Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Minnesota Girls State….

I really thought it would be harder on me to leave me kids for the week I was at my conference. It was pure coincidence that my kids had stuff scheduled that same week. My daughter had been accepted at the American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls State. The program is a week long exercise in state government for girls who have just completed their junior year in high school. The American Legion holds a similar, though not identical, program for junior boys held at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. Eash program chooses one candidate to attend Girls and Boys Nation. Campaigning, voting and learning how the state runs was a great experience. I had really worried that there would be partisan bias and she would be uncomfortable, but it went reasonably well.

She learned a lot during the week long event that was held at Bethel University in a St. Paul suburb. She did notice that many of the volunteers were older women, which didn’t really surprise either of us. Through my numerous experiences with the Legion and the Auxiliary--I have noticed that many are stuck in the thought that few women are veterans. I was proud of my daughter for trying to point out that not all of our “servicemen” are indeed, male. She told me that she was rudely informed that servicemen is inclusive, means all service members and that women in the military know and appreciate that. While my daughter took her scolding quietly, I was very disappointed in them.

The American Legion recently wrote that they needed to work harder at being inclusive and reaching out to our servicewomen. Women, not men. It is a distinction that is made within and outside the military, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and service organizations. As a disabled Gulf Era veteran who has witnessed the discrimination and violence against female service members, I assure you, I do mind being called a serviceman. I was a service member. Ironically, just a week or so before Girls’ State event the Legion had been on Capital Hill demanding that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs be more responsive to female veterans. It was a statement that the organization really needs to take to heart and apply to their own ranks. Other than a couple incidents, the week went well.

My daughter befriended a niece of a woman I went to college with. Neither of us made the connection until my friend noticed it on Facebook. What a small world. Despite a few bad apples, my daughter was pleased with the experience. Maybe as children of female veterans become involved the stereotypes of women in the military will finally begin to change--at least I hope so. I also hope as the next generation comes into play, the program can adapt in positive ways. No matter what, it was an experience that my daughter will always remember. Anyone interested in the program for girls entering their senior year should contact either their local Legion Auxiliary or the state office.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Seeing the mines and understanding the people who worked them

The mines of the iron range have shaped our world. Without the ore, America would have been unable to provide the steel necessary for building the skyscrapers or factories of early industrialization. The ore provided the steel needed for the military during both world wars. Great places to visit are the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine--the largest strip mine in the world and Mineview in the sky are great places to visit. The Hull Rust mine is still active and people can watch the trucks. It is fun to be able to stand by the trucks in the yard and to see a small pick up truck drive by an ore hauler. Wow! What a size difference. To understand the historic operations and the people who worked in the mine people can visit the Hill Annex State Park, Soudan Underground Mine State Park and the Minnesota Discovery Center.

Men working the mines came from all over the world. Mining companies, primarily controlled by other men back east, cared about profits--not safety. Companies intentionally plotted to keep men from organizing, made sure miners working together did not speak the same language. Ironically, this forced men to find ways to communicate; their lives depended on it. Companies cared little about their workers. Injuries and death were not uncommon and the mines tried to ensure that both were explained by falsifying documents and hiding incidents. Mules and horses fared little better with their working conditions in the mines. In the underground mines, the animals would work twelve hour days for six months. When the time came up for the animals to return to the surface, they would be blind. If an animal died beneath the surface, their bodies would be dropped in the waste holes that filled in previously mines areas. If a man who didn’t have family or relationships that would question where he was, often his body was disposed of in a similar manner. True numbers for injured and killed workers are almost impossible to ascertain.

Mining companies attempted to control every aspect of the lives of their employees; US Steel operated an immense industrial espionage program that was directed within. Employees learned to distrust many--trusting the wrong person could get them black listed and unable to find work at any of the mines. Blacklisted miners often eked out a living on marginal farms. It was heart wrenching to think the poverty that these blackballed miners lived in, but I absolutely loved and admired that so many refused to leave the iron range in hopes of finding better lives elsewhere and to continue the agitation of miners still employed. Without the people who were willing to take the beatings and keep standing back up--the workers on the range would never have been able to finally organize and demand better conditions and pay to bring themselves out of the abject poverty that was absolutely forced on them while the mining companies became immensely wealthy.

I read a book in college about working conditions in industrializing America. I would recommend Out of This Furnace to anyone interested. I find it interesting that so many people find unions and regulations evil, but don’t understand that without them, so many of the horrendous working conditions that lead to their formation would still exist. 16 hour days, 6 days a week, yet still not having money to properly feed, clothe or house your family; not only paying for your own equipment that you use to make them money--but being forced to buy the stuff at the company store at exorbitant prices and absolutely NO protection for workers who are hurt or killed and without any regulations, companies had NO motivation to spend the pennies to protect their workers.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More on the Minnesota Humanities Center

After spending a week on this bus, most of us were ready to head home. Many of us were Minnesota natives or transplants--many were not. For the non-Minnesotan's the warm weather that greeted us in St.Paul was a surprise. Many had really believed the notion that Minnesota is always in a state of permafrost in the tundra. It was funny to see their disbelief begin to crumble.

It was great to get home and share so much with my kids. However, I also realized that there were some wonderful resources available to anyone with an internet connection--much that even public school teachers lacked awareness about--let alone homeschooling parents. An incredible video on the importance of the historic mines is there. If you have a slow internet connection, directions are listed where you can order a copy for a nominal fee. There are some great resources for teachers--lesson plans and back ground information. Besides opportunities for teachers to become better at what they do, the Humanities Center also has lunch lectures that are open to the public for a relatively small fee. I have wanted to bring my senior to a couple of them, but timing is everything. The older my kids get, the more they seem to really need flexibility. I just need to be patient.

With some time, there are fabulous links to additional resources including Native American culture and history. Chicano, Asian and Black cultural resources are also availble.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer scholar 2010

As a homeschooling mom, I had not been exposed to professional development opportunities available to and intended for public school teachers. I follow the logic--I usually only teach three children. Though, in homeschoolers' defense--we often get together and form co-operatives and work together to teach different subjects. History is, and shall always be, my thing.

I generally take advantage of any adult learning opportunity I can. I follow the same principles that have guided me with my children: experience is golden and a lack of certification from the Department of Education does not negate its value to a homeschool.

When I learned of an opportunity to attend the Minnesota Humanities Center conference in Northern Minnesota this past summer, I was thrilled.Building America: Minnesota's Iron Range, US Industrialization and the creation of a world power was an intense study of how the range fueled industrialization and helped win both world wars. It was a unique honor--only two of the eighty teachers chosen were homeschooling parents. (One more was a private school teacher whose wife taught at home.) I was humbled and knew I was incredibly lucky.

Even after learning so much on the range with my children, I discovered how much more I didn't really know. I was excited to write, to consider graduate school, and teach. My family heard a mouthful the rest of the summer. I even took my mom to the range and shared the experiences. College credit was available and I chose to do the additional work to get it. It was the final credit for my degree. I got to have a great time while learning more about what I love, finish my degree, and a certificate for 45 hours of continuing education and professional development. It's a big deal and validation of what I already know--I take this stuff seriously. I also really loved getting a certificate from the National Endowment to the Humanities calling me a summer scholar. Very cool indeed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Clyde Butcher at the James J. Hill Reference Library....

The James J. Hill Reference Library is a private library that specializes in helping businesses. It is a beautiful building that retains the charm and character of a by-gone era. The library also has cultural exhibits and events that the whole community benefits from. Currently, the library is displaying enlarged photos shot by environmental photographer, Clyde Butcher.

Visiting this structure for the first time, my kids and I were pleased to see such beautiful art as a bonus. The pictures were incredible! My kids were all awestruck by his work. The works are displayed both at the Central Library and the James J Hill Library. the exhibit runs through tax day--April 15. If you are unable to get to the library, you may visit his website and view parts of it. There is also a great history of his work and how it came to be exhibited at the Jamestown Celebration of its 400th anniversary.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Downtown at the James J. Hill Reference Library...

A couple weeks back, we made a silly mistake. I had thought we were signed up for one of the student performances at the Ordway. We drove to St. Paul and I was really stressed. We parked at the Science Museum lot and walked the half a block to the theater and arrived at what we thought was two minutes late. Discovering the theater was locked, I fumbled through my bag and looked at my datebook and discovered I was a week early. Oops. However, it turned out to be a great mistake. The St. Paul Public Library's Central Library borders the small park downtown and is in the vicinity of the Landmark Center and the Ordway, yet I have never taken my children there. I haven’t been in there for years.

We decided to go in just to look around. Adjacent to the Central Library, is the James J Hill Reference Library. Though built on separate foundations and are separate buildings, the two appear to be one seamless structure. They are both stunning from the outside, but when you go in you feel transported back to an earlier and much grander time in architecture. The woodwork, the doors, the lighting fixtures are magnificent--and yet each has their own feel. The stones in the Public library side are worn gently from the hundreds of thousands of people that have visited over the years. A person can still definitely see and feel the historic significance—as beautiful as the library is, it is also important to take consider the impact the namesake had.

Hill was a shrewd businessman who made millions from the railroad. He made millions by hard work and perceptive decisions. He did not come from money—his story typifies the Horatio Alger stories and others from the late nineteenth century. However, rags to riches stories are fairy tales that rarely come true. For Hill, opportunities did present themselves and he made the right choices. However, like Rockefeller and Carnegie—he also used manipulation and bullying to help make his fortune even bigger. At one point when the economy was doing poorly, he forced his employees into taking lower wages despite being very solvent. He was known for coercing towns into giving him the absolute best property in town for his rail line with the threat of bypassing it. "Business" is fine, but there should also be a sense of fair play that just usually isn't present and never really has been. Though labor relations soured enough to force him to put him employees on the pre-crisis wages, his arrogance and disregard is shown in how little he cared for the people doing the work that made him such a wealthy man in the first place. So, visit this fine institution and enjoy it. But please also understand that Hill’s generosity came at a cost to the people who worked hardest for him. Wealthy men are noted by the buildings they leave and not the exploitation of the most vulnerable in their lifetimes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My paparazzi….

Three years ago, I got my first really nice camera. (Wow, can it really be that long ago already?) I bought it for work related purposes, but that doesn’t keep me from really loving it—and love it I do. It hasn’t kept my children from really loving it either. I am spineless when it comes to squashing their enthusiasm; I have managed to keep their use of my camera under only semi-controlled circumstances. I have cringed so many times. My daughter has a decent camera—and she is good about using it. However, I had to break down and buy cameras for the boys last summer for their birthdays to keep them busy. It was just in time for trip to Voyageur’s National park on the Canadian border.

I usually find myself taking pictures of everything under the sun, but this time it was pictures of my kids taking pictures. Is it possible that only other moms could understand a card full of pictures of kids and their cameras? I love them so much—they are my life. I hope that this year when it comes time for their 4-H pictures to be chosen for the fair, they have plenty of great ones that they can obsess and debate over. Getting a taste of some of their mother’s dilemmas may give them a new appreciation when their mother asks them for their opinion! I am excited for them for the fair this year--last year, their first year showing, my oldest son received an honorable mention among all the blue ribbons. They are all hoping to be pulling those purples home this year.

We already had a painful lesson learned--my youngest lost all of his images. I tried to undelete them, but it was a lost cause. We are working on getting pictures backed up so they are safe in the future. the bright side of the picture is that while he may have lost some precious pictures, at least with the rest of ours--the memories are still safe. My boys, for whatever reason, loved to pull the used film waiting to be developed at the photo lab apart. Apparently, when you pull the film out of the canister it makes a cool sound. They must not have heard my heart cracking when I thought about the pictures that were lost--birthdays, Christmases and trips to the park. I was always disappointed when I discovered the exposed film lying in a pile, but my shutter finger has always been well used. At least I have others right?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Even roads share stories and the rodeo fish welcomes you...

Even Roads share stories and often present teaching opportunities. Sadly, we are often busily scurrying from place to place to really understand what is passing by us. Last fall, we went on a camping trip that kept us busy visiting the Forest History Center, watching bears at the Vincent Shute Bear Sanctuary and explore Voyageur's national park. On the trip home from Voyageur's, we were tired. I had passed some places that I really wanted to because I was concerned we would miss the tour in International Falls. I was also concerned that we would be too busy to stop on the way home. Our boat ride had been at noon and ended an hour an a half later. It is a long ride from International Falls to down by Rochester in a single day--especially when we were starting out so late to begin with, but I also knew that it would be a long time before we got back up here. On the way home I couldn't help but stop at "the fish." This oversized fish is the main attraction at the roadside stop that also offers educational information on the area. While I took pictures of the signs, we only really remember the fish for obvious reasons. What would you remember of the side excursion? The fish have stairs that help people climb the fish for the precursory photo op. Loved it.

We also drove by rocks that had been cut into for the road. It was interesting to see the drill holes that were made to help remove the stone. The kids all thought it was cool that we could also see where molten lava had been infused into the bedrock fractures millions of years ago. While geological forces are still present and working, both pieces of evidence will be around for a very, very long time.

We made another stop along a roadside resting area that the Minnesota Civilian Conservation Corps built during the Great Depression. The "boys" that were employed creating the public works project like this one have been passing away, but their work is still remembered and being used. I wonder how so many people's interest and curiosity are not sparked when driving by these places. I love how when we stop at places like this, my children will engage in conversations about these people, the times they lived and and the historical significance of the time. Is there any greater way to honor the people's legacy than to stop, think about their works, and just remember them?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Minnesota camping: not just state parks...

I admit it. I really like the state parks. No, I love them. We have learned so much about our state history and many times they have interpretative programs that we can participate in. When we went to Voyageur's last fall for camping, we initially stayed at McCarthy Beach State Park so that we could drive to the Forest History Center and the Vincent Shute Bear Sanctuary with relative ease. The park was the best compromise between Orr and Grand Rapids. Since the bear Sanctuary was north of the state park and halfway to the visitor center in International Falls, it seemed rather pointless to return to the park where we had stayed the night before. We knew we would arrive rather late in the evening at our new site, but we are pros when pitching a tent in the dark and we have learned to stay focused when nightfall approaches at a new campsite. The problem is that there are not many state parks right in the area of Voyageur's National Park.

We opted to try a go at the Minnesota State Forest Campgrounds instead; Woodenfrog campground is very close to Voyageur's and is managed by Bear Head Lake State Park in Ely. We even managed to arrive in time to have light to locate the essentials and pitch our tents in record time. Now, it is important to remember that state forest campgrounds are not state parks. They do not have electricity, running water, indoor toilets or showers. Not everyone wants to live without these amenities. However, they are very cheap: only $12 per night. It is also important to remember that the state forests campgrounds do not take reservations--this is both helpful and detrimental. I do not like leaving for an eight hour drive not knowing we have accommodations. Weekends on nice summer weekends can be almost impossible to find a spot at the state parks. However, the campgrounds and their primitive sites keep many away; it takes a special person to like these campgrounds and it usually means a more peaceful and relaxing stay when you find yourself there. No blaring music is a plus any day you find yourself in a tent.

There are also many other options for camping beyond the state parks, forests and private campgrounds. While we have never stayed in a campsite operated by the federal government there are many opportunities. You may elect to stay at a site within the national forest, national park or even sites operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. By searching this site, you may also look for opportunities in different states just by narrowing the search by state on the left side of the screen. The important thing to remember about these sites is that they too, are often unimproved beyond the basic privy. Unless you are an adventurous soul that doesn't mind forgoing showers or dealing with the occasional smell, you should really know what you are getting yourself into.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Way more than three little bears…

One of the things we did last fall when we went up to Voyageur’s, was to go to the Vincent Shute Bear Sanctuary in Orr. The Sanctuary opens at five in the evening—we arrived early and waited at the gate. After driving to the parking lot, paying our admission and looking at the inevitable gift shop (it supports the mission of the sanctuary), we loaded onto an old school bus to be brought to the viewing area. For my kids it was a weird experience: my oldest stopped attending public school in fourth grade, my oldest son stopped in preschool, and my youngest has never attended a public school. They ran to the back and we listened to the guides—many from Australia and New Zealand, explaining behavior of the bears.

The buses transport the people to an “inner sanctum” where bears are fed. While the bus is driving to the viewing platform, if a bear approaches a bus, the driver will blow the horn and people will yell and shout. This is to help the bears to not associate humans with food. When bears become used to humans and associate us with food is a bad thing—when they begin habitually coming towards people, often they will be put down. It really is a bad thing.

I understand what the sanctuary is trying to do—create a safe place for bears to be. However, I was a little disturbed to see the food placed out in such piles and I was concerned that they are not foraging enough. The staff did say that bears come and go so they aren’t dependent on the people and that is a good thing. The other concern I had was that a staff member was explaining that when the bears hibernate the females are growing with cubs. A female bear naturally regulates the number of cubs she has by the success she had in finding food that previous summer. More food=more babies. Normally, a mom will have one—maybe two cubs. Three isn’t unheard of, but it is unusual. A few of the bears had four cubs last spring. That is very unusual and I had to wonder if it correlated with the human provided food sources. Is it a good thing to inflate the bear population? I don’t have the answers to those questions.

While I had my concerns—I get that the bears really do need to have some space that is truly their own. Humans are scared of wolves and bears, yet we keep encroaching on their territory. I think the sanctuary is a great place to educate people on bear behavior. Bears—as cute and cuddly as they appear are not our friends or pets. A bear that is friendly to people is a dead bear; it will have to be put down because people have taught it to not fear us.

People have been told both to play dead and scream and holler if surprised by a bear. However, the advice seems to be leaning towards a common sense approach: speaking calmly and backing away slowly allows the bear to identify that you are not their usual dinner fare and keeps from startling and becoming agitated. I think if you are going to be in bear country, learning more on bear safety is crucial, but it is also imperative to understand bear attacks are extremely rare. I also think if planning a camping trip, it is critical that people put their food in lockers or way up and out on a tree limb. Animals absolutely know campgrounds are a source of food and that is bad. It is annoying if a raccoon gets to your bread—it is dangerous if a bear smells food in your tent. NEVER eat in your tent. Avoid cooking in the clothes you will wear to bed. Dispose of your refuse in a locked trash bin. We did burn some of our leftover food in the fire—but we were very aware of our neighbors (or lack thereof) so any smell wouldn’t bother them. Bears here have not learned what they have in Yellowstone—it is still safe to keep food in your vehicle.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finishing? with Voyageurs National Park

Shortly after coming home, my family made the goal to visit every state park—and we completed that in under a little less than three years. We also tacked our National Parks onto our goal—there are only three: Voyageur’s, Pipestone and the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Voyageur’s National Park was the last of our parks on the list. My children’s summer schedules keep me extremely busy and there is not enough time for camping. Well, at least for me—never enough time for camping for me. However, last year, prior to my daughter starting college under the Minnesota Post Secondary Options act, I wanted to make sure we had completed everything.
We had finished visiting all of our state parks the year before—but, Voyageurs, so far up there on the Canadian border, had seemed so elusive. Voyageur’s has three visitor centers: Rainy Lake in International Falls, Kabetogama (south of International Falls) and Ash River in Ely. The center in Ely is only open seasonally during summer months. Each has some exhibits on wildlife and life as a voyageur.

We finally made it to the International Falls center and took a great tour of the park on a pontoon boat. We got to see a gold mine and an old fishing camp. It was interesting to hear about the gold mining that once took place here—never profitable, the gold mines were eventually abandoned. Since private cabins have been taken over by the National Park Service, the cabins have fallen into serious disrepair and the surrounding area is returning to a natural state. It was really funny to see an outhouse deteriorated so badly that the only remaining part was the toilet seat—the white ring sticking out of the lush green surrounding. Maybe a little elementary humor, but my kids were very amused (maybe me too). I met someone whose family’s cabin was taken under eminent domain when the park was created to help preserve a large tract of the boundary waters and accompanying wilderness. Though her family has a few more years to use the cabin they are not allowed to improve the structure. I believe the cabin will be eliminated after that time period has ended. As a park lover, I appreciate her family’s sacrifice. I don’t think that was any consolation.

It is a beautiful park that can make you easily think about what life in these woods would have been like before modernization or European contact. It, like so many other places, is dealing with invasive species, for them it is the water flea. To help combat the spread of the flea, private boats are limited and not permitted on interior lakes of the park. I enjoyed the park—but like so many things people visit, our visit didn’t do this park justice. There were so many things that I would have liked to do: canoeing, more hiking and exploring. I hope we can get to the Ely center this summer some time to get some camping in. We hope to see the other sites up there that we have been missing: the North American Bear Center, the International Wolf Center and Eagle Mountain—the highest point in Minnesota. How is it possible that every time we visit somewhere we only seem to add to our list of places to go and people to see?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In the midst of the woods: The Forest History Center

I think my spring fever is still growing and I keep pondering summer time fun. One place I have been thinking about is the Forest History Center, located in Grand Rapids—North Central Minnesota. It is a living history museum operated seasonally by the Minnesota Historical Society. With so much to do, we have managed to miss this wonderful place several times on camping trips in the area either because we were just too busy or we were around during the off season. We finally made it last year. I had always wanted to bring my mom up there, but after visiting, I am not sure she could handle the walking—I will have to see if there is a way around it. Located in the woods, it is a wonderful site to learn about how the loggers worked.

Logging was a convenient occupation for farmers who wanted to supplement their income because the majority of work can only take place during the winter months when the ground is frozen. The loggers would fell the trees and bring them to the river to be floated to the sawmills to the south during the heightened water levels of the spring thaw. Floating the logs was a dangerous job; men died getting the logs clear when the inevitable jams would occur.

The history center does a great job of interpreting camp life—the loggers’ quarters, the store and the dining hall. The
boys even had a chance to saw some logs—now if only I had such an effective way to harness that at home! They also got to see an example of a boat that would have been used to cook the meals for the men floating the logs down the rivers. They also saw a fire tower that would have been used in later years after the Civilian Conservation Corps had replanted the forests. Though the tower was closed on our visit, we have climbed similar towers. What a climb the towers bring, but—man, what a view! They also had these cute little sheds that would have been placed throughout the area to help firefighters when fires broke out. I know, cute probably isn’t the word people want used with fire equipment—but cute they are. The entire area is nestled into a beautiful area and is criss-crossed with scenic hiking trails.

The inside exhibits have fine displays for people to see vehicles used in the logging industry. My daughter loved the truck cab from the 60's. They also have ones used currently--a John Deere vehicle that has been developed to help loggers prevent damage to the forest and the trees not being harvested. Very cool! I would like to go back there, but with so many things—how do we choose? As many times that we have driven through Duluth to the north shore, we haven’t done a great deal in the city itself. Between issues with my mom’s mobility and my kids’ desire to see stuff within the city—maybe we should go that route. With the history center only an hour from my mom, maybe it is worth the attempt anyway. We’ll see.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Finding Camp Rabideau: a gem in the forest

It is early spring here in Southern Minnesota—with little snow remaining, there remains a possibility of more snow despite the chirping birds that are preparing their nests. This is the time of year I most want to go camping—I enjoy winter, but when it’s over, I want to dig out the tents. The best I can do is think of past trips and plan future ones. I have been reminiscing of a trip we took to northern Minnesota when lessons of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) became an indelible part of our memory. There are many examples of the work of the CCC throughout Minnesota—and the United States. However, there are only three camps that have substantial character remnants of the entire camp. Only one’s character has remained unaffected enough to qualify to be included on the National Register of Historical Places: CCC Camp Rabideau. This gem is tucked into the background of the surrounding countryside of a remote part of north central Minnesota. We discovered this completely by accident on a camping trip to Red Lake.

My mom had repeatedly expressed a desire to be included on our camping trips. We had gone “up north” with her so she could enjoy spending time with us on “those camping trips of [ours].” As we drove to Red Lake, we passed a small sign announcing the presence of the camp. Having pitched many tents in the dark, we wanted to ensure we didn’t do that with Grandma; we waited to drive in on our return trip. I had worried that perhaps, I had made the wrong decision when it took so long to find it on our way back, but we did indeed find it and it was worth the wait. The camp remains under the control of the US Forestry Service in the Chippewa National Forest in Northern Minnesota—though I suspect someday it will be transferred to the National Park Service like Camp Coldwater in St. Paul.

It was amazing to see the site returning to a condition that is more reminiscent of its natural state. The 112 acres was purchased in 1934 and had been stripped of the forest covering by the lumber barons. The “boys” of the camp arrived to a bare ground that they were able to set up a baseball field on. This is a hard fact to digest given that the millions of trees that the CCC had planted have now grown to a rich forest—though certainly not to the massive sizes that existed prior to the invasion of the lumber companies. When we were there two years ago, the camp was staffed by volunteers—some who where there as boys.

The stories were wonderful. One of my favorite was about a couple of boys that snuck out after lights out to go fishing. Caught by the Commanding Officer, they were worried they were going to be sent home—a terrifying prospect for boys who knew that their families needed the money that was sent home during such desperate times of the Great Depression. The commanding officer insisted that the boys “do what needed to be done” and fry the fish and share the meal with him. Two years later—and the story still gets to a soft spot in me. I hope the stories are documented for the inevitable time when the boys are no longer around.

Though no admission is charged or even asked for—a donation bucket at the end will accept any free will offering—no gift is ever too small. The monies collected are accepted very gratefully and are used for future restorations. A site definitely worth seeing—I hope you can enjoy the trip and benefit from the “boys” who are still there sharing their time, energy and wonderful experiences of a bygone era.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Garden reviews and March planning...

When my family returned home to Minnesota five years ago, our sewer line collapsed three months after moving into our home. We spent thousands digging it up and seeing our yard completely destroyed. We were required to move the natural gas line when it was repaired. We spent hundreds more on replacing black soil and planting grass seed. I put hours of sweat in trying to establish a relatively decent looking backyard. It finally worked—and we had grass by the time my husband left active duty and joined us at home.

The following year, my daughter expressed an interest in agriculture and establishing healthier eating patterns. She argued that a garden was the perfect thing—we would save money and it was a great hobby. I wasn’t too sure about the whole idea. I had grown up “gardening” and my memories were not fond ones. “Gardening” meant weeding hip high weeds that had grown in a hay field on the hottest day of the summer when we were in the doghouse. I wanted no part of it.

My daughter, determined to have a vegetable plot, kept researching…and researching…and researching. Of all the things she could have been interested in or pestering me about, this surely was a good thing. Right? It wasn’t something that remotely qualified as a thing to stress about. When she knew she had me, she excitedly shared her plans. I calmly accepted that she had known I would permit it all along. She didn’t know how unprepared I was to hear her detailed directions. “We need to do what?” I asked.

Step one: Remove sod. I asked her why couldn’t she have said she wanted a garden the spring before when I was working so hard to establish new grass? Innocently shrugging, she continued to tell me all about the seeds we needed and which catalogs we needed to order. The only thing I really got out of the rest of the conversation was the realization of why our attempts at gardening always failed when we were kids; we had never removed the deeply established grasses of our land in the country. Weeks later, I found myself removing sod, though in their defense, they had already made a valiant attempt to do so themselves.

This will be the fourth year of our gardening and it has gotten better. Weeding hasn’t been the complete nightmare that I had expected and dreaded. We haven’t had bumper crops, but I would say we have come close to breaking even. We even managed to can some stuff last year. I think our major issue this year was that we did not water the garden enough--the poor thing suffered because of it. Each year we learn something new and accomplish more: water your plants—simple and obvious, but often neglected; water early in the day; put up a small bordering fence to keep the Peter Cottontail from robbing you of carrots and lettuce; and harvest zucchini and cucumbers when the fruit is still small. I would encourage anyone who wants to garden to do so. Even people living in apartments can have some plants in a bucket and it is a great botany and life lesson for children. You’ll be amazed how good veggies are to them when they had a hand in growing them! It is never too early to start planning a garden—we are currently planning ours, and never too late to learn how.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Techfest 2010

Every year The Works, a children’s museum focusing on technology, held its annual Tech Fest. Though we have wanted to go in the past, we finally made it yesterday. Held from 9-5 at the Edina Community Center in suburban Minneapolis, the event attracted 1700 people last year and hoped to reach 2000 this year. This scientific event covers chemistry, astronomy, mechanical and electrical engineering.

We got there shortly after lunch and just in time for the second chemistry show. I have wondered what the Chemistry department does for its public outreach ever since seeing the Physics Department's show--Physics Force at Northrup Auditorium at the University Campus. Demonstrators—two women from the University of Minnesota Chemistry Department, began by dropping Mentos in a pop bottle so the carbon dioxide in the pop creates a geyser. The two women decomposed hydrogen peroxide by adding ground magnesium to it into an empty pop bottle. Water, a byproduct of the reaction is released as steam because the chemical reaction is so hot it vaporizes the liquid and partially melts the empty bottle. Physical properties are demonstrated by showing the glass threshold temperatures. Placing an onion into liquid nitrogen, normally -400 degrees Fahrenheit begins to boil and steam. The onion needs time to freeze through; when completely frozen, the young women take leather gloves and threw it on the floor. Though it crashed like a glass bottle—chemically it was still an onion. Some kids up front even complained of the onion smell. One of the women remarked, “Yes, it does smell a little. Chemistry usually doesn’t smell good.” The women explained that nitrogen can make anything freeze enough to create the glass effect—the point where any solid behaves like glass. Conversely, glass can be melted to behave like plastic. The demonstration also used balloons filled with hydrogen—like the Hindenburg, that they ignited. Adding different salts, they created different colored flames with different salts. Iron even created small sparks like fireworks.

We left the chemistry show just in time to see one of the shows of the Minnesota Planetarium. Though the planetarium awaits the construction of the new planetarium, it has a mobile show—though yesterday was shown on a two dimensional screen because of the sheer volume of participants. The show yesterday had many elements of the show at Mayo High School, it had lots of good information that was new and kept our interest. Showing us the largest canyon in the universe—Valles Marineris, the show had “brought us” to Mars. The canyon is 200 miles across, three miles deep and long enough to reach from New York to California. We also learned about light years; the light from the sun takes 12.5 minutes to reach earth and the moon. When reflected from the moon, it takes an additional 1.5 seconds to reach earth. We discussed dwarf planets; we have received only very bad pictures of Eres. In 2015 Voyageur shall pass by it and be able to send better pictures to us. Traveling at 30,000 miles per hour, it is twelve light hours away from earth. We learned so much!

After the two shows, my kids wanted to play the traffic game—Gridlock. The game can be played online by anyone who wants to. The station was run by the University of Minnesota-Institute of Technology. They also had a display explaining how the traffic control systems worked.

The kids also had a chance to examine chemical reactions by placing vinegar into a small, empty water bottle and baking soda into a balloon. The balloon was placed atop the bottle. When the soda mixed with the vinegar, carbon dioxide gas that was emitted inflated the balloon. After the balloon was tied off, the kids were able to examine the properties of the gas. Because carbon dioxide gas is heavier than the atmosphere, it falls to the ground rather than floating in the air.

There were many things we were not able to do because we ran out of time. However, there was much we could: we watched a robot by the Edina FIRST team robot, examined robotics projects made by University students, and constructed paper cars. We even brought home directions to make a drinking straw rocket. It was an extremely worthwhile visit to the cities—we had a great time and learned tons! The Works has monthly family Saturdays and several homeschool days throughout the year. We are definitely going to plan on making the trip for some of them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Exploring the skies at the Mayo Planetarium

One of our homeschool groups from the county decided to schedule a visit to the Rochester Public Schools' planetarium at Mayo High School this morning. We had such a great time. It was an incredible show! Narrated by the staff member, it began with an engaging explanation of the most common constellations. It was interesting to have him explain to the kids why the sky and its contents move. A common and repeated theme was chimed by the audience when prompted: "Planets look like stars but act like the moon." The staff member explained why the sky changes.

Stars, while not maintaining their exact location, appear to stay stagnant day after day. Only when comparisons are made of the night sky after a bit of time has passed, will the change be noticeable. The planets were then examined and they learned that major differences can be seen in just one twenty four hour period. We pretended to have a planetarium pajama party and noticed that the night sky moves as well--if we go inside to play some games, when we come back out, we will see that the sky has shifted over us.

The earth, moving at 1,000 miles per hour cannot be felt because the movement is smooth. We cannot see the moon move above us, despite its 2,000 mile per hour rotation, because of its distance from the earth. We watched a very cool artist rendition of moving to the edge of the solar system...and we thought poor de-planetized Pluto was it. We saw the irregular orbits of the dwarf planets and asteroids. On the very edge, we discovered ice bergs swallowed us. Our own sun began looking like a distant star twinkling in the night sky. I am totally ashamed to admit that I was unaware additional dwarf planets Ceres and Eris--guess this and my memories of when Pluto was a planet dates me. We "zoomed" back towards earth and discussed the planets, Saturn and its spectacular rings, twins Neptune and Uranus made out of frozen gases, Mars with its enormous volcanoes--the largest which would be as big as Minnesota!

The Rochester planetarium has public shows that are available through the Rochester Community Education site. There are some wonderful sites both Cornell University and Nasa have some interesting information. This made me miss the planetarium in Minneapolis that was a top the old Minneapolis Public Library. It is supposed to be rebuilt on top of the new library; -it is tentatively planned to open again for 2013.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Catapults and trebuchets….tweener style

My boys are well….boys. They are very different from my daughter, who had even outgrown any vestiges of her former girly girl self by the time she was four. Given their subjects of interest are often quite different than those my daughter, it shouldn’t have surprised me when they discovered a catapult model building class while perusing a flyer for youth community education classes in Rochester. Truth be told, they almost convulsed with excitement.

This caused me a bit of concern. At the county fair last August, my older son had seen a model that could have thrown small boulders. Despite the engineering curiosity and the intense desire to learn, this was not an object I wanted my children to posses. My boys are very kind hearted and I love them dearly; however, they do not always think prior to acting and I could only picture a broken window in the future. I was scared—windows are expensive.

My kids are also pretty good about not constantly pestering for lots of “stuff.” They are aware educational items are surely to win out over a new game and they know they better pick and choose wisely. After the class had been brought up numerous times, I finally relented despite very grave concerns. We drove down and registered for the class. I was immediately second guessing my sanity.

My daughter and I delivered them to their teacher the night of the night of the class. We spent the better part of two hours wondering what we had just done. When we returned to retrieve them, they stood in front of miniature catapults. We smiled; powered by a rubber band, it was big enough to toss a marble. They excitedly chattered about military history and pointed to the whiteboard asking me if I knew what that was drawn up there. I felt a little proud and a little mischievous as I was about to crush them with my answer: “Why that is a trebuchet.” Yes, a girl—worst of all, a mom, knew what that was. Secretly, I think they were a little proud—the dad next to us had no idea.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The fruits--and veggies, of our labors

As the snow flies and we wait out ice storms and blizzards, we occasionally sneak a stash of our yummies that we canned last fall. We were determined to try canning. It was our third year attempting a garden. Our previous efforts have not been overly successful. The year before we didn't really get enough to can--but the vegetables did supplement our summer diet. We gained a lot of experiences--we spent three weeks solid standing in the kitchen peeling, mixing, researching, and canning. It was hard on my feet to stand so much--near the end I was having problems with even walking. I went to bed crying in pain. I questioned how in the world this could possibly be worth it.

I could only think "Three weeks and we barely have anything to really show for it!" It gave us a new respect for the pioneers and our ancestors. It didn't look like a lot and certainly didn't seem cost effective. However, I think we learned a great deal and we did get some quality products. There is a point that I don't think it pays to can items that can be purchased on sale at a reasonable price--but there are some exceptions that I think are noteworthy and worth the effort. I found a apple pie filling recipe that is better than any I have ever purchased. Our apple tree isn't doing fantastic, so we had to make a trip to the orchard and spend far more on apples than I am prepared to admit to even myself.

Another item we have done really well at--and am very pleased is the salsa we made. Salsa is soooo good for you--it spices up just about anything with all the right things-vitamins, antioxidants, no fat and much lower in sodium than commercial stuff. Can't go wrong. My daughter used this to make omelets the other day--cheese, soy crumbles, mushrooms, peppers and lots of yummy salsa! Of course, we managed to set aside the best jars for fair time next year. Maybe that time was worth it after all.