Friday, October 4, 2013

Cooking in French

This year we have a wonderful French teacher, Elhem, coming to our house once a week to speak French (only) with my children.

Tristan asked to have French lessons and I found a teacher who lives nearby.  Tristan has convinced Elhem to teach him how to bake French recipes.  Today they are baking financier. These are little almond and raspberry cakes.  He is having to measure everything in grams and all the wonderful things that baking involves.  Tristan has quite a list of all the things he wants to bake!  Next week they are making creme brûlée.  He doesn't realize he is learning French as he bakes; he just thinks that he is having fun.

Claire has started a 4 year French course with the Potter School online, which terminates with the French AP exam. The class includes all of the grammar and conversation but the teachers are not native speakers and Claire needs to be able to converse in French with her Grandparents about all of the things she is interested in.  Elhem challenges her to talk about herself and clarifies the grammar rules so that she can speak confidently.

The Potter School specializes in providing rigorous courses for homeschooled children.  They have a large selection of classes and I thought we would try some out this year (Adobe Photoshop and French). Her French class is well organized, live! and she has 12 other classmates.   There is a screen that serves as a blackboard.  The students can hear everything and contribute either through their microphones or through a text feature.  It doesn't feel like a classroom environment and is definitely not as social as a regular class.  Claire's feeling is that online classes are OK, but she wouldn't want to do all of her classes online (even if she can do them in her pajamas.)  We did however meet Claire's teacher when she recently visited Connecticut and Claire has met all of the other students learning French at the Potter School in our area. So far it has been working out well for us.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sound of Music

A highlight of our year has been the children's performance of The Sound of Music.  Both Claire and Tristan had roles, Claire as the Mother Abbess and Tristan as Kurt (one of the children) and Rolf.  Both of them love acting and have been taking singing lessons.  I thought I'd add a couple of clips from the performance.

Firstly, here is Tristan playing Rolf and singing "I Am Sixteen"!

We have had a wonderful time at The Studio and look forward to doing musicals again with them next year.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Pi

For this Mother's Day I purchased this for myself.   It's a computer.  Tiny and so so cool.  I miss the days when I used to tinker with computers, pull them apart and add little upgrades here and there.  I enjoy the challenges of getting myself out of a technological hole by watching youtube videos. I use predominantly the trial and error method to learn.  I need to be fixing problems to have the resilience to climb steep learning curves. My brain enjoys the challenge.

I am still coming down off the high of the Maker Faire. And when Dale, the techie at the library showed me his Raspberry Pi displaying the library's catalog system, I couldn't resist testing it out for myself.

The computer is around $35. It is a little green motherboard with a bunch of ports to plug things into it.  I have monitors, keyboards, USB hubs etc around the house to plug into it.  My challenge is to set up Minecraft in Linux and play it on the Raspberri Pi.

Armed with Raspberry Pi for Dummies and an SD card, I set about making a boot disk card with Raspbian Wheezy (Raspberry Pi Linux for beginners) on it....which led me on a little journey in fixing line errors in Python (rather intimidating).  I then abandoned Python and went with Dan on Youtube.  He had a nice slow English accent that gave me confidence.  After many trials and errors, I booted up my new little computer.

It takes a little getting used to.  It is like a PC from 10 years ago without all of the annoying pop up windows and messages.  It's a basic, yet very usable little computer.    I feel like I have entered a new little world.  Instead of Google, for example, I use Midori and Duckduckgo to search the internet.  Cute names everywhere.

I am excited about it. I want to see what it can do: experiment!  I am going to push my envelope with code and find reasons to use it/write it and not be intimidated by it.  I am going to teach my children to set up their own Raspberry Pi's.  I might even hold a tech class next year in preparation for the Maker Faire.

This is such a fun project for a tinkerer like me and a great present for kids interested in technology.

Happy Mother's Day!

... Minecraft was a piece of cake to run on Raspberry Pi.  It is not the same version as on the Mac and I couldn't play it in full screen mode. Yet Tristan was quite delighted with it and now wants his own Raspberry Pi.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Museum of Natural History

Our archaeological dig is just around the corner and to prepare we usually go to a museum in NYC with Geof Pursell, affectionately known as Big Dog.  As we are researching the Maya, he chose the American Museum of Natural History as the museum with the best representation of Maya artifacts in our vicinity.  We were a group of 8 families, all excited to hear what Geof had to tell us.

Geof communicates using stories.  He was trying to help us understand the world view of the Maya. The Maya were a very successful civilization lasting 4000 years.  They developed a powerful way of helping people deal with the uncertainty in their lives.   The Maya developed a fascinating culture and belief system, the nuggets of which Geof shared with us, enthralling us with stories of smoke snakes, piles of childrens' bones and giant canoes.  Such great stories!  Geof helped us make sense of what we were seeing in the museum and to construct the story of how it must have been so many years ago. He teaches us to think like an archaeologist.

Dig Preparation

We are preparing for our next Dig experience which will take place early May.  We have already visited the University of Pennsylvania to see the Maya 2012 exhibit, had a special Maya history tour of the American Museum of Natural History with archaeologist Geof Pursell and watched a bunch of documentaries.  To complete our dig preparation I wanted to make a giant timeline with the kids depicting the time periods and make a large topographical map of the area.

This was an opportunity not just to learn about the Maya culture but to practice research skills. It was fun (and a little exhausting) and such a gorgeous day that we all hung out on the verandah afterwards and relaxed.

Mini-Maker Faire

We had a great day out at the Maker Faire yesterday.  It was a stunning spring day and people came out in force to see the exciting things that people had made.   For me, the day was the culmination of our year-long tech class led by Paul Chayka from Robotics and Beyond.  In the class the children had come up with something they wanted to make.   Finally the day had come for the kids to show the world what they had made.

Claire decided she wanted to make a tracking dog collar.  The prototype was equipped with a GPS system, to track the location of the dog and a screen that displays your phone number along with the dog’s name.   It was a complicated project with many components, which all had to be connected on a bread board and a basic stamp micro controller.  Claire wrote the program on Paralax.

The children had plenty of opportunity to share what they had made with the community.  Thousands of people came by during the day, and it was fun to catch up with old friends and other homeschoolers who came by and hung out with us.

Maker Faires are inspirational places. I loved wondering around getting ideas for future projects. I might just have to get a 3D printer!

Tristan's idea was to make a lego Minecraft terrain and a remote controlled robot with a claw that would pick up lego pieces and move them around the board.  He had fun sharing his project (for a while) before the lure of all the projects going on around him were too much to resist.

I couldn't wipe the smile off Tristan's face all the way home in the car!  It was a great day.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Family robotics

We are into our second week of robotics using the NXT micro controllers.  We are using this book and building (and programming) the robots to undertake 5 missions.  Each mission takes 3 sessions to complete.  Our first mission is to navigate a tunnel and wait 30 seconds on a pressure plate to activate a secret door.   One of the Dad's is an IT engineer.  He is teaching the kids how to program.  We have another fantastic IT engineer solving our technical issues! and the rest of us do the best we can to assist in understanding the building instructions in the book and finding parts!

Today was filled with many ah-hah moments as the children discovered what all the programming blocks do.   I enjoyed watching the dads spend time with their children.  Usually we are a bunch of moms with our kids.  Having the dads participate adds a whole new element that is great for for the boys.  It was a real family event.

Next week we finish programming the robots.  Then of course we will film them accomplishing the first mission and take a lot of photos before dismantling the robots for the next challenge. It was a lot of fun to watch the boys getting into it.  The more they learn about it, the more they are getting into it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dancing up a storm

Recently Tristan was invited to join a group of young break dancers to form a crew.  His crew is going to meet once a week for 2 hours and train together.  The crew is being trained by his teacher and mentor Luis and crew of the current Battle Toadz.  Tristan is more than excited to have a crew of serious dancers to train with.  His two best buddies have been invited too.

Breakdancing is not just a street dance these days.  There are breakdancing groups all around the world.  In Korea, breakdancing is a state sponsored sport where the athletes are paid the minimum wage to train.  There are international competitions where breakdancing teams come from all over the world.  Recently, there has been a push to set up statewide breakdancing franchises across the country.  Each franchise will have a team.  Only four states have franchises thus far and Connecticut is one of them.  Tristan's crew will be the first rung on the path to joining the CT team.

I am thrilled that he will be hanging out with a group of mainly boys and be mentored by older dancers passionate about their sport.

Right now Tristan is concentrating on building his core strength and balance.  He trains hard. He dances less than half of his 90 minute lessons.

Tristan's crew will start training in April.  In the meantime Tristan has been training with the Battle Toadz.  United Outkast members mentor the younger team.  It has been fun watching Tristan get to know the dancers.

There is a dancers code.  In order to be on these teams you must be dedicated, kind and supportive of other team members.  It s a very cohesive group with its own culture.  No one drinks or takes drugs for example, even when they celebrate.  They work too hard.  They are always trying to better themselves.  Tristan knows that you don't talk when you train.  You make sure your shoelaces are tied.  You are always making the most out of your training.  You listen to advice.
You are a role model for younger members.
You don't miss a training.

It is a great feeling to see him aspiring to be his best self.

His next competition is coming up in the next couple of weeks.  He is battling with his teacher (in a team of 2) against other experienced break dancers.  I can't wait.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucky Tails update

You might have noticed that I haven't been writing much about Lucky Tails lately.  I guess it is because Claire has had a challenging couple of months with her dogs.

Roxy was adopted very quickly but the others have proven to be difficult to find homes for.

We are waiting to see whether Zucchi will go to a new home on the weekend after an unsuccessful trial at a new home 2 weeks ago. There has been no interest in Mocha.  Both of these dogs are brindle Pitbull mixes.  Not the most popular combination.

It has been hard watching Claire juggle finding long term foster care for them and coping with one disappointment after another.  Still, valuable lessons are being learned and she is continuing, albeit more cautiously.  She will be choosing more marketable dogs to rescue in the future. It is a shame that there are just so many abandoned dogs in need out there and so many euthanized every day.

Meanwhile Mocha has been staying with us these past 8 weeks and she has grown on the whole family.  She is a very sweet, exceedingly loyal dog.  She follows you around and is always so excited to see you.  Her constant happiness is contagious.  She is cuddly, affectionate and gentle and has some adorable quirks.  She lies on the floor for example like a stretched out frog. George is teaching her to fetch and she learns quickly.  She also gets on very well with Tuggles and keeps him fit, chasing him all around the yard.  Everyone wants to keep her.  I would prefer to have one dog (just Tuggles), but George is wearing me down as he has fallen in love with this little one. I am still holding out.

Her legs crack me up.  She looks like a mechanical dog! So cute!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The book

I think it was at Christmas time Claire started to write her book.  A year or two ago she started writing one about this girl and gladiator fights.  She had a notebook full of pictures and ideas.  Since then she read the Hunger Games and the Divergent series which sparked a new yearning to write a book.  She has partnered up with her best friend and they have been spending countless hours face timing and discussing all things book related.  Claire has used this book as a guide and has been writing everyday.  She writes 3-4 hours every day, mostly at night and sometimes quite late.

This project is a series of 3 books.  She is over half way through the first draft of the first book which is currently 73,000 words.  The parents have only been allowed to read the first chapter of the 25 they have put together.  We know the title and are not allowed to divulge any information. All I can say is that it is a fantasy fiction in the style of the books that she likes to read.  They plan to release it June 3rd.

Writing a book is all consuming.  She hurries to finish her compulsory work so that she can write.  Her characters seems real to her and she is constantly talking, planning, researching things for the book.
...sometimes I find myself saying "come back to reality, Claire!"  Marlin, her writing partner ordered her to take a two day break!  But now it is writing as usual every night.

Claire has also been working on book cover design and making "edits" for Instagram accounts.  This has involved learning 4-5 iPad apps and designing current art work that is uploaded onto Instagram sites.  She has her own Les Mis related accounts onto which she posts her artwork and gets feedback from her followers. Of course I have been watching this closely.  It takes up time and I worry about the opportunity cost of her time spent here.  Then recently she was approached by an author whose book is being published soon by Random House and who asked Claire to do artwork for her.  I am still watching....

I find myself marvelling at this little seed that is growing , changing and "becoming" in leaps and bounds around me.  I don't believe that I can be anything but a guide as she forcefully carves a path out for herself.  I asked her if she is still a dog rescuer at heart.  "You might be a writer at heart!" I said.  "No, I am a singer and a stage actress who also loves dogs!" she replied, "I am just writing for fun!"