28 August 2012

Thinking Positively

In the spirit of trying to trick myself that I would rather be in the US than in Kyrgyzstan, here are some things I like about the US.  I will also try to refrain from posting drawbacks to these (like how much it costs to put gas in the car).

  1. Libraries.  This isn't as huge as it could be since we were able to use the library at one of the international schools in Bishkek and I could walk to it, but it's lovely to find a book I want to read and be able to get it from the library.
  2. Having our own car.  We'd have to have one where we live since bikes and walking aren't safe on the roads around our house and public transportation is really limited here, so that's not what I like about having a car.  It's being able to get out on the weekends.  I missed that a lot in Kyrgyzstan.  We could and sometimes did get a taxi, but it's not the same.  At all.
  3. Homeground whole wheat flour.  Despite many valiant attempts, I never found real whole wheat flour there (when we go back someday, I'm taking a grinder).  No more white flour for us!
  4. Lots of other nice ingredients.  I don't miss all the convenient ingredients while we're in Kyrgyzstan, but there are plenty of things in my kitchen now that I haven't seen in a long time.
  5. It's nice to go to church with other people.  
  6. Amazon Prime.  We'd never done it before, but since it's the only place I can find that has more than a few Mr. Rogers episodes, we signed up.  I like Mr. Rogers, but the free 2-day shipping is the best, especially since I don't have the car during the day. 
There are still some things, after nearly two months, that seem weird.  The vegetables here are glossy and slick (and slick-feeling) (and expensive).  I still think twice every time I get water from the tap.  The appliances are so convenient.  There are so many things everyone wants us to get and do.  But this is veering off into the reasons why I don't like the US (except for the clean water thing and the appliances), so I must stop.

25 August 2012

2012's Homeschooling Post

We're getting a little earlier start on homeschooling this year, which I like, because the school district here starts earlier than it did in Seattle and because we aren't going to move in September.  One or the other of those pushed homeschooling back for the last four years.  But we're starting in August this year.  That's best, because it gives us a little more room for a break in the fall.

The boys are in 8th and 6th grades this year, and the little one is still four, so we'll just keep doing what we've been doing with him.  Here's this year's plan:

Math- New Elementary Math 1 for the 6th grader and NEM 2 for the 8th grader.  We'll use NEM again this year even though they're discontinuing levels 3 and 4; I think oldest son will go on to DM 3 and 4 in 9th and 10th grades.  Middle son will do LoF Pre-Algebra with Biology and Econ and oldest will do Beginning Algebra.

History- Our beloved OUP sets have ended, leaving us to do modern history on our own.  We're using DK's giant history book, Joy Hakim's US history books a little and field trips a lot since we live in the middle of a lot of US history, and lots of library books.  We'll also cover the Soviet Union really well.  My boys know a lot more about it than your average middle schoolers, obviously, and from an entirely different perspective, but there are some gaps we need to fill in. 

Writing- We're beta testing Writing with Skill 2 this year, but it won't fill in all of our time, but there will be plenty of time to practice what they've learned in their writing program as they're doing science, history,  literature and poetry.

Grammar- Yep, we're still using Growing with Grammar after all these years.  We started with it when level 3 came out and now my oldest will be using the last level.  It's from an exciting program, but it solidly has taught both boys grammar and diagramming with extraordinarily little effort on my part. My oldest who isn't big on the whole language arts part of school is really quite good at grammar in spite of himself.

Spelling and word roots- Oldest still need work in spelling, so we'll stick with that, and we'll use Classical Roots to work on word origins.  I just have the flashcards for now because I think that's all we'll need.

Literature- We'll be reading through the WTM list as usual and writing about it.  This year is modern literature.

French and Spanish- My heart really isn't as in to these as it ought to be, so we're dabbling in a variety of sources.  If they stick with these languages, we'll need to get them into decent classes by next year.

Latin- We'll use Latin Prep 1 for now, but we'll go through it quickly, I think.  And we'll keep using Anki for all our foreign languages.

Physics-  Life of Fred Elementary Physics and we'll build lots of stuff and watch cool things online.  We'll also use the physics sections of How Science Works.

Logic- Art of Argument plus lots of logic games and puzzles

Current events- CNN student news

Geography- Online quizzes, as always, plus iTunes videos about different places around the world.

Typing- We'll try typingweb.

World religions- We'll try this website for now and see if it works for me.

Guitar, piano, scriptures, memorization, quizzes, and exersicing as usual.

24 August 2012

The Spellman Files

Loved this in so many ways and will probably pick up the next book in the series.  My son kept asking why I was laughing while I was reading this while tucking him into bed.

23 August 2012


I really wanted to read this one when it first came out before we left for Kyrgyzstan, but there were too many holds on it at the library for me to get it before we left, and I couldn't get it in Kyrgyzstan.  But it was waiting for me here (bestsellers are so much easier to get at the library almost two years later), so I finally had a chance to read it.

In some ways, I'm glad I read it now instead of then because Jack reminded me of my own almost-five-year-old in many ways.  It seems that when you read books narrated by children that the child's voice sounds too adult, but Jack sounded like a five-year-old to me.  I had to keep stopping while I was reading and hug my own little one.

And my own four-year-old has been trying to navigate a new world too.  Of course there is no comparison between getting rescued after being held captive in one room all your life and moving to a new country, but I think it's too easy to assume that what we're used to is normal. Nearly everyone around my son assumes that the US should be normal to him, but Kyrgyzstan is his normal. Room was Jack's normal, partly because Ma made it as good a place to live as possible, but mostly because it was all he knew.

I think it would be interesting to read this same story from Ma's point of view. If I were reading this with a book group, and I wish I could, her story is what I'd like to talk about most. 

One of the descriptions of this book is "darkly beautiful" and I think that sums it up perfectly.

22 August 2012


I'm ambivalent about Shannon Hale's adult books and this one didn't change my mind.  Still, it was a fun, light read between two heavy books.

21 August 2012

Every Last One

It turns out that there are a few good things about being back in the US and the library is one of them.  We've been in Charlottesville for three weeks and have been to three different libraries.  Two were in unique buildings, but the third is the most convenient even if its location is a little boring.  That one is also one of the larger libraries in the area, so I think we'll just be boring. 

And it turns out that libraries in the US have free wifi now, so I wandered around the library with Melissa's and Julie's blogs and started checking out all the books I missed in Kyrgyzstan.

Julie's reviews are much shorter than Melissa's, so I didn't know anything about this book when I started it.  It was obvious something not-so-happy was going to happen, but I wasn't expecting what did happen.  So it ended up being fiction about dealing with grief and I thought it was very well done.  It could easily have not worked, but it did.

20 August 2012

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

I read this when we'd just gotten back to the US after Melissa reviewed it.  How could I pass up a book with Kashgar in the title? 

It's one of those books where you have two different, seemingly unrelated (although it was pretty clear how they would be connected) stories running along in pieces that only come together at the end.  That's generally not my favorite style of book, but it's not terrible either.

The problem I really had was that I felt like the entire Kashgar part felt forced and fairly unrealistic.  I felt that the author had read a lot about East Turkestan in the early 1900s from Europeans' perspectives, particularly European missionaries, but that wasn't enough to create a story set in Kashgar and East Turkestan, at least for me.  The three European women in Kashgar were all a bit over the top for me too, in their own ways. 

But if I ignored all that and didn't think about the book being set in Kashgar, or think about history, it wasn't a bad story.  The modern-day part was pretty good, in fact.

Big Meadows Campground and Dark Hollow Falls at Shenandoah National Park

We managed to go camping this weekend, barely.  And we had everything we needed, barely.  We can only improve from here, and since there are plenty of campgrounds nearby, we should have lots of practice. 

Before we left, I'd read everywhere that we wouldn't be able to find a camping spot in Shenandoah National Park if we got there after work, but we did and were happy with it.  It rained quite a bit, but we were happy for the giant tarp and bungee cords that I did remember to pack.

It was fun to go to a national park again.  I missed them in Kyrgyzstan, and they always make me feel like a little kid again, especially when we go to the visitor centers. The park is close enough that we can go there often.

We want to try Mathews Arm campground, and some other friends recommended Loft Mountain.  But we're hoping to do a little of the Blue Ridge Parkway next time.  It was also fun to use the dutch oven again.  When we're a little better organized, I'm planning to try naan in the dutch oven over the fire.  I have high hopes for that system.

We also hiked to Dark Hollow Falls.  We picked it because it was the shortest hike in the area.  The climb back up wasn't fun for the four-year-old (440 feet in less than a mile), but he made it.  And the falls was cool. 

13 August 2012

White Oak Canyon

I have monstrously long lists of things to do around Charlottesville.  I think we could spend every spare minute going places for the next year and still feel like we'd missed a lot.  I'm hoping we can at least see a few good things. 

A few days after we got here we went to Shenandoah National Park and hiked (walked, really) a little bit of the White Oak Canyon trail.  We were already in the area for something else and I'd found a recommendation for doing just a small section of the trail with little children.  It can be really hard to find good hikes for our family because our little one is so much younger than everyone else, but this was perfect for him.  It's also in a section of the trail that isn't so insanely popular, so it's a lot quieter.

We started on the lower end of the trail.  It's not hard to find- just go to Syria, Virginia, and follow the brown signs to the parking.  You'll enter the park as you begin hiking. We only walked about 30 minutes at a four-year-old speed, so it would also work to carry in a picnic.  We stopped at the first falls (barely a falls); it also had a couple of swimming holes.

Everyone else who was hiking continued past us to the falls and other swimming holes so we had the place to ourselves.  The entire trail isn't really long, and if you start at the bottom instead of at the traditional start from Skyline Drive, you'll do the uphill part first which is always smarter, especially with kids.  The trail gets a lot steeper after the point where we stopped, so little children would need more help at that point. 

We want to go back with the older boys to do the entire hike, and to do that part we already did on a Sunday afternoon.  It seemed perfect for that.

09 August 2012

Getting to Know Charlottesville

Charlottesville really is a lovely little city, although we don't live right in it.  I'd have loved to, but that's another story.  There are some really good things about where we ended up, and I'll survive without being able to walk to places for a year.

Charlottesville has a lovely downtown that's near UVA.  Even though I have to drive to get near there, I can park a few blocks away, skip the parking fees, and walk to all sorts of things.  There's also a free bus that loops around Main Street and UVA.  The whole thing is a nice mix between interesting shopping (there's a decent international store and a pretty good spice store, plus lots of used book stores), history (this city loves Thomas Jefferson), and community things (swimming pool, library, UVA stuff). 

There are still a few things I'll want to drive to Washington for, especially a better selection of international food.  I'm not impressed with Charlottesville's options so far, although it could be much worse. 

We're all enjoying the trees and wildflowers which help make up for the lack of mountains.  When I told my son that he was looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains, he informed me that they couldn't be mountains because they were completely covered with trees.  I tend to agree. They're still pretty though.

And I love that I can see the stars from my house.

Cross Country

It'd been thirteen years since we'd driven across the country before we did it at the end of July.  We've driven all over the West in those thirteen years, but never gotten further east than the Rockies, at least in a car.  So it was fun to do it again, especially with the older boys because they either never have done it or certainly don't remember it.

We got caught in traffic a couple of times, mostly in Indianapolis and Charleston.  There was a combination of construction and an accident in Charleston that completely stopped the freeway for more than 30 minutes.  I'm not classy enough to avoid pointing out that we would have missed the accident entirely if we had left 5 minutes earlier that morning.  Four out of five family members were ready then. But the rest of West Virginia was lovely.  And it was all a little amusing.  Like that one marshrutka ride.

Everyone kept talking about how dry the Midwest was, but from my point of view, everything still looked pretty green.  My brother-in-law pointed out that we'd camped in Omaha on the hottest night it had ever had.  But the wind was blowing a bit so everything was okay since we were all sticky.  We weren't in the worst of the drought though, since we went through northern Illinois instead of staying on I-70 the entire way as would have been logical.  But cousins are more than worth it.  I think they were the only thing that got the littlest one through the whole thing.  

We saw about forty state license plates and 5 provinces.  I've seen Delaware and Connecticut since we've been here, so the only others we missed were Hawaii, Montana (we can't imagine we really missed that one, but no one could remember seeing it), South Dakota, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.  The provinces were Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario.

We liked all the welcome centers and picked up all sorts of things for middle son (who doesn't get car sick) to read.  Virginia's was well-stocked and we took advantage of that.  More on that later.  There's so much to do here.

No photos though, since the camera wasn't charged most of the time and we only have a non-US cord for it right now.  But we were visiting people, not places, so if I had taken any pictures, they'd mostly have been from the car.

08 August 2012

Moving Experts

I fear that we are getting very good at moving.  International moves are already really complicated (this one stretched out over five weeks), and this one was probably more complicated than usual, but I think we're just getting efficient.  We had stuff all over the place at some points, but it's all (and we're all) here now.  Yesterday we even managed to rent a truck, drive a lot, unload a container into the truck, drive a lot more, unload the truck into the house, and return the truck in less than four hours with just two people.

I don't even want to be good at moving.  

06 August 2012

Living in the South

I've never lived in the southern US before, nor have I ever particularly wanted to because everyone talks about how hot it is here.  I'm mostly on the edge here though, although this is definitely the south (in other words, I don't live in a suburb of DC).  There are giant bags of collard greens at Walmart and everyone is so friendly.  It's got to be the south.  If I drank tea, I'd know for sure.

It actually hasn't been too terribly hot here so far (glad we didn't move a few weeks earlier). Sure, it's humid, and I haven't done that before, but I've spent my share of time in hot houses and apartments, so 80 and humid in the house doesn't feel any worse than 90 degrees inside in Tokmok.  I avoid going out in the middle of the day, but I had to do that in Tokmok too.  The layer of stickiness makes the fans feel better too. The A/C is in the kitchen so making dinner isn't too bad, and that's the worst part of the day. And it's already August, so summer is starting to wind down.  I'm pretty sure we'll get through the next 6 weeks without melting into oily little puddles.

New City, New State, New (Old) Country

I think it's finally possible to start posting again.  We've spent the last month flying halfway around the world and then driving back across the US. (If you're wondering why we didn't just skip the drive and fly directly to the east coast, well, there aren't cousins on the east coast.  They're worth the drive.)  We have Internet access again so we can watch the Olympics and feel like we're connected with the rest of the world.

We still don't have our stuff that we stored in Seattle, but it's coming.  I'm looking forward to the washing machine so I can stop doing the laundry in the tub, my cast iron pan that can sort of stand in for a qazan, and my stone because I don't have a tandyr next door anymore.  The littlest one keeps asking for naan.  I'm missing laghman and I was even tacky enough to make laghman sauce and serve it with spaghetti tonight.  There was no way I was making the noodles too right now, especially while I just have a couple of camping pots.

I wish I were in Kyrgyzstan.  But I will try to be positive about Charlottesville. It's a pretty neat place too. And I am finally getting to the point where I don't want to cry in the produce aisle.  As long as it isn't Walmart.