Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A year of living charitably

How difficult is it to do a little something helpful now and again? Is it really that tough to pick up an errant piece of trash and dispose of it properly? Does it really cramp our style to hold the door open for someone? To improve someone's day by offering a simple smile?

In this age of jam-packed schedules, never-ending technological distractions, and rush-rush-rush attitudes, are we really so busy that we can't lend a hand now and again?

I confess I get distracted, busy, and just plain grumpy, but it really isn't difficult to help out, and it doesn't have to take a lot of time to be neighborly, to help make our communities better places to live, to help the people around us feel better about themselves and the world in which we're living.

Plus, it feels really good. According to various studies, performing good deeds, volunteering or otherwise helping others reduces stress, increases longevity and provides a higher-quality life. In other words, if you can't bring yourself to help others for their sake, perhaps you'd do it for your own good health.

People sometimes talk about doing "good deeds" or donating to "charity." What does this mean?

While in the 21st century, "charity" has come to be interpreted as "financial assistance" or "donation," Mariam-Webster defines charity as, among other things, "benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity," "generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering," and "aid given to those in need." Charity is, then, the act of helping others.

"Deed"is defined as "something that is done," "a usually illustrious act or action," and "the act of performing."

So how often do we really perform charitable deeds? Have you ever thought about it?

Our family volunteers in various ways. Sure, we hold doors open for people, but the girls and I also volunteered for nearly two years as docents at our local natural history museum. We've picked up trash throughout our neighborhood and on outings. Last year we enjoyed handing out roses to complete strangers throughout one random day - the reward for us was nothing more than smiles, sometimes hugs, and always thanks.

But as we picked up trash at a local pier recently, I wondered: do we do something charitable every day? Once a week? Less often? How difficult would it be to do at least one charitable deed every single day? How might it change us and our community if we kept a better eye out for opportunities to lend a hand?

In 2009, the girls and I intend to find out. We'll keep track of our deeds, however simple or involved, and keep you posted on the response, the feeling it gave us and any long-term changes we see as a result of our actions.

If you like the idea, have projects in mind for us or would like to spread the love, please feel free to share this blog with your friend, family, and, sure, even foes. Post your thoughts here or drop me a line.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Flip Side

IF you receive this update via e-mail, please be aware that there are photos available on the website that aren't posted here. Click on the hotlinked title to get to the site.

OK, so yesterday I got the rant part out. Thanks to those of you who responded either posting here or e-mailing me directly. Having gotten that out of my system, and having received some positive feedback, I feel a lot better. Now let me tell you about the positive sides of our family gatherings this season.



I'll start with the most recent, the event that started the rant. We got together in Fresno with family members, many of whom we hadn't seen since last Christmas. There are 10 cousins to the eight adult children, plus one set of grandparents and a great uncle. The kids have all grown so much, and they'll all much more self regulated. It was, all in all, the most pleasant family gathering we've had in the past decade.

The 10 kids, 9 of whom are 10 or younger, played wonderfully well together. The host family kids shared their drum set and marimbas, piano and bongos, toys of all sorts and space. Sure, there was plenty of potty humor, but it was refreshing to hear one of the cousins, in previous years one of the biggest instigators of purely disgusting talk, ask the other kids who were involved to "please stop while we're at the table, at least!" Oh, sure, there were some snags, but they were minor, and the good hours certainly outweighed those random minutes.

Most of the adults had mellowed with age, too. Since the kids needed little interference from us, for the most part, we had time to talk, catch up, help out with the preparation and cleanup. The host sister treated her husband with more respect than any of us had ever seen - helping him out and, unlike former years, NOT harping on him until we were all just uncomfortable witnessing it all. I had a fantastic time playing a backgammon tournament with my little brother. We played a lot when we were kids, but, MAN, he was the BIGGEST cheater. That boy would cheat at just about ANYTHING. This weekend, when he broke out the board, I was up for the game. It was one neither of us had played in years. We had to read the instructions to refresh our memories. Then, throughout the game, we kept helping each other out. That's right. ..helping each other, often to our own detriment. Sure, we both wanted to win, but we've both learned that it's much more fun to win honestly.

Our holiday season also included a relaxed Christmas Day which began with our own little pajama-clad family opening presents and enjoying treats throughout the morning, followed by a visit from both my mom and her husband and dad and his wife. (That's right - my mom and dad, though divorced nearly four decades ago, can share a room, enjoy a visit. And that makes MY life much easier, much more enjoyable.) Having Mom and OtherDad here was a last-minute surprise. They had planned to go to Washington for the holiday, but had been snowed out. Instead, they put in the extra effort to drive a couple of hours up here, enjoy the afternoon and evening with us, then head back home. It was a more relaxed replay of our Thanksgiving weekend, though I was particularly thankful they made the trip since Mom and I had a falling out after Thanksgiving. I had been pretty certain she wouldn't want to see me again. It seems we've forigiven each other and that's the second-most important thing. (Not having the argument at all would have been most ideal.)

Our winter solstice party hit a snag when we arrived at our favorite bonfire beach only to discover no fires are allowed there Dec. - March. Port San Luis Harbor District removes the fire rings from the beach to keep them from vanishing in storm swells. And no fires are allowed without the heavy, metal rings, so... We were fortunate that it was a very nice evening out. In long sleeves and long pants our family and friends played football and freeze tag, gabbed, built a fort. When it was too cold to hang out anymore (well after sunset), some of us headed to Fat Cat's for dinner.

So, I may gripe, but I must confess the holiday season was largely a success.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The family that wasn't there.

So, I wonder why most bloggers blog. I'm sure there are some who use this service as a personal diary, others who use it to tout their political agenda and others to promote themselves or their businesses. But I believe a lot of us blog to help our friends and family keep up to date with some of the important happenings in our life. It's an easy way to share in this busy world - I post it when I have time, you read it (or just look at the pictures) if you have time.

So, when your friends, or especially your family, don't pay attention to your blog AT ALL what's the point?

I am grateful for the friends and family who DO show an interest in our lives. And I know our lives are just that...OURS. No one will ever be as interested in them than those of us immersed in them. But I take an interest in the goings on of my friends and loved ones. I believe I have some inkling of what they're up to. We keep in touch by phone, in real life (GASP! I KNOW!), by e-mail and sometimes throughour blog posts. I think that's just something you DO when you're interested in and care about a person.

So, maybe you can guess how I felt at a family gathering this weekend when it became very clear that more than a couple of family members not only never read the blog, but had no idea through ANY OTHER CHANNELS what we've been up to this year. Yep - it irked the hell out of me. (Of course, it didn't help that one of these relatives greeted my 8-year-old daughter with braces as, "Motormouth.")
"So. What have you been up to? Gone on any trips lately?"

WHAT?! Have we gone any TRIPS?!

Anyone who reads this blog or the auto-send e-mails it provides to subscribers know we were gone for TEN weeks, 9,611 miles, we posted more than 2,000 photos and countless words. And it's something that kinda comes up in discussion, you know, when a family member is on the road for so long or are on an otherwise "big adventure."

They know nothing about our lives. So, well, my immediate reaction was that they didn't really give a flyin' fart about us. I know...I know! People are busy with their own lives. They don't have time to spend on the computer. They have other more important things to do than read blogs. And I suppose that's part of the point. Other things, anything, is more important than keeping in touch. Then what's the point of gathering and pretending to be family? What IS family?

Go ahead. Blog about why you blog, how your family responds, what you believe a family is; or post it here...yep...right down there where it says "free thinkers." Click there. Post. I'd love to read your take.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How sports prepared me for parenthood during the holidays

I have a blood blister on the palm of my right hand. My butt is frozen to sweatpants soaked through with rainwater the lawn shared with me. The blustery wind is blowing strands of hair in my eyes and mouth, obscuring my view of the instruction manual. I've already put on a second layer as the temperature dropped. My body is telling me to stop, to rest, to let this project go for a few minutes, or hours or however long it takes to recuperate. But I'm pressing on. I have a job to do and a deadline to meet.

Tomorrow is Christmas and Santa is bringing the girls a trampoline. (Shhhh! Don't tell 'em!) Mr. B has taken the girls out for some last-minute shopping, lunch out with Daddy, duck feeding at the park and some climbing time in the trees there. I've been left behind to put together the trampoline and enclosure. "You can do it. The box says it's easy. No tools, even. You built a Jeep and designed our addition. Don't worry."

As I work into my third hour, miss lunch, grow colder and suffer the injuries only a screwdriver can inflict I want to stop. But then I have to laugh as I hear one of my old swim coaches.

"Pain is your friend."

I'm alone in the backyard, and it's been 22 years since I heard Joe say that. Still, he's with me.

Another coach chimes in.

"How bad do you want it? If you want it, you're going to have to work for it."

And another.

"Nothing good comes easily."

Then I laugh as I recall sharing similar messages with the swimmers I coached, andI press on with the project.

I swam through high school and into college. I raced BMX for a spell, too. These days I neither swim nor bike as much as I used to, or as much as I'd like to. But the lessons I learned from the extracurricular physical pursuits extend into even the most mundane of chores...and trampoline building.

The instructions (opened after DH and family pulled out of the driveway) said at least three adults "in good physical condition" would be needed for the project. I suppose I could have given up then, but swimming and bike racing taught me to give it a try. (Turns out it would have been EASIER with three people, but it was quite doable with one.)

When the bolt pinched the blister into the palm of my strong hand, and I'd tied my 82nd bow to secure the various pads and nets, I was sorely tempted to quit the project. But swimming taught me to focus on my goal and carry on.

And when my back began to ache and my fingers were cramping, I remembered how quickly our bodies, however tired, recover. Trampoline building was nothing like a collegiate workout, a race down the homestretch, or childbearing. I could carry on.

Mr. B just rolled up. The tramp is "hidden" in the backyard. The girls are bathing and distracted and HOPEFULLY won't look out the windows on that side of the house this evening. My project is complete. The reward will come tomorrow morning on their little faces.

Completely worth it all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday history

We've found some fantastic sites on the internet. Topics have included holiday history, lore and habits. Check out this Museum of Christmas Lights. Find your great grandparents' lights. It's amazing to me to think that people had lights on their trees 100 years ago! WHEW!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice - another reason for the season

Merry Solstice!

That's right...as if there weren't enough to do with all the holiday celebrations we're throwing in celebration of the change of season. Tonight we'll be standing by a toasty fire on a California beach, enjoying what we consider winter weather (hey...it may almost freeze sometime in the night), each other, and maybe some s'mores and hot cider, hot chocolate, pretty much anything we can get hot!

What's winter solstice, you ask? It's the day of the year when the sun is the furthest south as the earth tilts. It's the shortest day of our year, the longest night and marks the first day of winter. Celebrations of this day around the world predate the other "reasons for the season," Christmas and Hannukah, by centuries. The ancients told stories about the reason the sun rests, doubted whether it would return, held ceremonies to entice the sun back to it's long days' work growing the foods people needed. So it just doesn't seem right to skip it. (Plus, who doesn't want to hang out with friends by the campfire?)

Many of the traditions which we attribute to various churches predate those organizations. The evergreen, now used as a Christmas tree, was also celebrated by Romans, Druids, and Scandinavians. The 12-days of Christmas date back at least as far as the Mesopotamian celebration of the vernal equinox with festivities no much akin to those we see (in courteous company) today. In Scandinavia, the darkest days of the year were celebrated with large gatherings, food, yule glogg and yule log. Think of the energy savings if we all shared a house for nearly two weeks in the deepest, darkest, coldests days (and nights) of winter, with only one house to heat and plenty of food and drink to keep everyone satiated.

Join as at the beach, in the forest, in the desert or your backyard and celebrate this, the shortest day of the year, and the promise of longer, sunnier days ahead.

God Jul!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Water as a Human Right - vote now!

Change.org is seeking input for ideas on which the new U.S. Administration may focus in coming years. Anyone can submit an idea, and anyone can vote online for an issue. (You have to register with the site, but it's free and simple.)

The issues are plentiful, the budget is failing and the economy is in the tank. Still, it seems some global issues do need to be addressed not the least of which is the future of the water supply. I've proposed an idea and would like to see it considered by others. If you like it, vote for it. (It needs 51 more votes to make it to the next round for consideration.)

Why water? Without it, there is no life on Earth. Plant and animal life (including our own) depend upon it. Regional health, both physical and financial, depend upon it. Think about it: no water = no plants; no plants = no food whether you're religiously vegan or rabidly carnivore; no food = no life. No water? No more issues to consider. Water is THE issue.

Why attack bottled water? While some of us live in areas where the water is less enjoyable than others, most of America's water systems provide sufficiently safe water for human consumption. Those areas which do NOT have such a system in place NEED ONE! Pumping water out of the aquifers of neighboring communities (or communities further afield), using resources to bottle and ship them, then dealing with the waste containers doesn't make sense. The water in a community's aquifer needs to stay in that community, provide for that community. And we need to focus on making that water fit for consumption.

Why consider funding of water projects in other nations? Because we can, first of all. Depending upon the source, as many as one in three humans do not have access to safe drinking water. (This one says one in six.) Many developing nations do not have the means to fund sanitary wells or water retention systems AND THE EDUCATION needed to keep these systems safe. These systems could provide safe drinking water for world citizens, thereby improving the health of all people. Secondly, the U.S. wants the support of other nations. War is not the answer to earning international friendships - support in all times of need is. If we help a country develop safely and efficiently, will that not spread good will?

Indeed, the U.S. already has an office dedicated to water. However, it focuses primarily, if not solely, on national water issues. Water is a global issue. Health is a global issue. And we're seeing that the economy, which can also be adversely affected or boosted by water-related issues, is also a global issue.

Come on down and vote in favor of water, or submit your own ideas for the coming administration.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let it snow!

Look what we found today! Please note: Photos on the blog do not translate to e-mail. If you want to see the pix, you need to click through to the blog site. :)

The girls and I headed up the mountains east of Santa Maria this morning. We'd seen snow up here yesterday when we were headed out to cookie backing with our SMILe (Santa Maria Inclusive Learners) friends.



But this morning as we headed out we saw no snow. Still, we were packed up and in the Jeep so we figured we might as well have an adventure.

At 3,000 feet we were thrilled with some snow stuck to the leaves of various bushes. By 4,000 feet there was snow on the ground on each side of the dirt road, but other traffic had melted or otherwise removed any hope of snow from the road.

At 4,417 feet we found a patch worthy of play. We ate some of the fresh stuff, threw some snowballs, then settled down to make a snow lady ala Grandma Kathy style. Our lady is kneeling because we couldn't get enough snow together to make her stand. I think she turned out pretty darned well for first-timers! :)

As we approached 5,000 feet we stopped to sled for awhile, but it was COOOLD and I discovered the battery was boiling. This can't be good. So we turned for home.



It was a great day out! :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Happenings

Please note: Photos on the blog do not translate to e-mail. If you want to see the pix, you need to click through to the blog site. :)

WHEW! It's gotten WAY too political around here, but thanks for letting me get THAT off my chest.

In real life, we're not focused on politics by any means. In fact (and as usual), we've found more than our fair share of fun stuff to do this holiday season.

We took a somewhat spur-of-the-moment holiday trek down to the Big D (with a stop at the Griffith Park Observatory on our way south). The girls were particularly thrilled. The park was wonderfully relatively vacant Thursday, but we paid for all that line-free luxury the following day when the park turned into a crazy house...people EVERYWHERE; a line at 10:30 p.m. for the carousel!



Tomorrow we're joining a group of homeschool friends for a cookie baking and holiday crafting day. The girls and I will take the makin's for Orange Cardamom Cookies and Lebkuchen and a kidcraft for loved ones. Wednesday, we may have SNOW here on the coast, so you know we won't be getting any worksheets or indoor "schoolwork" done! Instead we'll be trying to top Calvin & Hobbes for snow sculpture design.

Sweet Adelines sang out for a packed house in our new digs and E got to sing on the risers for the entire concert rather than the one song she'd initially be told would be hers to share. A holiday party with Grandpa Randy and Grandma Margaret. An evening with "A Christmas Carol" at the Melodrama. And another trip south to see Grandpa Doug sing with Masters of Harmony, and a surprise for us - his solo performance of "Do You Hear What I Hear" backed by the massive seven-time international championship chorus! (GREAT JOB!) On our way home, we toured the Queen Mary.



And there is, of course, baking: gingerbread cookies that went to friends, neighbors and my butt; sugar cookies for church; candy canes for the girls (and some to my butt); banana bread (Mr. B's butt); and tonight the Santa Lucia Bread (a couple of days late, but scrumptious with coffee nonetheless).

Winter Solstice is just around the corner. Find a spot for a bonfire with friends and family Sunday, or otherwise mark this ancient celebration.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Big Three are Bailed; How about California?

The U.S. Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, is well on its way to a $14 billion bailout of the auto industry. Will it step in to save California next?

The State reports California's budget deficit is $3.3 billion which, the governor claims, will grow to $14.5 billion in the next fiscal year if legislators can't get their ducks in a row. So, when will California go for the Big Handout? And will the feds, so interested in saving an industry that pays their top execs 101.7 times California governor's $206,500 salary step in to preserve or even IMPROVE this situation for, oh, public education, health care, roads and emergency services?

The State of California employs 345,000 people and countless others in support industries, not to mention the industries supported by those employees such as tourism, grocery, housing and retail. The Big Three auto makers employ about 242,000 people, and, like California, support other industries. California's gross domestic product is $1.7 trilion, the fifth largest economy in the world. From this standpoint, clearly California is at least as important as the Big Three.

To make ends meet, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes slashing the budget 10% across the board, with some exceptions of course. We all know most of us, and certainly our government, can cut budgets, but to what end? Our friend the public education system is being asked to slice just $865 million from its $65.1 million state-funded budget. They've already cut the budget for categorical programs, transportation, charters, class-size reduction (some districts have dumped CSR altogether - returning to their old over-sized classes), and COLA for the administration. I know they'll find somewhere to cut, but the cuts certainly won't benefit the kids in any way.

Do I think the state should go to the feds for handouts? No. Neither did I think the auto industry or the banking industry should have. But I do believe that government should put the basis of our country - a strong educational foundation - ahead of the financial interests of a select sector or two. Without an educated population we'll continue our downward spiral.

Ask me again why we homeschool. Then ask yourselves: Why don't you?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bail me out!

Warning: The following statements are completely political, biased and may not jive with your own opinions. They have nothing to do with homeschooling, traveling or anything else entertaining.

When Ford revolutionized the auto industry, indeed all factory industries, with its assembly line it represented American ingenuity, true competitive spirit, and success. Those were the days when Americans were building amazing structures, landmark bridges and buildings that stand today. When individuals and companies developed goods and services that changed the world.

Today, government hand-outs are reaching the highest echelons. Soup kitchens scratch while execs who make millions of dollars each and every year are asking for bailouts for their companies, and thereby themselves. Teachers of tomorrow's builders and planners, lawmakers and caregivers drive clunkers and live in suburbia while CEOs shoot for more, more, MORE!

It was bad enough when our government decided to bail out the banking industry which, through it's own poor judgement, opted to give credit to people who clearly couldn't afford the homes they were buying; banks which capitalize on customers to such an extent that every service is fee-based for CUSTOMERS with cash in the bank. If I go out and buy the land and home I want and KNOW we can't afford, will government please come bail us out too?

Now they're talking about bailing out the Big Three auto makers. I find it appalling that government would even consider a multi-BILLION-dollar bailout of companies that pay their highest executives MULTI-MILLION DOLLARs EVERY YEAR while their lowest-paid employees struggle to make ends meet. According to the Los Angeles Times, Rick Wagoner, GM CEO, reported an income of $15.7 MILLION in 2007 alone. Alan Mullaly of Ford reported $22.8 million. What can a person even do making that kind of money year after year? And why should we, as taxpayers who scratch to get by, bailout a company that can't pay its employees equitably?

I know, I know - it's not about the execs. It's about saving the industry and the multitude of jobs it supports. But there must be some way to compete, to make it, to move forward rather than stagnate and die, than to put it on the backs of the taxpayers. This isn't free market, we're talking about. This tends a helluva long way toward a twisted socialist system - let the people pay while the biggies continue to live large.

Before taxpayers like you and me who struggle to get by bailout these companies, these companies should work on their own bailout plan which IMMEDIATELY calls for the reduction in pay of all top execs to no more than a living wage - say $1 million per year cap. (Certainly they couldn't live of the income with which so many families manage.)

I know GM and Ford execs have pledge to work for $1 next year if they get this bailout. Big deal! What about a LONG-TERM solution!? If I made $21 million in 2007, I could work for a buck a year for the rest of my life. Couldn't you?

Perhaps they should pledge to compete in the global market. Perhaps they should develop vehicles that are truly cutting edge. Consumers want performance and energy savings these days. Cars that don't run on petroleum. Vehicles that provide safety, comfort, speed and range while also protecting their wallets (and thereby the environment). The technology has been here for decades. Perhaps the Big Three can start investing in that.

Addendum: Thanks, Bret, for this -

Monday, December 8, 2008

The song that sums it up

If you've been a mom more than half a decade, you've already started learning the words. If you're the mother of a teen, well, you've got it nearly down pat. And our moms? And our grandmothers? You bet - they know every last lyric.


The Mom Song from Northland Video on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Are Pennies for Real (Tender)?

Funny the things we learn as we travel this planet. Today, I learned that pennies may be legal tender, but no one has to take them. No...seriously! There's no law requiring businesses or other money-grubbing agencies (or even me or you) to take ANY coin, note or other "cash" as provided by the U.S. monetary system.

Illogical? I concur.

Here's the penny story of the day:

The girls and I enjoyed a nice midday tea time in SLO where we parked in the structure for ease (no meters), price (cheaper than meters) and location (very close to library). I knew we'd have to pay 75 cents when we left, but the change drawer in the van was stocked so I thought I was prepared.

Before we pulled up to the tollbooth I counted out the change. DOH! The "silver" added up to only 55 cents. No worries, though, right? I had a load of pennies. I counted out 20 of them, put them with the other coins and handed it over.

The attendant was not amused. He put the change down on his counter then said, "I can't take this."

I thought he was kidding.

"I'm not allowed to take more than 10 pennies from any one person. More than 10 pennies isn't legal tender."

He could, however, take a check (does anyone carry a checkbook anymore?) or make me out a nice little bill that I could take home and MAIL back with payment enclosed (in the form of a check, of course). THAT would have saved staff time?

Turns out there have been several recent public arguments about this issue:
- A Santa Cruz man recently tried to pay his parking fines in pennies (and a video here). City only takes checks and credit cards. But what do the credit card companies accept as payment? Do they have to accept U.S. currency, or will jelly beans do?

- New Jersey kids tried a peaceful protest of shortened lunch hour by paying for their meals in pennies. They were given detention. (Aren't schools also famous for their "penny drive" fundraisers? If schools won't take them, why should anyone take them from schools?)

- Another man attempted to pay $1,000 in fines with pennies, argued the case, and ended up paying not only an additional fee for the recipient to deal with the pennies, but also additional court costs as he argued his own case of having paid with what HE believed to be "legal tender."

I understand counting pennies can be a hassle, and paying a large fine in the form of pennies is going to cost SOMEONE some time. But really, would a dime have saved that much time for the poor little ol' tollbooth worker in SLO? And if I don't have it, are my 10 pennies really going to be a burden? At the end of the day when he counts out his drawer he'll have a shitload of pennies. He won't remember who they came from - and it really doesn't matter.

UPDATE:
In all fairness, I figured I'd include this follow up. After my e-mail to the city, I received a phone call from Bill Humphrey, the incredibly responsive, positive parking coordinator for the city of SLO. He had already talked to the employee involved, and it turns out the city has no POLICY against pennies (or any other coin), but leaves it up to employee discretion. If there is, say, a very long line and someone's counting out 300 pennies, then the employee MAY not want to hold up traffic. Mr. Humphrey was apologetic for the incident. Given the situation (I had my coins counted out, and there were only 20 pennies involved while no one was behind me at the kiosk), he said he thought the employee should have used "better judgement."

Mr. Humphrey followed up with a personal letter including the following, "I promise not to complicate your parking experience by another complicated or rather bizarre financial transaction.

"I want to thank you again for our conversation the other day. Without it, we would not be able to improve on what we do. I like to think positive of our mistakes because we can always learn valuable lessons from them"

Thanks to YOU, Mr. Humphrey.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

TINY travel & GIANT turkeys

Tonight while researching further information about our much-improved 1971-72 Compact Jr. trailer I came upon this new RV. You thought OUR space was tight!? Then again, THIS Jeep-mounted space will go a lot more places than ours will. Still...I think I'll stick with our Junior, particularly for the price! WHEW!

Had a really nice Thanksgiving with a fantastic meal and great company. The grandparents all took turns playing with or reading with the girls. Grandpa Doug read the entire (abridged, but entire) version of The Secret Garden in one sitting. Clearly Grandma was exhausted after helping out in the kitchen and socializing all day. (Plus, it's tough to stay awake on a warm comfy couch when someone's reading to you, isn't it?) Grandma Margaret got into the act with dress-up. (I believe they were pioneers this time rather than the Donner party that the girls have tended to play more often in recent weeks.)



I managed to make some fantastic turkey soup stock (about 1 1/2 gallons) complete with plenty of meat that fell of the bones I was cooking. Also have leftover turkey frozen and have been snacking on turkey sandwiches and various other turkey concoctions since shortly after we finished cleaning up from Thanksgiving dinner.

Followed up with a gingerbread cookie backing session Friday afternoon. What a mess...but MMMM so tasty! This week - headed south to the Big D. (SHhh...it's a secret!)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New homepage for Best Family Adventures

I've been wanting to revamp the Best Family Adventures site for some time now. Tonight I uploaded a much improved front page. It would be great to include some music or fantastic graphics or script games, but I feel fortunate to have been able to figure out the HTML for this! Perhaps I'll work on a new, improved, fancy face for the next edition.

Please drop by, check it out, and let me know what you think. Find a dead link? Let me know!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Haiku today

After math, science, history, reading and chores today, we went to my current favorite blog for a writing assignment we all could enjoy. Today: turn around with your eyes closed. Open your eyes. Write haiku about the first thing you see.

Here's mine:
Bookshelf, tall and full.
Such great potential awaits.
Need more time to read.

Here's E's:
My little sister
Looking at me from the door.
And smiling. So nice.

Here's V's:
Street, black, wet from rain.
Houses on the other side.
No cars are there now.

I did mine in the allotted 60 seconds. This was the girls' first try, so it took a little longer for them, but not bad. Post YOUR Haikus here in the comments box! :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Story #3 - Getting into the Swing Again

I'm a lot happier this week with my writing. This week's published piece seems much more detailed and it's written better than either of the previous two pieces. Perhaps I was just out of practice. Or maybe it has something to do with writing it the way I thought it should be written, without worrying about story length. My old friend Vern would certainly agree that I've NEVER had a problem filling the pages!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Research - This is the Life!

If you're receiving this note by e-mail, click on the post headline to get to the blog where you may view the latest BFA photos.

In the name of research, the girls and I loaded up Junior this past week and headed for the American Riviera - Santa Barbara. We camped at Carpinteria State Beach (great if you love sand, surf and regular visits with passing trains), El Capitan (fine if you like camping atop a cliff from whence the sound of the freeway drowns out the crashing of waves).

We really enjoyed our morning walks along Carpinteria Beach where we found fantastic shells and rocks. They grow 'em BIG around here!

I introduced the girls to long photo exposures by showing them how to "paint with light." I'd wanted to capture some nighttime shots of Junior with the warm glow of the light shining through the curtains, but it was too dark out...until we introduced the flashlight and a 15-second exposure.

That led us to painting on the beach, and these images.




We visited almost every beach on the south coast to (and a bit beyond) the Ventura County line, learned why north county residents are so envious of the parks plans for south county (wow...do they have a lot of parks down there), and stumbled upon some other local treasures.

We also visited the Nina...what a disappointment! The "historically accurate" boat travels the world collecting $6/adult, $3/child for the opportunity to board. Once on board, well, you can see everything you've already seen from shore. No big surprises. Heck, no surprises at all. Even E said, "That was $11 we could have used better."

The next question...to publish - or not to publish.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

A Writer's Life

One of my favorite books about writing is On Writing, by Stephen King. If you've read much King, or heard about it, you probably think a guide to the art of writing is unlikely for him. After all, he largely focuses on horror: Cujo, Christine,The Tommyknockers, It ... and now Duma Key: A Novel. But he's a colorful writer no matter what genre. Clearly he enjoys writing, entertaining and being entertained.

In On Writing King writes, "...if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway."

Well, if I learn to write with as much honesty as I tend to speak, I'll be a bestseller someday, too.

If you're interested in writing, I urge you to pick up this book and give it a read. It won't take much time, and I guarantee it's worth it.

Rollin' in...paint

Another busy week as we prepare for a trip to Santa Barbara for some research, then home to prep for Thanksgiving at home! :)

Managed to paint the trailer interior and put it back together this week. While I was at the landfill last weekend I remembered someone telling me paint can be picked up free there. Drop off your half can of latex and someone else may use it for their house, garden toys or, in our case, trailer. I picked up a can of tan and another of a green that matches the original olive green stove, though the paint's a couple of shades lighter than the stove. I added some white to a bit of the tan to make a lighter shade for the walls, then used the green to paint the beveled edge of the drawers and cabinet doors, then used the original, darker tan for the faces of the cabinets and drawers. The girls helped paint the drawers, doors and interior. They're really into rolling on paint now!


A little closer.



The orange kitty wasn't very impressed.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Playing in Vectorpark

I know I should be doing any of a number of things besides fartin' around on the computer. Here are a few of them: sleeping, painting the trailer, making Christmas shopping lists, documenting today's homeschooling activities, writing freelance stories about our trip, submitting any of a number of my children's stories (again), doing laundry, brushing my teeth, cleaning the catbox, mopping the floors, mowing the yard (ok, maybe not at this hour)...

Instead, I'm playing in Vectorpark. Go ahead. Try it. See if YOU don't get hooked! :)

(Figuring out WHAT to do is the first step toward doing something completely fruitless, but entertaining, with your valuable time, too.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One Minute - Technology

I recently discovered this blog which promotes writing, even in tiny installments. The blog owner posts one question every now and again (weekdays?) and gives you one minute to answer the question in writing.

Today's question: What modern technology would you have trouble living without?

Start the timer! :)

The computer would be tough to live without, but only because I'm ADDICTED! Either to e-mail, or working my stories here, or researching topics for the girls, for me, for stories, for books, searching for dream properties.

Then again, life would be so much simpler without this distraction.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Customer Service 101

Things are changing in Pismo Beach, and they may not be for the better.

Today the girls and I enjoyed a spectacular day at Olde Port Beach. The weather was amazing, the tide ran out so far we found loads of the largest crabs I've ever seen on shore. We had a picnic lunch with Grandpa, met some really nice people, made new friends and enjoyed each other's company. The craziest thing was seeing a large crab (6" body) rise from under the sand where we'd been walking moments before.

We decided to go to one of our favorite Pismo Beach restaurants on the way home to grab some clam chowder and a great people-watching from the window seats. Pismo has opted to start charging for parking, something I forgot completely about! I didn't notice the little signs, and after a lifetime of visiting without paying for parking, it didn't even occur to me to LOOK for the parking pay box. Fortunately, the girls can read now and V pointed out the sandwich board propped in the middle of the street just outside the restaurant. Ooops!

After gathering coins from a merchant's cash register and doing my duty with the parking permit box down the street, the girls and I decided to dilly dally a bit, window shop, and finally do some research at what was, until today, among my favorite magazine shops.

Apparently, the woman working there has decided she doesn't need to treat customers with respect, even given the current debate about whether permit parking downtown will impact businesses adversely. There was a man reading newspapers on one rack, the girls were looking quietly for their favorites (horses for V, anything kid friendly for E), and I was trying to find magazines to which I might want to sell some freelance work. (Editors like it when you actually KNOW the magazine, have read it, know its departments and its style. It's also best to put the current editor's name on the query letter and envelope.) The woman behind the counter didn't bother the man, but she started staring me down shortly after we entered the store. It was pretty apparent she wasn't just staring into space. As soon as the male customer left the store, she said, "I suggest you use the internet."

WOW! For all she knew, I could still have been shopping for just the right magazine. (In fact, I already had two I'd never seen before in my "to buy" pile.) The girls and I had only been there five minutes, tops, hardly enough time to select one (or ten) magazines, and there were three potential customers here.

My eyes popped wide in surprise and I said, "Really? Is there a problem?" I told her what I was doing (researching magazines). That's when she smugly threw in, "Try the library." As I gathered the girls and headed out the door, I asked why she hadn't bothered the man that had stopped in to read (not buy) magazines. She didn't have an answer.

She's right. Why support a long-time local business? Take it to the web. That's how we support our communities, right?

Don't worry, Mag Lady. We won't be back. We have a great new library right here in town.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My Little Curator

Do you get tired of me going on about how great homeschooling is? I just can't help myself!

The girls have been much better about cleaning up since we returned home. Maybe getting used to living in very confined spaces has helped them a bit, or maybe they're just growing up (sniff!) a little bit. Last week, during some random down time while I was doing a chore, the girls decided to clean off their bulletin board. The most miraculous thing (beyond the cleaning itself) was that they AGREED and worked TOGETHER.

Yesterday, the girls decided to use that space to create their own little museum of sorts using items they'd collected. They have more items to add, but have opted to string visitors along, enticing them back with the promise of "additions to come."

Here's the curator. (Her assistant was camera shy.)
 
 
The fine print:
Title of exhibit: The Indians' Lifestyle
Under the fern frond: They ate plants.
Under the bone: They hunted animals.
Under the arrowhead: They used many tools.
Under the chunk of pyrite (aka Fool's Gold): The forests were rich...if you were a fool.

Yesterday our homeschooling adventure took us to our friend Karen's place where we all learned to make apple butter and to can. I'm SO excited to have had some canning pointers. My grandparents all canned, and some of my aunts still do. We have a garden, but have been storing anything we don't EAT in the freezer, which is PACKED at this point. I needed to learn to can to make better all-season use of our bounties.

Thanks, Karen!
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Monday, November 10, 2008

How NOT to write a travel story

Well, fortunately the local paper is lenient. Second story from our trip, but I don't like it much. I'm having a tough time translating our trip into newspaper style, though the section editor doesn't particularly WANT newspaper style. Conversational is ok with her, and so is the use of "we." Too many years writing for print without including "me," "we" or "I."

Must get a mag story or two published. These are where it's at for me, style-wise and income-wise.

Today we're headed out for an apple-butter-making lesson and chicken chasing with my friend, Karen White.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Coming together

It's been another great homeschooling week in which things just came together beautifully. We'd taken a break after weeks on the road studying our nation's geography, history, nature and people, journaling about it, earning Junior Ranger badges and meeting people from around the world. We all deserved a bit of a break, and I needed some time to decompress, and plan ahead, so the girls have been reacquainting them with their garden, neighborhood and toys while I've been sorting and planning and catching up on records.
I use a nice piece of software to track our homeschooling activities. What I like best about it when I keep up with my records is that it prints out a nice, easy-to-read summary of what we've done all year. The only problem is that it's VERY time intensive to record everything we do that might include teachable moments captured, particularly if I fall more than a day or so behind. And because I don't record EVERY moment we spend together reading or crafting or practicing math or talking about theoretical solutions to the world's problems, it doesn't accurately portray our homeschool experience. But it gives a pretty good indication of what we do, and it'll be a nice record to look back on as the years pass and memories fade.

After inputing the information from our trip, it seems we've far exceeded the state's requirements for "minutes of instruction" for this school year. It would have been difficult NOT to with all the time we spent at each fantastic historic, scenic, scientific, artistic or simply experiential opportunity. But there's always more to learn, isn't there? So we're back on track with reading, writing and 'rithmetic with the arts and p.e. in the mix as well as a look at the Middle Ages and science (particularly for V).

Plan or not, the pieces continue to fall just right. Today we finished reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick. I'd picked it up at the new library earlier in the week on a whim. Hadn't ever heard of it, but it was sitting atop the Enchanted Forest shelf, yawning at me, displaying some of the 156 pencil drawings that help to make this book different. I started reading it aloud to the girls as we traveled through town (stop lights) and at home. Then E took over and read most of the book to us as I drove, or here on the couch, or in bed. It's a great story, full of suspense, with some basis in fact. It refers to early movies by the Lumiere Brothers and others.

After we finished the story, I logged on to the internet where, you guessed it, I found LOTS of great stuff including this film, featured prominently in the book, from the turn of the 20th Century. (Be sure to pause the music on the PlayList sidebar before this takes off or you'll have competing audio.)


It's interesting rocketry and space travel keeps finding its way into our lives, in one form or another, perhaps in spite of my plans. We watched the launch on September 24th, which, if you're a follower of this blog, you know lead to a decent discussion of rocketry including the history, science and future of it. Today's story got a bit into space travel. And, coincidentally, V's math resulted in the creation of a rocket on paper today. I couldn't PLAN this stuff better!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

SERIOUSLY miniature art!

I know, this has nothing to do with our family or what we're up to today, except that perhaps it shows we find all sorts of interesting, perhaps even inspirational, stuff on the web. Today, it's art. I can't seem to embed this video here, so click to find out what our family is talking about this evening.

It's never to early to read?

I came across this today and thought I'd share. We love to read here. But it never occured to me to begin this early.

I'm pretty amazed, but it does make sense. Just as a baby recognizes the shapes of things and learns to relate them to the spoken word, so could a baby recognize shapes of words and relate them to language. The seriously whole method!

He seems to enjoy it.



This is more what my babies looked like when they "read" in those early months.

Es Claro

I came across a Spanish homeschoolers' blog. I figured reading the blog might be a good way for me to dust off my rusty Spanish skills, but in the course of my browsing, I discovered I was reading the Spanish version of many of my friends' thoughts and comments. I hadn't realized homeschooling was taking off in Spain as well, and that their liberals are thinking the same thoughts about the state of capitalism as our liberals. This pretty much sums it up. Even if you don't speak Spanish, I think you'll get the gist. (If your kids speak Spanish and "puto" isn't a word you want them to hear or learn, you may want to send them out of the room.)

My favorite shot is the one of the baby.

OH! You may want to click "pause" on the Playlist (left column, down a bit) unless musical conflicts don't bother you! ;)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gifts from the Central Coast

A few days ago I wrote to friends and family who know the Central Coast and all its local goodies. I was putting together a thank you package for the family in Nebraska who housed us and gave us pretty much free rein over their ranch. I'd thought of a few things, but knew there'd be some good input from other local experts.

The package, all 30 pounds of it, is ready to go, complete with a photo album for them with some of the best pix I took during our stay. While I didn't include ALL of these things in the box, I thought I'd post the list of Central Coast goodies here in case anyone else is interested in giving the gift of California goodness.

- Cattaneo Bros. jerky or sausage
- SLO Roasted Coffee (aka Central Coast Coffee Roasting Company)
- Joebella Coffee Roasters
- Coastal Peaks Roasters
- Jack Creek Farms jams n' jellies n' other goodies
- McLintock's Beans
- McLintock's Salsa

- Poquito Beans (aka Pinquito Beans)
- Suzy Q Seasoning, glazes, sauces and salsas
- Crill's Saltwater Taffy
- Pepper Plant sauces
- See's Candy
- Hermann's Chocolates
- Mo's BBQ Sauces
- Linn's Jams, jellies and other goodies
- Hayashi jams
- Cal Poly Chocolate
- Taco Works tortilla chips
- Pasolivo Olive Oils
- Avila Valley Barn jams, jellies, sweets and other goodies

The gift box seems like a good idea. They won't get these things at home. Then again, perhaps that's what makes it equally cruel. Still, I wouldn't pout if someone sent me such a care package! :)

Differences

Last night the girls and I attended a "End of Election Silly Season Party." It was an entertaining, relaxing, interesting evening with a gathering that included people of varying political preferences. The reaction was mixed when Mr. McCain conceded, and as President-elect Obama took the podium.

There are a lot of contrasts between the parties, but this was one that sort of summed it up the difference in overall attitude. Did anyone else notice, though, how the Republicans boo'd when Mr. McCain mentioned he'd just talked to Barack Obama on the phone? And did you notice that when President-elect Obama mentioned to the Democratic gathering that he'd just spoken with McCain, there was no booing. There was light clapping and cheering. OK, it was LIGHT, but it was POSITIVE.

Motherhood - training for senility?

Yesterday the girls and I enjoyed a craft session with half a dozen moms and a boatload of kids. Now that the girls are older and able to do so much of their own crafting, it's a lot easier than the olden days, you know, WAY back 18 months ago! ;) As the moms tried to have discussions, we were constantly interrupted by children needing a hand here or there (mine included). This kind of thing used to irritate me to no end, but while it can get on my nerves after awhile, I find it takes a lot longer for these little interruptions of NEED to get to me.

As I reviewed my day as I fell asleep last night it occurred to me that there were several conversations started, then abruptly ended, and never revisited as we roamed to room. Is motherhood training for senility, or is it really the beginning?

Here me now, believe me later: Thought came. Thought went.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Lighter Side - Vegetable Instruments

We're big on studying all subjects here at Best Family Academy. Yesterday, I considered Dante's Inferno after reading a certain "Classical Education" experts recommendation that this be introduced in third grade. Let me restate: I CONSIDERED it. I read it. It was, uh, educational and colorful and, well, disturbing. Certainly not for my young children who have yet to be introduced to many of these frightening concepts. (OK...so the idea of the Inferno doesn't frighten you, but it scares the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks out of me if I let my imagination go.)

Today's consideration (and easy approval) went to the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra (here, too), then on to this guy who likes to make vegie instruments at home.



Have I told you how much I like having the Internet as a learning resource? ;)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm going to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

Our girls love history, so we continue wading forward through the map of time, reading, crafting and exploring. We're moving into the Middle Ages now, St. Augustine to Descartes. But what shall I do when we get to Dante's Inferno? Some who are into classical education say third grade is the time to read The Inferno aloud, but it's a VERY dark poem, wouldn't you say? (Chime in anytime here, Grandpa Doug!)

Somehow I just don't think I can bring myself to do it at this juncture...or perhaps ever.

In my online research, I've found some fun stuff, though. According to the Dante's Inferno Test, I'm going to the First Level:

"You are one of the lucky ones! Because of your virtue and beliefs, you have escaped eternal punishment. You are sent to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!

"Charon ushers you across the river Acheron, and you find yourself upon the brink of grief's abysmal valley. You are in Limbo, a place of sorrow without torment. You encounter a seven-walled castle, and within those walls you find rolling fresh meadows illuminated by the light of reason, whereabout many shades dwell. These are the virtuous pagans, the great philosophers and authors, unbaptised children, and others unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven. You share company with Caesar, Homer, Virgil, Socrates, and Aristotle. There is no punishment here, and the atmosphere is peaceful, yet sad."

So, do we read it aloud or not? Somehow I think this one can wait, but I look forward to my faithful readers chiming in here. Please leave a comment (or send me a private e-mail if you don't want to share here).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!



The girls selected and put together their own costumes this year: V is Wall-E (complete with a bug on her shoulder); E is the angel (thanks, Grandma, for the dress; we found the wings at the same shop). They also designed and drew their own pumpkin haunted houses. I used a jigsaw to cut out the big pieces, and they did their own shaving using a vegetable peeler; the old-style where the peeler actually has its own rounded end for scooping out potatoes' eyes.

We trick or treated the neighborhood, and, as per our tradition, handed out special treats to our neighbors and friends. This year: Angel food cake from the angel & DUSTED brownies from Wall-E. :)

We started November with a hike with friends on the relatively new Buchon Trail south of Montana de Oro State Park. This trail has been behind a locked gate for decades, but this year was the deadline for Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to make that section of the coast accessible to the public. We had to fill out waivers to gain access via the guard shack and there are lots of rules (basically, pedestrians only on very clearly marked trails bordered by electric fence), but it's a beautiful stretch of coastline and a VERY easy walk.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Harvest season, Halloween and Bittersweet Farewell

This week the girls and I have been busy with Halloween prep, harvest season fun, getting back into our kitchen, tending goats for friends, and spending as much time as possible with friends who are leaving for a year.

Last weekend, we were honored to be asked to goat-sit for our friends at Rose and Thistle Farm east of Santa Maria. They have milk goats that need daily tending, and, thanks to our Nebraska hosts, we have the basics. Plus, we're excited about farm life, so E and I jumped at the opportunity. (V balked, 'til we were there; then she was all over the chores, and the animals!) Our pay - fresh goat milk!

You say that's not a good deal? Well, I might have, too, had these friends not introduced us to FRESH goat milk. See, like too many people, the only goat milk I'd ever had was from the cartons at the grocery store. That milk is pretty, er, gamey? Goaty? STRONG! But fresh goat milk is superb, and not entirely unlike cow milk in taste. It's white, creamy goodness that, for me, causes a lot less gut distress. (I didn't realize lactose had any effect on me 'til we spent our Nebraska week drinking solely goat milk. It was an amazingly comfortable week!) And with organic DAIRY at $7/gallon at our neighborhood store, the goat milk trade for service was a nice perk.

We were also given license to enjoy the farm, play with the dog, pet the cat, feed the horses, eat the grapes growing along the house, pick lemons, play in the pool. Well, we didn't have enough time to hit the pool (can you believe it?), but we enjoyed the rest. Plus, with Mr. B's help, we picked a grocery bag full of lemons which I then processed into lemon juice (a whole gallon of it!) at home. I'm working on freezing the lemon juice by way of the ice cube trays so we can store the juice, but still access it easily as needed for a variety of baking projects. (And, no, it's not all about money - but lemons in our grocery store are running 99 cents EACH...not per pound...EACH! Even at our local farmers' market they want 50 cents per lemon. So, we've been steering clear. The Rose & Thistle lemons have enabled us once again to create lemony treats in our kitchen.)

In an effort to make room in the freezer for the lemon juice, I freed the frozen bananas. (We stick them in there when they get overripe on the counter before we can eat them.) Freeing them means making something with them. This time - banana nut bread that turned out wonderfully. (Mr. B actually noted the improvement in my baking!) We shared slices with friends who stopped by, but otherwise hogged the scrumptious, marginally healthy treat.

We also discovered Trader Joe's Gluten-free Pancake/Waffle Mix which we tested as a waffle mix this week. MMmmmm...scrumptious!

While I baked and cleaned my way to oblivion, E seized the opportunity to sew her own creation. She WAS going to make a skirt, she said, but once she had the fabric in her hands, I think it spoke to her. In the end, she made matching hats (Quaker style) for herself and her sister. Not bad for an 8 year old with no pattern!

My friend Karen (who the girls refer to as the chicken farmer), has offered to have us over to teach us how to make apple butter, AND how to can (something I really want to learn from a real live person rather than a book). She has the know-how, the supplies and all the makin's except the apples. So, I'm on the prowl for apples. Do you have an extra bushel you'd like to share? We'll do the work and share butter if you'd part with your bounty! Just drop me a note! :)

Meanwhile, the girls and I continued our Halloween prep. Today our friends Eliana and Noah joined us for pumpkin carving, and the last play date before they head back to Papua New Guinea for another year. We're sorry to see them go because they're so fun to play with and their parents are wonderful people who we really enjoy. But we know they're doing great work as Christian doctors in the rainforest and look forward to their return. (I also discovered, today, that a jigsaw works WONDERS for pumpkin carving!)

Later the girls and I finished their costumes (E=angel; V=WallE) in time to head to San Luis Obispo for Thursday Night Farmers' Market complete with Mr. B, Grandpa Randy and Grandma Margaret. This year-round event offers special activities for kids the Thursday before Halloween. For a quarter per game, they can toss rings or bean bags or skull-shaped ping pong balls in trade for treats. These games, put on by the city rec department, are run by various student organizations from Cal Poly University. I always enjoy the energy of these young people who sacrifice their party night in order to create special memories for little kids.

Farmers' Market
has always been a great thing. Started in the mid-1980s, the market includes not just farmers selling their fantastic stuff, but entertainment and food prepared at barbecues and kitchens along the street. The event really invites a long stay; you can grab dinner for the family, pull up a curb and watch Irish dancers or a rock n' roll band, a juggler or church choir. The place is always packed, but still worth it. Tonight, we particularly enjoyed the "Drumschool 101 Student Spotlight." The local drum school, run by the former owner of a local drum shop and an impressive percussionist in his own right, buys the space downtown to give its students of all ages a chance to perform. We saw an incredible 9 year old, and some pretty good older kids as well as an 8 year old who was really working to keep in the groove (he did great) and a guy who looked like he was living a second childhood as he entered the drumming scene.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Best Baby Action Pillow

This is it. After four years online, this website I created to feature my invention, the Best Baby Action Pillow, is going to be taken offline by AOL, its longtime host. Apparently AOL is dumping it's Hometown feature.

You can see the site (and the invention with cute aged photos of kids) until late on Halloween. Then all bets are off.

I could put the site up under the Best Family Adventures site, but I'm not sure I will. I sold several of these (one person bought several in a single blow...gifts?) but I'm not really into mass production.

Then again, if people want 'em, it's no skin off my nose to make a few more. I just can't guarantee the print. I use whatever cute fat quarters I can find at the local fabric shop.

Heck, before it's lost, perhaps I should just do a little copy/paste/edit job here. :)

Tired of Baby's head flopping to the side
or resting uncomfortably during hikes and rides?
I was...


So I created the Best Baby Action Pillow

Long - to fill the long gap to meet every baby's leaning tendencies.
Slender - to fit in tight spots like baby carriers (backpacks)
Washable - take it hiking, camping, biking or for a picnic, then throw it in the wash
Cozy - soft flannel pillow feels good on Baby's tender skin
Secure - a short strap and hook attach to most packs to ensure the pillow stays with its crew. No deep-knee bends to pick up this accessory.

Available in pink, blue, yellow or green
Or send your own special fabric for customized pillow.

$14.99 each plus $4.50 shipping anywhere in the continental U.S.
For shipping rates elsewhere, contact me.

To order or for more information, contact me.

I accept PayPal and money orders. No personal checks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Poison Oak & the Central Coast

When homeschoolers from all over the state came to the Central Coast last week for a campout, a few headed home withe gift that keeps on giving. No, I'm not talking about Limes Disease. It's the Central Coast favorite - POISON OAK! (EW!) I thought I'd share here the information I posted on the group's e-mail group (in response to parents' requests for help).

Any time you camp on our beautiful Central Coast you have to plan on poison oak. (That's why my husband no longer camps and seldom hikes with us here.)

So, we've learned a lot about it.

For most of us, the oil from the leaves gets on our hands or legs or shorts or shoe laces, then we unwittingly spread it on other parts of our body as we shoo away flies, push our hair out of our eyes, scratch an everyday itch, wrestle, whathaveyou. (I've had it on my hip, below my pantyline, after contacting my poison-oak-oiled forearm while...er...in the restroom. Bummer!)

After you've been exposed to it, using a GREASE cutting soap and COLD water can help cut a lot of the oil off your skin. I've had great luck with this. They also sell a product (Tecnu
) that cuts it, but it's very strong and too harsh for me. I go with the dish soap. If it'll cut grease, it'll cut poison oak oil.

Hydrocortisone works for the itch for some, calamine Spray
or Lotion does a fine (if not messy) job drying it up. I'm sure there are more homeopathic cures
, but I have had poison oak so rarely I haven't had a chance to try them out. Mr. B gets it so often, and so badly, he takes the shortcut to the strong stuff...unwilling to take the time to risk anything that MIGHT now (or might) work.

I also found the HOT water thing to be VERY soothing when I had my last bad bout (wrist to pit after spending a day rubbing a dog...I'd done it for YEARS and never got the itch, so I didn't take any precautions...oops!). BUT THE HOT WATER THING ONLY WORKS AFTER YOU"VE
REMOVED THE OIL! If you use hot water to wash off the oil, your pores open and the oil spreads right into them.

Once I'm clean, dried and the itch sets in, I just put that body part under RUNNING water (so if there's any risidual oil it will run OFF and not soak the remaining good skin) as HOT as I can stand it. Does this waste water? You bet. Do I care at this point. Nope! (Sorry)

There are several sites on the web that might prove helpful. I thought this one was particularly entertaining (and informative for those who've never had it).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Techology's grand (aka Address Book Nuked)

I can't blame anyone, not even AOL, for losing my e-mail address book today. Nope, I nuked it myself! I was cleaning out some auto-added addresses, but somehow managed to lose my entire address book!

Now I've had this same e-mail address since the mid-1990s, and many of the addresses in there were old, probably didn't even connect to anyone anymore. But that's a heckuva way to clean out the book!

Now it's up to family and friends to drop me a note so I can add them again. Otherwise, well, so much for modern tools for quick contacts!

If you have me in your address book (or just know my e-mail address), please do drop me a note so I can begin rebuilding again. (Mom & Dad, I have yours memorized. All other bets are off!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life of a freelance journalist - 1 down, 100 to go

I had hoped to sell some travel stories from our trip to help cover the costs and keep my freelance career going. Today the local paper, for which I've written since the mid-'90s, ran the first of several travel stories they're planning to use from our recent trip. The assignment: write about the entire 9,611-mile journey in 250-300 words.

Do the math and you'll see it's no easy task! We saw so much along the way, and with only 300 words max, I was hard pressed to provide ANY details. It took me about an hour to write the lead, but then I was off and running.

The editor was happy with what I provided. You can find it online here.

In case they can the online storage of it, here's the text:

Orcutt family offers tips on following Lewis and Clark road trip
By Jennifer Best/Contributing Writer

At the turn of the 19th century, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and 30 members of their Corps of Discovery embarked on an American adventure. Their quest: to map a waterway that would connect the United States of America with the Pacific Ocean while taking note of the peoples, flora and fauna of this vast, uncharted region.

They had no motorized transportation, no maps, sketchy medical knowledge and had been ordered by President Thomas Jefferson to return with new species, even large mythological beasts.

Two hundred years later, my daughters and I set out on our own quest: to keep American history alive, intriguing and tangible for budding historians by following the footsteps of these intrepid explorers. But we had a leg up — the shelter of a trailer, the power of a minivan, the knowledge of countless mapmakers held in our hands and a network of roads and highways beyond Clark’s imagination.

Our journey began where Lewis and Clark enjoyed their westernmost exposure, on what is now the Long Beach Peninsula of southwestern Washington State. In November 1805, 11 members of the Corps, led by Clark, walked this sandy shore in search of a winter haven. They found, instead, an unprotected, windblown, ocean-battered spit of land. They returned to the great Columbia River and crossed its treacherous waters in favor of the sheltered shore to the south.

Today, that once-lonely stretch of land is home to pocket communities of residents who enjoy the solitude of a 29-mile stretch which, at its widest point, reaches only 5 miles. Though isolated from the rest of the state by Willapa Bay to the east, and the first landfall for Pacific storms from the west, wildlife still flourishes there. Bears, deer and coyotes are not unusual sights in neighborhood yards. Locals continue to harvest wild salal berries, coastal strawberries, wintercress and wild mushrooms among other native flora, hunt bear, deer, elk, grouse and waterfowl, and enjoy the Pacific bounty just as humans have from time immemorial. Cranberry bogs and oyster pots bring forth their products each autumn and winter.

Winter months provide the most peaceful experience on the peninsula, with favorite local shops and restaurants remaining open throughout the cold, wet season. It’s an ideal time to live like the locals and take in small-town events from high school sports and arts to the Long Beach Christmas Tree lighting ala Dr. Seuss’s Whoville. Or hop across the historic Astoria-Megler Bridge, a 4-mile engineering marvel that stretches across the Columbia River, to visit Astoria and other coastal Oregon communities.

In summer, the peninsula comes alive as the carousel cogs are greased and set into motion, the miniature golf course is vacuumed and go-carts start their engines for the season. Visitors drive on the 26.3-miles of uninterrupted sandy beach, retrace the Corps’ “last mile” on a paved path through the dunes, build sandcastles, witness hundreds of kites in flight at the International Kite Festival, ride horseback, camp, shop and dine at venues ranging from sandy picnic blankets to cozy breakfast spots and a world-class restaurant.

Today the 3,630-mile stretch of the Lewis & Clark Trail stretching from the Pacific Oceano to St. Louis, Missouri, boasts a plethora of educational visitor attractions all boosted by the recent bicentennial of the trek. There are 81 museums, state parks and national parks along the trail dedicated to the Corps of Discovery and the tribes they encountered, and countless wayside markers.

By far the most interesting docents we found along the route were at Fort Clatsop, Ore., the 1805 winter quarters of the Corps. The seasoned guides speak conversationally as they recount that bitterly cold, wet winter and demonstrate the use of tools varying from log skinners to firearms compelling fashion.

The museum at Sgt. Floyd River Museum in Sioux City, Iowa, was the most child-friendly with hands-on activities throughout the museum designed to rope in visitors of all ages. What skills do you share that may come in useful on such a journey? Could you have been among the elite few selected for this journey? How would you have treated the variety of injuries and illnesses the adventurers encountered along the way?

Highways and byways sometimes parallel and often crisscross the route, tamed by dams, but trail and river guides offer the more rugged and wealthy traveler opportunities to walk the mountain passes and ride the river the corps explored. At Gates of the Mountains, river tours offer the general public the river view. In St. Louis, paddlewheel boats offer priceless days on the wide Mississippi River. Packers provide supplies, animals and guides over Lolo Pass, the rugged crossing through Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains. Other companies provide barge cruises and fishing treks along the waterways mapped by the Corps.

Like Lewis and Clark, who veered from their route on their return trip in an effort to find shortcuts and further map the area, the girls and I also tended to wander off our intended route, venturing into Glacier National Park, then Canada before returning again to the historic route and continuing east. And like the Corps, we were welcomed by the hospitality of locals along the way, invitations that led to a ranch stay, riverside hot springs, a canoe float, abundant huckleberry patches and some of the best views of American waterways.

And when our 9,611-mile journey was through, I asked the girls, ages 8 and 5, if they were ready to return home. “Yes,” the 8-year-old said, “but there’s still so much I want to see.”

Jennifer Best is an Orcutt-based freelance journalist. She can be reached at JBest@BestFamilyAdventures.com.

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