Friday, December 11, 2009

Tis The Season

It was 10 degrees here in Grays Harbor last night. Our lake is frozen most of the way across into a beautiful glasslike crystal sheet of ice (teasing the children to try to ice skate on it although they are FORBIDDEN to attempt that or even go near it.) We're not used to these record lows around here. Car batteries are refusing to cooperate, tons of people's wells are frozen, and the local economy is getting stimulated as people are forced to buy deicer, antifreeze, and long underwear. Oh yeah, and a lady slept in her car outside of my house last night.

I obviously already knew that there were countless homeless people suffering in this weather. I just made a casual comment to the kids about how I was worried about those people without warm shelter just the other day. None of them were in front of my house though (yet.) Everything's always more personal & real when it's right in your own front yard. This morning, when I got up to get the kids off to school, I noticed a car parked outside. Not a big deal. It happens. A little while later though, the hazard lights came on & I realized that there was somebody in that car. So, I sent Dustin out to see if they needed help. He brought back a lady that was shivering violently. Her lips & fingers purplish-blue. She had a small fleece throw, a lightweight jacket, and a cast on her arm. She had let her car run to stay warm until she had run out of gas.

I set her up with a blanket & hot cocoa while Dustin went to town to get gas for her car. She seemed like a really nice lady. She made conversation with the kids as I hurried around getting them ready for school. The part that really hit me hard wasn't so much that she had to sleep in her car, it was the fact that as I got the kids ready, tears came to her eyes as she repeatedly said, "I used to do this with my kids." Tatton was getting all dressed up for his field trip to The Nutcracker & this lady told him about how she also went on a field trip to The Nutcracker in Seattle with her daughter's class years ago. I was reminded once again of just how much I really have to be thankful for that I so often take for granted. My kids were sitting at our dining room table wolfing down cheerios, hats and gloves at the ready for when they would leave the comfort of our 70 degrees home to board the school bus and go off to a day of learning & enrichment. Our needs were met. We were better than okay, great even.

I've caught myself feeling Scrooge-like & cranky several times over the last few weeks with Dustin laid off as the Holidays approach all too quickly. I keep trying to remember to focus on the Holiday traditions that bring family togetherness instead of stressing about getting every little thing on the kids' monstrous gimme-lists. It's easy to get caught up in the cycle of materialism and greed though. This morning, I remembered something: The best part of the Holidays is giving. I suggest that we all find a way to reach out to others this season.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

When It Just Happens

I love effortless learning. I try to learn that way as often as possible. Who am I kidding? I try to do everything as effortlessly as possible. The shower curtain in my kids' bathroom is a giant world map because when I saw it for sale at Walmart I thought, "Wow- if they're going to be sitting there anyway and they could stare at a map that whole time..." Effortless learning. Today, we were watching the football game. It was the San Francisco 49er's at the Seahawks. Good game too, by the way. The score stayed tied enough of the time to keep me interested. Oh yeah, and the Hawks won. :-) Lane asked, "Why would anyone name a football team something dumb like the 49er's?" Sean said, "They're from San Francisco. You know, like the California Gold Rush." Tatton asked what the name 49er's had to do with the Gold Rush, so I told him to go look it up. A couple of minutes later he said, "Ohh- I get it! 1849. Okay." The beautiful thing is, it didn't end there. Once we had reason to crack open those history books, the domino effect began.

Tatton read aloud about the events of 1849 from Don't Know Much About American History (by Kenneth C. Davis). His eyed were glowing with excitement as he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! You guys think the economy is bad now! In 1849, there were so many thousands of people flocking to California that their supply & demand was ridiculous! Flour was $800 a barrel, sugar was $400 a barrel, eggs were $3 a piece, and shovels were $100. (This was at a time when skilled workers were making $2 a day!) Hey, guess what? Jeans were invented because a man noticed that miners needed sturdier pants & he invented Levi Strauss. Oh my gosh! Levi's were the first jeans ever invented and I'm wearing a pair of Levi's right now!"

He went on, "Hey guys! Chinatown came about because the Gold Rush brought so many Chinese people across the Pacific to America since there was a war going on over there & lots of people were out of work in China. But life in California, which the Chinese people called "Gold Mountain" wasn't much better than it had been in China. White people who couldn't find gold looked for someone to blame. They often unfairly blamed the Chinese & they were forced to live apart from everyone else & pay extra taxes. They had no rights. Many went home, but those who stayed created "Chinatowns" where they settled. I wonder if we would have Chinese take-out if there hadn't been a Gold Rush in 1849?"

Then he asked Lane this question: "Hey Lane- was the Underground Railroad the first subway system?" Thankfully, Tatton was too excited to allow Lane much time to answer since Lane didn't look like he loved being put on the spot with that question. Tatton answered his own question, "Nope! It sounds like it would be, but it was really a network of houses & other safe places for slaves who were running away to freedom in the northern states & Canada! The California Gold Rush heightened the debate over slavery because so many settlers moved to California so quickly that it had enough people to apply for statehood. The Oregon Territory was considered free, so southerners wanted California to be a slave state. But California's state constitution forbade slavery."

"In the Compromise of 1850, California entered into the Union as a free state. The Compromise also included The Fugitive Slave Law, which made it legal for slave owners to go after & capture runaway slaves who had escaped North. That was the most controversial part of the Compromise. There were people who helped the slaves run away. These people were called 'Conductors.' The most famous 'conductor' of the railroad was Harriet Tubman. $40,000 was offered for her capture! Mom, do you know when Harriet Tubman was born? It has a question mark here for her year of birth."

I remembered that I actually had a Time For Kids Biography called Harriet Tubman A Woman of Courage (by Renee Skelton) on the bookshelf. So, we got it out & started reading about her life. It said that she died in 1913 at the age of 93, so I had the kids do the math & we decided that she must have been born around 1820. We talked about her life being raised as a slave & how good we all have it in comparison. Especially striking were the pictures of the quilts used for code. The kids couldn't believe that it was against the law to teach a slave to read & write. Here we were with 5 books spread in front of us by this point, digging through the written word about people who never had that right. They were ingenious enough to find a way to communicate by sewing patterns into quilts that they would hang out windows or across fences without stirring suspicion though. My kiddos that are all about secret agents & spies thought that was amazing.

By this time, the game was a blood pressure spiking tie at 17 to 17 with only a few minutes left. We had casually covered History, Geography, Civil Rights, done some math and a ton of reading, (with Brooke throwing in synonyms for EVERYTHING due to her new found BFF the Thesaurus- more on that in a future blog) all while noshing on pizza and watching a good ol' Sunday football game. I LOVE days like this. Effortless learning & quality time. That's the stuff.


Don't Know Much About American History, Kenneth C. Davis, 2003

Don't Know Much About The 50 States, Kenneth C. Davis, 2001

National Geographic Our Fifty States, Mark H. Bockenhauer and Stephen F. Cunha, 2004

Building A Nation, Scott Foresman, 2008

Explore and Learn Volume 6 Atlas of the World, The Southwestern Company, 2005

Explore and Learn Volume 4 People in Place and Time, The Southwestern Company, 2005

The California Gold Rush An Interactive History Adventure, Elizabeth Raum, 2008

and of course, Brooke's friend: Webster's New English Language Thesaurus