semi-permanent home. We'll eventually look to buy something when we've had more of a chance to save up for a downpayment, and there are hundreds of beautiful New England homes to choose from when the time comes.

More details later. Sorry this isn't very snappy to read, but I wanted to get the information out there for everyone who's asking. We'll be very busy up until we get moved in, so I'll catch most of you on Facebook more than on here, but I promise I'll soon get back to weekly and bi-weekly posts asap. Thanks for reading!

9/3/12

A New Year





As promised, I am getting back to actually blogging about our homeschool experiences. This has in many ways become a travel blog, but the two are so intertwined right now it's hard to keep a balance.

It's hard to say "it's a new school year" when you do it like we do. I really don't like to think of school "starting" or "stopping" because it really doesn't. People have asked what the boys did all summer, and the answer doesn't sound all that exciting or educational at all.

They spent an inordinate amount of hours learning how to play the PC version of Minecraft.

That's pretty much it.

Of course we've had a week or two of visiting grandparents and extended family, some movie nights, some game nights, but not really that often. The wear and tear of moving every 3 months, then taking small trips to other places within those 3 month periods, has brought us to a season where we are very content to spend more time at home, even if we're staring at screens while we're here.

And yet, school didn't stop. The boys were busy learning how to build and break in Minecraft, negotiate and build with friends on the multi-player servers, and navigating the various social issues that come along with multi-player gaming. I have been a bit concerned about Brennan's lagging reading skills, and Rich's struggles with spelling at the end of spring when we took a break from daily lessons. But when Brennan read to me this morning, most of his stumbles and misuse of vowels were gone. Rich buzzed through a dozen spelling words we haven't worked on since May and nailed 99% of them. When I ask, "How do you know that word," the answer was invariably, "from typing and reading it in the Minecraft chat."

The main goal in this season of life, as we look toward settling permanently in New England and the possibility of public school (if they choose), is to foster more independence from me as a teacher. So rather than the somewhat helter skelter method of printing out materials the morning of, and filing them anywhere they won't get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner, I got organized. They each have a bin with several folders, one per subject. I plan the week, print the materials, put it in the folders, and they are responsible to get the work done and place it back in the folder by the next morning.

I always want to allow them plenty of time to pursue their individual interests (which right now is mostly Minecraft), I'm not spending as much one-on-one time instructing them as I have in the past. We generally have a math lesson and spelling/writing lesson every day, followed by either art, science, or something else they've shown interest in. Sometimes this could drag on all day because they expected me to stay nearby so they could check their work every so often.

This time around, I'm spending roughly 5-10 minutes actually teaching, if even that. Only when a new math or writing concept is introduced. I work through a few problems with them, then they're on their own for the rest of the day, to finish the practice problems, write the sentences, etc. whenever they choose - so long as they get it done before bed. We've also asked them to spend some time drawing, practicing piano, reading biographies, and excercising every day (in lieu of recess). We've spent tons of time on computer science, basic chemistry, and typing in the last two years, so we're taking a break from those to do more simple things that they tend to incorporate into their day anyway.

The great thing about this is it allows them to manage their own time, plan their work around meeting friends online if need be, or around chores and other interests. It allows me to instruct them in big picture concepts in the core subjects, and spend a little more time on once-a-week things like natural science, history, etc. And Dad has more free time to goof off. Win-win.

The first day went well, though I think they were a little overwhelmed with the amount of work we're expecting them to do on their own. It's our hope that giving them the freedom to do it on their own schedule will help blur the line between "school time" and "play time" so that it all just becomes "life."

8/17/12

Just A Quick Note

...to let you all know we're still here! Sorry it's been a while since an update. We've had family visiting and have been busy getting acquainted with Springfield. Updates soon on Rich's Birthday, Brennan's fencing, visiting family, Christie's job, etc.

Stay tuned.

7/25/12

Springfield, Massachusetts


So we're finally in Springfield, finally in Massachusetts, which has been one of our goals from the start. We've been looking at both Connecticut and Mass as a possible permanent place to settle, at least until we get past the transplant and all the post-transplant stuff. Norwalk was the only assignment we've had so far that any of us would call "bad." Christie's work schedule, and subsequent all other activities were not what we had hoped for. We did get to visit New York several times and see friends from all over because of our proximity, so that was good. But even the transition from there to here was difficult - problems with housing, lots of money, and several days in limbo met us at the end of the assignment in Norwalk. We were very ready to leave by the time we did.

We've only been in Springfield for two weeks, but we feel like we have our life back. Christie is working nights again, mostly in block shifts, which has restored much needed "together" time. Our apartment is wonderful, located in the downtown area of Springfield, which is also new for us. It's a secluded little cove in the middle of the district business. The buildings were originally part of the Milton-Bradley and Smith & Wesson factory and office complex, though the building we are in is a bit newer. We have already begun exploring all the "pick-your own" farms, local produce, library, and museums. More on that to come. While we are here, the boys will most likely be taking art classes, and possibly fencing or archery. We decided to take a break from team sports for a while because the soccer season in Norwalk was an absolute nightmare on every level. We all needed something different for a while.

Additionally, the library is just down the street, as is the Y, so I anticipate lots of time at both, and hopefully mingling with the local homeschool community to get a feel for the area. Christie is already making friends at work, has a lower patient load, and seems to enjoy it again. She isn't in cardiac, where she is most comfortable, but I think she's just glad to be away from the constant death and sadness of her last assignment. So all is good for now, looking forward to some family visitors in the next month, which will be nice since we haven't seen anyone since Christmas.

More later. For now, here's some video of our new place.


video










6/18/12

Just a Reminder...

If you want to see more of our pictures from New York and around Norwalk, just click the Smugmug link in the far right-hand column and look for the most recent folder - everything's organized by date (I hope).

And Furthermore...!


I know it looks like we've been spending all our time in NYC, but most days we're just here at home, or trying to do things that are local. Christie's schedule has really forced us to slow down more than usual with trips, and my health has forced us to spread them out as much as possible. It also helps that Norwalk seems to roll up its streets at 10pm. It's been a good thing though, as we've been able to invest some time in other things. Like:

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh at a Sushi bar

Visiting the local beach

Building sandcastles

Pretending to know karate (or Ninjitsu? All I know is that I
was violently assaulted immediately after this picture was taken)

Visiting the New England Aquarium again

...after dad's doctor appointment

Keeping score at a 3:1 ratio in favor of his team

WINNING

Trying to play against the other team single-handedly
Making Mom and Dad wish we had better medical coverage..

Eating C-Rats
Okay, this one bears some explanation. If you or your Mom/Dad were in the military, you know these as MRE's or "C-rations". It's a dehydrated meal in a bag. That sounds nasty, but they're actually awesome. My dad used to come home with extras from time to time from readiness exercises and it was almost like Christmas. So Pops sent some to the boys this week and they were fascinated. Self-heating pasta, beef jerky, poptarts, peanut butter crackers, cheese spread (which Brennan sucked out of the pouch down to the last drop), a huge cookie (Rich's favorite), and an assortment of gum, mints, M&M's and other quick foods. You'd have thought they were at a fancy seafood place.


Brennan was not a fan of the spiced apples


video
Riding the bus to the library

Phineas and Ferb marathons


Summersaults

Eating organic meat-lovers pizza from Savor

Beating Dad at mini-golf
As for school, everyone keeps asking what grade they're in. They never know. Rich is edging into pre-Algebra and Brennan's not far behind. Rich reads voraciously at night now, and Brennan's working on a new book. They are both addicted to MineCraft. They have learned how to do the laundry and the dishes, and they are a huge help with housework. Rich is blogging and drawing, Brennan is making up comic strips and Dungeons and Dragons games and working on his next book. They're fighting with chords on the piano. Rich learned how to make spaghetti, and Brennan helped make meatballs. It's everything they need and nothing you could give them a grade on. It is homeschooling. It is messy, spontaneous, wonderful, frustrating, fulfilling, and nerve-wracking. It's like life, and they're getting to do it now, not in 8 or 11 years, when a quarter of their life has passed them by. It is the best thing ever.

New York, Take 4

We thought we were done in NYC, but decided it would be nice to spend a little more time in Central Park on Father's Day weekend. Plus, our friend Leslie was in town for a few days and it worked out for us to meet her for a few hours. We haven't seen her, really seen her in about eight years, so it was great to catch up.


The Dakota Building, home of Yoko Ono. Lennon was shot just
outside the front door. 

We met Leslie at Strawberry Fields across the street. She has asked
me to disclose that she was "sweaty and nasty" having just finished
a bike ride through the park. 
video


Bethesda Fountain from Godspell, Ransom, Home Alone 2,  and Elf

Making a wish



The Yoga Master teaches the young apprentices

Watching street performers 



Afterwards we found a playground for the boys to expend (what we thought was) the
rest of their energy.

We ate at Burger One on 78th, a little 8 seater walk-in dive with the
best burgers we've had in recent memory. The milkshakes were
incredible too.
Rich got his second wind after eating and said, "Let's go to Time Square!"
So we did. 





video


We wandered around, in and out of stores, watched some more street performers, and a physical altercation between the police and a group of black dudes claiming to be the true Tribe of Benjamin, and Christianity to be Satanic. Okay then. 





Oh, and I also almost throat-punched Elmo. In general, I don't mind Elmo. I'm not a huge fan though. He represents everything that's wrong with the "new" Sesame Street: the giggling, the fact that everyone can see Mr. Snuffalufagus, Mr. Hooper's store being renovated so that it's nearly unrecognizable...okay, so maybe I have some pent up aggression toward Elmo. But these guys in the Elmo suits will just walk up and start hugging your kid. Hey buddy, for all I know, you're a catholic priest who gets your jollies in Times Square on a Saturday night by dressing in an Elmo costume and getting chummy with kids. I don't know you. The fact that you're dressed as the metaphorical representation of the dumbing down of my favorite children's show isn't doing you any favors. He grabs Rich as we're trying to cross the very crowded street and won't let him go. I hear Rich say, "I need to go with my parents," and Elmo says, "But I want you to stay with me." Look kids, it's the new Touch Me In My Special Place Elmo. I was about a millisecond from flipping this guy's stupid headpiece around and beating him to death with a fire hydrant. Hey, the cops were busy with the Tribe of Benjamin guys, so no one would have noticed. I grabbed Rich as this nutjob continues to try to talk to him, then we lost him in the crowd. It's not uncommon to see three or four Elmos wandering around Times Square, and it's possible that just like the Sesame Street version, they need to die violently by fire hydrant. 

The M&M and Disney stores were cool just for the massive displays. Everything's huge in Times Square. 

video


In the M&M Store




Finally the day came to an end. Rich and Brennan, spent, exhausted, and ready to crawl into bed fully clothed, fell into their seats on the train and went immediately to sleep. 


video






New York, Take 3

The following week, we did the WTC Memorial, Battery Park, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

First stop, the WTC Memorial.




South Tower Memorial

The Freedom Tower



video


video

I'm not sure Brennan grasped the enormity of what happened here (do any of us, really?). Rich has asked a million questions about 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, extremism, and Homeland Security, so I think he went into it with a pretty good context of what we were seeing and the impact it's had on life in the U.S. This was such a good teaching moment, from the extensive security clearance at the entrance, two the murals of gathering in different countries on the night of 9/11, to the diversity of teary-eyed visitors gathered around the edges of the fountains. I know this for certain about 9/11 - New Yorkers carry that pain in their heart still, and it's very visceral and real for them. Even the Pakistani cabbie who drove us to the site got a bit choked up talking about it, and said that it still bothers him to drive in that part of town.

Also striking were the sheer number of names listed under various Fire and Emergency units, as well as the diversity of ethnic names carved into the stone. This was reflected in the diversity of nation groups represented at the memorial - the older British couple searching for a name, the young woman in a Burkah carefully making a rubbing from a name on the Pennsylvania list, the Hindi father in a Paghi turban pointing to the sky with tears in his eyes as he explained to his young son what happened that day. If anything, we came away from the memorial realizing that 9/11 was not just an attack against the United States or capitalism, it was an attack on the world, one that affected all of humanity in some way. We were able to discuss the dangers of extremism and the importance of living in peace despite religious and political differences. We all shed some tears as we tried to honor the names by reading as many as we could - but there were simply too many. Honestly, it was a bit overwhelming, to the point that we merely walked over to glance at the North tower memorial, but didn't walk around it.

Castle Clinton has a rich history as the original U.S. Immigration center (pre-dating Ellis Island),
a defensive fort against the British during the War of 1812, and beautiful women drinking
bottled water in the foreground.

It's a short walk from there to Battery Park where we planned to catch the ferry over to Liberty and Ellis Island. Battery Park was a blast! I have to pause here and post a picture of Castle Clinton for my TTLG readers. Castle Clinton is the launching point for a beloved game called Deus Ex, much of which takes place in New York. It's become especially poignant since 9/11 since the premise of the game involves an extremist bombing of an iconic U.S. landmark (in this case, the Statue of Liberty).

Some of the best NYC experiences are the spontaneous ones: street performers, altercations between the NYPD and religious protest groups, crazy people shouting at you. We always try to stop and watch the street acrobats if we're not running late to get somewhere.






video

Liberty Cruises was the cheapest way to go for tickets to the two islands. The boys were extremely excited to finally see the statue up close.





video


video


video
We love the Junior Ranger programs at the National Monuments - they really do
care about teaching the kids and always come up with fun ways to help
them remember the important details. 

video




Ellis island used to be the main point of entry for Immigrants coming to the U.S., but now it's a museum. We typically follow the kid's lead at places like this. They are drawn to certain things that interest them, and they love being the first to discover them and show them to us. We've found that forcing them to absorb every little description and display becomes tedious and they don't remember the stuff they don't care about to begin with. Obviously we point out any important things they'll regret missing later, but we try to be as casual as possible. There were lots of great displays here, but we were getting worn out and ready to head home.





Next post: More Central Park and Times Square