Monday, March 31, 2014

CA History - The California Museum

I've been meaning to visit this museum and have heard wonderful things about it.  Its reputation did not disappoint; in fact, as mentioned previously, the lack of crowds added immeasurably to its appeal.  In addition to experiencing the natural history with the talented facilitator who brought us here, we also toured the art and history exhibits.

We got great tips for the art section from John Muir Laws, who brought us there to learn about nature sketching. He made fun of the serious approach to art, the idea of gazing methodically at each painting, perhaps pretending to seriously appreciate each piece to impress others.  He suggested instead going through the exhibit three times:  first, quickly, to get a feel for it.  This was particularly relevant in this museum, where the question, "what IS art" framed the very diverse collection of pieces.  Second, to pick out (about) three pieces that speak to you.  Third, to spend time with those three pieces and a new or old friend, absorbing and perhaps describing why you like them.  I like a lighthearted approach to nearly everything and enjoyed watching the four kids appropriate their own experiences in light of this advice.  One followed it precisely and the other three spread out to different exhibits, first in search of anything by Thomas Ayers (the first person to publish drawings of Yosemite), then, when that proved futile, drawn to anything that required interaction.

What can California art be?
Literally getting into the art. It was designed to do so!
Not only that, but we got to experience the old Bay Bridge when it still had rail tracks across it!

Some of the natural history exhibits were too awesome to focus entirely on sketching:


The California history section was incredible.  Some favorite parts included personal history: a tribute (though not by name) to the girls' great great grandparents, who were the first to plant apricots in the state.  To do so, they had settled briefly in the Capay Valley, between SF and Sacramento, where my Dad still owns most of their land (except the lots they had to sell to pay taxes during the Great Depression).


Perhaps learning about the Great Depression shouldn't be this much fun:

They also had fun in a sound booth that honored Hollywood's contribution to CA history.  Trying to match sound effects to action isn't easy, but they worked at it until they got close.

Overall it was a great day; great fun.  A few things that made it special, things that went beyond the excellent museum content:

1.  First, I appreciated the kids' enthusiasm for being there.  I offered an opportunity to leave early at one point and they outvoted me even when my parents departed, wanting to see more of the history exhibit.  I couldn't argue with that, even if mundane weekend catch up work was calling me.

2.  Also, keeping an eye on all four of them was a challenge because they went in four different directions, but this was also a joy, to watch them individually explore each of the sections of the museum with genuine interest.  Whether serious or exuberant about what they had found, they each clearly loved being there and were learning on their terms and that made it gloriously worthwhile.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nature Sketching

A really fun day.  We had intended to do a nature walk, but rain threatened and while I like walking in the rain, sketching in the rain is a bit more challenging.
Our facilitator was the well-acclaimed John Muir Laws, known for great tips about understanding animal anatomy in order to better sketch them.  He didn't delve into that much this time, perhaps because the trip was full of people who have walked with him before.
Some tips we learned: 
  • Record what you see (words or drawings)
  • Be willing to change the size of what you are drawing
  • It is okay to start and not finish
  • Be intentional with your curiosity.
  • Record behavior and then predict - say your observations out loud - this will help you to record them
What I especially liked about his approach was that it wasn't sketching for the sake of accuracy alone, but as part of scientific inquiry and nurturing curiosity.  The location was a delight too; while we were initially disappointed to miss the outdoor walk, we were pleased that instead we got to experience the Oakland Museum, which is fabulous and - on a rainy weekend day - devoid of the crowds that plague museum experiences across the bay.  In addition to the taxidermy animals in the museum, we saw carp and sturgeon (some in our party vociferously argued it was shark) in a pond outside, an adult black crowned night heron fishing, and "best view of mallard courtship" that our facilitator had ever seen.
Sharing sketches
Others share again while these three check out the carp and the Night Heron
K sketched a "cartoon" bear, using some of the techniques mentioned


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rain Delights

When I was a kid, my friends' parents used to say, "stay out of the rain or you'll catch a cold."  My mom didn't believe that, though, and I usually got very wet whenever it rained, walking both directions to school every day in every type of weather.  I was healthy, too,of course. And blessed with a legacy that has kept me out in every weather, delighting both in the lack of people and in the emergence of new animal life.  One memorable time was when Mom and I tromped through Algonquin Provincial Park outside of Toronto and saw moose, deer, and even a beaver at close view.  Another was the three solid days of rain we experienced when backpacking in Chilean Patagonia.  Being sodden day and night got admittedly tiresome after a while!

Once, stuck in school without outdoor recesses for long days during an usually long rainy spell, I remember conspiring with another third grader to ask for a bathroom pass. We walked sedately under the awnings to the bathroom, but then then ran joyously through the rain back to the classroom, not realizing until we walked up the steps that the teacher and the aid were both at the window watching.  They didn't say much and I was left with the memory of that joyful run.  How many times I've done long runs in the rain since!

K's baseball game got cancelled today due to the rain and that resulted in some grumpiness which I decided to counter with a walk in the rain.  There is much about our town's location that leaves me gasping for more outdoor space, but today we focused on the delight of details: emerging spring flowers, drops of water on the leaves, and these fabulous kids out playing.  Wet.  Cold.  And healthy.  Of course.

Dogwoods remind me of Yosemite... and their religious symbolism is perfect for Lenten reflection.
Delightful details

Lavender above our creek

Friday, March 28, 2014

CA History - Yosemite Prep

A fabulous day learning square dancing calls and steps, planning with friends, eating period food, and trying out character roles and costumes.  Love knowing so many adventurous, fun, fabulous families! And for the record, we moms totally nailed that promenade move!  :-)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Science and Macbeth

Super Dad covered Newton's Third Law in this class; not sure myself what it was, I asked two of the students, who happened to be playing "Go Fish" nearby.  "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" one immediately responded.  "Treadmill" said the other.  Whatever he is doing, it is fun AND memorable.

Setting up a rocket fueled by water and constructed by the kids

Charles is watching the first rocket launch while a friend adjusts the contraption
Even visiting friends know our local wildlife by name - Fang returns and Fang Junior was spotted too!
Macbeth is deciding what to after Duncan has announced his son will be next in line for the throne.  Their teacher is very animated; love his excited face as he gives directions. "Stars, hide your fires!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

CA History Introductions

Jessie Benton Fremont and Thomas Ayers, at your service! And why-oh-why doesn't everyone know the first name? What an amazing, fascinating woman (yes, the young one playing her too, but the original one, described as "one of the most influential women of the 19th century," really should be a household name, for all that she accomplished). More to come as we learn more...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Dog Birthday Party

It was actually a party for a ten-year old human, a good friend and lovely person.  But I suspect that Ike thought that it was a party for him - he got a bath beforehand, got to attend, got lots and lots of attention, and received many, many T R E A T S, one of only two words he can spell.  He even won two awards, one for being friendliest (he is a love) and one for being most obedient (he managed to show off bilingual skills and more tricks than I knew he had).  Memorable because it is probably the first and last time Ike will ever get a reward and because we all had such a very fun time. 

Posing - at Abuela and Grandpa's new house
Charles tries to show Ike what he is supposed to do on the agility course
K tried patiently until he finally went through the hoop.  Twice. 
Handsome dog with awards
G with her "pup cakes," a really fun kid activity
K with hers; not surprised that this animal lover had a blast.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Club: Where The Mountain Meets the Moon

Great fun with activities (making a compass, drawing dragons to live, sorting through the symbolism of elements of the book, and drawing Chinese characters); eating a Chinese feast; discussing what the book was really about, and taking a "journey" through various stations in which symbols from the book were found or cast aside.  Our "book detectives" discussion about what the book was really about ended up with different, but related, conclusions:  faith, home, love.  Included in the discussion was a very interesting conversation about what makes a good friend and the conclusions were:  generosity, kindness, and loyalty.  Great day!

Watching cork with magnetized needles begin to move and orient north
K and G organize our display table: goldfish, dragon, King, Minli, and more

This wasn't easy! Matching the symbol to the book passage required knowledge of Chinese culture

One of the journey activity stations, courtesy of the author's web site

Reaching for the next symbol

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Science: Density and Volcanos

Super Dad's Science Class learned about density through making lava laps and every child went home with his or her own alka seltzer tablet for continued fun.  Plus, in K's geography class, she made and exploded a volcano, using a different technique than we'd used before when we studied Vesuvius.  Super fun.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

CA History and Nature - Backpacking at Angel Island

Wow.  It is hard to describe this experience.  The beautiful ferry ride over; the hike; the absence of many other people for most of the afternoon, the entire evening, and then most of the morning; the silence at night, then the sounds of hooting owls; the raiding raccoons, the incredible urban view; the fun with friends....

Ready to go!

Waiting for the ferry (small one; we were pre-season)


It was sort-of like being in an other-worldly bubble, completely surrounded by nature and yet with the entire city-scape, from bridge to bridge and beyond, all highlighted by a full moon, within view.  We even camped near an abandoned military battery, so the kids had a private playground in which to play imaginative games, supplemented by gorgeous and easily climbable cypress and oak trees.  G woke me at night when she heard owls hooting nearby; complete magic!

View from bridge to bridge and beyond to Sausalito

Sunset over Golden Gate Bridge

Sunrise colors on dewy flowers

It was also really awesome to me to see my girls in such fine shape.  I had my well-loved backpack with me, the one I bought in 1996 to travel the world.  It has seen every continent, many of them twice, and has seen countless trips in the Sierras.  I love that it can now "see" my girls, part of the adventure and so capable and competent, with hardly a complaint.  They carried their own sleeping bags, pads, flashlights, and clothes; I had all common gear and - though I am out of shape aerobically, I was pleased to feel strong in other ways.  Summer, we are ready!

I love "journey" views

Golden Gate bridge in rear

Hiking buddies

On our way out, we stopped at the visitor's center and got an overview of CA history at a glance, learning much that was new to us.  The Coast Miwok used the island for 2,000 years as hunting and fishing grounds.  The island was critical during the civil war, protecting the richness gathered during the gold and silver rushes from Confederate pirates.  It was used as an immigration station for many decades, a west-coast Ellis Island at which Asian immigrants were often detained for many months.  It served military purposes, a holding place for WWI POWs and a launching place for WWII sailors, many of whom went on to serve and die at Pearl Harbor.  More recently, Nike missiles were placed on the island, guarding San Francisco for the same strategic purpose that caused the Civil War military growth over 100 years prior.

Role of CA in Civil War

Timeline of Angel Island history
 An incredible overnight, which made us feel rich beyond measure (and yet cost so very little in actual dollars!  Love it!)