California State Railroad Museum

This has been a long awaited trip … the California State Railroad Museum is well known throughout the western states and it’s been on Buddy’s ‘Bucket List’ for years.  Now that we live in California .. the trip was an easy few hours drive from home.  The museum is located within Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

As the commercial center of the California Gold Rush, Sacramento became a crossroads of transportation, connecting steamboats to San Francisco, supply roads to the mining regions, and to Folsom by the first railroad in the West.  Though the commercial district gradually moved east of the the riverfront, today there are 53 historic commercial structures on 28 acres that make up Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

While the focus of our visit was the Railroad Museum – we’ll definitely be back again when our history studies bring us to California.  The railroad museum houses more than 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars along with thousands of smaller artifacts and a variety of exhibits in its exhibition facility. In addition, the Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station and Freight Depot make up a part of the historic district.

The passenger station is a reconstruction of the western terminus of America’s first transcontinental railroad (circa 1876).  Here you’ll find the ticket office (where we purchased tickets for the Spookomotive Train event), telegraph office, main waiting room, and a separate waiting room for women and children only.  The museum’s steam-powered excursion trains arrive and depart from the reconstructed late 1800s transcontinental railroad freight station.

We planned our trip to coincide with the Spookomotive train ride – a whimsically decorated train staffed with an entertaining ‘skeleton crew’.  We had hoped for a spooky ride – perhaps a little mystery in which we’d get to take part onboard.  As it turned out – the ride was a simple down and back along the riverfront with the crew wearing skeleton printed t-shirts and passing out silly plastic toys.  It was suitable for ALL ages.
Buddy’s favorite exhibit was the 4294 locomotive.  The unique cab-forward design of the locomotive saved engineers from being asphyxiated by smoke fumes in Southern Pacific’s numerous long mountain tunnels and snow sheds.  Sweetie’s favorite exhibit commemorated the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the ceremony that took place at Promontory Point, Utah.  We were surprised to learn that the paintings we see so frequently in the history books portraying this event were staged.  Some of the people pictured were not even there when the infamous gold spike was nailed in place.  Sadly, the people that were responsible for the construction of the train – most of whom were immigrants from China and Ireland – were not featured at all.
While we were there, Buddy completed the Junior Engineer assignments.  He was disappointed though that his special award was game token for Old Sacramento Historic Park.  He’d hoped for a patch or lapel pin.  Ah well – the important thing was what he learned not the tangible reward.

Nepal :: Virtual Field Trip

I am delighted. Another homeschool mom organizes a Geography Club similar to the way I had organized Passports Club in central Oregon.  She hosts a gathering in her home once a month, invites the children to give presentations on the country selected for that month, and encourages families to bring a dish from that region to share.  The focus in October was on Nepal and we were fortunate to have two guest speakers … Gyan (a native to Nepal) who now resides here in Northern California and Ana (a native to Costa Rica who has climbed Mt. Everest).  
Gyan speaking to us of the Gurkha soliders, young Nepalese who are trained by the British. 

Gyan spoke to us of his childhood and of how much education is valued in Nepal. He reminded us of how fortunate we are in the United States and how many take our opportunities for granted.  He spoke of the poverty and stated that girls in Nepal do not get a formal education, though this is slowly changing, particularly in urban cities.  He also stated that many young Nepalese men serve in the military.  
Ana speaking of her climbing expedition in May of 2011.
Ana spoke of her expedition and attempt to summit Mt. Everest earlier this year.  She shared with us a slideshow showcasing man photographs from her expedition and talked about the many perils that face the climbers.  We were enthralled by her presentation and had many questions.  She had brought with her a small rock that she passed around for all to touch.
I got to touch Mt. Everest!!!  Well, a rock from 21,000 feet .. the highest point Ana has reached (thus far).
After the presentations, we enjoyed the food that everyone had brought to share.  We were encouraged to eat the many dal dishes in the Nepalese manner … with our fingers rather than forks or spoons.  Dal refers to the thick stew prepared from lentils, peas, and beans – an important part of Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi cuisine.  Dal is a ready source of proteins for a balanced diet containing little or no meat.  It was a little strange to eat in this manner .. many of us felt uncomfortable as we’ve become so accustomed to using utensils. 
Buddy eating dal and rice in the Nepalease manner.
I asked if Gyan might have a friend or family member that could send us a postcard.  Instead, he allowed us to pick from a stack of postcards he had brought along for the occasion.  I thereby don’t have a postage stamp … but a las, I share with you the card I selected.
Gyan gave us a postcard … this is the one I selected.
 The postcard album notebook pages the kiddos completed.
We returned home and soon thereafter completed the notebook pages for our Postcard Album. Of note, Nepal is the only country in the world whose flag is not rectangular and the nation’s flower is rhododendron – my mother’s favorite. 

Children’s Creativity Museum

We were in San Francisco last week and thereby took the opportunity to visit the Children’s Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum).  We weren’t quite sure what to expect (they opened only a few days prior to our visit) and upon our arrival, there was a school group ahead of us awaiting the museum’s opening.  The girl at the admissions desk gave us a 25% discount assuming it might be a little crowded but as it turned out, we still had the place nearly all to ourselves … one of the joys of homeschooling.  🙂

We went to the Claymation Studio first and were given a quick tutorial on how to create the characters for a short claymation movie.  We decided to cooperate together to bring to life the characters in Sweetie’s newest story … the Adventures of Perry the Porcupine (or so it is presently named).  Sweetie created Perry (shown in progress above), I created the king (visible for only a brief second in our movie), and Sweetie asked her brother to create the monster Perry encounters in the first chapter.  “You can create any monster you want!” she encouraged him.  
Believe it or not, we spent more than two hours working on our clay characters. When we were satisfied with our creations, we moved over to the backdrops.  The first scene in the chapter takes place in a village.  Sweetie, our director, selected the yellow building for the conversation between the king and his friend and loyal subject, Perry.  In the picture below, you can see how the camera and monitor were set up in relation to the ‘stage’.  

Buddy worked the camera, essentially pressing the space bar to take a photo.  Sweetie would thereafter move the characters ever so slightly to give the appearance that the characters were actually moving.  The entire process was surprisingly simple and we discovered after the first take that we could scroll back and manually delete specific photos as desired.

We spent only about 20 minutes creating our video, in total we were in this studio for nearly 3 hours and we were ready to move on and see more of the museum.  We learned that we needed to take many more photos than we originally anticipated.  The first scene was entirely too short.  We were also limited by the props available.  We would have like to make it appear as though Perry were walking through the countryside.  As it was, there was no way to elevate him.  It was also difficult to maneuver the snake monster in the film without our arms showing.

Despite our shortcomings, we were ecstatic with the results.  We had a fabulous time and look forward to creating more short films … to bring to life our characters and imagination. 

Here’s the final product: 

To create this video, we used a program called iStop Motion.  We hope to purchase it soon.   


Sweet, Tart Cranberries

I was surrounded by cranberries when I was a little girl.  Each September, the community would come together to celebrate this tiny red fruit.  The Cranberry Festival was the event of the year and served to bid summer adieu as well as welcome a new school year.  Each grade level would have a float in the Cranberry Parade and the room parents would spend hours decorating our floats.

Though I didn’t appreciate the industry when I was young, when I reflect back upon my childhood, the cranberry holds a special place in my heart.  My third grade teacher, in fact, was a cranberry grower and one of the most memorable field trips was to their bogs.  Each year, I have wanted to share this experience with my children but our timing has always been off.  2011, however, all the pieces fell into place.

This past weekend, the kids and I were in Bandon to visit my dad and we coincidentally bumped into a couple he knows.  “We are harvesting tomorrow.  You should bring your grandkids and come out.”  What an opportunity.  My girlfriend was also in the area, so I invited her to join us knowing as a south coast girl herself, she and her boys would also enjoy the trip.

The bog was already flooded and agitated upon our arrival.  The berries were thereby floating on the water surface while a small group of adults were working to corral the berries towards the suction tube device they used to collect the berries and transport them to the sorting cooler.  A picture is worth a thousand words, right?  I’ve thereby opted to show a video rather than try to explain it.

The kids were fascinated.  My little guy was all over the truck … literally.  He wanted to get on top and help remove the few leaves and twigs that were beginning to clog the catch tray (my own terminology).  It was amazingly quick.  Within the hour we were there, one truck was full and they turned off the ‘vacuum’ to change out trucks.

The family owned bog that we visited is an independent grower.  The thereby cooperate with other bog owners to sort and process the berries together.  We didn’t get a chance to see this facility on this trip but look forward to doing so perhaps in 2012.  In fact, the kids are hoping that they will be able to take part in the harvesting … doning hip waders themselves and working to coral the berries.  I shared this with the family and their response was, “Oh! Don’t make promises! We’ll take you up on it!”  I hope so.  🙂

Upon our return home, I asked each of the kids to journal about their experience.  They were both eager to do so … thereby it took little encouragement from me. Buddy, in fact, took the liberty to make a little book to share with his friends.  He loves writing little books.

Meeting Dr. Jane Goodall

“Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots & shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We CAN change the world.”   ~ Dr. Jane

I first met Jane Goodall at an Oregon Science Teachers Association (OSTA) Convention in the fall of 1997. She greeted us with her infamous pant-hoot and spoke of her desire to see young people come together to make the world a better place.  I of course knew who Jane was .. but this was the first time I had heard of Roots & Shoots. Her message touched me that evening. I purchased her book, Reason for Hope, and as she signed my copy, I informed her that she had always been an inspiration to me but as of today, I would do my part as well.  I wanted to create a Roots & Shoots group of my own.

A dream fulfilled by my children, Oct 2011

I thereby returned to the classroom and immediately started an after-school Roots & Shoots group at one of the two elementary schools at which I worked. Twice a month, a group of students in grades 4-6th gathered in my classroom.  We engaged in a variety of activities and projects … each addressing one of the three goals of Roots & Shoots:  Care and Concern for Animals, Care and Concern for the Environment, and Care and Concern for the Community.  In the fall of 2000, we were invited to participate in a Roots & Shoots Summit in Seattle, Washington.  One student was able to join me … many were involved in sports or couldn’t afford the airfare (we had limited time to raise funds).   We spent the entire day with Roots & Shoots groups from all over the Pacific Northwest; sharing our projects with one another, networking, and listening to Dr. Jane share stories of what had inspired her as a young girl.  It was a wonderful experience for us both.

Meeting Dr. Jane for a second time with a student

Though I left the formal classroom setting when my daughter was born, I maintained my Roots & Shoots membership.  Shortly after my son was born in 2005, I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Jane talk again.  Her presence is so captivating … so at peace.  I knew it was time to again facilitate a group and I thereby started a group for preschoolers.  My children have thereby grown up with Roots & Shoots being an integral part of their lives.  I talk about Dr. Jane frequently and I love sharing her stories with the children.

Before we moved to Northern California, I had known that Dr. Jane was coming to Oregon.  Originally, I had planned to volunteer at the public lecture she was going to give in Bend … but with our move .. that plan changed.  However, I wasn’t going to allow an opportunity for my children to meet her to pass us by.  We thereby made the 7 hour drive to Salem for the Oregon Roots & Shoots Summit.

Clipping invasive blackberry vines

Raking the vines that others had clipped

We arrived in the morning and were thereby able to take part in a service learning project close to our hearts … stream bank restoration; removing invasive blackberry vines. In the afternoon, we took part in the giant peace dove parade and visited the booths of the other groups and several non-profits.

At our booth with Grandma awaiting Dr Jane’s arrival

We had a booth ourselves as well … we chose to exhibit photographs of our projects as well as our nature journals.  Several people showed an interest in how we undertook the interpretive sign project.  Everyone was impressed with the quality of the kids’ illustrations.

Dr. Jane arrives at our booth

Sharing our journals & projects

She posed for a picture with us and suggested the kids hold their journals for the photograph.  As she stepped away she remarked, “Your drawings look like those of an 18-year old.”  The kids were all smiles after that and remarkably, we soon had a small crowd of people curious about our work.

Linked to Hip Homeschool Hop 10/18/11

A Midsummer Nights Dream:: Shakespeare in the Park

Throughout this past year, I have sprinkled lessons on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had selected the comedy knowing that a new venue would be opening in the summer.  I purchased our tickets early to guarantee good seats.  Thereafter, I proceeded to take measure to assure the munchkins were familiar with the plot.

The first lesson involved reading aloud Bruce Coville’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  My munchkins are familiar with Coville’s work and were delighted with the illustrations.  After reading, I asked each to illustrate their favorite part of the story. Not surprisingly, they both enjoyed the playful trickster Puck.  A few days later,  I asked them to narrate a summary (MeiLi’s narration was written while JiFu’s was oral).

We allowed some time to pass and revisited the comedy a few months later.  This time, we enjoyed a theatrical performance on DVD, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stanley Tucci & Rupert Everett.  After discussing the plot we selected a quote for copywork:  “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

MeiLi recently started a Common Place journal and selected this passage to include in her journal:

Over hill, over dale
Through bush, through brier
Over park, over pale
Through flood, through fire
I do wander everywhere

~ A fairy’s answer to Puck’s question, “whither wander you?”

Though we studied this selection throughout our 4th year of homeschooling, it wasn’t until the beginning of our 5th year that we were able to culminate the mini-unit by attending a live performance.  When I purchased the tickets, I didn’t expect that we would be living in another state!  We thereby made the drive back to attend.  Thankfully, the performance was wonderful and our drive proved fruitful.

It started off a little concerning however, when prior to curtain, dark clouds rolled in and it began to rain. Thunder was also heard in the distance and we all took cover under a small tent that was intended to shield the sound equipment from the elements.  Fortunately, the rain let up just in time and though our bumms were a little damp from the residual rain on our chairs, it held off for the entire performance.