Monday, July 27, 2015

{travel} Amicalola Falls, GA


We headed back up north for a hike through the Amicalola Falls State Park. We decided on a 2-3 mile loop hike that would take us to the top of the falls and thought it would be a breeze. We normally hike our local 3 mile nature preserve loop in about 45 minutes. 

Apparently, walking up and down a mountain is not really the same. In fact, when we returned to the gift shop we saw that you could buy shirts heralding the fact that you made the trek. That should have been a sign. Our legs were independently shaking on the way down. Is that a thing? Does that have a name? Jiggly mountain leg? Lame-o Floridian limbs? Whatever our weakness, it was worth it!


Seriously, the hike was beautiful and challenging but comfortable too. At the top, near the falls, hikers can visit the lodge which is a hotel but also has a row of comfortable chairs overlooking the valley. There is a sandwich buffet, a gift shop with snacks, bathrooms and water fountains. We lucked out and arrived in time to take in a presentation on owls and birds of prey. We were up close with a barred owl, great horned owl, screech owl, red tailed hawk and black vulture. All of the birds were rescued for various reasons and their stories were fascinating. I especially liked the story of the red tailed hawk who was raised with a flock of ducks and still made duck noises. 


This hike was well worth the morning spent. Afterwards, I wished that we lived closer, as the workout was so great, I could imagine scheduling it into my weekly hiking routine. 

Next time we are going to give the Hike Inn a try. 

There are many waterfall hikes in North Georgia. Do you have a favorite?


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

{travel} a morning in Dahlonega, Georgia



Today we headed to one of my favorite small, southern, historic towns. Dahlonega , Ga is about an hour north of Atlanta. It was the site of a big gold rush that preceded the more famous ones in California and Alaska. There was even a mint here for a short time. It is also near Amicalola Falls and the head of the Appalachian Trail. The drive in was beautiful with windy roads, lush forests, rolling hills and distant mountains. 


We stopped in town to see a rare river diving bell that was used in gold mining. It was fascinating and made us think about diving bells we have read about when studying Da Vinci and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

We then continued on to a surprisingly good tour at Consolidated Mines. For $16 for adults and $11 for kids, we were able to pan for gold and go 200 feet into the biggest mine east of the Mississippi. Our tour was so interesting. We learned about the short history of this particular mine and the usually high purity and beauty of Georgia gold. But the most compelling information was about the constant danger that miners faced for wages of about $1 a day. The uninsulated electricity, deafening noise of round the clock drilling and explosives, and toxic exposure to chemicals and dust made me wonder how anyone could do this job. If you did not die from an accident, your health would certainly suffer tremendously. I already had a sense of this with coal miners and had never really thought about gold mining. 



We also learned about the devastating effect that mining has on the earth. Early on, gold nuggets were found laying in the river beds and in the forest. As the mountain eroded over millions of years, the heavy gold worked its way down the mountain. Eventually, the all obvious gold was found and the mining companies decided they could just erode the mountain themselves! They would mimic a process that nature took eons to complete and with a huge hydraulic hose wore down mountains on their own. It was ruinous (and is heavily regulated or banned now).


Later in the day we stopped in the center of town at the Dahlonega Gold Museum which is housed in the oldest courthouse in Georgia. The museum had a few rooms of artifacts related to the gold mining history of the town. To be honest it was a little under impressive until we watched  the 17 minute documentary included the admission. It was well done and included oral histories from old miners who remembered when the mines were a central part of the town's economy.


The downtown of Dahlonega is filled with gift shops, antique stores, outfitters, and cafes. We had a nice lunch at the Crimson Moon Cafe. I ordered an angus burger with a fried green tomato on top and it filled me up for the rest of the day. If I was in town longer I would definitely check out some of the live performances at the Crimson Moon as their programing schedule is impressive. 


If you are in Atlanta or just looking for a southern getaway, I highly recommend Dahlonega. It is quaint, historic, arty and walkable.

Have you spent time in Dahlonega? What was your favorite aspect?

Monday, July 20, 2015

limited visibility




We are headed to Atlanta for a week so my husband can play music with some old and new friends with which he has been collaborating online for the past few months. 

When he retired a few months ago, our goal was to pursue our art. To make family, learning and creative expression the driving forces in our lives. 

This trip is part of that. He will practice and prepare to record some tracks this fall. The kids and I will visit a gold mine and hike near the Appalachian Trail. And then we will swim and play Mexican dominoes and do some school work in the hotel. This is the life we were envisioning. And it is happening. 

I recently completely my manuscript proposal and am currently looking for representation.  I have worked hard articulating my message and writing (and writing) and accepting critical feedback. I am extending my circle of connections and feel like I am in an incubator of creative generation. This is the life I was envisioning. And it is happening. 

Driving north we hit continuous storm cells. Rainstorms in Florida are intense and exhausting. For the better part of 2 hours we had severely limited visibility. We could not see where we were going, but every once in a while there was a brief respite and we could see that we were indeed covering ground and moving forward. We had to rely on the road lines, the flashing emergency lights of those around us and the sun making the thick grey clouds glow. 

Our drive this morning was a good metaphor for the bigger journey we are on. In reality, we have no idea what we are doing. We can not clearly see the big picture and there is no known outcome. But what began as a bold leap of faith has already provided a huge payoff and as we recalibrate our inner compass we know that wherever we end up, we will be in friendly territory.

The truth is, we are all on a road headed somewhere. The key is to make sure we are headed in a direction we choose. And then we can keep waiting for those blissful clear skies. 


What about you? What are you driving towards right now in your life? Where are you headed?

Friday, July 10, 2015

{make} diy cardboard games



We recently watched Caine's Arcade as part of Journal Jam (Jennifer Fischer of Think Ten Media Group wrote an amazing prompt build around it). 

I was unprepared for the response! My kids tinker and build a lot but something about Caine's story touched and inspired them to start building immediately and with a focus I have not seen for a while. 

Thankfully we are in the middle of a move, so had plenty or cardboard around. 



They built a skee ball game with elaborate rules and elements of chance. a pom pom shooting game and  a giant, two person ball maze. 

They are all 
iends to make their own games so that a bigger arcade party can be held this fall. 



One kid ended up having to get stitches midway through the day-long building session. But that did not stop him! We had dinner, took some Advil and he was back at work (minus the use of one thumb). 


This is the perfect activity if you have a long day stretched out in front of you. Especially, if it is too hot to play outside. We score extra cardboard at a Sam's and found a variety of balls and other accouterments at the Dollar Store. 

There is no tutorial for this because your kids already know how to do it all! Just give them the space and materials. But don't skip out on the fun! Parents need to build and create along side their kids. They were so happy that we were cutting and gluing and dreaming up new games next to them. A great, great family activity, full of art, science, imagination, laughter, and connection. 

_______________________

Intrigued by homeschooling and the lifestyle it can offer your family? I am offering a power lab (fast and full) in a few weeks! You can read more about The Radical Art of Homeschooling here



Monday, July 6, 2015

{travel} camping at the Dry Tortugas




Camping at the most remote national park in the contiguous US became a slight obsession with me as soon as started reading about the Dry Torgugas. Seventy miles out to sea from Key West, the Dry Tortugas actually covers a 100 mile area full of pristine water and coral reefs as well as many little islands. 

Fort Jefferson, a Civil War era fort (and one of the largest brick structures in America) is situated on Garden Key. Day visits via ferry, sea plane and private vessel are possible. But to fully feel the magic of this island, camping is the way to go.

Camping is permitted for up to three days if you come on the Yankee Freedom; the ferry is concessioned by the parks service. You can camp for up to 10 days if you come by your own boat or a private charter. The island has no fresh water and no electricity, so the three days limit is just about perfect. 

In this post, I am going to share every detail I can think of. When we were preparing, there were several key points left out of many of the resources I researched, so I hope to really offer as much as I can. And feel free to contact me if you need clarification. The best way to reach me is on FB.



What to do and see on the island

snorkeling
Snorkeling is fantastic in the Dry Tortugas. The Keys coral reefs are among the largest in the world, and the only living barrier reef in North America. If you come on the Yankee Freedom for the day or to camp,  gear is included in your transportation. Some of the masks are a bit wonky, but there are enough of them that if you spend a little time you can get a snorkel set that fits you well. In addition to flippers, masks, and a breathing tube, they also offer a flotation devise which is surprisingly useful. It allows you to just hang out at the surface and watch the underwater show. They can be uncomfortable after a while and we wondered if a pool noodle night be an even better flotation aid. Next time we will try. 

The water around the fort is clear and there are coral formations all along the brick moat wall as well as at the old coal dock ruins. The longer you stay under and the slower you go, the more you see. Creatures begin to emerge from the cracks and shadows. When you are underwater, it is nearly silent except for the sound of water sloshing over your head and your own Darth Vadar like breathing. I try to hold my breath to hear the silence of the sea. I feel like I am so alone, if only for a few seconds, in a vast and endless space. 



fishing
My kids fished from the dock daily and caught loads of grey snapper which when grilled with a little butter and Old Bay apparently melted in their mouths and was proclaimed the best fish any of them have ever eaten. Kids do not need a fishing license, but adults do, so grab one before you leave (at a bait or sporting shop). Bring your own gear and a cooler just for live bait. We lucked out when a commercial charter gave us a box of squid to fish with after their chummed up the water brought in all sorts of hungry fish. 

explore the land flora and fauna
The Magnificant Frigate bird nests nearby which means the sky is full of these huge birds. Their black bodies, white chests and bifurcated tails make them unmistakable in the sky. They catch the breeze at one corner of the fort near the boat docks and reminded us of kites, hanging in one area until diving dramatically down. 

Terns nest on a nearby island, Bush Key. There are 25-40,000 at anyone time and it is not hard to believe it. The sky above Bush Key is a swirling and ever changing tableau of rolling and diving white. Their sqawks and screams can be heard clearly all day and night and give the effect of feeling like you are in a very busy avian metropolis. If you listen closely to their din, it sounds like words are being formed - especially if you wake up in the night. One starts to tune them out eventually, but I could not help but think of the prisoners who lived in the fort over a hundred years ago. Locked in their cells, no real or reliable food, the smells of 2000 other people in the fort and those birds. They probably drove a man or two mad. Personally, I loved them and never felt lonely or solitary, so far from land, with those birds and their chatter.

Hermit Crabs by the hundreds crawled all over our campsite. The crackling as they moved over the fallen large sea grape leaves was an eerie sound at times - like an undercurrent of energy right at our feet. They are actually beneficial as they scavenged and cleaned our site of food crumbs daily.

We camped under the twisty shelter of a buttonwood tree. This subtropical tree has leaves as thick as homemade corn tortillas and is so gnarled one might think it is ancient. Hundreds of years old maybe? Nope! The ranger told me most are quite young. They have weathered island breezes and storms and die back after relatively short lives. They re-sprout from their roots and start the cycle again, wearing their war wounds on their bodies. 

tour the fort
Tours of the fort are given daily and are included in your admission fee. To be honest, we elected not to take a tour because it was so hot when they were offered. Instead, we spent time in the small air conditioned museum reading signs and looking at artifacts. My daughter read this teen adventure book that provided her with lots of historical background to the island and fort. The Yankee Freedom had several books that could be read on the voyage over. Finally, we bought a small, hand lettered book in the giftshop that filled our minds with countless stories of the history.

During the hottest time of day, you can sit in the museum and cool off or find a cool, shady spot in the fort and read a book. 

Hang around the dock and meet people in the later afternoon
A tenet of Mama Scout living is to talk to strangers, often. This is the perfect place to do it. While hanging out in the shade of the boat house, I had some great conversations. The people who come through (after the ferry has come and gone) are the best sort - adventurous, generous and open. I talked to a sea plane pilot who spend several summers flying in Alaska and heard tales of wonder and beauty. A fisherman gave my kids not only some extra bait, but some helpful fishing tips that allowed them to catch many meals. And I learned about sailing and the sailing lifestyle from a retiree who was in the process of selling his house and moving full time onto his modest vessel. I looked forward to checking out who was hanging around each day. 


What to Pack

-tent and footprint (we have a Northface tent like this, the kids can set it up on their own in 20 minutes! we found ours much cheaper at the outlet store)

-sleeping bag, pillow, sheet for each person (we bought a few of these extra large duffels  over a decade ago and they have been a great investment. one holds all our sleeping bags and two therm-a- rests and the other holds the pillows and sheets)

-swimsuits, swim shirts, hats, glasses, extra sunscreen, aloe - (if you want to snorkel or play on the beach all day, it is really hard to not get sunburned. you can not put on enough sunscreen! long sleeve swim shirts are a must!)

-super soft pjs, shorts, tshirts and lounge pants - (after a day in the sun and sand, the softer your clothes the better)

-portable fan with extra batteries - (it took me a long time to warm up to this pampered idea - but if you camp in Florida, it is a must!)

-lantern & handheld flashlight

-paper plates, paper cups to use for bowls, silverware - (there is no freshwater to wash your dishes with, so we went with paper. You can wash your stuff in the ocean which I saw a few people doing. You have to figure out what you feel comfortable with.)

-self starting charcoal and fire starters - (You are not allowed to bring liquid or compressed lighting fluids on the boat, so these two components are essential if you want to grill or warm anything up on the grill. It is windy, so chances are matches won't cut it for starting a fire, go for the starter bricks. We used something like this.)

-plastic bins - (It is recommended that you pack most of your belongings in bins like this. They are easy to carry and stack and will keep your gear dry in case of a storm, which we encountered several times.)

-warming pot - (We use something like this to heat water for a super strong coffee.)

-oven mitt, aluminum foil to cook on, tongs

food - our camping standards
gazpacho
quinoa tabouli
black bean salad
chips/salsa/guacamole
granola/yogurt/milk in tetra packs
oranges/apples
hard boiled eggs
homemade beef jerky
a big container of green juice
bread, peanut butter/jelly/honey
bacon - we cooked it ahead of time and used it for seasoning 
potato chips
hotdogs and buns
power banana bread (filled with nuts/chic/coconut etc).
marshmallows
homemade chai concentrate
Starbucks Via coffee
kind bars
bag of wine
juice or some sort of special kid drink


medicines
aloe
Tylenol/Motrin
slippery elm
essential oils
bandaids
a few ziplock bags to use as ice bags if needed
feminine products





Friday, July 3, 2015

The Radical Art of Homeschooling :: a 2 week power lab



A power lab. A burst of ideas and inspiration concerning homeschooling.

In this lab you will discover the radical idea of homeschooling, explore the possibility of creating your own learning environment, and decide how you can implement the ideas into your own life (as a full or part time homeschooler). 

I receive so many of emails asking me about homeschooling. While I am not an expert (on anything really) I have homeschooled my 3 kids from the beginning. I taught in both the public school system and at the university level. And I am a keen observer of those around me. I have some views and ideas and questions that will open a discussion for lab participants. My goal is to help you make the best decision for your family. 

This lab is 2 weeks long (10 labs with essays, questions and resources). We will cover lifestyle, learning spaces and communities, resources, strewing, process, mission statements, how to build a lesson, how to disrupt a lesson, documentation, mama care and more. There will be a loving and nonjudgmental FB group for discussion and support. My hopes is that this inaugural group is the start of a larger collective of parents who share in the love of learning. 

Who is it for?

-Families who are intrigued with homeschooling but have no idea what it is really like. 

-Homeschooling families who are looking for alternative ideas, energy and connection to a wider community.

-People who don't homeschool and really don't think they want to. If your kids are in school but you want to create a vibrant community of learners and help your kids retain their innate sense of curiosity when they are home, you might be one of the growing numbers of part time homeschoolers - parents who do not leave it up to the school system to provide the only educational environment for their kids. 

What this course is not.

-A sales pitch on a particular methodology. I am not going to tell you that I believe any form of homeschooling is the best. The biggest benefit of homeschooling is that it can be customized to fit your family. There is no recipe. This is bespoke. 

-An exhaustive review of curriculum. I am not against curriculum and have used it in certain circumstances. But overall, I would like this lab to focus on tapping into the natural curriculum that is all around you. 

-A system of enforcing kid compliance. I am interested in opening the world up to my kids and creating a family curiosity collective. I am learning as much as they are in our explorations. I rely on relationship and conversation above tests and a top down education model. In our family, the adults are both leaders and co-learners. 

Who am I?

I have homeschooled 3 kids from the beginning. Homeschooling was not something I really thought about until I had kids and started reading and thinking about my own school experience. I succeeded in school but really thought it was a sham. A game that I easily figured out how to punk. I left feeling cheated, like I did not get an education at all. I was schooled in how to survive systems (which admittedly has its own worth). Social systems, grading systems, bullshit systems…. I understood them, but they did not fulfill my mind and heart or stoke my love of learning. Combined with my experiences teaching in the public school system and at the university level as a graduate student, I decided to do something different for my kids. I wanted to open the world up to them. And for our family to live and grow together. 


We start soon. Register here.

{try it} :: glass blowing




When I was a kid, I went to Jamestown and sat fascinated while watching the re-enactors blow glass. 

While at a wedding in Las Vegas, at the Bellagio, I stood under the Chihuly chandelier transfixed.

When I worked in a student art gallery as a student, a piece broke off an organic, hand-formed piece of glass art. I kept it and still have it. I was amazed at the texture and color. 

Years later in Venice, I marveled at the glass creations on display from nearby Morano. 

The heat, danger and magic made me wonder what it would be like to work with it.

In recalling this collection of experiencing, I realized that glass has always been so interesting to me. In my labs we have a word for this, wonderspot: a thread of curiosity into which you can get lost while learning, reading, thinking about and doing. 

Glass is a wonderspot for me.


For my recent birthday, I asked for a glass blowing experience at the Morean Art Center in Saint Pertersburg. The timing was perfect as my husband and I were going to spend a few weeks bumming around the area while our kids attended camp. 

For $75 I workers with a glass smith and learned how to make a paper weight. I chose this project from several options because it allowed the glass worker (me!) to actually manipulate the glass. I have always wanted to dig into molten glass and explore its viscosity. 

My guide, Michelle, was very thorough in explaining every step of what we were going to do. I was overwhelmed and wondered if I would have to remember it all. But she prompted me before each step. 

She put the “gather” (the clear glass to start with) on the rod. It was a bit tricky getting the gather to stick in the right way. Then the rod was handed over to me and I shaped the first part with a water soaked fruitwood mold. I rolled it back and forth as little sparks flew off the mold. She added more gather and we rolled it again. 


Then, Michelle heated up what we had created so far and handed it to me. This was a fun part. I took the drippy glass, rolling the rod back and forth between my fingers try to keep the melted glass somewhat centered. I walked it over to a table and dipped the hot glass into “frit” (chopped up pieces of colored glass). It was like dipping an ice cream cone into sprinkles. Then, I would melt the frit into the glass by holding and rolling the rod and glass in a kiln (called the glory hole) that was a few thousand degrees. It was hot and I had to wear special goggles so I could look into the kiln and watch my work. This process took a while. Add frit, melt on, add more frit etc. 

Finally, when we had added a lot of color, Michelle heated up the orb super hot and then brought it to me and I used a pair of scissors to poke and pull the glass into swirls and shapes. We had to keep reheating it because it cooled down quickly. I think I enjoyed this part the most. It is interested to note at this point I had no idea what the final piece would look like because the colors were so hot they were all glowing orange. 


After the colors were manipulated enough, we dipped the piece back into the clear glass, shaped it and scored the neck so I could pop it off. When it was removed it went into a heated kiln to anneal (cool slow enough that it would not crack). I was able to pick it up the next day.

And I urge you, if you are interested in glass blowing to look for a hot shop in your area. It is well worth a drive a little cash to work with such an amazing medium. I am already trying to plan another experience. 


An excellent cultural history of glass - How We Got to Now - Glass. 




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