We spent the last weekend up in Seattle, being hosted by my wonderful brother and sister-in-law — wonderfully generous people who don’t bat an eye at their house being overrun by small children.

All of us appreciate different things about hanging out at Bob and Amy’s house. I revel in the luxury of someone else preparing dinner; the boys immerse themselves in the toys in the play room; but for Mica, the trip really took off when she saw the dog through their window, and she was all about the animals from then on.


There were two pets she interacted with: a nice big lab named Henry and a very active cat named Hobbes. Henry was stolid and patient, putting up with her exploration of his ears without protest. When she sat on his back and said “Horse!” he simply put his head back on his paws and endured. In fact we think he developed a fondness for Mica by the end of the trip, mostly because Mica discovered the joy and delight of feeding him.

Once she’d grasped this notion it was in fact very hard to feed her. Because Henry will eat anything — cherries, cereal, yogurt, fried rice, blueberries — and the pleasure of watching him munch up a tidbit was apparently so engrossing that Mica considered that the highest and best use of her food. Sometimes I had to put Henry outside just so Mica would eat. I felt sorry for him — after all, it wasn’t his fault — but it wouldn’t have worked as well to put the baby outside, so he got the short end of that stick.


Her other favorite part of the trip was Hobbes. In fact, by the end of our stay she’d learned his name, and said it more clearly than she says any of ours (coincidence, I’m sure). “Hobbes!” she’d say, when I came downstairs with her, and promptly wriggle down to go check out his ears.

Now, Hobbes was remarkably patient with her — not as patient as Henry, but then he’s a cat. I was astonished at how much he put up with. But Mica, even after repeated exposure to them, consistently failed to respond to Hobbes’ warning signs when he’d finally had enough. Flattened ears, hissing, even a mock-attack elicited nothing from her but laughter. (“Look, the cat’s interacting with me!” was how Dave and I interpreted this.) We told her that in Hobbes’ language those signs meant “all done” and “go away,” phrases that I know she knows. It didn’t matter. Hobbes ended up biting or clawing her four times during the visit, and frankly I can’t really fault him.

Each time it happened, Mica would wail terribly. “Bite?” she’d say, pointing at her arm, as though in disbelief that one of her favorite animals — with such awesome, twitchy ears! — could do such a thing. Then within half an hour she’d be back at him.

This is not to say that the humans in the house were unimportant to Mica. She spent a fruitful session looking at Bananagram tiles with her uncle Bob, for example, and I think it stuck — yesterday she correctly identified P, S and R for me. And she thought her aunt Amy’s garden was pretty awesome, especially the strawberry patch and the apple trees. But let’s be honest, here — she didn’t learn any of their names.

Just A Picture


(picture by Nathan)


Once I starting tie-dying onesies (wow, was it only two years ago?) there was no stopping. There’s something about those little baby shirts and tie-dye that get me every time. Although I haven’t posted pictures every time, the truth is that my go-to solution for Mica outgrowing her current clothing set is to pick up a pack of onesies and see what colors I have left in my tie-dye box.

This time around, for the first time, I did it while Mica was awake. I’m not even sure why; I didn’t plan it exactly. She was busy playing, and I suppose the process has become so routine to me that I didn’t even think about it. But naturally she saw that I was doing something messy with bottles and wanted in. And once I stripped off her clothes, I had no problem with that.


This is why she now, at the tender age of 21 months, has her very first self-decorated shirt. Okay, Dave and I helped a little — but honestly, not very much. Squirting colors onto a shirt seemed to be right up her alley.


Adventures In Homeschooling: Chemistry

On Monday Dave, not feeling well, decided to stay home. I took advantage of the situation to run a pesky errand — one of those that ought to be done during the week, but would be so much easier without children along.

I walked back into the house to find Dave standing beside the kitchen sink, with a strangely dark puddle hissing and steaming on the floor beside him.

“Do we have any more baking soda?” he asked by way of greeting.

“Uh… I don’t know,” I said, cleverly.

“Could you check? Also you might open some windows. I’m going to take a shower.” He was already stripping off his shirt as he spoke.

“There’s molten aluminum on the floor!” Nathan told me excitedly.

“No, it isn’t molten,” said Dave as he disappeared around the corner.

By now anyone with chemistry experience will have grasped the gist of what happened, so after discovering that we had no more baking soda in the house, I grabbed the baby and made a quick run to the store. Small box for the baking cupboard, big box for the chemical cupboard. (“For a Fresher, Cleaner Home” the box assured me.)


Once I got back and the acid had been neutralized, we had plenty of time to discuss the details while we worked on cleanup.

It seemed that Dave had gotten out the hydrochloric acid (yes, ours is the sort of household that just keeps that around) for a little cleanup job, and had decided to give the boys a chemistry demonstration. Aluminum and hydrochloric acid will react and give off hydrogen gas; done correctly, in a bottle, one can capture the gas in a balloon. This not only is a cool demonstration of a chemical reaction between solid and liquid producing a gas, but you end up with a balloon filled with a highly flammable gas that you can then explode. Win-win!

The trouble, Dave explained as we wiped baking soda and aluminum off the floor, was that he hadn’t spent enough time on preparation. After all, it isn’t as though he hasn’t done this sort of thing before — but he wasn’t careful with the amounts, and added way too much, so that neither component was limiting. He also hadn’t made sure to have the baking soda at hand. And worst of all, when he realized how quickly the reaction was going and the plastic bottle was heating up, he went to remove the balloon, but in doing so tilted the bottle. Hot liquid ran into the balloon, which subsequently exploded. It was only a minute later that I walked in.

Dave got a couple of very minor burns, probably from hot flakes of aluminum landing on his hands. The baby was well away of course, and the boys (Dave informed me) exhibited really excellent self-preservation skills and scattered as soon as they realized something was not right.

And I would just like to sum up by pointing out that we live in a really cool house. And also that we should always keep large amounts of baking soda on hand.

The Garden


I love spring in the garden. I love seedlings and sweet peas, bees busy at the marionberries, strawberry blossoms and that first flush of roses. The kids and I ate a few overwintered snap peas the other day — our first harvest of the year. I’ve just seeded cucumbers and pumpkins, and it’s time for the corn to go in.

So much possibility, so little time…

Notes On Education

I have barely scratched the surface of my reading/viewing list from the Schools of Conscience meeting. The quick and easy bits were… well, quick and easy, and led me to such tangents as Benjamin Zander’s “The transformative power of classical music” (which is not only about classical music, but still was mostly for fun).

Slightly more time-consuming, but still fairly light and fun, has been Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. His arguments match Dave’s and my own experiences, which we’ve discussed extensively (we’re very interested in why we do what we do, and often have conversations along the lines of “I was watching myself react to such-and-such today, and I noticed…”). So although I wasn’t aware of most of the specific research he cited, some of it was familiar, and his overall conclusions were enjoyable but not surprising to me. I wish I’d read that book back when I was taking my Software Engineering (i.e., project management) class in grad school, for the professor’s notions of human motivation were decidedly old-school.

(Drive did make me think a lot about homeschooling, for that’s the endeavor in my life where my motivations are trickiest. But that’s something I’ll need to chew on a bit more.)

I also recently finished A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century. That had been a general homeschooling read, not something I got from the Schools of Conscience meeting, but it connects in via one of its major points: that teachers do not educate; students educate. The fundamental work and drive come from the student, and if we ignore that we can fall into the trap of thinking that teachers have all the power, and students just passively receive information. My own experience is that learning something, regardless of how challenging it is, feels natural and enjoyable as long as I can find my own intrinsic motivation for doing so. If I’m only doing it to please someone else or to pass a class… well, I can still learn it long enough to write it down on the test, but it isn’t fun and the information gets shuffled out of my brain almost immediately.

This is not to say that teachers can’t be great mentors, for they can. One of my greatest mentors (after my parents) was an English teacher named Miss Smith, who was so good at opening up the world of literature to her students that I still enjoy Shakespeare and remember the power of The Grapes of Wrath. In Thomas Jefferson Education, mentoring is a critical process; but learning still relies fundamentally on the student. If we believe that model, though, it makes you wonder about systems where a teacher is “graded” based on how well his students do on a test…

What I haven’t made much headway on has been the charter school information. Don Berg was kind enough to point me toward reports on various aspects of the charter school system in this state and nationwide, and I’ve been trying to get a handle on how different states manage charters and how well the system works. (In New Orleans there are apparently only charter schools, which I find fascinating but have not yet looked into.) I went into the Schools of Conscience meeting all fired up to learn about the system and work on how to change it, but Don seems to feel that isn’t the nearest-term goal; and I’m starting to agree with him.

There’s a fun graphic at the Center for Education Reform that touches on charter schools. They have what they call a Parent Power Index, which takes into account various things like charter schools, transparency, etc, and by which they rate each state. Oregon and Washington both get D’s. I take their analysis with a grain of salt; their perspective on Teacher Quality definitely does not follow a Thomas Jefferson Education perspective!

Bee Houses

On my (vast) mental list of Household And Garden Projects has been, for a long time, making bee houses. We have a reasonable native bee population in this area — at least, I think we do, since I see them around all the time — and I’d love to encourage them. I’d love to encourage anything that increases the yield of my garden.

Bee houses for cavity dwelling wild bees are supposed to be crazy easy to make, and I mentioned this to the boys one day while we were talking about various kinds of bees (specifically about how the wild bees are unlikely to sting you, or even in some cases incapable of it). To my great astonishment they wanted to make the bee houses right now.


So we did make one — a rougher, not-quite-ideal version than the sort I have in mind long-term, but one that could be made in the moment. We had a log too crooked to split for firewood; we drilled a scattering of holes in it, with both Nathan and Ryan helping; and now it remains only to see if anything will take up residence this year.

This skill, by the way — of choosing an easy version of the project rather than the more elaborate one I have in mind — does not come easily to me. But, as more than one person has pointed out, our children are our best teachers.


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