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 App├ętit!

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.)

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