Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why I Fact Check Every Listing

It feels like I've been working on this project forEVER! Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County covers a lot more unfamiliar territory than Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County did. It's taken months, miles and some overnight visits to see it all, even briefly. And there are still trails we've not been able to hike due to time restrictions or recent fire damage which caused trail closures.

The research is fun, but more rushed this time. Now it's time to get down to details, and I'll tell you, they're devilishly exhausting! So why not outsource the mundane tasks of checking every phone number, every website, of writing out driving directions for every blessed entry?

David. He's why.

Poor David whose personal phone number is a mere one digit off that of the popular Arlington Theater. HE is among the reasons I've taken in upon myself to call EVERY SINGLE NUMBER listed in the upcoming Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County.

I could have hired someone else to do it, but it's a matter of trust, I suppose. I wanted to make sure the Davids of this world aren't inundated by families looking for information, visitors and locals depending upon my work. And whether I hire someone else to do it or complete the work myself, ultimately it's my name on the binding and it is I who will answer for those mistakes.

Sure, numbers will change, and so will web addresses. But I can rest easy knowing I've heard the voices or answering machine messages at the end of every phone number in the book. That I've done my best to ensure the accuracy of the listings.

And, David? I'm sorry about that late night call.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Make Your Own Stove - and other lesson

Tonight I came across this video. We have a nice little backpacker's stove, a common Coleman stove, and of course our residential stove. Still, this might be handy knowledge...

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Soccer - a new experience for us all

When I signed up the girls for soccer last spring, I didn't know it was a FALL sport! I assumed registration took place in the days, or perhaps weeks, before the season began. So I was surprised to learn the check I'd handed over was for a sport that wouldn't begin for another five months. Still, V had declared soccer as HER THING after only two weeks in a city rec class, so we were in for the duration.

Unfortunately, we'd already planned our autumn trip around E's dance recital and other late summer activities that had already been lined up, so we stuck with out travel plans and split town after just three weeks of practice.

This week, we squeaked home with just 10 minutes to spare before V's Wednesday practice. E got in another practice with her team Thursday, and today was each of the girl's first game. Considering the girls still have an amazing lack of knowledge about the sport, they did well, and most importantly they both had a good time in spite of the hot weather and confusion that comes with field organization, mud issues, and everyday soccer mayhem. (And I thought pool time was tough to juggle - imagine 1,400 kids playing in a league that serves a community with one public parks and only a handful of school grounds, and one of those fields being damaged the night before game day. WHEW!)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Snow Play and Goblins

Everywhere we visited this trip was hot. Not warm, HOT! So it was with great excitement that we woke Monday morning to a promise of snow showers, maybe even snow in the mountains. But we were traveling through the mountains, so we wanted to hit it before the snow started to stick. Just before Vail Pass, we stopped at a trucker's chain-up area off the freeway and introduced Muffin to snow. I'm sure the trucker who pulled in behind us was shaking his head when he spotted the three Californians standing in the snow with a kitten, of all things, on a leash.

I'd told the girls we would stop and play in deeper snow in Vail, but when we arrived there wasn't a flake to be found. In fact, the place has grown so much in the decade since my one and only visit there, I couldn't recognize it. Neither could I find trailer-friendly parking, so we carried on to Grizzly Creek. This stop, found thanks to geocaching, was among the best rest stops I've ever visited. Not only is it well away from the freeway, it also includes grassy picnic areas, clean restrooms, a boardwalk with interpretive signs about the area, river front and a trail head for a walk up Grizzly Creek.

After hours on the road, we crossed into Utah, and finally found ourselves at Goblin Valley State Park, one of our favorite lesser-known spots in the area. While previous visits have found us in a nearly abandoned campground, however, the park is clearly gaining popularity; we managed to find one of the last five camping spots in the park that night.

We've never stayed two nights here. It's a spot we've explored in half-day stints on our way to and from and through the area. Someday, we'll make this a multi-night destination. Besides the two valleys of goblins we've explored, there's another well-publicized valley, and there are canyons and other lands to explore. Plus, there's access to the Muddy River.

From Goblin Valley, we took the back road to Hanksville, then the diagonal to I-15, cutting through Capitol Reef, Escalante-Grand Staircase, and Bryce Canyon - all worthy of stops on another trip. We managed to hit Las Vegas before V fell asleep in the backseat, but (note to self and anyone else interested) there appears to be NO parking for even the SMALLEST trailer within walking distance of the lights and fountains that children would enjoy. Vegas will have to be another visit - one with parking predetermined, and perhaps a cab involved.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

On to Colorado

We never have enough time on the ranch. As we left, V announced that, "If we win the lottery, I want to buy a ranch in Nebraska and one hour from the beach." I guess her ranch, in addition to housing horses, dogs, cats, goats, a little house and a big pool, will have to include a long runway and a high-speed jet.

Still, it was time to move west to see the Colorado grandparents and aunts and uncle near Denver. On our way out, we took the amazingly well-maintained dirt county roads from the ranch toward Dalton. We made one wrong turn, so managed to find our way to Potter, Nebraska before turning for Sidney, Nebraska, home to a giant Cabela's store complete with mountain taxidermy display, and, find of all finds, the Bargain Cave!

This portion of the store includes a vast array of items returned or otherwise no longer stocked in the store, so offered at incredibly cut rates. The stitches on my hiking boots blew out earlier this year, and the girls needed new snow boots for the coming winter. (We don't have snow here, but we like them to be comfortable on our annual trek to the mountains to play in the white stuff for a week or so.) I found my replacement boots marked down $40 because, the tag stated, there was a "scuff." Seriously, folks, I'm going to do a LOT more to these than scuff them by the time I'm through - and I couldn't find the mark! V's boots were in the cave because they were a discontinued model. She didn't care, and neither do I. They're very nice boots that'll keep her feet warm this winter and probably next. (She picked 'em a bit large.)

Along this portion of our drive, I thank KUNC radio for its diverse selection of music. It kept us all entertained - me driving, the girls catching up on some math and writing.

Muffin is clearly adjusting well to travel. She was given free run of the cat-friendly house:

We played in the basement, hide-and-seek with Grandma, and dinner at a wonderful pizza joint with a gluten-free menu (Beau Joe's). Good pizza and beer for all. On Sunday, we took Grandpa on a hike to Mt. Falcon. This wonderful open space offers trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The views are wonderful, the hikes as easy or moderately difficult as anyone might like, and the rangers friendly.

The mountain has a remarkably similar story to a California mountain we like to hike. Like Knapp's Castle in Santa Barbara County, Walker's "castle" on Mt. Falcon was built after a man made his fortune. Both stone structures, certainly elegant in their time, were on mountain tops with marvelous views. Both were struck by lightening and burned to the ground not particularly long after they were built. And both are now recreational destinations.

As a storm rolled in, we headed down the mountain and into town for a visit to Casa Bonita - a Best Family favorite more for its cliff divers and other entertainment than for its food. (OK...the sopapillas and margaritas are worth the stop, but if you're looking for MEXICAN food, this isn't the stop for you.) It was certainly V's day. Her aunt delivered an early birthday present, the cliff diver stopped in for a visit, she won the head of the pinata, another arcade player gave her his tickets at the prize counter, and she got to play side by side with Grandpa.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Homeschooling Considerations (response to reader)

One of my readers wrote for advice about homeschooling her own 4 year old daughter. I thought I'd post my response here for anyone to consider. Maybe it will help others in similar situation.

Her original question:

I have been following your blog for a while and I need some home-schooling advice. "A" started pre-school about 3 weeks ago and doesn't want to go anymore because she is scared of the boys. From what I can gather one of them pulled her hair and another one pushed her. She is very timid and can't stand up for herself. I would say she is socially behind most of her peers when interacting with other kids, which was why when she said she wanted to go to preschool I was all for it. Plus, I was glad that I was going to get some time to myself.

I have never really considered home schooling "A" because I am not really Ms. Project or Ms. Creative and don't want to reinvent the wheel. Now, that "A" refuses to go to school I am not sure what to do. She is also academically quite far ahead of what most kids can do at this age. I think "A" is easily ready for kindergarten because she can read short sentences, write some words and count to 100. She turned 4 in July.

What curriculum would you recommend? We haven't really been teaching her anything in a structured fashion but she loves learning and wants to do harder and harder stuff.

And here's my answer:

Thanks for the note. First of all, I want you to know that, contrary to what it may APPEAR on the blog, I am NOT Ms. Creative/Crafty by ANY means, and never considered myself a particularly creative person. I've learned a lot of these projects WITH the girls (see Canning, Sewing and other Fiber Arts for example). I'm organized (if knowing WHICH pile to look in counts) and enjoy making stuff up, organizing and planning as I go along. Most of my ideas come randomly. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't. But I'm VERY curious. When the girls want to know about something and EYE don't have the answer, I'm more than willing to help them find it. (And usually want to know, too.)

It sounds like "A" really doesn't need preschool. SO she doesn't know how to deal with typical preschoolers who pull hair, call name,s bite, kick and scratch. Are those skills we really need in adulthood? Not exactly, and certainly we can develop those interpersonal skills later. I think, first of all, that intelligent, peaceful children are more taken aback by this kind of behavior than anything, and when exposed to it either take up with it or fall victim to it - neither is good.

For an intelligent, emergent reader with an interest in learning I'd say DON"T use a box curriculum. Follow her interests. Read to her a lot if that's what she enjoys. Spend HOURS in the library exploring books. And when she's worn out, whether it's 15 minutes or an hour or two, (or you're worn out), head home and return another day with renewed vigor. I found that, with both of my girls, if I PUSH anything, they repel it. If I follow their interests and provide assistance as needed, they eat it up. If my plan is to go to the library but they'd rather do puzzles at home, so be it. Library out; puzzles in.

I know she seems older because her verbal skills are probably amazing and she says stuff that seems far beyond her tender years. Still, it's difficult for me (and perhaps you) to remember that they're still so little! It's the time for play, exploration, learning by getting their hands dirty and stacking and reading for fun. I think we probably traveled too much and didn't spend enough time at home. I think I may unintentionally pushed my girls too hard at times (not academically, but certainly on the trail and in other activities) for their ages merely because it was difficult for me to remember how YOUNG they were (are)!

Cook with her - and let her read the instructions. Teach her how to measure - and how the fractional notations relate to the marks on the measuring implements. Grow a garden (however small or large) with her to teach earth sciences (water + dirt = mud; identify insects; identify plants; watch the plant growth cycle). Paint with her, sculpt with her, make gooey gunk with her. And ENJOY her.

Forget Abeka for now, or Singapore math, and it doesn't sound like she needs Phonics books, games or programs. If she's already ahead, then you're ALREADY doing a GREAT job "homeschooling!" :)

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Runaway Wagon and Wild Plums

For those receiving e-mail updates, please note there ARE photos available on the blog site.

Today we had an exciting day out learning about the fruits summer brings to even wild places, the proper (and improper use) of hobbles, runaway team recovery and wagon construction.

After last night's wagon ride, the girls and our hosts were up for it again, combined with a little wild plum picking. So, after morning chores, a midday rest with the puppies to get out of the heat, and some horse gathering, wagon prep and harnessing, we were headed out - a two-horse team, a wagon, four adults, two children and three saddle horses.

As the golden sunlight of early evening lit our way to the creek, we hobbled our horses and climbed out of the wagon to head for the plums. Minutes later, we were back at the wagon, dumping our first pails into the big plastic bucket in the back of the wagon. The team apparently didn't like that sound. They took off with the wagon, the unhobbled horse gave chase and the hobbled pair tripped along behind. We all watched helplessly as the team disappeared over the hill, then listened as they thundered back in our direction, sped past, ran for the other end of the field, rounded again and finally stopped suddenly. The team had, apparently, had a parting of ways - one thought she'd go to the right of a post, the other to the left. The wagon tongue slammed into the post, leaving marks, twisting bits and pieces and breaking harness parts. The horses, fortunately, were unscathed.

We lost my horse's hobbles during the run, so the girls got some extra riding time while we tried to round them up. No dice as we road into the night, but we returned the next day for another search on horseback, another opportunity to ride (any excuse).

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Puff Sadly Slipped into his Cave Today

Farewell to Mary Travers, known perhaps best for her part in the Peter, Paul & Mary trio popular during my childhood. There have been some really nice pieces (like this one) written about this woman with a story teller's soul, a smooth voice and harmonic talent.

My mom introduced me to the trio, and lots of other good music, and it was Puff the Magic Dragon that came to mind among the first songs I sang to my baby once her proud grandparents, father and other visitors left the room.

Goodbye to another one of America's greats.

Photo courtesy Roadsidepicures under Creative Commons License.

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