Tuesday, June 30, 2009


We've had a string of days in the high 90's around here (and trust me, this is not a dry heat).  Heat indices have been around 110.  The heat wave broke two days ago, still it would take something pretty special to get my son and I to dress in long sleeve shirts and long pants in the middle of the afternoon.  In this case is wasn't just special, it was cool ......about 58 degrees to be exact--the temperature of cave.

One of Missouri's nicknames is The Cave State, with over 3000 caves on the registers.  There are several  "show caves" like the one Mark Twain made famous in Tom Sawyer or Meramec Caverns with its ads painted on barn roofs as far away as Indiana.  Fritz and I were going to a cave "open house" sponsored by the Dept. of Conservation,  so no electric lights or paved walkways,  In fact, here is the way the conservation newsletter describes it:

This hands-on exploration requires crawling on your stomach for several feet. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and bring a flashlight. Helmets will be provided.

I had reservations as I was making reservations...lately Fritz has been afraid of dark hallways and the dark waterslide tunnel; what would he do when he experienced total darkness?  Would we see bats  and would they scare him?  I read him the description and asked if he wanted to try this and he answered yes.

There were 14 of us fitting helmets and checking flashlight batteries at the conservation center.  We followed a paved path for several hundred yards and then diverted across a dry creek bed and up a hill till we came to a rock wall with what appeared to be a cage sitting in front...but where was the opening?

 As our guide fiddled with the padlock, he explained that this was a "bathtub entrance," so named because you had to sit down as if you were in a tub and then slide feet first "down the drain."  He went on to say that no one had ever gotten physically stuck in the cave but getting an arm wedged or a helmet hitting the top of the opening can lead to people getting mentally stuck.  I looked down at my son to see if there was any apprehension...  Nope, as soon as our guide had disappeared Fritz hopped into the cage to pursue.

Having just seen my son swallowed up by a hole in the ground I realized that I was the one feeling apprehensive and projecting it on him.  I approached the opening and here's what I saw:

The arrow marks the "bathtub drain"

 At the bottom was just enough room to lean forward and switch from moving feet first to crawling on your belly at least ten feet and going around a corner.  Fritz, at 57 pounds and 48 inches didn't even realize this was an obstacle.  I felt a sudden thankfulness that I'd lost 20 pounds from walking the dog this year and wondered if 20 was enough.  But eventually I was sitting beside Fritz in the "twilight zone" of the cave as we waited for the others.

The twilight zone, yes there really is such a place, describes the area of a cave where there is still some light from the entrance.  You may be able to see the silhouette of your hand in front of your face.  Here we got our lecture on the three types of animals we might find in the cave. 1) Trogloxenes (cave guests) are creatures that usually live outside caves but may take shelter in one.  2) Troglophiles (cave lovers) live part of their lives in the cave and part outside.  Bats fall into this category.  The troglophiles we saw today were a millipede and several salamanders.

A salamander wishing the trogloxene with the camera would move on

The third category is troglobites (cave dwellers).  These are the creatures with no eyes and no pigment.  The guide said he'd even seen some that were transparent and you could see their internal organs, but there weren't any in this cave.

We went through another passage, this one not as tight a squeeze but it was at a 45 degree angle.  At times it was easier for me to roll across the rock formations, although Fritz was able to walk through bent over.

Now we were in the dark zone.  As expected, the guide invited everyone to turn off their lights and experience total darkness.  At the same time he had everyone move their hands forward and backward in front of their faces while making a "shh" sound.  Although we couldn't see anything we could detect a change in sound as our hands moved.  This was as close as we could come to experiencing the echolocation used by bats.  Here's where we learned two things that Fritz remembered when retelling his experience to Daddy (why do boys always hone in on the "gross" stuff?)

First, in the outside world the bottom of the food chain starts with plants converting the sun's energy.  But in caves there is no sun and no plants.   The troglophiles, particularly bats, who go outside the caves to eat return to the caves and deposit guano (children ask your parents).  This starts the cave food chain.  Algae can form on the guano and insects may eat one or the other or both.

Second, bats are beneficial creatures that can eat up to 2000 mosquitoes in an hour.  Some bats have better hunting nights than others. The ones that haven't done so well may actually have burned more energy in hunting than they were able to consume.  This presents a problem when returning to a cool cave to wait until feeding time comes around again.  So bats practice "Reciprocal Altruism."  If a bat has had a good night and notices a neighbor's tummy rumbling, it will regurgitate some of its meal for the neighbor.  The neighbor, having a good memory, will return the favor when the tables are turned.

With those two bits of information our cave tour was over.  Our guide informed us that there were two paths back to the entrance.  The first, the chute,  was short and straight but the catch was it was designed for very skinny people.  "Think Gwyneth Paltrow," he said.  The second was the path we had taken to get in--slightly bigger but involving a lot of crawling and flexiblity.  "Think pilates," he said.  "Make your choice and I'll be the last one out." The words were still echoing in the cavern when Fritz announced he was heading down the chute.

 Another salamander and "The Chute"

I shouted to his disappearing ankles "I can't follow you that way," thinking this would make him turn back.  Nope, he yelled back "I'll see you at the top, Mama," and kept right on going.  Two other boys were not going to be shown up by a six year old so they headed out the chute next.  I sat there for a second waiting for a surprise option three--the one for middle-aged women who wished they had a better exercise regimen.  When no other option was presented I headed towards the "pilates" path with all the other women who knew they were no Gwyneth Paltrow.  At least we had the comfort of knowing we had all made it in this way and since we hadn't eaten in the cave, we should all fit on the way out. 

It did seem harder--was that just the power of suggestion playing with our heads?  I was stuck in a traffic jam as women tried to contort themselves back up the bathtub drain.  I could hear Fritz outside sharing all his discoveries with a grandmother who stayed at the entrance. 

So we both learned something today: Fritz learned about the ecosystem of a cave and I learned that my little boy is growing up and I need to let him.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Homeschool Field Days

One of the events our support group does to celebrate the end of the school year is host Field Days in the park; a day of races and physical contests along with fellowship time.   This was our first year to attend and I was impressed and amazed--both with the number of attendees and the organization. 

I had an inkling at the creativity and size of the contests when the organizer put out word she needed a farmer to bring two rolls of baled hay for the obstacle course.

There we almost three hundred people at the park, some fathers took vacation to attend.  Everyone got a nametag with a colored dot to indicate from what town in the county they hailed.  Everyone had their age or grade level on the tag in one of four colors to indicate which team they would be one in that level.  

By far the favorite event was musical buckets!   Sets of buckets filled with water were placed in rings throughout the park.  Boomboxes with Christian music  were set to blaring and when the music stopped ......

The younger kids had such tiny tushes that they would sink in the bucket up to their armpits.  Then they were stuck like upside-down turtles until an adult could stop laughing long enough to pull them out.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Missing:............One tooth!

It's been a banner day in our house-- Schnickelfritz has lost his first tooth!  The last ten days have not been easy ones to say the least.  Fritz does not take "the unknown" well.   I assured him that it wouldn't hurt, that the roots and nerves of the tooth had disappeared because the new tooth was pushing up from underneath.  But do you think he'd take my word for it?  After all, I'm a grown up, how the heck can I remember what happened or how it felt so looonnngg ago?   He apparently wanted to discuss it with someone for whom the milestone event had more recently occurred.

Well, as is often the way of children,  sharing experiences leads to exagerating, which leads to ones-up-manship which leads to the stuff of urban legends!  One night last week we heard Fritz sniffling in bed.  When asked what was wrong he burst into tears, "If your tooth falls out and you swallow it  you can DIE!!!"  Daddy had to lie down with  him until he fell asleep that night.

This morning we had just gotten the phone call that swimming lessons were canceled and I called for Fritz to let him know.  He emerged from the bathroom wide-eyed and dismayed--he had been wiggling the tooth and now it stood an eigth of an inch higher than all the others and it was bleeding.  I tried to dab it with a wet cloth.   "Don't touch it.  DON"T TOUCH IT!!" he cried.  At least that's what I interpreted because he was no longer letting his teeth touch to form consonant sounds.  He then swore off eating crunchy foods and then all foods until the tooth had fallen out.  I wasn't too worried about his starving because that was imminent. but I did want to relieve his suffering.  I had half a notion to grabbing his arms, pinning him to the bed and plucking the tooth out before he knew what was happening.  Motherly love preveiled though and I simply said "I bet if you wiggled it one more time it would just come out."

And mothers are always right, you know.  The tooth was between his fingers when he took them out of his mouth.  Now he knows it doesn't hurt (another thing I was right about) and there really is nothing to worry about ---- until the next tooth starts to wiggle.


Monday, June 15, 2009

TOS Planner

I hope that some of you have noticed the change on my sidebar—I’ve been selected to review homeschool curriculum and products as part of the 2009-2010 Homeschool Crew! And my first assignment: The 2009 TOS Planner. It's a one stop shop for all the record-keeping, list-making, reminder-tracking forms you're going to need for the coming school year.


I begin with a confession:  I’m not a naturally organized person.  It’s not that I don’t recognize the value of being organized—I love walking into tidy rooms, having tonight’s supper in the crockpot by noon, and knowing what meals I’ve planned for the week before I head to the grocery store rather than creatively concocting something from the items that ended up in my cart.   I’m just one of those folks who starts to tidy a room,  but when taking one object to put away in another room, gets sidetracked by something in the room I’ve just entered.   Jessica Hulcy once said in one of her Konos training seminars "Faintest ink still better than strongest memory."  In other words, maybe writing down my goals and to-do lists with the forms in this planner will help me stay on track


The Planner is available at the Schoolhouse Store, its regular price is $39, and it is 375 pages long.  (For those of you with dial-up internet service, don’t let the size worry you.  I downloaded the whole thing in less than two minutes).  There are also additional themed modules that can be purchased separately to expand the planner.


We'll start with the Table of Contents

Calendars for 2009-2012

These are not for writing notes, just being able to tell my birthday will fall on a Tuesday in 2011.

Monthly sections for the 2009-2010 schoolyear

Each includes a two-page, write in calendar; an informative article, links to Schoolhouse Store resources, and recipes to try.

Miscellaneous Education Information

Accumulated here are all the facts that you probably memorized when you were in school and promptly forgot after the test: the names and terms of U.S. Presidents, countries of the world and their capitals, conversion tables from U.S. to metric, etc.

Homeschool Forms

The largest section of the planner. There are forms for setting goals, planning field trips, daily schedules for 1 to 5 children,  attendence charts, etc.

Household Forms

These forms would be useful to anyone, not just homeschoolers.  There are forms to track car maintenance, pet health, budgets, and Bible studies.

Here’s my advice: Don’t just load a ream of paper and hit “Print.”  You’ll waste a lot of paper.  There are multiples of the homeschool forms, customized for 1 to 5 students, you’ll need only one version for your family.  Other forms may only be necessary for a particular style of homeschooling--the Unit Study or Unschooling records for example. 

With a paper copy you’ll also be missing some of the best features of the planner.  Many of the articles contain links to additional information on the web that can only be accessed if you read them on your computer (you’ll also need to be connected to the internet).   Other forms allow you to type data into the form before you print them.  In the upper left corner of the screen is a paper icon with two purple rectangles.  Clicking it and then the "Highlight Fields" button on the upper right will allow you to see where you can type in your own text.


For my first organizational baby step I chose the Grocery List 1.  It divides your shopping list into categories like Produce, Meats, Snacks, Paper Products, etc.  I typed in the staples that usually appear on my list and discovered a neat feature: if my list exceeded the size of the category box, the text automatically shrank to fit everything in.  Then I printed the list and laminated it.  Now it can stick to the refrigerator and as we run out of something I just highlight it on the list.  I could add items for specific recipes with a wet-erase marker.  Not only did it speed up my list making, but my shopping went faster.  With like items listed together, I wasn’t back-tracking because I missed potatoes on my list when I was in the produce aisle.

 I could only come up with two shortcomings to the planner.  One: for any Missouri homeschooler, I could not find a form that could be tweaked to track core hours or home-teaching hours that our state requires.  For this reason I won't be using these forms for my homeschool record keeping. Other states might have similar quirky requirements that can't be covered in forms designed to meet the general need.

Secondly, and I confess I was oblivious to this until a new Canadian friend pointed it out:  the planner has a distinctive American slant.  The Misc. information section covers US states and capitals, the American presidents and important US documents. The recipes don't include metric conversions.    The monthly themes include the Thirteen Colonies and American Government Basics.  I think the forms would still be of benefit, but some of the extra goodies might not be of interest to those outside the United States.

Overall though, I would still recommend the 2009 TOS Planner for anyone who needs to organize their home or homeschool.  Having everything in one file, ready to print when necessary, is a blessing.  You can see what my crewmates thought of the planner here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A sweet surprise

My husband and I took a walk around the perimeter of our property yesterday.  We were discussing our "someday" plans to build a screened gazebo back in the woods.  We also searched for wildflowers, trees we could identify, trees we wanted to learn, critters, etc.   Toolman spotted them first........wild raspberries!   I've always wanted to live somewhere we could grow some of our own fruit.  We tried planting raspberries and strawberries this spring but we've had so much rain and we didn't amend our  clay soil.  Our neighbor pointed out what he believes is an apple tree on the property, but when I went out to inspect the growing fruits, I found them all over the ground (I'll have to research that problem).  All our disappointments made this surprise all the sweeter.   We carefully picked our way further into the brush to find three additional patches of black raspberry cane.

The Toolman went to get the weedwhacker and lawn tractor to blaze a trail and make harvesting a little easier.  I went to find Schnickelfritz and a pail.  There was a quick lesson in which color berries were ready to pick.  Fritz got his first few and, in homage to Blueberries for Sal, dropped them in the bucket with a "Ker-plink, ker-plank, ker-plunk."  We had to verbalize the sound because unlike Sal with her metal pail, we were using a plastic Spiderman bucket.

We collected better than a quart of ripe berries and there will be plenty more with a little time.   But more importantly, we had a grand time together as a family.    And I'm feeling the need to make homemade ice cream again!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer Reading

You know it's summertime when the VBS signs start popping up, the lightning bugs come out at night, and the library begins its summer reading program.  Every Wednesday afternoon, Fritz and I head over to the library to hear the next chapter of The Invention of Hugo Cabret , play games and make crafts.  The librarian outdid herself this week--making a giant game of pick-up-sticks made out of PVC pipe marked with different colored electrical tape. 

Then the kids made their own pick-up-sticks games out of bamboo skewers.  The sharp tips were rubbed on sandpaper to dull them and then colored with markers.  I was impressed that Fritz was enthusiastic enough to color those 30 sticks and that he's wanted to play it over and over.  Of course we don't have video games, so he's used to playing old fashioned games.

Fritz  tracks his reading (and being read to) with stickers for every 15 minutes.  He's hoping to accumulate 540 minutes and earn a 10-color ballpoint pen.   I'm in the adult program and just have to track the names of the books I read.  (I'm not eligible for the pen prize).  While Fritz was coloring his sticks, I picked out a biography of Dr. Benjamin Rush. 

This book was in the juvenile section, but  I don't think many children would pick it up to read or even sit still while it was read to them.  It strays away from Dr. Rush's life to give more background about the world of his time.  How many kids would care that there was a debate among physicians about whether disease was caused by an unbalance in the four "humors" or a malfunctioning of the nervous system?

I did read one passage that should challenge homeschooling moms everywhere.  When Benjamin was 8 years old, he was sent to his minister uncle's home to receive his formal education.   Ministers of the time often supplemented theiry salaries by taking boys into their homes to educate.    Here's a quote:

"Dr. Finley started his boys on arithmetic at about the usual age of eleven.  Most teachers used a 'sum book,' from which they read problems to their students......The boys were required to multipy a figure of fifteen digits by another of fifteen digits, to divide a figure in quintillions by a figure in billions."  

Wow, and they didn't even have Math-U-See!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fire Safety

One of the requirements for Schnickelfritz's Royal Rangers' badge is to make a fire safety poster.  While driving home from swimming lessons we saw some of the volunteers working on the trucks at our station and decided to stop for some photos of Fritz in the truck.

The volunteers also gave us brochures and stickers for our poster and a Tot Finder sticker for Fritz's room.  I was familiar with the large, orange Tot Finder emblem to put on the outside window.  Little did I know that program is no longer promoted.  Designed to show the location of sleeping children to rescuers, it also alerts predators and others who would do them harm .  (A problem that never even entered my mind).  Second,  firemen arriving to a house ablaze are not going to run around the outside  looking at windows to see where the kids are.  They are going to head into the house, staying low to search for people.

So here are the new stickers

They are designed to be placed at the bottom of a child's door right beneath the doorknob.  Two smaller stickers are applied to the doorjam to provide reference points for searchers.  All are made of a highly reflective material that a firefighter with a flashlight would see.  You might see if your local department has some of these stickers for you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Campin' Out

I should have figured out the Schnickelfritz was up to somenthing--we were supposed to be picking up sticks in the yard.  I was putting my sticks in the wheelbarrow to tote them to the lawn rubbish pile.  Fritz was placing his sticks in a pile in the yard.  Then he made trip after trip into the house getting blankets, the lawn chairs, dishes and cups.  "Can we have a picnic Mama?"  It was a 90 degree day, but he had picked a spot in the shade and the humidity was low so I consented.  We feasted on cold, oven-fried chicken, pickles, cheese cubes, oatmeal cookies and guzzled it all down with lemonade.  During the meal Fritz detailed the rest of his plan.

"When it gets blue-dark (his word for twilight), we'll use these sticks to make a camp fire and put marshmallows on sticks till they turn brown and when it's black-dark we'll lie in the chairs and review the stars for a while and then we'll go in our tent and fall asleep and wake up in the morning."  The run-on sentence told me how excited he was about the idea.  Well, why not?  It would be a warm night and the rain wasn't due til tomorrow.   I had to negotiate out of the campfire--we didn't have any marshmallows anyway.   Surprisingly, I found my old tent and lantern in our "still unpacking boxes" garage  The tent, from my college days, only holds two comfortably but Daddy didn't sound too disappointed when informed of our plans.  He would hold down the fort and keep Della inside with him.

By 7 o'clock Fritz started asking if it was time to go out to the tent.  I'll confess I stalled for a while so I could keep enjoying the air conditioning.   But at 8:00 we headed out, loaded with pillows, blankets to cushion us, a book, and a special teddy bear.  We read a chaper of Freddy Goes to Florida (I'll have to review that another day) by lantern light.  It was still too light to see stars so we said our prayers and tried to go to sleep.  Fritz wasn't used to the night noises and moved closer and closer to me.  He was however brave enough to stay in the tent by himself while I made one more trip in the house to use the facilities.  While I was gone he made himself quite comfortable on the piles of blankets I had meant to cushion me from the rocks and bumps of the ground.  I suppose that's why he fell asleep first.

It was harder for me to fall asleep.  The heat, the crickets and frogs, the cars going past (where are my neighbors going at 11:30 at night?) all kept me from slumber.  Finally, there was the sound of something sniffing and munching grass right outside the tent.  I could never see the animal in question not even a shadow on the tent.  I would have thought it was one of the roaming neighborhood dogs but they don't munch grass.  It was time for one last trip into the house--this time for earplugs.  I figured whatever was out there eating grass wouldn't be able to unzip and enter the tent. If I couldn't hear it, it wouldn't bother me.

When I woke up the next time, I removed the earplugs before I opened my eyes and heard birdsong.  It was morning.  Fritz had slept the whole night through and I would try to make up some deficit with a nap today.  As we brought in our bedding Fritz asked "When can we do this again?"

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