Welcome to my adventure. This blog started out focused on parenting and school but now that Katie's nearly baked, it's way more about me these days. My experiences, more likely my point of view and good times to share.
Welcome! I'm glad to have you aboard.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Safari West: Best Animal Experience Ever

Unassuming. Intimate. Incredible. Those words barely begin to describe Safari West.

(Click on any of the photos to see them in a larger format.)

We went up on Friday to spend the night in a canvas tent cabin and then join a Girl Scout tour in the morning. Located just above Santa Rosa (it was a grueling trip thanks to horrible traffic), Safari West is nestled in the foothills just off a two-lane highway.

We arrived just before dark and were escorted to our incredible tent cabin that had an expansive view of the giraffes, antelopes and tons of birds. All wandering around freely in their huge habitat. We put on the layers (it was cold!) and grabbed dinner in the mess tent with the other guests. Then we hunkered down in our electric blanketed bed, did some writing and reading while Katie knitted (I was reading out loud - The BFG by Roald Dahl).

That night, we were serenaded by a cacophony of animal and bird sounds. It was incredible to hear all the noises - especially from the birds - as they echoed around the valley. Supposedly, one of the birds is the sound they used in Jurassic Park for the raptors. We heard it. It was bone-chilling.

The next day we got up really early and checked out the property before everyone else got there. We loved watching the Serval and the Lemurs. We were also intrigued by all the birds.

At 9:30, we hooked up with the Girl Scouts and headed out our tour. We went on a three-hour jeep ride through the entire ranch spotting animals all along the way. Our tour guide, Leslie, was amazing. She knew so much and told us great things about the animals, conservancy efforts, and more.

She recommended two shows for further study:
1. Guns, Germs and Steel - which was how she explained why Zebras have never been domesticated, and,
2. David Attenborough's Life of Birds - which she cited when talking about why Turkey Vultures (and Kiwis) are the only birds with a real sense of smell.

After the tour, Katie and I spent some more time just hanging out with the animals. Katie wandered over to the giraffes and talked with Tuscon, the big bull giraffe. Then she flirted with Dozer, the hand-raised giraffe who just had to get a little taste of Katie before we left. She's lucky Dozer didn't get her hat!

We highly, HIGHLY, recommend putting this on your list of to-dos. Make sure to spend the night, it's totally worth it. You can pack in your own food (our recommendation) and feel like you are in a modern-day Jurassic Park.

Home School POV:
Katie really likes the little Schmidt animals and I have to say, Safari West has some of the best we've seen. Katie's home school assignment is to put them into an accurate "diorama" with the right plants and terrain. A fun way to bring the lesson home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gold Rush Continues: Columbia State Park Takes Us Back in Time

(This is part two of two on our trip to Gold Country.)

We arrived at Columbia State Park just as the sun was setting. We quickly found our Bed and Breakfast, The Harlan House, which was more than adorable. We had the "wine cellar" which means we had a lot of space, the whole downstairs and the back yard.

We had time to take a quick walk up to the old school house and then to the cemetery.  Katie was interested in the old graves and she quickly figured out that people were buried in the cemetery that had once attended the school. Kind of heady stuff!

After dark, we walked into town for dinner where there was one! restaurant open. The one downside to a State Park run town, there's not a lot of commercial space for after-hours eating. But the Mexican food was tasty and we had a great walk home.

After dinner, we made our way through a totally quiet, actually an empty "town" with no one there but a single cat who delighted in our attentions. While we walked home, we heard what I thought was a dog a short distance away in the dark. We adjusted the flashlights to see a small group of deer right in front of us, eating the neighbor's plants. Wow!

The next morning, we got to town early to explore all the park exhibits before the stores opened up. Katie got to hand-dip a candle and then we decided to pose for an "old timey" photo - two kick-butt broads in mining town garb. The woman who ran the fabric store sold Katie a bonnet (that she never took off) and we got to do some gold panning. Katie actually found some gold!

But the highlight of the trip - as far as Katie was concerned - was the stagecoach ride. We went once together and then she had to do it one more time. I can't believe how rickety a stagecoach ride actually is - I have no idea how the pioneers did it. It had to be very fatiguing.

The people in town were so great about working to be authentic and dressing the part. They provided entertainment and education. The went slowly and were very friendly. We loved the blacksmith and his shop was fascinating.  We like poking around all the old buildings and the State has put together a nice little museum with a good souvenier shop.

We came home by way of Chinese Camp - a slight detour off the highway. We were looking for ghosts but mostly found abject poverty that was sobering and depressing.

If you go to Columbia - and you should - the one thing you should know is very few vendors take credit cards in town. I didn't have enough cash and I didn't bring a debit card to get more. It was a little stressful. Otherwise, it's a wonderful place to move slowly, walk around, shop, eat and feel like you are living in the Gold Rush days.

Home School POV
The State of California actually has three lessons plans you can use to supplement your visit. 

As for us, we did a lot of reading before our trip and along the way. But the big thing for school is I asked Katie to actually write a three page report based on some aspect of the trip. She's completed her rough draft and we are working to get it to final. It's interesting to see what made a last impression. Bar none, the people she met along the way had the greatest impact. Thank you Charlie!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bringing the Gold Rush to Life: Hard Rock Mining and More!

(This is part one of two on our trip to Gold Country.)

Living in California rocks. Um, hard rocks. Like in hard rock mining?!?

Katie didn't get much Gold Rush education in fourth grade (I am sure it was too taxing for her poor teacher). So I wanted to pick it up as part of home school. But we decided to do it the fun way - go there, be that!

Our first stop on our four day journey, was the hard rock mine at Sutter's Creek. We had the best tour guide ever - Charlie a third generation hard rock miner who clearly earned his stripes and looked the part. He took us underground and told us amazing stories about how the miners (including his wife) did their jobs. What incredibly hard work in killer working conditions. The tour is really worth it.

After that, we headed over to Angels Camp, home of the infamous Calaveras Jumping Frog. We stopped at the museum and bought a copy of Samuel Clemens' (you remember him - aka Mark Twain) short story and then took a bunch of photos of large frog sculptures that were strategically placed around the town.

Our next stop was Moaning Cavern where my butt was officially handed to me. We had to walk down a ton of stairs to see the incredible sights in this cavern. Katie was blown away by the clear pond at the bottom with floating rocks. We were both amazed at the people repelling down from the top. And I nearly needed life support after dragging my booty back up all the stairs (which was facilitated by a lot of positive support from my daughter. That and the fact she made us go up before everyone else so the peer pressure really kept me moving!).

In the cavern, we learned a lot about the local geology and it was the first time Katie had seen those kinds of rock formations. She was blown away by the "organic" look of everything - flowy, lacy and beautiful, the rock had really evolved into works of art.

After I recovered from the cavern, we headed over to Columbia State Park to find our Bed and Breakfast. Check out our next blog to learn more about Columbia!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Great Field Trip: Monterey Bay Aquarium Welcomes Homeschoolers

If you grow up in Santa Cruz County it's inevitable you will end up going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium every year for a field trip. So of course we went on a field trip with Ocean – our home school team.

We went on Monday and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We got to Monterey little bit early and we had a chance to watch the animals play in the water with barely any crowd at all. As we watched, friends started arriving and we all headed down to the aquarium.

The folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium put on a great show for homeschoolers. they had an opening presentation that helped us understand what we would see that day. Then they set up some hands-on displays that let the kids touch and explore some of the smaller sea animals. They also had some great handouts targeting different age groups.

Of course Katie and I were most interested in the jellies and the seahorses (yes, those are seahorses in the second photo!). The aquarium has put together a beautiful display that lets you see the delicate intricacies of the jellies. Some of them are simply spectacular.

Downstairs they have another display of sea horses that shows their diversity and complexity. It is easy to see why so many people are interested in them they are mystical and intriguing.

After lunch, Katie and I had a lot of fun hanging out, basically being goofballs. We had fun taking pictures, playing in the water (in some of the exhibits) and when we went for an afternoon snack, we got to see a local baby harbor seal as it sat a rock just beyond the cafĂ©’s deck.

One of the coolest things we got to see was an albatross is reported to be one of the favorite birds at the aquarium, according to the staff. We ended the day sharing a cupcake looking out over the water and enjoying the unusual heat wave bathing the Monterey Bay.

So bottom-line: even though we've been there a dozen times or more this field trip was one of the best.

Home School POV
I had Katie take pictures at the aquarium and come home and do a slideshow with them. I thought this was one way she could get closer to the different varieties of the jellies and seahorses.

Public School "Deprogramming": I Think We Did It!

At one of the first parent support groups, one of the things the experienced parents talked about was giving Katie time to "de-program" from her experiences at public school. I had no idea what they meant but I listened and watched because I figured they knew what they were talking about.

Turns out, they were right!

I have noticed a few things that are different now that we are homeschooling. I am interested to know if you experienced similar things and what else I might expect...

#1: A License to Learn
Before, school was where most learning occurred. We did things outside of school - maybe the best thing was Girl Scouts as a Juliette (not in a troop, on our own, I always called it home school Scouting). Scouts offers us amazing field trips and I would wrap learning around those events and earning badges. Great stuff. But now, Katie is all about the learning. From her bed she'll yell out - can we do some home school around Halloween? Or Thanksgiving? You bet! Now every day is an adventure and she sees the opportunity. It's amazing.

#2: Her Inner Spaz is Free
The barn door is open and the uninhibited spaz has charged out! For me, the difference between now and then is all about Katie's willingness to unabashedly try new things. Or be weird - like performing, singing, becoming a character. Oh yeah, she always had this in her, but public school didn't give her much time to channel her inner spaz - between homework, classroom time, peer pressure. But at home school, it's all about being yourself. And I have watched her come back out of her cocoon and exhibit pure joy about just being. It's great and contagious (it doesn't take much for my inner spaz to come out!).

#3: Living the New Life: Conventionally Unconventional
Okay - we are still hopelessly ordinary. We take care of our four chickens (who have an abnormal run of the entire backyard), we work tirelessly at training our hamster and we cuddle with our two cats. We go to bed by 10pm and get up early to take advantage of the day. But I do feel like we are now unconventional as well. We cook more because we aren't on a killer schedule. We run errands together because we can (I can take advantage of natural breaks in my work day). And we generally will do fun things at strange times because our time now belongs to us. And we have adapted "school time" to those hours of the day when Katie learns better, instead of the bleary-eyed, 8am zombie walk into a classroom.

#4: Letting Go of Expectations
Finally, I don't think Katie feels like she's missing out anymore. Now that things are rolling and we have our own unconventional routine, there's an ease with which we are living. And she's finally managed to work her friends in and she's making more friends in the home school program. She's also playing on her own in a way that I can only think is tremendously healthy. Good, complex games that require lots of planning and execution. I think she's finally let go of her expectations of "what is supposed to be" and has finally embraced "what is."

And it's all good.