Monday, April 30, 2012

Screen Free Week

Did you realize that the average American preschooler spends 32 hours a week in front of a screen? Older kids spend even more time. That's almost a full time job!

It's officially Screen Free Week this week- April 30th to May 6th- and my family is taking part in the celebration.

Our TV probably gets a lot less use than your average American owned one, but I notice I've been relying on it more than I'd like to. If we're tired, we stare at the screen instead of reading, playing music or creating anything. Since we've had a crazy busy schedule lately, we've been tired a lot and books are sitting on the shelf unread, games are neglected and little creative work is popping up.

Facebook is it's own evil time sucker, which I'd considered giving up for Lent, but I opted for giving up bitterness instead. I think this is the time to wean myself away from the Facebook habit, and focus on things that I actually want to get done, and are probably more important than reading pointless status updates.

I think my family and I could use a little digital cleanse. 

Boy Child is not too excited, but I have a theory that attitudes change (like bad ones increase) with increase in media time. So, in the end, this detox will be good for him.

I'll still be blogging, because I consider it work, even if I make no money off it. I'm also in the midst of online writing classes in the UCLA Writing Program, so obviously I'll still be online. But, I'll be cutting out the extra- non work and non school related screen time, and so will my reluctant offspring. (I only mentioned the TV part so far, although it may extend to hand held game players as well. I just didn't want Boy Child to totally panic.)

What will we do instead? Hopefully, we'll play more games- indoor and out, read more books, and generally enjoy our animals, instruments and artsy stuff. There's lots more ideas here

Anyone else doing screen free week? I'd love to here about what your family does when the screens are off.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


We had been driving through the cold rain for hours when the sun finally broke through. It was nearly dark, but we were still glad to see clear sky, and to turn off the windshield wipers at last. The Pacific Northwest isn't known for warm weather, but this was farther from springlike than I had hoped for. We'd been in the car for too long, but decided to keep going- to make it to our friends home before bed.

It was late by the time we arrived, but all 5 of her children came out to greet us. Inside we met the dogs, pet rats, and even a hedge hog. We hadn't seen these friends in years, and the family had grown by a few, but my friend still had that rare patience and grace in the midst of whatever crazy chaos life (and children) throws at her.

They had generously offered to share their home as a base to spend a few days and explore the city. She also shared the advice she was given upon moving to Seattle. Don't let the rain stop you from going out. If you wait for it to stop, by the time you get your car keys, it will start back up again. I'm glad we listened because the weather changed from sun to wind to sprinkles to hail within the course of an hour, and continued that way for our entire stay. You just have to wear layers and deal with it.

Day 1 was mammoth. We started off by finding a giant troll under the Freemont Bridge. (Yes, we scout out odd tourist attractions like this ahead of time.)

Then, it was to the famous Space Needle and surrounding park. We spent a few hours exploring sculptures, shops and the Pacific Science Center.

We took the monorail (on which we almost lost one small child- but we found him quickly) to Pikes Place and where we were entertained by street musicians galore. One in particular sang songs of his painful childhood memories of broccoli for dinner, while hula hooping.

The shops were full of inspiring and creative things made by local artists that gave me countless crafty ideas of my own.

A trip to Seattle wouldn't be complete without seeing the Gum Wall. It's an entire wall on the side of this building has been covered in used chewing gum. It's definitely one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen, but strangely artistic when the light hit all the colors. The kids talked me into buying some gum so we could add to the wall, and I almost heaved, but I did it. (I then promptly doused all of our hands in sanitizer.)

I liked many things about Seattle- but especially was how clean it is. (well, not the troll or the gum wall) For a major city, it just doesn't have the level of filth that LA does though. The public transportation was great too but the parking was painfully pricey, which encouraged me to plan well and just skip driving if possible.

We could easily have spent a week in the city and not run out of things to see and do, but alas- we only had a few days. Naturally, we made the best of it and just crammed in as much as we could. The kids had natural youthful energy, and I was in the land of Starbucks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Something About the Ocean

My Girl Child has been fascinated with Marine Biology for a while - reading books, watching movies, learning about the creatures. But a book can't compare to the real thing, nor can a movie- not even in IMAX. Being a homeschooling madre extraordinaire, I feel it's my parenting responsibility to provide educational field trips to facilitate learning about our interests and passions. (Which makes a handy and valid reason to take lots of field trips.) So, off to the ocean I take my family, as often as possible. Tide pooling, beach combing and occasionally, in warmer months, immersion. The variety of living creatures and all of their colors and patterns is like an art show. There's so much to be explored, my kids never tire of it.

But for me, the lessons in the ocean go far beyond science.

No matter what's going on in life, good things or awful, it doesn't matter, there's just something about the ocean that lets you know that life is much bigger than any of us and our personal dramas.

No matter what I do, the tides keep coming in and going out. The constancy and massiveness put things in perspective and make me realize that my little problems aren't really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Even when it creates massive destruction, if you watch it long enough, you see that in the end, it all works out.

I miss living near the ocean terribly. Not to complain, because I live in the wonderful state of California, where you can visit the ocean, mountains and desert all within a few hours. I get to visit her quite a few times a year, and I just got back from a visit last week. Still, I miss living closer because a few hours isn't the same as a few minutes.

I've only been to the Pacific Ocean, but I've explored her shores as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Costa Rica. In some ways she's the same- big, beautiful and powerful. In others, she's completely different. Costa Rican waters for example, beckon you to hop in with their bath like temperatures and colorful fish. Alaskan waters are best appreciated from shore or a boat.

I met a few young kids recently who had NEVER BEEN TO THE OCEAN!!!! I just simply can't imagine, because they lived in California. I mean, if you live in Kansas....OK, I get it....the ocean is far, but in California....really?

I would implore every adult who is responsible for children to take them to the ocean if at all possible. Find a way- skip lunch out for a couple weeks, take a day off, play hooky- whatever you have to do, just do it. Take yourselves for that matter, whether you have kids or not. It's worth the money and the time. (Since someone is bound to point out that the ocean is also dangerous and sometimes smelly, I'll go ahead and add that disclaimer. You're also likely to leave with sand in your ears, but it's worth it.)

Too many people skip on the amazing things the world has to offer because it takes a little effort, and to me the ocean is amazing. Too many others live right next to wonderful things, and just pass them by in the busyness of life. You don't want to be one of those people.

Hopefully, sometime soon, we'll find a way to dip our toes in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually the Mediterranean. In the mean time, I'm making summer plans for oceans closer by, and I'll have to be happy with memories.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Super Mama Sacagewea

Every kid in America learns about the great explorations of Lewis and Clark, and most will learn at least the name Sacagawea while they're at it, but knowing that a native American woman helped as a guide just really doesn't do this woman or her story justice.

We love exploration, and stories of adventure always resonate with me. Yes, the men were brave and adventurous, but without  Sacagawea's assistance, I doubt they would have made it. As a mother, I am especially in awe that during the entire adventure she was either pregnant or carrying a baby on her back. That is one super mama. Her husband seems like a creeper old man, but that is another story.

As part of our own recent Great Pacific North West Adventure, we did a little Lewis and Clark exploration along the Columbia River in Oregon. Our route started near the ocean at Fort Clatsop, a replica of the fort that the party spent a winter in before returning home. Apparently, it rained all but 12 days out of the three months they spent there, making it a less than pleasant experience.

The weather was very cold and wet for our visit, giving it an authentic feel, except when we got tired of hiking in the rain, we got in a car with heated seats and ate chips. Gotta love modern conveniences.

We also saw replicas of the dug out canoes they used, and could not imagine heading down that massive river on one of them. When one flipped over, Sacagawea was the one to save all their scientific journals and samples, with the baby on her back on her back of course. Did I mention no life vests? In our safety immersed culture, it's hard to even picture a baby in a tiny boat at all, let alone with no flotation device.

We've enjoyed looking at the Lewis and Clark story from different points of view through historical fiction, my personal favorites being that of Sacagawea of course, but also that of Seaman, the big dog that accompanied the group.

His life size statue looks so much like our big dog, it made us all miss him. It also made me think about how smelly that wet dog would have been in those cold and rainy months. And, how much poison oak he would have spread.

Another interesting note....we read that the Lewis and Clark pieces were recently opened again at the Smithsonian Institute, and all of the museum staff who handled them got poison oak. So, the oil of that evil plant can still do it's itchy mayhem after over 100 years. Crazy.

After our fill of Fort Clatsop, we headed up the river that the Lewis and Clark party had came down, talking about the bravery of people who attempt such feats. I've had people tell me that I'm brave for traveling solo with my kids these days. HA- I'm pretty sure I'm completely incompetent compared to Sacagewea. I have maps, a laptop, convenience stores, snacks and towing service. I can't even fathom doing half of what she did, especially with a baby on my back.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


OK, I tend to count all kinds of things as educational, but even people who accept that about me might raise eyebrows at our current studies of Bigfoot. He (or she) is also known as Sasquatch, or depending on the region, Yeti.

A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I found a documentary on Netflix called "Ancient Mysteries: Bigfoot." I figured if it was narrated by Leonard Nemoy, how could it not be cool?

After seeing snippets of the Bigfoot chasers on Animal Planet, I expected a good deal of rural ridiculousness. My kids have been filming their own mockumentaries about Searching for Sasquatch, which have certainly added to my joking about the whole phenomenon.

This documentary though, was in fact quite interesting. I'll admit, I was able to laugh off a lot of the "evidence." Just because someone has a doctorate degree doesn't mean they can't be just as kooky as a hillbilly in camo with night vision goggles, but still, there were a few things that made me stop and think, hmmmmmm....well, maybe?

Apparently, the legends of the creature go way back, and I found it interesting that the local Indian tribes have all sorts of cultural stories that include Bigfoot and are hundreds of years old. Some modern "scholars" have figured out a whole social structure for the creatures, but I didn't quite get how they came to their conclusions.

It just so happens that we live within a few hours of major Bigfoot territory, where not only are there gas stations and burger joints named after the mysterious species, but also a "Bigfoot Museum." Naturally, we had to go.

There were more footprint casts than I could count, some looking fairly realistic, and others looking someone made a large and perfectly shaped foot model. The most authentic looking had toe prints (the little lines in the skin, like fingerprints, but obviously on toes.) The mysterious "fur" samples looked like something I cleaned out my dog brush, but apparently when it was sent to a lab for analysis, it came back as an unknown or unidentified species. Hmmmmmmm......

We scoured the woods a bit on foot, but mostly by car on paved roads. The off road terrain is made up of steep and dense hillsides which someone or something could quite easily hide in for a long time if they had some survival skills, because no one else is really going to try to climb around in those places. While we did see plenty of shadows, our only confirmed sighting of Sasquatch was in murals and statues.

So, I'm not convinced he (or she) is out there, but I'm not convinced they aren't either. If they are, I hope we don't find them, and they get to live out happy and long lives free from hillbilly hunters and mad scientists. For now, I'm considering this mystery unsolved.

What do you think? Does Bigfoot exist?