Friday, January 30, 2015

Math Challenge

When we got up this morning, Charles challenged both of the girls to a math contest.  Five questions each from whatever they were learning and he assured them that he could beat them in completion and correct answers in half the time that they could.  Not so much; they've been working hard and he wasn't expecting word problems, which would be virtually impossible for anyone to solve in the amount of time he self-allotted.

Pretty darn cool Dad; made math fun and helped them to feel confident about what they know at the same time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

January Beach Day

Gorgeous January day; perfect for a hike and then some play with friends at the beach. After hearing the girls sing in choir at Mass, of course.  They are getting so good, at least to my inexpert ears, and I love hearing them sing.

I love trails; the symbol of journeys, both real and metaphorical

Just so lovely; bridge and daughter

Evening lighting; we stayed as long as we could.  Note Puck not so eager to pose; very eager to play.  He had fun, too.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ice Skating

One of our local homeschooling groups arranged an afternoon at the ice rink.  Girls had fun, I stayed out of the way, and Charles got injured.  Ironic considering he's the one from snow country and the rest of us are native Californians; I don't even pretend when it comes to such things now that they are old enough to do better without me. The girls did have some spills, but had a lot of fun, too.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Hike

A nearly full week of square roots, long division, language arts exercises, Spanish, and the American Revolution.  Time for a hike!  Last minute, short due to schedule constraints, but still a great break with friends on a beautiful day.  Hope to do this more often...  We saw a Great Blue Heron and the kids were sure it had a frog in its mouth; awesome.  There was some disappointment over everyone's inability to catch a lizard, but there's always next time...

The leaves below were in the shade, so they maintained their lovely dew, despite the fact that it was in fact a warm day.  Gorgeous!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CA History on a Foggy Hike

I love foggy hikes, especially with good company! And we learned a bit about the natural history of the Oakland hills at the same time...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Special Science Class

As a Christmas gift, we gave K and G's cousins a sample science class from Uncle Charles.  What a gift!  He spent approximately 30 hours of prep time and the class was fabulous.  The kids picked eight different types of food, then tested them for glucose, starch, protein, lipids, and more.  They also did some spectacularly cool chemical reactions that could have doubled as magic tricks.  And they examined a dead bird we had happened upon in the microscope, always a cool activity.  Great teacher, great class, great day.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Minding my own business while G is engaged in "writing a play" with her cousin today, I hear him ask, "So, do you believe in God or gods?"

She said, "I believe in God.  One God.  Not two.  Like I say when I pray every week, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible."

Yowza.  The girl listens and even defends her Faith. Impressive!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ladybug Clusters

We'd been reading about this and I was so glad to finally make the time to hike with my mom and the girls to see them.  The photos say it all... pure wonder and awe:

Not a ladybug!  Saw this Jurassic spider later

Gorgeous (and fabulously creepy!) close up.  According to this source, I think it is a California Trapdoor spider

Pretty winter scene at the end of our hike

Saturday, January 17, 2015

New Class: The History of Math

Loved it!  The concept of applied math in a historic setting is awesome and the kids learned how to measure the height of a pyramid through the use of trigonometry.  The teachers are two PhDs in computer science who love the topic; they need some work in engaging kids, though: they started their introductions with a litany of their relevant degrees, perfectly appropriate for adults, but ill-suited for kids.  But they were so earnest that the miss fire was more amusing than anything.

Afterward, the true value of our happy series of classes emerged, as the kids self organized in a meeting to elect the day's leader. Such a lovely group of really great kids; we are so grateful.

Friday, January 16, 2015


G fell asleep reading to me this afternoon.  So sweet!  Like mother, like daughter (I fall asleep reading to them all the time).  Her voice trickling off into a murmur, her head cuddled on my shoulder... sweet loveliness!

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Running with G is nothing like running alone, which has always been for me a quiet space to slowly wake up and process whatever is going on in my life as a I prepare for a new day.  There is nothing quiet about G; she has something to say about everything and absolutely no need to stop and breathe before her next set of comments.  I love it, though for a different reason than I loved my quiet time.

Earlier this week, I began a discussion about our plans for the day when we were out running together.  Actually, it started because my Mom told me that when she invited G to spend the night, G told her that our schedule was very full and as such, being able to do so was unlikely.  I heard about this (as you can imagine) and asked G what she thought was on her schedule; in my estimation, we've taken much off the schedule of late (for various academic and budgetary reasons).  Her response made me laugh:

G told me, "well, I've got meetings all day." 

Oh dear.  She sounds like me.  But I'm not so keen on my meetings, so I asked, "what are your meetings about?" 

"Well," she said, "K and I need to discuss lots of things." 

Aha...  "like...?" 

"Well, we need to have a King and Queen of Thinkering.  And we need to decide what to do when [our friends] spend the night every week." 

Umm, losing ground now with my ignorance of this plan...  "They are spending the night every week?" 

Definitively:  "Oh yes.  And then...."  and she was off, describing the content of a long series of weekly meetings, clearly requiring her presence and clearly leaving little room for academic work or other grown-up instigated interruptions.

Now whenever we discuss our days plans, I inquire if they interrupt her scheduled meetings.  She grins wickedly in response... she's got a great sense of humor, planning, and determination.  Love her!

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Love watching them play; nice group of girls on K's team.  They have kept playing hard right until the end even though they've been demolished in the last two weeks of games.  This week saw definite improvement in their aggressiveness.  My mom got these excellent shots; thanks Mom!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Club: A Girl Named Disaster

The best book - adult or kid - that I have read in a long time.  A strong female protagonist, respectful depictions of individuals within very different modern/traditional cultures, an exciting survival plot that gave fantastic details about the flora and fauna of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and a richness of literary style that gave great fodder for our discussion.

I got out the African cook book that my Dad found for me many years ago when I was focusing on African history as part of my undergraduate degree.  We made ginger beer, banana fritters, potatoes and beans, and squash soup.  In the book, Nhamo, the main character, survives on much that we wouldn't (and couldn't) incorporate into our celebration (termites, scorpions, bulbs of lily roots, geranium leaves, guinea fowl, kudu, and more) and fantasizes about foods that we don't consider healthy enough to bring to our learning exchange - margarine, white bread, lemonade, soda....  The book is rich with food descriptions, as is apt for a survival story, and the we discussed the historic relevance of colonization on food as well as the symbolic way that the author uses it to reflect culture.

For discussion, the kids created story boards - like cartoon strips - of one of the many myths that Nhamo tells in the story, reflecting on the meaning that she is sharing through the story.  We talked about how myths reflect culture and then tried to bring this understanding home, by asking the kids to now re-write the story they had communicated in a modern era, with a modern value reflected.  For example, I saw a cartoon recently that showed a traditional Disney-esque princess being asked to kiss a frog. Instead of kissing him and having him turn into a prince - the traditional story, which reflects the importance of having a strong man to protect a woman - the princess says, "heck, no.  I'd rather have a talking frog," which reflects both independence and a modern interest in innovation.  One of the photos below shows G presenting her story.

The other element of the story that was fascinating to discuss was Nhamo's strong spiritual life.  The author does such a brilliant job of capturing the strength of her beliefs and her cultural context, so that beliefs that might otherwise come across as mere figments of the imagination cross into a narrative that rings true.  In that, I felt like I was experiencing examples of some of the many faces of God, real, important, and good.  In the end, the character sees that the image she had relied upon for comfort was in fact very much like her own and not like any other person she had projected it upon, sending the message symbolically that our power lies within, in our own faith and personal relationship with God and simultaneously grounded in a community of faith.

The book ignited a wealth of reflection about culture, that which we take for granted, and the many multi-layered webs of significance (Geertz) that are so much a part of us that we don't even recognize them.  This understanding bears so much importance for how children and adults understand and approach others with dignity and respect.  So much of our well-intentioned approach to people from other cultures is unintentionally condescending, both on an individual and national scale.  The rich and respectful descriptions of characters in different cultures in this book help enforce the message that cross-cultural understanding is not merely "helping others," especially those from a culture that is underrepresented, but truly entering into relationship and being open to learning together.

As usual, we dissected the antagonist, protagonist, setting (time and place), plot, and climax to determine the author's meaning.  Our conclusion was one that my friends who ground their research in participatory anthropological inquiry (Ellen Herda!) would appreciate; that changes within cultures are hard and that they are occur best when appropriated individually and with power and decision making given to those affected.  Doesn't happen enough in real life and the plot examples of loss and danger that Nhamo had to go through to appropriate her own future could be symbolic of what is at risk in this necessary process.

I feel like we could have talked about this book all day, but the kids are always half-eying the door for a chance to go play, so the discussion ended in favor of the neighbor's new trampoline.  But I am sure that we will continue discussing it for a long time as we further absorb the book's many messages.

Thanks, Dad!

In the book, the women look through magazines for ideas for hair styles.  G began drawing her ideas for what they might look like; love it!  Totally original, as far as I can tell....

We like to create a display table with visual symbols from the book.  The girls devised this: the raft shows her mealie bag, the "photo of mother" and other essentials she brought with her; the other people are "Crocodile Guts" and "mother," some of the spirits taking care of Nhamo.

Perfect prop for the table; a wooden statue my mom brought back from a medical trip to the Congo.

G sharing her story board

Welcome!  Or Vahukwu, in Shona (we also practiced some basic Shona words and expressions)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy Epiphany; 12th Day of Christmas

Three Kings Day! We are looking for a recipe to make a Three Kings Cake; G read about it in a book and wants to add this tradition to our other Three Kings activities.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Classes Resume

I can't say I'm ready yet, but it was good to make ourselves get up and off to class. G started the day by coming for a run with me! She has her own distance-oriented running goals for 2015 - mine is going to have to be to keep up!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year's Companionship

"Resolution" may be a bit strong, but it is nice to take stock of things and decide where to make adjustments. One of ours is to walk more and to that end, we walked to Mass and back this day. G had a friend with her on the way back and I got this shot of one of the added benefits of walking - companionship.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy Anniversary - 11Years

11 years since we walked down the aisle at St. Dominic's.  We had a fun day celebrating; first, K's first basketball game, then Mass at St. Dominic's together, which is always so beautiful but especially so when decorated at Christmas.  The girls took turns afterward as lectors...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gualala Family New Year's

We got away for a few days over New Year's to a place we all love.  The only tension comes from leaving, as none of us want to go.  Over Christmas, we got a lot of questions about WHY we like it; there really isn't anything at all to do. I think that is why we do love it - surrounded by beauty and nothing to do but walk/hike/run, play baseball/basketball/games, read, and be together.  I worked on some Christmas cards, read a book my mom lent me, and finished writing another book (the proof is in the mail; hurrah!)

Our New Year's Eve was particularly special.  We had a light dinner, then special 'entre meses' throughout the evening while we talked about what we liked best in 2014, what we are looking forward to in 2015, and what our resolutions are.  Then we danced. Yes!  We turned on the music and danced in our silly, uncoordinated style together, having loads of fun.  Even Puck joined in!  After midnight, K and Charles wanted to go to sleep, but G wanted to watch a movie, so we cuddled together until she fell asleep.  A lovely way to start the new year together.