Friday, December 17, 2010

"Race to Nowhere" Has Great Points, But Will Americans Listen?

Earlier this month I attended a screening of a documentary, "Race to Nowhere." I thought I had blogged about it, but I can't seem to find my thoughts shared here. When the film showed up again this week, this time via Today, I found myself revisiting the experience. And, of course, I feel compelled to share.

The film focuses on the immense pressures under which children and their teachers are placed in this numbers game that our education system has become. It addresses the shift in focus from learning material to regurgitating facts. It offers a variety of angles to this story about our need to succeed in a system that is hardly running at its potential. It talks about the rise in depression, eating disorders and stress-related disorders that are on the rise in today's youth as they strive to meet a mark that is ever changing, and relatively ambiguous.

You may think, because the film has appeared on this blog, that it promotes homeschooling. In fact, it doesn't. At all. While some of the students interviewed did opt to take part in independent study or other alternative programs, the film doesn't address the movement, doesn't touch upon unschooling, and doesn't promote withdrawal from the system. Rather, it focuses on changing the system so that it will better work for our nation's children.

Here's a little taste, and some related discussion ala Today:

The goal of the project is to begin dialogue and elicit responses locally in order to make changes nationally. Ideally, the film maker would like to see a change in the system which would return childhood to the children while also making better use of our children's time while they are in school.

I attended the Buellton showing of this film in mid-November. There were lots of educators there from various types of schools, as well as parents, but few students (if any). I, too, had opted to leave my children at home, but were I to do it again, I'd certainly bring along my 10 year old. I think this discussion should also include the children/students directly affected by the situation.

While I enjoyed the film, I was disappointed to hear audience member discussion immediately following the film quickly turn to the same old "we can't" attitude. Rather than a free flow of thoughts and ideas, the naysayers were out in force. Case in point, if the focus on standardized testing doesn't allow teachers to use their best judgment in teaching their students in a manner that best serves STUDENTS, why doesn't an entire district, or, even better, an entire county simply refuse to take the test?

"We can't do that!" "We'd lose our funding." "We'd lose our jobs."

Really? If all 3,104.5 teachers employed to educate the 65,920 students in Santa Barbara County all agreed to skip those tests, to teach as they were trained to teach, to have the students' interest in the forefront rather than fear, would the state really come take over? And if one county did it, what if others followed? Would the state really counter the 293,693.7 professional educators they've hired as the experts in the field? If the state doesn't trust these teachers to treat our 6,252,011 students as individuals rather than conforming pieces in a puzzle, why should parents be asked to entrust their children to these people? And how, particularly in a nearly bankrupt state, could the government really take over all 9,898 schools, particularly without the support of trained educators who have the children's best interests in mind?

Our society has become so used to the "can't do" attitude that we may just lose out to those "can do" societies. We rose to the top by fighting for it tooth and nail (among other things), not by sitting back and whining about how we couldn't make a difference.

To learn more about the film and to find a screening near you, check out "Race to Nowhere." If there's not a screening slated for your neck of the woods, consider putting it together for your community.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Loving Math with Snakes and Ropes

I know there's a math lesson a mathematician or topologist could explain, but for now I'm just stoked to share that a game the girls play on paper actually IS mathematical. As they watched, they'd point out with raised eyebrows and wide eyes, "Hey! I do that!"

There are loads more at Vi Hart's blog. Enjoy!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Entering the Social Age

I loved watching my girls discover the world in their infant and toddler stages: finding their toes, exploring their fingers, tracking the kitties, blowing bubbles. I found fantastic joy in hearing their little voices sing, laugh, use big words to explain their ideas. I was tickled as they began to use logic in its elementary form. As these phases pass, I find myself sad to see them go. But life marches on, and each stage brings another form of joy to my life.

Enter, the social age. The age of laughter amongst friends, discovering new ideas through peers, of exploring the world beyond the family.

Last year, at E's request, we tried to get involved in our local Girl Scout organization. Unfortunately, they aren't very organized around here, so we were never able to get into a troop. In fact, we couldn't even get a leader to tell us when or where their meetings were. I tried to organize a troop of our own, but we couldn't find enough girls to create one, so we just let it rest.

Late last summer, a friend with a history of 4H activity and a penchant for homemaking skills invited E to join the 4H projects she was leading - sewing and cooking. VOILA! Instant 4H family!

At her first general meeting, E volunteered for just about everything: cookie committee, Secret Santa committee, Toys 4 Tots committee. (OK, our friend actually volunteered ME for the Toy project, and kids of adult volunteers are therefore volunteers by default.)

This past week, I had the pleasure of hosting our first 4H group event at our house:

This is yet another wondrous age. While V is still a bit reserved and certainly less interested in classes (besides horseback riding) or projects that take her away from family, E is increasingly interested in taking part in social activities on her own. This project was a perfect opportunity.

We set out a folding, plastic table on the front lawn, pulled all SORTS of craft supplies out of the craft drawer, set out two boxes and set the kids loose on the decorating project. It really didn't matter what they did with these boxes, which will be used at tonight's general meeting to collect gifts for Toys For Tots. They were all between the ages of 9 and 12, well mannered and creative. Once the project was explained, I left them to their own devices. Then, as I prepared dinner, I enjoyed through the kitchen window the music of laughter and joyful sound that only a gaggle of kids cut loose can provide.

They had a ball. And though the cleanup took a bit of time, I can hardly wait to host another project at our house.

I'm sad to see those infant and toddler years pass so quickly, but I'm thrilled to see my girls continue to flourish in the setting we've been able to provide them. I know already that these years, this parenthood period of my life, these will be the best years of my life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Meet Mattie - Skip's Pine Blossom

I think I mentioned in a past blog entry that big changes were coming to our house. You probably thought the post about Hestur summed it up. But, no. There's a method to this madness, you see.

Mr. B's truck has been faithful and fantastic for two decades. And while he had an urge to replace it a decade ago, I had stalled him, noting that we'd just picked up the minivan and should probably pay off that loan before taking on another. Plus, it's a Toyota, I told him. It'll run FOREVER!

He apparently took my comments to heart. We paid off that loan years ago, and his truck just keeps chugging along. And when I've mentioned replacing it, he's said, "It'll run forEVER!" And that was that.

But it won't tow much, doesn't seat four (and only seats three if someone gets SUPER friendly with the stick shift), and it's getting up there in miles. Still, after living to regret the sale of three of the four vehicles I've ever owned (my '71 Demon, '90 Saab convertible and '79 Jeep), I'm not certain I want to sell the old Toyota.

But we knew this was coming:

Her official name is Skip's Pine Blossom, but her previous owner called her Mattie after one of her great granddam. She's not exactly an impulse buy. I've wanted a horse for as long as I can remember, and V has been loving her horseback riding lessons since she began nearly two years ago. Plus, we're both suckers for large, friendly animals. (E rode for more than a year, then tired of the arena and has since opted to spend ranch time running amok.)

Last year, I rode this horse for a month to help the owner get her back in shape after a long rest. You see, they had lots of horses, and only so much time. She taught me a few things (chiefly, that I knew NOTHING about horses), and convinced me that, were I ever to actually have a horse, she might be the one for me.

But she wasn't for sale.

She wasn't ever going to be for sale.

She was a keeper.

Until three weeks ago or so when the owner decided she might want to move on to a gaited horse - a Peruvian Paso that offers a much gentler ride. As she told me about the potential new horse, she kept referring to Mattie with "but" in the sentence....lots of "buts." I got the feeling she was considering selling the horse, and asked her to let me know first if she so decided.

Two nights later I got the call.

And here we are.

As I took her out for my first ride after purchasing her I thought, "This is the. stupidest. thing I have ever done." Really...I'm a city slicker. I don't even live on property where I can KEEP a horse, let alone live a lifestyle requiring a horse. On the other hand, in the week since she became mine, the girls have spent a little bit of every day out on the ranch, a bit of every day providing for her care and feeding, exercise and grooming.

And E is riding again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chicken with Lemon-Butter Sauce - OH YUM!

Chicken Paillard in Lemon-Butter Sauce
There's a LOT going on around here these days, and I promise to fill you in before the week's out. But tonight, the photos I'd like to share are trapped in the camera while the batteries reload. So...I'll share this WONDerful recipe that we tested for dinner. Chicken Paillards with Lemon-Butter Sauce were well received by the entire family - spinach and all. My house still smells fanTAStic! And it was quick, easy and inexpensive. One (nearly) square meal made in a single, round pan. IDEAL!

We all agreed, however, that we would change one thing: use one lemon rather than two. Maybe we have larger lemons here on California's Central Coast than Martha's chefs are used to using. Or maybe our taste for citrus is more delicate. Or maybe she just REALLY LOVES lemon. Still, two whole lemons of Central Coast size nearly overpowered the dinner.

Also, don't skip the spinach. It's really a nice addition to the dish, flavor and texture. Plus, oh so good for you!

Bon Appétit!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow Party - California Style

Every year for nearly a decade we have joined my dad to enjoy a Christmas party designed entirely for children. There are crafts, games, goodies and, best of all, sleds and a pile of "snow." This year's pile of shaved ice (thanks to the local ice companies who serve what remains of the fishing industry) was much tamer than in years past, but the girls still had a blast, particularly with the snowball fights.

Looking at all of this year's new additions to the family party amazed me. It wasn't so very long ago that I was toting around the baby while trying to keep tabs on a toddler running amok. Look at them now...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Invited to Tour a Chocolate Factory (Who Would Say No?)

My friend Sarah recently organized a tour of a chocolate shop in San Luis Obispo. Who was I to turn down the invitation to join the tour? The girls and I had a lovely time at Sweet Earth Chocolates, which specializes in fair trade, organic chocolate. The beans are from the Americas, are processed in Wisconsin and San Francisco, then become luscious dessert material at the hands of local chocolatiers. As the owner talked us through the process, I realized the San Francisco processing facility on the embarcadero was precisely the spot where we last picked up super-dark chocolate for Aunt Kathy! It's a small chocolate world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We Welcome A New Family Member

I know. You thought we were FINISHED adding family members. You've asked if we were finished. We've sworn we were perfectly balanced and happy with our situation.

But things change.

So recently we welcomed Hestur to the fold. We hope you'll love him as much as we plan to:

The choice wasn't easy. We wanted a vehicle that will not only tow some significant weight, but will also STOP said weight with relative ease. I did a lot of research, we drove a variety of trucks, I haggled.

Dad's F-250 beats the heck out of anything I've ever driven for towing. But the F-250 wasn't in our budget, nor would it be possible for Mr. B to drive the behemoth to work and actually SQUEEZE into any of those tiny parking spots. So we looked to the F-150 and the Tundra. I haggled with dealers from Oxnard to San Luis Obispo, pitted brands against each other, was basically shameless in my pursuit of a replacement for Mr. B's trusty 1992 Toyota pickup.

It came down to numbers, largely, and creature comforts in the end. The F-150 and the Tundra measure up so remarkably similarly. While Ford has a long reputation for providing work trucks, Toyota has an equally long tradition of providing vehicles that perform well over the long haul. Will Toyota's commitment to longevity carry over to the new truck line? We're taking that chance. And the Toyota had perks Ford didn't offer - like rear seats that can recline, thereby providing a much more comfortable ride for backseat passengers. Toyota also offers rear seat vents that passengers control, a plus when there are four folks in the car with different heating/cooling needs.

And, when it came down to haggling, I wasn't in a hurry. I knew they'd play games. I was ready this time. And I played their game. I pitted dealers against each other, makes against each other. And when it came down to it, Ford, to which I give great credit for apparently turning itself around financially,  wasn't willing to deal. Toyota beat the hell out of them price-wise.

Here are the stats I drummed up on our final two choices. We'll see if reality has anything to do with the way these trucks look on paper. (Note: The tow capacity on the Ford is based on the 3.55 rear end. Our local dealer said they couldn't get the 3.73 which would have boosted the capacity, but still wouldn't match Toyota's numbers.)

Everyone Likes a Hug

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Watch Out Husbands - Baking Season Is Upon Us!

It's December, nearly, and I foresee a nation of men with bruised knuckles, expanding waistlines and sugar highs by close of the year. It's the grand opening of winter baking, and cooks have their wooden spoons at the ready - ready to strike the hand of any tasters who venture near at inopportune moments.

We actually enjoy every stage of the baking process, from shopping to tasting, rolling and basting, even the cleaning isn't so bad. The kitchen is warm, smells fantastic and brings the family closer together.

Peppermint Pinwheels by Munchkin Munchies
What are we baking? Toffee, fudge, gingerbread and sugar cookies, candy canes, caramel corn and pies, of course. But, I'll be following my friend Suzanne as she bakes us through the holidays and will likely serve up a few of her recipes. She's got a great blog with beautiful pictures, tasty recipes and helpful pointers. We've been the recipients of some of her eats, and we've never been disappointed. I'm starting today with this one.

And if those aren't enough for you, head over to TasteSpotting - a treat shared by my cousin, Akira.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Uncle Dave's Humor

This past week, I received a link from my cousin, Kelly, to a video submission her dad is making to a Superbowl video competition. If Uncle Dave, and a cousin of hers who plays co-star, win the contest, they go to the Superbowl - and I think their ad is also adopted into the product's lineup of ads.

I had NO idea what to expect. I haven't seen him in YEARS (he lives two states away, which is saying something in the Western U.S.), and hadn't a clue what this whole video thing was about. Pretty much sums up Uncle Dave's (and HIS dad's) sense of humor.

If you'd like to support their entry in the contest, log on to the official link and cast your votes in January.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Compassion - A Quote Worth Remembering

Today, this quote showed up on a friend's social media page. I really liked it:

"When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings."
- Sogyal Rinpoche

In realization, I don't think he meant in our final moments. I think he meant when we mature enough to realize that not only won't we live forever, but we may die any time. Nothing has made me more aware of this than having my own children, and my own brain surgery.

Every moment is precious - sometimes, it's so hard to keep that in mind. Particularly as we go through our everyday motions.

In 2011, I hope to be more mindful of this, among other, truths.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Human Face - film and experiment

We watched The Human Face (TV mini-series 2001) - IMDb a few years ago, but V didn't remember it at all when we started talking about it last week. E's memories were scant. So today, leftover Thanksgiving dinner in hand, house prepped for decorating tomorrow, we sat down to take in the first episode.

Narrated by John Cleese,the made-for-television series is both informative and entertaining. Save a few outbursts here and there, it's good for the whole family. The accents (Indian and British) may be difficult for some, and some medical terminology in particular may go over children's heads. But they'll still understand the gist of it - the value of human, face-to-face interaction.

This afternoon we're headed out for errands. We're going to experiment based on our learnings today. The plan: smile at everyone we see (random strangers and friends alike) and calculate the percentage who respond in kind.

Even if you don't have a chance to see the film, consider conducting your own similar experiment. I'd love to hear your findings.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Really, these things don't just happen to me. I'm just willing to share them! :)

This morning, I opened our fresh, kosher turkey purchased Tuesday only to discover it had a TERRIBLE smell. I checked online and found that sometimes these plastic-encased birds do build up a smell in transit in the bag. "Let it air out for awhile."

So I did.

I made the stuffing, and prepared the other sides for the oven while it aired. Meanwhile, each family member in turn ventured into the kitchen as they woke. EVERY SINGLE ONE commented on the smell. Something was definitely wrong.

But it didn't smell like ROTTEn meat in the trash.

I stuffed it anyhow.

Then I put it in the oven.


Add heat to a questionable bird and you quickly exacerbate the problem.

Within half an hour, the bird was in the trash (sob) and I was running down to the local market in hopes of salvaging my favorite meal of the year.

I don't typically shop on holidays. I feel bad for the employees so don't support the businesses that force their employees to skip family days. Today, however, I was grateful they were there. THANK you, local store, for saving the day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Bookstores Closing

I read a really great article recently about the demise of society in the face of this electronic revolution. What happens when libraries die? None of us think it will happen, but did we think the bookstores would be closing right and left? Even the mega-chains have been set back by the electronic age.

This week, I learned both Borders and Barnes & Noble are closing their State Street locations in Santa Barbara. (Borders will maintain its Goleta location for now). Since the publication of my first book in 2006, every bookstore offering new titles in San Luis Obispo County has closed. Want a new book there? You either have to drive into SLO or order online. My favorite locally owned shop in downtown SLO, The Novel Experience, has struggled to stick with it both faced by the challenge of head-to-head competition with the major chain literally down the block and the internet "bookstore."

In northern Santa Barbara County there are few stores selling new titles, and in Santa Maria, there are none. So if we want to own a new book where do we go? Online or wait 'til we can get to The Big City to visit a real bookstore.

We still have our libraries, though! THANK HEAVENS! We couldn't afford to BUY all the books these girls can go through. They voracious readers! But with budget cuts and misplaced priorities, how long will they last?

My distributor has asked me to move ahead with revisions and reprinting of "Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County." They move in local bookstores, but, honestly, they sell better in places like Doc Burnstein's, a local ice cream shop, and The Toy Zoo, a local educational supply and toy store.So I think I'll go for it. Maybe I'll even move into the new century and work the e-book version. We shall see.

Meanwhile, here's my assignment for you: whether you've read it before or not, run down to your local LIBRARY and check out a copy of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." It's a fast read, and more relevant today than ever. Then support your local library every way you can. Donate your old books to their used books sale (funds from which are used to maintain the stacks). Renew your library card. Talk up the library to friends and family. Write letters in support of library funding to decision makers in your community.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grammar Lessons from Weird Al

I'm glad to know these things drive other folks nutso, too. Then again...I think Weird Al was a little nutso LONG before he figured out his grammar lessons. :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sharing the Wealth Giveaway - Second Winner and New Contest

Congratulations to Prairiemaid, our randomly* selected winner of the second Sharing the Wealth Giveaway here at Best Family Adventures. Her family wins a three-book set of paperbacks that includes Camping Out, Level 1 (Little Critter First Readers) by Mercer Mayer, Wake Up, Sun! (Step-Into-Reading, Step 2) by David Harrison and Dolphins! (Step into Reading, Step 3)by Sharon Bokoske and Margaret Davidson. Thank you for stopping by, Prairiemaid, and for your comments. We also heard great comments from other homeschoolers as well as parents of emerging readers. If you missed it and you're interested in language arts links, click back over to the giveaway blog entry for loads of online activities for emerging as well as advanced readers. (Even games for playful grownups.)

Turkeys at Lopez Lake, CA courtesy Hey Paul under Creative Commons License
This week, in honor of the grand opening of the holiday season, I'm giving away a copy of Tammy Takahashi's new book, "Zenschooling: Living a Fabulous & Fulfilling Life Without School." With so many festivities, activities and obligations in the coming weeks, who doesn't need a little Zen in her life? I won my copy over at Secular Homeschool and thought I'd share the wealth here.The book offers moral support and words of hope and support for parents who have chosen to educate their children at home as well as those who are considering the leap.

To enter to win this week's drawing, leave a comment below. How do you balance your needs as an adult and the time required to educate your children at home? How do you find time for your children and yourself? What do you do when you find yourself overwhelmed by the stresses of daily life? One winner will be randomly selected from those who leave a comment to this blog post by 8 p.m. Sunday, November 28, 2010.

And if  you're looking for some curriculum ideas to celebrate throughout these winter holidays, here are a few leads. We've found these sites useful over the years for planning, playing and online discovery.

Voyage on the Mayflower - Interactive games, videos and text regarding the voyage and the first year on North America. It follows the traditional Thanksgiving lore.
Fowl Science: Talking Turkey - the Exploratorium's webcast of turkey science.
Thanksgiving Village - lots of printable activities and decorating ideas kids can complete to dress up the holiday
Everyday mysteries- What's the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?
Sleep Turkey - What's in a turkey that induces Grandpa's nap after Thanksgiving dinner?
Thanksgiving Feast - an arcade-style game focused on teaching about nutrition
NYPL Recommended Reading - A Thanksgiving-themed list from the New York Public Library
Writing Prompts - Want the kids to write but can't think of a subject? Here are some grade-specific writing prompts.
Thanksgiving poems
Picture-Perfect Turkey Day - A fill-in-the-blank story generator with a silly Thanksgiving theme
Mr. Turkey & Mr. Duck - a song to the tune of Yankee Doodle for the holiday season. Words, sheet music and mp3 all available free. explore the site for more kid-friendly music by Nancy Stewart.

History Channel Chanukah - Here are the basics of the holiday, with links to key figures, themes, events and other information related to the festival.
Jewish Virtual Library - Further information, including writings and practices
Torah Tots Chanukah - the story simply told, music and games all designed for the youngest set
Chanukah Games - quiz, word search, dreidel spin and more games online

Carol online - A pretty healthy list of traditional Christmas carols, including links to lyrics and sound files.
Christmas Tree Curriculum - This Canadian tree farm has created a six-lesson plan for tree-focused learning.
Christmas Bells, by Longfellow -  Librivox recording of Longfellow's holiday. (Here's a quick look at the 38 other stories related to Christmas available at Librivox.) Peruse Librivox year round for an expansive list of recorded writings in the public domain.
Christmas Carol, by Dickens - a Librivox recording of the classic tale
Christmas Quiz - How much do you know about Christmas history, mythology, lore and music?
History Channel Christmas - the basics of the holiday with links to more info about folks, figures and places
Christmas around the World - Listen to how "Merry Christmas" is spoken around the world. This site also has HOURS of reading and activities related to Christmas.
Online Advent Calendar - Updated daily with links to Christmas-season related facts and activities
Chudleigh's Matching game - an electronic version of concentration with a Christmas theme
The History of Gingerbread - a lengthy article with some links
Gingerbread & Smut - did you know gingerbread was actually created to mask a wheat disease known as smut?
And more gingerbread science

Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum - of particular interest to the young ballerina and others interested in the classical Nutcracker Ballet.
Crafts and Gifts - One of many online resources for crafting and gift-making ideas with a kid focus
Christmas-themed Language Arts Activities - More ideas for the writers in your life
Christmas card online - Click about this village scene to give it a warm holiday feel.

Folktales, Fairytales, Myths & Legends - including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and New Years
Learning through the days of the year - Another November calendar
Homefires' November Learning Calendar - day by day historical moments with links to DVDs or stories. Perhaps a little late this year, but maybe next year?
Web holidays - dates and info about a variety of holidays and pseudo holidays

Homeschool Science: Olive Oil Mill Tour

Another thing to love about homeschooling - lifelong learning for the entire family! This week, the girls and I enjoyed a tour of and talk about the olive mill at Figueroa Farms in the Santa Ynez valley. The mill doesn't typically give tours, but this was a special, educational program organized by a local foodie and led by Shawn Addison, the owner himself - in the height of harvest/milling season, no less!

Do YOU know what olive oil is made of?

Oh. Sure. (rolls eyes)



But what else? I mean, what makes the OIL? You squeeze or mash an orange and what do you get? That's right. Orange JUICE. How about an apple? Right. Apple JUICE. It's not oily, and certainly wouldn't do you much good if you used it to keep onions from sticking to the frying pan. But olive oil? I always figured they pressed the olives, then added something or another to it, or treated it in some super special, secret manner to create the oil.

Turns out extra virgin olive oil, the be all and end all of olive oils, is nothing more than olives smashed to smithereens. There are lots of other factors, largely measured by chemistry labs, in determining whether the oil qualifies as extra virgin. But, basically, the olives are hand picked from any of a number of varieties of olive trees. They're poured into a hopper which delivers them to the mill through a variety of conveyer belts and chutes.

First, a beater of sorts separates any remaining leaves and sticks from the olives. Then the olives are dropped into an active bath, sort of like a jacuzzi for olives, our guide pointed out. The olives drop through one final grate to catch any final sticks and leaves, then pass to the grinding machine.

The whole fruit is ground - skins, meat and olive pit, too. Addison said only about 1 to 1.5 percent of the oil extracted from a batch with come from the pit. Its value in the process is its abrasiveness - crushed pits are devastating to the remainder of the fruit as it gets stirred by augers until its a green-brown pasty mess.

V pointed out the gray tubes I'd noticed along the route weren't actually colored gray. They were translucent, and we could watch the goo paste travel from the masher to the extractor. There, the paste drops into a centrifuge which spins at about 3000 rpm. The resulting juice, a mixture of water and oil, is then separated with a centrifugal decanter. The resulting oil is ready for your bread, salad dressing or sipping.

Yep, we sipped a few different olive oils before the girls resorted to spreading fingers full on their hands and nails, and finally their lips and one girl's face.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Muffin Basket

It's funny, isn't it, how cats think everything you have, do or say is intended for them.

The can opener? It's for cats. What ever's in the can MUST be for cats even though you don't EVER open canned cat food with it.

Clean laundry? For cats.

Dirty laundry? Check.

Grocery bags, full or otherwise? Check and check.

Babies? Check again.

So why were we so surprised this week when Muffin made herself at home in the doll pram after we spent all day helping E rearrange and clean her room?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daddy, Will You Help Me Build a Fort?


And out the door they went.

With lots of chores on his plate, Daddy returned to the house, but V was still at large. I had to see what they created so out I wandered.

Childhood is the best!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Good Bye Swingsets, My Old Friends

Note to children: It is very unwise to attempt to imitate the flight pattern of Superman or Wonder Woman from the highest arc of a swing.

Note to parents of children who fly: Please carry insurance so you can cover your own bills when your young superhero ignores the note above. And resist the urge to sue someone to cover the difference. This is one of the many costs of parenthood that were kept secret from us all so we wouldn't be deterred from propagating the species.

Note to Cabell County Schools: If you're looking to avoid any potential liability, you'll need to remove every tree, every parking lot, every glass window, every door and any vehicles from your properties. All of these things, too, have caused personal injury to some passer by or another.

Recently, officials in Cabell County, W. Virginia opted to remove all swing sets from playgrounds. It was their effort to limit liability, and it came about as part of a settlement of two lawsuits filed by parents of young superheroes in training.

I'm all for safety, and, sure, kids can (and do) get hurt on swings in a number of fashions. (Who hasn't either run into a kid who didn't understand or failed to pay attention to the repetitious path of the swing? Who hasn't been that kid on the ground - at least once?) But we can't just take away every obstacle from our children's lives. It doesn't serve the children, for darn sure, and it doesn't really alleviate that whole liability issue. People who will sue because their children were injured performing typical childhood activities are just as likely to sue if same kid trips over a crack in the sidewalk, or his own shoelaces.

In Cabell County at least the monkey bars remain in play . . .  for now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Screamin' Demon

Exploring the Big Sur coast - Autumn 1990
 If I won the lottery, there are lots of things I'd do, but perhaps the silliest would be to hunt down a 1971 Dodge Demon and bring her home. (This is my closest match so far.) My parents conspired to purchase my first car for me, and Dad made a really great choice in this slant-six, 225 with something like 40,000 miles on it. When she showed up in my parents' driveway she was already a teenager, but she was in great shape and perfect for a kid heading to college some 800 miles away. I washed her, waxed her, tended to her every need, slept in her, slept on her, watched movies while perched on her hood and snuggled in her front seat, loaded her down, loved her and drove her some 300,000 miles before I finally traded her in - biggest mistake of my entire life. (Really, in the scope of all the mistakes a person could make I suppose this one wasn't THAT bad...but still.)

Arches National Park - winter 1988
I always loved the Demon. She got me where I wanted to go despite rough treatment - jammin' at highway speeds through summer desert in the heat of day, bouncing down dirt roads in southern Utah, climbing the Rockies, overnight runs to God knows where just because it was fun to drive with the windows down. Even when I was under the hood replacing the exhaust manifold the Screamin' Demon served me well - I met lots of new friends that weekend while working in my college dorm parking lot.

Dodge only made the Demon, its answer to the Plymouth Dart, for two years - 1971 and 1972. It was marketed as a muscle car and its 340 version was, according to some, the fastest car built in 1971. (Mine was the long-haul version, but I never tested her full speed potential.) While many of its parts would swap with the Dart series, it had a rounder feel than the box Dart and unique taillights. Dodge found itself in hot water with the conservative set due to its choice of moniker and its move to advertise with models carrying pitchforks. The cute little devil graphic on some of the emblems probably didn't help matters, either.

But at just over 300,000 miles, she was growing weak. I still blame the forced change from leaded to unleaded gas for the burnt valves, but time and hard labor wear out even the strongest survivors. I had her valves replaced months before I moved some 800 miles back toward home and had barely finished paying off the job when she began to lose power again.

"Valves," they said.

"The hell you say," I said.

The first valve job had been cheaply performed and I was too far away from the shop to do anything about it - except pay for a new job.

But I had a new job, and it required that I actually show up on time every morning (and sometimes VERY early in the morning) one town away. I felt pressured to make a decision, to ensure that I had a vehicle I could trust. I didn't consider all my options. (Due to my hours, carpooling was not among those, and due to distance neither was the limited mass transit here. But borrowing a vehicle? That might have happened - if I'd only thought to ask!) And given that the first valve job didn't do the trick, my limited knowledge had me wondering if a second try would do it.

So I traded her in...for a little, four-door sedan that I nearly could have fit in her trunk and back seat. The new car got great mileage and started without a hiccup. It was exciting. But it wasn't long before I was missing my ol' Demon.

I don't see Demons on the road very often, but Sunday, on my way through old Orcutt, I spotted her - my car. Or a car that looked a LOT like her. Of course I whipped around and followed her the half block until she pulled over in a convenience store parking lot. As the owner crawled out, I pulled up behind his car.

"Where did you GET that CAR," I hollered.

"Iversen's," he said.

"That's my CAR!"

"In 1971," he said with a smile. He is the original owner of his 1971 Dodge Demon with the 340 and four on the floor. I'm sure he wondered what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks this woman in a minivan could possibly know about his Demon. But he caught on quickly as I asked the details.

"Is it the slant-6?" was probably the first giveaway.

Turns out he would sell it, for a price. $15,000 to be exact. He knows what he has, and he's not giving it away - or trading it in.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Planning to Fly? Don't pack your dignity

If you read this blog much, you know our family just returned from a trip that involved air travel. It was our girls' first time flying and my first time in the air since 1999. My, how times have changed. While they enjoyed their flights, the girls weren't impressed by the rest of the rigmarole - early arrival to be stripped of shoes and belongings, sitting for hours in the airport, weather delays, missed flights, failed promise by an airline employee to put us on stand-by for the next flight which resulted in still more hours sitting around waiting in the airport. Service? Out the window. Cleanliness? Forget it. Safety? I'm not so sure stripping everyone's shoes, belongings and dignity is all that's needed for safety. In short, I'd say I'm grateful our family made it there and back again alive, and that our children weren't strip searched in the name of safety. And that was before this week's changes to the traffic safety screening procedure.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "The new search technique used by the Transportation Security Administration allows airport security screeners to use their fingers and palms to feel and probe for hidden weapons and devices around sensitive body parts, such as the breast and groin areas." Writer Dave Barry got the whole treatment.

Already people have experience pat downs they've compared with molestation, and at least one customer was turned away at the airport after refusing to go through the pat-down of his "junk." And the whereabouts of the screeners who view the telling images provided by the scanners is unimportant to those in our relatively conservative society who don't care to have their every crease and fold analyzed by a stranger. Further, while we're being told the images won't be stored or shared in any way, this may not be true. Just ask the U.S. Marshals who saved 35,000 such images, and somehow leaked 100 of them which showed up online. Next up on the web - our complete body scan images.

In Santa Barbara, I was patted down. Thankfully, this was before the rule change. (And why WAS I patted down? Was it the braids? A random selection? The titanium mesh in my skull?) I watched as an elderly woman who clearly had spent a lot of time that morning dressing for the day was stripped of all accessories, and her pride, in the name of safety. (When we last saw her, she was down to skirt, shirt and they were asking her to remove the pins she'd used in her hair. All that was left was to ask the lady to strip entirely.) On our return trip, we passed through the x-ray or backscatter machine without any education. What was this machine? Did we have options? If there was anything posted, it was lost to the sea of warning and directional signs nor was any alternative given verbally. Just "step this way and put your hands over your head like so." Even with the look-see through our clothes, we were delayed several minutes and I was cordoned off from my family (and everyone else) for a "security breech," then just as inexplicably allowed to pass. Meanwhile, another elderly woman in an wheelchair was going through a rather invasive pat down search behind another cord.

We've been told that too much radiation can cause all manner of health issues - chiefly, cancer. Yet we're being required to submit ourselves to additional backscatter x-rays every time we fly?  This can't be good for frequent fliers. The most-frequent of those, the pilots, have been advised by their union to avoid the scanners. "The unions, representing a total of 16,500 pilots, say they worry about the health effects of being exposed, sometimes multiple times a day, to the scanner's radiation," reports the Los Angeles Times.And Bloomberg reports, "Thirty groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Travel Alliance, signed a letter earlier this year calling for the TSA to stop using the body scanners, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center has sued in federal court to block their use. Unions representing 14,800 pilots at AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. have urged members to avoid the scanners, while the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, which together represent 103,000 workers, have pressed U.S. officials for a separate screening process for crews that avoids full-body scans."
And pilots like to maintain their privacy, too. Just ask Capt. Sully. (Though my favorite quote from the story is Rutherford Institute's President John Whitehead: "TSA is forcing travelers to consent to a virtual strip search or allow an unknown officer to literally place his or her hands in your pants.") One pilot has already turned home rather than go through the scanner or the frisking:

So why, you may ask, are Sully, John, 147,800 airline employees and I all bucking "the norm?" According to the Travel Security Administration site,  "Since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, over 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures." Could it be because only 1 percent of passengers have ANY idea that they have an alternative? Could it be because the thought of having a stranger repeatedly touch "our junk" now is a more clear and present danger than the possibility of facing chemo, massive hair loss, and an untimely death in the future?

Terrorism is defined as the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. The use of violence against our country has, indeed, caused intimidation and change. Now, there is, apparently, no common sense, and no law-abiding citizen is above suspicion.

Thank heavens I wasn't carrying applesauce:

Next Generation Farmer?

I think this kid, featured at a recent TEDx talk, has been watching the same documentaries and reading the same books I've been reading. He pretty much sums up many of the issues around our current food situation. In short, genetically modified isn't necessarily a good idea, nor are all the chemicals poured on our foods at all stages from seed prep to food storage. Worth the 5-minute education:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sharing the Wealth Giveaway - first winner and new contest

Thank you for your feedback and great ideas for teaching math! Congratulations to blog commenter Breann Hollon who was selected by as the winner of Best Family Adventures blog's first giveaway. She'll receive her copy of Harcourt Family Learning Writing Skills - Grade 2 workbook. dspringer mentioned some games I've never seen before and will definitely be looking up. And I particularly liked Melanie Ussery's suggestion to use license plates for math. We've used them for color, shape, letters and numbers, but I never thought to use them the way she proposed. I wonder if my wise 8 and 10 year olds will play along. Some ideas are brewing...

Meanwhile, I'm moving ahead with giveaways, both physical and virtual. First, the real deal. This week's giveaway is a set of beginning readers. My girls are avid readers. They read so fast (and have so much time to read) that I just can't keep up anymore. While I drive, they read. While I cook, if they're not cooking with me, they're probably reading. They wake up early to read, and I suspect they sneak in some reading after lights-out. And I still read to them at bedtime if they get to bed on time.

Again I'll use to select this week's winner from the comments posted to this blog entry. Does your child enjoy reading? Avoid reading? How have you addressed reading challenges if you have found a solution? Deadline for entry is 6 p.m. Sunday, November 21, 2010. The winner will receive a three-book set of paperbacks that includes Camping Out, Level 1 (Little Critter First Readers) by Mercer Mayer, Wake Up, Sun! (Step-Into-Reading, Step 2) by David Harrison and Dolphins! (Step into Reading, Step 3)by Sharon Bokoske and Margaret Davidson.

Meanwhile, here are several links to reading resources online which I've found useful over the years. Some I explored by dark of night and the girls never had time to use (there are SO MANY). Others, like Starfall, were among their favorite pastimes when given the opportunity to "play" on the computer.

For pre-readers:
* Bembo's Zoo - Click on a letter to discover an animal that not only begins with the letter, but made from letters. Very innovative, artistic and fun.
* Alphabet Activities and Games - game play ideas that foster alphabet learning
* Alphabet Printables - Worksheets, coloring pages and games
* Lil Fingers Toddler Page - interactive games, animated videos and more. We never really got into this site, but there's lots of cute stuff here.

For emergent readers:
* Starfall - one of our favorite learn-to-read programs is sequential, logical, online and free. I love that young readers "rewards" are short, appropriate animated films.
* Skillwise - Lots of interactive online language arts activities focusing on everything from sentence building to the intricacies of grammar.
* Buzz Book - An interesting concept to use phrase completion to emphasize various language arts lessons (spelling, grammar, etc.)
* Story Nory - British program includes classic and modern stories for young readers. Available as text online and as audiobooks. We found several of the modern stories to include really obnoxious characters, but we're oversensitive - ask anyone.
* Internet Public Library Story Hour - read alongs, or just read online.
* BookBox - free stories to download in PDF form, audio form (various languages) and coloring books.

For advanced readers:
* Project Gutenberg - a fabulous collection of works of fiction in the public domain. Updated nightly. Available in various formats from text online to e-readers, scans of original works (including sheet music) and audio books.
* Laura Ingalls Wilder activities - from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
* Dear America - Scholastic's site dedicated to their historical fiction series largely told from the female perspective. Interactive activities, stories and more. One of E's favorites.
* Ulysses for Literary Cheaters - The entire tale of Ulysses told in a series of 18 cartoons. Originally called "Ulysses for Dummies," the author was apparently pressed by the "...for Dummies" folks to reconsider. I've renamed it here, but I think he's sticking with his original title because is everything "for Dummies" now copyrighted? How dumb.
* Online Literature Library - full and unabridged texts of classic works of English literature
* American Folklore - a collection of American and Canadian ghost stories, myths, legends and other tales.
* Lord of the Peeps - Lord of the Rings told visually with Peeps as props. Very entertaining for LOTR fans. Doesn't mean much to those who've yet to read the (or listen to audio) books.

* Naughty Shakespeare - Some phrases so clearly understood in Elizabethan England are lost on modern Americans. This introduction to Michael Macrone's book may help clarify a few things. (Not for the young set.)
For various levels:
(These sites have activities, works or audio files that may be of value to readers and pre-readers alike. Use them creatively to encourage further your readers of all levels.)
* Baldwin Project - Like Gutenberg Project, but designed for youth. Literature is available both to view online and to purchase through reprints.
* Merriam-Webster's Word Central - grammar and spelling games, build-your-own dictionary, dictionary, thesaurus and more
* Ashliman's Folktexts -a collection of hundreds of myths and legends available to read online
* I Know That - Lots of games not only for language arts but other subject areas, organized by subject and grade level.
* Long Long Time Ago Stories - stories from myth, legend and more for all readers.
* Kids Are Authors - annual writing/illustration contest sponsored by Scholastic, designed to promote teamwork. Open to children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Spring deadline.
* PBS Kids Island - Language arts-related games and contests
* Literature on Radio - Old-time radio shows rebroadcast on the 'net. Fabulous adaptations of classics for programs.
* Poetry Out Loud National Poetry Recitation Contest - View young people's interpretations of poetry, or enter the contest.
* Poetry - official site of the Academy of American Poets offers a variety of activities including great poetry, modern poetry, tips for teaching poetry and more.
* Many Things - language arts acquisition games and activities. Designed for English as a Second Language students, but works for early readers just as well. After all, we're not born reading.
* Poe - a site dedicated to Edgar Allen Poe including information about his life, personality, as well as his works in text and audio versions.
* Classic Audio Books - Free classics to download to iTunes. An abbreviated list.
* Activated Storytellers - Folklore available as text as well as audio (podcasts).
* Award-winning Children's Literature Database - Looking for reading ideas? Check out this database of award-winning books, searchable by a variety of parameters from gender of protagonist to literary genre.
* It's Good To Read - a parent's guide to LOTS of children's books, searchable with various parameters or simple lists.
* Battle of the Books - reading list by grade level for the annual competitive reading program
* Internet Children's Library - online library of scanned books provides art and works by various authors. Very unique search tool at this link, too.
* Read Kiddo Read - online reviews of a variety of books for children from illustrated works to advanced readers. What I like best about this site is that each review includes a list of "if you liked THIS book, then you might also like THIS one."
* Hans Christian Andersen - Most of his published works, as well as some audio files, autobiography and links to further HCA information available online.
* Jules Verne Collection - a site dedicated to the study of Jules Verne, including access to many of his works, stories about his life and times and links to other Verne sites.
* Classic Audio Interviews - of authors, performing artists, scientists and more, from the BBC.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Running for Fun and Fitness

The height of my running career came when I beat the thencetofore fastest kid in school, Charlie Horton. We were in fourth grade. Maybe he was having an off day, and the fact that I was the tallest kid in the class certainly couldn't have hurt. Then came the school track meet. All I remember about that 100-yard dash was that, when we took off, a nickel rolled down my lane in front of me. I watched it roll, then tripped, reflecting the true nature of my running prowess. The following summer I joined the swim club and, except as an assignment or punishment in p.e., I didn't bother with running for more than a quarter century.

In 2008, I spotted the State Street Mile, a straight, downhill, single-mile run in downtown Santa Barbara, just an hour's drive south of our house. The event includes heats divided by age group, novice versus elite, and a fun run. V, who most wanted to run, was only 6 and, with her dad running along the sidelines for support, ran in the early heat of youngsters. After she and her dad had walked back up the mile, she was pooped. Then it was time for the fun run. We all jogged at the girls' pace for a short distance before Mr. B hefted V onto his shoulders. She rode, like a cowgirl on her pony, the rest of the race, her hair flying in the breeze made by her daddy's speed.

Today, while looking up the dates for this year's State Street Mile, I found this video. If you don't have time (or desire) to watch it all, fast forward to 2:35 to see one happy little girl on her trusty Daddy Steed. She's also shown ( at :30) before hear early morning start, red-hoody up, eyes staring into the distance - is she visualizing her race? And in the kids' start, way off to the side (:35-:39).

State Street Mile 2009 from Brent Cappello on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rose & Thistle Farm Apiary Tour

For V's birthday, some friends of our gave her a wonderfully unique gift - an invitation to tour their apiary, complete with kid-sized bee suit, hands-on opportunities, and a seasoned beekeeper as her guide. Last week, we synchronized our watches and the weather patterns and all things potentially conflicting and made our way out to the farm east of Santa Maria.

What a fantastic tour! Our guide is generally a quiet man, but with bees as the subject, and clearly leadership experience and an organizational style I could really appreciate, he was off and running.

E, V and the host's son all donned protective bee suits while The Beekeeper showed them an empty hive box he had built. He explained the parts and purposes, encouraged them to lift it and fiddle with it. He showed them some empty beeswax comb and joked about its lack of heft. Then he led us all to the long, top-bar beehive to check on the colony's condition before heading up the hill to the Warré hives.

The Beekeeper carefully lifted the first box and let the kids each have a turn peeking inside with the help of a mirror. The swarm, collected from a distraught resident who came upon a swarm in his city yard, was making itself at home and busily building comb. The kids took turns lifting the relatively empty hive, then a fairly well-established hive that had nearly built its comb out of the box.

It was here that we learned some critical facts about bees and honey. While I learned (and have since repeated) that honey was "bee spit," we were informed that bees are sort of like nature's tankers - they do slurp up flower nectar through their proboscis and deliver it ("spit" it) to the comb. But the delivery doesn't mean the work is done. Once in place, the bees fan the honey with their wings to remove any excess moisture, essentially drying the nectar to a consistency which allows preservation. We also learned that worker bees secrete the wax from wax glands along their abdominal segments. Working together, they build the comb. It's an incredible combination of chemistry, engineering and cooperation.

We also learned about propolis, or bee glue. The bees create this sticky substance to secure their homes. In this case, they sealed two stacked hives together with the dark-brown-to-black substance. I've seen the stuff before, but always thought it was dirty wax or just old, filthy biological matter. In fact, its quite purposeful.

When we returned to the barn, the Beekeeper showed us his storage area where collected honey is stored in jars. Additional honey remains in its own, original container - sheets of honeycomb - until the Beekeeper is ready to switch it to the more portable glass containers. Then it was down to the kitchen with a sheet of honeycomb for the final stage of our tour - taste testing. V cut strips of the comb for everyone to enjoy. The early season area of the comb held sage honey, a delicate, lovely, light honey. Later in the season, the comb turned to toyon honey, a much stronger, though still wonderfully sweet, honey.

We returned home with a wonderful piece of the honeycomb, half toyon, half sage. It won't last long.

Thanks to Rose & Thistle's beekeepers and support crew for the wonderful visit.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Only on a Wastewater Treatment Plant Tour...

We have had the great fortune to meet some wonderful people with quite diverse interests. I love being invited to take part in activities, and we tend to jump at opportunities - perhaps too often for the so-called "home" school life. The end result is typically wonderful. This week, we had one such educational, entertaining and, at times, ghastly experiences.

Friday we joined A Heart For Learning, a local homeschooling group, on a tour of Santa Maria's wastewater treatment plant. Our guide, Water Resources Manager Shannon Sweeney, was fantastic. She spoke in terms the children could understand while also answering adults varied questions as she walked us sequentially through the plant, just as if we were a piece of detritus floating amongst the 8 million gallons of wastewater treated daily here. And we learned another piece of man's messy nature. (The city provides these free tours as the workload will permit for residents in groups of 20 to 30. Call the City of Santa Maria's main line, then extension 7416.)

We began at the entry point where water collected from sinks, bathrooms and other drains throughout the city enters the plant through two enormous pipes. A heavy grate sorts out some of the largest pieces of waste, most of which really should never have made it to the sewer. When enough items get trapped against the grate, water backs up putting extra pressure on sensors which tell one of three special purpose rakes to drop down and grab a load. The pile is dragged onto a conveyor belt which rolls the trash into a dumpster. Here the plant smelled certainly no worse than the recycling facility down the road. (Talk about STINK! PHEW!)

This was the first point at which Sarah, our until-now-fearless leader, (and perhaps a few others) gagged. Honestly, I thought she was kidding. I had expected the place to really smell bad, so was pleasantly surprised to find that the aroma was not as detestable as anticipated. (We've smelled some pretty awful wastewater treatment plants in passing on many occasions.) Plus, the stuff coming down the belt wasn't what you'd expect. Like the sock, Ms. Sweeney said there's a lot of weird stuff that really shouldn't make it into the sewer, including a remarkable amount of plastic, towels, even cell phones.

Next we passed the giant screws which pull out sand and grit that runs through the system. Apparently, all the mud folks wash off their shoes, the garden dirt that goes down the drain and beach sand just aren't that great for the treatment system. Here we found our first of several "Do Not Drink This Water" signs posted throughout the facility. Do we really need to spell that out at this point? Particularly to people who work here? There must be some sort of safety guideline which requires such an asinine waste of money.

Next we came to the primary clarifier - a vast open tank through which water passes while a giant skimmer constantly scrapes off any grease that rises to the top. The squeegee directs the grease to a grease trap. Meanwhile, an underwater set of fins slowly directs any "sinkers" to a sludge pit in the center of the tank. A heavy pump removes this material for treatment and disposal. (This may have been our leader's second gag point.) Santa Maria's typical afternoon breeze kept the air here relatively fresh.

The water carries on to enormous above-ground tanks in which the wastewater, with all its microbes and bacteria and various other icky stuff, is run through a series of screens. The screens are like cities of bacteria and protozoa which thrive on natural byproducts, or biodegradable waste. This is where we first saw the birds. Hundreds of them perched all along the rim of the open-air tank. We should have taken heed.

Next, the water flows to another set of very large, open, low-lying tanks that reminded me of the filter in our fish pond. Just like the fountain in our pond, this tank recirculates the water through another series of biomass mesh where more bacteria and protozoa enjoy a wastewater smorgasbord. The birds were here, too, riding the four pipes that rotate like the arms of a clock. The kids enjoyed this slow-motion avian amusement park ride while the pipes delivered the partially treated water into the filter. The smell here reminded me remarkably of some of the Mexican grocery stores - a combination of corn tortillas, meat and some untold collection of exotic spices.

It was as we rounded the corner to our next tour stop that the kids spotted the birds again. This time, they were on the mood, hundreds upon hundreds of them. They were swirling and bunching and diving and splitting in an amazing display of precision and aerial prowess.

Then it happened.

The kids got squirrelly, and there were some squeals before I realized what was happening. When I caught E's eye, she was silent. And right between her horrified eyes, like a tilaka, was an almost perfectly round, brown spot, a splatter, a bird turd. That's right. While visiting the wastewater treatment plant, a bird beaned my oldest daughter right between the eyes.

I kind of wish I would have taken a quick photo. (What kind of photographer would missed THAT opportunity?) But the look on her face compelled me instead to first point to my own forehead and mouth, "You have something riiiight here." To which she threw her hands up and mouthed, "I know," indicated she had nothing but bare hands with which to do the deed, and continued mouthing, "how do I get it OFF?" I left the camera hanging and I sacrificed my finger to the cause. (What kind of mom would I be if I hadn't?)

From here on, our tour was pretty much lost to talk of and tittering over The Bird Incident. Sure, we checked out the final drying beds for the waste matter and the resulting extremely rich compost piles. But as we gathered in the main office with Ms. Sweeney to sanitize our hands and address any final concerns, the talk amongst kids and adults alike was of birds and stain-remover.

So, for Sarah, our organizer and instigator and party planner, a toast: Thank you for all you do. Here's mud in your eye.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Social Media - Good, Bad or Indifferent?

A reporter interviewed me recently for a story she's writing on social media. Given the subject, the interview was given electronically. I thought I'd share my thoughts with you, too. What do YOU think? I'm sure she'd love to hear from you.

Alrighty. You asked for it. I'm pretty wordy. Grab a cup o' tea...

I got into blogging accidentally. For one of my high school class reunions, the only way to get information was to be a member of the blogging site. Then I published a book, and since the blog was in place, I decided I'd try to use it for a bit of free marketing. I didn't actually find it very useful quite possibly because I didn't make the most use of it. The blog then evolved into a multi-purpose tool: providing book information; providing local adventure information; keeping our friends, family and followers updated on our multiple travels; and answering questions about homeschool. (I had answered the same questions over and over again via e-mail queries, so opted to post my answers once online, then provide links to those answers when I received the same question, yet again, from new homeschoolers - saved me LOADS of time!)

But why do I bother to blog? I'm an obsessive writer. I've tried to quit, but then find myself writing in margins, in journals, on random sheets of paper. My mind is always going, and I'm a talkative sort, so blogging gives me somewhere to share my thoughts with anyone who cares to listen. I have experiences that may help others (travel and homeschooling, among others). And if no one cares to listen, I suppose that's OK, too, though I think every writer likes to think her words and works are of values to others.

Social media is a strange beast. I think it can create a false sense of friendship, but I suppose no more so than the old method of snailmail pen pals. It's so easy to quickly associate and just as quickly disassociate from strangers and acquaintances. With a click of a button, we've made a friend or lost one. On the other hand it has also provided a tool for linking people with shared interests who may otherwise never have met each other. I've found long lost friends, even long lost relatives, and made new friends around the world - friends who I WILL meet during their travels or ours. I think the time suck of social media is very distracting and counterproductive (bad), but the ability to interact with humans is fantastic.

I edit myself HEAVILY when I write certain entries on my blog. I also choose NOT to blog about certain issues, particularly very personal family issues or health issues for the large part. But it’s AMAZING what people DO share online. We’ve all read entertaining, perhaps offensive, blog entries. When I read them, I first am astonished, perhaps entertained, but I always wonder what their family and close friends think about their work. Then I remind myself that their family and friends probably understand because these are probably issues the blogger is just as willing to talk about in real life with whomever will listen. Bloggers who do so anonymously may have no sense of propriety, or maybe they just need an outlet, or maybe they’re just obsessive writers like I am.

I think social media has degraded human interaction. There’s a lot to be said for the body language that goes with verbal language. We’ve all experienced it: an e-mail or text misunderstood because quick bursts of text on a page or phone doesn’t convey all the nuances personal interaction can. Even talking on the phone is not as effective as talking in person. I also think people have misguided values when it comes to social media. What exactly is a friend? Is it a clicking competition on a website, or is it a person who will be there for you when times get tough in real life? In times of need, I don’t need a click, I need a hug, a hand, a tow, a jump start, a real, live person.

Why do we spend so much time connecting online? The glowing tube is, oh, so attractive. Think about the television – it provides information and entertainment while we sit idly by. But online entertainment is much more interactive, therefore, for many of us, even more compelling. We’re part of the story, part of the game, we’re learning and if nothing else, our brains are suckers for novelty. Plus, there are rewards of sorts to our online adventures, like notes from true friends, answers to questions, discovering old friends, bits of information we find compelling. And once connected, we’re not all that different from the rats in a test maze. The maze itself is interesting, but around SOME corners there are rewards. We keep running hoping to find that rewarding corner. It’s out there. And each time we get our little treat, we carry on. We’re addicts of an electronic sort.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sharing the Wealth - Book Giveaway

I have a few books to share. This is the first in a series of giveaways. Stay tuned to catch the rest.

The girls and I most enjoy learning through exploration of the world around us. We've hiked every legal kid-friendly trail in two counties (and written books about them), traveled 18 western states including one of our favorite Hawaiian islands, and popped in and out of Canada. We make the most of our forests, tide pools and beaches. We do math on the road, in town, wherever we can find it. Writing's a piece of cake with maintenance of our own personal travel journals, letters to family and friends, and creative writing both at home and on the road.

Still, I am a product of public school and do feel the pressure from the mainstream folks to be sure the girls are up to speed with their peers. Life can change in a heartbeat, and our situation is as tenuous as the next family's. Should the girls head for mass schooling, I'd like them to be prepared to answer their grade-level question. So, we occasionally resort to workbooks for core subjects.

A few years ago, I tried A Beka Math for E.  She absolutely hated it. It wasn't as visually appealing then as the sales piece shows now, and for young kids, that's important. She's not big on repetition, and while math may best be learned through repeated practice, she was having none of it. I could hardly blame her.We found Reader Rabbit Workbooks fantastic, but of course is no longer being printed (so grab 'em when you see 'em), and Math Made Easy, which was also repetitive but not ad nauseum.

This year, we're working on our own math curriculum using the state standards and developing our own problems. (Yesterday, the girls figured the perimeter and area of our yard before Mr. B asked them the volume of our trampoline enclosure - back out to the yard they ran.) Most of our workbooks are gone.

On the language arts side, both girls enjoyed Harcourt Family Learning's "Writing Skills" and "Language Arts"
grade level series. I like their simplicity, and their opportunity to individualize ("write your own story..." using the lessons of the chapter).

Somehow, we ended up with an extra copy of Harcourt Family Learning Writing Skills - Grade 2, so I'm giving away this workbook to a random reader of this blog. To enter, write a note below about how you teach math to your home-educated kids. I'll use to pick the winner on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010 at 8 p.m.

Good luck!

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