Monday, March 30, 2009

The Birthplace of Minnesota

After my daughter's writing class in the cities, we took the chance to visit Camp Coldwater--the Birthplace of Minnesota. This spring is where Colonel Leavenworth moved the military encampment from their original location on the Minnesota River where the people did not have healthy water to drink the first three years while the original Fort Snelling was built.

The Bureau of Mines under the Department of the Interior built a research facility at the location. It was officially closed in 1995 and has sat unused. the main building pictured here is in relatively good condition, all things considered. I actually didn't think the building was horrible looking--though very dated. Other buildings on the site have not fared so well.

Buildings have been vandalized pretty badly and the roads, parking lots and outlying structures are hurting. A year ago we had heard about the site and had wanted to see it. We put it off because I kept forgetting my ID--which at the time we needed to be granted access. When people heard that the site may be sold to the city to create a commuter's parking lot, many organized to try to save it. The site is considered sacred by the Dakota people. Unfortunately, the site is also heavily polluted from the time of the Bureau of Mines' tenure there. The water is actually green. It is incredibly sad, but I think the site might be cleaned up. It would make a great place for a museum if it is salvageable, but think they will probably be demolished. The National Park Service seems to be working on a future for it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shearing Sheep

Shearing day at the farm is an annual event. It comes in early spring; though I boasted spring is here over a week ago, some not so spring temperatures are supposed to be coming back for a few days. The newly naked sheep will stay warm in the barn if they do.

My family was invited by the farmers to watch the sheep shearing last Saturday. My daughter, who works for them doing chores, volunteered to help sort them as they were shearing. She manned the gate and got to watch the shearer at wor. I had expected that my sons would be too small to help, but they made sure they weren't left out either. I was amazed they even allowed them to come, kids can be hard to keep out of the way sometimes.. They can be rambunctious at times--not helpful for herding sheet. These guys have been very, very nice to my family. I appreciate them so much.

My oldest son got to climb into the wool bag and help stomp it down first. My youngest was devastated that he didn't get to do it. He eventually got a turn, but was bordering distraught about it. I felt badly, but I think waiting can be a good thing too. It is funny because a fear of being left out is not the reaction I get when I ask for help at home.

They helped skirt the wool as well. Another friend of the farmer apparently likes to pick the ickies from the fleece kept my kids company. It was wonderful to have my kids interact with so many people positively. Sadly, people are not always kind to kids and being active does not bode well with the "kids should be seen and not heard" crowd. The boys were soooo good. I am proud of them.

Afterwards, the kids were shown the small--it only has about 8 rungs on the ladder (the photo is misleading), grain bin. They got a lesson in farm safety, mechanics and the logistical need for the bin and feeding the sheep. I did nothing but drive to the farm and bring brownies, yet I was so tired.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Along the Mississippi Mud

The National Park Service occupies a corner of the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota. Many visitors to the science museum visit for years without ever stopping in their office to look at the exhibits or view films. The NPS holds regular activities and tours in the summer in their work as the Mississippi River Visitor Center.

On this tour a couple years ago, we walked along the river and discussed geology, transportation and its importance--both to the life of people and industry. It is utterly amazing to look at the river and then look to the city and realize how far the ancient river flowed when the glacial melt flowed at the end of the last ice age.

As we looked across the river, we viewed Harriett Island. This island has served as a park for St. Paul since 1900. The park has several festivals through out the year including an Irish fair, the Taste of Minnesota and is home to the Winter Carnival every year. The annual ice palace has become a not so annual part of the winter festival.

We could also see a Mississippi river boat. We discussed the building restrictions for the new construction that has been located within the historic flood zone. In the past, this area was known to be a "bad" area because of the poverty that the new immigrants who lived there contended with . The area was eventually devastated in a flood. The area has now been redeveloped into a beautiful area that many like to stroll through, very unaware of its history.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Catching the sun with mosaics

A week ago, my kids and I went to St. Paul to Mosaic on a Stick, a mosaics studio we heard about from a homeschool group we are members of. We were kind of intimidated by the selections of materials, so we just bought two kits that had the essentials to make four small sun catchers. It wasn't a hard project, but we did make a few mistakes along the way--like leaving just a few more spaces than I did and to watch the amount of glue we used.

We really liked doing the project--it was simple and really didn't take a long time--a bonus for smaller children. The kit included pieces of glass that had already been cut so it wasn't an overwhelming beginner's projects. We really only had to glue, grout and seal them. Grouting directions are on the package and only involves mixing small amounts of water into the powder and sealing them. We were all pleased with the outcomes and we would like to do more projects. I don't know if we would do a lot of things, but a few would be nice. Maybe we can even make a few for Christmas presents.

I try to find art projects that the kids really enjoy doing. Especially as they get older, I have attempted to make sure their projects are something they can really enjoy and be proud of for a long time. Finding great projects can be a challenge if you are trying to be cost conscious, but this was a winner for sure.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Making books...

The Minnesota Center for the Book Arts is a small organization located within a building called Open Book in Minneapolis. The building is actually three old buildings located within the warehouse district that has been opened up to house organizations dedicated to the book as an art form or literature. In addition to MCBA, writers may take a class at the Loft, there is a small publishing company, a display space for artists and a coffee shop.

I found a class on early book bindings in a homeschool group that we are a member of. It was a simple binding comprised of a pleather covering, loose pages folded and sewn together with two stitches. The class took about an hour and the kids got a journal reminiscent of a medieval book and a lesson on books and their history. It had been a drive, but way worth the effort. I was happy the class was such a success because the organizer has decided to do four more classes. Since we have to drive into Minneapolis, I was relieved that she scheduled two classes each on two different days so we don't have to drive four times.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kids marathon at the University of Minnesota field house

Medtronic, a Twin Cities based company that manufactures health devices, sponsors the Twin Cities Marathon each fall. They also sponsor children's and family friendly events throughout the year to help promote healthier habits in children. My kids have participated in some of them the past few years.

Last month, they held an indoor track event at the University of Minnesota. My daughter is getting older and only ran in one, but the boys are still young enough and they enjoy the event. This past event was harder for them than the ones that have been held in the spring. I think part of that was due to the winter cold that kept them in more than summer.

I like these events because it encourages everyone, no matter the shape that the kids are in or if they come in first or last. Every kid gets an award. The medals are cute and have the event mascots--Shelly and Harry, on them. They usually also get a t-shirt or hat that they can wear. For me, they remind me of the track and field days at the end of the school year. So often people assume homeschool children miss out on everything--and I think the opposite is usually the case. I love homeschooling!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Homeschool stuff

More times than not, when parents first decide to homeschool, they fall into the stuff trap. We have so accustomed ourselves to needing stuff to do anything. I, like so many others, went overboard collecting books that they will "need" to do schoolwork. I bought books on every subject, for many grades and now am finding myself struggling to remain organized. Unorganized stuff, usually isn't used. If it is used, precious time is spent looking for it. Since my memory is fairly good, I do know what we have and will spend time looking for it if I need it. However, for the most part, I have used about 25 percent of what I have bought.

As a parent who is beginning to take a class to help me finish my first book, the wife of another who is going back to finish his degree and the parent of a 16 year old who will begin taking classes at the local college in the fall--my time is getting increasingly hard to manage. With work and homeschooling, something has to give. That something is usually housework. I am almost always behind on laundry. Very behind. Books taken off the shelf in the school room stack up waiting to be put away. Toys in the toy room are always a mess.

All this is changing. I may have fallen into the trap of buying stuff--much of it at garage sales or the library's used bookstore--whenever I thought there was a great book or deal, but I am rethinking my strategy. It isn't working for me. I am continuing to pull myself out of the trap this weekend. We use the computer for so much of our work. However, I will not teach my kids calculus. Calculus will be taken at the college. Why keep it? Why keep reshelving it when we have to get it out of the way? This may be obvious, but our society as a whole really struggles with the stuff concept--a concept that is being rethought by many for many reasons.

Homeschoolers need to rethink what supplies they truly need and will use on a short term basis. I have some things that I am very grateful that I have--lots of other stuff, not so much. I always got very good deals on the stuff--but the money that could have been saved could have been used for things we use museum memberships we rotate annually. As we prepare for our busy summer, we are culling everything and being ruthless on keeping it or not. The hope is that some great charities--the library's store, Goodwill and the Salvation Army will all get some great stuff to sell to new homes--giving new life to it with someone else and keeping it from the landfill. Me, I get time, organization and sanity.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Minnesota Orchestra: Jay Greenburg

Celebrating the music of Jay Greenburg, the Minnesota Orchestra played several pieces for students yesterday under Conductor, Sarah Hicks. Greenburg's fifth symphony was composed 4 years ago when he was just 13 years old. He stated that his greatest influences of the period were classical and included Tchaikovsky. His current work is more influenced with modern music, he explained. The selection was a part of a concert introducing the orchestra to the young audience. They also played other selections including the Farewell Symphony.

Orchestra hall had a large screen for students to watch close ups on different musicians playing their instruments. It was a marvelous concert. It is wonderful that my kids can go to different concerts that focus on different themes. We picked up tickets in January and went with some friends and they heard music with explanations of different music theories by Leonard Bernstein's daughter.

It is a joy to see my children not only develop musical skills and appreciation, but to see my kids grow. When we first moved home 4 years ago, my boys had the hardest time sitting for any production. Even when we went to watch the Children's Theater's production of Tom Sawyer, it was a chore to sit through. I was amazed that the story didn't seem to captivate their interest. Yesterday, they all sat through the concert. I was so impressed with them as we all watched, listened and enjoyed the selections. It was fun to watch the kids excitedly navigate through the Minneapolis skyway system to and from the parking garage, completely remembering how to get there themselves.

Underwater Adventures

Yesterday afternoon we went to the Mall of America--the "mega mall," to go to Underwater Adventures--an aquarium. Joining for the first time late last year, this was only the second time we have ever been to the aquarium.

The beginning of the aquarium is an exhibit with several animals that are found in the wild in Minnesota. It is neat to look at the really big turtle they have. It weighs 165 pounds and takes five staff members to move it. There is also an indoor waterfall. Some of the exhibits had changed from last time. There were still some rather large fish that came near the edge of the pond; it reminded us of some fish at Colonial Williamsburg that were enormous and so tame that when people came near the pond, they came up near the edge opening their mouths begging for bread. It was weird to feed fish by hand and I wonder if these fish have come to expect the same thing because of the staff.

Visiting, we can choose to either walk on the right or left for the people mover. We normally walk, but occasionally wind up on it to get around people. It doesn't take too long to get through the aquarium--but we slow down to take our time. There are usually touch tanks at the end of the aquarium. The kids got to see a star fish up close and learned about its digestive habits. The graphic information was too much for my taste, but the kids liked it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Going global

When we started this blog, it was a way to journal our experiences. Hoping maybe we might connect with other homeschoolers, we thought maybe it might encourage someone to venture out and try something in their studies. It has now come back to us as we find ourselves excitedly looking to see if anyone has ventured into our neighborhood ever since the first people came from Brazil, Iran and Canada.

Looking on a globe and doing research has been coming alive as we wonder who was curious about what we have to say. It is interesting as we go to other blogs and get glimpses into life around the world. Often high schools have foreign exchange students that actually impact international relations and both shrinks and expands our world boundaries in the same moment--blogs seem to be eliciting the same response on a micro level.

For us it is a geography lesson that I don't need to call school work. We get to learn flags, customs, geography and international relations--while surfing the web and finding many that are just as curious as we are. We look forward to your visits. Thank you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring has arrived!

Spring has arrived in Southern Minnesota! I really miss the snow storms that reside in my memories. I had rather hoped to have another winter camping trip, but I guess it wasn't meant to be this year. Though I am sad that winter is ending, I am able to start thinking about the summer camping trip to Voyageur's National Park this summer.

We have been camping in Northern Minnesota many times, but there are several things that we seem to not be able to get to on our list of things we want to do. However, this time, I am hoping to sit back and relax a bit and get to some of them. In the past, we have always been busy with the hiking club at the state parks or other activities. This year we also really want to visit the historic Hibbing High School, the International Wolf Center, the Bear Sanctuary and an active mine on the iron range, but my kids have a habit of making my plans go out the window! It can be difficult to juggle five itineraries.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ladybug Premiere

The director of Ladybug Theater Natalie Thomas, produced a film of the musical they have been working on all season long. Jonah's Luck With a red carpet party at class and a premiere night at a local church, families and congregation members gathered after viewing the movie with bloopers and all. it was a great time. Two of my kids were in the blooper section--my daughter who looked confused when she held up the correct number of fingers when she was supposed to intentionally hold up the wrong number and my oldest son who looked like he hit a patch of ice as he walked off the set. I love my babies and their idiosyncrasies. I was proud of all of them and truly enjoyed myself that evening. I look forward to their live production at the dinner theater.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Map making at the Rochester Art Center

The Rochester Center for the Arts is a center that focuses on modern art. They usually have monthly family days on one Saturday each month to focus on a family friendly art project that is related to one of the exhibits on display. This month the activity focused on map making with a blank map of Rochester that allowed children to choose what things they found important. This was an especially hard thing for my kids because we spend only a small part of our time in Rochester. We still enjoyed it, though the boys found making sculptures with the pipe cleaners far more interesting than coloring a map. Collin did manage to finish his--choosing the river as an important element. I thought it was a wise choice, rivers are often so central to a city's identity. It was about the time that I was marvelling at my tweener son's intelligence that my daughter felt a need to point out that the river sat right behind the windows where we were and I had been watching the ducks. Oh well.

I am not usually into modern art. I much prefer to see easy to understand, traditional art. It is who I am. Though I did much enjoy one piece in particular. It was a thought provoking film projected on two walls. One wall showed the drive Israeli's often make on well paved, open roads that often takes an hour. In contrast, Palestinians who travel between cities in same areas travel in horrible, congested roads that appear to suffer from bomb damage. They must deal with several checkpoints that don't always appear to make sense; their time to travel the same distance is five and a half hours. It was a difficult piece to explain to my children. While the piece was an emotional one, it did not--nor do I believe was able to, interpret the historical context of the differences. If only the violence could finally stop. Living with constant security concerns, violence or retaliation is good for neither people.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Waterslides and Waterfalls

At the beginning of last month, my family went up to the north shore of Lake Superior to enjoy the winter. After January's month long frigid temperatures, we wanted to see the north woods with its winter blanket. It was beautiful and totally awe inspiring. This picture was taken while hiking IN the waterfall. During summer months, this area is completely inaccessible. The water comes rushing through the gorge at tremendous speed and has no land areas. My husband and kids climbed onto this ledge with Bentley, our dog. While I stood taking the picture, I was on top of the frozen crust of the river. Normally frozen river ice is NEVER safe because it can have weak spots that people can fall into. However, the ice was extremely thick from over a month of sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures. It was already starting to warm when we were up there, by the next morning, the ice had already started to deteriorate rapidly and was no longer safe. River ice will melt considerably faster than lake ice because of the movement of the water below.
My kids were lucky enough to be able to swim in the pool at the hotel. It was extra nice because the pool also had a waterslide. Both John and I went up the slide a few times, but we were definitely beaten out by the boys who both went up the stairs 5o times. 5o is equal to a mile down the slide and they had a great time meeting the hotel's waterslide challenge. Having gone down the required number of slides, the boys both got their pictures posted on the wall of the hotel and got a certificate to bring home with them that we can scrapbook. Alex did go into the pool the second day, but wasn't feeling that well the first.

We normally do not stay in hotels; our usual vacation accommodations are a couple of tents. Tents are fine; however, as my children will confirm, we have been rained out more than once. This year, we are hoping for better weather and I am planning on purchasing better tents as well. I have already been looking forward to camping and I am already getting questioning looks from my kids....ah, summertime memories. hehehe

Friday, March 6, 2009

New life on the farm

My daughter works on a farm. She loves it and benefits greatly from both the experiences and the farmers she works for. One is always taking the time to encourage both my daughter and my boys. It has been great for Alex because she wants to be a vet, but my whole family has benefited from these experiences.

A couple weeks back when my daughter was doing chores when the farmers were away, a few lambs were born. Unfortunately, one also died. It was very hard to deal with emotionally. It has been easy for our society to become removed from the reality that animals provide us with life giving sustenance. The worst for me was to see something die before it has any chance to live at all.

We were all upset at the baby's death; but it gave us an opportunity to learn what farm kids usually learn from a young age--that life is temporary and we should appreciate the moments and the opportunities given us.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Leadership with 4-H

I love 4-H. My children have tried a couple years to find the right club without a huge amount of success. We have tried two different groups and contacted others in the past; we found this one because of my work and I think it is a huge blessing. We just went to our first meeting at our new club and I am already so very impressed with the group. They had a speaker from the county's recycling center and had several recycling activities. We have to drive a bit to get to it, but I think it will be very worth it.

Last weekend the boys went to a leadership event for younger members who may not be able to attend Project Blu--a state program for older 4-H'ers to help them gain leadership skills and experience. They made St. Patrick's Day cards for local nursing home projects, played some great team building games and met some new friends. It was a great day. Alex was supposed to go to Blu in Mankato last weekend and I was supposed to attend as a chaperon, unfortunately we were both too ill to go. We look forward to next year.