Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Friday Family Update - 1/27/12

I thought I was going to do this EVERY Friday - but that was during November when I was getting all organized about blogging with NaBloPoMo!   So it's time for another update, because quite a few things have changed.

Michael is still in Nicaragua but he is having to change host families. He was with a family that was very nice to him (most of them), and it was their first time to host a Peace Corps volunteer. Michael liked the people. I talked a little about them in our Christmas Eve blog post.  I don't want to write a lot about the specifics, but the Peace Corps is apologizing to Michael and he has had the opportunity to canvas the town for prospective host families. His host families receive a good amount of money, so there were several in the running. One family that he liked very much needed the money a lot. They were really friendly and wanted to involve Michael in all of their activities. They had no door on his room - only a blanket. And the Peace Corps requires that the volunteers have a lockable door on their room. Michael and the family were brainstorming on ways to afford to fix this when the Peace Corps supervisor decided that the home would not be acceptable. It seems that the family lives within 50 feet of a river and they are on the side of a mountain. Michael told me the P.C. Supervisor said that's the kind of home that gets wiped out in a mudslide! Yikes!
Family #2 were in much better shape financially. Nice home. Offered to cook for Michael daily. But the teens in the home have a lot of drama going on in the town. Probably not a good place to put a High School English teacher.
Family #3 was full of young adults. The parents are out of the country most of the time, and the teens at the house are cared for by aunts and uncles who are in their late 20's and early 30's. Michael thought this sounded like a LOT of fun. But their home is across the street from a pool hall that serves alcohol. Peace Corps Rule #something - not within 100 feet of a bar. And this counted as a bar.  Squash the party house. (whew!)
Family #4 is a Hostel. An older woman runs it and offered to feed him if he will bring home some beans or a chicken once a week. There are several people that live there permanently (her family members) and also passing visitors.  All criteria were met, Michael liked them. Voila! New home found.  Michael is off on some kind of learning trip to go on for 3-4 days in the mountains, so he plans to move out as soon as he returns. I hope that all goes well!

Katie is still having fun in NYC. She went back in time to watch the Ball Drop.  Temps are getting pretty chilly for her so we sent her an electric blanket. I love that she has a mail room IN her building. They even notify her if she has a package to pick up.  She's having fun in her classes and getting a lot of great compliments from her instructors.  So we were trying to think where she was going to live for her 2nd Year with the New York Film Academy. It seems that most of her class is going to take the 2nd Year at the Universal Studios campus.  And Katie would like to go! She said that she reads about great opportunities available for students, then reads it's at the LA Campus. So this looks like a good idea. Especially since she's really interested in film. I think she'd like to return to live in New York, but we'll see where the work is.  So. Now that we are all familiar with New York, we have to figure out how to do Los Angeles!  And she'll need a car.

Alyssa has only 500 hours left to complete her Cosmetology degree. That puts her graduation around the end of April/first of May.  I think she's getting a little Senioritis - she's been going non-stop since June. With no break over the holidays! But that's not her biggest news. She and Josh have decided they want to get married.  She plans to work for a year at a salon before the Big Day, so they're planning on an April 2013 wedding.  We went to the Bridal Extravaganza at the Palmer Auditorium and have been on the quest for venue and caterers ever since.

Ron & Me
Ron's still working his tail off and I'm working on my book. And hosting the Unschooling Blog Carnival.
But we did have a nice weekend at the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains. We even trekked over to the McDonald Observatory (read more about that) and got to look through the 36 inch telescope!

Never a dull moment! Right?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Astronomical Observations

We went to the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains in January. We were lucky that it wasn't really cold. The wind was picking up, but not too much. And the best news was that the sky was clear.  We had brought the kids once before and fog had rolled in obscuring our view. Astronomers were used to that kind of thing, so they took our group over to a barn and showed us a variety of things about the moon, the planets and the color of gases.

This time, we arrived at the Visitor Center as a woman was taking down a sign on the door. It was an ad for a different group that would be going to look through the 36" telescope on the mountain top. We decided that that was a pretty special opportunity, so we switched to that and piled into the shuttle with the other 13 people.

There weren't enough seats for all of us in with the telescope, but that was ok. The ledge on the outside was available. The room was crowded with this huge telescope - the base is what is 36" in diameter - the computer, some other ladders and equipment, and a step ladder that we'd use to look through the eyepiece. 
The astronomer was full of corny jokes, so Ron loved it immediately. He told us how they started doing programs for Elder Hostels because they had such an interest. He was putting coordinates into the computer while he was talking. He said that not that long ago, they didn't have the computer. They would have to very tediously use manuals and charts and look then readjust. But the Elder Hostel watched them and decide to collect $25,000 to get them this computer. It made things MUCH easier.

Jupiter and moons
First, he showed us Jupiter. While it's something you can see with the naked eye, you can't see the colors or the moons without the telescope. We had access to see 3 that night! The pictures here are off Google Images. The colorful image of Jupiter was visible, but so were the 3 moons. They looked like bright stars circling Jupiter.  We didn't see any movement as they circled, but they are a lot quicker than Earth's Moon. It was easy to spot  Jupiter even with the naked eye. It's a very bright star this time of year, almost directly overhead. It's almost as bright as Venus, which is also a very bright looking "star." Also called the Morning Star and the Evening Star, Venus is a little closer to the horizon.
Messier 37 - Open Cluster

Next we looked at Open Star Clusters, then the Pleiades. We talked about how different gases are emitted which causes them to present with different colors. I also learned that the telescope has trouble picking things up because of the currents in the air. When you think of the blurry wavy-ness of the air just above really hot pavement in the desert - you especially see this in the movies' desert scenes. Cooler air creates currents too, that can obscure the view for a little bit.

We talked about stars that are just forming as well as stars that are dying. We saw the reddest star, I'm not sure which one, a cluster from the Sword of Orion, and even the center of the Andromeda Galaxy.

The astronomer took us outside to point out constellations and stars with his laser pen. That's always so cool, because then you really know for sure where they're pointing. We talked about different astronomers and what they saw and contributed.

Something I didn't know was that the Dog Star called Sirius, its near the eye of Canus Major, the dog constellation. My first acquaintance with Sirius was the name used for Harry Potter's "uncle," who just happened to morph into a Dog when he needed to. Gotta love JK Rowling, huh?

But I think one of the most interesting things to me was sitting in the chair while the telescope was being adjusted. When the computer and the telescope were synchronizing, it would create really loud different tones. High tones then low tones, not unlike the theme song for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The computer adjusted the telescope, swinging it around to the direction of the star we were studying.  Then the giant metal panes of the dome would slide on their tracks, loud clanging sounds as they banged into each other, opening up the section  needed to allow the telescope through.. But something about the clunky-ness of all of it was just mesmerizing. Knowing how far away that lens was focusing in on, and hearing all the equipment make it happen. I loved that part possibly more than actually getting to see the stars.  Ron loves the star gazing part. He's fascinated by the fact that you're actually looking into the past. I missed having the kids there to hear all the info as well as actually HEAR the telescope and the dome moving around. I wrote a little about that aspect in a different place, if you're interested.

I think it would be interesting to go back at different times of the year when different stars and constellations are overhead.  And I really miss living in the country away from the lights. Then you can see so many more stars.  I see why they call it a "blanket of stars!"  Who knows, maybe this will be some kind of regular trip!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pit Bulls and Doggie Etiquette

Yesterday we had our weekly Dog Hike at Walnut Creek. We take all three dogs, Buddy, Hank and Gracie. It's an interesting place in that dogs can be off leash, bikes go zipping by on the paths, and, for the most part, everyone is friendly. The days have been really pretty and it seems to keep everyone in good mood for their experience in the woods.

Hank, our Border Collie, is getting old. He doesn't always respond to us when we call - sometimes I think it's stubbornness and sometimes I think it's really his hearing. But when he notices us moving on down the path, he parts with whatever discovery he was sniffing out, and runs on ahead. Always within eyesight of us.

Buddy is much more people focused.  He's much smaller and runs ahead with Hank. Then he gets a little nervous and runs all the way to the back (because, yes, I'm always in the back), does a few circles around me and then races ahead again. He's pretty cute on hikes.

Buddy and Hank both greet other people and their dogs, but always move along when we're ready to go.

Gracie, on the other hand, is never off the leash. We're not 100% sure about what's caused her discomfort with children or other dogs who approach too quickly, but it's pretty obvious that's not her favorite part of the hike. Josh keeps her close to him, because she can pull really hard. We pause in the path, watching her tail and her eyes, deciding whether to press on or to stay a little longer. We speak soothingly to her, and praise her when we can get past other dogs without growling. Real dog people totally understand this. They ask how old she is. We talk a little about her social awkwardness. They let their dogs approach gently. Usually that all goes well.

So yesterday, we had made it down to the creek. Buddy stays near the side while Hank and Gracie plunge into the water. Gracie even had the cutest Leaping Moment off the cliff and into the water! Have I mentioned she loves to leap? Sometimes she resembles a deer, and sometimes she's a downright Tigger! Straight up in the air!  When she jumped into the water, it was with such glee. She sprang from the side and outstretched her legs midair. It was a happy sight!

After a little playing around in the water, the dogs came up near us on the side. A cyclist was there with his dog. A couple was leaving with theirs. There was a good deal of doggie commotion. Suddenly, which isn't that uncommon, a pit bull comes running up on Gracie. Josh has retracted the leash  and she's close to his body. At first it seems like the approaching dog is just rambunctious and wants to play. But because he approached so quickly, Gracie's not happy. She bares her teeth a little and lunges at him. Josh pulls her up closer to him. Because she's pulling so hard, she's up higher on her back legs. This other dog, who is off leash with no owner in sight, jumps on his back legs too and nips at Gracie's neck. Josh isn't able to see what's happening with this other dog, but Alyssa and I can. It's clearly the nip before the Big Bite. Gracie is completely exposed and vulnerable; she's almost upright.

Before the other dog has the opportunity to bite a second time, Alyssa has rushed in between them. Pit bulls have such short hair and tight skin, it's really hard to grab them by the scruff of the neck. But this one had a bandana and a collar. Alyssa didn't hesitate and reached down to pull him off by the bandana. We were all three yelling to get the dog to stop, Out of nowhere, the owner runs up and pulls his dog away.  The woman with him looked a little horrified, but he said nothing. No apology. Nothing. The cyclist near us turned to say, "That's messed up. He went straight for the jugular!" Still no response from the owner. He clicked the leash onto the dog and led him away quickly.

We were all pretty shocked about the whole thing. We are constantly apologizing to other people on the trail when our dogs are darting in front of their bikes, or running up to sniff other hikers. If our dogs acted aggressive with others, which they haven't, we'd be tripping all over ourselves with apologies. AND, our dog would be back on the leash.  Not so with this other dog owner.

We saw them a little further down the creek. Their dog was still off his leash. He and Gracie saw each other and he immediately started heading our way. Gracie pulled hard on the leash to go toward him. Josh thought Gracie was going for Round Two, so he started retracting the leash. The other owner came running for his dog. He pulled the dog away by the collar asking the dog if it wanted to be back on the leash. We were all dumbfounded. I really wanted to say, "That dog shouldn't be OFF the leash!" But no words came out of my mouth.

On the way back to the car, we talked about what happened. We talked about Alyssa's bravery, which I had seen on the ranch before when the animals were in trouble, but Josh had never witnessed. She gets very "Mother Bear" about her animals! In addition to protecting Gracie, she was aware that Josh was just moments away from HAVING to do something drastic to stop this other dog.  She said she kept thinking was how mad she was that Gracie was doing so much better with other dogs approaching. And now this altercation was going to set Gracie back a few steps.  We talked about how strangely the other owner had acted and how badly that all could have gone.

We'll continue to do our Sunday afternoon hikes, because this really was a rare occurrence. And Gracie will get better with other dogs approaching, hopefully. But she'll still be on her retractable leash. If only we could say the same for all the other dogs out there.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Favorite Video of the Week

I'm fascinated by what motivates people... in the workplace, in the home, everywhere! This video talks about the human desire for self-motivation, and how creativity and innovation really only comes with autonomy.  This video can be applied in lots of different areas.
Check it out!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Homeschooling Carnival

What a perfect way to start the new year - join the carnival!!

I'm opening up for more creative outlets this year, so I sent one of my blog posts over to the Homeschooling Carnival! This blog has been going on for a long time. It's amazing to me how many fabulous blogs are available to homeschoolers now. I remember scrambling around trying to find little nuggets of information, but now...wow!

I haven't read all of the Archives for the Carnival of Homeschooling. But there's one theme that was really cool - The Princess Bride. You should look at how creatively they did that.

Check it out!

Carnival of Homeschooling

I'm trying to figure out if an Unschooling Carnival exists. If not, I want to start one!!! I just like the idea a lot. Do you know if an Unschooling Carnival exists like this?