Thursday, September 27, 2012

MoMA Field Trip

Today I took some of our Destination Imagination team to MoMA for inspiration.  They are in the process of creating their solution to this year's challenge.  They are undertaking a science challenge where they have to combine their knowledge of how wind works with a kinetic art structure they have to create from scratch.  They have to come up with a story which includes an invisible character.  The invisible character has to be evident in their 8 minute skit and to do that the team must use technical special effects.  The kinetic art has to be activated by wind and kept in motion for 15 seconds.  The team has to also create two special additions to their performance which will be judged by the effort involved, technical design and creativity of the pieces.  It is a fantastic challenge and the team members were soaking up the incredible inspiration on display in the museum.
I love field trips into the city.  The whole way there the children were talking non stop about all the exciting things they are doing.  Tomorrow, the first rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream will commence.  Parts are not out yet and the anticipation of which part everyone will get is major topic of conversation.  I kept bringing the kids back to the task at hand.  What should we focus on at MoMA?

I was at the museum a couple of months ago and this time I was a little more prepared.  I wanted the kids to see the paintings of the great artists first.  The top two floors of MoMA are amazing with Van Goghs, Cezannes, Picassos and all the famous painters in room after room.  The halls also feature sculpture.

There is a WOW factor to seeing several famous paintings by the same artist.  You are surrounded by the painters style and it leaves an impression.  The kids all had their iPods out taking picture after picture.

We saw all kinds of unusual sculpture.  The team was constantly imagining what it could do and it came up with some pretty amazing ideas.  Now to make these ideas materialize will be a challenge but that is what Destination Imagination is about-  materializing a dream that is owned by every team member.  It is a messy collaborative process.  The challenges are complex and involved, daunting at times.  I see much growth in the children occur through their involvement in this program. This year our team wants to do something really special.  They are lifting their game and I am excited for them.

One of our team members is a film buff.  He already produces movies and is in the process of setting up a film festival for children, where children submit their own films.  I wanted him to visit the Quay Brothers exhibit, which is awesome and creepy at the same time and definitely unique.  The Quay Brothers had their own unique style.  What is the style of their DI solution going to be?

Another team member couldn't wait to visit the architecture and design floor.  There were certainly a lot of cool things there, especially this couch made out of plastic components in a structure similar to Theo Jansen's wind driven beach animals. Could we make the parts on a 3D printer?

The children were making a lot of connections. They are going to do their performance a lot differently this year to previous years.  They want to get right out of the box and do something more creative.

One team member wants to try making this tomorrow on the scroll saw.

Or maybe this with light materials that catch the wind?

I wanted to visit the sculpture garden to see these figures!

A coffee wouldn't have gone astray either.  I wanted to find Macchiato for one of the best coffees in NYC but alas, traffic was bad and I had to get the children home on time.  But I drove past it and looked longingly in the window as I waited for the traffic light to change.

I also wanted to drive past this kinetics artist's window on Madison Avenue but this store didn't seem to exist anymore. I saw the Whitney museum though and decided that I want to go there next month.

We all agreed it was a very worthwhile trip and would love to go again and the trip will certainly give the team members a lot of inspiration for tomorrow's meeting.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sewing and Planning

In 10 days my new homeschooling initiative is starting!  The Huckleberry Hill Project involves 8 families who will be initially coming to my home to work on the children's individual projects and then join together in the afternoon to make a documentary as a group.  I have been busy organizing all manner of details to get this project off to a good start.

To start with I want the children to have their own "offices", where they will set up a work station.  We will have 17 children and they all need their own space to spread out.  Obviously we can't all be in the same room so people will be scattered all around the house.

To make this possible I bought a bunch of small portable tables that can be set up anywhere.  For each table I sewed a tablecloth.  I also bought 17 stools that are lightweight and easy to move around.  On a table like this 1-2 children could set up comfortably anywhere in the house.   I also have larger 6ft tables so we can all eat lunch together.

 To make it manageable, people are bringing their own cups and mugs and a mess kit.  I made 4 mess kits for our family with the left over fabric from the tablecloths.

We also want environmentally friendly products and a protocol to minimize our environmental footprint.  Tristan has been busy tweaking his dishwashing recipe as he will be supplying the HHP with cleaning supplies.  He has decided that making soap is not really his passion and is trying to come up with another idea for his HHP project....maybe growing hydroponic vegetables or starting an acting guild for kids....

We have a wireless network and a printer set up so everyone will be able to print wirelessly.  We have a supplies station and a coffee machine.

Midway through the morning work session we are going to hold presentations.  Each child will give a 5 minute presentation of his or her project idea over the course of the first 10 weeks.  They will be using keynote or powerpoint to project their idea onto the wall.  We have our projector set up and ready to go.

In the afternoon we will be starting our first session of documentary making.  We will be brainstorming how we are going to be going about this project and putting our ideas on hundreds of post it notes.  We have a dedicated wall to organize them on.

I have been gathering equipment including a dedicated laptop, audio equipment, lighting and software.  All the children will learn how to use it.  I have been forming a collection of online links, "how to" videos and a few books.  We also have experts in the field who can come and advise us.

We will form into teams that can specialize in different areas of production.  I am starting my first class of Final Cut Pro on Saturday at Jacob Burns Media Lab and hope to be useful in the editing team.  We have a group of extraordinary parents who have a vast array of skills.  I am so grateful and fortunate that I can relay on them to fill in the many gaps in my skill set.  So while it is all a little daunting, as is any new unfamiliar project, I am confident we will hit the finish line with a documentary!  It is going to put all of our creative problem solving skills to the test and I am sure we will all learn so much.

....and then of course there is the paperwork.  We need insurance to work at the farm.  We need to be an entity.  We need tax ID's, filing cabinets, forms to be filled out, accounting software and the list goes on.

There is a lot to do and time is of the essence, but that is always the case!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lucky Tails

It has been a big week for Lucky Tails.  With both rescue dogs now in forever homes, I accompanied Claire to Bridgeport Animal Control on Tuesday to look for her next one.  It was a blustery, stormy day.  Claire needs two dogs for her adoption events coming up, one in 8 days where she is partnering up with another rescue organization, and the next one the following week.

The shelter in Bridgeport was full of dogs, mainly Pitbull mixes and many large, jumpy and intimidating dogs.  We asked Raphael, who cares for the dogs to tell us about the temperament of each of the dogs.  We are looking for the sweetest, gentlest dogs, and ones that need our help.

Raphael explained that guard dogs are a status symbol in Bridgeport. Some people get the dogs, don't neuter them and keep them for a while.  If they are difficult to manage or the people go away, the dogs are often left on the streets and end up in the pound. Most of the Pitbulls are not raised to be a family pet but that is not to say there are are no loving, sweet Pitbulls.

Lucky Tails is not a Pitbull rescue.  Claire rescues all breeds in need, but they must be gentle and sweet natured.  She wants to feel comfortable her dogs will make good companions and that the family knows what kind of dog they are getting. She felt an immediate bond with this one.

We found Jessie in a row of Pitbulls.  We are not sure of her breed.  She is  a combination of several breeds.   She was nervous as we put the leash on her.  We took her for a walk, talked to and petted her.  She stood still yet her legs would shake.  She tried to be happy, yet we could tell she was uneasy.  She smiled at us though and we immediately bonded with her.

She is an older dog.  We think she is about 4-5 years old.  She has a couple of issues, dirty teeth and lipomas (we think) which we will take care of at the vet.  She is a very sweet girl.  She met Tuggles and was fine.  Tuggles is usually nervous with new dogs but didn't mind her at all and they jumped in the back of the car and snuggled together in the crate.

We took Jessie to Ridgehill Animal Hospital where she was examined by Adnan Cosar, her vet. She has already been spayed but we want to take care of all of her issues and make sure she is as adoptable as possible.  Lucky Tails will spend much more on this dog than her previous ones.  Claire has a cap on how much she asks new families for her dogs.  Lucky Tails will fundraise the rest.

Luckily she had organized to get some publicity at the local papers last week.  Yesterday the first article came out in the local paper of our neighboring town.  Today her article is on the front page of our local paper.  Hopefully she will find some more foster families and the publicity might interest people in donating to help get enough money to cover Jessie's costs.  She raised $65 in donations this week and is always happy to dip into her savings to cover costs.

And today Jessie is having her surgery.  Claire is observing the lipoma removal and dental work. She has researched the procedures and is ecstatic to be able to observe and participate in her rescue dogs journey to health and a happy future.  We are forever grateful to the Cosar's for their generosity and help in Claire's education in her area of passion.

Claire's friend, Marlin suggested she post her dogs on Craig's List.  So far she has had two inquiries into adopting Jessie.  Her marketing seems to be working and it is very exciting to have all sorts of possibilities opening up.

It has been very exciting.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Auditions were quite an adventure today. Oh my gosh.  There were exactly 25 kids eager to get up and wow the crowd.  Some of the performances were amazing.  Ours were not so great.

Tristan did a nice job and his personality shined through as always.  He was nervous and definitely felt it more this year.  It was his first solo audition and he was worried he would forget his lines.  Here is a snippet of his audition.

Claire decided to change her mind on her audition piece at 10pm the night before.  She was worried that the kids might tease her about doing something love related.  She changed it to a very difficult speech: the Queen Mab speech by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.  She didn't have enough time to get it down and she was very nervous.  She forgot one of her lines and then got rattled and couldn't go on. She was devastated.  It broke my heart.

It is hard to endure seeing your child so devastated.  She wanted to do well so badly.  I suggested to her that I video her doing the "Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo" speech she had prepared for today and send it to the director.  She did and feels much better.

My children need to fail sometimes.  It helps develop grit and perseverance.  It is hard to watch though. And I hope this story has a happy ending.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Audition nerves

It is such a gorgeous day today, a lazy Sunday with light streaming through the trees.  I have started reading Little Princes by Conor Grennan on recommendation from my friend, Jess at Teachable Moments.  Tristan is fishing with his friend Nathaniel on the lake and Claire has just chosen a monologue from Romeo and Juliet to learn for tomorrow's audition. She is going to walk Tuggles around the lake while learning her piece.

The auditions for the Penny Lane Players production of A Midsummers Night's Dream start at 10:30am.  My children are getting nervous.  Tristan has a lot of work to do.  He has about half of his monologue down.  He wants to fill his audition with crowd pleasing stunts!  But fishing, tubing and dance rehearsal are on the agenda for today.  It might be a late night.  Who can get to sleep anyway before a scary audition?

Approximately 25 homeschooled children will be preparing an audition between the ages of 7-17.  The audition pieces need to be approximately three minutes long, preferably from Shakespeare, memorized of course and performed on stage in front of every body.  I feel sick to my stomach thinking about it.  Luckily Tristan is immune to this kind of stress.  Claire on the other hand almost dies, then somehow uses that extreme discomfort to hyperfocus and pull it off.

I would just stand there wanting to do it so much, but be dumbstruck and forget every single word.

I will try and get some video of their auditions tomorrow.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


One of the things Tristan wants to make in his new endeavor is bar soap.  One of the ingredients in his dishwashing liquid is grated soap and he loves the idea of making soap to sell.

I am of course terrified of lye, but love the idea of him doing the rest of the project including choosing which soap to make, researching soap manufacturing, carefully measuring everything out and using a lye calculator.

Having a poisonous and potentially explosive ingredient in soap is extremely interesting to him.

He is terrified of it too but deeply interested.  In order to overcome our fear, we wore long sleeves, long gloves and safety glasses.  Tristan stood back and watched from afar as I gently tipped the carefully measured out lye into the water and gently mixed it until it dissolved.  We prepared a large bucket of neutralizing solution and deposited everything that lye had touched into it.

Lye looks just like sugar.  That is terrifying in itself.  Especially with children around.

Anyway, we now have soap.  I was not thrilled with the outcome.  It is lovely to use and gives a smooth, creamy lather.  It just doesn't have a gorgeous smell and look.  George said it reminds him of the old Madagascan soap of his childhood.  I need to make more of it. I want to be more adventurous, read books about it and experiment with using things like goats milk.  It is easy to make.  Most of all I get a kick out of making products that I use and formally bought at the supermarket.

To make it I used a crock pot.  You just melt the carefully measured out oils and butters in it.  Add the lye. Whiz it with a stick blender for a few minutes until it looks like custard, and let it cook for a hour.  Put it in a mold, let it cool and voila!  Soap can be a lot more complicated. I picked a simple recipe from Frugally Sustainable for my first foray into the art.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Computer class

I decided to organize a computer class for my children and their homeschooling friends.  It is a year long class where the children learn the fundamentals of computers, all the parts and how they work and come up with something the want to make for the Maker Faire coming up next April.

Today 8 children came to the class with their old desktops and a big box to put all of their bits in.  Mike Morrissey, the teacher explained what all the parts are in a desktop tower and what they do. He explained how transistors work and how the first computers didn't have many of them.  The latest computer chips have 2.6 billion transistors, an astounding statistic especially once you have held a single transistor in your hand.  He kept pulling computer components out of his magic carpet bag.

The children have found computers on free cycle and at recycling centers.  Some of them work, some are relics from the past.  Antiques!  After opening them up and checking out what was inside, the next step is to plug them in to see if they work.  Do they turn on? Does the operating system work?  If the computer actually works, we are planning to erase the hard drives and install Linux.  It is an easier operating system to navigate and works well on older computers.  I love that our kids will be able to recycle old computers and render them useful again.

The children are also being challenged to come up with their own individual project to make.  They have idea books and things in mind that they want to get started on. The list of things they want to make is diverse from electronic dog tags, dictation microphones, death robots, a tick discovery wand, their own working computer.... so many things.

Next they will learn about micro-controllers which are basically small computers that can't do a lot but have a lot of inputs and outputs. They will learn circuitry and do some soldering.  I am excited for the kids and Tristan made a new friend.  Claire is not so interested.  "You know that this is not my passion!" she said.  Not yet (I thought) or maybe never, but what you are doing is cool and necessary to know.  Computers are so integrated into our lives that we can take them for granted now, but everyone needs to know the basics.

Below are some of the projects that kids made at Robotics and Beyond over the summer.  The first one is a fridge I think.

I can't wait to see how this class evolves.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Life with dogs

The truth is that it is a lot of work running a business, however small.  I was thinking this little project she is working on would take up about 10 hours of Claire's time a week.  Right now she is spending at least 6 hours a day organizing, on the phone, writing letters, taking care of her dogs and researching. It is a full time job for her.  I am hoping this is all going to die down (a little) and I am very grateful that she did the bulk of the work to set it all up over the summer vacation.  

I am going to have to be very crafty in getting her to fit in all of her compulsory work.  In the mean time my life has gone to the dogs! I surrender!  On Sunday we took Claire to her first dog adoption event in Danbury at Choice Pet Supply.  She called many places.  This was the only place she could do without 501c status (which is pending).  She formed a business relationship with Bill, the manager and will be holding events once a month at this location.  

I was surprised at what a great location it is, so clean and friendly and she was allowed to set up inside.

We brought both dogs, Lucky and Romeo and we had two families lined up to come and see the dogs.

Romeo found a new family!  They are very excited to adopt him but are going on vacation for 10 days first.  Lucky however got the most attention. Two families wanted to take her.  The event was very successful and both dogs now have families pending.  We have to have the home visit before we complete the adoption and make sure the dog and the family are well matched.

We were so lucky also to have many visits from our good friends.  Thank you Prevey's, Snajders and Cosars for coming to wish Claire well.  We love you guys! Congratulations to Ava and Kaya for guessing the closest number of jelly beans in the jar!

Today Claire was visited by our local newspaper reporter.  She wants to get some foster families in our town to cut down on the driving.  To get the word out, she contacted our local paper.  She spent an hour with the reporter explaining everything she has been doing and was photographed with the dogs.  She was nervous before they came but seemed to be relaxed and passionate during the interview.  

The article will be in the paper on Friday.  She apparently tried to keep the story steered towards getting fosters although she thinks the reporter was more interested in her age.  At the end the reporter said, "Here is my business card.  Please give me a call if you are having any events and I will help get the word out."  She replied seriously, "Thanks and here is my business card." And he just laughed and laughed.  So that was a bit of fun and I hope she gets some more local foster families.

Also today we explored Wave, a free accounting system for small businesses.  She had found it online and set up an account for Lucky Tails.  She wants to migrate away from her notebook tracking of expenses and donations to more detailed records.  She has a basic filing system but now she wants to make digital records of her dogs that can be quickly retrieved.  

Now that she has a system, the key will be to manage the flow of dogs so that she can still manage to do *ALL* of her work and keep her life in balance.  The next adoption event is on September 29th with another rescue organization and of course she will need 1-2 new rescue dogs to take to that.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not back to school...

The week after Labor day is always a weird week for me.  People start to look at you strangely again when you go to the supermarket with your children during school hours.  There are "not back to school" picnics.  People are posting about what their plans for the year. Or not.

Over here it feels like it might be the year of the entrepreneur.  Tristan is now going great guns on his little business idea.  He wrote a business plan this week. He created a product list and researched recipes for his dishwashing liquid.  He ordered ingredients for the soap making.  He watched a webinar on making dishwashing soap and made some.  He has been using us as dishwashing detergent testers! His detergent is better than mine, thicker and creamier, yet it washes off your hands more easily and smells better.  He found quart glass jars with a flat surface so his labels will adhere better.  Now he needs to find hand pumps to attach to his jar lids.

In other business news, Claire has found a family who wants to adopt Lucky!  This family previously had a beloved Pitbull mix who had cancer and had to have her leg amputated.  She died a week later.  When they saw Lucky on Petfinder, they felt it was fate and seem very keen to have her.  They are coming to Claire's adoption event on Sunday, at Choice Pet Supply in Danbury.  Claire has had some interest in Romeo too.

Claire is in a flurry printing out all of her adoption contract materials and squaring away all the details for her event.  She has a bunch of people coming and hopefully her first two rescues will have forever families by the end of the weekend.  Now that Lucky might leave us, we are realizing just how much we have grown attached to her.  She is so much healthier and happier now than when we found her in the shelter and such a love.  We will definitely miss her a lot and so will Tuggles (our forever dog).

...and we have been to a few "not back to school" special treats!  We went to the matinee of Peter and the Starcatchers on Broadway on Wednesday with some friends.  It is an amazing play, the prequel to Peter Pan.  The storytelling is wonderful and the actors do an amazing job with only a few props.  The theatre was gorgeous.  Every square inch was decorated.

We took this picture as we wanted to remember the stage facade.  It was elaborate yet whimsical with egg beaters, rolling pins, rakes, golf clubs and pineapples (to name a few) stuck on and spray painted. It was very effective.

We thought it would be a great way to start our year in Destination ImagiNation, a program where the children have to tell stories and create amazing props on a tight budget.  Afterwards we went to the Starlight diner where we were serenaded by wannabe Broadway stars!  They were good too!  The food, just OK.  It was worth doing...once anyway.  Claire also started her new musical theatre class and singing lessons.  Next week she has to sing Defying Gravity (from Wicked) solo in front of the class.  I get goosebumps thinking about it.  It is so good for her.

Tristan will start his hip hop breakdancing classes with other boys starting Tuesday.  He has a breakdancing recital in 4 weeks with rehearsals starting Sunday.

Also the challenges for Destination Imagination
came out and we had our kick off last night.  We read through all of the challenges and my team picked Challenge B: the science challenge which explores wind and art. I will be posting the details later.

Tristan's team is undecided.  They have narrowed it down to two challenges to choose between.  One is a community outreach challenge to make a documentary about a community need.  The other is an improvisation challenge where the children have no props, but have to research communication techniques and have 4 randomly selected elements that they have to include into their presentation.

The children had fun at the kick off, dancing to music at our "disco" and watching the Lorax.  It was an exciting night!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A new project

For months now I have been trying to help Tristan incubate an idea for the Huckleberry Hill Project. This was an easy task for Claire who comes up with ideas all the time.  For Tristan, it has been more difficult.  He came up with one idea which is setting up a Minecraft club at the library where children discuss Minecraft, help each other download mods and do various other Minecraft activities.  I think this is a good idea.  He will have to coordinate with the library and it will be a forum of kids of similar interests. It is something that could be accomplished easily.

I was hoping he would come up with something else as well, that would challenge him and require him to get help and develop skills.  I was nudging him to get in touch with his inner entrepreneur as he is such a people person.

Finally after a lot of soul searching he decided that he really likes to grow plants and cook.  He decided he wants to start a company that has to do with growing herbs and he wants to make things with herbs in them.  He loves helping me make non-toxic cleaning products for our house. He decided that he would like to do just that.

Today he started working on his project in earnest.  He wants to call his company Earth Friendly Home and he wants to sell dishwashing detergent, hand soap, counter cleaner, glass cleaner, bar soap (eek!) and mini winter herb gardens.  He would like to sell his products at farmers markets and to earth friendly mamas!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Spontaneous Farm Visit

I have been buying raw milk and eggs from Stonewall Dairy in Cornwall, CT over the last couple of years.  I have seen the farmer, Chris Hopkins around and we have chatted from time to time. Tristan has enjoyed collecting eggs from their movable tractors. Tristan loves working on the farm so when given the opportunity he jumps right in.  And so do I.  My inner farm girl comes rushing to the surface.

This morning we arrived when Chris was putting stickers on the milk containers and Tristan asked if he could help.  Once he was done with that he was invited to help with bottling the milk.  Chris was patient and kind.  He gave detailed instructions to Tristan and didn't get upset while he was mastering the art of not spilling a drop.   Oh and we had the best conversations about sustainability, farming and the right size of a farm so that it lives in harmony with the land and nurtures the community and the farmer.  We talked about how much work it is to do farming well.  And about his sustainable farm dream.

Hours slipped by and I felt the need to reconnect with the rest of my family. But we hadn't had enough!!

The milking system surprised me.  It seemed very old fashioned and labor intensive. A step up from hand milking!  Apparently this is one of the only ways Chris can control the process and keep everything sanitary enough for processing raw milk.  Raw milk doesn't go through the pasteurization process.  It is a live food, full of enzymes and competing bacteria. Every piece of equipment used in the process is sanitized.  Everything!  It is a long process and there are no shortcuts.

You are probably not interested in the details...but I am!  So I am sharing this anyway because today I milked a cow and feel quite accomplished! Here are the steps involved in milking a cow.

Step 1:  Brush the cow. 
Step 2: Massage the udder a bit
Step 3: Squeeze each teat and get a stream to land in a filter screen to make sure the milk is not globby (indicating an infection)
Step 4: Sanitize each teat with iodine.  
Step 5: Wipe off teat.  Put on the milking machine.
Step 6: When the udder is empty, take off the machine.
Step 7: Dip each teat in iodine (thicker version) to seal and sanitize teats.

It took about 5 minutes per cow for this process to occur.  Each cow produces approx.  2 gallons of milk per session.  It was interesting to learn the idiosyncrasies and history of each cow.  Time rushed by.  We were into it.  Many visitors came to watch and ask questions about raw milk, questions I am sure Chris has been asked thousands of times.  He answers the questions as if asked for the first time.  He is very busy.  He has a lot of plates spinning at the same time, yet he doesn't miss a beat.  

There is a lot of heavy lifting.  Milking is strenuous.  Large pails of milk have to be lifted 4 ft off the ground and poured into a filter on top of a refrigerated vat.  We were carrying 4 gallon crates.  I am going to feel it tomorrow. 

It was nice to watch the cows meandering back out into the field.  Now it was time to clean up. Chris keeps a very clean, organized barn.  It was almost 7pm by the time we said goodbye.  Tristan had a fantastic experience and now needed food!  I am already planning my next visit.