Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Evening with the Harlem Wizards

Tonight we had the extraordinary pleasure of taking in a benefit basketball game featuring our own law enforcement officers and the Harlem Wizards. That's right - Wizards. Not the Globetrotters, but another basketball team that focuses on scoring smiles rather than tallying wins.

My expectations weren't very high, I confess. As we headed out the door, Mr. B and I agreed 30 minutes would be enough time to drive, park, get tired of the raucous, raunchy music and drive home again.

Wow, was I off base!

This was a WONDERFULLY family-friendly show with some good basketball, some tricky hoops, great sportsmanship and a great group of special guys. The traveling team must get tired of all these games with folks who think they might have a chance to win, who don't get it. Tired off the kids pawing at their jerseys and screaming for autographs. I mean, on some level, this must be exhausting. But these guys kept their cool, worked hard, were quick with beautiful smiles, and really pleased the crowd. There was a lot of funnin' and trickin' and certainly rule-breakin' going on, but no one pretended to be playing by the rules. No one on either team was bothered by it. And while these guys could have beat the PANTS off the local team, they kept the game close, even cheered their opponents.

The music? It was loud. REALLY loud. The speakers were cranked up so loud the announcer's message was lost in the garble (to E's 8-year-old ears as well as our old folk ears). Too bad. The jokes we caught were light-hearted, funny, and teasing was even-handed. But the music was family friendly. That's right. Songs about basketball, dance songs, good rhythm, get-out-of-your-seat-and-clap music.

I'd do it again tomorrow.

Photo courtesy Harlem Wizards.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Sharing Music with my Children

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When E was 2 years old, I took her to the symphony for the first time. She was always interested in music, so I knew she'd be able to keep it together for the come-as-you-are dress rehearsals our local symphony provides. It was a fantastic experience. She loved all the movement and music, the surprises only music can provide. Sharing a live performance of wonderful music in a beautiful setting with my child nearly brought me to tears. (Yes...me!)

I've always love music. Through my school-age years, it was one of my mainstays. The family dynamic changed, but my instrument never wavered. Classes and schedules changed, but my instrument was always there for me. Just like friends with heartbeats, if I treated my best musical friend well, it paid me the same compliment. The more time we spent together, the better we got along. Ignore it for too long and our reunions were rough.

When I headed off to college, my instrument (and her classier, younger sister) moved with me. We all thought we'd be studying music in college, a minor to go with my intended academic focus. Then reality set in. During my high school years, I'd been able to juggle my athletic, musical, academic and employment obligations quite well. But in college? It was tougher there. The balancing act shifted. My athletic obligations doubled, and they conflicted directly with the requirements of the music department. Want to be in marching band? You also have to play in the pep band, whether it conflicts with your own sport or not. No exceptions. There was an audible gasp when, during student introductions in my first music class (theory), I announced I was merely a music MINOR. (No joke.) In true immature- college-freshman form, I let those stuffy music folks break up the longest relationship I'd ever had.

While my old buddy and I don't quite jive the way we used to, I've never lost my love for the instrument, her music and other forms of the art. And so it is I continue sharing that love with a new generation.

Today, the girls and I returned to the symphony for its annual Children's Concert. They pull out all the stops for these two performances held just one day each year. Students from throughout the county are bussed into town to see the production which includes conductor's talks, guest performers, perhaps dancers or some other form of artist. Previous year's themes have included "Planets" (the year Pluto was demoted from "planet" to "dwarf planet"), and "Visitors" (complete with extravagantly adorned actors and a dancing robot). This year's theme, "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," with heavy emphasis on the piece by the same name by Benjamin Britten, performed below by the London Symphony.

The San Luis Obispo Symphony augmented their performance of this work with narration by long-time voice actress Sue Blu, whose most-recognized voices include Scooby Doo's FlimFlam, Granny Smurf, and, most recently, the Transformer's Arcee. Then there were the ballet dancers, and a guest solo appearance by the fabulous violinist Brynn Albanese of, among a long list of impressive accomplishments, Cafe Musique. OK, sure, and it helped that a high school classmate who plays in the symphony waved madly at us. (Nothing like friends and family to make you feel welcome.)

We'll make some dress rehearsals later this year. And when the girls are mature enough to sit quietly long enough for a performance, we'll be there. Meanwhile, we count the days 'til next spring's Children's Concert. Who knows? Maybe my old musical partner and I will get reacquainted.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

7 Falls/3 Ponds: Not for the Faint Hearted

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Today, we enjoyed the third week of our Explore Santa Barbara County adventures. Another homeschooling family joined us for the early part of the trek to Seven Falls/Three Ponds in the Santa Barbara County Front Country. This hike was a LOT tougher than we'd anticipated, but the reward at the top end was WELL worth the struggle, the heat, and the bruised knees (mine and V's). For a "two- to three-mile round trip," this seemed incredibly long! Still, what a fantastic adventure we had! (Three hours up; 1.5 hours back; two hours at the ponds.)

First, I caught a very large garter snake which we enjoyed for a few minutes with Argus and Donna who, it turns out, knows a LOT about MANY different animals.

Then we missed the well-worn turnoff that's only about 100 feet past the end of the pavement (weeds have grown to cover the sign - but STILL the trail is VERY well worn and should have been a giveaway). So we managed to follow the VERY steep main trail to (???) quite a way before it occurred to me that NONE of this felt right. (Up a steep, hot, dry hill to get to the creek?!) We backtracked and quickly spotted the trail.

The walk up the creek was tougher than expected in spots, because of the smaller rocks; the big boulders were much easier to navigate until...

Seven Falls. The water was stagnant or completely dry (in the shallower pools). I underestimated the climbing skills needed on this part of the CREEK walk. The traverse steps were too far apart for even the long-legged 8-year-old (who, by the way, is a better climber than I). We watched a couple of small groups struggle up the "stair steps," then started our descent. That's when we spotted...

the bypass trail! Not easy. Not clear of poison oak, but CERTAINLY a way around!

Found one more really tough climbing spot (for short people), but helped each other out and finally found our way to our reward - FANTASTICALLY clear, cool pools - three of 'em in great repair. I was pleased to find little trash in the area. (We carried out two beer cans, a water bottle and rice crispy bar wrapper - none of which we'd carried in.) The water was a great reward, and the people we met along the way were friendly, helpful and relaxed. WONDERFUL!

On our way down, we stopped at some of the lower, tiny pools to checkout the California Newts. Should have been wearing gloves. (They offer a neurotoxin in their land phase, and in smaller amounts in their aquatic phase.) But we did the next best thing and washed our hands as soon as we let them go.

I would not suggest this trek for anyone under age 12 unless the kids are used to hiking (mine are VERY used to hiking), adventurous, and their parents are VERY interested in expending a LOT of energy helping them. Even carrying them in a pack would be tough due to the climbing involved and the low, overhanging branches. (I had to crawl at points, and still broke dry twigs with my small day pack.)

What will tomorrow hold?

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It's a Wonderful Life

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I can't believe it's only been a week since I posted all that great stuff...and now there's just MORE great stuff to post! We do lead charmed lives (thanks, Mr. B, for this freedom) and make the best of it. While we dream of open spaces, farm animals and more, while we talk big about what we'd do if we ever hit the lottery, we certainly can't complain about the lives we live now. Yep. We sure have it good.

So, here's the latest.Saturday, the girls and I volunteered at a local horse sanctuary. This lady has it FIGURED OUT! She LOVES horses, particularly the American wild mustang. She's figured out a way to protect some of them, spread the word about them, have a ranch with hundreds of horses AND get all the work done with the help of countless volunteers. Now that's creative problem solving!

There were about a dozen and a half volunteers there on the spring volunteer training day. With so many bodies (lots of them girls from Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara Pony Clubs), we were able to complete lots of tasks quickly including: bringing in the tamer ambassador horses, grooming, mucking of paddocks and barns, painting the large paddock to discourage cribbing, cleaning out the pig pen, feeding.

The girls were eager to help, even on the shoveling portion of the chore list. Some of the Pony Club girls camped over. We didn't know that was an option, and opted not to rush home, load up and return. After all, Mr. B was home! We didn't want to ditch him. Maybe on another volunteer work weekend.

Tuesday the girls joined me for a journalism lesson at our local Montessori school. It was really fun planning the morning's activities, and directing some 30 young people in creating their own first newspaper.

After a brief discussion about various forms of media, their strengths and weaknesses, and the future of media, we broke the class into four sections (news, features, sports, comics - their top-four choices) to develop a newspaper focusing on a recent field trip. They worked together to develop their stories and write headlines. (Our girls blended RIGHT in, perhaps in large part because they spotted four of their former swim teammates.)

I through a few curve balls (like breaking the news to comic staff that they were, as our graphics staff, also responsible for advertisements) that provided them better insight to the challenges of working under various deadlines. In the end, they had a funky newspaper that got the basic points across, left a lot of them asking to start a school newspaper, and asking for a return visit.

We'll see if staff feels the same!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Does this teacher know how amazing she is?

I've had some wonderful, memorable teachers (Bob Huttle, Mr. Honeyman, Ted Wheeler, Charlotte Green, Pam Richards, Rick Ernstrom, Thom Dimmitt, Liz Smith (VanCamp), Jean Poe, Mark Nielsen, to name a few). Kelly VanAllan, a 5th/6th-grade teacher who currently focuses on history, science and technology, is one of the greats. No, I was never her student. I met her when I was working for the local paper as education reporter. (I've met a LOT of teachers!) She immediately struck me as remarkable.

Since then we've gotten to know each other a little more. The girls and I have made cookies in her kitchen. But she's a busy gal, and we're no slouches, so getting together is tough. I enjoy all the time we do get to spend with her.

Last week the girls and I enjoyed a special day in her classroom, learning about early-American games, food and shelter. One of the classmates is the younger sister of one of my former SJHS swimmers. She adopted OUR girls right away, and they were off!

Kelly is an amazingly energetic, organized, positive woman. She is a wonderful inspiration for her students, and folks like me. Heck, she probably inspires just about everyone who's spent any time with her. She's quick with a smile, gets on wonderfully with her students, and is so full of fantastic ideas! In addition, she raises her own two boys, and has served as coach of various youth teams and adviser to after school clubs. I really don't know how she does it all. Her latest is Project F.A.R. and W.I.D.E. Deliveries of the goods have traveled far and wide, alright! You can bet the girls and I will be getting involved with that one! Won't you join us?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Going Medieval

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Not EVERY day is like this at Best Family Academy, but just about every day includes something interesting for us all. E is particularly fond of history. V most enjoys science. Both enjoy art. Recently, Mr. B helped us with a Knight's Day to enhance the girls' studies of medieval times. I'll let this video proved the 1,000 words (+).

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Gardens & Road Trip & Hiking - OH MY!

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My friend, Karen, has placed her order. This is all she wants from this blog each and every week:
- one major editorial effort on some special topic
- two on the girls and their education
- one on whatever else it is we're up to
- one travel-LOG
- one on humor

That gives us one day off each week. Thanks, Karen! I'll take that into consideration!

Seriously, though, I appreciated the immediate feedback of a handful of family members. What about the rest of you? Go ahead and leave your comments and wishes here. I'll see if I can measure up!

MEANWHILE - here's a little family update, which includes a little of everything Karen asked for, and all in one post! Categorize it at will.

Research for Best Family Adventures: Santa Barbara County is wrapping up. I'd hoped to have it out for this summer, but I'm behind schedule because I've dilly dallied, because I've allowed the what-ifs to get the upper hand (ie. will the economy support a book, will people understand the difference between my book about the entire county and any of a number of others that only focus on southern SB County, etc.). But I'm committed to it, whenever it might be available to local bookstores (mid-summer?).

A couple of weeks ago, Mr. B gave me an entire weekend to myself to run around to some of the quick stops on my south county tour. I've heard north county residents complain about the disparity in county facilities, in parks, in recreational facilities, in just about everything. I thought the were just whiners. Now, I understand.

That Saturday morning, I was out the door by 5:30 a.m. and headed south, bound and determined to stop at EVERY cove and secret spot along the coast between Gaviota and Santa Barbara. (We'd already done the public access points on the north coast and from Santa Barbara south to the Ventura County line.) I ran through parks and up and down trails 'til after dark, then slept under the stars at Carpinteria State Beach before doing it all over again on Sunday. I visited more than 50 parks and beaches, saw fantastic scenery, ran great trails, met nice people, traveled more than 300 miles in a single county and lost five pounds that weekend. I can now tell you that the publicly-funded recreational facilities in southern Santa Barbara County by FAR outweigh those provided in the northern half of the county.

Oh, I understand south county residents, businesses and learning institutions bring in huge dollars for the county, but what about north county agriculture? But let's not turn this update into a rant.

The girls are also enjoying the research. We've revived our weekly outdoor exploration schedule with visits to new spots and returns to old favorites. Last week, we enjoyed a fantastic morning at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, followed by the red tile walking tour of downtown Santa Barbara. We, like so many others, have been guilty of seeing the sites around the country before taking in all that's available in our own backyard, so to speak. This first Wednesday Out brought us lots of local history, architecture, native plants and local secrets.

Last weekend, we headed north to Stinson Beach to visit family and enjoy a restful, cool, drizzly weekend in slow-mo mode. We took in story time at the local library (a treasure), walked on the beach, played in the creek (yep, I played, too), got wet and cold (what a nice change!), visited the video/ice cream store, and just lived. It was tough to tear ourselves away, but the violin lessons beckoned.

Today was another Wednesday Out. This time, the 7-mile (round-trip) Snyder Trail from Paradise Road 2,100-feet up to Knapp's Castle. Each of the girls has been carried up here at various times in her young life, first as infant, then toddler. E walked it when she was five, but only because the promise of a "castle" compelled her. (We kept describing it to her, trying to avoid disappointment on her part, but she was STILL driven!) Today's adventure included three breaks on the way up: two to watch mountain bikers pass, bells ringing; one just for the shaded rest and a snack. Both girls did wonderfully under their own power, despite temperatures nearing 80 degrees. The wildflowers are beginning to pop. Some are already spent. The bay groves are wonderfully cool and the views from the top are as spectacular as ever. And bear tracks? You bet! We found some DOOZIES! The reward for this hike? A dip in the Santa Ynez River...nice, cool, clear water...ahhhhhhh.

For funnies, well, we have pretty funny girls. It's hard to keep track of all the gems they throw out there. One today had me laughing like my Auntie M. Just before the sermon began at mid-week church service (a tradition during the Lenten season at Mr. B's church), V showed me a picture. On it was a little loopy squiggle topped with a firework and surrounded by concentric dashes.

"What is that?" I asked as delicately as I could.

"It's my seal," she said. (We've been studying medieval times this year, and recently discussed sealing wax and seals.)

"Uh...OK. But what does it mean," asked I, again trying to be delicate about her artistic endeavor.

"It's a pig tail with a bomb on it that's blown up."

WHAT THE???? Where did THAT come from!? And why is it her seal?

I couldn't help myself. I fell out laughing. Tears streamed down my cheeks. The girls thought EYE was the funny one. THANK HEAVENS the sermon hadn't begun!

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