Sunday, December 30, 2007

Burning Questions and their Interesting Answers

Solstice CandlesTo pass the time on our recent "over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go" car trip, I thought of a game I called "Burning Questions". Basically, we just took turns asking each other whatever questions we really wanted the answers to. This could be personal: "what kind of animal would you be if you had one day to be an animal?" or general "Is there an end to the universe, or does it just go on and on forever?". As always, it is so fun to have a window inside my children's minds, to see the different ways they think about things.

When I asked Mackenzie if he could go back in history and talk to any one person, who would he visit and what would he talk with them about, he answered that he would go back in time and visit George Washington. The reason? To convince him not to kill a hippopotamus in order to use its ivory for his false teeth. And Asa stumped me with this one: "Why are barns usually painted red?" After talking about it for awhile, we concluded that it might be so that they would stand out visually in a snow blizzard, or perhaps that red was an inexpensive or easily-accessible color of paint for early farmers to use. As it turns out, we were partially right. According to, European barns were traditionally painted with linseed oil, an easily-accessible sealant made from flaxseed oil that was dark golden in color. To this, they might add ferrous oxide, known to inhibit growth of mold and moss.

Our game eventually spiraled off into a discussion of whether or not other alien species would be likely to follow something like Star Trek's prime directive, and leave us alone down here on earth if they discovered us, but not before we discovered a lot more about each other. So the next time you hear "I'm bored" on a car trip, here's one more idea to pass the time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Place I Call Home

I was tagged by Jody for this meme. If you don't read her blog already, you should. She's one of the wittiest people I've ever had the good fortune to meet.

So I'm supposed to impart some local knowledge here - seven things about living in my state. Oregon is what I consider my "home", despite having been born (and lived very briefly) in Oklahoma City, living for a few years in the Bay Area, and living in the Seattle area for over a decade, Oregon has never stopped being my home. I'm a 3rd generation Oregonian on both sides of the family, and have never found any place on earth that feels quite the same as this homeland does to me.

Without Further Ado, Seven Things About Oregon

1) Oregon is the only state in the union that has a two-sided flag (beaver on one side, shield on the other)

2) One of the things I love best about Oregon is all the natural diversity here. In one day, I can get to the beach, or the mountains, or the desert, to sand dunes, sagebrush, old growth fir, cedar, or redwood forests, granite-faced mountains, gigantic river gorges, lava fields, fern-banked roaring mountain streams, oak-filled meadows. When people use the term "God's country", it doesn't even encompass the beauty here. It's more like God-filled country. Everywhere you turn, it's the face of God.

3) Oregon was a Union state. Living on the west coast, we're fairly removed from the Civil War, but Oregon was definitely a state at that time and our cemetery here in town has a Civil War section. Our state motto used to be "The Union", but now it is "She Flies With Her Own Wings", which has a nice poetic appeal to me (as someone whose name denotes a bird, and who loves to fly, and wishes she had her own wings!).

4) My little corner of Oregon is perhaps known best for the fact that most of the hippies in the U.S. eventually ended up here. We host the Oregon Country Fair (largest gathering of aging and newly-minted hippies on the planet and not a place to go if, like me, you are allergic to patchouli). As a result, a liberal, tolerant, environmentally conscious worldview pervades our immediate surroundings. The other day, I was asking the librarian for a book on religions of the world and she said "There's one I saw just the other day, I think I put it on the Peace Shelf". I love that we have a library with a peace shelf, that there are more "Impeach Bush" bumperstickers here than probably in the entire rest of the US, that I could go to a talk or a rally or a benefit concert for peace or sustainability or environmental activism or religious tolerance on every night of the week. I like feeling like people around me are conscious, are paying attention, aren't plugged into The Matrix, ya know?

5) It doesn't rain here nearly as much as we tell the rest of y'all it does365 Day 116: Rain Rain Go Away
6) Oregon is the best place I've been in America to ride a bicycle. My home town has more bicycle bridges than it does bridges for cars. You can ride a bike around town, through the countryside, down the many bike paths, you can ride to one of our fabulous wineries in the rolling hills between the broad Willamette Valley and the coast (Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Oregon are excellent, by the way). People here decorate their bikes with feather boas, macrame, fringe, tinsel, streamers, and all kinds of things. There are many different kinds of bikes and biking gear made in my town: foldable bikes and tandems by Bike Friday, tandems by Co-motion, trailers by Burley, and cargo bikes, utility bikes, and most of the town's bike racks by the Center for Appropriate Transport.

7) In Oregon, you must still sit in your car idly while someone else gets paid to pump your gas (and yes, we still want to keep on doing that, and keep voting to be able to do that despite the best efforts of the fuel lobby that puts it on our ballot every few years), you can return your bottles and cans for money back at the store due to our bottle bill passed a few decades ago, it's one of the few places where medically-assisted suicide is legal, and you can get medical marijuana (if by some remote possibility you don't know anyone who grows their own in their basement with lamps). Oregonians still cling to that rugged individualism that came over with the pioneers - we do things a bit differently here in many ways. And I like it that way.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


So, my kids' robotics team, the Solar Dragons, went to the regional tournament last weekend. I knew that they were very well prepared, their robot was solid, they had put in a lot of time perfecting their programs, their runs on the challenge table, their research project and presentation, and I knew that they were operating as an exceptional team with respect for each other and for the other teams. What I didn't even imagine in my wildest dreams is that they would WIN THE WHOLE TOURNAMENT! Yep, that's it. They really did it!

First of all, their runs on the robot table went very well. They practiced their approach so many times that there was no fumbling or nervousness at the table, just a smooth running of all the things they needed to do (remove and replace attachments, add cargo, aim robot, select program, run robot). They had decided that they would all run their programs at the table, but according to Lego competition rules, only two of them could be at the table at any given time, so they took a tag-team approach. They helped each other out, and as each kid was done with their turn, they tagged the next.

They also faced three panels of judges. One teamwork panel that asked them questions about how they worked as a team (my favorite moments, when they asked things like "who is your team leader" and the kids said "we operate by consensus", LOL.) One panel was technical judging, where they had the kids run their programs and asked them about their programs and robot design, and a third panel evaluated their research project (they had five minutes to do a presentation, and another five minutes of Q&A - they actually knew their stuff so well, the panel ran out of questions to ask them!). When we saw the research projects of some of the other groups of kids, I knew that our kids would do really well. Many kids from school teams had used their classrooms or part of their school building for the energy audit. While this was probably technically admissible, I think the real goal from Lego FIRST League in setting this as a project for this year was to get the kids out and interacting with the community. Since our team really did choose a big and complex public building to audit, and researched extensively on alternative energy solutions, I knew they'd wow the judges (and they did!).

I am proudest of the fact that they scored a perfect 100 on teamwork. I know they're a great group of kids and they have worked so well together and have had so much fun together, it really showed. Whenever they've made a team decision, it has almost always been unamimous. I think it also really speaks volumes that we have two pairs of siblings on the team (not always the easiest to work with your own family members!) and that the kids come from different educational venues (two different schools plus some homeschoolers). They also got the highest score on their research presentation, something they've put so much time and effort into (see my previous post for a description of what they did). The got the 2nd highest score on the robot table as well, garnering 195 points with their seven mission programs.

So without further ado, here's some pics of these magnificent kids in action!

Here's the table setup in the main competition hall. Two teams compete against each other in timed table runs.

Their first run at the table, Claire and Asa work together to send the robot out on a mission to plant trees.

Time for their technical presentation. Whoops, I forgot to bring the folder with printouts of their programming. Good thing I'm a trained runner!

Waiting for their turn.

Mackenzie and Daniel get the power lines in place, the rest of the team waits behind for their turn to be tagged.

Waiting outside the presentation judging room. It was cold enough to snow and the poor kids were shivering. They're holding the photos for their research presentation.

Presenting to the panel of judges.

We were all so impressed with this kid, Thomas. His entire team backed out, but he came and competed all by himself!

We can't believe it, we won the whole thing!