Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hauling Wood on Hoth

Our Rebel Band prepares for the winter on Hoth. See how the whole family helps out!

Fun in the snow

The coming of the longest night for some is a time of dread, but I love it. The more snow the better. The past few days my family has taken advantage of the gift from mother nature and has rekindled the spirit of childhood.

Here is a sampling of our joy.

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Angie takes the camera with her.

New sleds from Grandma and Grandpa T.

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Finn tries out his first snowboard. Bumbles bounce.

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All aboard!

Hot chocolate tailgate style, back of Rudolph.

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Location:Up north

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our Tree Tradition

This is our forth Christmas in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. One of our favorite parts about living up here is the beauty that surrounds us, especially in the winter. Jamie and I want to celebrate the beauty, and begin building memorable traditions with our children they will never forget. One way we prepare our home for the Christmas Season is by cutting our own tree down at a local tree farm, The Hauser's in Bayfield. This was the first year that Finn and Charlotte cut it themselves. You can find a video of the moment in the previous post.

After we cut our tree, we go to "Big Water" in Bayfield for goodies.

On the eve of Christmas Eve, we begin decorating the tree and our house. Because we have waited this long the anticipation has built up. Gramma Steckart is helping us this year.

Decorating the tree from a three year old's point of view.

Some of our favorite ornaments... This is Jamie at age 8.

Finn and Charlotte...

Our favorite musical instrument...

Homemade from Lake Superior Driftwood...

Vintage Santa that came atop a Whitman's Sampler from St. Nick. This is about 38 years old.

This is out tree topper which I got the year I was born. She is 43 years old.

An old light up Mickey who glows at night from Jamie's childhood.

Our decorated tree on Christmas Eve.

All is calm, all is bright.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tree cutting 2010

What happens when your children grow and begin to take over your job duties? You kick back and enjoy the ride. Check these rascals out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Bayfield, WI

Sunday, December 19, 2010


How do you play "Big People" SCRABBLE with a six year old who is just learning to read and write? You change the rules. Actually, there are no rules.

With my kids, I like to seize the moment when they are most curious. This moment just happened to rear it's head while I was in the middle of folding laundry, stoking the fire, and emptying the dishwasher. "Mom, can we play SCRABBLE?" Of course, I dropped everything for a good game of No Rules SCRABBLE.

Here is how we played...
1. We turned all the letters face up.
2. I let him spell ANY word he wanted, including names, people and places.
3. We helped each other. I asked him to help me build my words, and I helped him build his. We had a dictionary and the ipad out to help us spell anything we were unsure of, and believe me, there was controversy. One of his words was "Angry Beavers" which is the name of a weird cartoon he likes. He wanted to spell Angry with an "e" which is totally understandable. We looked it up on Netflix just to be sure. Yes, spelled with a "y."
4. When we finished spelling words, we counted numbers on tiles just to see which word had the most points. We'd move over tiles to see if there were any hidden bonuses underneath.

Here, we counted up our numbers for "toothless" (the dragon from a recently popular kids movie) and found a Double Word Score under the letter "e." I told him "that means two of eight." I gave him a minute and he made his calculation by counting eight fingers up, then counted them until they all went down. "Sixteen! I counted my eight fingers two times." No rules, just fun!!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Magical Forests, Growth Rings and Public Schooling

I sit watching the educational debate unfold in front of my eyes and the current tenor of the debate has focused on prescribing a method that will achieve the end result of high test scores.  There are some that believe if we create a uniform set of procedures, scripts and decision making trees; giving them to a teacher, the teacher will produce the perfect kid.  Stamped from a uniform set of materials with a unform wrapper and product distribution end point.

But soul craft is not uniform. Each child is unique and as such requires a different set of circumstances in which to flourish.  Teaching is a subtle profession of careful nudges, listening, and having the patience to discover what the child needs to be successful.

It is not measured in one years of academic growth, which is a very linear male dominated model.  We only need to look to the natural cycles to really understand how kids grow.  If you have ever cut a cross section of a tree, you will notice the growth rings that are revealed.  Some years the rings are large, some years the rings are small.  We never would judge the health of a tree on one isolated tree ring in time.  Each ring represents the environmental conditions of that moment in time.  When judging the tree we look at the over all growth to determine its health. 

So when the educational professionals began looking at growth models I became nervous. They are moving in the right direction, but fall short.  Growth model proponents want to see a linear progression, yet just like trees, humans grow in spurts and frenzied learning followed by periods of slow or non-existent progress. And just like no two trees have the same growth rings, despite coming from the same forest; no two children will grow in a similar fashion. Learning is not a clean a predictable endeavor, and I am afraid that if we try to impose this model from above that we will, “not see the forest for the trees,” and as a result we will kill the magic of the forest and of learning for our children.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hidden Treasures: Part Two

Another fun time was had by all this past Monday. We have our weekly play group that meets at the Cornucopia Town Hall, open to all moms and their children. At present, we have babies to nine year olds that get together for play time. Word spread about how impressive Kathie Snyder's presentation was when she visited our Penokee Co-op that we wanted her to come even farther North to share her knowledge of rocks and minerals with us again. We were fortunate enough to get her to come before she leaves on a long "Rock Hounding Expedition" to replenish her Geode stash, amongst other great rocks and minerals she'll pick up along the way.

Unfortunately, in the rush to get there early to help set up, I forgot my camera. So, no pictures or video of the rambunctious group of learners. Ayla Tucker came along as her assistant. I might add here that Ayla is only nine years old and has become very proficient at identifying rocks and minerals already. Ayla had prepared note cards with the names of specified rocks/minerals and helped Kathie lay them out on the table.

On the stage Kathie spread out a large blanket. On this, she dumped out a huge bucket filled with Lake Superior rocks and other hidden gems. Everyone was told to find rocks that looked different from each other. They were able to take a small bag of rocks home. There were fossils, horn coral, pieces of copper, sparkly quartz, and agates, just to name a few. This was a favorite place for all ages. Charlotte actually laid down on all the rocks and said, "Mom, I feel like I'm at Herbster Beach!" (This is a local beach filled with Lake Superior Rocks that we love to scour every time we go). Later, the babies and toddlers took their place on the blanket of rocks examining them in their curious manner, seeing how far they could toss them and I think they may have even tasted a few.

On the long table Ayla helped to set up, people were free to look at Kathi's collection and ask questions. Here, Ayla and Kathie helped people look up and identify rocks. We were told to bring any along that we had questions about.

Kathie saved the best for last. She brought along this big pipe cutter that plumbers use, consisting of two long arms with a chain of small circular blades attached. She put a Geode between the two arms, wrapped the chain around the Geode, flipped the whole contraption over and started to squeeze the two arms together, and presto! The chain/blades began cutting into the Geode and it split right in two!!! Here is a picture of the coolest Geode ever! It's about the size of a softball.

So there you have it! It truly is a hidden treasure. This Geode had a gem amongst the other sparkly stuff. And little bits of black whispy strands of sparkle too. Don't you just love my scientific terminology? Thanks again to Kathie for introducing us to more Hidden Treasures!

Location:Cornucopia Town Hall, Wisconsin

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Am I Crazy?

Yes, Charlotte got into the Annie play. Her part is a Choral Orphan. She is thrilled with this. And me? I am thrilled too, but I'm starting to feel a little anxiety over this decision. Mostly because I thought getting the kids to and from soccer felt overwhelming at times. We have entered a new frontier of craziness, but really, maybe it won't be all that bad. Bear with me as I talk myself into seeing the positive side of this decision.

First, we don't have a school schedule to worry about. This means, no getting to bed early, getting up early, no homework to worry about.

Second, we will rearrange our schedule so our errands are done during play practice. This means, we will not be doing story hour for a couple of months, which Charlotte was bummed about. But she doesn't really participate in that anymore. She independently goes off and checks out her own books and reads while the youngers sit and listen to stories. Thank god the library in Washburn is open on weeknights until 8:00pm.

Third, I have friends that said they will help me when I need it during the week. I'm pretty much single mom until the weekends.

Fourth, I've been told that play practices are interesting enough to hold the attention of the younger brother and sister. Sometimes, we will be staying to watch practice.

And last, everyone I have talked to has said "You just can't miss this opportunity." So, I'm talking myself into helping my daughter take this on. So, the positives are:

1) She will get free dance, singing and acting lessons. (Well, the cost is all the driving I'll be doing)
2) She will get to know a whole new group of girls, all participating in a very fun activity.
3) She'll be a part of something BIG!
4) She'll be taking direction and learning from adults other than her mom and dad.
5) This will give her a beginner experience, which can lead to other plays. She'll have a choral part in her back pocket.
6) It's ANNIE for cryin' out loud!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Emergence of Talent

When does a child reveal their talent to you? Do you wake up one day and see it blooming like a spring flower in the morning? Or does it creep up on you like old age a little at a time.

Yesterday, my oldest was in the back yard at our duplex in Minneapolis, holding an apple up and playing with our first dog Lucky. Fast forward seven years, four moves, a new dog and the addition of two more children; I find myself sitting drinking coffee in Stagenorth waiting for my children to try out for their first community theater production of Annie.

The music flowed before our children came into our lives. As a couple we played music while they were in the womb, and continued paying while they grew up around us. Mini guitars were given as gifts; drama and story telling became routine. Our children put on their own production of the Hobbit and continued to re-enact the great dramas of our time often putting song and dance moves into the mix without any adult involvement. My wife and I would sit back and wonder where all this imagination and energy came from.

The homeschool life allows us to let the natural emergence of talent to appear, often in unexpected places.

So today I sit while Finn and Charlotte try out for Annie. I don't know what the outcome will be, it may be the beginning many nights of hanging out in theaters or it may just be one of the many things my children try as they make their way towards who they will become. As they chart their own course, my wife and I become passengers on their adventures.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Hidden Treasures: Splitting Geodes

Have you ever just picked up a rock and thought, "Gee. I wonder what's inside there?" Well, when my kids found out they could split open a Geode, they were absolutely thrilled. Especially Charlotte. She's my little rock hound. Every time we go to the beach, she comes home with a huge bag of rocks. We recently joined the Penokee Mountain School ( the local Homeschool Co-op) back in early October. The kids have been waiting so patiently for the arrival of this day. Last Friday we had a local guest speaker from Marengo, Kathie Snyder, an avid rock hound, come share her buckets of knowledge (and Geodes) with our children. When I say buckets, I mean that each child was able to choose one Geode from three different states. I wish I could remember which Geode came from where. These were mostly from southern states and each had their own look about them. In this photo, the Geodes appear to be very round. When you pick them up, they seemed pretty light.The kids seemed to have the most luck with these Geodes called "Coconut Geodes" from Mexico.This bucket had what I would describe as "bubbly shaped" geodes called "Thundereggs" from New Mexico. They felt pretty dense and ended up to be hard to split.This bucket looked like it was filled with "mini brains." Also very dense and very hard to split. These came from Arizona and Tennessee.We walked away with from this experience learning how to choose a good Geode. One must pick up many and compare them to one another. Looks can be deceiving. You must go by weight. The bigger and lighter, the more space there may be inside. You want light and hollow, as they split easier. We found through trial and error, that small and dense were really hard to break. Mind you, this is done with a chisel and a hammer. And safety goggles of course. For those who could not break theirs open with the chisel, there was the option to take the Geode out to the sidewalk and just hit it with the hammer. If you have to do this, chances are you'll end up with more pieces. So, here are some samples of Charlotte and Finn pounding away.

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Not only did she bring her Geodes, but a tray full of Agates, which this family is particularly fond of. She offered one to everyone.There was a table of her beautiful rock collection. Sometimes, I take pictures and I don't even know what I'm taking a picture of. I just know they are pretty and sparkly. That big thing in the front is a petrified cactus. (One of the kids told me.)I think this is a fossil of some kind.Ok. Look at this colorful beauty. So vivid!I've never seen anything quite like it. So, later I asked Kathie what kind of rock could have so much color in it. Well folks, it is NOT a rock. This is a slice from the floor of a car factory. Yes, this is layers upon layers of car paint.

Another station she had set up were animal skulls. This was a very popular display.It was a spectacular day. I have to give Kathie a ton of credit for her patience, bravery and very steady hand. She split Geodes with about twenty kids and walked away with all limbs attached.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Family Fun Night

Every year the town of Herbster, Wisconsin puts on a family fun night.  When I was a kid,  Halloween meant you ran around the neighborhood collecting candy.  And every year the weather was so bad you never got to show off your costumes.  Mom made sure to bundle you up and as a result, G.I. Joe, Batman, and Wonder Woman were covered by long coats and scarves, or 50 gallon garbage bags when it was raining.

The emergence of family fun nights not only makes the event safer, i.e. no cars, no razors in the candy, but it gives a chance for the kids and adults to show off their costumes.  At the Herbster event, there are games and a haunted house, a cake walk, pictures and an age graded contest for the best costumes.  This year Angie and I won best adult costume, Finn took third place in his age group and Charlotte won overall scariest costume.  We won a cake and the kids came home with a bag full of prizes.  Thank you goes to the Herbster community for putting on another great event.  It is definitely one of the ones we look forward to each year.  And now the participants:

Service Learning and Gale Force Winds

Last week while I lay in bed with the flu, Mother Nature decide to drop the big one on the South Shore of Lake Superior. The barometer dropped so low that if the storm would have been over the ocean it would have been classified a hurricane. Six huge Aspens on our property snapped like twigs and lay like pick up sticks. Fortunately two years ago I cleared the forty year old trees away from our house and garage, so none landed on our buildings.

Once the power was restored and the town cleared the roads of dead trees, we went to town to pick up the mail. Along the way we drove by our 80 year old neighbors and saw an awesome sight.

When is the right time to teach service learning to your kids Piper, 3; Finn, 6; Charlotte, 8; decided that it was a great time to help out our neighbors. The blow down was so large that they would be unable to get their car out of the garage. Thanks to a husqvarna and an awesome family we got that bad boy cut up and cleared in two hours.

While I used the saw, the kids and Angie dragged away the slash and rolled the chunks into a pile. Work completed we headed home to prepare for family fun night at Herbster.

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