Thursday, January 29, 2009


I was looking over my blog and began to feel sheepish...most of what I blog about are my projects...not the kids' projects. I was looking at Camp Creek Blog, which is all about self-directed learning and began to worry that I am doing too much of the directing.

Greta seemed to notice I needed some bucking up.

She had shown no interest in drawing or writing. Recently she suddenly decided to do both. She started off the day after her 4th birthday drawing faces on her helium balloons that had lost their loft.
And then she asked Evelyn for help and learned to write her name.

And she moved right along covering stages that Ev and Clem covered slowly between the ages 2-4 in two weeks.

A couple days ago she saw my mom's pen and inks hanging in the kitchen....
And decided to do her own birds:

Ev and Clem took up knitting. Ev is finger knitting here and you can see her blue and turquoise knitting on needles in the background.
And Clem is excited to sew together her finger knitting into a hat.
Which is all great, but I have a problem. The entire project this blog purports to describe has been called into question.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Homeschooling in the Bathroom

I'm doing a unit on construction with the kids in our co-op using a fabulous book called The Art of Construction: Projects and Principles for Beginning Engineers & Architects .

Last week we covered elasticity and plasticity.

A structure behaving elastically bounces back to its original position after being deflected. A structure behaving plastically develops a permanent deflection. In other words it stays bent after you stop pushing on it.

I showed the kids photos of the Bay Bridge at its 50th birthday when the weight of thousands of celebrants bent the bridge. I remember this scary event back when I was a senior in high school.

Here is the bridge demonstrating its usual elegant curve.

Below is a picture of the bridge during the festivities, when hundreds of thousands of people walked from either side of the bridge, met in the middle and had nowhere to go.

The weight of all the people caused a deflection--the bridge actually flattened out. Look on the underside of the span between the concrete and tall metal suspension columns. See how it lost its curve?

Fortunately the bridge behaved elastically and bounced back.

After looking at these photos we watched a video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge which, after 70 minutes of behaving elastically, developed a permanent deflection.

This week our lessons have been brought home. The kids are watching as our bathroom is demolished. Dry rot had weakened the floor joists so we had to tear out the floor. While we were at it we decided to tear out the ceiling, too (to raise it and put in a skylight), and, what the heck, everything else.

The kids keep running to me with updates on the demolition.

I love it when life steps in to teach the kids and I can just sit back and blog.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clarity at the Dawn

I love coffee.

Instead of an engagement ring my husband gave me an espresso machine. Honestly.

I look forward to seeing its gleaming face every morning.

And I am a relentless coffee apologist. If you feel in need of a tirade just start saying coffee is a vice. I'll be all over you like the crema on my triple shot.

I'll quote articles like this:

Want a drug that could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and colon cancer? That could lift your mood and treat headaches? That could lower your risk of cavities?

If it sounds too good to be true, think again.

Coffee, the much maligned but undoubtedly beloved beverage, just made headlines for possibly cutting the risk of the latest disease epidemic, type 2 diabetes. And the real news seems to be that the more you drink, the better.

So I had a little thrill the other day when listening to Steven Johnson talk about his new book The Invention of Air on Science Friday. Because, he said, now brace yourselves, "It is not an accident that the Age of Enlightenment coincides with the arrival of coffee and tea as the daily beverages of choice...everyone was basically a lot more alert."

"If you go back a century or two before," he says, "most of the day people drank alcohol. Because it was really the only safe beverage you could drink because the water wasn't safe... [Y]ou had people waking up and drinking wine or beer all day. So you had an entire population that was pretty much drunk from 9am on."

And then came the coffeehouses. So not only is it good for your health, coffee is also responsible for the Enlightenment.

I'll drink to that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Still Un-app(le)ealing

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
-Carl Sagan

Lucky we were only trying to make German Apple Pancakes. I keep wanting to cook from our American History Cookbook, but Apple Snow is testing the limits of my open mind. Apple snow is applesauce mixed with sugar and egg whites, and beaten "to a stiff snow," then turned into "a dessert dish" and ornamented with myrtle.

Raw egg whites being not my favorite, we went for German Apple Pancakes today, recommended to us by several friends.

This amazes me. Clem was back to refusing to touch raw apples, but she has no such scruples about raw eggs.Apple matchsticks in the eggy batter.
Fry in skillet and then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. The batter has only 2 teaspoons of sugar.
So good you need two hands and a fork to eat it.

I bet Clementine could eat Apple Snow. Maybe the lesson of this month will not be Clementine learning to eat raw apples. Maybe I'll learn that we all draw our lines at some foods, and that eating applesauce, apple pie, german apple pancakes, and apple dumplings is good enough.
Ok, but it would still make me really happy if she tried one. Not giving in yet! 10 days left to go.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Birthday Gifts

Greta turned four yesterday. Her gift for timing was evident from her birth. We tucked Ev and Clem in bed on January 17th 2005 at 8pm and she arrived at 9:10pm.

She spent most of her birthday as her alter ego Princess Begonia. Among her accomplishments is a very regal bow.
And a gift for distributing largess. She gave one of her wands away to a friend and said, with quiet dignity, "When you are sad, you can pick it up and remember how I gave it to you."

However, she has a sense of fun.
And she proved during a walk at sunset on the Berkeley pier that she doesn't always stand on ceremony.
She takes disappointments pretty well. Mike swung her one time and her shoe flew up up up into the air and down down down into the water.

My macro lens makes it look like you could reach out and touch it, but it was not recoverable. But she is not above a little pout.The sunset was its own gift.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

As American as Martha Washington's Apple Cake

We're working on presidents. I'm terrible at dates and history was a personal bete noire. I can't believe now how I hated it in school.

The kids and I were listening to Boomerang in the car when, as luck would have it, a boomerang reporter traveled back in time to interview George Washington just before he crosses the Delaware. The kids lament in the intro about how the language arts teacher says that conflict makes for gripping reading, but the history teacher hands out texts that are a dry litany of dates and events.

An abstract from the New Yorker from 1979 sums up the problems with the history texts I grew up with:

Since the 1930's [American History textbooks] have maintained a consistent level of dullness. In part this is because of their silences. The longest of these silences is on the subject of intellectual history. The substitute has been editorial moralizing. The texts have been written without conflicts; there has been a tendency to minimize violent confrontation. Even the coverage of wars has been shortened. Connections between events are neglected. Historical development in American values and institutions are not shown.

Yup, that is how I remember it. Also I remember feeling that I didn't get enough details about everyday life. Our 5th grade trip to Colonial Williamsburg was one of the only times I enjoyed history as a child.

David McCullough, the historian who wrote 1776, wrote a short piece about putting faces to Revolutionary war soldiers called Faces. There are no photos of the time, of course, and even the paintings were made long after in a Romanticized style. McCullough collected descriptions of soldiers from desertion notices.

...seventeen-year-old George Reynolds from Rhode Island “carried his head something on his right shoulder...” Simeon Smith, “a thin-spared fellow, about 5 feet 4 inches high, had on a blue coat and a black vest, a metal button on his hat, black long hair, black eyes, his voice in the hermaphrodite fashion.” Mathias Smith...was “apt to say, ‘I swear! I swear!’ And between his words will spit smart.”

I love those details that bring history to life and I remember history best through biographies.

So I thought we'd look at American history through the presidents. We got a book at the library called So You Want to be President? "Lots of people want to be President," the book says. "If you want to be President it might help if your name is James. Six Presidents were named James." And later, "You probably weren't born in a log cabin. That is too bad. People are crazy about log cabin presidents. They elected eight. William Harrison was born in a big Virginia mansion, though he won the election with a 'log cabin and hard cider' slogan". Look for it at your library--it's a fun read.

And I'm cooking up grand tour plans. The National Park Service has itineraries on various history topics including a new one on the presidents. Ev's in 5th grade and I'd like to take her to Colonial Williamsburg this summer.

Today I thought we'd bake a Martha Washington Apple Cake, but when I saw the lengthy instructions ending with Bake for 75 minutes I decided it was more of an apple fritter day. American colonists certainly fried up apple fritters (once Johnny Appleseed had passed by). The earliest known British recipe dates to the 15th century, and the recipe hasn't changed much since then. Fritter is "fretoure" in this version: "Take fayre Applys, & kut hem in man'er of Fretourys," then dip apple slices in the batter and fry them in "Oyle."

Here was today's Historic Moment!

It went by so fast all I got was this blurry photo. No, it is not a UFO. It is Clementine holding a raw apple. Can it be long before she pops one in her mouth?

We didn't have any vegetable oil so we were forced to fry them in butter. Mmm.

Powdered sugar.

Hey look, a whole new way to sugar coat history.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Playing Hookie

Ev and I had just sat down to start working on articles on the topic bees in the ancient world. We have great plans to submit them to Dig magazine. And then the phone rang.

Who can resist a call to the beach on an unseasonably warm January day?

Not us.

In the spirit of playing hookie that is all I am going to write.