A Surprise from Beijing :: Our First Foreign Exchange Student

Back in early Dec I had stumbled upon a post on a local high school’s web page that they were seeking host families for a short time come spring. I emailed to inquire if it was required that my child(ren) attend the school. They replied immediately that it was entirely fine that my children did not also attend the school and asked if we were available for Feb 11-21st. I talked it over with the family and as it was for such a short time, Patrick agreed to give it a go. I thereby asked them to keep me informed of developments or further steps necessary.

I hadn’t heard from them since that initial conversation and had actually forgotten about it. Then last week I received an email stating we’d been matched with a girl (age 16) from Beijing.

In fact, I believe all the students are from Beijing and attend the same school. They are on holiday (Spring Festival or Chinese New Year) and are traveling together to get a hint of what school is like here. They toured college campuses in LA & SF for a few days before coming to Redding Mon evening.

She is awesome!! We don’t want her to go!  Hosting our first foreign exchange student was a wonderful experience.

Day 1 … Such a fun day … the post office, a comic book store, a little badminton, sharing a new craft (Lucet fork weaving), and cookie baking … complete with many giggles and candid photo moments.

Day 2 … another great day … Safeway, the library (for SAT, AP, & TOEFL exam prep books), and home again to make jiaozi (饺子). It’s so fun to see our country, our way of doing things, through her eyes. Jeffrey said, “I didn’t expect that having another big sister was going to be this much fun!”

Day 3 … Barnes & Noble, tennis (where I broke all the rules), Los Gordos (her first time eating Mexican food), and a lodge meeting. We are sad that she’s here only 7 more days. On the bright side, we will get to visit her in Beijing very soon!

Day 4 … we had a short time before a group dinner, so we took her to see the Sun Dial Bridge. Upon returning home from dinner, we made jello (upon request) & watched ‘Big Bang Theory’ … her favorite show.

Day 5 … another full day of festivities … chemistry lab (aka trying to bake a pie), agricultural science (picking up our milk at Duivenvoorden Farm), and winter ecology (an afternoon in the snow at Mt Lassen).

Day 6 … Scandinavian waffles for breakfast, made more jiaozi (饺子), Turtle Bay Museum (loved the Tiny Footprints exhibit – a post soon!), saw Wreck It Ralph in the theater, Costco, and Barnes & Noble again (upon request).

Rock Stacking & Penjing

The focus of the Outdoor Hour Challenges this month is on rocks.  We haven’t explored this topic in quite a while so we were excited to revisit it this month.  We love the challenges and particularly enjoy the grid that Barb includes each month – much like a tic-tac-toe of outdoor activities that correspond with the monthly theme.

When my mother came to stay with us earlier this year, we spent a day at the beach.  While there, she introduced us to an activity she and Richard enjoy when they go on outings with Lily, stacking rocks. It was a lot of fun – and a little frustrating too – to delicately balance and counter balance the rocks precisely.

While at first it may seem like simply a fun activity, there is actually quite a bit of science and engineering involved.  While playing around with different rocks, you learn that to balance one, you must keep its center of gravity (its balancing point) directly above its base (the part of the rock that is supporting it).

The kids had a lot of fun and really got into it before the Canada Geese began to get a little intrusive. They had no fear and would literally walk right onto our towel in an attempt to steal our lunch.  Later in the week, we explored Turtle Bay and enjoyed an exhibit in the gardens on Penjing.  It was fun week that incorporated a lot of hands-on learning with little planning .. simply surprises and opportunities for which I kept my eyes open and hears listening.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge at Handbook of Nature Study.

Night Tree – A New Holiday Tradition

Every year for Christmas, the kids delight in our advent calendars.  We actually have three – Sweetie has a Forest Winter Wonderland Calendar by Playmobil,  Buddy has a LEGO City Advent Calendar, and together they share a felt pocket calendar that we hand-stitched ourselves.  Within each pocket is an advent action card that reveals a special holiday activity or special gift.

One of the cards reads, “Choose 3 favorite Christmas books and enjoy them together with a cup of cocoa.”  This card was revealed on Thursday, just before we went to the library.  The kids thereby chose to select a few new Christmas stories from the display at the library, one of which was Eve Bunting’s Night Tree.

Night Tree is the story of a young boy and his family who decorate a favorite tree with popcorn, apples, tangerines and sunflower-seed balls as a gift to the animals of the woods.  We enjoyed the beautifully illustrated story of this family’s tradition of bring to life the true spirit of Christmas.  Earlier today, on the morning of Christmas Eve, the kids recalled this story and shared with us their inspiration to decorate a tree of our own.  They said to me, “Mom!  We need to do this with Daddy!  It is one of the challenges on our nature grid this month!” They were referring to the square that said, enjoy a nature with a friend.  They were uber-excited that Daddy was able to join us as he is generally at work when we go on nature walks.  

We thereby popped a kettle of popcorn, strung apple slices on a garland, and gathered a few persimmons and tangerines to give to the animals that reside near our home (there is a small open space near our house where we have seen jack rabbits, deer, and numerous birds).  We enjoyed the activity so much that I am confidant it will become a new family tradition – they have even asked me to make an advent action card for it.  🙂

We then enjoyed a quiet walk down to the creek where we were inspired to create little drift boats with what we could find in our surroundings. It was a wonderfully peaceful way to spend the afternoon on Christmas Eve.

RAW Milk from Duivenvoorden Farms

We started purchasing Real Milk when we were still in Central Oregon.  The farmer in Oregon was small scale – milking only two-three cows.  The milk was delicious and it was a weekly treat to drive out to their farm for our milk.  We loved visiting their farm and would often visit with the family, even occasionally jump on the trampoline with their kids.

R.A.W. ~ Real And Wholesome

When we moved to Northern California, we were eager to seek out a local farmer with whom we could  take part in another herd-share agreement. Imagine our excitement when we learned of Duivenvoorden Farms, founded in 1963 by Rita and Gerard Duivenvoorden, immigrants from Holland looking to live the American Dream.

“Back in the 20s, Americans could buy fresh raw whole milk, real clabber and buttermilk, luscious naturally yellow butter, fresh farm cheeses, and cream in various colors and thicknesses. Today’s milk is accused of causing everything from allergies to heart disease to cancer, but when Americans could buy Real Milk, these diseases were rare. In fact, a supply of high-quality dairy products was considered vital to American security and the economic well being of the nation.  What’s needed today is a return to humane, non-toxic, pasture-based dairying and small-scale traditional processing, in short . . .  a Campaign for Real Milk.”  ~ Quoted from A Campaign for Real Milk.

Originally starting with 175 milk cows, they eventually got the herd up to 200. They operated with that herd from 1963 to 1988 ~ doing everything from custom farming, running a beef herd, raising calves, and shipping milk to a local creamery. In 1988, however, the original herd was sold and Duivenvoorden Farms moved on to other ventures.

In 2004, Duivenvoorden Farms began milking cows again, and currently milks 30 cows a day. The Herdshare program was started in 2008 and is now a small, pasture based dairy farm. The herd share program allows owners access to farm-fresh, quality, delicious raw milk from their Grade A dairy.

Now again, we enjoy driving out to the farm, visiting with Marc and his family, and interacting with the many animals (cats, dogs, pigs, goats, and of course the cows).  It is a wonderful feeling to know that we are not only supporting local, sustainable agriculture – but also helping to support local families with the same values as our own.

Southern California Surprise Vacation

We (my husband and I) have been planning a surprise family vacation to southern California for some time.  In preparation, as our excitement builds, it was harder to keep our enthusiasm contained.  On occasion, we would ask the kids, “If you had the choice, where would you most like to vacation?  Yosemite or Disneyland?”  Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly if you know my kiddos – they would answer Yosemite.  We thereby began to wonder if shouldn’t rethink our vacation plan.  Heck!  We wanted to go to Disneyland … so we proceeded forth with thrusters.  🙂

Day #1 – Drive South

We woke the kiddos early Friday morning and informed them that we were going to southern California and would be spending time at Legoland and Disneyland both as well as a few other surprises.  You would expect that they would leap up and cheer ecstaticly but a las, their response was the complete opposite. They both sat on the floor and looked up at us with dismay, “Really? Okay.”

The first day we did a lot of driving.  Though we departed at 4:30 a.m., we didn’t arrive until nearly 3:00 p.m.  We laid down for awhile after we had checked into our hotel – I believe Patrick even took a short nap. We later walked down to Downtown Disney for dinner.

Day #2 – Legoland

Our true adventures began today with an excursion to Legoland.  As we awaited opening, the kids were bouncing with excitement.  Buddy even said, “I can’t believe I am here!  I’ve been wanting to go to Legoland all my life.  This is like a dream!”  Finally!! Some enthusiasm is revealed … phew! 🙂

The kids loved the park – they marveled at the life size lego sculptures and the city-scapes built with Legos.  Buddy said he’d like to expand his Lego city .. sadly, I don’t think he has much room in his bedroom.  They also enjoyed taking par in a robotics class whereby they learned how to use the Lego Mindstorms product to build and program a robot to do simple tasks.  I see a Mindstorms purchase in our future.


Day #3 – La Brea Tar Pits  Dinner at Medieval Times

We headed downtown Los Angeles for day #3 .. stopping at La Brea Tar Pits (we did a little letterboxing beforehand), the Los Angeles County Art Museum (to see the street lights – we didn’t go inside), Hollywood Blvd (we just drove through), and a little shopping (American Girl Doll Store, Apple, and Nordstrom’s Rack).

That evening we went to Medieval Times for a thematic dinner.  I found this to be a little cheesy but the little guy absolutely loved it!  “Mom!  Is this your favorite restaurant because it is mine?!

Day #4 – Disneyland

Our first day in Disneyland turned out to be much more crowded than I anticipated.  We had visited the park 5 years ago (Buddy doesn’t remember it) on the same weekend if I recall correctly, and there were few crowds.  Today .. turned out to be a holiday (ColumbusDay) on top of the fact that Arizona schools were on ‘Fall Break’.  Ah well …

We had to force Buddy to go on every single ride.  After his first ride in Legoland (which we also insisted he ride), we knew he would enjoy each one.  The Legoland coaster was a little more stomach churning than we knew the rides in Disney to be and yet after his first ride, he kept talking about how fun it was.  His fears just get the best of him and he’ll hold back so we knew it was the right decision.  If he hadn’t liked the ride(s), we certainly wouldn’t have continued to pressure him.


Day #5 – California Adventure

We loved California Adventure.  The new Radiator Springs area – particularly the new ride, Radiator Springs Racers – is awesome.  We all love Pixar movies so we like this part of the park the best.  We also love Soarin’ Over California and California Screamin’ (the only ride the kids did not go on).

While waiting in line (once to get into the park and again in a line for an attraction), we bumped into friends of ours from Central Oregon. It was great to catch up and hear news from home.   It is indeed a small world!


Day #6 – Disneyland

Though we enjoy California Adventure, we returned to Disneyland on our third and final day because there were more things we had not yet seen or done.  Buddy loved the Jedi Academy and was very pleased that he was NOT selected to go up on stage.  Darth Maul took a liking to him though and came over to where he was seated and interacted with him a couple times.  I was seated right next to him so I couldn’t get a great picture of them both together but you can see Buddy’s reaction (he’s using the force to repel Darth Maul) when he approached the second time.


Day #7 – Aquarium of the Pacific

On our last day, we ventured to Long Beach to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.  We really enjoyed this one – the kids loved finding all the passport stations throughout the aquarium and embossing their books with the images.  Our little pirate climbed on board the ship outside immediately and as he stood on the bow yelling, “It’s a pirate’s life for me!” Sweetie pushed a button on this giant fish and it squirted him dead center.  His surprised reaction was perfect and we all about died laughing!  Fortunately, he took it good heartedly and even asked her to do it again. 🙂

Day #8 – Drive Home

Another long day of driving.  We were sad to leave but a wonderful family vacation full of memorable moments.

Touching Moments

Upon departing for home yesterday after four days of camping over the Fourth of July weekend, we stopped at a local Wendy’s for a quick bite. Seated at another table were two elderly gentlemen and a woman. One of the men was wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap. As we departed, the kids and I stopped at their table and I said, “Thank you for your service, sir.”

The man’s eyes lit up and he delightedly introduced us to his companions, stating that the other man was also a veteran. “Oh! What war, sir?” I inquired. He playfully replied, “1812.”

“You jest,” I remarked with a smile.  I then turned to Sweetie and said, “We know something of the War of 1812, don’t we kids?” 

Sweetie exclaimed, “Yes. That’s when the Star Spangled Banner was written.”

“That’s right!”  The man said.  He then picked up an American Flag and asked her if she knew what it was. 

“It’s our American flag,” the kids stated in unison. He further inquired if they knew what the stars meant. “The 50 stars are for the 50 states,” Sweetie stated.

“Perfect! Do you know the names of the last two states to join?” He questioned again.

 She pondered the question a little. I knew this questions was stumping her so I gave her a little hint by saying we’ve been there and I used body language to show someone snorkeling. “Hawai’i,” she proclaimed with enthusiasm.

“That’s one. Can you name the other?”

I pointed to Buddy and I said, “Gold Rush.” He chimed in, “Alaska!”

The man then turned to me and asked, “Do you homeschool your kids?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“I can tell. They are smart!”