Saturday, November 8, 2014

Go Cart!

In his usual persistent style, Michael managed to procure from David the purchase of scrap lumber (half off!), which he immediately turned into a go-cart. He's had this design in mind for quite some time, so it only took a few hours to put it together. It's just about perfect for the long, slow slope down our street (also used for sledding when we get the occasional winter snow).

This particular go-cart must be ridden accompanied by sound effects courtesy of Bill Cosby.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Back in the Sling

There's some saying about lightning not striking twice, but I'm pretty sure it's been proven that it can actually strike the same spot more than once, thus proving the inaccuracy of the saying.

Same park. Same wrist. And after a trip to the ER, we're scheduled to see the same orthopedic surgeon to get the broken wrist fixed.

There's not much more to say than that.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Amicala Falls with Homeschooled Kids

We all hear about how excited parents can get when it's "Back to School" season. What you may not know is that many homeschool parents get excited around the same time of year. Not because we will again be shipping our kids off on yellow buses five days a week (which we won't be doing), but because, for some unknown reason probably related to "planning" the upcoming "unschool year," we all seem to get bit by the field trip bug and we all start planning field trips for our group. Unfortunately, many of them seem to end up clustered in the same couple of months in the fall, so some picking and choosing is necessary.

The trip we chose for this week was a visit to Amicalola Falls State Park. It was a bit of a drive for us (close to two hours), but it was good practice for Thomas--the longest distance he has driven so far.

Map at Visitor's Center
If have to say right off, the folks manning the post at this Park were very friendly and helpful. In our Tour of America four years ago I found that customer service was not always a priority for the Park rangers. Heather in particular, who was in charge of our group's hands-on program, was wonderful about working with us and the kids.

First up, we gathered behind the Visitor's Center in the Lower Amphitheater, and the kids all sat facing the wrong direction. Most of the moms were turned around, too. But, Heather just went with it and relocated to the back of the theater and got started.

Ready for the program

Heather talked about turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. She had a pair of box turtles (one of my favorites), a male and a female. Fun fact I did not know: Males have brighter orange or red eyes, and females have darker eyes.

Heather and Lightning
Heather passed around the turtles, and also some shells for everyone to look at. Another fun fact I did not know: In some species of turtles, their spines are actually attached to the top of their shell.

Thomas with an empty turtle shell

The female turtle, Speedbump, was brought to the Park after she was found injured (run over by a car...thus her name). She had a quite cleverly crafted repair job on her upper shell using some sort of industrial-strength adhesive. As with All Things Turtle, the healing of a shell can take a long, long, long time, and the adhesive keeps their shell together while the healing takes place.

William--not quite sure he wants to hold had just peed

Michael and Lightning

One of the empty shells Heather passed around was not quite empty; it had a variety of turtle bones in it. Michael and Simon were particularly interested in identifying the different bones, and pointed out there were two heads but only one pelvis.

Simon with a shell full of bones

We won't go into how difficult it can be to get nice pictures of one's children.

Thomas and Friend

As a nice surprise, Heather brought out a corn snake for everyone to hold, pet, and enjoy. Although there was some theatrical squealing from a few members of the front row when the snake was brought out of the bag (it wasn't exactly a surprise, since it was announced in advance), just about every squealer immediately jumped up to pet the snake.

Corn Snake named Kellogg

Thomas and Kellogg

While I was being a good homeschool mom and documenting our educational experience, I also managed to steal a few shots of some of our moms.

Maria The Pediatric Nurse, and one of her Wild Goats (yes, that is what she calls her children)

Stacey The Math Expert

Christin The Writer, and Kellogg

Once the turtles had been properly passed around and admired, Heather commenced the Turtle Races. Speedbump won every race, despite her damaged and repaired shell.

Michael and Syd starting the turtle race

The second half of our hands-on program was all about building emergency shelters. It was led by a very nice young man who had never led the shelter-building program before, so he was perfectly suited to facilitate (and not interfere with) a gaggle of kids who are all about gettin' in there and getting' it done. A few of the kids had built these types of shelters before, and since all of these kids have spend so much time together for so many years, working as a team was not a problem.

Building an emergency shelter

In progress

At some point, the younger kids realized there were kind of a lot of people involved in building just one shelter, and their contributions were shaking out to be more about gathering materials and less about building, so they decided to start their own shelter.

The Youngers' shelter

You have to admit, that's a whole lot of folks to build one two-person shelter. But, it went up really quickly. And came down even quicker (we had to return our materials to where they came from). Our facilitator was so impressed with the effort and results of our group, he took a picture to post on their FaceBook page.

The Whole Gang and a completed shelter

One of the things I love about our group is the lack of "stratifying" socialization. Thomas is fifteen, and a big, hulking teenager (way bigger than me now), and one of his best buddies is a petite little sweetie-pie who can (literally) perch on his shoulder.

Thomas and his buddy, Em

William and friend trying out the shelter

This is just a random photo because I liked the angle.

Thomas on top

So, yes, we did eventually hike down the trail to see the Falls. I always think it's somewhat counter-intuitive to hike *down* to see a waterfall, but that seems to be how these things are set up. It was an easy hike, and on the way we say this old truck interestingly perched on the hillside. Obviously it fell from the road above at some time in the past, and has been resting here ever since.

Old truck

The Falls themselves, of course, were wonderful.

William at the falls

Nick, Em, Thomas, and Hannah

After hanging out at the main landing, we all went down a bit further to appreciate the view from another view.

Another view from below


And then back up the stairs...

William, back up the stairs

And, finally, a small group of us motored up the rest of the way to the top of the Falls. Very nice view.

View from the top

And a last gathering of friends at the Upper Amphitheatre.

Last exchange

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hitting The Target

This is what the tail-end of a lovely shot looks like. And, yes, that is an umbrella.

Thomas' beautiful swing

It was a good day to be hitting golf balls. Warm, but not too hot. Sunny, with just enough clouds to keep it from being too bright all the time. Thomas had been down with a cold for several days, and this was the first opportunity to get OUT and about, and get a little physical activity.

We met up with Cal at the driving range for this week’s lesson. Thomas and Michael are doing “tandem” lessons at this point, Cal taking turns working with each of them during the course of the session. It works really well, because a full hour is a bit much for Michael’s shorter attention span, and a bit much for anyone to be hitting balls and doing exercises non-stop.

During one of Cal’s spells with Thomas, Michael grabbed the umbrella from the car to use as a parasol during a break in the cloud cover and, in typical Michael style, was using it in way it was not intended. He thought umbrellas only turned inside-out in cartoons, and thought it was hysterically funny that he could make our umbrella do that. (I was not quite as amused, as I can't seem to keep umbrellas in one piece and functional for very long.)

When it was Michael’s turn to get back to the lesson, Cal, like all brilliant teachers, pounced on the opportunity to turn a distraction into a learning moment. He took the umbrella and turned it into a target.

A huge part of Cal’s approach to teaching golf is focusing on the target. “It’s All About Hitting The Targets is his tagline (go check out his wonderful website**’s right there in the top banner and sprinkled about all the pages). Most people assume the target is that little flag waaaaaaay down range that you eventually want to get your ball to and drop into the little hole. But, there are actually other targets on the way to the cup, and Cal works on teaching his students to find those targets and reach them, one by one, until you get to the ultimate goal in as few strokes as possible. 

And, he tries to shift the focus off of the BALL as being a target (the thing you have to hit just right with a golf club). This can be tricky on a driving range, because there’s no flag, just an open field full of abandoned golf balls. And in this case, a tree or two.

The umbrella worked great. It provided a focal point for Michael to work on his chipping. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what he was doing; making the ball pop up and land a short-ish distance away with the goal of landing in the umbrella. I loved watching that moment unfold, and couldn’t help taking a few pictures of both Michael and Thomas.

From distracted to focused in record time...and barefoot

I've never really had any interest in golf, but David enjoys it and wanted the boys to have the opportunity to learn and play. Cal was introduced to us through a mutual friend, and Thomas and Michael started lessons with him about a year ago. It's been a great experience for all of us (including David who got a "clean up your swing" session recently), and I've been working with Cal developing his message and his website.

This is where the ** comes in. I can rightly claim some bragging rights to Cal's website, since I have worked with Cal to develop the content. I consider Cal my first real-live editing client. The design and coding, by the way, are courtesy of my extremely talented friend, Sarah. You can contact her through her own website-in-progress. She is wonderfully creative, and has managed to add some really nifty functionalities to the site. It's not quite perfect yet, but I couldn't help showing it off a little early.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Driving. Oh, My...

He kept saying he was going to get his Learner's Permit as soon as he turned fifteen. He'd been saying it for several months. He went online and studied and took the practice tests, and told me his score each time he took it. He kept counting down the days until he had his Learner's Permit. I finally told him that if he needed me to take him to the DDS, he would need to put it on the family calendar. Which he did.

So, the day after he turned fifteen, I took Thomas to the DDS, and he took the test, and he got his temporary Learner's Permit.

As you can see, he was very happy about that.

And, he quite proudly asked for the keys to he could drive us home. This is him in the driver's seat with his Learner's Permit. Nervous, but ready to go.

Now, Thomas has been practicing his driving skills in safe areas for a few years now, so I knew he could drive. He's comfortable with our vehicle (despite it's size), and he takes the responsibility seriously. But, he'd never driven on busy streets with traffic. He did very well. We got home in one piece with no major incidents. I think I only raised my voice once when pointing out a looming hazard.

Once in the driveway, in park, engine off, he definitely felt the stress relief.

It is an odd thing having your baby drive you around in the family vehicle. But, so far, it is an adjustment we're both making pretty well.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

He Missed His Mommy

The cats (brothers Bagheera and BooBoo) always miss us if we are away more than a few days. When we pulled into the driveway today, there was Baghie trotting over to us, squawking about how neglected he had been in our absence. BooBoo was not as vocal about it.  However, once the unpacking was done and I sat down to put my feet up for a bit, he promptly made himself comfortable in my sandals.

It's nice to be missed ... 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Paper Bug

This morning as I sat down in my usual rocking chair on the deck, I got a little start. On the table to my left was this guy enjoying his breakfast of Seed Catalog. He was close to two inches long, nose to tail. No shrimp for a bug. The kids (and most of the adults) all trotted out to Ooooh and Aaaaaah over him, and he was much appreciated as a specimen. When he moved on to other objects on the table, he was gently removed to another part of the deck where he might have better success finding something tastier than a water bottle cap.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Morning On The Lake

This morning I woke earlier than usual and could not get back into a restful sleep, so I got up and took the kayak out onto the lake for a nice, leisurely paddle. It was a beautiful morning; cool and clear, with just a little bit of high overcast so no direct sun. The far end of the lake from the house is "Duck Poop Island," as the kids call it. Nearest the house is the earthen dam and spillway. Right close to shore is this lovely cluster of water lillies, a new addition to the lake life. As I neared, it became obvious it is a favorite hangout for frogs, dragonflies and other shy creatures. The blossoms are stunning; they remind me of magnolia and dogwood in their prim stiffness.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Duck Poop Island

This is "Duck Poop Island," so named by the boys who enjoy visiting and squishing poopy mud between their toes. It's not actually an island but is almost surrounded by water, between the lake itself and the stream that feeds it. It is a favorite spot of the boys to visit, and beyond is a spot for grander adventures, "Dinosaur Swamp." The boys generally take two-way radios with them when they adventure, as well as snacks. This time they brought along adults with camera phones instead.

Squishy Bear squishing this toes

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Good Morning and Thank You Bad Contractor

This morning I was up around my usual time, padded downstairs in my usual way, and started making coffee with my usual lack of coffee-making talent (if you don't get up before me, you deserve bad coffee). I went to empty the prior pot's used grinds into the trash (which is in the garage to prevent the dogs from feasting), and stopped at the door that opens from the kitchen to the garage. The door has a paned window on the top half so you can see into the garage from the kitchen, and I tend to be sensitive to changes in light or movements in the garage. I didn't even have to look through the glass to notice something was different out there. When I opened the door, I was greeted by a "poof" of swirling debris resembling grey snow, and saw that a portion of the garage (which we just recently finished converting to a hobby room) was covered in the stuff.

Some time during the night or early morning, about a quarter of the garage ceiling collapsed, dumping all of the blow-in insulation it previously held onto the floor and one of the hobby tables.

I quite calmly finished the process of making coffee (okay, not entirely calmly; I did say "what the fuck" out loud) and ensured there was a full pot brewed before I went back upstairs to wake David and quietly inform him, "We have a small problem in the garage." Wasn't that thoughtful of me?

Not surprisingly, David's immediate response exactly echoed mine: "What the fuck?"

A somewhat closer inspection made clear what the problem was. As you can see below, on a section that had not yet collapsed you can see the gap between the drywall and the rafter beams it is supposed to be attached to. That's not good.

Oh, yeah, and did I mention the ceiling fan was hung without being secured to an electrical box attached to a rafter? So, yeah, both of them were dangling another foot-plus into the room.

 Once we started getting into the clean-up and tearing down the portions of drywall that were clearly ready to fall, it became apparent the cause of the collapse: The contractor who hung the ceiling used nails instead of screws, and only placed them every two feet on every second rafter beam. They used blow-in insulation (probably because the space above the garage was originally attic), which over time absorbed moisture from our lovely, humid climate, which added weight to the ceiling. Compounded with the vibration of the garage door being opened and closed several times a day over the course of three decades, and you've got a bunch of ever-loosening nails.

Now, we realized shortly after the bought the house that the original builder had taken some shortcuts (my understanding is that at the time of construction Georgia had few or no actual building codes for residential), and that the sellers had done all of their "upgrades" on the cheap. But, we really did not expect to have the ceiling collapse in the middle of the night. We're just grateful no one was in there when it did.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Seventeenth Century Dinner

Some time last year our family was introduced to an educational program that was an instant hit. "Tales From the Green Valley" is a BBC production that follows a group of historians and archeologists over the course of a year as they live on a restored Seventeenth Century farm in England. Similar to some shows that have been produced in the U.S. (though those were clearly more focused on entertainment than education), the inhabitants of this farm were restricted to using only foods, tools and technology that existed in the 1620's. Unlike their American "counterparts," these Brits are experts in their field and pretty much knew exactly what they were getting into. They stayed an entire year, and the program was was presented in twelve installments, each representing one month of the year.

If you are a history buff, you MUST watch this program (we streamed it from YouTube). If you are a homeschooler, you MUST watch this program. Even if you are only even mildly interested in things that are outside the realm of your everyday life, you MUST watch this program. Just sayin'. (End of commercial)

So, one of the things that most impressed me (not necessarily in a good way) was how much time and energy was expended in producing, processing, and preparing food. It wasn't just the cooking (although that took at least one person most of the day to feed everyone on the farm), it was also the cultivating, harvesting and storing. And in the case of foods they could not raise, gathering funds or goods to trade for foods.

But, to the point of this post. Michael is completely enthralled with this show. Not only did he watch it all the way through all twelve (one hour) episodes the first time, he went on to watch all of the "spin off" shows. Then he went back and re-watched Green Valley. Several times. And then he re-watched all of the spin-offs. Several times.

That was last year. And I thought we had finished this "block of learning" for Michael. But, nope, he recently dug up Green Valley again, and watched the entire series all the way through. Three times in one week. That's how this kid absorbs.

At the end of the third viewing, he announced that "we" needed to go to the store. "Why do we need to go to the store?" I innocently asked (not really innocently, since I know there is always a plan behind every trip to every store with this kid, sometimes involving world domination). He explained that he "needed" to cook a Seventeenth Century dinner for our family (I keep trying to explain the difference between "need" and "want", but, like most adults, Michael realizes that semantically when you want something really, really, really badly, it somehow magically transforms into a need). I insisted that he provide an actual recipe and list of ingredients, which he promptly did. So, off to the grocery we went (which was a much better alternative than growing and raising and trading for all of the ingredients ourselves, thank you very much).

I don't remember the actual name of the dish, but we managed to find all of the ingredients at Kroger, except the rosemary that Michael insisted we use from our garden (good boy). He cooked it himself, as specified in the program's recipe (which, if you know anything about Seventeenth Century recipes, is vague at best and baffling at worst). In true British style, everything was boiled.

Remarkably, it turned out to be really tasty. It looks really plain, and could be a little dry unless you put lots of the "broth" on it. But, you know what? It was good. Plain, simple food. Although a small salad on the side would not be remiss ... if you have that stuff in your garden ;)

(Full Disclosure) This particular recipe called for an accompanying "pudding". If you're an American, or haven't read much Brit literature, let me clarify that British "pudding" has nothing to do with The Jello Corporation. In this particular historic case, as far as I can tell, it is (leftover from slaughter) meat, and herbs, and oats, all stuffed into an animal's digestive organs and boiled in the same pot with your meat and potato/vegetable. Sort of like a sausage, except you actually know what's in it, because you cooked it. In the case of this family dinner, we skipped the pudding part.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Precious ...

Homemade onion rings by Michael. 'Nuf said.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Fish Cake

David and Michael managed to catch quite a mess of fish on our recent holiday at Moon Shade Hollow. We brought them home, and they cleaned them up and froze then. We set a date, sent out invitations, and a bunch of friends showed up for our Family Game Night and Fish Fry.

Michael was determined that we MUST have a CAKE for our fish fry. So, he and David went to the grocery and picked up a pre-made cake and some "extras," which Michael quickly put together for his Moon Shade Hollow Fishing Cake.

Needless to say, it was a hit.