Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Epilogue: 3 Months Later

Today is Yom Kippur: a day to slow down, reflect, atone. After services last night, we drove up to the yurt for a day away from school and work, back to our home away from home.

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write with some of the perspective gained from our re-entry. Understandably, the most common question I get regarding our time away is: “what is it like to be back?” In short, it feels good. We’ve established and cultivated our roots for the past 16+ years in San Rafael for many reasons! We have deep family ties, meaningful work, a wonderful community, a sweet home, access to great culture, geography, history, weather. While I miss the freedoms of last year, it has not been hard to come home.

Of course, last year has had an impact. While I can’t speak for all of us, it is my observation that we are all changed from our experience last year. I believe the kids have a heightened appreciation for time and place. Having been away for a year, they seem to actively appreciate school, their friends, and their free time in a more complete way than before. A challenge is remembering to appreciate the family and home, too—not just take it for granted having been so easily present with each other all of last year.

Juliana may be taking the transition hardest as she craves more of the literal and figurative space we had. It can be hard to carve that out in busy lives and on small pieces of suburban land. But it can be done. We’ve transformed most of our San Rafael yard to garden and we continue to be regular visitors to the yurt and its surrounds.

I am happy to be home. I get to see my people so much more (with the exception of my immediate family). I can ride my bike from place to place, the kids can be more independent, there is more opportunity to play ultimate. The transition back to work has been mostly painless so far. I enjoy my colleagues and students and I am passionate about what I teach.

Nevertheless, I do feel somewhat different at work: more relaxed, I suppose. I have steadily been moving that direction over my career as I have amassed a growing arsenal of experience and become more and more fluent with my craft. But returning this year I have felt a subtle, though noticeable shift. I attribute it to a new perspective gained as a homeschool teacher. As homeschoolers, we learned all the time—even without a specific regimen. The challenge was simply being open to it where we were.

In the school setting, learning can feel different. The routine is so defined and there are so many learners that there isn’t the same freedom to be independent and open to learning as it comes. The focus often shifts to the nuts and bolts of the process. Students and teachers alike get caught up in the routines more than the end goal: filling out the worksheet instead of learning the concepts, for example. While completing worksheets can be important, it is not ultimately the goal. I’ve known this a long time and have always held to the educational philosophy: “make learning REAL.” I design my curriculum with that in mind. But his year I notice a slight shift. Instead of “making learning real”, my focus has become: “learn”.   It is a subtle, hardly noticeable change, but it feels important. I hope it will stay with me. I think it makes me a better teacher.

In addition to the wonderful memories, one of the lasting gifts of the past year has been the opportunity to look at our lives from a different vantage point. That perspective is so incredibly meaningful. It gives freedom, too. When I am surrounded by a busy Saturday of soccer games, a stack of laboratory reports to grade, or other craziness, I am pausing to recognize to moment; to see this is where I have chosen to be. I am striving to be brave enough to make changes if it is not where I want to be.

Having had more literal freedom last year, I feel as though I have a recalibrated barometer with which to assess and remind myself how I am. I hope it stays with me. When its clarity fades, I will continue to seek opportunities to reexamine my living; to stop to smell the roses. I hope you will find ways to do that as well. The roses smell good!

Over the summer I wrote a new song which I am happy to play live on request. It was written and is sung in the flavor of Flight of the Conchords.

Livin’ in a Yurt

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
You may wonder what I do there.
I’ll tell you ‘cause I like to share.

We usually eat
Something fermented for dinner.
Out in the chicken coop
We’re looking for a winner.
Everyone is knitting
Right where they’re sitting.
Out in the garden
The weeding is starting,
But use only your hands.
‘Cause at the yurt, all’s organic lands.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
Some folks wonder: “Is it a tent?”
I tell them: “No it isn’t.”

Compost my trash,
Subsist on heirloom,
To minimize our footprint,
The children share a room.
Crap in a bucket,
Cloth on a loom,
Get a mycologist,
To find and gather a mushroom.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
Some folks wonder: “Is it a teepee?”
I tell them: “No, I can’t take it with me.”

Dry clothes sustainably,
Odor my pits with patchouli,
Commune with a duck,
Drive a big ol’ truck,
But to minimize the irony,
I do it only periodically.

I found myself livin’in a yurt.
I eat goat milk ice cream for dessert.
It’s a round house, yeah.
It’s not canvas, no. (Why do you keep asking that?)
It’s a wood cabin, man!
Why so obstinate, damn?

I drive the streets in a Prius:
Rural town, no subway or bus.
Maybe I’ll dig a sweat lodge,
Built a barn with lumber hodge-podge.
Kids in 4H,
Sewin’ a skirt.
That’s just me,
Livin’ in a yurt.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
You may have wondered what I do there.
I’ll told you ‘cause I like to share.
Well-fed, crafty, alert,
Livin’ in a yurt.

from the Stewyurt on Yom Kippur, September 26, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Do you miss us?

If you are reading this, it is quite likely you have seen us more since you have read about us less. 

It has been almost two months since we have had the time, access, and inclination to write.  Tomorrow I go back to school to work on my classroom.  That seems like finality in relation to our special year.  Back to regular life.  It's not bad.  But it is less blog-worthy.  So, before it gets normal,  one final(?) blog entry.

The first month since we wrote was mostly about moving.  Some other cool stuff went on, too.  Then we got Eli out of camp (a month of fun and socializing that he loved) and headed north.  While the trip was a vacation, it also had a flavor of our winter southwest homeschool sojurn: we were together, seeing new places, learning, packed in a car.  Rosie came along too--all of us in the Prius for over 2000 miles (we managed nearly 50 mpg, which was nice). 

We saw friends in Arcata, Portland, and Seattle, visited Victoria and Olympic National Park.  The focus was ten days with my parents at Hornby Island in Canada.  It is a beautiful place that is part nature preserve, part intentional community, part resort, part relaxing getaway, part artistic hub, part hermit enclave.  There was lots to do and lots of not doing.

Juliana and I dreamed while we were there.  As we return to our "old life" and with the perspective of our past year, we've been feeling thoughtful.  We want to have space to grow things, be near the people we love, find inspiring work, educate and support others, be close to the land, live sustainably, nurture our children.  It is exciting to think about how these dreams will continue to take shape in the years to come.

On our way back from Canada, we stopped in Auburn to harvest some vegetables from Juliana's garden and say hi to the goats (they are staying with neighbors in Auburn until we are able to bring them home next weekend).  Hasn't she done an amazing job?

The kids are glad to be home.

Thank you for following our lives this year.  Your interest and feedback have fortified and inspired us.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reentry Sequence Initiated

Starting countdown... our July 1st "End Day" approaches quickly.  But its finality has been muddied; the consequence of our melding worlds.  Our San Rafael renters requested an early end to their lease, so last weekend we returned and slept in our "old" home for the first time in nearly a year.  It was nearly empty--couldn't even find bags for garbage or recycling--but it was significant to be home again.  There is a lot to do there!

But we still have not left the yurt.  I remember frequently (and am glad) that we really won't leave at all!  We will share time in two homes.  As a clear example of this, the July calendar has become a checkerboard of existence in our two places.  To San Rafael to unpack, work on the yard, prepare for school, play ultimate.  Then to Auburn to rehearse for the girls' play, visit the goats, swim team, clean-up.  Then back again.  And forth.  We won't really settle back home until mid-August.  Even then, I'm sure we will itch to return to our yurt away from home.

In addition to the time in the old house, being back in San Rafael last weekend provided opportunity to reconnect with friends, family, and colleagues.  A common question was: "How does it feel to be coming back?"  In short, it feels good.  As I have said many times, we love our home and our lives there and we are so pleased about how this year turned out.  I am very interested, in a pre-self-reflective way, how this past year will alter our perspective back in our "old" place and jobs.

The kids seem to be pretty much done with blogging.  Sorry.  I'm not sure if this will be it for me, but there won't likely be a whole lot more.  I really would like to print the whole blog out since last August and have it bound as a family memento.  But I'm not sure if there is a way to do that without going to each entry and pushing print.  Even then, there are all kinds of menu bars and random stuff all over the page I would not like to have in the book.  If anyone knows a trick, please let me know!

I thought about looking into making an actual published book, too.  Juliana rightly says no one who doesn't know us would be interested in reading our indelicate prose and seeing a bunch of kids' school work.  And, unfortunately, I don't think any of us have the energy or talent to transform what is here into a cohesive, publishable work.  It has been an interesting year though. I do think others could benefit from our experiences and thoughts.  Does anyone have an idea about if and how we could proceed with that?  Maybe we just send interested parties here to the blog and let them distill as they will!

Life goes on.  We had a wonderful backpacking trip last week to Grouse Ridge in Tahoe National Forest about an hour and a half northeast of here.  The weather was perfect, the mosquitoes few, the terrain beautiful, at an appropriate challenge level, and there were lakes everywhere.  Backpacking is gear-intensive, but it was pretty easy this time and it was such a pleasure to be all together out in the woods to walk, see, swim, read, eat, sleep.  Simple.  Basic.  Wholesome.  Good.

We sent Eli off to camp for a month earlier this week.  In regards to our year together and "away from it all", it felt final.  It was hard to see him go.  I wouldn't have let him go so long had we not just had 12 intense months together.  Though he was very excited, it was hard for him, too.  He seems so much more centered and grounded lately: more willing to smile, offer help, swallow the complaint, show interest, admit he will miss us at camp.  He really enjoyed camp last year and I think it will be good for him this summer as well.  He will have a chance to be with peers--something he has missed some this year as a homeschooler.  I hope the self-grounding he established this year will pull him through 8th grade and beyond. 

Before the back-and-forth month of July, we have a solid ten days in the Foothills.  The girls have five goats entered in the Placer County Fair.  It was sweet to see them trying to be official and lead the baby goats around today.  The goats weren't too interested, but still showed well: two first places and a "Grand Champion" for Jubilee in the dwarf goat doe class.  The mama goats get shown over the weekend and next week we bring most of the goats to new homes.  In San Rafael we will keep two (Magic and Opal), Rosie dog, all the chickens, and the two ducks on a trial basis.

Hope to see you there, too!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

She has less, but feels more prosperous.

I enjoyed having a focus this year.
Homeschooling, homesteading.
What about next year?
I feel some anxiety about feeling over-scheduled, over busy, and disconnected.

On the almost eve of our eldest leaving for a month to camp, I realize that I will miss him a lot.  And he will miss us.  He says so, and he is weepy about it a little.  This year, I feel we have reattached.  

I'm reading books I want to mention:
1.) Not Buying It--My Year Without Shopping, by Judith Levine.  She stops consuming things.  She makes food, checks books out from the library, crafts her gifts, repairs the rips, and finds free entertainment.  She discovers she has less, but feels more prosperous.  Like an addiction she breaks, she stops wanting things so much.  Her identity shifts.  She becomes more mindful and thoughtful.  And saves some money.  There is also an interesting discussion of what was "essential" for her.  She needed coffee.  Her husband stocked up on wine ahead of time.  What are my essentials?  What are yours?

2.)  Folks, This Ain't Normal, by Joel Salatin
He is the patriarch of Polyface Farms, in Virginia.  Featured in the movie Food, Inc.
His farming practices are considered revolutionary, but really they're just traditional.  Practices he says are being replaces (ineffectively) by factory farming.  It's pretty political, so far.  And I find myself challenged by some of his ideas.  He makes me feel a little uninformed about common sense stuff, and he has some rancor about liberal ideology.  I'm quite charmed by his parenting stories-- particularly about teenagers.  He believes they are underutilized, and not allowed to make real contribution to family and society (despite boundless energy).  They become frustrated.  Going from extracurricular to extracurricular is not real, or satisfying, he thinks.  But starting a business, cutting wood, working the soils, hunting for food, acquiring real life skills (and taking real life risks) is satisfying.
He says it better.
I also still love the idea of multigenerational family living, and he has that.
It inspires me to greater stewardship of our land here.  And I feel lucky to feel connected to place.  I have fallen in love with this place.

3.)  Milking the Moon, by Eugene Walter.
This fellow grew up in my hometown (Mobile, AL) in the 1920s.  This is the story of his life, told in his voice, through interviews.  He was an eccentric, a traveler, an imp.
Here is a snippet.  (Imagine it all spoken in an elegant Southern accent.)
"My grandfather and grandmother were passionate gourmets, being European, and coming out of small town families who spent 2.5 hours at the table for each meal, between wine, food and conversation.  If you want to be a good cook, you have to be a good gardener; it all works together.  My grandfather would pick the salad two minutes before it was going to be washed and dressed for the table.  If we were going to have corn on the cob for lunch, my grandfather would go out in the garden, and my grandmother would put the water on to boil.  When she saw bubbles forming on the bottom of the pot she would go to the window and say "Now."
I never heard "We don't have anything for supper."  There was always something, and plenty of it, because there was a garden.  And there was a pantry with bottles of preserves, and big jars of rice, and grits, and flour, and brown sugar.  And there was this sense of household."
(Joel Salatin would have liked Eugene Walter.)

I have a few concrete goals for the year, and many more unformed ones.  I'd like to be stronger.  To again complete the Marin Triathlon around Halloween.  I think I can ride many more places on my bike and drive less.  And keep sewing.  I've been inspired by Natalie Channin's Alabama Studio Design, and want to take on the challenge of sewing most of my clothes eventually.  I hope crafting will become a regular practice.  I hope we will grow more of our own food each year.  My parents will be around more this year, and I'm excited to be with them often.  Learn more about bees, and steal a little honey.  Reconnect with friends I've missed...

It's been a sweet year, and I'm looking forward to what's next.

I bit him hard

Today I bit my friend's dog.

I'm still upset about it, though neither my friend, nor his dog, nor I, were really to blame.
We were desperate to get him free of our favorite goat, Bambi.  The dog had broken through our fence.  He was determined, and had a good hold.  The girls were screaming.  The goat was screaming.  I might have been screaming too.  I could not separate his jaws, though I had upper and lower in each hand and was using all my strength.  I had no free hands to do anything else.  So I leaned in, and bit him hard on the top of the head.  And he loosened a little, with a popping noise.

The upset is something the girls and I have been feeling in our bodies-- a shaky sort of adrenaline upset that takes a while to dissipate.  Like too much caffeine.

Our goat is okay, I think.
He went into his playhouse and didn't come out again.
He has a puncture wound, only one.
A very generous local vet advised us by phone.

We shaved the area.  We flushed inside the wound with a dilute betadine solution.  We boostered for tetanus.  Gracie gave her first subcutaneous injection-- penicillin.  We applied antibiotic ointment, and bandaged, so flies can't get in.  We gave him ibuprofen for his pain and yogurt to augment his gut bacteria.  He was brave and gentle.  We felt a little better for having done what we could for him.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wrapping up

We are wrapping things up.  The kids got their report cards a few days ago.  On Tuesday, we went to their awards night for the homeschool we are associated with (and stopped by Malakof Diggins, site of the invention of hydraulic mining and now a ghost town and state park).  We had one of the families over who will be taking two of our goats and built 500' of fence for another.  I installed the new skylight for the yurt that has been sitting in my garage for over a year, haunting me!

All of this has got me thinking about the "like to do list" I posted back in October (10/4/11).  Did I do it?  I've pasted it below with checks (√) for things I was able to do, an "x" for things not done, a "-" for things done partially, and comments in CAPS.

√Be with my family
√Homeschool my kids and hug them often
√Build and repair stuff in and around the yurt and land
√Nourish old friendships
√Make new friends
√Make pumpkin bread with my kids
√Enjoy sports with my kids
√Enjoy more quality time with Juliana
√Play guitar
√Play piano
√Learn some ukulele (maybe)
√Play ultimate
√Learn some karate
√Ski a lot
√Read more
√Read a novel in Spanish (or at least part of one)-PART
√Write a blog
√Write a poem
√Write a song
√Witness a goat birth
√Make a bike trail with a bridge over our creek
xMake a cobb oven (maybe)
xMake a sweat lodge (maybe)
-Make a swimming hole at the creek (a long-shot)
√Visit another country or two
√Take some trips around California and the West
√Camp and backpack-BACKPACK TRIP NEXT WEEK
√Explore Auburn, Grass Valley and Sacramento
√Remain financially solvent
√Do nothing with some regularity

Yay!  I done did it!  It isn't all about "doing", of course, and that is much of the point.  That list was generated with the hope that I'd be doing a lot of "being".  Ok.  I beed.

Speaking of which, when we were packing up from work and home last year, I was often asked why we were doing it.  We had some pretty specific reasons.  In a nutshell they were:

• Be with each other more; affirm family.
• Get to know our new place, its surrounds, and the people here better.
• Travel.
• Homestead.

I think we lived all of those things and feel richer for it.


Friday, June 1, 2012

End of the year homeschool reflection

I think that this homeschool year was special because it gave me opportunities that I otherwise wouldn't get. We got to keep our goats, get more chickens, and have ducks. We traveled to 3 national parks, Thailand, NY, Boston, Providence, and many more places.  Grace and I have met nearly 10 friends here.   Also, our family has spent much more time together.

This year has effected my life in some very good ways. I have learned how to care for the animals in more efficient ways, how sweet ducks are, and more advanced school related things.

Some of my favorite things about homeschooling: getting hours of free time and the right to decide what I do. Some days I only sew and do crafts or read all day. And as I have stated in almost every sentence I love having the animals.

 Sophia and Grace receiving their end of the year report cards.


            This year had it's ups and downs. It was really nice being able to go on lots of trips and sometimes it was nice spending time with my family. My favorite trip was to Thailand which you heard all about. I also liked going skiing a lot and I got much better.
            There ware also definitely downsides. One I really haven't liked is having my parents on my case all the time; instead of annoying my teachers I end up annoying them and they get fed up with me. I also have had trouble being out in the middle of nowhere and far away from civilization; I used to be able to ride my bike to any thing I wanted to do but now I'm stuck here a lot of the time.  Another problem is that I didn't have any friends when I came here, but I have made some. I do miss being with kids my age 7 hours a day. I have more things to say but I'll stop complaining for now.
          This year has made me realize that even though the year has been both good and bad, it is really important to have a good attitude about what you are doing whether it is your first choice or your last choice. Another thing I have realized is that dreading something that is going to happen anyway is a waste of time and energy and it is better to just be happy with what is happening now.


[Editor's note: Eli just completed his final report on Leonardo DaVinci.  If you would like to read it, it can be accessed here:] 

End of the year reflection

This year has been great. I really liked being with the animals and having a lot of them. If we had not had this year, we would not have been able to see goats being born. Also, we wouldn't have so many animals or get to spend as much time with them. We wouldn't have the ducks or 10 goats.

Another thing I really liked was going on really cool trips. We have gone to Thailand, Southern California, Boston, New York, and more.  That was really cool. There is no way we could do that at school.

Time is also is nice. This year we had a lot of time for crafts.  I have sewn, drawn, and knitted.

This year we have made friends, too.  Some of them include Lydia, Shannon, Ruthy, Caleb, Torri, Mackenzie, and Naya.

Sometimes though, this year was sad.  Some examples of bad times were: Rosie Killing chickens and missing our friends.

Over all, this year has been great.  This has been a year of travel, animals, time, and fun.


Frog Blog, Continued

As you know, I made a "Frog Blog" at the start of the year [editor: looking for suggestions about how to complete her sewn frog]. Thanks for the suggestions.  I went with the little pillow method and I finished!  Sorry it took all year.


[Editor's note: The original "Frog Blog" remains our single most-viewed blog entry!]

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Travel Journals

From a day in San Francisco to New York, Providence, and Boston, here are the kids' perspectives on our East Coast adventure [with editorial notes in brackets and photo captions in italics]:

The Academy of Sciences, May 21, 2012, by Grace [still in San Francisco]
Today we went to the California Academy of Sciences.  We learned a lot.

First, we learned about the possibility of life on other planets.  The sun is a star, there are a lot more stars, too.  Most of these stats have planets orbiting around them.  Some of these planets have a possibility of life.  Next we learned about animals.  Some amphibians can fly (or jump).  There is an animal called a dikdik that looks exactly like Nene (our goat).

As you can see, we learned a lot today.

May 22, 2012, by Eli
Right now I'm on the plane to Chicago where we will switch to the plane that will take us to NY.  In NY we will see our uncle whom I hope will take us to Madagascar 3.  While we are there I want to go to the top of the Empire State building.  I also want to see some museums and the Statue of Liberty.  Our grandparents are also there and are taking us to the 9/11 Memorial.

May 23, 2012, by Grace
Today we woke up at 5:00 our time to have breakfast with Papa's friends.  Next we went to The Rockefeller Center.  The Rockefeller Center is where you can go to the very top of that building (it is really high).  Also, a lot of shows are filmed there.

Second we went to the MoMA.  At the MoMA we saw "Starry Night".  My favorite painting was one by van Gogh.  It was called "The Olive Tree".
Grace and Sophia in front of a Monet

After the MoMA, we took a short walk in Central Park.  On the way we saw a really cute raccoon.  I named him or her Rascal.

Finally, we went to the NY Yankees.  Ben came.  We also got Cracker Jacks.

A Fun Day, May 24, 2012, by Sophia
Today we started our morning slow.  We woke up late, leisurely ate breakfast at a panini place, and when it started to rain, we went to the 9/11 Memorial.  We came to 2 pools each with a marble wall with names of people who died trying to save some 9/11 victims [and the victim's names as well].  The pools were the spots where the World Trade Centers were.

Soon it started to rain harder so we headed to The Museum of Natural History.  At the museum, we mostly looked at fossilized mammals, reptiles, and dinosaurs.  We learned about cladograms (the "tree" connecting everything).

We also went to the Tenement Museum.  A tenement is an old fashioned apartment for immigrants.  The one we saw had room for 20 families and was low class.  We only visited 2 rooms.  The guide told us the story of each room/family.  In the first room lived  a family with a mother with 3 children whose husband ran away in the great depression [actually in the 1860's].  The 2nd room had a family who loved the governor, F.D. Roosevelt.

Boston, 5/29/2012, by Eli
Yesterday we were in Boston.  We took a tour and went to Fenway Park.  The tour was guided by the father of my dad's friend from college.  We took a walk down the Freedom Trail and he pointed out things like the grave of John Hancock.  Then he taught us about the history of Boston: how half the city was water that they filled in, the history of different buildings, and historic events.  On the tour we were told how bricks were laid and about a sounding board in an old church that projected sound without electricity.
This is the pew where George Washington sat.

At about 5, we went to Fenway where we watched the Red Sox play the Tigers.  The Red Sox won.

East Coast Wanderings

We jet over western Mass with the fresh memories of a week of exploring and connecting.

We experienced the bright lights of New York City where we visited with my brother and were tourists.  So much of who we are as a culture goes through there and it was fun to see it live and share it first-hand with the kids: Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Pollack and Picasso and Ruseau at the MoMA, Yankee Stadium, the 9/11 Memorial, the story of the tenements.

Next, in Providence, we walked the lanes of memory at the alma matter, with the children visited the places of family lore: where Juliana and I met, our favorite study spots, where we went once to find the mail that connected us with home. Old friends of distant past returned hardly changed and full of familiarity despite the separation of 20 years, a connection and warmth still there.
 The girls at the mascot's statue, Juliana at her old house, and me at my old house (now partially a Ben and Jerry's).

Late at night when we usually would have long been to bed, we laughed until there were tears about topics best not repeated here. We compared life stories about things that matter and shared our perspectives from the valuable vantage point of distance, past knowing, and deep connection. These friends with whom we spent four close transformative years continue to hold a special and meaningful place in our lives. I believe they always will and I am thankful for that.

In Boston, we toured the sites of our American history with a fabulous guide then took the T to the heart of New England where we enjoyed a comfortable Red Sox victory.

Speeding home now, the last few days of homeschool await along with our final family adventure before we return to life in a rectangular home.  To do: backpack in the Sierras, send Eli to summer camp, start our transition back to San Rafael.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Did you see it?

We observed the partial solar eclipse this evening around 6:30pm from Muir Beach, California. 

All you can see through the eclipse glasses is the sun.  Without these you can cause significant permanent damage to the eye when looking at the sun.

This picture was taken of the eclipse as it was waning through one of the glasses lenses.
We enjoyed the cool shapes of the pinhole images.  Usually, its just the "regular old" circle shape of the sun.  Today with the partial eclipse, the images were crescent shaped.

 That is Eli's shadow with a bunch of pinhole images around his fingers and through the webbing of the lawn furniture he was standing next to.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Robablos Time Trials

The Snow Leopard Ski Team has stored their skis until next winter in favor of swimsuits and goggles.  This morning we had our first swim meet with the Auburn Robalos Swim Team.

Eli off to the races.

 Juliana was a timer and claims she didn't start the clock late when the Stewarts were in the water.  A likely story.

Sophia in pink at far end, Grace second from bottom in green/blue getting a late start (but she tied for 1st in her heat with Sophia in that race).

Grace and her friend, Shannon.

East Coast Trip

Next week the Stewyurt Homeschoolers take their East Coast "field trip".  We will be visiting three major cities.  Each child/student did a bit of background research and made some notes about one of those cities.  Here is what they learned:

by Eli
Population: 617,594
48.43 sq miles
Industries:  Some of the main industries in Boston are technology, biotechnology, trading overseas (they have a big sea port) and publishing. Boston has many big publishing companies the biggest being Houghton Mifflin. Boston also has lots of financing companies like Fidelity.
Climate: 10ºF-73ºF
History: Boston has had lots of interesting history. It was founded on September 17, 1630 by Puritans. When the British started heavily taxing the thirteen colonies and war broke out Boston acted as the capital of the revolution. Many historic events and battles took place in Boston such as the Boston Tea Party, The Boston Massacre, The Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. After the revolution, Boston became one of the richest cities in the colonies.

Interesting attractions:  Some Boston attractions that I am interested In are:
  • Fenway Park
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Science Museum
  • New England Aquarium
  • Skywalk Obsevatory
  • and a really fast boat called Codzilla
Famous Residents: Boston has had lots of famous residents. Some of the more prominent ones are Samuel Adams for helping write the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin for a lot of things, JFK one of our presidents, and Robert Frost a great poet.  

New York (click on image to enlarge)
by Sophia*
Providence (click on image to enlarge)
by Grace*

* These were intended as presentation notes and the girls apologize for some technical errors.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tiny stingers

Grace came in today with her Garfield book.  She acted out the comic strip that had her tickled.  Laying on the floor with her feet and belly pointing up as lazy Garfield.  Standing to the side as the onlookers, mistaking him for dead.  I liked that.  It was funny.

I sent Eli out to hang laundry and watched him stare out a while, then go catch a blue bellied lizard Rosie was stalking around a stump, and then eventually finish his job.

Sophia sculpted me some bee earrings for Mother's Day.   
And then we burned them black in the oven.  None of us can remember to take things OUT of the oven, ever.  So they looked like little houseflies then.  

And then like honeybees again when she painted them with acrylic paint.  
They even have tiny stingers.  

We're wrapping things up here.  The last 4-H meeting, the last math test, our last charter school day.

There are signs we're ready too.  Maybe just ready for summer, and less school work, less driving to many activities in one day.

Joey has shaved down his mountain man beard and big hair.  (I liked him sweet and soft and scruffy.) 

It's getting hotter, and being in this little house together can be trying sometimes.  Keeping kids on task, keeping order, keeping kids from fighting each other, keeping kids on time.  We clearly need to be outside more.

We've found homes for almost all the creatures.  The summer garden is underway.  The bees are looking good.  Joey and I want to put on swim suits too, go down to the river, and take some trips.

I think I'll miss the children when they go away to school all day.   But I'm remembering too that I like to be alone sometimes.  To make and learn things, and think.

I see the children becoming more capable and independent.  That is bittersweet.  I think we're about to enter a new phase of parenting, and I'm not certain I'm ready or willing.


Of 4H Economics and Yurt Rings

Tomorrow Sophia and Grace turn in their 4H "Record Books" which document their 4H work over the course of the year.  For their animals, one of the things they were asked to do was calculate:
(income or value gained) - (expense) = (total income or loss).

Here are their calculations:

-$270 for 9 months food  (about $30/mo--1 hay, 1 ration)
+$350 sale/gift of 7 goats
+$288 milk (about 2 gal/wk for 6 months @ $5 gal)

Chickens and Ducks
-$60 for 9 months duck food (2 bags every 3 months @ $15 ea)
-$4 for purchase of ducks
-$144 for chicken food and purchase (1 bag/month @ $15 ea)
+$180 duck eggs (approx. 1 doz/wk for 9 months @ $5/doz--that's 432 eggs)
+$15 for sale of ducks
+$360 in chicken eggs (approx. 2 doz/wk for 9 months @ $5/doz--that's 765 eggs)

Good work, girls!

In other news, Eli and I went fishing early this morning.  We were hoping to catch a fish, dissect it, cook it, and eat it.  We didn't catch anything, but it was still pretty fun.

Also, we got the yurt stained this week.  

Speaking of our round dwelling, I've been working on an issue that probably interests no more than one reader of this blog, and he already knows about it.  Nevertheless, it has been taking a significant amount of my mental and physical attention the past few days, so I will describe it briefly:

The yurt has a strong 5' diameter wooden "compression" ring in the center of the ceiling.  This is what all the roof rafters--that start at the top of the walls--connect to.  Above the compression ring is another 5' ring made of metal.  All of the external metal roofing panels bolt at their tops to the outside of this metal ring. 

The other day, while on a ladder inside these rings at the ceiling, I noticed a 3/8" separation between the rings.  Would you like to see a gap open up in your ceiling?  I didn't.  It was surprising and concerning as the rings are supposed to be bolted together and sealed.   Something had created a significant enough shift to snap all of the flanges that bolted the metal ring to the compression ring!  What could be causing this?  Maybe you would like to venture a guess? 
 Pictured: wood ring at bottom, metal ring above (painted tan).  You can see where the flange holding the bolt has snapped.  The dark brown caulking used to be attached to the wood, but you can see the separation that has formed.

I think I have an explanation and I am working on a fix with the yurt designers.  Let me know if you'd like to hear more as the saga continues!  (Spoiler alert/hint: everything should be ok and can be explained by basic physics).


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rocky (A story)

The hot alcohol stung my bloody leg.  A soft voice whispered soothing words into my silky black ears.  I slowly raised my head.  I was sprawled out on a fluffy pillow.  Food and murky water was set in front of me.  I suspected more medicine.

I had been a stray dog all my life.  I had been cut very badly by a sharp-edged rock.  Somehow, a boy found me.  He has taken me to his territory and helped me a great deal.

The boy has been talking to his people and decided to call me Rocky.  The name must mean he is planning to keep me.  Today my boy tied a rope with my name on it around my neck!



Having my boy means I have to follow rules.  My #1 rule is to be friendly.

One day, I was doing my rounds when I heard footsteps.  I raised my head.  Walking toward our territory was a golden dog.  Behind it was a person.  My mind started racing.  That dog had intruder written all over it.  I let out a muffled warning bark.

The golden dog looked quizzically at its boy.  “No Bells,” he said.  Bells sat back on her haunches and whined.  “Oh, all right,“ he said, “but be careful.”  Bells slowly approached, her feet softly patting the earth beneath her feet.  I let her walk into my territory.

She came to a halt in front of me, gave a yip and bowed down in front of me.  “He must want to play,”  I thought.  So, we played until she had to go home.  Turns out, Bells and her boy were friends of my boy.  And now they were my friends, too.


One humid fall day, my boy kissed me on the nose and with the word, “Bye,” he ran down our narrow gravel road.  I whined and tried to follow him.  Unfortunately, he looked back.  When he saw me he said sternly, “go home!”  So I waited for about 3 hours.  Finally when the sun was shining through the trees in hot rays he came running home.  

“I’m sorry,” he said softly.  “I was at school.”  I growled. “He musn’t go to school,” I thought.  

Next time I will follow him.


To be continued...

Grace Stewart

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grace's Sketchbook

I selected these sketches from Grace's sketchbook.  This is what Grace often does with her free time.  She has been drawing the dog breeds and has recently begun to look at other details--especially of mammal faces and eyes.

Grace says she is working on "making it look real" and trying to "get their expressions."

Horse Study (for Mamo)

 Human Eye

It is a pleasure seeing her so absorbed in and motivated to do this work.

Proud Papa

Friday, May 11, 2012

Swim Team

       We just started swim team (the girls and I). Some days it is pretty fun but other days it is exhausting and I feel like I am going to drown. I am pretty slow at most strokes compared to the other kids in my lane. I am especially bad at butterfly, but I am really good at breaststroke. Yesterday we were diving off the blocks and each time my goggles were either yanked down to my face or filled with water.  One time when I jumped off the block they broke.
        I also hope to become a better swimmer by swimming 3 days a week. I want to learn new strokes and get better at the ones I know.  I also want to be able to swim faster and longer.


Visiting the Nursing Home

Today we went to a nursing home again with 4H.  This time, we brought the ducks.

When we got to the home, we observed that the animals there were Easter themed: chicks, ducklings, ducks, bunnies, and wiener dogs.  The only problem was that the ducklings were really loud,  I'll always understand why people talk loud after going to the feed store!  Honey and Ginger (our ducks) were very good, patient, and let the folks touch their feet and beaks without being bitten.

The elderly knew the ducks and enjoyed calling them "ducky lucks".  They loved the two 2-week old goats that another family brought.

Grace sharing Ginger with one of the patients.


Merging Time

Last weekend we spent back in Marin.  It was so fun to see friends and go to some of our familiar places.  Here are Juliana and our friend Juliette at Tennessee Valley Beach.

Back in Auburn, Juliana has been working really hard in her gardens.  We all spent the day there with her in celebration of her birthday.  The gardens are looking amazing and she has begun some of her spring harvesting.

I've been working on some small projects that have been on "the list" for a long time.  These include backsplashes for the kitchen and bathroom (using some tiles painted by Sophia and Grace), pictured below. 

Juliana and I also created a screen for the skylight so it could be open on hot nights without bugs coming in.  As is often the case with a round building, it was a bit of a challenge.  We were able to work something out with Juliana's fine sewing skills and some strong magnets.

As our time living here full-time runs short, I have been looking around for what needs to be done.  It will be a lot harder to complete projects when our presence is sporadic.  Conversely, I also feel like I need to make the most of my last days of "chillin' out"!  I think I have entered a wrapping-it-up phase:  I have visited Redwood and picked up curriculum I need to review for my teaching assignment next year, we have set a return date to San Rafael, we are starting to plan move-in work we need to do there, we are finding homes for the animals that won't return with us.  Instead of signing the kids up for Auburn activities, we are looking to Marin recreation departments.  The light at the end of the tunnel for the homeschooling assignments brightens and our end of the school year events--a trip to the East Coast and a week of backpacking in the Sierras--approach quickly.

I've deeply enjoyed this past year and found much meaning in it.  I feel rejuvenated.  We made a wise choice.  I have been feeling so happy here and relaxed and together with my family.  But could I do this indefinitely?  Maybe not.  Perhaps part of what has made it special is that it is temporary.  I am isolated.  I know my children feel that way some.  I miss doing my work in society (of course the time with family is significant, too).  I miss riding my bike to work.  I miss my people.  And being the dad, teacher, principal, counselor, truant officer, event planner and organizer, house builder, landscape developer, maid, and herder of children 24/7 is tiring.

As I start to move back mentally, I am reminded that I enjoy the challenges and rewards of my "regular" job.  Also, our recent visits remind me of how rich I feel to be surrounded by the community of friends and family we love.  

Still, being back at work and having so much less space and quiet will be an adjustment.  It feels unsettling right now and probably will continue to for a while.  Have I made enough of this year?  Am I making enough of my last months?  How will the return be?  My goal is to find a place where I can remember the peace, fun, and togetherness I have felt here and bring it with me to the rest of my life.  Part of that memory needs to be that even "living the dream" involves living--in all of its messiness and imperfection.  Gladly, both of our places will continue to be our homes and we will be able to merge them experientially and not just from memory. 

I've been reading a book (Hot, Mark Hertsgaard) that considers how the world will look in 2050 due to climate change.  It is pretty heavy, but I really liked this quote of Charles Darwin's that Hertsgaard
shared: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The Stewarts have made some significant (in some ways, temporary) life changes this year and will be making some more in the months to come.  How will we respond?