Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Katherine's Girl Scout (Daisy) troop walked in the Memorial Day parade. Ike, Gabriana, Mom and Dad came along, too.
Ike was a hit; many commented about how well K handles him. He's great - see the video below of K walking him when she was just 17 mos old!









Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alligator Lizard and more

Okay, maybe this is no big deal. It is a common lizard for this area (along with Western Fence lizards). But to see it just off the porch, near our bushes... too cool.













Alligator lizards, genus Elgaria, are members of the family Anguidae, a family of lizards found in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Large bony scales, a large head on an elongated body and powerful jaws probably give the lizards their common name. They are characterized by a slim body with short limbs and long tail. The tail can reach twice the length of its body if it has never been broken off and regenerated.

Active during the day, crepuscular and nocturnal during hot weather. Inactive during cold periods in winter. Moves with a snake-like undulating motion. A good swimmer, sometimes diving into the water to escape by swimming away.

The tail of an alligator lizard is easily broken off, as it is with many lizards. The tail will
grow back, although generally not as perfectly as the original. A lizard may detach its tail deliberately as a defensive tactic. When first detached, the tail will writhe around for several minutes, long enough to distract a hungry predator from the lizard.

Other defensive tactics used by alligator lizards are smearing the contents of the cloaca on the enemy and
biting. (In zoological anatomy, a cloaca is the posterior opening that serves as the only such opening for the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts of certain animal species. The word comes from Latin, and means sewer. All birds, reptiles, and amphibians possess this orifice, from which they excrete both urine and feces, unlike placental mammals, which possess two separate orifices for evacuation.)

Diet: Eats a variety of small invertebrates. Will also eat small lizards and small mammals. Occasionally feed on bird eggs and young birds.

Range: This subspecies is endemic to California


KOFY TV20 was interviewing the girls at the Larkspur Flower and Food Festival.












On the slide at the "jumpy house."















This last picture is of a random beautiful flower display. Actually, not so random. We were given beautiful roses from a neighbor's yard; this is all that is left. I set them down and went off to do something. When I came back, Gabriana had dismantled them completely - every petal off every rose was gone... or, more accurately, spread in pieces all over the floor. Beautiful and fragrant potpurri, but not what I had in mind. Is she a true unmaker? A future engineer? The potential is impressive, but when I found her ripping the arm rests from a chair just now immediately after quickly unpacking every single thing in Daddy's dresser, just for the apparent fun of creating the chaos, my tired self wasn't as focused on her potential as much as on my own weariness at spending endless, mindless hours cleaning and putting things away. Still, this photo is a reminder to always focus on the beauty, in its various forms.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Importance of Character

Interesting food for thought on a blog post by Andy Chan of Wake Forest University: http://andychan.blogs.wfu.edu/2010/03/01/college-dreams-for-parents-of-younger-kids/

He defines success in terms of character, rather grades or degree, noting that the ability for adults to function depends on the attributes he associates with character. He notes calls character the "ability to independently handle and manage uncertainty, change and challenges; ...self-awareness and clarity of purpose, beliefs and values; ...willingness to explore, learn and ask others (especially elders) for help and perspective; ...self-confidence and desire to deliver high quality work, results and strive to continually learn and improve; ...compassion and desire to help others. ."

He discusses rather alarmingly his observation that young adults lack these traits, positing that this is an indication that their overall education is failing them, regardless of grades, degrees, or impressive student resumes. To remedy this, he cites some positive traits that we need to help kids develop. Edited excerpts follow; I thought this was interesting and worth pondering.

1. Resilience – …today’s student will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38. Parents and educators need to prepare kids for this new reality by:
* Allowing kids to try many things – even things they won’t be good at. Walk and talk them through inevitable failure. And love them all the way through it.
* Talk about times that you experienced failure and made mistakes. Tell them that you aren’t perfect. Let them know that they don’t have to be perfect.
* Don’t communicate that there’s only one perfect career for them. Instead, tell them that you’ll love them whatever they do.
* Be careful not to say things like, “Do whatever makes you happy;” or “Follow your passion;” or “You can be anything you want to be.” These are all phrases that aren’t very helpful because they are difficult to understand and near impossible to fulfill.

2. Curiosity, Inquisitiveness and Enjoys Exploring –
* Encourage them to try new things.
* Get them to sleep more so that they have the energy and capacity to explore. …In “Nurture Shock,” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, “It is an overlooked fact that children – from elementary school through high school – get an hour less sleep each night than they did thirty years ago.”

3. Self-awareness – When kids know what they like, don’t like and why they are better able to avoid things that don’t make sense – especially things others push them to do.

4. Proactive and self-reliant – Teach your child how to plan and take action in gathering information and resolving issues. Don’t do it for them.

5. Comfort with adult relationships and conversations – Many students and young adults today make decisions independently or in the counsel of just their same-aged friends. They are uncomfortable talking to adults from whose wisdom and perspective they could benefit.

6. Strong work ethic, high standards and continuous learning – Grades are a by-product of having this attitude, not the goal.

7. Compassion, generosity, purpose or meaning outside one’s self – Many young people are unhappy with their lives. Many have been set up to believe that life is supposed to be something it’s not. Life and work aren’t all about personal fulfillment, self-focus and satisfying selfish desires.


Of course, we're not going to be capable of teaching these traits unless we absorb them as values ourselves. Thus the questions to ponder: how true is this in our own lives? Do adopting these traits lead to happiness, fulfillment, sense of purpose, or other definitions of life success?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Matters

This is excerpted from an email from a dear and wonderful friend, who watched the girls last week on short notice. The words are magical to this mom's ears, of course, but really their meaning goes deeper: more than anything else we can hope that they will learn, this report addresses our success to date at helping them to become the happy, well-adjusted, caring people we hope they will be.

I am so impressed with how polite, loving, kind, and flexible your girls are. I know they are exceptional [in terms of their academic and communication skills] but you REALLY learn about someone's kids and family when you babysit. We really had a good time and I just love how K gets my jokes and has such a great belly laugh.

I was so impressed with how well K handles herself with children of all ages. She kindly makes friends easily, she watches over her sister while including her in the fun at the same time, AND she can even handle herself around big kids, who can sometimes be pushy.

Both girls are very good communicators and make it clear when they don't like something or want something. The big girls wanted to carry G to the car but G clearly stated "No, I don't like that." They kept offering and trying to make it sound fun but they respected her wishes many times throughout the night.

The other thing I just LOVED was how well the three girls [ages nine (and ours, who are) five and two] worked things out when they had different ideas or desires. All three of them expressed their point and then they worked together to cooperate. Usually I am ready to assist in these situations because I want things fair, but I was never needed. I just listened while I was doing other things and marveled at how they solved the problems. It was such a fun night. Usually I am really tired after taking care of three young children but last night I felt energized by their presence.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Visiting a Local Museum to Learn about Egypt

Enough history and drama wrapped into a story to make the most uninterested a Egyptologist (italics below from the display sign):

This statue is very rare. It is one of seven in the world identified as the most famous queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra VII was born into a Macedonian family called the Ptolemies, who were famous for their vicious infighting. …She had several relatives killed so that she might survive.

For generations Romans coveted Egypt, a source of grain they could use to feed their army. They used the fighting in Cleopatra’s family as an excuse to send their envoy: Julius Caesar. The Romans expected Caesar to choose someone who would be friendly towards the Roman empire to be Egypt’s new pharaoh. However, Julius Caesar was charmed by Cleopatra’s wit and intelligence and brought her back to Rome as his lover. He supported Cleopatra as she struggled against her sister Arsinoe for the throne of Egypt.

Unfortunately, Caesar was murdered on the Senate steps and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt. The next envoy to Egypt was Mark Anthony, a friend of Caesar’s. Anthony also fell in love with Cleopatra and together they fought against Rome until they were defeated and Cleopatra was captured. She committed suicide, probably so that she could not be dragged through the streets of Rome in shame. Many of Cleopatra’s statues were destroyed by the Romans after she died.

I liked this one:







Demonstrating Amarna art at its most beautiful, this simple image depicts a Nubian girl offering gifts. Her upturned face shows the hint of a smile. Some Amarna art was very exaggerated, but this work is more subtle. RC 1741

This was interesting:

The deity Sekhmet was the patroness of surgeons and healing. She was also the goddess of plague and the hot desert wind. The Egyptians believed that if she could cause a disease, she could certainly heal it. This statue of Sekhmet was commissioned by the Pharaoh Amenhotep III to thank the goddess for curing his health problems.



We enjoyed the tour, very interesting. K was most interested in the mummy of a four and a half year old girl (of course). G wasn't as impressed, but she did like playing outside with the other kids.
Great trip; thanks, Justin!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pixie Dust dancer

This was the dress rehearsal; the real show is upcoming, but photography won't be allowed. Katherine's class does two dances, both ballet: Pixie Dust (girls pictured in a row below) and the finale (Katherine's half of the large crowd pictured below). She loves, loves, loves this class...

















Saturday, May 22, 2010

The STARS Finish the Season in Style

Katherine's kindergarten softball team wrapped up the year with a final game and then a potluck at our house. It was a wonderful year with parents and coaches who created an ideal foundation to love playing for years to come: lots of involved parents, encouragement, appropriate expectations for athletic abilities, and really surprisingly athletic kids who had a great beginning and then improved quickly. Charles helped coach and loved it; Katherine loved having him.
Well done, Stars!






Friday, May 21, 2010

Indian Tree Open Space Ranger Walk

One of the benefits of our educational choice is getting to do things outside of traditional schedules. Museums, workshops, hiking trails and more are often more free of crowds and thus more conducive to enjoyable exploration. This walk took that premise to a lovely extreme, with the three of us the ONLY participants on a ranger-led walk, with the exclusive attention of both Ranger David and Ranger Shannon. Since the girls would actually prefer the company of more children, we did cut the walk shorter than planned. Still, we enjoyed a beautiful hike up a hill in a part of the Marin Open Space district in Novato that we hadn't previously explored. We walked through peaceful redwood forests, flowering meadows, and hillside with gorgeous distant views and learned about bees, turkey vultures, and more. As always, we have great appreciation for David and Shannon: thanks!





Thursday, May 20, 2010

Inspiring Washington Post Article

This is a great article; made me weep, but also inspired me as an educator to imagine the effect of creative teaching, of addressing each individual's potential, and of seeing each student holistically. Ah, the possibilities!

Talented and Gifted: In one year, she taught her students to see the wonders of their talents -- then and forever

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/30/AR2010043001779.html

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Los Animales Salvajes











Wow! The kids in Spanish class did a play this week, but they didn't merely perform. Rather, they developed characters, a plot, dialogue, voted on a title, researched appropriate costumes, learned lines in Spanish, painted their own set, then performed for an audience of appreciative parents, grandparents, and close friends. Bravo, ninos y ninas!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Congratulations, Summer and David!

What's more wonderful than a family wedding? A beautiful bride, a happy groom, a lovely family, lots and lots of cousins, and - for the kids - a place to run around with cousins who are your favorite people in the whole entire world. Congratulations and thanks for including us in such a lovely celebration of your love!






This last photo was taken before the wedding, at breakfast. Bagels and costumes with Amelia and Anson. Who could ask for more?

Friday, May 14, 2010

May Book Club: Mary Poppins!

If April flowers bring May flowers, what do May book clubs bring? Believe it or not... peacocks! Yep, our neighbor Ben has photo evidence of an actual peacock in our yard, eating the bird seed spread so enthusiastically at book club. When Jane and Michael said, "feed the birds, tuppence a bag" they fed "sparrers," but the magic of Miss Poppins apparently brought more magic to Mill Valley. (Unfortunately, Ben can't upload from his phone to our email, so I can't include it, but it's pretty magical nonetheless.)
Chalk drawings, raspberry cakes, painting lovely pendants, and making anenometers was fun... as was lots of talk and play.
















Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Girl Scouts: Giggle Poets


April was Poetry Month and we added to our usual repetoire of poetry with some extra poems aimed specifically at kids, thanks to a weekly mailing from Random House. Some were better than others, but when the Girl Scounts needed something to do, poetry activities seemed appropriate. Scheduling issues in the troop meant that we were delayed until May, but that didn't stop us from having fun and, well... giggles. Some of the activities we used were ones borrowed from: http://www.poetryteachers.com/poetclass/poetclass.html

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Mother's Day. My newest favorite holiday. It celebrates all that is best in my life. When I think of all of the things I am grateful for, I feel so overwhelmed, at a loss for words.

My mom has always said that the period in her life when she had little kids was the best time in her life. I've always thought that her wisdom - and her consideration in expressing it - has been a great gift. It is hard, the kids are demanding, your body isn't your own, some of your most basic needs aren't being met, and you get little in return that is tangible. Indeed, you give up much of what you used to think defined you. And yet... the returns are immeasurable.

When the girls see pictures of events that happened before they were born, they ask, "where was I?" The first time I got this question, I answered in an inspiration I think is true and now I always say the same thing, telling them "you were in my heart." I know that they were created in love by a Creator who IS love and somehow that knowledge translates to certainty that the love I have for them isn't a new one, but one that I've carried in my heart for a very long time.

When I hear so many mothers complain about their kids, part of me understands. But part of me realizes that I have reason to be grateful even for the heartache of five lost children, pregnancies lost at various stages before, during, and after the births of these two wonderful girls. I can't take them for granted and indeed I don't. I relish their presence, their love, their passion, their affection, their beauty, their achievements, their brilliant minds, their inquisitive questions. I am so aware of my appreciation for their presence in my life that nearly every day I have a moment where I think, "this is truly the best moment of my life." The press of a soft cheek, raucous laughter, inquisitive questions... these moments come in many forms and this day creates a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all of these many gifts and the great love that blesses me.






After Mass, we went to Train Town in Sonoma; Katherine's idea. I also got breakfast in bed, facilitated by my own preparations the night before. But it wasn't about the service or the food, but letting my girls see me celebrate. We topped off the day with a barbecue at our house that my parent's attended; celebrating together is ideal.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May Girl's Club


What an adventure: we took the train from Millbrae to San Antonio, which is in Mountain View. Then we made pita bread and played all kinds of made-up games, many of which seemed to involved long, flowing trains. Some elaborate paint and lots of running was involved, too, before we rushed back to the train. Those trains are on a tight schedule, we learned, and our adventure was nearly made more memorable than we wanted when the doors almost closed with Gabriana and I on one side and Katherine already outside and on the other. Yikes! But all is well that ends well and we had a great time - the girls' first time on a real train (as opposed to a street car or amusement park).