Category Archives: Selina Bambina

Need Reader Feedback

Hi folks.

I am going to be closing down this blog in the next several weeks. There are many reasons for this, but I won’t get into them now.

What I would like to do, however, is compile the most useful posts into categories and bind them under an e-cover for download in case really, really interested folks still want to read them, or share them with others.

This is the compromise I’ve come to between just shutting down OR leaving the blog archives sitting here forever.

What I would love from you is some nominations for posts you’d like to see preserved in e-book form. I will try to edit and/or update any posts that go into that format, so if your favorite one is old and needs some revision that’s okay too.

I have in mind a total of say, 100 posts.

Help? (Please leave your suggestions in the comments so people can see each others’ okay?)


P.S. I’m also taking some of the posts from this blog (mostly since 2009) and backfilling Muse of Fire with them. So much of the more recent material will still be on a blog.

Homeschool Update Spring 2013

Well, technically spring, anyway…


After a week or so, we got some sprouts. Those are yellow squash in the foreground.

It has been so cold for so long that I forgot to start the seedlings for this summer’s garden until two weeks ago. (Usually, I would start in late February or early March.) But while Cole was visiting her mother in Philadelphia for Spring Break, and Selina was with her, Nat and I got out the seedling trays and planted whatever we had left over from years past, including okra, yellow squash,cucumbers, sweet peas, mini sunflowers (called “teddy bear”), tomatoes (some kind of little ones–grape or cherry or something) and bok choi. I seriously doubt many of them will thrive after transplant. I usually end up at the garden center buying new starters after mine have failed. But I try every year anyway.

Working on the Winter Garden

Working on the Winter Garden

Whatever comes of our efforts, they won’t be as magnificent as our dreams. I started getting seed catalogues in January and rather than spend money on ordering anything, I handed them over to the kids, rolled out a big banner of plain paper and let them go crazy. We enjoyed our “winter garden” during the long, long, loooooong months of winter that stretched into…well, last week, actually. We had snow flurries all morning on 1 April. (It wasn’t funny.)

IMG_2758IMG_2764Both girls have really been wanting to take on big projects that require all kinds of planning and construction. Nat proposed making valentines for everybody at church and she and Selina both spent about a week of work-times (9-11:30 every morning) on this huge job.

Nat also spent quite a bit of time designing and making this sign for Josiah, after he had been away visiting friends in Brooklyn for about a month. There is a rumor that he burst into tears at the sight of it, upon his arrival home at about 5 in the morning:IMG_2785

A Page from one of Selina’s “Biscuit” Stories

Selina has been going gangbusters on her language these days. She would still much rather write than read, so she’s made another book of photos she took herself. She has also been enjoying copying pages out of some of her favorite books. I figure the good old nineteenth century “memorize, copy, recite” technique won’t hurt her–especially given that she’s the one who wants to learn that way.

Practicing Stacked Equations with Coins

Nat, on the other hand, has been enthusiastically working on Math ever since I gave her real money to work with. (She thinks this is a major coup.) We’ve been doing all kinds of things with concrete coins in the past couple of months that Nat has been reluctant to do in the abstract.

One of the best things about not going to school is that the girls (and I) have the time and energy to do a lot of what school would call “extracurricular” activities. Both girls are still taking dance classes on Saturday morning, but now Nat has added a mid-week private dance lesson with her adored teacher, Rosetta. The dance seems to be really helpful in developing her ability to focus and discipline herself to attend to instruction. Rosetta was kind of surprised to find that Nat knows all the stuff she’s been teaching in the beginning ballet class on Saturdays. Until she had Nat one-on-one she didn’t realize how much Nat knew, because in class, Nat is a distraction queen.

That’s pretty much what I’ve discovered in homeschooling too. Nat knows a lot of stuff, but it can be all but impossible for her to settle in and work if a social engagement is an option. Sometimes even having her sister just within hearing is too distracting for her. But when she can get a little peace and solitude, she will often get very deeply into what she’s working on. More and more these days, she comes up with her own projects too. Recently, she proposed making a list of words in her own best handwriting for her sister to copy. Both kids thought this was the coolest. thing. ever. And I was supermom for “letting” them do it. Ha!

This is a sweet retired pony who lives at our new favorite place.

Meanwhile, we’ve added another activity. There’s a down-to-earth horse ranch about 40 minutes away (by car) and we’ve started lessons there. They even offer a homeschool program in which the kids get riding lessons, then an hour of other horse-related learning and activities after the lesson.

I knew animal-loving Selina would have the time of her life with the horses, (and she did!) but I didn’t know for sure what Nat would think. Turns out Nat is hooked for life. The day after her first lesson, Nat sat down and journaled at great length about the experience. My favorite line from her account was, “My teacher told me that I had to trot my horse, but my horse trotted me instead.” Since that first day, every single night before bed, she counts the days left until the next riding lesson and tells me she loves “her” horse.

Yep. I remember all that.

In fact, I’ll be taking a lesson of my own while the kids are doing their non-horse activities. I used to ride a lot when I was a kid/teen and could use my spending money to pay for lessons. The older I got the less cash I had for it and the less I’ve been able to do it. So I’m thrilled to have an excuse to start earnest lessons again. Cole will be taking some beginner lessons with the girls when she has some time later this summer, too. I can’t wait to see my whole family on horseback!

Dream of the Blue Poodles

Selina was pacing the kitchen floor when I walked in to get some tea.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh…just thinking,” she said.

“What are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about what kind of dog I want to get.”

We can’t get a dog. Not in this condo, not at the kids’ ages, not while Cole is commuting to work. We got guinea pigs almost a year ago to give Selina a cuddly mammal to molest, but she still spends an inordinate amount of time planning for her someday dog.

“What kind of dog do you think you might like to get?” I ask her.

I try to give her as much fantasy dog as possible, considering how much I feel I’m failing her in the real dog department.

“I think…a poodle. Because it’s curly–like me!”

She changes dog types frequently, but I gently urge standard poodles when given the chance because they are less allergy-inducing. So I was happy to hear this.

“That sounds like a great idea,” I tell her.

She pauses.

“But…I don’t think poodles usually come in blue…

Homeschooling Notes from August and September

Barack Obama and William Shakespeare Enjoy a Tea Party

Last week, Selina threw a little tea party for Barack Obama and William Shakespeare. I thought the irony was worth a photo.

Selina’s favorite thing is “imaginative play.” She puts on little dramas all day long with blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, dress-up alter egos, her sister, and whatever inanimate object comes to hand to be animated. You may remember she even used to do this with her feet.

Sometimes, she creates fantasy people to “help” her with work by changing her voice and talking her way through a problem. For example:

Selina’s Voice: “What comes after K?”

High-pitched voice: “Is it M?”

Selina’s Voice, singing: “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L…”

Low-Pitched Voice: “No, it’s L!”

High-Pitched Voice: “Whoops!”

Then Selina will find the “L” and put it on her alphabet project. She may or may not ask aloud again until she gets stuck and needs some more “help.”

Listening to her when she doesn’t know you are around is an absolute gas.

Last week, she let me know in no uncertain terms that although she has been asking to learn to read, she cannot abide out-of-context phonics lessons. Sooo…I went back to the drawing board and this morning she took the iPad around and snapped photos of some of her favorite things, like her Pooh bear.


Tomorrow, I’ll print her photos and let her label them all and bind them into a “Selina’s Words” book.

Given her love of creating little dramas and characters all day long, I think she is going to be a write-first reading learner.

Teaching reading is fun for me, because Nat didn’t ever really “learn” to read, she just started doing it.

Perhaps Selina would do this eventually too (though I do think Nat’s brain was just prewired to read, at birth), but she has been complaining lately about not being able to read, so I’m stepping in to help her move along. She’s five and a quarter, so I feel it is perfectly reasonable to let her at it.

Speaking of Nat, though, and particularly of her reading, she recently picked up a slightly simplified version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (it amounts to a middle-grade novel as it’s been edited) and started reading it every night before bed–and any other time she could steal. It’s the first “chapter book” she’s shown a sustained interest in reading independently, though we’ve done a few together as read-alouds and she has always enjoyed picture books independently. She got so into Alice,though, that I have been able to pick up on her interest in the story to do a lot of work besides reading.

At Work on the Alice Chart

The first Alice work she did was thumb through the book and put sticky notes on each page where Alice changed size (this was her favorite aspect of the story). She found and recorded the page number, and Alice’s height on that page, then I gave her a roll of paper and a tape measure and she charted out “life-size” pictures of Alice throughout the book–from three inches to “taller than a tree.” Selina and I both helped color and decorate the Alices.

Nine-Foot Alice

One of my favorite aspects of the completed project is that Nat made Alice African American, in spite of her pervasive blondeness in so many of her popular incarnations. We taped our Alice chart to the wall in the hallway so we could admire it for a while.

The day after that, I gave Nat a list of household stuff and had her measure each item in inches and feet, using a tape measure or a ruler, depending on what worked best for the job.

But the next day, she wanted to get back to her obsession, so I had her write a “book report” (though I didn’t call it that), and she enthusiastically did so, raving about her love of Alice and drawing a lovely picture of her favorite scene.

She has seen three different movie adaptations of Alice and she likes the Disney animated one from 1951 best, because it includes scenes and characters she likes that the other versions she’s seen leave out.

Full disclosure: I have never been an Alice fan. In fact, I have always pretty much loathed Lewis Carroll. I mean, he was a dirty old man, and most of the book is a thinly disguised drugged-out political commentary. Plus, I just don’t like the weirdness. I am not a Kafka fan either. I don’t like my own wacky-to-nightmarish dreams and don’t care to read others’. But hey, that’s just me. Clearly this is a book, if not a genre, that Nat adores. So now I’m compiling ideas for other books she might like. Do leave your suggestions in the comments. Keep in mind that she is only seven, so stuff like Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, or Holes, while just the right reading level, are not going to ring a bell for her, in all likelihood.

One thing that has struck me since I started thinking in terms of school at home, is how much we can get done (academically, I mean) in a short amount of time. This is something I’ve heard a lot about from homeschoolers. I’ve heard more than one anecdote about blasting through a year of curriculum in four months, for example. We aren’t using a curriculum (unless “stuff Mama Shannon thinks would be good to introduce this month/week/today” counts as one), but if we were, I dare say we would be blasting too.

One of Nat’s downfalls in life is that she is highly distractable. One of her gifts is a love of and compassion towards people. I think this was tricky for her to handle in the classroom–even a classroom that allowed her lots of teacher attention and long periods of time to work on what interested her most. The simple fact is, if a kid walks by, she is more interested in that kid and what he’s doing than in the most interesting work of her own.

Last week I was plotting some subtraction practice work for her. (I have been using this websiteto make her crossword puzzles, including ones with written-out math problems. She likes to work the puzzles and I have found all kinds of ways to get her to think about different topics and disciplines via crossword.) Nat finds counters and fingers useful in doing addition and subtraction, but the problems I was doing went up and down from 100, and I didn’t want to have to deal with that many counters, so I decided to make her what Montessorians call a “Hundred Board.” Then of course, I realized that I ought to ask her to make it. More ruler work, lots of fine motor practice, reinforcement for counting to 100, etc. etc., right? So the next day I sat her down and gave her paper and a ruler and a pencil and eraser, gave her brief instructions to begin the chart (make a 10-inch square) and at each subsequent step (make ten one-inch columns…make ten one-inch rows…write out the numbers in alternating colors…cut out the chart…) and with me poking my head in the room every ten minutes to check on her progress, it was completely finished (including erasing and re-figuring out how to make the lines straight) in under an hour.

Nat’s Hundred Board

Now, this may make most of you shrug, but for Nat it’s an amazing accomplishment. I can only imagine the same task would have taken her a week of “work” periods in school last year, simply due to her tendency to get constantly distracted by other kids. As it is, she is super proud of her hundred board. Tomorrow I’m going to have her make a number line from 0-100, with a half-inch between the numbers and put it on the wall too. Then I’ll show her the subtraction puzzle and she can complete it with her math reference tools.

As for me, I’m really enjoying doing this with the kids. It isn’t a far step from my usual parenting style anyway, I just spend a little more thought on how we spend the two and a half hours set aside each morning for “work” (meaning academic work, though all day long we are working and learning in all kinds of ways). We follow a schedule every day, and I don’t mind sharing it with you:

Wake Up

1. Make your bed. 2. Clean up your room. 3. Eat breakfast. 4. Clean up the dining room. 5. Brush your teeth. 6. Get dressed. 7. Read quietly in your room.


Quiet Individual Work Time


Lunch/Clean up dining room


House Cleaning Time

Josiah calls this “Cinderella-ing.” But hey, scrubbing things is VERY Montessori. That’s what I’m gonna tell the authorities, anyway.


Afternoon Activities (different every day)


1. Supper/Clean up dining room 2. Evening Activities (different every day)


Begin bedtime routine.

“Afternoon Activities” might be continuing a project begun in the morning (Alice took all day). Or it might be free play in the girls’ room or a trip to the playground.

About once a week, Nat and I make a trip to the grocery store that entails a list of “things we need” and a list of “things we want” and a budget. Nat adds up the price of each “need” item as we put it in the cart and figure out how much we can afford from the “want” list, once we’ve got what we need. I sort of orchestrate this so that we can never get everything we want. This is probably good for me, as I haven’t been able to “afford” my favorite potato chips in weeks.

In a couple of weeks, the kids begin a soccer program that just teaches the game without any competition. This is good because my kids are not athletes just yet (Selina may well become one though). Chicago Parks and Recreation has all kinds of introductory sports programs and I just want them to get the basics of many things and see if any in particular strike them as special. They are doing dance on Saturdays too. Really, they need (Nat especially really truly needs) an hour of high-aerobic activity every day, but that’s a tough one for non-sporty me. We joined the Y too, though, so when the weather is too cold for the playground we can go there.

I could probably go on about this for another six posts, just about our first six weeks or so of earnest homeschooling. But I’ll wrap this up for now and check in again in a few weeks.

Selina’s Favorite “Green Soup”

This is easy-peasy, delicious and super healthful. Selina begs me to make it.

Green Soup

1 head of cauliflower

2 heads of brocolli

1 large onion

1 large potato

1 quart of broth (any kind–I’ve used chicken, veggie and mushroom–all are good)

4 or 5 tablespoons of butter

salt and pepper to taste

Put the broth on the stove to heat while chopping all the veggies. Toss them in the pot and cook until they’re all soft. Puree with a blender or food processor. Add the butter and stir until melted. (You can skip it if you’re vegan or something, but it really makes a difference.) Salt and pepper to taste.


Sewing Projects Update

My dress est complete! It looks rather like a dress made by someone who can’t sew. I trimmed it with some braid I crocheted. Here is some of the detail:

I wore the dress around the house and then around the block to take the children for a walk, but I probably won’t be wearing it to the Academy Awards when the movie made from my book is nominated for an Oscar.

Meanwhile…yesterday, the girls and I were walking down a busy street and Selina spotted a certain commercial product in the windows of a store. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Look! We could go to that store and get one of those!”

“We could” I agreed. “But actually, Mama Shannon could probably make something like that for you.”

“I know!” Selina suggested. “You could make it tonight.

So I did. Then I put it beside her in bed while she was sleeping. Cole said she was very happy and excited about it this morning. Here it is:

P.S. The fabric I used to make this doll was purchased several years ago to make extra throw pillows for a couch we no longer own. It’s “suede” micro-fibre. The eyes and mouth are color swatches of similar fabric from a company from which we briefly considered buying a chair.

If You Haven’t Already Seen It

This is my latest post at BlogHer. It’s about Selina’s baptism on Mother’s Day in 2008.

Why Do They Insist on Calling it Gifted?

“Gifted” has always meant one thing to me: over-privileged child of parents who are convinced the galaxy revolves around their precious, precious offspring.

All kids are “gifted,” right?  All kids have some unique, amazing offering to the universe that no one ever made before in quite the same way.  As much as it is true that there is nothing new under the sun, I have always also (perhaps paradoxically) felt in my bones that God never made the same thing twice.  Every child is a gift.

So, how to explain that thing about Nat that makes her so different from other kids her age, and so like the various kids described in the articles I’ve finally broken down and started reading about “gifted” children?  I don’t have another word for it, but Nat’s brain doesn’t work in a typical way.  Our recent parent-teacher conferences brought this home to me more profoundly than ever, and most of all, it brought home the fact that I need to attend to Nat’s difference.  I need language for it so that I can advocate for her when she proves herself to be a bit of a cog in the classroom machinery, however charming and beloved a cog (which she is—the teachers and other kids adore her.)

On a side note, I’ve read a few articles and found my head bobbing as kids from about 10-17 are being described in typical school situations as “underachievers.”  Ever since I started looking at the home school literature (especially the classics like Teach Your Own by John Holt, thanks to Dawn’s recommendation), I have found myself remembering my own school experiences as being full of busywork—maybe 80-90% busywork, in fact.  Perhaps the only work I didn’t find to be so easy I could spit it out in half-time with my hands tied behind my back was Math, and lo and behold, if that didn’t turn out to be due to my refusal to put any effort into it (thanks to Ms. Hernon of Algebra II for this revelation).  Most of the real learning I did—the ah-ha moments I still remember from childhood here in middle age—happened in the corner of my bedroom floor, with my “nose stuck in a book” as my folks used to say.  It was remembering these things that initially drew me to homeschooling with a hearty helping of UNschooling as the main course for my own kids’ educations.

Now that we’ve settled on a school situation (for now), I am seeing that even the school we’ve found, with its kid-led curriculum and low student/teacher ratio has routines that can be defied by the weirdest of the weird kids that grace its halls.  And Nat is one of those.  Apparently, her seeming lack of self-motivation persists to her mid-kindergarten year, as strong as it was when she was 9 months old and absolutely refused to crawl.  We’d put a desired object just out of reach to encourage her to rock forward even a tiny bit, but as soon as she realized she would have to move for it, she’d drop all interest and play with carpet fuzz instead.  Apparently, with a dazzling array of challenges in her classroom, Nat still mostly prefers to work at tried-and-true projects she has known well for the past year and only works on one new or difficult thing a day at the teacher’s gentle urging.  (You know what she’s also doing, though?  She’s teaching the younger children those familiar tasks.)

So much for offering challenging options as an antidote to underachieving.

And yet, and yet… Even when she was a baby, her lack of interest in doing ordinary baby things (you know, like crawling) always made me feel that she was doing something else instead.  We even took her to a developmental specialist at 17 months, when she wasn’t pulling herself up (except on my body—clue to the problem) and he found that she had no developmental delays, was rather ahead in many areas (namely, language and other intellectual, rather than motor areas) and didn’t pull up unless she was particularly motivated to do so (to get nearer to me, for example).  He ruled her reluctance to engage a mere idiosyncrasy of personality, which had been my private theory all along.

Another private theory of mine was (and is) that when she is not doing what the other kids are doing, she is doing something else all her own.  For example, at 17 months, when she wasn’t pulling up, we accidentally discovered that she could identify all the alphabet letters and could spell, fingerspell and recognize her written name.  Okay “N-A-T” is pretty easy.  But within six months, she was memorizing sight words after one exposure, spelling and finger spelling them too—about 30 words in all.  In another six months, she was sounding out short words without ever being taught to do it and in another six months, she was starting to read sentences on public signs and direct me according to their instructions—again, without prompting, because seriously, who wants a three-year old telling her where to park, or not park or how fast to drive the car?

I posit that as is the case with typical development in children so young, Nat was too busy doing X to master (or spend time practicing) Y.  And that’s what I think she’s still doing now.  What will her brain pop out with next week that lets us all know what she’s been working on when she hasn’t been doing whatever the teacher has suggested she do?  I want her to learn to “get along” as needed in a classroom with its boundaries (especially in a classroom with as respectful, child-centered boundaries as Nat’s), and I trust the teacher’s near-thirty years of experience to know something different than I know about what is good for Nat.  But I also have this little unschooling voice in the back of my head that whispers “leave her alone, she knows what she’s doing and what she needs.”

Meanwhile, I’m looking for the language to explain this, to defend it, to promote it for Nat’s sake.  Don’t get me wrong, the teachers are absolutely on our side.  But they say Nat is an anomaly, and what to do with her is a matter about which reasonable people who share the same side might disagree or at least question each other.  Besides, I’m just curious.  If Nat’s brain is atypical, what is it up to?  I want to know because she’s my child and that makes her the most fascinating subject in the world to me—if not the precious, precious offspring around which the galaxy revolves.

And just to keep things interesting, Selina is proving to be a whole other ball of wax, but a cog in her own special way, too.  Stay tuned.

Perfectly Normal

After our date last night, Cole and I were shooting the breeze with the fabulous Whitney who told us about the following episode in babysitting adventures:

Everyone is snuggled together on the bunk bed for a bedtime story when a strange, low-pitched voice says:

“I am going to eat poop and talk about my butt!  hahaha!”

Whitney: Selina, those are rude words and I don’t want to hear them.  If you are going to talk like that, you can excuse yourself while Nat and I read a book.

Selina: I didn’t say it!  Grease said it!

“Grease” is one of Selina’s feet–the one with a low-pitched voice.  “Vanilla,” her other foot, has a high-pitched voice.

Whitney: Grease, you need to stop speaking with such rude words!

“Grease”: poop! poop! poop!

Whitney: Selina!

Selina: Grease said it!

Whitney: Young lady, you are in control of your feet.  You stop letting Grease talk that way or you cannot listen to this book.

Apparently, Grease got in line after that.

No Place Like Home

I bought these shoes in Kansas City:


(Technically, they came from the Missouri side, but just barely, and I wore them in Kansas.)

Nat was extremely upset that I left town with Selina but not her.  I suppose that's to be expected, but she had a heck of a grand time in my absence.  She had her end-of-year school picnic to which both Josiah and Whitney took her.  (Always keep the private school crowd guessing, is my new motto!)  When Cole arrived, she took her to see Diana Ross in concert.  Cole explained to Nat, when picking her up from school, that they would be staying up past bedtime, having popcorn for supper and seeing a very special show.  At this, (so I'm told) Nat's eyes got very big and she asked, "Does Mama Shannon know?"  Nat thinks even Cole needs the Mama Shannon Clearance for Fun.  Then, it seems they had a picnic again on Sunday, featuring smoked salmon and cheese, both of which Nat loves.  Then, Cole took her bike riding.

Then I came home and you would have thought she was locked in a closet for the past four days.


I will probably be going again soon, and I don't think either kid will be coming next time.  A big part of Nat's distress was missing Selina.  And while Selina had a grand time being an only child for a few days, she missed Nat a lot too.  They both spent a lot of time talking and asking about each other.

It's going to be a weird summer, with lots of visits to Kansas City, as my father is going to be doing chemo for pretty much all of it.  It would appear that he has cancer of an especially nasty type.

Other than that, gee, things are rosy.  Selina will be three on Sunday.  Can you believe that?  (No, I know, you cannot.  Me neither.)  We're doing a low-key birthday zoo trip with a couple of friends and cake.  Selina keeps changing her mind about what she wants on the cake, but it's always an animal.  A sheep, a dog, a giraffe, an alligator, a lion, yadda yadda.  I will probably either do a lion or a zebra.

I will show you the finished product.  Selina is very excited about the whole thing and looking forward with great enthusiasm to the Dora underwear I promised her she would get to wear when she…you know the rest.  I am unveiling said underwear at the birthday party for extra effect.  I don't even like Dora, but Selina does and WHATEVER WORKS, right?  Here's to a diaper-free family!  Coming soon to a blog near you…

P.S. Yes indeed, your prayers, thoughts, candles, meditations on the void on behalf of my family would be awesome.