Testing, Testing, 1,2,3 now we’ll try a spelling bee!

As a kid, I loved tests.  It always felt like a game to me.  While that does probably make me strange, the positive results could not be denied.  With rare exception, I was at the upper end of the class.

Fast forward to now.  Part of my has an issue with testing, as now it’s referred to as an “assessment” test.  I already know the value of my kids, thank you very much.  They are invaluable; unlike my car for example.  What I’m interested in is my childrens’ education level.  Thus, I ensure my children are tested three times a year.

Since we do the testing at home with an adaptive computerized test, I can see my children’s test taking techniques.  My younger child takes after me:  testing is a fun game.  My older child is sullen, annoyed, and simply clicks boxes to get through the process.  Let’s just say the results reflect their attitudes.

Homeschooling them as their teacher affords me a window into what they know, so I can compare their results with my insight.  This has been enlightening to say the least.  I pretty much just leave the little one to her own devices, as when she finds something she doesn’t know, she goes and researches the answer.

The older one shrugs her shoulders and goes back to whatever she was doing to begin with. I have found, however, a secret weapon.  She has discovered she loves bees.  (yes, the insects, but also of the spelling and geography types) It started with a spelling bee she begged to be a part of.   She enjoyed the process and the event itself so much, that she insisted on doing the Geography Bee.   This has motivated her to study in a way that a computerized test never could.  Incidentally, the bee itself lends itself to a testing format that works better for her.  It might be feeding her natural competitive spirit, but as long as she is a good sport I can live with that.  So there you have it, our testing solution.



Vegas baby!! Yes, I can homeschool there too….

My birthday coincides with Thanksgiving.  This year, I had a big birthday and wanted nothing to do with domestic chores.  This is a major deviation from my normal line of thought.  I thought about what would make this birthday memorable.  My birthday list was pretty simple; I wanted to go to some shows and have awesome meals that someone else would clean up after.  I wanted to lounge by a pool whilst consuming fruity beverages served by adorable cabana boys.  I wanted night life with enough activity during the day to keep the kids busy.  Where oh where could we go?

The answer came to me in a vision of a flashing neon light: LAS VEGAS!  I promptly informed my husband of my birthday wish, and he dutifully arranged the flight, hotel, and a show.  Before I knew it, people beloved to me were making their arrangements to meet me in Vegas, and a party was born!


A shared drink in Vegas.  WAY too much for one person!


We stayed in the ARIA.  Our room was lovely, but what really put me over the edge was the bathtub.  When you live on a sailboat, showers are all that’s available.   A bath is a serious luxury for me.

Since it was Thanksgiving evening, we headed out to rustle up some grub.  There were all kinds of Thanksgiving buffets to be found, but the prices were a little more than we were willing to spend.  We decided to take a walking tour of the strip.  Along the way, we ducked into a steakhouse and had our holiday dinner.  This did not sit well with the kids initially, but a few mouthfuls into dinner and all complaints were silenced.  The girls enjoyed all the lights and unique architecture, but were befuddled as to the lure of the city itself.

The next day, we took the kids to the Springs Preserve. This is actually where the city of Las Vegas started.  The history of the area was displayed beginning from prehistoric fossils, to current flora and fauna, to modern Vegas.  Outside, there was a small zoo of local animals.  The best display there, in my opinion, was the flash flood room.  We were able to experience a flash flood from the safe and dry vantage point.  If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.  We had lunch at the Café there, which afforded us not only a phenomenal view, but also gluten free pizza.  The kids were in heaven.  That night, the girls spent with Grandma, while hubby and I went out with some family.


View from Springs Preserve



We ate at a place called Bizarre Meats.  The restaurant certainly lived up to it’s name!  Foi Gras on a stick wrapped in cotton candy, pork rinds instead of chips or bread, and appetizers served in a glass tennis shoe.  It was a vegetarian nightmare.  I think the wine was the only thing I consumed that didn’t have some animal product in it.  To say I enjoyed myself would be a vast understatement.  The food was delicious and entertaining, and even the staff was amazing.  They accommodated my gluten-free requirement zealously.  After that, we were off to Fremont Street.  If I hadn’t have been wearing a dress, I would have done the zipline.  Alas, I had not planned for that.  Regardless, it was an experience.



Fremont Street.  Love the overhead light show!


The next day, we went for a light hike at Red Rock.  This resulted in a new item being added to my bucket list.  Someday I am going to cross the Mohave Desert.  We spotted a desert hare and a few birds, so the desert didn’t feel devoid of life at all.  The landscape is hauntingly beautiful, though admittedly a bit phallic.



Red Rock.  Great hike.
The red rock from which the park gets its name.


Our Lyft driver met us at the entrance to the park, and brought us back to ARIA.  We had some down time, left the girls with their other Grandma, and headed out to dinner at the Mandarin.  That’s definitely my favorite spot in Vegas.  The feel of the whole place was calm and relaxed.  After my pad thai and crème brule birthday treat, we went to Ka.  It’s a Cirque Du Solei performance that entertained the socks off me.  The highlight of the show for me was the moving stage.  Just a tour of that stage would have been intriguing.  What could we possibly do after dinner and a show?  Dancing!

We went to the club at ARIA, mainly because it was painfully cold outside and we had received a comp from the hotel.  (that’s a story unto itself)  Regardless, we made our way inside and had a blast with dancing and cocktails while counting down the minutes to my birthday.  It was an epic night, but I had to get to sleep so I could be a quality Mom the next day.  So once I turned into a pumpkin, I was off for some well deserved shut eye.

The next day, we went to the Bass Pro store for a while, then  explored the strip as my Grandparents had never been to Vegas before.  It was a mellow, relaxed day, and is one of my favorite memories.  The day was topped off with dinner at the Excalibur.  We watched the Tournament of Kings, which oddly coincided with our homeschool; our studies have moved from the ancient world to medieval Europe.  The girls watched the show with wide eyes and complete focus.  Horses thundered back and forth in front of us, fireworks exploded, all in the midst of “Hazaaaa!” being shouted by actors and spectators alike.  There was jousting and sword fighting.   Finally, my kids understood the lure of Vegas.  We made it back to our hotel, but I needed some time with my Grandparents.

I dropped off the kids to be with hubby while I spent some time in the casino with my Mom.  The two of us had cocktails and gambled away pennies.  It was $30 well spent.  When I left Vegas, I didn’t feel like I was leaving “Sin City”, but that I was leaving a place that had afforded me a wealth of cherished memories all in a four mile stretch of road.

Proud to be an American


A beautiful thing happened today.  We were invited to come to the Citizenship Ceremony of a family member.  What a fantastic way to be supportive to a loved one and get some civics in today!  This is what I love about homeschooling.  Without a thought I packed up the kids and away we went on a field trip.

The location was the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.  My photos of the venue itself did not turn out, but trust me, it is a treasure.  The ornate, art deco styled, historical building stood proudly whilst we waited for the ceremony to begin.

We busied ourselves by getting familiar with the ceremony agenda..


It began promptly, and we soon were singing along to patriotic melodies with TOSCA.  Some of these songs I don’t think I’ve heard since I was a child.  My heart was uplifted, and excitement was in the air.

Then my kids were introduced to the concept of Social Security, and registering to vote.  Even the concept that you have to go get a passport was a new idea for them.  They have had one since birth, so they don’t recall that process.

There was  a lovely address by President Obama (on recording, of course, but still very cool), another one by Madeleine Albright, and even the Secretary of State for California turned up to speak.  All of them did a beautiful job recognizing the hard work and persistence our new citizens had displayed to get to this moment.  I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the place.

We stood for the Pledge of Allegiance together; a moment that moved me to my core.  There were over 1000 new citizens, and the spectator section was packed.  In that moment, regardless of our ancestry we were American; standing tall and together.

With all that went on, the kids came away with a sense that being a citizen of the USA is a privilege.  They were lucky enough to be simply born in this country, while others wait literally years on the path to citizenship.  The golden ticket these people have worked so hard for, my children and I were handed without question at birth.  It was a sobering moment of realization for all of us.  The kiddos had questions, and lots of them.

We went to this event to support our loved one, and hoped a little civics might rub off.  Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that we would come away so enriched.   I’m proud to be an American.







The role of Computers in Homeschooling

An recent conversation got me thinking.  What is the role (if any) of computers in homeschooling?  Being a former member of the group  I lovingly refer to as “purists”, this is a topic about which I really needed to sort out my philosophical stance.

I used to believe that human nature lends us to learn best through our worldly experiences and interactions.  Citing the vacant, zombified stare of kids who obviously watch too much television was my favorite proof of concept.  <sigh>  As a former tech worker, I have a learned aversion to all things electronic; I didn’t want my kids lost in cyberspace all the time.  They were going to grow up in the physical world whether they liked it or not.

The upside of our no tech lifestyle was that my kids grew up very social.  This worked great until the oldest turned nine.  Lets get right to it: my kids were being left out of a lot of conversations with their friends.  They were the only ones not playing video games, watching television, or with access to a computer or mobile device. Before, it just wasn’t a big deal, now, however, it was.   A twinge hit my heart. I know what it is like to be left out.    So, I let the them use the Kindles my father gave them for Christmas.  Lo and behold, Minecraft, the game most talked about by my kids friends, could be purchased to run on this platform.  They played very responsibly, and still enjoy the game immensely.

Then something happened.  I had to homeschool two kids at the same time at different levels and different subjects.  Other parents I know can do this without the aid of computer based learning, but there was a catch; my oldest daughter wanted to learn programming.  Someone had told her that she could modify Minecraft.  Can this be done without a computer?  I suppose, but it’s definitely more natural and easier to learn with the tool itself.  What to do, what to do?

Those pretty blue eyes are mighty hard to say “no” to.  I relented.  I guess the upside is that she loves programming.  Once that door is open, though, it’s difficult to close.  She was having difficulty with a math concept, and I was out of ideas on how to teach it.  We checked YouTube, and 20 minutes later she had the concept.

It was certainly convenient, and we will continue to utilize the computer for some of our homeschooling, but I almost feel like knowledge so easily obtained is lacking in value.  The ah-ha moment was nowhere near  the level she has experienced for other concepts she has learned utilizing more traditional methods.

Here is my take-away:  I am no longer a “purist” for children over the age of six.   Once a child’s brain is past the crucial age of 2, and the second crucial age of 5, they should be socialized with technology.  It’s a part of our world that is not going away anytime soon.  I’m just hoping I can teach my kids to use it responsibly, and not forget to limit their screen time;  there’s a whole world out there!


Socialization: the greatest homeschooling nonissue

I get it all the time.  “Oh, your kids are homeschooled.  Aren’t you worried about socialization?”

In a word, Yes.  I am very concerned about socialization.  That’s why my kids have a couple of classes each outside of our home.  We talk about things that went on in the class.  Since I watch from the back with the other parents, I have a loving adult perspective to offer.  My kids have regular park days with other homeschool kids.  They are building strong relationships with their friends, who they see  weekly.  When an issue comes up that the kids have difficulty dealing with, there is a group of caring adults to mediate.

“Aren’t you worried about NEGATIVE socialization?”  My return question to the socialization query is usually met with stone cold silence.    Seriously, the number of people I have heard complaining about things their kids learned in school and brought home is stunning.  What’s worse, I’ve  heard many other parents worried what their kids are going to bring home this year.  Here’s an idea.  Don’t send your child to school.

In school, children learn their social graces from other immature human beings who likewise are lacking social graces.  That’s like the blind leading the blind.  (no offense intended to people without sight)

Spending day in and day out with only people your own age?  That’s not socialization, that’s separation.  In some cases, I would even say that’s abandonment.  The kids are fending for themselves in a group of 30-ish others with one teacher and maybe an assistant or two acting as teacher and mentor.    How is it “socialization” to spend most of your waking hours with such  a small homogenous subset of our society?

Most homeschool kids are taught  behavior from involved parents.  I’m lucky, I have an entire community to rely on.  We have created an environment that is nurturing and accepting.  The kids interact with every age group.  As a result, my kids play happily and appropriately with ages ranging from grandparents all the way to infants.  That, people, is socialization.

I can take my children into a fancy restaurant, the post office, the grocery store, getting the oil changed in the car, weddings, even toys-r-us without a problem.  It’s because they know how to act in all these places; they live in the community.  That, people, is socialization.

Don’t get me wrong, some schools are great and homeschooling is not for everyone.  But if we look at what the word “socialization” means, school can only provide a very incomplete experience.


USS Hornet

USS Hornet

Former neighbors of ours had told us of a marina at Ballena Bay.  We have done a lot within the SF Bay, so anything we hadn’t done before was already exciting.  Hubby realized that the marina was walking distance to the USS Hornet.  It’s an aircraft carrier that has been turned into a floating museum.  If you sense a field trip, you are bang on.

We learned about why aircraft carriers have an angled deck and aren’t just straight runways.  (hint, so aircraft can land without threatening the already landed planes at the end of the runway.)  I love elegant solutions!  Anyway, the USS Hornet was built in 1942.  She served in WWII and Vietnam.

DD1 loved the fact that the ship had picked up the astronauts from Apollo 11 and 12 from the drink.   They even have the isolation unit Armstrong and the gang had to hang out in after they were retrieved to make certain they didn’t unleash some kind of space pandemic on the rest of us.

USS Hornet has only been a museum since 1998, but I think they have done a fantastic job.  The kids loved the flight simulator, and there were some great hands on activities.  The kids loved hitting kamikaze planes with a catapult.  My camera’s memory card was filled to the brim from previous adventures though, so there are not many pictures to share.  Here’s what I have:

The USS Hornet has very cool neighbors.
View from the flight deck
View from the flight deck
Our Docent tour of the Island.  So hard not to push the buttons!
Briefing room for the pilots

We had dinner at the restaurant just off the docks, Pier 29.  It has the feel of a very prestigious Denny’s, so we were a little nervous.  Shame on us.  The food was actually quite good, and the prices were comfortable.  Most importantly, I didn’t have to do dishes.  Now THAT’s worth every penny.


Sunset in Ballena Bay with Pier 29

China Camp



Unfortunately, we arrived just after the main exhibit at the museum was closed, but there was still plenty to see.  China Camp is exactly what it sounds like, a place where Chinese immigrants settled and started an incredibly successful shrimp business.  This was back in the 1880s.  This is homeschooling at it’s best!

A recreation of a Chinese Junk.  Very cool shrimping boats.
China Camp from the water doesn’t look terribly interesting, but it is a gem!


I wouldn’t trust the electrics.
An original home in China Camp with garden.


Inside of the little cabin.



We discovered that the last remaining resident of China Camp, Frank Quan had passed a few days previous.  He is obviously very missed, and I couldn’t help but feel I had missed out not knowing this person.  I had a wave of sadness at losing living history.


Sad to see someone so beloved pass, but happy that he is so well remembered.


Sunset at China Camp