Sunday, August 30, 2009

Touring a Nuclear Power Plant - Diablo Canyon

If you, like my Uncle J, like firefighting apparatus, then click through to the blog to see today's slide show.

Within half an hour's drive of our house is Diablo Canyon Power Plant, a nuclear facility that generates about 18,000 gigawatt hours every year. Need some perspective? According to the Energy Information Administration, the average American home uses 936 kilowatt hours per year. If my math and reasoning skills aren't completely screwed up (which is quite possible even using this tool), that means this plant supplies enough electricity to power more than 2 million homes for an entire year. WHEW!

The plant, located on 750 remote areas on California's Central Coast, offers some of the coast's most spectacular views. Employees here are blessed with a beautiful daily commute, and breathtaking views any time they can spare to look up from their work. For the majority of my lifetime, my dad has been one of those employees. Today, he led us on a tour of the plant.

It was an unusually warm day all along the coast, so even with the usual afternoon breeze, we were plenty warm. Dad took us all on a tour of his office space, the fire department and the grounds. Then the girls and Mr. B took part in the kid-friendly portions of the tour: meandering through the learning center; pretending to be Homer Simpson while randomly turning knobs and pushing buttons inside the control room simulator. Meanwhile, Dad took me for a walk through the turbine building. With both units running, the floor rumbled beneath our feet, and even with our earplugs in, the sound was impressive.

We wrapped up the day with a swim in the ocean at Port San Luis, about 7 miles south of the plant. The beach was pretty crowded, and the limited camping spots were packed, but we really couldn't have picked a better way to wrap up this perfect beach day.

For more photos, and an inside look at life at Diablo, check out Jim Zim's site.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kitchen Science: Extract Kiwi DNA

For e-mail recipients, please note a slide show is available on the blog.

Thanks to my life-long friend, now a chemistry professor, the girls and I have an inexhaustible source of science answers, projects and ideas. Want to know what pure carbon looks like? Call her. Want to know why something works the way it does? Call her.

(Oh, sure, we could look it up online or in a book. But any excuse to call a friend is a good excuse, right?)

Toward the end of last year, she handed over a couple of fun experiments for us to try. (She was also the source for last week's Milk Plastic Experiment.) Today, we went with extracting DNA from a kiwi.

We began our science study with a review of atoms and molecules, then talked about genetics which led to the ultra-fun topic of inherited characteristics. (I always loved to see the variations in potential combinations.) We used the Internet to view some fantastic lessons from my alma mater, then wrapped up our lesson with the extraction project.

Unfortunately, our instructions lacked some details. (They were probably on the teachers' guide, but not on the student worksheets we had.) So we had to make a few guesses. I later found better instructions for the project. For a visual on the project (complete with explanations), check out this video. The site also includes written directions and the "recipe." She uses Strawberries, but the same proportions may also work for the kiwi.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Our Own American Girls

If you received this update via e-mail, you're missing out on photos. Visit the blog to see the slideshow.

As our school year began this year, the girls got really into dressing up for the first day. Somehow, the concept was different for them! They woke up early, headed for the playroom, and opted to go twinsies with their dolls. I didn't even know they had clothes that would MATCH their doll clothes!

E's dress actually didn't match her doll's at first, but she went to the scrap bin, pulled out some green fabric she had leftover from another project, and proceeded to make bows for her own dress to go with those on her doll's.

V had scraped her toe the night before while running to greet her dad. With E's help, she found an appropriately sized BandAid for her doll so they could be twinsies down to the last detail.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers Like Us

The blog's been featured a few places, but here's the latest. Follow some of the other links to get a feeling for just how varied homeschooling methods can be.

If you've written about this blog, drop me a note with the linky and I'll add YOU to the list, too!

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pfeiffer Big Sur - a quick run

Did you get this post via e-mail? Then you're missing the photos! Visit the blog site to see the latest shots.

I had so many things to share last week - the girls' growing interest in soccer, the downside of Facebook, events leading to my commitment NEVER to darken the doorstep of Toyota of Santa Maria EVER again, the trailer rewiring project (AND new back porch light - woo hoo!) - but all the stress of last week, all the concerns of the day, were set aside by a quick trip north to Big Sur for a camping trip with my brother and his family. (For the record, the park's employees, who must be really stressed given the state's current economic condition, were wonderfully mellow, patient, helpful, knowlegeable and friendly. The park's particular hostess, however, was rude, not in any way helpful and, as far as I'm concerned, could go the way of the Dodo bird - talk about a TRUE waste of resources!)

Originally, we had hoped to camp in the Sierra this summer. We've done it a few times, and it's been educational and interesting and exhausting and uplifting - all in one fell swoop. That first year was a little rough. They had four of their own children in tow, plus a teen guest. Their youngest was not 2 yet, and the kids hadn't camped much. The next year the kids settled in to camp in short order, but rain forced them home early. Last year, we didn't connect in large part because the girls and I took the big trip which trampled all over our usual camping date week with their family. This year, we planned too late to get one of our favorite campgrounds, so we jumped in on their plans for Big Sur. (Thanks for welcoming us to join you!)

M&A have been camping a lot more with their kids in the past couple of years, and everyone is clearly more comfortable with living together in the great outdoors and all the discomfort that can come with it. It was so great this trip to see all the kids working together, cooperating of their own accord on the heavy lifting, digging holes in the dirt, getting dusty, climbing trees, running amok, playing "telephone" and the stick game and the scissors game around the fire where s'mores flowed freely. The adults had some time to visit. We all enjoyed a short, but rather technical hike up the creek to a waterfall and a full day spent lounging and floating and careening down the creek. The weather was wonderful and the company just gets better and better with each passing year.

Thanks, M&A and Newfound Friends, for the break from all things everyday!

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our House - A Letter from V

Little V wrote this to a friend of hers far away. I thought I'd post it here for posterity.

Dear E,
Thanks you for sharing your story about your house. My mom didn't show it to me until today. We don't get on the computer every day, but I think she does.

Let me tell you about our house, but you've seen it, so here's a reminder.

Our house is in town by a park and there's a big oak tree in the front. Our house is tan with green borders and we have a trampoline in the backyard. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, one living room, a computer room, the kitchen, and a hall. Oh yeah. And the playroom. An herb garden is in our backyard. And a sunflower. We pick fresh strawberries, grapes, squash and tomatoes out of the garden, too. We already ate the peas, and we picked the Mayflower beans which are dry and ready for this winter. We have a play structure with swings and a slide in our backyard where we have lizards, snails, worms, birds and pillbugs, lady bugs, and sometimes frogs.

I wish you were here to play at our house with us. I hope you visit before you move to Texas. Then when we go on our NEXT big adventure, maybe we can visit YOU there! (It's a lot closer than Papua New Guinea!)


Friday, August 21, 2009

One-Minute Blogger: Monster

One of the distractions I discovered on the Internet is one of my favorite blogs: The One-Minute Writer. Each day, the blog owner posts a subject. Click on 60-second timer then tap away at the keyboard until the gentle buzzer sounds. (Don't forget to turn your speakers on first.)

Today's subject (Write a brief bit of fiction about a monster) and the story that flowed out of my fingertips made me laugh. I hope it provides you a weekend giggle, too.

I had the itch to get away, but they followed me everywhere - to work, home, the kitchen, even the blessed bathroom. I couldn't shake them. Their long, dark, rough hair against that pale skin gave me the creeps, but what could I do?! It had been weeks since they first made their presence known, growing stronger and more irritating by the day. I was beginning to lose my mind. I snapped and started to run, screaming, from the car. But my daughter, my voice of reason, called me back.

"Mom! I think it's time to shave your legs!"

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