Saturday, April 30, 2011

Awkward Ages and Living History

(For those of you who receive these updates via e-mail, to see photos, click through to the blog.)
 The girls have seen a lot of living history presentations in their short life. We've visited many of California's missions and historic sites throughout the Western United States. We've traveled the entire length of the Lewis & Clark Trail, and visited, along the way, many of its interpretive centers. We've been to countless zoos and science centers, children's museums and state and national parks. Now they're docents in their own rights at La Purisima Mission State Park. So they've learned perhaps more than their fare share of American history.

However, we hadn't talked too terribly much about the Chinese influence in California. That's a pretty serious omission particularly considering we've traveled many times on the rails and through the tunnels which were made possible by the Chinese laborers of the mid-19th century. Clearly it was time to fill that gap in their education, so when invited to Ventura for the city's Chinatown interpretive program, I jumped at the opportunity.

A funny thing happens to well-traveled kids. Or maybe it just happens to kids at a certain age. But the programs that once enthralled them become repetitive and the hands-on activities become mundane. V hasn't entered that age yet, thankfully, but E spent a portion of her morning a bit disappointed. The city's program is held in a small segment of the park in front of San Buenaventura Mission. (Chinatown no longer exists in Ventura, so where else would they hold it?) But the docent to which we were assigned did a fantastic job of keeping the children's interest through his tailoring of the topics at hand to their level, direct interaction with the kids, and a few hands-on activities. (Three cheers for the city's interpretation program docents, and to the city for providing such educational recreation for all ages!)

The girls had the best time working in teams at the laundry station. The clothes wringer was a major hit for all, and who know they could be SO interested in ironing? They tried their hands at Chinese yo-yos (diabolos), foxtails and even a touch of tai chi. (You can get further information about Tai Chi, including how-tos, here.) After all the talk about Chinese culture, pride and food, of course we sought out a local Chinese restaurant for lunch before heading home.

It's too bad so many of these programs are limited to students in sixth grade and younger. It would be wonderful to have educational, interesting HANDS-ON programs for learners of every age. Books are fantastic, but there's nothing like getting your hands "dirty" on a project for making it stick in the memory banks, and building interest among future generations.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Science Night Comes to Santa Maria

(For those of you who receive these updates via e-mail, to see photos, click through to the blog.)
I grew up in a university town where elementary school students were so often on campus it never occurred to many of us that post-secondary education was merely an option. When the college held its annual open house, schools throughout town shut their doors and took full-day field trips to campus. We were ushered to various educational events disguised as magic shows (chemistry), games (mathematics), building blocks (engineering), carnivals (economics) or animal play time(various animal science units).

So it's been particularly tough to live in a community where post-secondary education is, for too many, an afterthought and interaction between the local institution of higher learning and their target audience (up-and-coming students) is limited to dance lessons for Junior. We're told funding shortfalls and, even more importantly, insurance worries have brought an end to most on-campus programs for those under age 18. Gone, apparently, are the days of summer cooking camp for kids, workshops for the next generation of artisans, writing conferences for future novelists.

You can imagine, then, my excitement when the college announced it would be inviting the entire community to a series of science nights designed for hands-on learning for all ages. We couldn't make the first due to a previous commitment, but happened to share (through a mutual friend and camper) a camp weekend with one of its founders. He reported that the initial effort was so well received that the rooms for Night Two were multiplied in hopes of better managing the crowd.

I can tell you that, even with the added space, the program was an ABSOLUTE hit! The rooms were packed, college students tremendous with the ruckus and all the questions, activities equally fundamental and fun, and community well served.

There's one more night remaining in this series (May 13, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. in the M block - park near the gym and take the short walk to the fun). We'll be there. Then I'll be an avid supporter of future grant funding that will help make these type of educational, fun, encouraging events more prevalent. What better way to bring the community and its college together while encouraging excitement for learning?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Happy Birthday to My Big Girl" or "Wow. That was fast!"

We enjoyed the company of some of our family and friends to celebrate E's birthday. She was SO excited about the day, the planning, even the prep. This was the first time she helped to prep for the party (beyond coming up with the theme), and the first time she decorated her own dessert. I had mixed feelings - so great that she can help and WANTS to help, but nearly a lifetime of decorating your own birthday cakes comes soon enough. Why rush it? But I bit my tongue, smiled, grabbed the camera and (after fulfilling her request to do the lettering), stood back and let her have at it.

Traditionally, we've served locally grown strawberries on homemade angel food cake and homemade whipped cream. (The cake was pretty popular and held the attention of one boy who, though he's outgrown other party trappings, reported last year that he still came for the cake.) But this year, E said she wanted brownies instead. I couldn't break with tradition entirely, so I picked up some of the strawberries and a store-bought angel food cake, then whipped up some cream. We made three trays of brownies for our guests and for the sing-a-long and "cake" presentation. The strawberry treat was maintained as a secondary treat for anyone vaguely interested.

E's parties have been, for as long as she's been able to state a preference, costume parties, and guests have traditionally obliged. To the princess party, one set of grandparents came in full costume, thanks to the royalty section of their local costume shop. This year, another set of grandparents went all out for her chosen gypsy theme. All of the kids in attendance came in gypsy garb. The best we could do for "gypsy music" at this point was to stream a random selection of Celtic music, though the online music service occasionally threw in random acts of mariachi and kids' sing-a-long ditties.

The gypsy menu was, thankfully, much easier than the menu for the pioneer party that required game hens. E decided gypsies might have beef (therefore tri-tip), beans, garlic bread, a salad and soup. She made her own soup from scratch for the party. While some party-goers were kind enough to try it, the picnic setting didn't exactly encourage soup eating. (Thank you to those who tried it, and commented encouragingly.)

And, of course, there were balloons. "It's not a birthday party if there aren't balloons," E. Best, 2004

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Just Us Chicks

Spring brought yet two more additions to our growing menagerie. V is holding out for a rabbit, but E wanted a chick. I'm told chicks don't do well singly, so E picked out one (a Plymouth Barred Rock) and I had V select an Auracana. (There is some discrepancy over whether we received Auracauna, Ameracauna or Easter Egg chickens...time will tell.) The girls have named them (several times). I believe they're currently called Ginger and Mischief, but every time I see a girl with a chick, the names have changed again. I'll keep you posted.

For initial housing, we looked into some of the troughs and other containers available at the feed store, but after considering the hundred-dollar price tags, decided to improvise at home. We discovered that the flat-roofed dog house ever-optimistic V built last year with her daddy serves wonderfully once upturned. Her door and window latches work just as well as wall closures, and clear packing tape seals the gaps to keep out unwanted drafts.

Flo ignored the chicks entirely the first two weeks. She's become more interested of late. We'll see how it all pans out once they run freely together. For now, we put the chicks out in a "chicken tractor" when the days are warm enough (so nearly ever day at this point) while Flo has free reign over the yard.

Chicks check out their new home:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

March Heat Wave

I know: I'm a bit behind on blogging. We've been pretty busy around here, and I'm trying to be at least SOMEWHAT focused on the edits and updates for "Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County - SECOND EDITION." Maps have been delivered. All links, phone numbers, addresses and driving directions have been updated. On to editing, layout, ISBN bar code, photos, printing and, yes, learning how to turn it all into an e-book. I love print, but it looks like this is the way things are going, and since at least part of the purpose of writing these books is to help augment the family income, I've gotta go with the flow.

The computer work is done largely after dark, when the kids are in bed and the quiet chores are completed. That makes for slow going on a project this large. By daylight, we've been enjoying a crazy spring with heat waves and cold spells, windy weather and beach days.

March went out with some pretty intense heat after our cold (on Central Coast scale) and wet (see same scale) winter. After an afternoon out with the horse, we collected one of the other horsey kids and returned home to cool off in the sprinkler. I love sprinkler play, and I'm so glad that, while they seem to be growing out of some of the great "kid things" in life, this is one they still enjoy:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A wet weekend at Santa Margarita Lake

Recently, we enjoyed a wet weekend of camping at Santa Margarita Lake. We had been invited by our Live Oak Music Festival camping buddies, but had no idea who was in this particular camping group. At the last minute, our camping buddies opted out (this trip would have followed on the heels of two miserable-weather camping trips), but we were already packed and planned and ready to go. we went to camp with a group of people we'd never met. Or so I thought.

We arrived at camp late Friday night after E's special event. We were warmly greeted by the camp group's ringleader who, it turned out, we had met at Live Oak a couple of years ago. Saturday morning, we were warmly welcomed by many of the other group members, so many of whom looked ever so familiar. This was, after all, a SLO group, and though I haven't lived and/or worked there in more than a decade, faces stick with me pretty well (even when names don't). I felt right at home as we made connections and got to know each other.

Saturday provided us with plenty of damp. It drizzled all day long, but the rain fell so lightly and slowly at times that we were able to get in a nice hike around the west end of the reservoir to the dam view point. With the reservoir at 113% capacity, the spillway was booming as a river of overflow dumped to the riverbed below. Beautiful, fantastic, and great news for our area.

Blog featured with: