Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa Claus, Physics, and More

So I did it this year, I came clean to Asa that there is no Santa Claus. You might think that at age 11, this would be a no-brainer, and of course she already knew. But I've always felt it's important to keep the magical thinking alive as long as the kid wants to. And as somebody who still anthropomorphizes my favorite plaid stuffed hippo, Horace, I'm a sucker for magical thinking. Of course, this means that Mackenzie has to give up his spot as Santa. He's stayed up the last few Christmases, stuffing stockings and having fun being the big brother. I don't know how this Christmas Eve will play out, it's an ever-evolving thing as the kids get older.

For those of you who still have younger kids, or kids interested in physics, or just like this kind of thing, here's a great physics-based proof that Santa Claus really exists.

In other physics news, our FIRST FTC robotics team went up to an event last weekend at Portland State University. In addition to working on their robotics stuff, the kids got to tour a whole bunch of the engineering labs there. We were very impressed! They got to help move a laser (over 800 pounds!), talked with a chemistry grad student about his work detecting nanoparticles in soil and water using an atomic mass spectrometer, saw a wind tunnel where they are testing wind turbine and wind energy farm designs, and best of all they got to spend a lot of time with someone from the robotics department discussing a robot called "Shrödinger's Cat" . Those of you that are physics buffs will understand why that's so funny. The cat lives in a box and is mobile, he runs around the building using two cameras, touch sensors, and other methods for object avoidance. He has a mental map of where he is, and can even go in the elevators and ask people to press the buttons to take him to another floor. He can interact with other robots in the lab, including a talking head of Nils Bohr.

I loved hearing all of the questions our kids came up with for the roboticist. Mackenzie was especially interested in the vision processing algorithms and how he could distinguish between objects and blank space (like a doorway). One of the things this tour really showed me was how much science being involved with FIRST has brought into his life. He already knew about Nanotechnology because back when he was on a FIRST FLL team, they did a research project on Nanoparticles and one of the things they discovered was all about the potential dangers of these particles when they end up in our water and soil. Another year, they did a project on alternative energy and it was his part of the project to research wind generators. So all of the things he was seeing in these science and engineering labs, he had already had a taste of through FIRST.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Homework Into Video Games, By Mackenzie

For science right now, we're studying atoms, molecules, and compounds and their properties. One of the things that the kids are supposed to do for this new Charter School program is to show "mastery" of the subject in many different ways: by writing papers, making models, drawing timelines, making illustrations, doing projects, etc. So when I asked Mackenzie how he wanted to illustrate the properties of matter, he suggested that he write a simple video game that allowed the user to see way the molecules move in the different states of water.

If you want to see it in action, you can download his game from Google Docs. It doesn't have any viruses, I promise. He programmed it in GameMaker 8, which he highly recommends. He says it allows you to do object-oriented programming, it's easy to learn, and you can make stand-alone executables like the simple one that he made for this project. You can even sell them (unlike stuff you make in programs like Scratch).

Leave it to this kid to find a way to turn something into a programming project. I have to say, it's pretty cool though. He wants to say a special thank-you to his Aunty Meese and Uncle Nick who gave him GameMaker for his birthday last year. Obviously, it's been put to good use!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

All Smiles at the Karate Recital

The kids had a karate recital today. Also known as the "belt test", it's where they get to show what they learned this term, and do all of their techniques in front of the black belts who will score them and give them feedback. Throughout most of our time in karate, I haven't gotten to watch them because I'm testing also, but now that the only test looming in front of me is the eventual black belt test, I could just sit in the audience and enjoy seeing them do their thing.

The thing that most strikes me when watching Mackenzie is just how big, strong, and fast he's getting. That and the deep voice that comes out of him when he kiais (the karate "hiya" yell). He is definitely operating at the brown belt level and is moving toward the day when he will test for his black belt too. He's gotten very serious about karate lately, especially since he and I have been going to the more rigorous brown and black belt classes together. Focusing on the basics as well as harder and harder techniques has a way of making everything look sharp.

As for Asa, she is coming into her own as well. Karate is not her main focus like it is for Mackenzie. She saves that for dance, singing, and theatre of course. But I'm glad she has stayed with karate even though her schedule sometimes gets crazy. It's important to me that both of the kids can defend themselves if the need ever arises, and sadly in our society she's more likely to need to do that than Mackenzie. I liked watching her perform the escapes from hand grabs and the take-downs that accompany them.

For both of the kids, our karate dojo is also more like a family than just a class that they attend. They've made lifelong friends here, friends that are in photos from recitals going back almost half a decade now. As they move into the tween and teen years, I see the kids that they're hanging around with and I smile. They're confident, respectful, polite, and nice. Being involved with karate, most specifically at our dojo, has more than a little to do with that. The family-friendly atmosphere and focus on values ensures that the kids grow up with more than just a few fancy moves in their repertoire.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unschoolers Go To School (sort of)

I don't even know where to start with the upside-down topsy-turvy nature of what has happened to our fall so far. Our local homeschool resource center, after years of battling with the local school district (who would like nothing more than to shut them down) ended up re-opening as a charter school. Initially, the claim was that it would operate much like before, with homeschooling families being able to take whatever classes they wanted to, and homeschooling all other subjects. As unschoolers, this suits our family just fine.

But then, the school district amended their charter plans to make things far more structured for us poor homeschoolers. Of course. Because you know, everyone needs to be educated to the same cookie cutter mold. It's not the fault of the charter school, but that's the way things shook out. Still, both of our kids decided that the cost-benefit analysis came out on the side of giving it a try. Mackenzie really really wanted to take Spanish class, and for Asa it means more theatre, horseback riding, choir, and French. So they were willing to jump through the hoops of providing more structured homeschooling than we've ever ever done. They actually agreed to do things like worksheets and spelling lists on a weekly basis, taking home textbooks and studying for quizzes.

Frankly, it's all very fascinating to me, watching these two unschooled kids suddenly thrust into a schoolish style of learning. Especially because they know that at any moment they can simply walk away from it. So far, it's been over a month and they're sticking with it. I think it's probably harder on me than on them, because I have to print out worksheets and spelling lists and make sure they get done with reading in their Social Studies or Science textbooks. All those things I've never really worried about before. Before, all of our learning has just flowed from whatever they're interested in at the moment. I've also had to coach them on how to answer the silly textbook quizzes, because I didn't realize how little they knew about what a "textbook" answer is.

One of the questions this all puts to rest is whether or not you really NEED to teach kids all this stuff for years and years and years in order for them to get it, or whether an unschooler can and will buckle down into more structured learning if they are provided with an incentive that motivates them. The fact is, these kids actually do their homework, turn in their assignments, and take their tests. Because they want to, because the benefits that they're getting out of it obviously outweigh the drawbacks in their minds.

On the other hand, as the unschooling parent I have a lot of trepidations about all of this. When the glamour wears off, will they still want to do it? I don't want to be the one sitting on them to finish this stuff up. And what if it interferes with their natural love of learning and exploration, having to do all of this forced study? I love the way they are always coming up with new things they want to do. They have far less time for that now. More than anything, it's totally wrecked our schedule and we are constantly finding ourselves scrambling to catch up. I hate that feeling of giving up our more relaxed days.

So the great experiment of unschoolers in school is ongoing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Halloween Pics

The kids went "trunk or treating" at our karate dojo this year on the Friday before Halloween. Since a lot of little kids were present, Mackenzie kindly decided not to wear his scary grim reaper death mask thingie with the blood pump that made blood run down his face. Instead, he used my old standby Godzilla costume. What a nice guy! Asa was a "Cheerless Leader" in her skull-covered cheerleader costume. She was supposed to keep a zombie-like face, but she's just way to cheerful for that. 

So here's the costume Mackenzie suckered me into buying him. In true Mackenzie fashion, he pulled this long face and said "But Moooooom. It's probably the LAST time I will EVER go trick or treating since I'm SO BIG now. And of course he knows I'm thinking "OMG, how can my baby be so old that this is his last year trick or treating?" Of course I'll splurge on the extra blood-circulating death mask costume!" That boy knows how to wrap me around his finger.

On actual Halloween night, he went with some friends, and went with the gorier costume. Since he went over to his friends' house early, I didn't get a picture of the blood-dripping part of it. It was weird to have him gone for Halloween and just be trick-or-treating with Asa and her friend. Where are the days when he and I went together and he wanted me to dress up with him? Long gone for sure, LOL!

But Asa invited a friend over and we had a terrific time trick-or-treating together. Her friend's mom and I walked and chatted through the balmy night, admiring all the cool decorated houses. People around here go for funky rather than commercial, and there were some beautiful luminarias. One guy came to the door in a fairy costume and his dog was dressed as a fairy too. And I'm reminded of why I love Halloween - a night that brings everyone in the community out and walking around together with their kids. Not to mention the candy. This year was so balmy too!

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Year's Growth and Change

I'm just going to put this photo in a post here before I switch it out to my new header photo for the blog. The photo currently on the header was taken a year ago. Wow, these kids have changed so much in the last year, in so many different ways. But you can really see it when you look at the photos!

Here's last year's:

One of the biggest changes is that he's SO much taller now. They used to be a lot closer in size than they are now. And a quick peek at the "How tall in Fall" height chart at our local pumpkin patch shows him closing in on 6' (or at least trying to stretch as tall as possible to look that way!). One look at those huge puppy feet though says he might now be done growing yet!

Asa was having fun stocking up on the small pumpkins from the bin at the pumpkin patch. "Wild Walt" takes everyone on his hayride on a crazy ride, doing donuts in the mud and climbing up the sides of embankments while everyone screeches. Then he takes you through fields with scarecrows and other targets that you can throw the small pumpkins at. What fun!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Can't Help But Laugh

I can't help but crack up every time I hear Asa's new ringtone. Mackenzie used some text-to-speech converter on the internet and then recorded it and downloaded it onto her phone as a bit of a joke. But she loved it and has kept it as her ringtone.

Now when someone calls, her phone says "Hi, this is Asa. I cannot come to the phone right now because I have lost it somewhere and I am dancing and singing in my room."

Why does it make us all laugh so hard? Because it's absolutely true!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Overheard: Sure Proof That I Have a Tween and a Teen

Teenage Boy wants me to purchase ultra-cool Halloween costume that includes mask with recirculating fake blood that drips down the front, a voicebox that turns his voice into a ghoulish creepy voice, and a gory fake axe. This exceeds my budget so he pulls the following out of his arsenal:

"Mooooommmmmm, it's probably the LAST time I'll EVER go trick or treating. Since I'm GROWING UP and all."

Sniffle. Sniffle. He knows how to play on my last little nostalgic mommy nerve, doesn't he?? The last time he goes trick or treating? How can that be? Of course I can't refuse him the costume of his dreams. Of course not.

And this was overheard from the backseat of the car while driving Tweenage Girl to dance class.

Back story: It's "Spirit Week" at her dance studio. Which means every day is something different, like Pajama Day, and Crazy Sock Day. Kind of like Spirit Week in Middle School, except without all of the anxiety of whether or not other people will actually wear their pajamas or whether you'll be the only one and the bullies will beat you up and call you a freaky nerd for actually believing in spirit week. Or whether you won't wear your pajamas, but then all of the popular people will, and so you'll be an idiot for not wearing them. Thus the only safe option is to wear normal clothes but bring your pajamas in a paper bag just in case you should put them on.

But I digress. Spirit week at the dance studio is fun because all of the girls who go there are super-enthusiastic types who just love this stuff. Thus my Tween was calling on the way to class, talking to another girl who was also on her cell phone, about to leave for class. Asa's side of the conversation went thusly:

"Okay, I'll tell you what I'm wearing. But you've got to PROMISE me that you won't steal my style, okay? No, I won't tell you unless you promise. Uh, I'm sure. 'Cuz mine is really cool and I don't want to wear the same thing. Okay, you won't steal it? Okay. I'm wearing one long stripey sock and one short sock that's green with little scotty dogs on it...." (lengthy description of every minute detail of clothing ommitted for brevity).

Yep. I'm the mom to a Teen and a Tween. Entering entirely new universe now. I hope I have a road map, or a star map, or something to guide me...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Birthday for a Peach

I always call Asa my peach, because she's just such a sweet little thing (most of the time, except when she hasn't been to too many sleepovers in one week, but I digress). And now, as she informs us, she is leaving her childhood behind and is now a "tween".

Her birthday week was fun, and filled with all of the things she loves. Her dance classes started, the weather was lovely and we rode bikes around, she had a birthday party at the bowling alley with her wonderful group of friends. She even got to go to an audition for a film company who is thinking of filming a project here in our city on Friday, We had less than a day for her to prepare a monologue and for me to take this photo of her to put on her acting resume. As you might imagine, she wowed the casting directors and they called me in to tell me "We hope you know you have something special here." Why yes, we do.

So for the whole week, we celebrated the wonderful gift that is Asa in our lives. She's grown up so much this year, turning into a little lady who is independent and spirited. Sometimes she's gone so much with all of her many activities (seven dance classes a week for starters) that I can see the quiet that our house will be when she's grown up. As it is, she brings an energy to every room she inhabits that fills the house (sometimes with more noise and chaos than we can almost handle, but that's just her).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Etymology: You Learn Something New Every Day

I just started reading The Girl Who Played With Fire (sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I enjoyed) and in the very first paragraph of Chapter 1, a person sits down on a chaise longue. I thought "how strange! a typo in the first paragraph!". Now I have to say, I pride myself on being a bit of a wordsmith and etymology always fascinates me, so I was surprised to find out that this isn't a typo at all. Though the word has been Americanized to chaise lounge (dating as far back as the 1850s), implying a chair that one might lounge in, the original French word was chaise longue, meaning a long chair (which also makes sense).

If you're interested in slightly more background on this interestingly amended phrase, I found a great site called World Wide Words that offers this explanation. And if you're an etymology junkie like me, I'll warn you that this site might just suck up a bit of your time!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Sesame Street Strikes Again

I have to admit to being an unabashed Sesame Street fan. One of the very first generations to be raised counting with The Count and thinking that Kermit the Frog was a real reporter, I have always loved the muppet's approach to life. So this is just, well, the bomb!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Time Machine Pranks and Other Random Conversations

One of my favorite times with the kids is when we get to walk someplace together and just talk. No distractions, just hearing what's on their minds. When they were little, it was about puddles or frogs or their new umbrella, very concrete stuff. As they get older, it gets more abstract: plans for the future, questions about bigger topics, musings on life and the universe.

One day on a walk with Mackenzie, we started discussing what sorts of pranks we would play if we had a time machine. Here was our top few:

1) Arrive on the summit of Mt. Everest slightly before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Have already planted a flag and be lounging around eating a sandwich. Casually say "Oh hey guys, what are you doing up here?"

2) Hide on the moon just before Neil Armstrong steps out. Just as he's reciting the whole "One small step for man" speech, jump out wearing a green alien costume.

3) Build a hotel at the site where Columbus will land. Serve him a margarita with a fancy umbrella

4) Become the seer that tells Julius Caesar "Beware the Ides of March". Then we could get stuck in a time paradox where we would have to continually go back in time in order for that to occur in order for history to be correct in order for us to be born in order to travel back in time...

5) Alternately, show up and tell Julius Caesar "Beware St. Patrick's Day"

Yes, this is what we spend our time doing...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Birthday Boy

Yeah, he's big. Yeah, he's fourteen now! Yeah, his shoe size is almost a fourteen too... It's my big birthday guy. I don't think I can say birthday boy anymore as he's taller than I am (a fact that he likes to emphasize nearly continually). This is the shirt I found for him, it was just so HIM. Combining a love of zombies, with an environmental consciousness, the shirt says "Zombies: 100% Post-Consumer Human. Reduce. Re-use. Re-animate." It's his new fave t-shirt, not surprisingly!

I've got more birthday photos to come, plus some pics of our annual post-birthday camping trip to Waldo Lake. But I've barely had time to sit at the computer, let alone unload the hundreds of photos. Suffice it to say, he had a fun birthday party in the park with friends, and a great few days hiking, kayaking, and hanging out with friends at the lake. He's such an amazing young man, and I'm so lucky to have been his mom for all these years. As you can see, he's got that infectious smile and a sense of humor to match. This year has brought lots of growth and learning, both in classes and in internships. He's always game to help out a friend or a family member, especially when it comes to technology - a field in which (especially in hardware) he is quickly eclipsing my expertise. He loves to talk about subjects both frivolous and serious. This year I have especially loved when we both read the same book and discuss it. He's the kind of person you just generally enjoy being around (except when those teen hormones take over and the werewolf comes out, but I expected that!)

And of course it wouldn't be a birthday post without a gratuitous photo from way back when. So here's my little guy in 2003, seven years or half his life ago. In many ways, so much the same person. In so many ways, completely different. In all ways, a beautiful person that we love very much. Happy Birthday 'Kenzie!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy National Waffle Day

This week on August 24th, Mackenzie informed me it was National Waffle Day and therefore he absolutely HAD to eat large piles of waffles. Of course, this kid would use any excuse to eat large piles of waffles, but this was a good one. In the U.S., National Waffle Day is the anniversary of the first U.S. patent for a waffle iron. Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York received his patent for a "device to bake waffles" in 1869. 

Mackenzie can, and has in fact easily put away four waffles at a sitting. I make a huge recipe up at one time, modifying my basic Betty Crocker recipe by substituting coconut flour, almond meal, flax meal, and hemp seeds for about half of the flour. Then I bake waffles for an hour or two, and put whatever he doesn't eat into the freezer in gallon freezer bags. That way at least he's got a several day supply of frozen waffles for whenever he needs some. They're far healthier and more cost-efficient than the Eggo-style waffles, but they're just as easy once they're made up and frozen.

If those don't sound appealing, here's a great listing of over 100 waffle recipes, including bacon cheddar waffles, blue corn waffles, and Belgian coconut waffles. Sounds like I might need to try some of these out and get creative!

After I watched my once-sturdy, now-skinny almost 14 year old (2 days and counting!) devour platefuls of waffles, I logged onto Facebook to find that friend Laura posted this adorable photo of our two kiddos at about age three. As you can see, Mackenzie's pastime of food obsession has a long history. But man, isn't this the cutest picture ever? It's hard to believe they're both teenagers now.

I'll have to end this food-based post with a funny quote from Mackenzie. We were in the store the other day and he asked me to buy him two corn dogs. After handing him the corn dogs, I turned back to the cashier to pay for them. 30 seconds later I turned back to Mackenzie to see his hands completely empty. "Where did you put the corn dogs?" I asked, thinking he had set them down on the counter.

"Well," he replied "I was holding them in my hand. Then I heard this suctioning noise, and when I looked down there was a corndog-shaped hole in the universe where they'd been a moment before."

"Ah," I said, "was that suctioning noise perhaps you inhaling two corndogs?"

"That's within the realms of possibility" he admitted.

Life with a teenage boy. Never a dull moment, and never enough money for food!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Best. Play. Ever!

That was Asa's comment after seeing Macbeth tonight at Free Shakespeare in the Park. This was uttered just after the soldiers carrying branches (from Great Birnam Wood) came rushing past our picnic blankets to the battle at Dunsinane. I also heard (though this did not happen to us) that the witches came and switched stuff from  people's picnic baskets and coolers, taking and leaving food as they went. What fun!

MacBeth : For Kids (Shakespeare Can Be Fun series)Mackenzie of course loves the Bard. In fact, just to torture him, I showed him this book from the (I'm not making this up) "Shakespeare Can Be Fun!" series) My kids, being homeschoolers, find any of the "Learning Can Be Fun!" type stuff intensely amusing. Like our society has made learning into such a horrifying thing that we now need to dress it up in exciting ways so that kids might actually like it again. Hey, I've got an idea, how about making it Not Boring in the first place? Even fidgety Asa was more than happy to sit through Shakespeare's weighty verses because damn it, the man could write a fine play. Love, death, murder, friendship, swordfights, what's not to like?? No need to "make it fun".

William Shakespeare's MacbethMeanwhile, the day before going to see the play, I did check this excellent book out from the library: William Shakespeare's Macbeth. It was the best re-telling of the story in the kids' section, including lots of good actual quotes from the script, and had beautiful illustrations. There are a couple of nice-looking graphic novel editions as well, but they were all checked out.We discussed the story and I think the kids were really ready to see it in its full version. Although Free Shakespeare in the Park does lack some in sets (I first saw Macbeth at the awe-inspiring Ashland Shakespeare Festival and the staging of the witches on the moors was incredible!) and costumes, one thing I like is that with being able to sit 10 feet away on a picnic blanket, for some reason it makes it seem so much more accessible. Even the language is easier to understand when you can see the actors' expressions up close and personal. They do quite a nice job with their plays, and used real swords with some nice sword-fighting choreography thrown in. The weather was warm and pleasant but not too hot, and we got to enjoy some chicken, grapes, and chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons (which has become our annual "Shakespeare treat"). Yes, Shakespeare can be fun!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Absence of a Whirlwind

For the third week this summer, we are Asa-less. First there was the week at grandma's, then the week at sleep-away camp, now a week at her friend's house. It's an eerie precursor to the future when our kids will be grown and gone. The house seems so quiet. Too quiet. Asa is probably responsible for 90% of the music, talking, chaos, energy, mess, confusion, delays, and cheeriness of our household. A double-edged sword, she's an unstoppable force of nature, a whirlwind of sound and energy and love radiating in all directions. When she's home, she's here, there, and everywhere. She's petting the cats, painting a picture, singing a song, painting my toenails, leaving the radio on in her room, making pancakes and forgetting to put any of it away (the paints, the paper, the fingernail polish, the flour, the eggs, the radio, the pet food...)

I miss her very much.

But the house is clean.

And quiet.

Too quiet.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Virtual Solution to A Real World Problem

This is a mind-bender of epic proportions, but I think it also gives an insight into my kids' mind and how he thinks, which is very cool.

So Mackenzie just got this Xbox game from a friend, it's obviously in used condition but it seemed to play fine. Then at one point in the game, it got stuck and wouldn't let the character go any farther. As it turns out, there was a scratch on the disk. Mackenzie buffed it a little and tried again, but it still got hung up at the same point.

He reasoned that he might be able to get around this problem because, as he explained to me, games used to load an entire level at one time, which made it take a very long time each time you went to a new level. However now they buffer and load segments of the level while you're actually playing it, loading just the areas that your character is going to travel into. So he figured that there was a scratch in this area of the disk, it would probably only affect that particular area of the map in the level. So he had his character WALK AROUND THE SCRATCH. Yep, he walked way off course, down into some valley and took the long way around, and he walked around the scratch on the disk because he walked into a different map segment that wasn't scratched. Isn't that cool? It just blows my mind how entwined virtual and real can be, and provides a glimpse into the future that's kind of freaky.

It also gives me a lot of insight into the cool deductive way that my kid thinks. No wonder his favorite novels are the Sherlock Holmes series!

There have been many such examples lately that demonstrate to me how alike we are in some ways. It's no surprise that when I worked at Microsoft, Testing was my field. To be a Tester, you need to be able to understand the code and how it works, and then think of all of the different ways that you could stress that code. I'm sure he gets a fair amount of this ability from his dad the jet mechanic as well. Wayne has to do this kind of problem-solving frequently in his job. Mackenzie totally thinks like this on a daily basis. When he finds a problem, whether its hardware or software related, he starts thinking of all of the different things that could be causing it, and then starts methodically narrowing them down.He's the kind of person I would've loved to have on my team at Microsoft! What a cool kid.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Yep, It Happened

He's taller than me. 5'7" and counting...

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Your Cute and Funny For the Day

This one's for the kids. We loved it! But then you might guess, we're a sucker for animals...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another Sweet Kitty Comes Our Way

Because we needed another animal in this family....NOT!

I was out running on Tuesday and this sweet little kitty was hanging around the trail. Another runner said it had been there at least a week. He's very skinny yet very very friendly and I felt sad for him (oh, that's always when I get in trouble, isn't it??). When I came back around after several more laps though, he had disappeared. I thought I would try calling him and lo and behold he came running after just one "here kitty kitty kitty...". I called Wayne and asked him to bring a cat carrier down to the trail, and as I sat down to wait for him, Mr. Kitty climbed right onto my lap and proceeded to purr like crazy.

A trip to the vet confirmed he's about a year old, not neutered and not micro-chipped. After putting up some "Found Cat" posters, we heard from the manager of an apartment across the street from the trail. He's been hanging around the apartment building for six months. A few of the people there feed him, but they can't have animals in their building so he has no home. Awwwww, I guess he's ours.

Just last year at about this time, Asa lost her beloved kitty Bandit to poisoning so there was no doubt that Mr. Cuddles here was going to be hers. Sure enough, he settled onto her bed like a pro and even proved he knows what the litterbox is for. She has dubbed him Miguel, and he's a real sweetheart. So far there's been only a few minor hissing matches with the other two cats, and he hasn't quite figured out what to make of the dogs yet, but I'm trying to keep them separated as much as possible until he gets settled in. As soon as he puts on a pound or two he'll be off to get neutered, but right now he's painfully thin. He looks more like a cheetah than a house cat with his long skinny legs. I think he'll be our biggest cat once he fills out though, so the others better be nice to him now while he's relatively small and weak!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Fledglings Have Flown

It all started last week with Mackenzie going off to an overnight karate retreat, where among other things they climbed a local mountain in their karate gis and trained on top for hours. He came home tired, sore, and extremely happy to have gotten some time to train intensely with a big group of black belts. He will be testing for his brown belt in the fall, which will put him about 9 months to a year away from being able to test for black, so he has gotten very serious and excited about karate lately. As always, I'm grateful when my kids find an activity that makes their body/mind/soul healthier and more fulfilled. For Mackenzie, I think karate is a real gift, and he puts a lot of effort into doing well.

Now it's Asa who has fledged, leaving for her first sleep-away camp ever on Sunday afternoon. It's a church camp much like the ones I attended at her age. They'll be doing horseback riding, swimming, hiking, and all of the things that a summer camp should be. Even better, she's in a cabin with a gaggle of girls that are already friends from homeschool activities. I'm not sure they'll be getting much sleep (since when she called me last night at 11:30 pm, it sounded like the giggling had not wound down quite yet) but I know they'll be having a lot of fun, and the house just seems so quiet without her.

I'm not quite sure how our kids got so grown up and independent. I know that the conventional wisdom says that this won't happen if you don't push for it at a very early age, but that's not how it has worked out for us. Now that the kids are older, I feel compelled to share that all of the parenting books that say you have to wean your kids early, make them sleep in their own rooms while still babies, let them "cry it out" when they need attention, and other "independence-pushing" parenting strategies are simply not true. Kids find independence when they are ready for it. Asa just started sleeping in her own room not all that long ago, but here she is going away for a week with no trouble at all. The truth is, when you allow kids to come to independence on their own terms, what they earn is a true independence that they really own. It's for-real and for-keeps. It's not based on insecurities or worries about how they will be perceived or judged by their parents or peers. My fledglings have flown, just when their wings were ready. And it's fun to watch them fly!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fun With Food

Who says you shouldn't play with your food?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And the Reason I Had to Buy All That Food?

Mackenzie grew an inch just in the last 3 weeks. No wonder he ate my cooler full of food on the camping trip! Now he is officially exactly as tall as I am, and two inches shorter than his dad. Of course, he's still a good eight to nine inches shorter than his half-brothers, so he may yet have a lot more growing to do!

I'll have to take a back-to-back photo this week!

Friday, June 25, 2010

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit...

Here's a great visual for you of the generation gap. In the middle are my mom's shoes which she wore when she dated my dad. They're about a size five I think. I couldn't squeeze half of my big flippers into them. Even Asa at age ten can't get her feet into them (she's now into a ladies' size 7). Then comes my feet, at size eleven they are not dainty. But hey, I'm a swimmer and they make great flippers. My dad (size 12) always said he gave me a good foundation in life, and he was right! On the outside are Mackenzie's shoes. Size 13: same as his age. I sure hope they don't go up in size as he gets older! As it is, he looks so much like Jeremy from Zits it's scary. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the creators of Zits are parked across the street from my house with binoculars gathering source material on a daily basis.

Last week Mackenzie and I went camping together for a few days. I packed an enormous amount of food, in quantities that could've seen Hannibal and his elephants safely over the Alps. I'm not kidding:

One package of hot dogs
Two pounds of hamburger
Two quarts of pasta sauce
Two packages of pasta
One can of refried beans
One loaf of bread
One bag of tortillas
One brick of cheese
A gallon of milk
A half gallon of pancake batter, pre-made and ready to go
A jar of peanut butter and one of jelly
A container of hummous
A dozen eggs
Carrots, celery, grapes, watermelon, salad, snap peas, apples, bananas
4 Clif Bars
Two containers of nuts
One baggie of raisins
One box of graham crackers
Two bars of chocolate
One bag of marshmallows

AND.... you guessed it, I had to go to a grocery store three days into the camping trip to resupply. No, I am not making this up. The kid has grown four inches this year and somehow managed to lose five pounds in the process, despite eating us into the poorhouse.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Flotsam and Jetsam

It's almost summer and around here everyone has been busy with a variety of activities. Asa just finished up her big end-of-year dance recitals, although their dance team will be competing at the "Dance Magic Grand Champions" this summer since they won 1st place in their division. So the excitement of dance team is not quite over for the year, which cheered her up immensely when she was feeling sad over dance being over for the season. She also just finished up with performances of Little Shop of Horrors a couple of weeks ago, which was a very fun production (and their theatre company has just been outdoing itself in every production, this was very good!). Now she's heading down to my mom's house for her annual week of Missoula Children's Theatre. She'll audition on Monday and hopefully will get a part again, so then it will be full-day rehearsals for a week and a performance the following weekend.

In the meantime, Mackenzie and I will take that week and go on another camping excursion like we did last year. This year instead of the high desert, we'll be heading to the coastal redwoods, taking both kayaks and both dogs. That should be exciting! Last year on our trip Mackenzie plowed his way through the first few books in the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (this photo is of him celebrating Towel Day 2010). This year he's taking a book called Going Bovine that looked funny enough that I have even started reading it and now can't put it down. He just finished up with his computer science classes (where he was very excited to have earned an A in his first graded class ever), and has also been building computers with a friend.

Everyone is looking forward to some warmer weather after the unceasing rains of May and June. Asa optimistically made these wonderful popsicles this week, yet another hit recipe from the DK Children's Cookbook that she has checked out from the library enough times that I really ought to buy a copy! I got lucky last Saturday and hit the sunshine jackpot, squeezing my first triathlon of the season in between a rainy Friday and an absolutely torrential Sunday. I left the kids with Wayne (who had the unenviable job of getting Asa's hair, make-up, and costumes all ready for the first of the big dance recitals) and took off with some friends for the outskirts of Portland and the Blue Lake triathlon. As you can see, we really enjoyed ourselves! I always feel like such a big girl when I travel without the kids. It's so different to have them at these ages now where for large chunks of the day, or even for a weekend, I am not with them. Motherhood was so all-enveloping for so many years, but now suddenly it's not anymore. I'm going to have to adjust to this new phase of existence.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Saddest News of All

When I started on my parenting journey, I didn't really know anyone in real life who parented like I wanted to. Didn't know anyone who homebirthed, wore their baby in a sling or nursed on demand (even when the demand proved to be great), co-slept, picked their baby up when they cried, didn't "sleep train" them or slap them with wooden spoons when they misbehaved ala the Pearls (if you don't know who that is, you can just be thankful, I won't post a link to their child-rearing nutcase garbage philosophy here).

So in the nascent days of the internet, I was grateful to find an online list of like-minded mamas to discuss these issues with, commiserate with, share the joys of parenting with. Many of them had children slightly older than mine and were blazing a trail that I could see myself following. We even met up in real life. I discovered that one of the list moms lived only a few miles from us and we became friends before our babes even crawled past their first year. When Mackenzie was two, a big meet-up was planned in Chicago and we packed up our toddlers and boarded a plane and got to come face to face with some of the wonderful parents and kids who had only been virtual up until that point.

In time, one of our most talented members even became semi-famous for writing a book on Attachment Parenting. This week, that same mom, Katie Allison Granju had to say goodbye to her son Henry who lay dying from complications of a drug overdose and a brutal assault that left him with a critical brain injury. In ripples traveling out from this event are waves of sadness, horror, disbelief, grief, and an astonishing sense of "how could this happen?" Because if something horrible like drug addiction could happen to a child who was so loved, so wanted, so cared for, then whose child is safe??

We'd like to think that all of the things we do for our children will somehow weave a magic web of protection around them. And the studies back up these assumptions. For instance, a recently publicized study found that every month of breastfeeding an infant improved their behavior and impulse control in their teenage years (leading me to exclaim My God, my kids ought to be angels as teens!, LOL). But the sheer fact is that there are no guarantees, no magic formula. Sometimes you can do everything right and bad things still happen.

I am, as I imagine all of my mom friends from way back, reeling right now, feeling such incredible disbelief that the young Henry of the curly mop of hair and the talent for music could be dying, could be dead. It doesn't seem possible. Praying for Katie, her husband, Henry's siblings, and their extended family as they make their way through their grief. Thinking hard about the difficult choices we have to make when we parent teens and things are not so easy as they were back when the children were small. Talking with my husband and kids about the roads that we go down in life, how things that might look fairly harmless (smoking a joint with friends) can lead to ever-increasing dangers and as we have seen, even death. And praying some more.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh, What Does Mom Know?

So with Mackenzie being interested in computer science and all, I've mentioned many times that he should probably improve his keyboarding skills (we don't call it typing anymore in the new age, you know). I've pointed out links to online games that would be fun and accomplish this purpose, and even bought a typing tutor game on CD for him. But do you think he would listen to mom on this subject?????  Nooooooooooo....

But of course now that his mentor/teacher/business partner in the computer business mentioned that he needed to be able to type fast and showed him a link to some Free Typing Games online, he's been really working on it and lo and behold his typing is vastly improved.

It reminds me all too well of when my mom told me I should take typing in high school and I totally blew her off with a "mom, I am NOT going to be a secretary!". Lo and behold, six years later I was working at a computer company and typing all day long. LOL, the joke was on me.

Which is why, in this unschooling life, I'm so grateful for the mentors in my kids' lives. People who share their time, talents, interests, and yes, advice. Having a variety of adult influences is a great bonus to kids, and especially as Mackenzie moves into the teenage years, it's awesome that he has other people he can look up to and learn from.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We are Made of Star Stuff

I Love This. It reminds me of watching Carl Sagan's The Cosmos as a kid and being awed.

""We Are All Connected" was made from sampling Carl Sagan's Cosmos, The History Channel's Universe series, Richard Feynman's 1983 interviews, Neil deGrasse Tyson's cosmic sermon, and Bill Nye's Eyes of Nye Series, plus added visuals from The Elegant Universe (NOVA), Stephen Hawking's Universe, Cosmos, the Powers of 10, and more. It is a tribute to great minds of science, intended to spread scientific knowledge and philosophy through the medium of music."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What My Young Man's Been Up To

I guess I have to stop calling Mackenzie my boy or my kid, once they start growing a mustache and they're taller than you, you have to stop right? In any case, Asa informs me that he is a TEEN not a kid, and that she will soon be a TWEEN not a kid, so there you go.

This time of year, I post a lot about Asa, since we are well into the endless rounds of dance recitals, play productions, singing gigs, etc. At last night's Homesource recital, she danced, sang with a rock band, did mime, and karate. She's my goer and doer and it's always easy to see what she's up to because it's usually on a stage!

Mackenzie's got a lot of stuff going on, but it's not usually the kind of thing one presents in front of an audience. Nevertheless, he's been really focusing in some exciting directions and I wanted to share here what he's been up to. This year started out with him taking his first computer programming class, in Visual Basic, through Homesource. The teacher there is beyond excellent and he's come back enthused and excited by the programming principles he's been learning. Then about halfway through the year, he began talking with one of our friends and workout buddies who has his own web design business. Mackenzie started doing a little bit of interning with him, learning both the front end stuff (HTML) and the back end (server) side of things. He was most excited about really doing actual work on live websites and real running servers. Heady stuff for a 13 year old. Then he got to talking with another one of our friends who is an IT guy and hardware specialist. Now for the last few weeks he's been going over to his house to learn about the hardware end of things.

Just this last week, he had a "test": basically he had to build a computer from a pile of components and a casing. He did it, too! And then got all of the operating system, drivers, and software installed to boot. He was enormously (and deservedly) proud of this accomplishment, and has been tinkering with even more machines (mostly old ones from around here that we've never gotten rid of). I can honestly say, he now knows far more about hardware than I do, and is rapidly eclipsing my software knowledge. At thirteen!

One thing that impresses me about all of this is the sheer numbers of people that are willing to share their knowledge, their time, and their skills with a kid. Often when people visualize homeschooling, they see it as something that will limit their children: limit their exposure to different topics, different people, to expertise in different areas. But I think this is just one example of how that really isn't the case. Whenever my kids have wanted to learn a skill, from Celtic violin to propogating plants to building a computer, they have found teachers and mentors willing to work with them, people who often give freely of their own time and energy to share their knowledge. It's not just about me homeschooling them, it's about them going out in the world and seeking out new knowledge and experiences, often far beyond what I would be able to show them.

The other thing that impresses me is really just how mature and capable Mackenzie is as a person. He's able to engage with adults in meaningful conversation about topics that he's interested in. He's able to work with them or for them or learn from them in respectful and attentive ways. He's able to see adults as people who have skills and knowledge to offer him, and to seek out the mentors in his life who will be able to help him to grow. And really, he's done all of this without my assistance, insistence, or prodding.

To me, it's just one more gift that unschooling has given to these kids, one more way that they grow and learn in a completely different manner than I did at their age. I am profoundly grateful for the fact that they have this opportunity, that we have the time and ability to give them this gift, and that so many wonderful people in their lives are involved in their learning.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Feeling Loved

Our family are not really Hallmark Holiday people. We don't tend to buy flowers or cards, we prefer things homegrown or homemade and heartfelt. For Mother's Day, what I really love is (if the weather cooperates) to head to a lake and do my first outdoor swim of the year. It's become a bit of a tradition and it's something I look forward to. So this year we headed to our favorite lake by the beach, with the kids' kayaks in tow and the dogs in the back of the van, it's quite a procedure just to get out the door!

It was my pup Sophie's first trip to a lake, and she wasn't too sure about getting in the water. Mackenzie is trying to encourage her!

Eventually she got the hang of it and even fetched the ball from the water. It took her a few tries to get the hang of grabbing it without swallowing water. It was like watching someone bob for apples for the first time.

My tri-buddies Carrie and Devlin and I got to dress up like superheroes and save the universe from certain disaster. Just kidding! We got to go swim in the lake, which was surprisingly warm and beautifully clear in the sunshine. To me, there's something about swimming outside that is just so joyful. I mean I always love swimming, but a pool indoors is like a pale substitute for outdoor swimming. Kind of like buying a slice of cheesecake at McDonald's. It's only good if you absolutely cannot possibly get real cheesecake and have temporary amnesia so you've forgotten what it really tastes like. Not that I've ever eaten McDonald's cheesecake, I'm just imagining how bad it might be. In any case, I always look forward to the first outdoor swim of the year and this year delivered a blue lake and sunny skies right on cue for Mother's Day weekend (even though a threat of rain on Sunday made us move the swim to Saturday instead).

On Sunday, I got these sweet straight-from-the-heart cards from the kids. Mackenzie made a point to hand-write me a message (even though he's usually the computer keyboard kid) and Asa gave me coupons for a massage, a manicure, pedicure, and hairstyling (I'll post photos of that last one!). Could a mother ask for anything more?

Wayne cooked me a yummy breakfast, I got a nice long phone call in to my mom to tell her how much I love her, and I got to go for a 10 mile run on Sunday in the sunshine as well. All in all, I'm left feeling blessed to the utmost degree, grateful for my hubby, kids, and friends, and hoping all of the mothers out there had a wonderful day too.