Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Road Trip Less Traveled ... part one

With fourteen sandwiches packed and the foyer full of snacks and camping supplies to sustain us two days at sea, I watched Kip check the marine weather report.

Small craft advisory.

I gave him that look.

You promised, right. Not unless it’s safe.

 "Of course, we will wait. Maybe it will get better."

I made a pot of coffee and snuggled up in the couch to read a castle book to my son and enjoy a lazy Saturday morning.

An hour later the report had changed to a gale warning. I have read enough classic literature to know that a gale is bad news.

Maybe we could go tomorrow or even Monday.

Hmmm … let’s wait.

Or we could go on a hike.

Or what? What else could we do? 

And then somebody said, "How about the Hoover Dam? I’ve always wanted to see the Hoover Dam!"

We looked it up and discovered that it was an hour past Las Vegas, and the last tour was at 5:15. It was already after 10:30. Could we make it? 

I stopped folding the load of clothes that I was working on and we started packing for the Hoover Dam and who knows what else. It reminded me of the time in college when a conference was snowed out in DC, so we looked on the map and decided to drive to Canada to see the frozen Niagara Falls. That was fun. Except that our only credit card was a Discover card and our good friends to the North had yet to discover Discover.

By noon we were sitting in traffic in downtown LA, eating sandwiches. 
I was the first to say, I don’t think we are going to make it by the end of the day. I started mentally making plans to find a cheap hotel nearby. We could always see the dam on Sunday. They are open on Sunday, right?

We started listening to a wonderful audio book “I, Juan de Pareja” and we were in the desert before we realized.

Then I saw this sign.

If you have ever been a kid in the kind of family that think the alphabet game should be an Olympic sport, than you have to appreciate this sign.

All I had to say was “that’s interesting,” and Kip was taking the exit.

And driving down a lonely road into ….

What is that white patch?

 Let’s find out!

The kids start protesting …. No, Dad!

And then Kip drove off the road and onto the ..

Our wheels started spinning.

I think it’s a lake. 

He stopped the car and we got out to see and take pictures, long enough to get bitten by some kind of lake insect waiting for fresh blood.

And then we headed back on the highway and oddly enough made it to Hoover Dam just in time to run to the visitor center and catch the last tour. 

We took an elevator to the bottom of the dam, stood on a platform over gigantic pipes vibrating with the pressure of the river flowing through it. 
 The River runs through
And we walked through the power plant and heard how it was built, piece by piece on site.
 Some of the electricity in LA comes from this room.
This is the view straight down. The electric power plants are at the base of the dam.

And then we went to the top of the dam and took dozens of pictures.  

It was really amazing. I could write an entire blog entry on how the Hoover Dam represents the intersection of history and science, religion and sociology, modern and ancient civilization -- and the damning footprint our current civilization is leaving on the Earth.

And yet, there was something about the dam itself that was amazing too. One day, before the internet or satellite photography, someone decided to build that dam. He convinced others to follow and something as wild and mighty as the Colorado River was harnessed to create the opportunity for cities like Los Angeles to grow exponentially. Water. Electricty. Protection from floods. The essentials for urban life.

And yet it is all just concrete and engineering.

To think that people can change the natural pattern that has existed and brought life to half a continent for thousands of years, and not create problems, is audacious. I don’t think the world understood that 80 years ago when this dam was built, and I think that people are just beginning to really understand it now.

But what do we do?

On the other hand, I had no idea how “wild” the Colorado River was prior to the Hoover Dam. I didn’t know about the 1905 flood and how it “created” the Salton Sea in California (by the way, I think we need to plan a road trip there too.) I can’t imagine living in fear of a flood wiping out LA or wondering if there would be any water when we turned on the faucet.

We need infrastructure as much as impoverished nations in Africa, without it, need it now. We also need to keep thinking, keep improving the way we "manage" the Earth's resources. Why let the previous generations be the builders of society. I look forward to the solutions that ecologically-minded engineers will come up with in years to come.

So many things to think about, maybe that is the best part of pilgrimage.
And that was just day one.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Homeschooling by the Hour

Homeschooling styles differ family to family, and in our family, I should say year to year, week to week, maybe hour to hour.

We have homeschooled independently and with a charter school. I have followed curriculum and unschooled. We have tried Thomas Jefferson education, Susan Wise Bauer’s Well-Trained Mind method, Charlotte Mason ideas, and just about anything else that my friends have been excited about at one time.

And I have found that while I glean helpful strategies from each model, I can’t commit fully to any of them.

So I am more likely to describe myself as Sonlight inspired or somewhat unschooling. I admire people who follow the full Sonlight curriculum, or allow their kids a rich unschooling environment, but I know it doesn’t work for us.

And what does work is always changing.

Right now we are trying a method I developed based on Oliver DeMille's concept of "structuring time not content," and an article I read about a large homeschooling family who uses Leigh Bortin's Classical Conversation. My kids call it that "timer thing."

It goes like this: We set the kitchen time for an hour and focus on one subject during that hour. No more. No less. Well, less if you are little.

During the language arts hour I sit on the couch with my 8-year-old son and begin with a basic 5 to 10-minute grammar lesson. Right now we are using First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise. I think it was written for first and second graders, so we are moving through it pretty quickly, but he is learning basic things like the definition of a noun and the difference between a proper and a common noun.

Today he worked on memorizing the Mother Goose rhyme that goes … “Thirty days hath September.”

My 11-year-old daughter didn’t need to go through a lesson book like this. We discussed the parts of speech one afternoon while we were driving around in the car.

Then she got into Mad Libs and has never really wondered what a noun or verb was since then. At some point in the next year I would like to go through a more intensive study of grammar with her, but for now, it is not a priority. She is learning other things on her own.

When my son and I are finished with the language arts lesson, he reads a short phonics book or we look at a couple pages of his Explode the Code phonics book. Once we preview the phonics workbook he can work through it on his own.

Then he copies a few sentences and draws a corresponding picture if he wants to. We often use ideas from the Draw Write Now books. Since we started this his drawing and his handwriting have improved.

He is not reading anywhere near grade level, and I am still committed to not pushing, but we do work on it a little bit every day. When he is finished with his assignments he gets to play for the rest of the time.

During the language arts hour, my daughter reads from a biography or writes. Both of these are independent. I sometimes ask her to read to me. Sometimes we take turns reading a paragraph, especially if the reading content is difficult for her and she needs some encouragement.

During the writing hour she works on something she wants or needs to write. Sometimes it is a response about something she is reading. Most often it is for a speech she is preparing for her favorite homeschooling activity, Speaker’s Club.

She likes writing, and so I let her writing time be free for her to just write without my editing. It can be filled with creative spelling and no punctuation, but it's amusing for me to see how much her writing has improved this year simply by reading more challenging books and writing e-mails using a spell checker.

For the math hour I once again work with my son for the first 20 minutes or so.  We do math games, flash cards, etc. We also use the Singapore curriculum. Because he struggles to read instructions and the text in word problems, I sit with him and help him read.

My daughter tries to work through Singapore Math curriculum herself, and I help her when she needs assistance. She likes the challenge of working through it on her own, so as long as she is not staring at the wall, I try to leave her alone and let her figure it out.

She likes that there is a cap on how long math can take. If a lesson is particularly laborious, she is not obligated to complete it in one day. And if she flies through an easier lesson, she can go on and do the next one.

Reading, writing and math are the important core subjects that I think we need to purposefully schedule time to cover. But it is not a full picture of our educational experience. We take plenty of field trips. We listen to audio books. I read historical fiction to the kids every night. We watch historical and scientific documentaries. We do science experiments, art projects, etc.

If the hour-timer strategy is not working, sometimes I let the kids just play. Today my son got through his language arts lesson with me and came to me in tears after 15 minutes of “trying” to do his handwriting lesson. I told him to take a break and he has been building Lego models ever since.

Earlier in my homeschooling experience I would not have let my daughter get out of academic work to play, but I have learned to respect the power of play and imagination. Someday soon he will be able to read and write four sentences together without frustration. And someday, he won’t be quite so excited about building Lego models.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Whirlwind Wedding Weekend

Serenity NOW!

Mother’s Day weekend was a whirlwind of celebration for our family: my little sister’s wedding, family reunions, my son’s 8th birthday, Mother’s Day dinner; and ironically we left Oklahoma City less than an hour before a deadly tornado blew through town, smashing homes, overturning cars, dropping baseball-sized hail.

Thankfully my parents and visiting aunt were fine. The rode out the storm in their windowless hallway, huddled under mattresses, giggling nervously as they listened to giant hail rain down on the house.

Two skylights, including the one above the bed I slept in Sunday night, were smashed. And my sister Serenity’s car, parked in the driveway while she and her new husband honeymoon in Mexico, lost a few windows.

But other than that, the tornado passed over my parents’ house leaving mostly minor roof damage and a lot to be thankful for.

As for the whirlwind of activity -- that began Thursday night when the kids and I arrived in Oklahoma and immediately rushed off to get the boys fitted for their tuxedos. And then there was a big dinner at my parents’ house, meeting with out-of-town family members and wedding guests.

I met my Aunt Janet from Bermuda that I had only met once before. She has become very close to my mom in the past few years, and it was wonderful to finally get to know her a little bit.

Then Friday it was off to get the girls' nails done, and some shopping, and checking into the hotel near the wedding site, and then to the rehearsal and the following dinner.

Serenity married an Oklahoma boy and his family provided amazing pulled pork barbecue for the rehearsal dinner. It was awesome and we ate the leftovers for the next three days. Yum!

Friday night I stayed up too late with my sisters and brother, hanging out with the bridesmaids until way past midnight. But when I stopped by my sister’s room at 6 a.m. the next morning she was awake, happy and half way through getting her gorgeous red hair styled.

“I’m getting married today!”

The wedding was beautiful.

The pictures speak for themselves, perfect spring weather, beautiful bride. Cute cousins.

But the best part of the wedding for me and my husband was hearing our fathers speak. Kip’s dad, who is a minister, married Marc and Serenity. In his jovial way, that reminded us of our own wedding nearly 16 years ago, he encouraged them to love each other selflessly.

And my dad gave a lengthy blessing – the kind of blessing that speaks to now and the future – recognizing the beautiful weight of the present and calling into existence the beauty of the future.

My sister wanted dancing at her reception, so she hired a DJ and my parents went to dancing lessons to prepare them for their role. It was the first that I could remember that someone in our family has had dancing at wedding.

After Serenity and Marc left in a horse drawn carriage, it was only mid afternoon, and plenty of time left to recognize our son's 8th birthday.

Kip, our son and I made a quick detour to the historic Guthrie train depot in honor of National Train Day, and then headed back to Oklahoma City to my parent's house for more pulled pork barbecue, a golf course themed birthday cake and a generous pile of birthday presents.

Kip’s parents stayed with my parents as well, so Sunday morning we were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with both moms. We went to church and found our way downtown to the historic Oklahoma City stockyards and ate at a world famous little steakhouse dive Cattleman’s CafĂ©.

Afterward we drove around and found some real cowboys unloading a semi-truck of cattle into the stockyard. We watched liked tourists and had a min-van discussion of whether or not we should be vegetarians.

Then Monday it was rest up, clean up, pack up, begin remodeling my parent’s bathroom, and head back to LA – just in time to miss the real whirlwind.

Mom pulled out her wedding dress from 1972 and let our daughter try it on.

The Rehearsal

Practice makes perfect

Sunny on a sunny day

It is really difficult NOT to get a picture of Kip's dad laughing.

Cousins .... my son and my sister's twins

Two of my favorite people in the whole world.

My siblings and parents together for the first time in more than four years

Before the wedding

Because the wedding was in the morning, the preparations started before 6 a.m.

Final ceremony preparations in the bride's room.

My mom and Aunt Janet from Bermuda
The Wedding

Dad should be used to this. It was his third time giving away a daughter.

Dad praying a blessing over Marc and Serenity.

The married couple!

A Few After Wedding Pictures

Kip's parents

Kip and Me

Dad and Me

The four of us kids

And then they were gone