24 May 2015

Weely Wrap-up: A Win in Japanese!!

Easily the most exciting thing in my week has been a huge leap forward in my Japanese studies! I recently started browsing through the All Japanese All The Time blog, and came across his suggestion to study whole sentences, rather than vocabulary and grammar in isolation. I've been trying this week, and I don't think that I've ever done anything so effective! Part of the magic is the way that he suggests collecting: out of real Japanese materials (not the Engilsh-Japanese student "ghetto") that you're using because they are fun. Right now, I'm enjoying my flashcards immensely. Can't get enough. I've always kind of liked reading the dictionary, and right now the sample sentences in my Japanese-English dictionary are completely fascinating, so I'm building a list of sentences out of my dictionary, built around words I already know. So lots of the sentences I'm studying are ones that have one or two words that are new, and the rest is familiar. But the really cool thing is that I'm learning to say things in a Japanese way. And, being more comfortable with saying things in a Japanese way, the simple ebooks I've been working on are getting easier -- after only one week!! I have my eye on some Stargate episodes in Japanese, and I've kicked up the Japanese talk radio background noise, since that helps to get the language and patterns into my ear. The kids were eating up the Avengers in Japanese that I found on YouTube, and they ask for Shimajiro. I switched my phone's default language to Japanese, and I'm trying to persuade my phone to show me stuff in Japanese on Pinterest. And it's working. For all of us. Every day I understand noticeably more than the day before - without putting in tons of effort. Because, after all, there's still the rest of life to accomplish.

And, in spite of my enthusiasm for my dictionary and flash-cards, we did do quite a bit of non-Japanese stuff.

Nature Study went particularly well. Our pond is really coming to life. We saw tadpoles - the first time I've seen them, ever - and fed turtles. The kids got muddy. We watched water-scooting bugs and listened to bird song. I found plantain and burdock, and identified the remains of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit we found last week, even though the flower was broken off. We noticed that "our" mouse has opened a new hole - the 3rd we know of on his house. I still have some wildflower photos to identify. The pond was gorgeous. The woods were beautiful. It was fascinating. I love Nature Study!

Hero(8) has been hard at work, learning to blow bubbles. Not that that's terribly educational. But it's important to him, and he's so happy with himself! We've had several pieces of gum hit the floor... ew. But he's making progress. Even if it is hard to photograph his successes.

We were minding our own business, attempting some bookwork on Friday, when Nature Study came to us. We discovered that a Mama Mallard built her nest in the neighbor's rhubarb. Happily, they don't eat the rhubarb; hopefully they'll wait until the ducks are done nesting to finish taking out the plants. In the mean time, we have front-row seats, since the fence is easy to see through. I've seen 5 or 6 babies, but didn't get a good enough view for a reliable count. The neighbor says there's 8. I'm wondering why they decided that a suburban yard, a mile or more to the closest drainage pond, much less a real pond, is a good place for a nest? No idea. But I'm delighted.

The kids have been doing some great stuff around the yard. Hero has decided that mowing is one of his favorite jobs. And they all like the planting we've been doing. Hero and Dragon each did their own pots. Dragon chose red ones, appropriately, Snap-dragons. That makes me smile.

Hope that your week went as well as ours did!

17 May 2015

Psalm 4: Hear My Prayer

When I sit down with a passage of scripture,  the first thing I want is to understand the meaning of all the words in the passage. My parents raised me consistently exposed to and talking about scripture language (in many ways, it's its own dialect), so I am fortunate that, for the most part, the distinctive language of the scriptures doesn't bother me, even with the King James Version. But even with that, sometimes the scriptures, and especially the Old Testament, can be tricky. Psalm 4 has one of those tricky spots. From verse 2:

"...how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?"

This didn't sound like the usual sort of leasing, where you rent something, so I looked it up in Strong's. It comes from the Hebrew "kazab," which is typically translated as lie, but was also rendered as deceitful, false, liar, lies, and, here and in Psalm 5, as leasing. When you render this with one of those other words, it makes a lot more sense: "... how long will ye love vanity, and seek after lies?" I looked it up in the 1828 Websters, just for fun, and it appears that this used to be meaning of leasing, but it was obsolete back then already. So, at that point, I backed up and looked at the beginning again.

Photo courtesy LDS Media

I love that. The Psalmist combined both a plea for help and a faith-boosting reminder of the times He has previously assisted. During prayer is a great time to think about how the Lord has cared for us in the past, precisely because that will boost our confidence before the Lord, and it seems to me that quiet confidence or assurance is a key to unlocking the power of prayer (which is distinctly different from arrogancy, or from selfishly demanding). I found myself browsing through scriptures about prayer. There are so many to love. I scrolled through dozens, dealing with a bunch of situations. Invitation after invitation to seek Him in prayer. I ended up making a scripture chain of some of my favorites.

Psalm 4:1
Hebrews 10:35-36
Matthew 21:22
Luke 6:12
Matthew 17:19-21
Words of Mormon 1:8
Colossians 4:2
James 5:16
Jacob 4:10

Sweet Power of Prayer, April 2003

Brother Nelson's wry humor appeals to me, but he has a great point, too: the act of praying isn't hard, and that's by design. It's not something that only holy people or smart people or whatever kind of People Who Are Not Me do; prayer is for all of us. Our Father wants us all. He wants to hear from us; He wants to help us. Not only does He want to hear from us -that's only half the equation- He wants us to hear Him.

14 May 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: the one in the garden

Our week has included a delightful lot of gardening. Our new Apple tree is blossoming. This is the first year it's done that, and I'm extremely excited about it. I don't know if this will lead to actual apples, since the tree we put in to be a pollenator is a year younger, and didn't flower. But it's an exciting step, nonetheless! 

Some of my early stuff is up in the garden, and we've been enjoying chives from the garden regularly for a week or two, now. 

Most of the rest doesn't make very exciting pictures, yet, but the Lemon Balm is up, and I planted purple cone flowers, and forget me nots, and all kinds of fun things. Hero has a Goblin Dwarf Gallardia that he loves because it's a Goblin Dwarf, and we were reading the Hobbit when we found it. The peppers are in, and I need to get rid of some more strawberries so I have room for my tomatoes in a few weeks when we're past danger of frost. 

Over the weekend, Hero and a couple of his friends participated in a "Mini Mudder" and got super dirty, worked extremely hard, and learned they were tougher and more capable than they realized. 

We had some good nature study, too. Found a Jack-in-the-Pulpit and saw an Oriole. The plant was a lot easier to photograph than the bird!

So, as is usual for us at this time of year, we spent a ton of time outside. But we did do some bookwork, too, and Hero found time to re-read some of his Percy Jackson books as well. Violin lessons were great, too. The boys picked out songs for the recital at the end of the month. 

08 May 2015

Dandelion Delight

It's dandelion time! I know, it's strange, but I love dandelions. My children bring them to me as gifts, and that's adorable. Also, they're pretty.

Also, it turns out, they're good medicine. They've been valued for ages.

 Imagine you are moving to a new world, leaving behind everything you know and love, for life in an unknown country. If possible, you'd probably want to bring along favorite foods and most-used medicines. ... It's ironic to me that dandelions were once so cherished that people intentionally intentionally brought them across the ocean so they would not be separated from them. But then fast forward a few hundred years later and many people in North America poison dandelion with chemicals to discourage its abundance... -Rosalee de la Foret

Imagine you are moving to a new world, leaving behind everything you know and love for life in an unknown country. If possible, you’d probably want to bring along favorite foods and most-used medicines. What would those be for you? Tomatoes? Pumpkins? Antibiotics? Dandelions?

Text from Dandelions and Delicious Dandelion Fritters - LearningHerbs
Read More at http://learningherbs.com/remedies-recipes/dandelion-fritters/
Copyright © 2015 LearningHerbs.

So, it's dandelion time, and I'm playing. Tigress and I went out and we picked all the blossoms in the front yard. These, I popped into the dehydrator for a few minutes on the lowest setting (you don't want to overdo it, or they'll turn white), and they are in oil on the back porch, steeping. In about a month the oil will be ready to turn into lotions and soaps.

We added some of the greens to our sandwhiches today, too. Having heard a lot about how bitter dandelions are, I was a little nervous about this, but they were mixed with some romaine, and I couldn't taste them at all. The kids ate them up. And they asked to make something out of the flowers. So we'll be trying some Dandelion Fritters, probably tonight.

I also tried making some tea from the dandelion leaves. That was not as good as some other flavors I've tried, but it wasn't too bad, not nearly as bitter as I thought. Maybe this bitterness is less than I'd been lead to believe. 

If I can find enough blossoms, then there are some other things I want to mess around with. One of the ladies in an online group said that she dries the leaves, crumbles them, and then uses them like parsley. Several mentioned that they add them to soups and smoothies. There is also Dande Flower Syrup, I've had my eye on this Dandelion Bread for a while, now, waiting for the flowers to start blooming. And, if I really hit the jackpot for blossoms, then there's this Dandelion Jelly that is supposed to taste like honey. That would be fun to make, just to see if it really does. Over at Eat The Weeds, they've got a whole collection of recipes. Their Pumpkin Dandelion Soup sounds interesting. I have no idea if I'd actually like it, but it could be fun to make. And there's Dandelion Lemonaide from Herb Mentor.

I never knew there was so many interesting things to do with a few Dandelions!

21 April 2015

The Slow Unfolding of Spring

This was a month ago. I wrote this, and then I got sick, and didn't see it, didn't think of it, for almost exactly a month when I found it in my drafts this evening. It was such a lovely trip to the park, and a productive Nature Study. The pond is thawed now, and last week we saw the turtles that give it its name. It's remarkable the difference the month can make.

We have a nature preserve we like to visit, and see what is happening in the pond. They closed the pond area for the winter, and last week was the first week we were able to go look at the pond since last fall.

It was still frozen solid. 

We went back this week, and I was surprised at how solid it still is; we've had temperatures in the mid 60s all week, and even had rain one day. 

There's some free water around the very edges, but mostly, the pond is still frozen pretty solid. 

The boys tried stabbing the ice with sticks, but for the most part, the ice still didn't care. 

Dragon noticed that some of the sticks on the ice are sunken, embedded into the ice.

We think that the water is melting a little in the daytime, so the sticks are in puddles in the day, then at night it refreezes. It isn't very warm today, so the sticks were still embedded in the ice. 

Then we headed out into the woods by the pond. Nearly all of the snow is melted, and there is less mud (yay!!), but things are mostly still dormant. We talked about how some animals live in a brush pile like this. Hero was pretty surprised that a pile of sticks could be so useful.

Our little Tigress is delighted by all the going "side" we've been doing, and she has to be right in there, exploring and discovering with her brothers. She was easily the muddiest when we got home. Not long after this picture was taken, she tumbled off that root and was fine... except for the mud. 

20 April 2015

Psalm 3: Christ's Grace Brings Confidence

First, this is labeled as "A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son." That's not a story that we spend a lot of time talking about in Sunday School or other classes, so the first thing I did was to go review the story. The Bible Dictionary lists quite a few passages that deal with Absalom, but the main event is in 2 Samuel 15-18. After studying that, and re-reading the psalm, I also went and reviewed the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12

This was an incredibly trying time for David. It's sometime after he had taken Bathsheba and killed Uriah, and now his son Absalom has risen up against him. First, Absalom played a subtle game where he undermined the king and stole the hearts of the people. Then, he actually raised an army, and David and his supporters had to flee Jerusalem. The third Psalm deals with both the difficult situations that he faced, and also expresses his confidence in the Lord's care.

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. 
But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.(vs.1-2)

I have frequently heard David held up as a singular example of What Not To Do. There are good reasons why this is so. We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that his sins were severe enough to cost him dearly in the eternities. In the beginning, he was described as "a man after the Lord's own heart", and he was chosen, and elevated above his brethren because of this. But his rise was followed by the tragedy of his choices regarding Uriah and his wife. You still hear, from time to time, people saying that, "there is no help for him in God."

David, himself, clearly felt otherwise, and the Psalms are full of his praise for the amazing Grace that the Lord extended to him.  This is one of those Psalms.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory and the lifter up of mine head. 
I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill. 

Even in this extreme case, the Grace of the Lord is such that David wasn't utterly abandoned. What a hopeful thing that is for all of us!

The Gift of Grace, April 2015

Even in these difficult circumstances, and in spite of past sins, David seems to have enjoyed the peace which passeth understanding. If ever there were troubles that would cause one to loose sleep, David had some, particularly at this time. He had to have known that the conflict with Absalom was not going to end well; attempted coups nearly never end in reconciliation for the dynastic family. And quite often, neighboring countries see this sort of weakness and take the opportunity to annex some territory or the country descends into civil war, so there were quite likely concerns for his people that could keep him up at night, even if those family issues didn't. But he's not talking about how little he's sleeping; instead he talks about the strength he draws from the Lord.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. (vs. 5)

We can have this kind of strength from the Lord, too. Whatever we have done, we, like David, are not too far gone for Christ's mercy. We can also draw on the strength that He offers.

In the Strength of the Lord, April 2004

Since I started studying the Psalms, I've come to have a greater appreciation for just how dramatic the power imbalance between us and God is: a mosquito has a better chance of stopping an elephant than any human has of frustrating God's Will. At this point in his life, David has returned to a place where he desires the Lord's Will, and is unflinching before it. "Here am I," he says. "Let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him." This is important; it enables the confidence we see in the psalm:

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God, for thou has smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth to the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah. (vs.6-8)

17 April 2015

Spring Discoveries

Our park visit was short, but the kids loved it. We found Willow catkin this morning. They're so soft, and really striking against the grey of our early Spring. 

We saw turtles in Turtle Pond, too, but didn't end up with any good pictures. They were pretty far away for a little phone camera. The kids discovered that their usual shouting and running scares the critters; almost all the turtles were hiding by the time we finished. 

It was a good visit, even though it was short. 

New Games

This week, we've been having great success with games for school. First, there's this Japanese game. The inspiration for this came from this article, the first in a series about the stages of learning a language. They suggested this:

If you can say ‘Do you want to speak Spanish with me now?’ and you can also say ‘I’d like to practise speaking with you tonight’, then see how many different ways you can chop them up.  Have a go at ‘I’d like to speak Spanish with you now’ or ‘Do you want to practise speaking with me tonight?’ – challenge yourself to make up as many different phrases as possible.

So, I thought this was a really good idea, but I knew that Hero was going to need some support to make this happen, so this is what I came up with: 3x5 cards. Each card has the word written several different ways. There's kanji at the top of a number of them, and hiragana below that. Those are what real live Japanese people use. But Hero's an American kid, and he has  yet to master either, so below that, I wrote little romaji letters (that's the English transliteration). And I broke it up into syllables, thinking that it might help him to improve his hiragana that way. It's hard to see in the picture, but the English translation is also down in the corner. Then, we split up the cards, and we each made up sentences.

今何時ですか。 (What time is it now?)

九時です。 (It's 9 o'clock.)

He asked me for some of the animals they've been learning from YouTube. Why, yes, I'd be delighted to give you more cards. I added the ones I could remember off the top of my head, and we reshuffled. Now, he was really having fun. This was his favorite sentence:

すみません、うさぎのよるです。 (Excuse me, it's the bunny night.)

His confidence in his ability to produce sentences was noticeably improved by the end of the game - he was playing. We got to talk a bit about word order. He's developing a better grasp of this type of sentence structure. It was just an all around good thing, and when it was done, he said he had fun and was looking forward to playing again, soon. I'd call that a win.

Our other game is probably even more successful. It's nothing fancy, just war. It really is the game that's worth 1000 worksheets. The kids have begged me to play this one with them every day this week. The red cards are single deck; Dragon loves red, and that's the one he usually uses. I often pull out the big cards for him, since he's just starting addition. He still counts the little clubs and hearts to figure things out, which is fine. But that's tough to do on the 11s and 12s, since those are face cards, but he really didn't want me to throw them away. Hero is working on multiplication, so I often pull out the small numbers, and have him practice the more difficult problems. We have a multiplication table that goes to 12x12 that he keeps handy so that he can reference it. Looking things up repeatedly will help him to start to remember.

And, when the English math is finished, we will often play another round in Japanese. Dragon is still challenged by just naming the numbers in Japanese when they are out of order, but Hero is working on doing addition in our second language. This works for me, as I'm in need of some practice manipulating the numbers. Doing it with the kids is really interesting. I'm realizing that my concept of three is attached to the word: three, and not to the numeral: 3. Learning to do math in Japanese is making me move more toward the numerals. I don't know how much difference that's going to make, but I find it interesting. I'm not super surprised; I'm very text-oriented in my thinking. Even dreams aren't pictures. So it will be interesting to see how my thinking evolves as we play around with building numerical fluency in Japanese as well as English.


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