Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tiger Kitty

A bit ago, I posted pictures of the adorable stray cats that took up residence in an outdoor den by the creek behind our house. I couldn't leave a nursing mom without food and so started buying cat food and cream for them, against my better/more frugal judgment.

Tiger kitty has become a regular part of our family routine - he meows at me first thing in the morning when I peer off our back deck and continues until I approach with food, when he runs almost right up to me. He has almost forgotten that he is supposed to be afraid, but Mama cat still snarls and hisses and once spit - we think (it sounded like a popping noise).

Yesterday, we noticed Tiger sitting on the porch below us and so rigged a long string to our railing for him to play with. A bit of yarn at the end perfected his toy and we have spent lots of time watching him and laughing. A good pre-holiday relaxation activity while the veggies roast and the pasta cooks. Pies next!

Ike, by the way, has proved himself again "the best dog in the world." This morning while I fed the skittish cats, he stayed about ten feet away, obediently not moving, but watching carefully. He definitely deserves a special Thanksgiving treat!

I'm dangling the toy.  K took the photo.

Too cute!

Touring the Federal Reserve

We had a fascinating tour of the San Francisco Federal Reserve building, courtesy of a graduate business class and their instructor, who invited us along.

Many of the questions were about economic issues that I am unfamiliar with, but now am inspired to learn more about. They have a fascinating display of historic money dating back to the War of Independence and including items like money that represented an amount of gold flakes from the gold rush years. The big picture of 235+ years of US currency was fascinating, watching it evolve from more individual and then state-issued notes to the federal system that we take for granted.

We saw a $100,000 bill! Never in circulation. And $5,000 and $10,000 bills, which were in circulation, though they haven't been printed since the 1930s. We learned that the average dollar's lifecycle is 22 months. We got to see the vaults and literally more money than anyone can imagine - a deep room full of carts, each cart full of bills that if containing $100 bills is worth $46 million. It made the money that we are so pleased to see when we open our wallets seem very worthless, as the context was devoid of the work that those bills represent. Leaving with some of the money that they are charged with shredding reinforced that.

Fascinating day; thank you Dr. Hua.  And Lillian for your company!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

First Choir Performance

I was surprised when they wanted to join, pleased that they go eagerly to weekly practice, and absolutely charmed by their sweet singing during Mass this week. Just lovely and wonderful; those who sing, pray twice! Love, love, love...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Private Gymnastics Coaching

As soon as she started, you could tell that she knew what she was talking about - clear directions, helpful tips. My BFF Denise and her daughter came over to celebrate my birthday (yeah!) and our quiet day in the park ended with a much-appreciated gymnastics lesson for the girls that won't soon be forgotten. Thanks for everything, Denise; You ROCK those cartwheels; so impressive!

Friday, November 22, 2013

CA History - Touring Mission San Juan Bautista

What a cool location! Off the beaten path and very fascinating - we had a tour of a location that truly represents history from multiple perspectives, starting with the Ohlone, then the Spanish, Mexican, and Americans. It was a busy hub for each culture - the Ohlone hunted in the nearby marshes, the Spanish built the Mission, the Mexicans Californios left ranching practices, and for the early Americans, this was a busy stagecoach stop with a hotel and other busy businesses nearby. History is rarely idyllic and this location was no exception, but nonetheless the history represented there was interesting and the remaining artifacts remain beautiful.

"Chinese Lanterns"
A stagecoach owned by William Ralston.  The girls were
Inside an old hotel.  Felt very creepy and not someplace
you'd want to be at night.

More climbing
Mission church
Our guide Marcos explains how the terrain has changed
since the Ohlone lived here without other cultures.
Learning about Spanish history,
the girls get a fit of giggles about something.
G poses as a Mexican woman of wealth, bossing
around a vaquero
Billed as "perhaps the first log
cabin in CA."  An example of how the
earliest Americans lived.
Posing as an American miner with friend.
I love textures.  From the garden.
Utterly cool!  Many of the tiles in the church were left
to dry long ago and animals left their prints.  We did track
identification at church - a real first!
In the cemetery
Friends checking out the view from the cemetery
A font for holy water.  Isn't it sweet?
I rounded the corner to this unexpected
sight - G praying with a friend.  Impressed, I told Charles about it.
He told me that last year at Rel Ed classes he'd often find
her kneeling and praying like this, often leading the
class in doing so, independent from adult direction.  Wow!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

End of Semester Presentations

K worked with her class to create an original musical piece and performed it for us; what fun to see! She also helped to accompany another group as they performed. I am impressed that through her stoicism she's a consistent volunteer.

She was one also of only two kids willing to read their own stories out loud to the audience, which again impressed me as I don't know if I'd have the nerve to do that. I keep hiding the book I wrote last summer from those interested in reading it because I it never feels quite ready. I need to model K's own confidence. (She sure does love the story that she created, which is about a man who is drawn reluctantly into a wrestling competition and then wins).

The afternoon was G's chance to shine in her first play ever. She was in nearly every scene and did very well in a role that required a lot of action but no words. That element disappointed her and later she expressed an interest in playing Lady Macbeth next time. When I warned her that there were a lot of lines, she said confidently, "I feed on lines." Then she added, "and every time I eat them, they taste like dust!" She paused dramatically, then, in a more normal voice said, "I should write a play!" Indeed, my awesome puppy....

K was in the play too; two roles, both done enthusiastically.  With her, I was impressed because she really hated the play itself and its dumbed-down language and content.  But she went along with the rest of the class, despite her dislike, because that's what you have to do sometimes, make the best of things.  That's a good lesson to absorb (all while pushing back for something better in the bigger picture) and I'm glad that she can pull it together and take one for the team.

Performing an original score

Reading her story to musical accompaniment
Just before the performance: K is "Ben Gunn" and "Old Blind Pew"and G is "Blackie"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Treasure Island Dress Rehearsal

The costumes were fun for a blind pirate and a black puppy.   As usual, K had her own strong opinions about what she should wear and as usual, she did well.  G was no less picky and I was pretty proud of fashioning floppy puppy ears for her out of leftover felt and a headband.  A crafty project!  And I did it!  I find crafts in general and sewing in particular to be mind-numbingly dull, but I'm pleased when I somehow overcome my great antipathy and create something that meets their needs. 

The play itself is something we are looking forward to having over with.  K complains, "there is no plot, no character development, no real story."  Ah, the influence of too much literary analysis, but she is right.  And G doesn't complain, but she has a hard job - she's in every scene, has the capacity to memorize everything K ever has done, but in her first play ever has been given not a word to say.  She's been an amazingly good sport about it, but I know she's not happy with that element of it. At her age, K was successfully playing Puck with nearly all of Shakespeare's original lines and G wants that kind of challenge too.  Next time!

And then there is the teacher.  She has the patience of a saint, which is her important redeeming quality, but she has made the fatal mistake of removing work from the kids when they appear to misbehave instead of giving them more, perpetuating the boredom that they clearly feel.  K's favorite class has become one that she dreads and now that the younger kids whom I supervise throughout the day are also part of this class, I can say with first hand exposure that I wholeheartedly concur.

Often a criticism of homeschooling is that kids aren't exposed to the negative elements of the "real world;" apparently represented in this argument by years and years of dull and dreary days in school, preparing you for the dreary "real" world of work.  My perspective on what work should be within our one precious life is not something that decades of dreariness have relevance within; that said, I think we all have to learn how and when to just go with the flow to support a group, pay your dues, show respect, or get something done.  Within our homeschooling approach, I am happy with the combination of some disciplined activities for our kids (i.e. classes with behavioral expectations) within a lot of individual freedom, learning through both.  The past 11 weeks in this class have been absolute agony, watching a teacher completely unable to corral the interests of these talented kids and watching the kids, particularly some of the kids who are older than either of ours, act out in outrageously disrespectful and grossly immature ways.  I feel exhausted at the end of each session and can't wait to move on to another project.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Super Dad's Science Class

Learning more about cells and DNA though amazing hands-on activities and drawing, too. This time they separated the DNA from a strawberry, which was a fascinating process. The photo below shows their interest that to me, those looks of amazement and curiosity are pure magic.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Culture Day: Russia

An interesting morning learning about Russian culture and then making dolls, small wooden vases, and other wooden animals. The kids seemed to have a lot of fun and my girls were particularly enthusiastic about creating items to trade when we go back in time to our favorite Russian fort. The more items to sell, the more rubles... capitalism motivates. :-)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Opera: The Barber of Seville

We went to SF Opera's dress rehearsal for The Barber of Seville. We had a great time and loved the beautiful set, dramatic all in white with brightly colored flowers. The music was amazing, of course. Everything was wonderful - even the break to fix some unnoticed flaw - and G (my little engineer) was especially impressed with the staging and whispered, "I want to design sets like that when I grow up!" However, we were all appalled by the finale, in which the beautiful classic set suddenly became a parody of Valentine's Day yuck, with pink balloons, fireworks projected onto a screen, and other excessivly sappy crap. Didn't fit at all, in our unanimous opinion. But all in all it was a great evening sharing a spectacular performance with friends.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Club: The Phantom Tollbooth

We had fun with our activities. I posted a bunch of activity ideas on a board, mostly courtesy of LitWits and other teacher idea web sites, and allowed each kid to pick one. We created chromo graphs after listening to classical music, drew some favorite characters and talked about their characteristics, created cartoons of "threadbare excuses" for not doing chores, invented new "monsters of ignorance;" created the 12 faces of the Dodecahedron; made a list of pointless tasks for the Terrible Trivium to assign, and ate synonym buns and rigmaroles.

K's "Monster of Ignorance was "Bad Music," represented as a guitar with a very unhappy face. The kids also drew maps of the journey, discussing the lessons learned along the way. We spent time discussing the meaning imbedded in the final pages; Milo's character transformation and how he is different and happier because of his journey. Some kids were disappointed, though, that he'd never see the friends he met along the way again; fair enough - savoring life is a great message, but acting as if friends are replaceable was not a part of the message that resonated. Love their critical analysis.

Tock with his clock, "Synonym buns" and "rigamaroles"
to snack on, and a treasure box full of the alphabet and the book itself.

One of our dodecahedrons

This attempt at jello letters didn't work at all; oh well,
can't win 'em all...

Friday, November 8, 2013


Some "wow" things need no further comment.  A K find.

Super Dad's Science Class

I don't think he checks the blog, so I don't think he knows that I call him "Super Dad." But this class took the cake! His drawing of a cell was downright gorgeous and seemingly over the head of the kids, but when he had them create their own cell models in felt, you could tell that it sank in. I knew for sure immediately afterward, for they ran to their pottery class, eagerly explaining to the teacher what was going on with her hair cells and why she had grey in her hair! Their excitement was pretty darn cool.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Russia Prep Time Again

Another morning's group prep for our upcoming back-in-time adventure. Moms made decisions while Super Dad helped the kids to remember the troika and Russian/Native American games and then we worked to create items to trade when we arrive: water bottle holders, necklaces made of shells and beads, staves for a dice-like game of chance, and elaborate belts of yarn. Much progress in a few hours and a lot of fun, too.