Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Calm before the storm

The last three days have been eerily still.  We have had fantastic foliage this season and slowly over the last few days the leaves have been falling like feathers on a mere breath of wind.  The ground is literally a earthy red carpet.  I can only imagine what it will be like in three days from now after the epic storm.  Our town is not in a good spot on the hurricane map.  This storm seems like it will turn a corner over us and therefore we are going to have extra storm days.  I hope there is a tree left standing.

But for now it is calm and we are waiting.  I took some before pictures.

----Update Post Sandy-----
The storm blew past us quite quickly over a 5 hour period.  We lost power about half way through the storm and our generator came on.  Having power and cable was quite comfortable.  Then Claire walked the dogs and we noticed lightning moving through.  10 minutes later our generator stopped suddenly and George went downstairs to find an unusual smell next to the transfer switch box and no power going through the box. (The generator works but no power gets into the house)  So there goes the cable and the fridge!

Nevertheless, we have no trees down!!!! which is amazing given that trees are draped over power lines left right and center.  Every way out from out house is blocked by a tree...officially, but we managed to narrowly get under a power line to get out to New Canaan this morning for bagels and coffee and now Starbucks to get some wifi.

Clean up is going to take a while but I like the change in pace.  It's nice to be together as a family, to catch up on conversations, to tell stories in bed, to be without electronics and to count our blessings.  

Friday, October 26, 2012


George took the morning off to take Tristan fishing.  This will be the last time this season and now with the big storm coming(!) we will be battening down the hatches.  They caught about 30 fish and had a glorious morning.

Dancing update

So here is the thing.

Tristan loves to dance.  He loves to be a showman.  But he has some issues.  He needs to be lighter on his feet. His teacher, B-girl Trinity thinks he would benefit seeing other kids his age "battle" and be inspired to lift his game to what he is actually capable of.  Luis trains a young crew in Fairfield County and today we will find out if Tristan makes the cut.

Well...he isn't ready yet...but he has potential and Luis is a kind and patient teacher.  T is learning quickly, focusses! and has a unique style.  He is going to need a few more months of lessons and discipline to clean up his moves and get light on his feet.  But he is on his way.  And he has been invited to watch the young battle team Luis trains on Sundays.

He is also loving his hip hop class with his buds.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I have snuck down to the kitchen.  Claire is being filmed by Scott from HooplaHa upstairs. HooplaHa is a little online news company that showcases news stories that make you smile.  He came across the article about Lucky Tails in the local paper and decided to make a segment about her Claire's company.  Star, her Pit/lab rescue is sitting on her lap and she is answering question after question.  I am hearing a lot of slow down.  Oh...the dog is moving... let's do another take.

 I get really nervous for her but the dogs seem to relax her and she gets on a roll.

Scott is working alone.  It is a lot to think about...camera, lighting, audio and interviewing.  I am totally fascinated by his set up. I love his tripod and the way he captures audio...completely different from my set up. He has *my* camera but he has downloaded Magic Lantern firmware onto it so he has a lot of cool menu options that help a lot when you are using DSLR's for video capture.

He has his own production company, Dreamstreet Productions and said I could email him with any questions (and I WILL have questions!)  He has spent the last 10 years producing a fishing show.  He loves fishing and wanted to make a living while following his passion.  I love that too.  He was off fishing after the shoot.

But back to Claire!  The interview will take about 2 hours and will be posted on HooplaHa in a couple of weeks.  Hopefully, through this publicity, Claire will find a forever family for Star.

HooplaHa Home

Electronics class

We are about 5 weeks into our year long electronics class that meets for two hours every Wednesday. I have a teacher come over from Robotics and Beyond to show the children how to put a computer together using recycled computers and parts.  Once they have a working computer the children download Linux (ubuntu or  xubuntu).  The children are going to be taught to write short programs using Linux.

Things I have learnt so far observing this process:

  • Old computers are thrown out for a reason usually.
  • It takes a long time to check if a computer is actually functional.
  • Installing Linux is not always a piece of cake.
  • Everyone needs their own mouse and screen.
  • There is a steep learning curve to get a comfort level with the components.
The miracle is that it can be done with perseverance and grit.

The second aim of the course is to make/build something using electronics that the children can take to the Maker Faire in April.

Most of the children have a project they are working on. Claire is making a dog collar with a GPS locator on it.  She wants to be able to track a dog who could potentially escape our yard.

Tristan wants to make a rover that can climb a Lego Minecraft style landscape. He wants to use our old train table, build a lego landscape and have things on it that the rover could "discover".

Each child gave a presentation explaining their idea. Each idea was evaluated based on its complexity using a rating system. Now the children have to go about finding the components they will need to build it.

Today we had the fortune of an IT engineer to assist the children in formulating their ideas.  What everyone wants to do is complex and requires effort and thought.  Every week the children are brought back to their projects and hopefully as the months go on, we will see some interesting manifestations of all of this work.  

The beauty of this process is that the children will be able to see the path from incubation of an idea to the actual manifestation of the idea.  Something in their head has been manifested in its physical form.

Reaping the psychological reward of finishing a project and sharing it with the world is often enough to stimulate further projects. I am hoping this class is laying the groundwork for a lifetime of creative projects.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Making a documentary

In the afternoons at the Huckleberry Hill Project we are making a documentary.  It is a bold idea that exceeds our current capabilities and is as daunting as it is exciting.  Exciting because there are so many areas of learning to explore and so many possibilities of things we could do. Daunting because I have to make a leap of faith that we as a group can handle this monumental task ahead of us and scurry up the learning curve to gain the necessary skills we will need to accomplish our goals.

I, in all of my optimism and naivete, have jumped in whole hog into understanding Final Cut Pro X and filming using DSLR cameras. I have been reading books, watching endless YouTube tutorials, analyzing documentaries I like and talking to my film making friends. I have video and audio equipment and soft light boxes and a bunch of excited children eager to learn these skills.

Learning these skills is the reason I decided to make a documentary in the first place.  Making a documentary involves so many skills that the children will have to integrate. We as a group are role modeling how people can go out into the community, express themselves, stand up and have an opinion and importantly work together as a team on a project bigger than any one individual.  But this is a long process and there are a huge amount of steps and learning experiences we will be having on that journey. As always, it is the journey that I am most excited about.

We have brainstormed hundreds of ideas together as a group and discussed how to recognize an inspirational vision for the project and how to record it so it can be shared with the group.  One of the children had a vision during the week, a grand vision that she shared at our last meeting and we are picking it up and running with it.

We have organized to see a documentary maker/cameraman to teach us how to use our camera and how to visualize scenes.  I have been reading/watching web tutorials/researching everything I can about the technical side of shooting a documentary.  I have been out setting custom white balances, testing lenses and indoor lighting scenarios and I am feeling pretty good about our set up.

We have mapped out the beginning of a story line for the documentary, color coded grid paper with different clip types, counted out how long clips are and discussed different types of clips.  Next week I hope to lay out our rationale and plan out our first segment.

Our plan will be laid out on a 4ft roll of brown paper that we will be taking to the farmhouse.  Every part of the plan is going to be moveable so the children can see it and manipulate it. I am trying to do this in a way that children will be able to replicate the process when/if they make their own documentaries at some point.  Most importantly, those skills will be transferable to the management of the various projects they will encounter in their lives.  We have to make sure everyone knows what is going on and we have a large range of ages and learning types in the group.  Everyone has a role to play and we now have filled up the various roles (editing, filming, sound etc...) with eager children. 

It is daunting and exciting to undertake a challenging project from ground zero.  Yet we ask our kids to do this all the time and this is teaching them to go about it in a methodical way.  We also have so much information at our fingertips and many resources we will tap. It is a fantastic time to try something new and utilize the gifts that thousands are sharing on the internet. You don't need to sign up for a class as the information you need right now is just a click away.  All you need to do is allow the visions to bubble up, encourage the excitement, harness the creativity and impart the power of a methodical process.

I am grateful for the many contributions that everyone is making.  I don't know what the final result will be like but I know that the skills gathered along the way will last a long time.  Anyway, as you can tell I continue to be really excited about this project and the people involved in it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Horrible Histories

A couple of months ago I bought a box of horrible histories. Imagine a box of 20 kid friendly books filled with the history of the world, fun facts and comics in an easy to read format (not exactly classic literature or living books).

I thought Tristan would devour these.  He loves history and lately we have been in a bit of a history slump.  He took the plastic of the box and picked them over and then stated,  "I am not reading these until they have detoxed."

He put one on top of the air purifier.

I was a bit disappointed. I thought this box was going to launch him into a reading frenzy and lead him towards some great history project.

So I forgot about them.

And today he picked one up and started reading one and is almost finished with the next one sitting next to him waiting to be read. YES!!!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Post it Notes

One of the things I love about the Huckleberry Hill Project is that we are modeling skills that the children can use to help them along in their own personal projects.  On Tuesday afternoons we are making a documentary as a group and no matter what the outcome, the group project is a fantastic way to introduce and role model skills the children will need to make their own ideas come alive.

Today the children worked on their projects for almost two hours before we met to watch a presentation by Cormac who is starting the Green Project.  You can see one of his recent blog posts here.  Cormac used Pages, an editing/publishing software available as an app for the Mac.  This is a great program for the children to become familiar with.  We decided that it is beneficial for them to use similar software so they can teach each other how to use it and recognize files. All of our members have Macbooks or iPads.  We are going to get a dongle so that the children can project presentations onto the wall using iPads to make presenting easier.

In the afternoon we started brainstorming ideas for the documentary.  What do we want to do it on? What is our story?  We used technique we use doing Destination ImagiNation called "Stop and Go".  We wrote ideas on post it notes and put them up on the wall.  We read them out and then went to round two of idea creation and put up more and more ideas.  Soon we had a wall of ideas.  Then we started organizing them.  Themes popped out of the wall and a picture started developing about what the group wants to do.

That was fun. Time whizzed by. We could have gone on and on.  In the second half of the meeting we talked about storage. We talked about how and where we need to store the video that we take for our documentary.  We all have footage already and we need to have a system so we don't lose our precious files.  Steph, one of our parents and IT specialist explained that we all needed Dropbox accounts so we  can keep our data on a server.  We all downloaded Dropbox onto our devices.  We made a 2HP storage bin in Dropbox to use as a collection point.

The other part of todays meeting was the importance of proper "nomenclature" to name files so we can easily retrieve media that we will need for the documentary.  We need to be masters in digital organization to make our workflow more efficient.  Steph consults with companies on how to manage their technology effectively and we need everyone to adopt the same protocol for file management to make our experience with technology less frustrating. I am incredibly grateful to have her expertise on hand during our meetings.

We will be working on this again next week.  It takes a while to get the hang of all of this technology, but at the same time it is empowering.

The best part of learning these skills is watching the children independently use them on their own for their own projects.  After the meeting I went upstairs for a relax and a cup of coffee.  Little did I know that Claire was working out how to bring dogs to Connecticut from a high kill shelter in Georgia using skills we practiced today.

It is all very exciting.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Meet Star and Haley

Now that Jessie has a forever home, we have two new rescues.  Star is a young 7 month old Pitbull mix that we rescued from Bridgeport Animal Control.  She had been in the shelter for 8 weeks and was very shy and scared of people.  They told us she was shut down, however when Claire sat on the floor next to her she started opening up.  We took her out and before long she was wagging her tail and licking Claire all over.

She is the cutest little dog.  She falls asleep in your arms when you pet her.  We couldn't leave her there.  Three days later she has socialized very well in our family.  She is getting on very well with Tuggles and she is very warm and snuggly.  We all love her.

Haley (rescue #5) came from Tennessee.  She was picked out of a line of dogs slated for euthanasia, transported to Connecticut but had nowhere to go.  Lucky Tails accepted her into its foster network after she was surrendered to us by another rescue organization that Claire has connections with.   Haley has some issues.  There has been some trauma in her past. She is a one year old cattle/shepherd dog mix and she is shy especially with men.  She is calm and likes to stay outside away from people.  Claire has her already eating out of her hand and coming up to her but she has a little way to go before she is well socialized.  She would make a great dog for an older person who would like some company.  She is not jumpy and would make a quiet loving companion.

Wilderness School

When I first started homeschooling 5 years ago I signed both of my children up for Two Coyotes, a wilderness school where the children spend one day a week in nature.  It is a day filled with games, stories and discovery in the bush.  I believe spending time in nature, away from screens and connected to the land is very important to a child's development. It is where children learn to respect, understand and love the earth and its treasures.  Their teachers know every tree and creature and take their time to explain the secrets of the woods.

After a few seasons I decided to have a break from it.  Claire had a tick bite and Lyme symptoms and after that I was a little wary of sending my kids into the woods.  My eyesight is not as it used to be and ticks are tiny.

Recently Two Coyotes started a program at Woodcock Nature Center, our local nature center where Tristan has enjoyed going to summer camps.  He couldn't wait for this program to start.  He wears his belt with a pocketknife his Grandfather gave him.  He throws on his backpack and his man vs wild attitude and heads out the door.  It is a good thing, although I am still a little scared of the ticks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First Day of the Huckleberry Hill Project

The Huckleberry Hill Project is a new project-based model of homeschooling education I am exploring. Eight families including seventeen children meet one Tuesday a week to work on projects they are passionate about.  It started on the staircase at Escape to the Arts in Danbury, when a few of the mothers at our homeschooling coop talked about how amazing all of this technology is and how it would be great for kids to work on projects that they were truly passionate about and through that acquire all of the technological skills to express themselves in any way they choose to.  It turned out that many of our children already had ideas, great ideas just waiting to be brought to life.

Then I thought we needed to role model how to make a greater change in our community and reach more people.  I came up with a group project.  As individuals we are one but as a group all pulling for one big idea who knows how far we could go.

I started thinking about things we could do that would empower us to go out and reach for our own personal visions and give us the necessary skills to do that.  I came up with making a documentary, as it is a way to show how ordinary people can come together to fix the problems we see in our communities and make a difference.  Video is a way that people will be communicating in the future.  A picture tells a thousand words, a video...millions and across cultures too.

It is hard for a group of kids to come together and materialize a big idea.  We as educators need to role model how we can do it, and use our collective skills to make something happen, so that they will be empowered to make their own dreams come true.

So, yesterday this project started.

It went well although not without glitches.  I believe in our process 100%.  This is a new concept.  Change is difficult.  There are teething issues.  But I am seeing great things wherever I look. The skills and empowerment the children are gaining from this type of experience are tangible and transferable into every facet of their lives.

The children worked hard on their projects.  Two of the children presented impressive powerpoint presentations to the group about their motivation for their project and the project they have made so far.

It rained over lunch. We talked about how difficult it is to fit all of the children's activities into the day. How hard it is to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner before a long commute to an activity and to be out all day.  I thought how different our lives are compared to how homeschoolers are generally perceived.
I thought about how we could make our lives simpler.

In the afternoon we had a documentary making workshop.  How do 25 people make a documentary?  1t is not an easy thing to be "in charge" of this event.  I take my role seriously.  I am prepared and nervous at the same time.  I am sailing in unknown waters, leading people in the dark. Yet I am confident in my process.  I want children to be able to do this alone after I am done.  I want them to understand what it takes to make something like this happen.  I want them to learn the skills involved and be empowered.  I want them to reach for the sky and get somewhere close.

Luckily I am not alone.  I have enthusiastic supporters, people providing skills and tech help, motivators and facilitators, kind friends, listeners, caring mothers and people I can lean on.

I decided to use fish as a metaphor for our wonderful individual contributors to the documentary.  We are going to try and work together, swim as a group yet branch out into areas of interest.  We are going to pull together when there is a deadline. (This is a strange concept for a homeschooler!)

We all made a fish and placed the fish under the heading where we are most interested in working.  Stars are second choices.  We have some very excited documentary makers!

We talked about documentaries we have seen, their messages and that documentaries are a way to research a topic, to explore something we care about.  What do we care about? Our documentary is going to be about how we are going to ensure a safe food supply in our future.  Our IT specialist modeled using mindmapping software as a way to record a meeting and a groups thoughts.  Later I went through different roles and thought about how children could use this mindmapping app (Simplemindsfree) to work out how to move forward in their group.

Later in our day, one of our participants, who had earlier presented to the group how he is setting up a youth film festival, gave a 30 minute seminar on how to make an iMovie.  IMovie is very similar to Final Cut Pro X.  My Final Cut Pro Instructor suggested the children make movies first on iMovie before embarking on Final Cut Pro X.   We saw a cool iMovie that Kaya, one of our participants, had made about the difference between a free range egg from chicken with a varied diet including bugs and an egg that is the product of a hen in the industrial food system. By the end of the day making an iMovie seemed quite doable, and as we had filmed the children working on their projects, we even had footage to get started with.

I was so happy to become acquainted with these new skills, especially mind mapping.  I feel we moved forward in our process.  It is wonderful for the children that time is set aside every week for them to concentrate on creating something that they dared to dream.  It is exciting to see the children engaged  and busy, working on their own unique projects.  I am proud of them.