Showing posts with label weather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label weather. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expanding our Horizons in Guatemala Meets Escaping Buffalo in January

Several months ago, at the age of 34, I got my very first passport.  I was always nervous to travel abroad.  I am sure part of it was the propaganda about traveling to certain places.  However, most of the time I think I was intimidated by new languages, international paperwork, and flying. I had a terrible time with Spanish in college and only received some sort of a B (don't remember the exact grade) due to a student teacher who was afraid to look bad.  I hate flying, not because I am afraid as much as I feel sick, both air sick (either I come down with a sinus infection from the pressure or actually vomit on the plane) and it aggravates my fibromyalgia.  Until now, I never felt like I missed out and I certainly traveled otherwise, hitting more than half the states (by car) before I turned 20.  Still, I was nervous.  I have a cousin who has lived in London for quite a while and have never gone despite the fact that I am sort of in love with Britain from its wonderfully made television mystery shows.  In the case of Britain, it isn't a language issue, but a long flight and time change issue.  Anyway, with our kids in the training choirs at church and the regular church choirs traveling to England this August, it hit me that I needed to get comfortable with foreign travel in the near future.

Then a friend of mine who lived in Guatemala for over a year, raved about it to me and wanted to go back, so we decided to go together for the month of January.  It would be a great homeschool trip for her son and my kids as well as a break for my fibromyalgia in the cold.  Of course, if she had only been on vacation there, I never would have been brave enough to go, but since she actually lived there, on her own with her son, I was much more comfortable.  I wanted the kids to be immersed in Spanish as well as see a different culture and experience life very different than the U.S.  The nice thing about Panajachel Guatemala is that there is still a very strong Mayan culture including traditional food and dress.  It is one of the few places left in the world where so much native culture remains.  The climate is also ideal with lows of about 48F and highs of about 72F all year, so it is never cold or hot.

For homeschool, it was a super experience.  First off, the architecture was interesting with buildings open to the outside, sometimes in the middle of the building, since they don't require heating or cooling.

There are churches much older than our church too.

Don't forget the day trip to Antigua where we saw many sites with old ruins including the Church and Convent at Capuchins.

There was the natural wonder of Lake Atitlan with its surrounding volcanoes.

The science of hot springs due to the nearby volcanoes.
The nature preserve was quite exotic complete with banana trees.
We learned about coffee on a tour of the farm and processing.

Forget conventional art class.  The kids took a Mayan weaving class.
They visited a handmade pottery factory.
They visited the Galeria owned by Nan Cuz where they viewed lots of Guatemalan art.

They tried on authentic Mayan clothing from the village of San Antonio.
While we didn't plan on doing a whole lot of math, they kids studied Guatemalan currency and used it buy things including watching Mom attempt to bargain.  Social studies was the strongest area covered mainly because the kids visited the homes of two local families and ate a traditional meal at one of them.  We also experienced the ancient by visiting Mayan ruins.
Modern differences were the most interesting.  On the one hand, there was litter and less than perfect plumbing, but on the other hand there was the tremendous wisdom in simplicity such as the efficiency of tuk tuks on roads without too many cars (no traffic lights), hopping in the back of a pickup truck for longer distances, shopping in a pharmacy with no prescription needed, using ATMs where you can lock yourself in without the fear of someone else with a bank card being able to get in, and eating in restaurants where the owner's chickens roam about the premises.
Physical Education wasn't left out either as we did a horseback ride throughout the village of San Pedro (which I don't recommend for someone with fibromyalgia as due to lack of balance and sensory issues it was very uncomfortable and afterwards I had to rest quite a bit on the couch for several days - but it was fine for the kids).

The kids also went kayaking, but I didn't get pictures.

Obviously, many people in Guatemala don't have as much as we (or most Americans) do, so we had the kids volunteer two mornings doing an art project with preschoolers at Mayan Families.  They really felt great about helping the little ones. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

When Defiance Turns into an Experiment

For the longest time I have been strict about sunscreen and sun hats.  I have always said they were necessary from nine to five between March and September and ten to four the rest of the year with adjusting to nine to three during standard time.  It is just a rule I have used to be prudent about the sun.  The kids, however, were getting sick of it and challenged me on it.  So we sat down and researched possible rules of thumb for sunscreen usage.  A common one that seemed to come up was to wear it when one's shadow is shorter than oneself.  But even with this, my times didn't seem to be too far off - until we tested it.

We began by watching a video online about the angle of the sun.  Then we decided to measure our shadows beginning within a week of the summer solstice and once a month, thereafter.  After the June one, we looked up the solar noon so we could extrapolate the end time rather than have to measure shadows in both the morning and afternoon.  Here is what we came up with for sunscreen/hat usage:

Month (3rd week) Start Stop
June 9:45 4:45
July 10:10 4:35
August 10:40 4:00
September 11:20 3:00
October never shorter never shorter

In Buffalo, there is a big variance in how much sun we get during the different times of year.  As you can see, I wasn't too far off for June.

We continued in July.

August, however, was more like the times I had been using for winter.  This is when the kids started to get excited.  By September, it was less than four hours.

And finally, here is October, when their shadows never even got close to shorter:

Do you see the satisfaction at Mom being wrong?  Hopefully, this is the beginning of questioning all kinds of rules and seeking out the truth in more areas.  Of course, we are (painfully at times) aware that it often means questioning us too.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kid (and Winter) Prompted Science Experiments

Walking down the sidewalks in Buffalo, I can't help but complain about the way people don't shovel.  I know my neighbors hate how I am last minute with my lawn in the summer, but when it comes to shoveling, I am out there quick and regularly scraping down to the concrete.  I don't believe in salt because of the environment.  If you scrape it right away and wait for the sun to come out (even the limited Buffalo winter sun), it is all you need.  When my kids encountered sidewalks that were poorly shoveled but covered with salt, I want off about this.  Surprise, Surprise!  Anyway, after I shut up, they asked me why salt is put on ice.

It then turned into a great basic science experiment.  We put two plastic yogurt cups of water in the freezer to freeze.  Then we took them out and put lots of salt, a big layer, on one of them.  I tried to explain that the one without salt was the control one and the other was the experimental one, but I am not sure they will remember.

We then placed them back in the freezer.  Over the next several days, we observed the one with the salt melt despite being in the freezer. 

Of course, they had to taste the salt water to see that it wasn't plain water.  That part was their idea, not mine, but since it was plain old salt, it didn't hurt them. 

The best part of the whole thing is that some of our regular activities prompted this which made it relevant.  Over the holidays, I know I was starting to worry about not being creative enough with coming up with experiments.  After this, I started to worry less.

I highly recommend this experiment, mainly because it is very easy and not too much work, but also because it is so relevant this time of year.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Homeschooling Failures

The past couple of weeks have been full of hands-on, active learning, a big preference of C.  We have been picking and taking pictures of wildflowers in the neighborhood, gathering rocks, measuring rain, and looking at the effects of UV.

Generally, I suppose it has been successful.  The kids seemed to learn and enjoy our activities, but there were also a couple of failures.  The failures have mainly been mine for poorly understanding an activity we attempted.  One was trying to gather earthworms to compost in the house.  The three worms we found didn't last and very soon we realized we needed more research.  We found out, of course, that you need special red wigglers and you need to be careful about buying or constructing a worm bin.  We are likely going to proceed with getting the right worms since it is a way to compost indoors in the city, but we felt silly for putting time (no money - thank goodness) into something without research.  The other failure, while not much wasted time, made me feel really stupid.  We tried to make a rainbow using the sun, a mirror and water, but failed miserably.  It seemed to be such a basic activity, but we couldn't figure out what we did wrong.  Fortunately we saw a rainbow in the sky a few days later near our house, no need to take the bus to Niagara Falls!

As the teacher of my children, I have spent the past several days back and forth on the implications of some of these failures of activities.  To an extent, I feel that "all's well that ends well" - nothing really bad or really great - end of story - move on.  In other ways, I am very worried that I am setting a poor example for my kids regarding preparedness by not testing the activities before introducing them or not doing enough research before jumping into something.  Still in other ways, I think I may be setting the exactly the right example by showing that science and life is trial and error and that you continue the exploration and pursuit of truth no matter what happens.  I would like to comfort myself that this this precisely the point of homeschooling, but I am not sure when I will stop wrestling with this.  They are 5 and 4 now, won't this dilemma get worse as they get older?  What do you think, success, failure, or no big deal?  Have you had experiences like this? 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Rat Bait Station

Fortunately, the rats didn't get into the house while we were gone.  We kept filling in the one area where they seemed to come in and I think it worked.  However, the little bit of snow made it easy to see the tracks all over the yard.  The small TomCat brand bait stations didn't attract them so far this winter; so I went to two home stores (on my best bus route) to see about getting the industrial bait stations that the exterminators use.  The nice staff person at the Valu explained to me that since the new law banning the sale of separate poison and bait went into effect, that they no longer carry them and that is why I would have trouble finding them.  I explained that if they sold the large ones with the poison already in it, that I would buy it, but obviously they are nowhere to be found.  The HomeDepot staff tried to get me to fall for buying plain rat poison and leaving it out.  This wouldn't work because it could hurt other animals (not too concerned since pets are supposed to be on leashes) and it would not last in the rain or snow.  So, I decided that we would make a station to contain our spring traps:

The idea is that it is enough of a box to shelter the trap set up and the lid can come off to remove the snap traps.  Since it doesn't appear that reasonable products are available for outdoor rat trapping, I feel entitled to give this a whirl.  In the past I paid for very good, but expensive exterminating (when they got in the basement - not the living space, thank God).  Now, trying to handle it on our own, there are no appropriate products available for purchase.  I am not clear if this is concerned appropriate, but we are trying it.  Let me know your thoughts and I will keep you posted on if it works.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dressing for the Weather

It is another warm, yet rainy, day in Buffalo.  It takes me back to a dinner party many years ago in the winter when a gentleman mentioned that the weather didn't concern him because he got in his car in his garage and drove to the office and got out in a covered garage.  What if you are an urban homeschooler reliant on walking and public transportation?

The right outerwear takes priority over cute outfits, first of all.  Second of all, it is great fun for kids to look out the window check the outside temperature on the computer and learn to select the right coat or footwear for the weather.  Preschoolers can even practice dressing themselves for different scenarios.  As a city dweller in Buffalo, the right outwear saves us the very large expense of a car.  Paying attention to the forcast on weather maps can even help with geography.  I myself learned the placement of states in the US by watching the the Weather Channel as a kid.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thermostats and Why Our Schools Are Failing Us

First of all, in the effort of full disclosure, I keep my house at a lower temperature to save energy and money.  I set my thermostat at 63 during the day, wear several layers and even let it go lower at night.  It seems to work.  Despite my older home with little insulation, my gas bills are pretty low.  This year's more mild temperatures helped too, but during the most recent cold snap when lows got into the single digits, I observed some scary behavior which I will get to shortly.

When I was in college, I had several roomates, not all or most, but several that reacted to temperature.  If they were cold, they put the heat on 80 degrees they as soon as they were hot, they put on the A/C down to 68, back and forth.  I knew that thermostats set a floor and no matter your preference you generally picked a temp and stuck with it.  68 degrees indoors is 68 degrees indoors whether it is 30 degrees outside or 5.  It was clear that despite graduating high school and getting into college that they were still clueless about how a thermostat actually worked.

Recently, some people I know (adults in their 30s), also high school graduates, were complaining that when it got really cold that they couldn't turn their heat up.  It was 68 degrees in the apartment and they were desperate to get 74 or 76 during the cold snap.  Because of the older house their apartment was in and the older furnace combined with already being about 60 degrees difference from the outside, the temperature struggled to get up that high.  While they are entitled to whatever temperature they want in their home, it is still quite puzzling as to why 68 degrees was fine for them when it was 25 degrees outside, but not when it was 5 degrees.  It just doesn't make sense.  Rather than logic, there was a knee jerk reaction that more cold outside had to mean more heat inside.  What kind of a country are we in that this cluelessness about basic home features is so widespread?  It is especially horrifying with climate change and energy costs being such hot issues.  Kids go to school full-time and don't know this.  This is why homeschooling is so important.  While book smarts are very important, so much time should be spent on it that there is no time for basic common sense day to day living skills?  Really?  Time for us to wake up.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Being Thankful for the Bus

We are finally getting the snow, and I can't tell you how grateful I am for the bus, the NFTA Metro bus.  When we had a car, I remember how nail biting driving in the snow was.  We would avoid unecessary/semi-necessary trips out.  Work, school, and maybe church were it, not much else.  Today, however, I went out walked a few places and took the bus downtown to the central branch library of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.  I didn't need to go to the library - I just wanted to - so I did without any stress and without risking my life (which we all should acknowledge we do when driving a car especially in the snow).

Public transportation is critical for homeschoolers even though most people in a smaller city, like Buffalo, don't think of going without a car.  First of all, using public transportation is a good skill for kids to learn including reading schedules and maps.  Second, there is an opportunity to learn about science and climate change.  Third, homeschoolers can more safely go on local field trips.  Fourth, there are all kinds of people on the bus and that builds general community awareness.  Fifth, and maybe the most important, is that the bus is less costly than a car.  This is critical because expense reduction is the best way for a parent to reduce their work hours to be able to homeschool.  Certainly it isn't easy in all cases, but would both parents need to work if the family went carless, got rid of cable, went to prepaid cell phones and Skype, did their own hair cuts, and ate out less (not hard if one parent is home to cook)?  Something to think about.

Our bus dependence is a little more complicated than just homeschooling, because there are other financial factors with which we are dealing.  That being said, strong public transportation may be the way to combat some of the lack of upward mobility going on these days.  Saving money on transportation may be one of the final sources of funds for the middle and working classes if the economy stays in its current state for the longer-term. If you live in Buffalo, please sign the petition to restore NFTA funding.  If you live in another small to middle size city, pay closer attention to public transportation in your area and support it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outdoor Art Class Meets City Surprises

I know that it seems that weather keeps coming up, but this long warm spell we have had in Buffalo has put the focus on the outdoors despite the winter season.  For days, T and C have been begging to try new 3D chalk they received for Christmas.  Today, we finally made it out to give it a whirl.  That is one of the best parts of homeschooling, the ability to take a advantage of good weather days in the winter.

On our way to Delaware Park, we came upon the local balloon artist who made balloons for the kids.  He is often at the Elmwood and Bidwell Farmers' Market but I never expected to see him in January.  Of course, that is one of the great things about city living even in a smaller city, walking out your door and feeling like the world has come to you. 

It seems that the best homeschooling happens when you take advantage of your environment particularly in either very rural or very urban settings.  While I have never lived in the country, I imagine rural dwellers have the benefit of a great connection to the land and the pride in producing things they need.  In the city, it is the exposure to a variety of people and experiences so close to home.  There are also great conservation opportunities in more dense land use, climate control of multiple unit dwellings, and the use of public transportation.  Homeschooling can give you the time and focus to fully benefit from your surroundings!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Drinking Smoothies in Winter

While still not all that winter like today, when you look at the calendar, it says January.  Why the heck are we drinking smoothies?  Ideally, we would be eating local and organic fruits.  Organic gets expensive so we do this for some items, but not all.  By January there aren't many local fruits in Western New York it seems except for well-stored apples.  Since produce must be brought in from further away and the nutrients start to disintegrate, frozen is a great option until the local farmer's market starts back up in the spring.  Most people think of smoothies as a warm weather food, but for us it is a small part of adjusting our food habits to the season.

It feels strange trying to explain this to my 5 and 4 year olds who walk through the local grocery store begging for fresh fruits that have traveled very far.  Of course our frozen fruit travels too, but it may be the most nutritious alternative until great local produce is back!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Homeschooling on a Balmy Day in Buffalo

It’s hard to believe that it is the first week in January. We are smack in the middle of the solstice and the peak of winter (around the 3rd week in January) and it hit 50 degrees today. While other parts of WNY received more significant snows this winter, the City of Buffalo itself has received very little, several dustings and about two inches at my house. I (Liz) am very much torn between fearing that we are in for a horrible February and believing that it really may be a mild winter courtesy climate change.

Today we skipped the bus and took the stroller on our errands. They are pretty big now so they take turns walking and riding. We got a little over confident about the weather and hit the playground, but didn’t last long due to the mud that is quite prevalent in Buffalo in winter and spring. While I look forward to being able to teach the kids about climate change and good environmental stewardship, it is amazing how much they’ve absorbed already from our conversations and use of public transportation Once when we walked home from the playground and errands, T told me that he knew “why all the cars had angry faces.” When I asked him why, he told me that it was because they were “hurting mother Earth and making God sad.” I know for sure that we never told them that cars had faces, but it is satisfying to hear them express some understanding of our values.