Saturday, December 17, 2011

Semester 1 Reflection

Due to school, the semester has been even better than I hoped. Learning has not been rushed, field trips lead to the greatest places, and the classes at Henessey are more fun than you would think.

The animals love Auburn. Few tragedies have occurred considering all that could easily happen. The ducks and chickens are still laying beautiful eggs. The goats have given birth to beautiful, healthy babes and are producing enough milk each day for breakfast, lunch or dinner each day. Rosie's ear has healed up nicely. And the fish love the "pond barrels."


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Holidays!

This year we are going digital with our holiday card.  Here it is:

Juliana, Joe, Grace, Eli, Sophia... and Bambi, Sugar, Rosie, and Honey

"Yesterday is history. 
Tomorrow is a mystery. 
Today is a gift. 
That's why we call it the 'present'."
--Quoted in Kung Fu Panda

May you have lots of presence, a happy holiday season, and a peaceful New Year.


The Stewarts

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This Week: Semester's End

Our homeschooling semester is drawing to a close.  All of the children have written reflections on the semester (or will).  But we also want to share a bit about this past week.  Here is what they have to say about it:

Over the weekend, we (the kids) went to a church retreat.  It was fun.  We did a community service in which we volunteered at a party for kids whose parents were incarcerated.  At the party, there was a bingo game where every kid won at some point, got on the stage, and picked a present.  We stayed overnight at church and on Sunday we led the first half of the church service.

Yesterday we had a field trip to Grass Valley.  We went to Empire Mine State Park.  They had a display that showed how much gold was mined there in about 100 years.  It was big for gold, but only about a cube with sides as long as a person (worth about 10 billion dollars with present gold prices).   We also went on man skip (human elevator into the mine shaft).  From Eli's journal:

"Today we went to Empire Mine.  There we got a tour of the mine.  We got to see many of the different ores found all over the world.  We then were allowed to do a simulation of going down to the mines.  We also saw a huge model of the mine.  It was incredible.  There were hundreds of tunnels covering 5 square miles.  Something unique about the mine was it was shored up with steel [editor's note: rails taken from cable car tracks broken in the 1906 SF earthquake] letting the tunnel last longer."

In addition, yesterday we Christmas-caroled and gave out presents at in an elder home.  We also went bowling with our fellow charter school homeschoolers.

The next couple of weeks are vacation, though we will continue to read, do PE (skiing), and learn.  [editor's note: Learning is all around us whether we try or not, which is pretty cool].

Next semester we are looking forward to: skiing, going to New York to see Uncle Ben, going to Boston and Providence, spending time with people we like, going to Southern California, our birthdays, Eli's Bar Mitzvah, finishing the school year (and this blog, says Eli), starting our Semester 2 math books, and taking care of our animals.

Sophia, Grace, and Eli [and Joey on keyboard/editing]

Semester 1

So far homeschooling hasn't been terrible; it has actually has been pretty fun. If I had it to do again though I probably wouldn't. We had our trip to Thailand and we are leaving for Utah in a couple days. We have been keeping on track with school work and my Bar Mitzvah is coming along well. I have met a few people and my soccer team tied for first. I am excited to ski this winter even though there hasn't been much snow so far.



This semester was truly wonderful. But, bad times have happened too. There were times when I really wanted to move back.  But if we had not moved or homeschooled, I would not have been able to do all the cool things I have done this semester.  We wouldn't have been able to watch "Babe", the movie where I saw a great dollhouse and got all my inspiration for our dollhouse.   I would not have been able to wire our dollhouse or have all our wonderful animals.  I think I will look back on this year as the best year in my life.


Electrifying our dollhouse

About two weeks ago, Papa, Grace, and I decided to electrify our dollhouse. In only a few days, all the supplies that were needed were bought and in the garage. These were: 4 LED lights, 4 switches, wire, and soldering equipment. The morning after the supplies were bought, we carried the dollhouse to the garage and got to work.

First we soldered the switches and then wired up the house using parallel circuits.

But that was not the end... Grace and I were ecstatic, so we switched on and off the switches. But some of the lights refused to turn on. "What do we do?" Grace and I frantically asked. Papa said that first we had to figure out if the lights or the switches were wrong. We untwisted the wires and took the switches off. Then, we touched the wires together and the lights still didn't turn on. Two lights were wired backwards (we hadn't realized they were one-directional).

Still confident, our team continued. We rewired our lights and prayed that it might work this time. We thought we had finally done it correctly, but when I pushed the switch it only turned on for a second--or as long as I pushed it.

So the next day, Papa bought new switches that looked real, but were mini. Triumphant again, we soldered all the connections, sawed holes for the new switches, and then glue-gunned them into place.  Thinking it would work, Papa tried to turn on the lights using the switches.  But the switches would not budge.  The hot glue must have glued the switch in place!  We scraped off the glue and nailed the new switches instead.  Finally it worked and the house was done!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Rambling Story of My Weekend

by Joey

Introduction: Baching-it
This weekend I am "baching-it" at the Stewyurt.  Friday I took the time to get a number of smallish projects done and clear my desk of bills, etc.  With that out of the way, I planned Saturday more as a weekend warrior day.  Morning to Sacramento for some ultimate then a mountain bike ride in the afternoon (and ski boot shopping inbetween).  Though I followed through with my plan, the bike ride was cut short by a header I took early in the ride. 

Chapter 1: MISSING: Joey's hair follicles, blood, and memory
I arrived for my bike ride a few minutes late (lost track of time while ski boot shopping--I'm really excited about ski season.  Hopefully the snow will come!)  My friend, Patrick, was there waiting along with his regular crew.  I felt a bit bad about my tardiness, but even more foolish when I realized I had forgotten my helmet!  I figured everything would be fine though.  I haven't fallen off my bike in so long and it was just a mountain ride... [note the foreshadowing]

What I was not expecting is that the ride would start out with pretty tight single track.  It was fairly slippery and at the turns there wasn't much room for error.  Unfortunately, I made an error at a spot where there was a big branch lying off the side of the trail.  I hit the branch.  I fell.  When I opened my eyes there was a fair bit of blood splashing in front of my face on the branch and I wasn't sure exactly where I was.  After a moment, I remembered the situation.  I was dizzy and bleeding from the side of my head.  The blood flow and dizziness subsided with pressure after a few minutes and my friend and I were able to ride back to the car.  Though I had had a concussion, I was feeling pretty clear and remembered everything (except the moment my head hit) and decided to drive home.  This was done without incident.

I wrote an email to Patrick about what followed:
"When I got home, I called my nurse connections (including my wife) and Kaiser.  The recommendation was that I go to the ER to get evaluated.  So I did (first I stopped at Any Mountain and bought the ski boots I was looking at before the ride--I got a nice used pair of Nordica Hot Rod 125's for $58! Great deal).  Turned out I had an inch-long laceration that required 5 staples.  I also scraped off about a quarter-sized patch of hair which is predicted not to grow back.  I definitely had a concussion and was told to take it easy for at least a week.  They also suggested a CAT scan, but the doc didn't push it and as my symptoms were only the momentary loss of consciousness and brief dizziness after the fall, I decided to pass."

This week my dog and I both gained an inch-long scar above our hearing orifices with an accompanying loss of hair follicles (though I kept more skin than she did). 

Chapter 2: Movie Review and Philosophical Rambling
After the hospital trip, I went to a movie: "The Descendants" (remember, I'm batching it).  It is the story of a man in the midst of his career coming to terms with relationships with his wife and kids.  Though I've made lots of very different life choices than the protagonist (played by George Clooney), it was fairly topical for me.  Being in a similar life-stage, I could relate to the tensions he felt.  

Without giving much away, in the movie's resolution, Clooney's character makes some typical yet brave choices that help his family find a place of ease.  With the attainment of balance found at the end among tragedy, obligation, work, parenting, growing-up (AKA "life"), I felt a visceral connection to what the characters were experiencing.  Through the course of the movie, he made choices that affirmed his family.  Though his choices did not always produce the desired result at any given moment, it did end up creating a simple ease and closeness in his family at the end.  So often in movies it is about that "ecstatic" moment (in a family movie, for example, perhaps they achieve some unattainable goal together, or in a romance they decide to get married).  But the end of this movie was banal.  Indeed, though often barely noticeable, ordinary moments do hold great depth.  "The Desendants" is the rare Hollywood film that depicts at least one such moment.    And its relationships seem to exist within long-term lives, not just one-dimensional moments of passion and glee. 

Last year I imagined this year would be somewhat "ecstatic": a year off work, international travel, domestic travel, free time with the kids.  While I guess those moments are there, finding depth and ease in relationships and life (whether at the Stewyurt or in "regular" life) is much more subtle than just making one choice (i.e. taking a leave).  It requires choices everyday: to be present, to recognize the people around you, to balance work, to find a way to respond to set-backs.   Those ordinary moments when that happens are special; I enjoyed seeing it happen in the movie.

Chapter 3: Sunday Chill Day and More Philosophical Ramblings (a Poem, Really)
I'm taking it easy today; letting my brain rest and recover.  I had been planning to have a ski day today or tomorrow, but I'll follow my doctor's instructions and take at least a week off.  Instead, I'm puttering around and listening to the radio.  

While listening to "Prairie Home Companion", I heard a poem that moved me.  It is starts out seeming like it will be a kind of a funny poem, but it brought up some significant emotion for me.  It addresses mortality and independence and brings up a lot of the issues about making choices (especially for family men) that led me out on the trail yesterday and got me thinking in the movie I saw last night. 

I'll let you read it and make the connections.  Here it is as it appears on the "Prairie Home Companion" website (


A heavy snow, and men my age
  all over the city
are having heart attacks in their driveways,

dropping their nice new shovels
  with the ergonomic handles
that finally did them no good.

Gray-headed men who meant no harm,
  who abided by the rules and worked hard
for modest rewards, are slipping

softly from their mortgages,
  falling out of their marriages.
How gracefully they swoon—

that lovely, old-fashioned word—
  from dinner parties, grandkids,
vacations in Florida.

They should have known better
  than to shovel snow at their age.
If only they'd heeded

the sensible advice of their wives
  and hired a snow-removal service.
But there's more to life

than merely being sensible. Sometimes
  a man must take up his shovel
and head out alone into the snow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bar Mitzvah

My Bar Mitzvah is coming up in April. I have learned 3 long prayers and I have 2 more long ones to learn. I have done some community service and other parts of my Bar Mitzvah. I think I am on good track to be ready by April. I have rung the bell for Salvation Army, made cookies for our neighbor whose husband died of cancer, gleaned, am working on a song to play at the ceremony on my trumpet, and going on a run with my dad a few times a week.

goat family

Thursday, December 8, 2011

hello again

I'm back!

It was a gorgeous vacation, and then a bunch of working after (and jet lag). Soon, back for another intense stretch of working.

My work is intense (often in the sweetest ways, but also sometimes just scary.) Being away for that many days is intense. Leaving is the hardest. Lately I find myself just wanting to slip out, not make a big deal. I appreciate that Joey notices my heavy sighs those days, and heaves some of his own.

My favorite co-workers are also breathing heavy sighs lately. There is a feeling of powerlessness to effect positive change, a lack of regard from our managers, a focus on the bottom line that's hard to accept.

I'm thinking of making a change, and ruminating about how that might look. I think because the calendar year is ending, and our year here is half done.... I wish for another year like this one, with the children around, and time to be with them.

Yesterday the girls and I let all the goats out to forage. The sound of their chewing was deafening. The kids frolicked up and down the paved drive. We collected what we observed to be their favorite weed-- clover, and tossed it over the fence into their pasture feed wagon. Sophie thinks we could save money on purchased hay and is determined to do it. The milk was more this morning, and we imagined, better quality too, frothy and abundant.

We've made good progress in finding the goat children and mothers homes in families with loving human children. They will start to move out after the holidays, and we'll miss them. We'll post photos of them soon so you can see them bigger, and with horns sprouting.

I planted some raspberry canes I'd dug up at Hillview in our fenced "orchard". They wanted more sun. I gave Joey the promise of a raspberry patch for his birthday, so this is our start. For myself, I will plant some bare root wine grapes (for eating.) The children will plant strawberries. I've also planted some Jerusalem artichoke bulbs. I plan to plant giant pumpkins and all our melons and cucumbers up there as well.

An e-mail from my cousin Barclay reminded me that I miss home-home some. I went off on a fantasy about a year living as an adult in the South. Mainly the fantasy was about food, seafood and BBQ and boiled peanuts in particular. But also involving the Grand Ole Opry and Dollywood. I told the girls "Dolly Parton is my Taylor Swift." We decided to fry some stuff-- green tomatoes and hush puppies. They were tasty.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FOUND: Rosie's Ear

Found in the neighbor's yard where it became unconnected from the rest of the body yesterday.  Unfortunately, it will remain in this unattached state.  Some pets are declawed.  Rosie is now delobed.


MISSING: Rosie's ear

Last night part of Rosie's ear was torn off by our neighbor's dogs. Now it is our job to doctor her.
Poor Bobie!
Yesterday Papa asked Eli to walk Caleb up to his house. Then he added: "Bring Rosie, too." So off they went. About 2 minutes later, I went up to do the animals. As I got up to the hill, I heard snarls and barking. I assumed that Rosie and Caleb's dogs got in a fight. The fights between our neighbor's dogs and Rosie were seldom bad, so I kept doing the animals. But later Sophia came to me with tears in her eyes. She said the neighbor's dogs had ripped off some of Rosie's left ear! We bandaged it up and put her in the shed so the wound would not got infected.
[Editor's note: Though she lost about a square inch or so of ear, Rosie is doing fine.]

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sophia's Thailand Essay

Click on the photos from the blog site to enlarge.

Grace's Thailand Essay

These photos will enlarge and should be more readable when viewed from the blog site.

Eli's Thailand Essay

Eli Stewart

Great Experiences

            Last week we were in Thailand. There were lots of things to see and do in Thailand: snorkeling, great food, beautiful island formations, Hongs (Hong means room in Thai) and many other things. Of these things the most exciting experiences were with animals.
            By far the best experience I had was feeding a baby tiger. We were at a show called “Fantasea”. Fantasea is a mix between a circus and a Thai version of Disneyland. On the way into the show there was a booth were you could pet and feed a baby tiger, then you could buy a photo of yourself for about $30. This was really exiting because I’ve been fascinated by tigers since I was a little kid.
            Another thing I did in Thailand is a classic tourist activity: riding elephants. The elephants we rode were Asian elephants and weren’t as big as the ones you see in the zoo. While we rode, the driver let me come down and sit on the elephant’s neck. We went on a long hike through the jungle on its back. Along the way, we saw lots of rubber trees collecting rubber. Later, at Fantasea we saw two very friendly baby elephants. The next day, we saw another baby elephant getting taken on a walk down the beach. As with the tiger, all these elephant experiences were extremely memorable.
Throughout the trip we also had many interactions with monkeys. The first pair of monkeys we saw was very polite and watched us as we watched them. The next family of monkeys wasn’t as polite. They were very bold and would sit on you and accept food. If they didn’t get food though they got mean and one pulled my hair. The final troop of monkeys we encountered was very aggressive and would attack you for food. These episodes with monkeys both good and bad were very interesting.
These were just some of the great things I did with animals in Thailand. Probably the best thing I left out was how I swam with a turtle. All of the best experiences I had involved animals. I have realized this is often true in the rest of my life as well.

Last Week at the Stewyurt

Last week we returned to our "regular" schedule.  A big part of our schooling last week was writing five paragraph essays.  I asked each of the kids to come up with a theme related to their observations and/or experiences in Thailand.  The posts that follow this one are their final drafts of those essays.  The girls' essays are photographs which can be enlarged by clicking them (if you read on the blog site).  Please consider posting a comment regarding the essays on the blog itself.  [Note: Posting a comment can be tricky.  If you choose "Anonymous" as your ID, this seems to work--just sign your name in the text of the comment.  Clearing your browser's cache sometimes helps also.]

Since the kids were busy writing their essays, they did not have time to blog.  (You will get some from them this week...  Spoiler alert!  Look for some discussion of how Rosie lost part of her ear).

Since we are short on written descriptions, here is some more of what went down last week in and around the Stewyurt:
 Eli made cookies from scratch for our neighbors and us.  Note pertaining to shirt: Eli and the rest of us are planning to see a Red Sox game at Fenway Park in May (though let the record show that he is a Giants fan).

 Sophia learned about electrical circuits (as did the other kids).

 Grace made a puppet for a show she will be doing about the the western trail.  She also harvested the rest of her pumpkins.

 Sophia is showed off where the kids take their music lessons.

 We solicited donations at the grocery store for holiday food baskets.

 We also collected donations as bell-ringers for the Salvation Army, but I don't have a photo of that so here is the bucket we collected the food donations in.

Sophia made a puppet, too.