Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wind Cave Hike with Friends

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What a fantastic day for a hike! I learned about the Wind Caves at Gaviota in 2003 or so, but I'd been waiting for the girls to be big enough and tough enough to make the trek. Turns out it wasn't so tough.

(The 7 Falls trail last month was by FAR the most difficult they'd EVER done!)

Three other moms and their kids joined us for a total of...a mess of kids and a few moms. The climb wasn't TOO bad (unless you were the mom carrying the toddler), the caves were fun, and the weather was PERFECT - not too windy, but a slight breeze that kept us from overheating.

Next week's Wednesday outing? Sadly, the dentist has taken that spot. But the following week...anything's possible!

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Birthday!

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Today we enjoyed an incredibly quiet family day. E wanted to "read all day" for her birthday. In the end, we read some of the morning away, then opened presents (and got really involved in the Interior Design Kit from Nana & Grandpa John), before heading to Chuck E. Cheese for a fun lunch and some games. We spent our afternoon in the library, then home for dinner and a movie, "The Court Jester."

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Houston, we have a problem.

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Building something. It's just so incredibly, wonderfully fun and, well, empowering. To that end, our little trailer has been nothing but a godsend. First it was the internal systems - finishing the water, correcting and completing the electrical, sorting out the propane. I couldn't help but celebrate this evening as I wrapped up my latest mechanical project.

Tonight I finished replacing the leaf springs. That's right. Dropping the axle, removing the leaf springs and completely replacing them.

OK, so there were only six bolts per side to deal with, and it really was easier than building any number of Lego structures, but I'm still thrilled to have completed this project under my own steam. All those hours spent watching Dad, handing tools to Dad, helping Dad under various vehicles over the years really did provide QUITE an education. (Thanks, Dad!)

Why bother replacing the springs, you ask?

Well, when I purchased the trailer in June, it sagged slightly to the driver's side, but the water tank was on that side, so we chalked it up to years of overload on that side. Other vintage trailer folks said the sag was too minor to worry about. After our recent Monterey run, the trailer started keeling pretty hard left.We plan to use the trailer in a couple of weeks, and I didn't think we should hit the road again with such a lean. It definitely needed to be addressed.

The frame looks OK, as does the tongue, so that leaves the springs, right? I talked to a few trailer folks (friends and online forums alike) and the general consensus was that the leaf springs must be damaged, broken or merely worn out. Only one way to tell for sure.

The camping trip provides a definite deadline - a tool that works VERY well with me. Yesterday, after school and games of Scrabble and Sum Swamp, the girls headed for the trampoline, and I opted for the toolbox and trailer. After about an hour, with lots of rust and WD-40 on the garage floor, filthy hands and exhausted shoulders, the original springs were OFF. Today, I purchased a new set and this evening completed the installation, complete with cleanup and repainting of the axle housing, frame, spring hangers and shackles (and their welds, which still look solid).

Though the project is complete, I'm still feeling a bit silly and remind myself of Henry Ford and his quadricycle. Like Ford, I built my machine inside. Like Ford, I didn't take into consideration the door. Next question: Will I, like Ford, have to cut my incredible machine's way out of the garage!?

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Commercialism and Children

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Food for thought - here's the trailer that gives the gist:

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Panamint Valley

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With lots of help from Grandpa, the girls and I loaded up and headed out for a special trip to the desert, just him and us. We hadn't been to Panamint Valley since spring of 2005.E's memories of that trip were spotty. V's were QUITE limited, so it was certainly time. And with summer weather approaching, the time to visit in relative comfort was drawing to a close.

We had fantastic luck with weather. Not too hot for hiking, beautiful evenings, one cool night before the rest began heating up. We enjoyed good company with Dad's Panamint Charlie friends, good food and a relaxing pace. Sought out an abandoned old mine and related milling facility, hiked to a waterfall (in the desert? YES!), visited another oasis, caught frogs and a 4-foot-long snake (yes, I did), relaxed in camp, shared good company.

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Assuaging Concerns About Homeschooling

I posted this as a response to a family member's comments here. But I figured it would be buried there, and this family member's concerns were probably not only hers. Since the central purpose of this blog is to help family and friends (and interested strangers) understand what we do, and why, I'm happy to share my answer with you all.

In this post, I didn't say "regular" school could NOT provide these skills; I said my girls ARE learning them. That's key because I OFTEN have people ask me about HOW in the WORLD kids could EVER learn these skills without going to REGULAR school. Kids do. All over the world, in a variety of educational settings. The last line ("...there are no better tools any teacher can give them.") also may have been read as a blow AGAINST "regular" schools, but I meant ANY teacher - a parent, "regular" school teacher, coach, pastor, family member, stranger or friend. I never mentioned "regular" teachers in that line either.

I agree with that their spelling and rote mathematical skills are weak. But their understanding of math far surpasses the state standards for their grades, and when we sit down and "do spelling" they pass their grade-level lists with flying colors. When FOCUSED on SPELLING, they test well at grade level both on paper and verbally, but it doesn't translate to their personal writing, their recreational writing. We work together to correct their writing assignments (I send E to the dictionary to find the answers herself these days in hopes that the extra effort will help the answer STICK in her mind), but I don't correct their journals or their letters. Those are their personal writings, and they should be able to do whatever they like with them. However, I HAVE talked to both of them about the need to spell correctly so people can UNDERSTAND their correspondence. V takes this to heart much more than E does.

There is some debate in the math world about which is more important - memorization of facts or understanding of the process(es) needed to solve any given problem. To date, we've focused more on UNDERSTANDING HOW to solve a problem more than memorizing the answer. After all, it's GREAT to know that 12 x 12 = 144, but what do you do when it's 5,678,934 x 7,893,425? THEN you need to know HOW to arrive at the answer. STILL... it is SO much easier to find the solution if you KNOW answers to smaller problems (12 x 12, etc.) The girls each have their own math workbooks. Once they wrap them up, we're going to refocus on the basics (through various methods of repetition) in hopes that both schools of thought will meld - HOW to solve a problem, AND JUST KNOWING basic math FACTS.

Will they go to "regular" school? I don't know for sure. We never thought we'd homeschool, but here were are. There may come a time when the public school works better for us all. There ARE some fabulous teachers who I adore, and the girls would, too. Whether=2 0they continue here or take the brick-n-mortar route, they will NOT simply be allowed to pass with a GED. They'll have a diploma and complete the CAHSEE. I HOPE they go to college. They already TALK about going to college, and at ages 6 and 8, I think that puts them on the right (collegiate) track mentally. (V wants to go to Cal Poly and study either art or science or chemistry - with my friend Lara - or equine biology. E wants to go to Hancock College then to an as-of-yet unnamed university to study dance, or art, design, history or maybe writing...depends on the day.)

Will they go to the prom? Possibly. Homeschoolers have proms, too, believe it or not. Play sports? If they so choose, but on club teams if not school teams. Music? There's a tough one - neither our high schools nor the community provide opportunities for musicians interested in strings or piano, so given the girls have chosen violin and piano at this point, the only way they'll get the group performance experience (whether we're homeschooling or in traditional school) is if we join Youth Symphony in San Luis Obispo. That's MORE likely if we're homeschooling because our schedule could be tailored around the symphony schedule. (Rehearsal is too early for Santa Maria kids to make it in time after the typical school day.)

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trailer Tongue and Chess on a Windy Day

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Today was an unusual day. For one thing, it was incredibly windy. For another, we spent most of the first half of the day in the car. Parked.

If you've been following us, you know we purchased a 37-year-old fiberglass trailer last summer, then dragged it 9,611 miles through 17 western states, all in the name of fun. Oh...yes...and history, geography, education on the road, too. It was a long maiden voyage, but I got a really good opportunity to discover all the little things that just bugged the heck out of me about this home away from Home. My chief complaint? It came with no spare tire (a fact I quickly remedied) and therefore no PLACE for a spare.

With the back of the van laden with our ice chest, guitars and map boxes, the roof stacked with firewood, and no rack for a spare on the trailer, I hefted that rubber mass in and out of the door daily. Sure, we used it as a step, but the step up really isn't that big. A step isn't usually necessary, or even very helpful in some spots.

During the latter part of the trip, the spare ended upon the roof of the van. At least I didn't have to keep messing with it.

TODAY, we finally wrapped up the redesign of the trailer tongue to accommodate the spare AND the 12-volt (aka car) battery which currently resides in a cupboard under the sink. After I'd done all the measuring and fitting, the girls and I dragged the trailer to our neighborhood welder of note and set about tinkering with the design.

I thought we'd sit outside and do our bookwork (mostly math today) then play chess on the tables at the neighboring BBQ place. Alas, it was a chill wind that blew. So, we found shelter in the van where the girls proceeded to do their homework, and I? I fell asleep to the sound of the wind blowing through the windows I'd left slightly ajar.

When I awoke from a lovely nap, the girls were playing chess in the far back seat, which had been folded to make room for supplies a few days ago. They had quite a playroom setup back there. I returned to my book until they'd wrapped up their second game of chess. (They'd begun with checkers.) Then we headed outside to brave the wind, order lunch at Tom's Take-Out (a great, locally owned burger joint offering burgers, sandwiches of varying descriptions, and a bit of Mexican-American food all with light-hearted comedy and not a lick of serious talk), and practice our balancing skills along the parking lot curb line. By the time we wrapped up our lunch, with a few consulting breaks, the trailer was ready to hit the road again, this time with spare tire and battery box safely stowed ON the trailer, rather than in, on, around and generally in the way of our van.

Though I wasn't needed for the grinding, cutting and welding, I'm glad we hung out. First of all, it made for a pretty darned relaxing day. Nowhere to be. All day to get there. Chess. A nap. Giggling girls. Second, whenever there was some change to the design, the welding clan waved me over to make sure I'd like their changes.

On our way home we swung by the library where the girls snapped up a few books to enjoy in the comfort of our own home. They were quick to their comfy reading spots, while I unloaded the tongue, prepped it, primed it, painted it, cleaned up and reloaded.

Now "all" I need to do is reroute the trailer wiring to the new battery location, which is great because the existing wires sit on the floor of cabinets where boxes slide across them and pull them up from their spots. And install the back porch light.

Oh, and then there's the matter of that leaf spring that may be broken, or at least tweaked.

This trailer's sounding like a lot of work, you may say. Considering the source and age, not really. And with the exception of the welding (due to lack of skill on my part), the trailer's needs are very basic. The mechanics are as simple as you'd expect from a trailer that is nearly as old as I am.

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Horseback Riding - a Change of Venue

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The girls have enjoyed their initial riding lessons this past winter, but it turns out they were a little disappointed they weren't riding Western style. They've also grown a bit tired of the teacher's method - walking in circles ... for weeks now.

When we volunteered at Return to Freedom Mustang Sanctuary a few weeks back, I realized the girls hadn't learned some important basics. Though they've been riding, they don't know how to catch, halter, lead or tack their horses. Now, they're too small to catch just any ol' horse, and both are too short to halter an unwilling horse. But both should know how to lead. It's a basic necessity.

Imagine, if you will, girls out riding the trail or on ranch land, or just around a park or paddock. The horse shies, a girl falls off. If she's lucky, the horse won't take off and she'll be able to pick up the reins. But then what? Oh, sure, she'd figure it out probably, but wouldn't it be easier (and more important - safer) if someone planned for this eventuality in advance and taught her how to lead their horse to a safe spot for remounting?

Today we tried out a teacher who focuses on Western skills. She's a competitive barrel racer and team penner. She regularly takes part in cattle drives. And the first thing she taught the girls was how to safely lead their horses to the round pen where they started their first lesson before moving on to the paddock, and finally out to an open field. The girls also learned to back their horses and showed more control over their horses than they've been allowed since Nebraska.

The teacher said she was surprised how well they did, particularly that they weren't afraid to be up on the tall horses. Thanks, Bob & Celeste, for providing that first "tall horse" experience while we were visiting you!

And thanks, Grandparents, who made these lessons financially possible.

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