Sunday, December 31, 2006

Quote of the Day

On a recent walk to the store: "It's hard to scratch an itch when you're holding an umbrella and nursing a seal."

Yeah, I guess it is! By the way, for Christmas the kids each got an adopted animal from World Wildlife Federation from their aunt and uncle. It's a great present - they got a cute stuffed animal, an adoption certificate and photo that explains how the gift is protecting wildlife and habitat. They are both really concerned about animals and this was a wonderful way to get a gift that also helps the earth. M. got a hippo (his favorite animal) and A. got this seal.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Skies Not So Blue

Becoming a mother was a watershed moment in my life. I know people who are born to be mothers, women who have envisioned themselves with babies and children since they were little girls playing with dolls. Not me. For one thing, I named all of my dolls the same thing when I was young. Clearly I was not cut out for a mothering career (though I was not quite as bad as my sister, who carried her favorite doll around by the hair until it looked like some demented pixie.) Even my husband once said that he feared I would be a terrible mother. Let's see, self-centered, severely lacking in patience, driven mad by the slightest noises or touches - yep, not really a checklist for the cover of Mothering magazine there.

But something happened when I first became pregnant. My life became infused with a joy that I had not known before. Oh, I was always a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of person, but motherhood brought a day-to-day happiness that, even on days when my children are taking me to the teetering brink of insanity, swirls around and through every encounter, bringing a kind of blessedness that I suppose the truly religious must feel. In short, as Viggo Mortensen says in one of his fabulous books of poetry and photography: "Kids are God; Pay attention"

But then there are days in every parent's life when the skies are not so blue. Pain, to an adult, is a terrible thing. But pain to one's children, whether physical or emotional, is almost unendurable. It's the kind of thing that keeps one up at midnight, staring at the ceiling, a pit of dread in your stomach. Yesterday was one of those days.

One of those days when your kid has gotten a remote controlled airplane for Christmas from Grandma, something they've wanted for a very long time. And you read the instructions carefully, and test the controls, and take it to a huge big field on a calm day, and do the ground tests that the instructions recommend, and it launches perfectly, but then as it goes up, you realize that the sky is not just overcast, but actually foggy. And the airplane starts disappearing into the foggy clouds, at which point it loses contact with the radio controller and it's going farther and farther away, so you take the controls from your distraught child to try to get it back, and it crashes into an area of houses. So you go over to the houses and spend a considerable amount of time peering into trees and over fences into backyards and knocking on doors, but you never find the plane. One of those kind of days.

All in all, he took it very well. He didn't scream or cry or throw a fit as he might have done even a year ago. He was heartbreakingly stoic. And, because a large measure of the fault of this inaugural flight lays with me, I have promised to find him another one. And next time we won't be so blinded by sheer enthusiasm, and we'll wait until our neighbor can come along, who flies RC planes and can help us get it squared away.

And of course, we'll wait until the skies are truly blue.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in the High Desert

We decided to do something different for Christmas this year - camp in a cabin! Although it was a bit overwhelming to pack all of Christmas, not to mention our camping gear, five people, and a dog, into our minivan, we really had a great time. After opening presents on Christmas morning, we decided to head even further east to Fort Rock. A stunning volcanic remain that towers out of the desert floor, Fort Rock is a great place to explore around. It used to be situated on the edge of a gigantic lake, and in caves nearby, the distinctive Fort Rock sagebrush sandals (world's oldest shoes) have been discovered, many pairs carbon dating 9,000 to 10,000 years old. Part of the rock on one side has been worn away by the ancient water, leaving a horshoe-shaped ring of rock that you can explore around.

There are so many different, and beautiful rock layers that make up Fort Rock, everywhere you turn it looks like a completely different rock landscape. It's one of my favorite places to visit, and the kids (and adults) had a wonderful time exploring around.

Here's some more photos:

Friday, December 22, 2006

Of Grandparents and Guinea Pigs

When I was a kid, we lived near both of my grandparents. At one point, we lived in my grandma's old farmhouse, and then we moved a few miles away but only a couple of blocks from my other grandparents. We also saw my great-grandparents in California as often as we could. I feel really lucky that my kids have their grandparents in their lives, and for at least a few years knew their great-grandparents as well. There's something special about knowing people from other generations, with other experiences, whose history and stories then becomes part of your own history and your family stories. My great-grandmother was born in a sod house on the prairie in 1892, and I knew her through most of my life until she died in 1992. My grandma once ran out of gas in her VW bug while dressed in a bunny rabbit costume (don't ask, my family's so crazy I never had a shot at normality). My grandpa was on a Navy ship in WWII. My kids grandparents have their own stories to tell, and I think our kids are blessed to be able to hear them.

My dad and step-mom came to visit last week and the kids brought their guinea pigs out to hold. It was just one of those sweet little moments that swirls by, but I know that as our kids get older they will appreciate all these little times. And now I have to sign off, because my mom will soon be here and there's cookie dough to get ready. There's nothing better than baking cookies with grandma to start the holidays off right.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Quote of the Day

A's violin teacher had observed her working through a particularly difficult patch of a piece of music, and said "I noticed that when the music got hard, your eyes were looking up at the ceiling instead of at your bow and fingering."

A. replied: "I was looking inside my brain."

That, apparently, is where the music resides :-)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Smiles From My Phone

My kids discovered that they could call my cell phone from our home phone and leave silly messages for me. Most of them I eventually deleted, but I can't bring myself to delete the last one. In this message, they didn't know my phone was still recording and they are giggling so hard that they can barely speak, clearly congratulating each other about how clever they were in leaving me those messages. It's about 90 seconds of unmitigated joyous children's laughter, is there any better sound on the planet? I might just save it forever.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Guinea Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down

My friend J. (whose funny, funny writings you really should check out) sends this photo of their guinea pig Jack, playing Lego Star Wars. I suppose she thinks her 'pig can whup our 'pig, but she hasn't seen Acorn play Dance Dance Revolution yet!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Happens When You Leave Your Gamecube Out

Hey, stop playing my Zelda! Dang, how did you get to that dungeon already? Hey look mom, my guinea pig's beating the boss of the game!

Just kidding. M. thought this would be a really funny picture and I happen to agree.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Caimans, Snakes, and Legless Lizards, Oh My!

We took a field trip today with some other homeschoolers to "Brad's World of Reptiles". Lots of cool reptiles to see, hold, and pet, and the kids had a fun time.

I must say, I have never even seen a legless lizard before in my life - what a bizarre creature! And they got to pet an American Alligator, stand in a line and hold a huge python, and even see a baby sugar glider (I can hear them begging to get one already).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lego Robotics Competition: A Day in Photos

Here's the pit area, where each team could work on their robots. Our team's name was The Nanomancers, and they're all in black shirts with the number 333 (their team number) on the back.

This is their first run on the table in the competition hall. Each team gets three runs and their highest scoring run is what counts. They run their robot at the same time as another team on the adjoining table, and get 2:30 minutes to accomplish as many tasks as their robot can do.

Siblings M. and A. working together at the table while a judge looks on. All other team members must keep behind the lines on the floor, only two can be at the table at any time. The robot is in action.

Back at the pit area, M. explains an idea for a modification to one of the attachments to another team member.

In the waiting area, getting ready to go into the room where they would present their research project. Their project was on the medical applications of nanotechnology in the treatment of cancer, and they presented a play in which they took the parts of Doctor, patient (M.), narrator (A.), tumor, and healthy cell.

After their presentation, the judges ask them questions about their research project: how they decided on it, what their sources were, to further explain their research and their solution to the research problem. They must display not only thorough knowledge of the subject, but good teamwork and respect for each other in taking turns to answer the questions.

Back at the pit area, M. gives a double thumbs-up. They all knew that they had done a bang-up job on the research presentation, and indeed they ended up getting a perfect score from the judges!

Celebrating as a team after getting the Teamwork Trophy. They worked hard, and they worked well together. Despite a hectic lead-up week and only six hours of sleep, they treated each other with respect and were extremely helpful to other teams, displaying exceptional good sportsmanship. Their parents and coaches could not be more proud!!!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wow, Just Wow

We spent the whole day today at Mentor Graphics near Portland watching the kids' team compete in a Lego robotics competition. They've been working up to this for months, and the competition is about more than just robotics. They would be judged on their robot's performance against nine challenges on a course on a table (within 2.5 minutes), but they would also be judged on a research project and presentation on a subject in the field of nanotechnology, as well as on technical knowledge, sophistication of robot design and programming, and teamwork.

Our kids' team was one of the younger ones there. The competition is technically for 9 - 14 year olds in this division, but our team was comprised of members from 7 - 11 years old. Despite being younger, mostly new to this competition, and without the resources of a sponsoring school, their team managed to come in 5th overall in the robotics portion of the competition (they get points for the tasks they are able to complete with the robot). They also received nothing but "Excellent" scores in their research project and presentation, they literally could not have scored any higher! Best of all, they won the overall award for Teamwork, something this competition takes very seriously. Considering that I had a pair of siblings working together on the team, I consider this high honors indeed. They were judged highly on teamwork because they worked so well together, but also because they helped another team with programming their robot on one of the tasks that our team had already completed. They were also very outgoing and friendly to the other teams, wishing them well and shaking their hands, displaying respect and good sportsmanship.
I could not be prouder of all they have accomplished. More photos of the entire day's events to come!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dress Rehearsals, Presentations, and Performances, Oh My!

Well, we've made it through the week of dress rehearsals and practice performances. Miss Diva had rehearsals from 5:00 to 9:00 almost every night this week. That's a lot to ask of a seven year old, but she's held up miraculously well (probably due to her undying enthusiasm for dance and an apparently endless supply of energy). In the Chronicles of Narnia ballet, the mice come on stage after the dramatic scene in which Aslan is killed on the stone table. As young and cute as they are, they provide some comic relief after the tension and sadness of the previous scene. They scurry around and untie the ropes binding Aslan to the table. Miss Diva is the first mouse on the stage, and they are all so cute! She is just in love with being a mouse (although she has confessed that she hopes maybe next year, she'll get to be a flower - pictured above in the pink and green dresses beside her). Myself, I can't even contemplate next year after this week's grueling schedule!
Also on the docket this week was the kids' presentation of their robotics team at our local library. They set up their competition table in a meeting room at the library and showed how they would run the robot through the challenges at the competition. They also presented their research project (which is in the form of a play about medical applications of nanotechnology on cancer), and took questions and answers from the audience, similar to how they will answer questions from the judges in the competition this weekend. Afterwards, they demonstrated the robot for anyone who wanted to take a closer look. I was really impressed with all of the work they've put into this, and how professional they are all able to be. M. especially really took time to show some of the kids from the audience how to work the robot, and let them handle it and run it on the table.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Going Slowly Crazy

Or maybe I'm going crazy real fast, I don't know anymore. We just had our Karate belt tests and two local robotics team presentations, and within the next 6 days, we also have all of the kids' final robotics rehearsals and the FLL competition, as well as all of Diva's dress rehearsals (five hours a night all week!) and three performances of the Chronicles of Narnia ballet.

If anyone finds a mom collapsed in a small whimpering puddle on a sidewalk somewhere, that would be me. Just bundle me back into the minivan and send me home please...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

White Belts No More!

Yes, it's our last day as white belts. The kids and I have been taking Karate together since September, and today is our test to move up to the next belt. We decided to take a photo commemorating this momentous occasion.

It's funny, but I took Karate myself over a decade ago, several years before having kids. I enjoyed it then, I liked the workout and the discipline, the mental energy of it. But now I really love it. I smile when I watch my kids out of the corner of my eye, I love to hear their comments and see them attempting new things. My heart bursts with pride when another parent in the class says to me that her daughter really likes being partnered with my son because he is so patient and kind to her. Karate is a much fuller, more enjoyable, more there experience for me now than it was 12 years ago. Back then, it was more or less just exercise.

Like so many of the things I get to share with the kids, their own perspective added to mine combines to make the experience something completely different. Seeing all the different families, all the kids, the parents at the dojo, it's awesome being a part of something that helps bring families together and bond them more closely. I like seeing the homeschooling parents (like our very own sensei who is herself a homeschooling mom of seven), and the teenagers or older kids (especially the black belts!) who are so full of poise and self-confidence and are wonderful teachers as well.

Karate has become such a joy in our unschooling family, I'm just happy to share some of those smiles here!