Friday, February 28, 2014

CA History - Juana Briones Exhibit

We went to the California Historical Society's exhibit on Juana Briones and had a tour in Spanish and English, courtesy of two volunteer docents.  She's a fascinating woman, really the emblem of an era of change.  Her parents were early immigrants to California, both half African, half Spanish.  They were part of an expedition that took a year to walk from Sonora in northern Mexico to Santa Cruz.  When she was ten, Mexico took over this part of California.  She married at 18 at Mission Dolores and was one of the few people living in the tiny town of Yerba Buena, what is now San Francisco.  We glimpsed what life was likely like living on a frontier, learning to cook and to be a healer from both Mission priests and Native Americans.  She had 11 children, three of whom died of measles, and an abusive husband, whom she left.  She owned a dairy in what now is Washington Square and a ranch in what is now Palo Alto.  She was one of 66 women granted land grants from the Mexican government and one of the only to have her grant acknowledged when the American government took over control of California in 1846.  She saw the gold rush and the incredibly rapid change that came with that and lived through the changes wrought by the silver rush, the transcontinental railroad, and more.  She likely saw Ralston Hall built and even the house that we live in, come to think of it, since she lived into the 1880s, when our house was built.

I knew enough about her to have been really anticipating this tour with pleasure.  As an exhibit, it was a bit static and some of the artifacts were a stretch to include (i.e. a side saddle that could have been like one she used).  But other artifacts brought the history we've been studying to life, like actual lithographs from Russian Ludwig Choris, who was one of the characters a mom in our group played at Ft. Ross.  And to see the actual Mexican grants, which almost look like a child's drawing on a napkin, compared to the much more official American documents brought that historic conflict more sharply into focus as well.

We were asked later why she was worth knowing about.  We came up with two answers:  I said that she represented some very interesting, brave, and tough female pioneers whose personal narratives were fascinating parts of early CA history.  Another mom reflected on the "three flags" element of her personal story, the experience of being a living witness to so much history.  What it takes to survive and thrive in such an environment is a story of resiliency, one we'll draw from in ongoing reflections.

A wall from her rancho; all that is left
Fanciful depictions of her parents, not looking at all like they are African and Spanish.  Hmmm...
Mexican Land Grant (looking pretty informal)
American Land Grant (a formality difference)
Learning about local plants used for healing

There was clear bias in the presentation; nothing overtly offensive, but with blame cast and accolades given selectively.  K noticed and we had an interesting conversation about primary and secondary sources and assessing critically the perspective being shared.

Overall, a rich and interesting learning experience!  So grateful to the friends who set it up and the docent volunteer time.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A New Hobby - Dominoes

"Mom, mom!"  They were so excited!  "We have a new hobby; one that we can do together!"  What?  "Dominoes..."  Sure enough, the patterns are getting more complex, the teamwork continues, and they prevail despite frustrations.  Simple, but the learning outcomes rock.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Super Dad's Science Class

Hydraulics, s review of Newton's laws as related to motion, and an intro to the metric system.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mural Painting Class

San Francisco's Mission District is known for it's murals; as we drove through on our way to this class, I pointed them out and was amazed to notice how prolific they really are.

The class is with a group of about ten friends, it is taught in Spanish, and they will be learning about mural painting both historically (we talked about Diego Rivera in this class) and practically, as they will be designing and painting one together.

Such a cool project!  Thanks so much to the friends who set it up and hosted!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good Ideas

I call her "my girl with the good ideas," because when she says "I have an idea!" it is often a really good one, worth listening to.  This day was no exception: she proposed having lunch outside while she and her sister painted and I read to them.  We are reading Jules Verne's "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" and not surprisingly, they ended up painting the earth itself, "inner core, outer core, mantle, crust," just as we learned it years ago in EB's geology class.

Great idea, indeed!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What We Get Out of Mass

We had a lot of objections to going to mass this morning; some vocal (the girls) and others unexpressed (grownups).  As mentioned before, our parish lacks enthusiasm and it makes being there tedious at best.  I'm trying to find God in the space that exists between my expectations and what is delivered and today decided to include the girls also in my experiment:  could  they find one thing good about the experience?  (I even offered an award.)

I found my one as soon as we walked in - a singable and joyful song.  (I don't need much).

K stuck to the "one thing" requirement and said, "it was time to be with you, Mama."  (I'm a sucker).

G's list was more immediate and inspired; we all learned from it.  I started scribbling on a scrap of paper as soon as she started talking so that I got them all:

1.  I get to talk to God.
2.  I get to hold God's hand.
3.  I get to tell God what I am feeling.
4.  Everything that I am worried about washes away.
5.  I get to talk with Mary.
6.  I get to hold Mary's hand.
7.  I get to talk with God without anyone else knowing what I am saying.

I think she's coming up with more.  Stay posted!

Why not just skip it?  We asked each other this question and there are so many practical answers - teaching kids about commitment, about what it means to be Catholic.  But on a deeper scale, it is because finding God in the secular, seeking what is holy when it isn't apparent, an orienting ourselves to that which is good is an important practice, one that will inform our experience within the rest of our lives. 

I am lucky.  In addition to a tune or two I liked, I got to sit next to a dear one who has a ready ability to do just what I struggle with.  I need to learn a lot more from her....

Saturday, February 22, 2014

CA History - New Almaden Mine Museum Tour

Last December, I was at a celebratory Christmas lunch with a colleague from a local community college.  In conversation, she recommended checking out the town of New Almaden, a historic community near San Jose.  I followed up and arranged for a docent tour... and off we finally were!

I've posted before about bad docents, the type who dumb down their presentations.  We couldn't tell with John; he seemed pretty stoic during the introductions.  As soon as he squatted down with the kids on the floor and began, it sounded bad - that tone, the exaggerated speech, a little condescension implied.  I saw G look at the friend next to her with a little smirk of concern....

But that was it!  He started asking questions and when he got answers, his respect went up.  The tour was fascinating, from the history of the Ohlone's use of cinnabar to the Mexican discovery of the mines to the description of the miners lives and the way that technology advanced over time in mining. We were impressed too... our kids have really been absorbing California history this year and they get it.  One of many reasons why it was a lovely, awesome day.

G holding cinnabar - heavy and pretty darn toxic, as it turns out!

Hands up!  Great tour, the best I've ever seen for bringing a static museum to life.

K looks pretty excited to hold the dynamite as a friend prepares to set it off.

More excitement over detonating dynamite

The lovely remains of a pagoda that the Emperor of China sent as a gift after a tour of the mine.

Checking out Victorian-era toys.  We also got to play "Almaden mine bingo" before we left.

After the tour, I drove home happy and relaxed, thinking about the things that made the day so great.  In no particular order, this is what I remember:

1.  Enjoying the day with friends whom I never see enough.

2.  Knowing the kids feel the same way, joy to see their kids.  When we approached and saw one friend's car, both of my kids started giggling in happy anticipation.

3.  It was such a beautiful day - temperature, blossoms, location... being outside in beauty is important for my soul.

4.  I was so appreciative of getting to have this experience as a small group.  I don't think I'd have one iota of fun with a large school group and it was one of those experiences that highlight the advantages of homeschooling.

5.  I love being on hand to watch and learn with the kids.  So much I didn't know!

6.  I love hearing how every single one of the kids, with all of their differences and idiosyncrasies, is willing to participate and in the process demonstrate how much they have learned about Ca history.

7.  It was awesome to watch the kids self-organizing in games afterward, handling inevitable problems themselves and having fun together and in small groups. Executive function!

8.  That they had time to do that was another advantage of homeschooling.  We all had obligations that had us leave before we were quite ready, but we did have more time to play, talk, and be than most school kids seem to have.

9. John (the docent) himself was a happy surprise, adjusting his approach almost immediately when he saw that they kids were enthusiastic and informed.  Love finding great teachers, love learning so much new stuff.

10.  Looking forward to next time!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Physics Class

I think of this as my "if there is a bowling ball on a cushion in your living room, you must be a homeschooler hosting a physics class" photo.  Yep.  The kids also did work testing air friction concepts and estimations about projectile motion. Loads of fun.

Monday, February 17, 2014

First time on a Snowboard

Our wonderful Tahoe hosts introduced us to a ski resort with $10 half day prices, so K got to try snowboarding and G and I sledded until we were so tired we could hardly walk.  Everyone worked hard, everyone had fun!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cozy Evening Fun

Such a fun weekend, made especially fabulous because of our hosts.  From the invitation to their generous attention to beginner needs on the slopes to great meals and cozy conversations, w had a wonderful time, beautiful, fun.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fun in the Snow

Snow forts and sledding; perfect fun with fabulous friends!  I'd never built a snow fort before and had certainly never built on with G, who kept insisting we make it higher and higher (it ended up over the head of a friend who is 5'2"!)  But to make it that high requires some reinforcement of the facing wall and with the help of an engineer-friend, we quickly saw exactly why St. Dominic's flying buttresses were added after the 1989 earthquake.  It's one thing to know it, another to build it and really see!


Book Club: A Wrinkle in Time

G announced as we prepped, "this is going to be the best book club ever!"  The girls both got very involved in setting up a display table to showcase the book:  G drew a picture of the Camazotz building where "It" resides, both helped me post quotes, they staged several scenes from the book with Playmobil characters, and of course they helped with getting the house ready.

A book about the power of love was perfect for Valentine's Day and we had cupcakes, heart shaped biscuits, and yogurt dipped sliced strawberries, which look like little healthy edible hearts in the internet picture I was trying to replicate.  (Less perfect in real life, but very edible nonetheless.)

The kids mostly got dressed up in character, with the three Ws (Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which) very popular subjects of the dressing up.  Alas, I failed to get photos at that moment!  We also mapped the characteristics of each main character and had great discussion around interesting characters and favorite quotes.  Interesting thought from one thoughtful friend who said, "I've often wondered what it would be like to have someone make all of your decisions for you."  Our conclusion, in discussion, was that it would reduce what it was to be fully human.  Great conversation....

Welcome to a Valentine's Wrinkle in Time

Story cards for discussion, a brilliant idea conceived by our friend Caryn

Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin on the winged Pegasus

Meg and Charles Wallace discover their father imprisoned (beard and all!)
Mapping character traits while we ate

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thinkering Day Fun

Our day of classes has begun again for the spring and is quickly in full swing. Here are some photos from a fun day: G's science class with Charles, which is a huge hit with the kids learning physics while literally screaming with excitement; Ike's perspective on G's pottery class; K in robotics; and both girls having fun with theater.

K's hat is part of the costume she decided to adopt for the day.  They both began the day as archeologists - "but not the kind that sit at desks, the kind who escape booby traps!"  She must have really thought she looked cool, 'cause she didn't take it off all day. I agreed that she looked, in her words, "awesome."  :-)

The last photo is courtesy of a dad who was present, sharing his incredible photography skills.

Which ball will hit the ground first?

Experiments with motion

Ike hangs with the pottery class

Playing "here and there" in drama class

Archeologists learn robotics

Nice!  Our beautiful (inside and out) and very cool DD!  Thanks for the photo, David!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Madama Butterfly

We attended the dress rehearsal for the San Jose Opera's production of Madama Butterfly; it was a visually beautiful, incredibly performed show.  The very best part was seeing one of our seven-year old friends on stage as "Trouble," the main character's son.  He had a dramatic entrance that brought tears to my eyes and then did an excellent job in a non-singing role that was both physically and mentally demanding, standing perfectly still for a long period of time, being focused on stage during the singing, and then doing dramatic silent acting when he discovers his stage mother dead.  We were screaming with excitement during the stage bows and it was a thrill to hear the audience's applause swell when it was his turn to bow.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find him afterward - I didn't know where the stage doors were - so our picture is "just" of the girls by the theater sign.  Incredible experience!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Valle Verde: Frogs and Rain

A really fun day in the rain.  We had an expert from the National Wildlife Federation come in and talk with us about building frog shelters; we learned why they are threatened and how biologists think we might be able to help.  We looked at our creek and the surrounding areas differently afterward.

For me, I especially loved being outside in the rain.  We were pretty chilled by the end of the day, especially G, who insisted on being out in just a cotton t-shirt.  But it was lovely despite the discomfort, and reminded me that I need to be out more often.  My soul needs it.

Exploring Native American (Ohlone) grinding stones; cool!

Wet but gorgeous (scenery and daughter)

Silly hat day!

Frog life cycle model

Working on the frog shelters

Excitement at finding a newt*

Walking back to the car
*  We LOVED this facilitator.  She was still with us when we found the newt and jumped out of the car to check it out.  Like our favorite naturalist, David Herlocker, she explained that her attitude is not "look, don't touch," but "touch with caution."  She admitted that many of her colleagues would disagree, which is ironic, considering how most of us developed our love of nature.  It wasn't through reading about it!