Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fall 2016 Schedule Reflection and New Year Anticipation

I realized that I should keep a record of the classes that the girls are taking, especially as this semester went particularly well in terms of having a balance between classes-at-home and classes with other educators.  A few improvements I'd prefer include always having a sport for each girl, but with K opposed to soccer and excluded because of her gender from the local fall baseball option, I couldn't figure out a solution that would work for her (we have the same problem in the spring with G after basketball ends, though without the gender discrimination issue.) .

This semester the girls both had two full weekdays of classes with educators other than me - one a day that I facilitated and that they participated in together, the other different programs that they participated in individually and without me.  Two other days of the week we focused on work at home, working individually and together through math, history, languages, and homework from their other classes.  K also had an all-day Saturday class, which meant three full days of classes for her. We had one mostly field trip day - museums, historic sites, and/or nature.

Classes for G:
Religious Ed
Theater (musical)
Math (fractions)
Math concepts (separate from above)
Anatomy through physical examination
Computer building and programming
World History - the end of the medieval period
Big History - a program geared toward high school students.  "It is an emerging academic discipline that examines history from the Big Bang to the present. It examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities and explores human existence in the context of this bigger picture."
Choir (two choirs, actually)

Classes for K
Government, Politics, and US History
Debate and Public Speaking
Theater (musical)
Shakespeare (Henry V)
Mock Trials
Math (pre-algebra with physics)
Math concepts (different from above)
Anatomy through physical examination
Computer building and programming
World History - the end of the medieval period
Big History - a program geared toward high school students.  "It is an emerging academic discipline that examines history from the Big Bang to the present. It examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities and explores human existence in the context of this bigger picture."
Religious Ed

G:  Volleyball and Basketball teams; acro and hip hop dance classes
K:  Basketball team, batting practice

Entrepreneurial Endeavors:
Enchanted Aromas, Kids With a Dream (making and selling perfume)
KAGA jewelers (making and selling earrings and necklaces)
Three Friends Cool Cookies, Cakes, and Pies
Pet Care by G
KAGA Catering (one event)
KAGA (a band newly emerging on the rock scene)

(Photos by Aurore and taken a few months ago, but they seemed to match the mood of year-end reflection and new year anticipation as we think about the last year and make plans for the next.   I just love that K still runs her hand through my hair for comfort, same as she did when she was a baby and we spent so many hours together with her in the backpack)

Friday, December 30, 2016

End of the Year Wandering and Giggling

I love this very isolated road and its gorgeous views.  We drove past a guy on the main highway who was walking across the United States with his dog before we veered off onto this quieter option.  I'd like to walk this road sometime, or maybe run it, if only to savor and revel in its beauty.

I kept pulling over for photos.  Everyone tolerated me until I stopped because a young cow had somehow gotten out of the fence and onto the road.  I didn't want to take a chance of hitting it.  Surprisingly, Ike - in the far back of the minivan - freaked out, jumping out of his seat (and he doesn't jump easily) and scrambling toward the door, whining.  Scared of cows?  We laughed about it all the way home, imagining what about it scared him.  ("Dude!  If that huge thing is a baby, the mom must be a dinosaur!")

And then there were the cows staring at me when I got out of the car at the end of the Meyers Grade Road.  Reminded me of travels in the mountains of Italy, while out running in northern Ireland, and while wandering the streets of Banaras in India where cows behaved aggressively toward me.  These stood at a fence and looked so intently at me that I started yelling, "leave me alone!  I'm a vegetarian!"  The girls joined in and we giggled all the way back down to Jenner and a final photo of the evening.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Science Girl

It's nice to have Christmas gifts that keep on giving:  carefully cracking geodes and growing crystals.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Exploring northern California.  This was near sunset, near Bodega Bay.  So beautiful I pulled over to admire the coastline and the colors from the setting sun.

A bit later, the Russian River as it hits the Pacific at Jenner.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Gifts and Defying Expectations

Every year, we try to focus on giving by spending time creating useful and/or joyful gifts; this year we had cookies and candles for neighbors and family.  (We also gave ornaments and personalized stationary to some family members, though those aren't pictured.) A lot of work, but the girls were pleased with the results and hopefully the recipients were, too.  Merry Christmas!

Thinking about our experiences at Bethlehem AD and again with Father Lawrence's wonderful homily led me to reflect on the ways that God defies our expectations.  Those originally waiting for the Messiah expected a King, powerful in the material ways of this world.  Those today who expect religion to synch with human concepts of worldly success today miss the God's intent to stand not for judgement or power or glory, but with the poor and the vulnerable.  Even in my own life, when I think about what I thought I wanted and what I have instead, I see how my own expectations have been defied and replaced with work and love that is in so many ways so much richer than I ever imagined or expected.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Choir and Mass

Lovely singing and a wonderful homily from our new pastor.  So good I wish I had recorded him - I tried to take notes, but didn't get too far.  Part of his homily focused on how outrageous and even scandalous Christianity is: who but God envisions a religion in which God comes to us as poor, powerless child with a simple message of peace?  What more could ground us in the things in life that most matter, that give most satisfaction?  It actually reminded me of the comic Douglas Adams, who in the preface to his books describes the date as "about two thousand years after they nailed a man to a tree for saying everyone ought to be nice to each other."

Our new pastor also encouraged a more elaborate Christmas production from the choir, so in addition to lovely singing, we got a couple and their newborn plus singing angels.  Fortunately and unfortunately, K and G were in the grades chosen to be angels.  G loved it, K might be forever known to the entire congregation as the reluctant angel; her face and body language bemoaning her assignment and reflecting the mantra she kept muttering, which was a threat to sue the church for defamation of character.  All I could do was laugh. Choir is her choice and she knows it; if she wants to stand out for her reluctance, well, I suppose she adds personality to the production.  Love these crazy kids.

Rehearsing "in Christmas finest" (which to both girls meant red shirts and black pants, though to the other kids meant very glamorous gowns).

With the older kids in the angel outfits.  (We say tunic, not dress or robe).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Bethlehem AD

For several years, visiting this has been a family Christmas tradition; this year, I saw a call for participants and the girls immediately expressed interest.  They feel like they lucked out with the very best roles, for as "tribes people" (from the tribe of Levi) they got a lot of variety in what they did, going to seven different stations throughout the night to play with dreidels, learn Hebrew, cook pita bread or crack nuts in the market, visit the Roman camp and welcome visitors, hand out coins with which visitors could pay their taxes, or hold animals.  They also got a break with hot cider and fresh donuts and by the end of the night began really getting into their roles, harassing the Roman soldiers surreptitiously.  Despite the rain on one of the nights, they had a blast.

Of course, the real reason for replicating Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth was the live nativity scene, which surrounded by singing angels is really impressive.  Our friend Kathleen came one night and commented on how moving it is to see the energetic crowd come to a standstill in front of the manger, spending time just staring at the family who were portraying the Holy Family.  She echoed my sentiments exactly, writing later that she "really enjoyed the live nativity and appreciate such an outward demonstration of belief, especially as it becomes more and more counter cultural."  She added that she "was really struck by the Holy Family this year.  How beautiful and loving that God came to us as a little baby.  That's a lot of love for each one of us!"

Amen, indeed.  This is a concept that is so familiar that we take it for granted, but waiting for the girls on this cold night and looking at that adorable child left me a lot of time to savor the beauty of this belief.  It also allowed me to relish the many opportunities that our faith gives us to be part of a global community that unites to appreciate the beauty of this world, to celebrate life and love, and to continuously look for new ways to be kind to one another.

Rolling dough for pita bread

Cracking nuts for the visitors

Her turn to offer nuts to the visitors

They got to hold chickens and rabbits for the visitors to pet

Even as an actor, G has questions for the Rabbi in Hebrew school; K is on the left, peering at the camera.

Visiting kids wanted their picture taken with the tribe of Levi

Lovely!  All of the participants gathered at the nativity scene at the end of each night to 'adore him.'

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Our Vegan Christmas Dinner

Aurore is leaving (sob!) so we had an early Christmas celebration with a vegan feast and gifts.  Our spread is pictured below, all vegetarian and mostly vegan, all new recipes (because for me the fun is in the experimentation).

From left:  a zucchini, artichoke and sun-dried tomato wreath; cauliflower and mushroom quiche with a quinoa crust (this had eggs, but I replaced the cream in the recipe with almond milk); eggplant balls in marinara sauce, "thanksgiving wraps" with arugula and roasted sweet potatoes flavored with cinnamon and chickpeas flavored with paprika; roasted potato and avocado salad; cabbage, mushroom and tofu stir fry; and beautiful acorn squash stuffed with quinoa.  Not pictured (because we'd already eaten it):  pumpkin soup and olive bread and not pictured (because dessert wasn't quite ready at the time of this photo): chocolate Christmas cookies.  Yum!  I'd remake all but the acorn squash, which lacked flavor, and the tempeh, which I didn't really like...

After dinner, we opened presents, of course.  This was a special one from Aurore to us:  a kitchen towel that she selected for the bird that is on it, because she thinks of us as "the singing family" because we are always singing when we are in the car.  What a fun way to be remembered!

She also wrote a lovely poem (impressively rhyming in English, her fourth language). Bits of it follow:

Four months ago you welcomed me with an open arm
And day after day I discovered your amazing charm

I could not have landed in a more beautiful family
K's laugh is like a healing remedy
G is full of creativity
And Therese, I just can't thank you enough for your humongous generosity!

From the best pancakes in the world
And delicious meals of vegetable
To the best places in the world
You made my stay unforgettable

Puck is so fluffy
Deserves a trophy
loves to hold hands
and has lots of fans

Uh and old lad Ike, he is always hungry
Don't look at me like that; let me do my laundry!

There's more, but even just this sample is so sweet.  I cried as she read it aloud to us and we miss her already.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

SF History: Moraga Street Tiled Steps

Since Aurore is an artist, I though she would appreciate seeing these gorgeous tiled steps as one of her last adventures on this trip to the US.  Who wouldn't?  They are spectacular...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CA History: Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita lighthouse is a short drive from SF, but feels like the edge of the world.  I just love it there - the views, the history, the engineering, the remote feel...  Every time I've been there is has been cold and windy (one of the historic signs said that some lighthouse keepers used to tether their children when they went out to play so that they wouldn't get blown away and into the rocks!)  This day, however, was still and relatively warm; perfect.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sanchez Contemporary Gallery in Oakland

A lovely art gallery profiling the work of local artists, with a focus on Latina artists.  (The curator is a former student).  So impressive!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Remember Them Monument

A monument to various Civil Rights leaders, mostly recent, some historic. An Oakland artist conceived of this after the events of September 11, 2001.  It represents "hope to inspire the world to work together to turn tragedy into peace."  Inspiring and impressive.

K with Maya Angelou
Lincoln in K's hat

Aurore with Maya Angelou
G with Ruby Bridges

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Debate and Public Speaking Class

K really enjoyed this class - the other students, the topics, and the teacher.  Lots of challenges that took some serious research and critical thinking skills. I knew that she must like the class a lot because she required almost no help whatsoever, even when doing some detailed scientific research for one particular topic.  Thank you Christopher Lim and Gurus Education!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Burlingame Flag Proposal

In K's government, politics, and US History class, they decided that the city of Burlingame (where they meet) needed a city flag.  They researched flag designs and government processes and then made a proposal to the Mayor.  She took them very seriously and was even somewhat harsh/realistic about their proposal, which the kids correctly took as a compliment. Turns out that she doesn't have deciding power, but she suggested that they present to a full City Council early next calendar year.  Progress!

Photos courtesy Christie Seyfert at

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mock Trial Conclusion

And the judgement goes... to the plaintiff!  Hurrah for K's team.  Lots of kudos from the "judge" for K's closing argument, which she wants to use now as a sample in future classes.  Lots learned.  The teacher kept calling them, "practicing attorneys," which is pretty cool.

This photo was actually taken in another class, but K is shown as if an attorney before the courtroom, so it fits... and I was pleased to see the overlap between learning in various classes.  (Photo courtesy

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Religious Ed

One of my goals for our Middle School Religious Ed class is that the kids develop a sense of community with the other kids in the class.  Games on the last class of the year seemed a good way to further this aim.and we all had a blast.  (Bible games seem like a completely nerdy concept, but we had fun!)