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Thursday, August 31, 2006


We've Come A Long Way

Ewwww... check out this 1956 magazine ad for Philip Morris Cigarettes:

We sure have come a long way in 50 years.

Click the picture for a larger view.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


First Week Of Homeschooling

The first week of homeschooling is in the books, and I have to say that it is both easier and harder than I imagined.

To be more specific, the actual teaching part is easier than expected. It's the preparation and organization that is more difficult. Thankfully we are in a program that makes it easy to navigate through the curriculum. In the IDVA, everything related to progress and attendance is maintained on-line, so we always know where we are in the learning process. Now it's just a matter of time before we become more comfortable with their software and website.

As for the teaching, we have settled into a groove that is rather unexpected. I thought it would take much longer than a week for my son to accept us as teachers. Oh sure, there have been the usual back-to-school bumps in the road like the longing looks out the window at the beautiful sunshine, or the late night reading sessions that became a habit this past summer. I expected those things and planned to ease out of summer and back into fall with a few afternoon outings after studies were complete. But my son came through and made the adjustments quite quickly. The difference, I think, is that he is completely into home-schooling. He's not just apathetic about it. He knows that it's a better, more enjoyable experience for him, so there is a willingness to listen and learn that has made it easy for us to dive into the lessons and simply teach.

Let me give you a quick overview of our homeschooling day... We start at 9am. My son has to be up, dressed, and through with breakfast before then. If there's enough time he can do whatever he wants before school starts. The "school" is in our main family room. We have two desks along a wall, one for the computer and one for books. Even though the IDVA is an "on-line" school, very little of the actual teaching and learning is done on the computer. Instead we work mostly from textbooks and workbooks. He only moves over to the computer a few times a day, usually for an assessment or some sort of interactive lesson.

Around 10:30, after spelling and math, it's time for recess. Right now that means backyard play with his sister. Later on, we'll get together with some of the neighbor kids who are in the IDVA. After recess it's time for literature or science. Or maybe music. You see, the daily schedule is set by us. If science is better in the afternoon, then we'll do it then. Going further, we can even do two or three history lessons in one day if my son is really getting into the Civil War or the Aztec Empire and doesn't want to stop. Literature can be doubled up on Thursday, while science is the focus of Friday. We set the schedule to what is best for the student.

Lunch comes around noon. He eats, plays, reads. The afternoon goes really quick as we move into fun subjects like music, art, and technology. We also finish up any lessons that he might need to review. By 2:30 we're wrapping things up for the day. 5 to 6 hours is what we averaged last week. There's no homework, because there's no need for it. He has plenty of time during his school day to learn all the things he needs to learn.

Extracurricular activities also play a big part in his schooling. PE comes in the form of community soccer and basketball. Watching a cool DVD on lightning and tornadoes counts toward science. An assignment to take pictures of "circles in nature" counts toward art. Or maybe it counts toward technology... I'll have to ask the supervising teacher.

Oh yes, the "teacher"... The IDVA assigns us to a teacher who keeps track of what we're doing through the computer. If we're messing up with attendance or lesson completion, we'll get a call or an email. If there are problems, he's there to help us out. And I'm sure we'll need it as we go along.

So far, like I said, it's working out very well. This blog isn't going to suddenly turn into a homeschooling blog, but it will certainly be something I write about frequently. Not only is my son learning, but so are his parents. Homeschooling is a life changer for us all.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Rest Stop

Hoh Rain Forest Bathroom, Washington

When I was a kid, a family friend passed on some sage advice that I have never forgotten. This educated man, who was a civil court judge for thirty years, told me that the wisest thing he'd ever learned was: "Never pass up a chance to have a drink of water and to go to the bathroom."

I never realized how true this was until we took our big road trip several weeks ago and one very important element to the vacation emerged: The bathroom break.

The need to find bladder relief became almost an obsession for our family as the four of us never quite got into sync with each other. It didn't help that we were driving long distances through national parks and monuments where bathrooms were sometimes few and far between. And where a tree would be fine for me or my son, my wife and daughter required more comfortable facilities.

My 5-year-old daughter still believes that if she can't feel anything, then there's nothing that needs to come out. No amount of cajoling could get her to do her business when a bathroom was accessible. Twenty minutes and twenty miles into the rain forest, and all of a sudden alarm bells sound and she’s wiggling in the backseat.

My 8-year-old son was a little better. He would at least try to go when the opportunity arose. He'd usually say, "I'll try, but I don't think I have to go," followed by the sound of tinkling that would last a good ten seconds. I’d always remind him that his bladder was probably more than half full, and he’d always reply, "I think it was about a quarter full."

Even when we were close to a bathroom at our beachside cabin, we were usually down a long stairway, through piles of driftwood, and a half-mile down the beach. Any cries of "I gotta go!" and my wife and I would send them into the ocean, hoping no crabs or jellyfish were lurking in the surf.

Toward the end of the seven days, we became quite adept at scouting out rest stops - consulting maps, visitors centers, park rangers, and police in order to map out the best route. Bathroom breaks became more important than sightseeing or meals.

Once we got home, going potty suddenly returned to something we take for granted. With three toilets in our house, we just never have to worry about it. Both kids have, thankfully, moved beyond the need for help in the bathroom. They go when they need to. The hand-washing sometimes needs a reminder, but everything else is self-sufficient.

Still, I'm looking forward to the day when my children can plan ahead a little bit and be more independent when it comes to potty breaks while on the road. Then I can keep both eyes on the scenery instead of on signs for the next rest stop.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


She Moved Through The Fair

It's fair time in North Idaho! I love the fair for several reasons...

First, fair food. Elephant ears, funnel cakes, juicy hamburgers, huckleberry ice cream, steaming sweet corn on the cob.

Second, we like to pet the farm animals. My son likes the pigs. My daughter thinks the rabbits are cute. I'm partial to goats.

Third, photo ops! Sadly, this year my camera batteries died about 30 minutes into our fair visit. But I did manage to shoot a few pics before the camera shut down...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


They're Everywhere

We've been driving around a lot this spring and summer. Making pit stops in all manner of small towns in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.

My son started noticing something... One day he said, "Daddy, McDonald's is everywhere."

Yes, I explained, they are the world's largest restaurant chain, in over 100 countries serving 50 million people a day.

"Wow, Daddy, the President of McDonald's must be more powerful than the President of the United States!"


And then, just a few days after this conversation, a friend of mine who was visiting Shanghai, China, sent us a postcard which perfectly illustrated what my son had noticed. Amid all the jumble of neon and Chinese lettering, there in the distance...

McDonald's really is everywhere. Is that a bad thing? Personally, I've never had a bad meal at Mickey D's. We probably eat there twice a month for lunch. I'm a quarter-pounder w/fries guy, while my son loves cheeseburgers and my daughter tolerates the chicken nuggets. McDonald's has always been reliable for a quick and cheap meal. They seem to have an efficient system that earns respect and continued business worldwide.

I guess my son's right... The President of McDonald's is more powerful than the President of the United States!

Monday, August 21, 2006


Roll in the Clover

A leftover photo from our trip to the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington. The kids searched all over, but didn't find any four-leaf clovers.

Here's a fun song about clover, even if the lyrics are a bit gloomy:
Blur - Clover Over Dover

Saturday, August 19, 2006



I've been putting the finishing touches on our backyard landscaping with bark mulch. It took me two days to move the huge mound from the driveway to the back flower beds. I sure was glad to have my two kids helping* me shovel all that bark.

I think summer will officially be over when the last of the landscaping is complete. Next summer I might actually sit down and enjoy it.

*for about five minutes, during a break from their intensive summer bike riding.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


End of Summer

Over the last three weeks I've been preoccupied with just a few things - our beach vacation and finishing my backyard landscaping. The vacation was a week, followed by another week of cleaning sand out of everything, and then one very hard week of hauling 20 square yards of bark and planting trees, bushes, flowers, and ground cover all over the yard.

So I was kind of shocked the other day when I looked up at the calendar and realized that my son will start school in seven days. Or maybe it's eight days. Could be nine, we're still negotiating.

You see, we will begin home-schooling my eight-year-old son next week. He is enrolled in a public charter school called The Idaho Virtual Academy. The IDVA is an innovative program that gives guidance, direction, organization and, most of all, curriculum to home-schoolers.

The other day we attended a series of courses to introduce us to the IDVA system. It was extremely gratifying to see a local convention center packed with parents and kids all desiring a better education for their kids. We were also surprised to see two of our neighbors and three of my wife's co-workers in the crowd. The IDVA staff was overwhelmed by the turn-out of over 300, but did a great job of helping us clueless parents get with the program.

My son is excited about learning at his own pace, with one-on-one instruction from his parents. If he's having trouble with a subject, we go over it until he understands it. If he's bored, we move on to the next subject. I expect him to thrive on this stuff. What kid wouldn't love to learn under these circumstances?

I've talked to many people about our decision to home-school and not once have I heard a negative remark about the academic side of it. The only argument I ever hear from anyone is, "What about the social aspects of the classroom?" I've learned to laugh at this. My son has learned his social skills from his family and the experiences we have out in the community. In fact, from kindergarten through second grade he had very little opportunity at his school to socialize with anyone. At lunch the kids sat with their class and didn't talk. On the playground my son usually played by himself or with one other boy. In the classroom there was no talking and very little interaction with anyone other than the teacher. So I don't get how being locked in a room with 24 other kids of the same age group and socio-economic status is going to result in a socialized child.

With the IDVA, my son will have many more opportunities to be with other children, and not just those in his own age group. The IDVA has a full-time activities coordinator for this area. She arranges weekly and monthly field trips, picnics, and other get-togethers. At my son's old school, field trips were limited to one each semester because of the logistics of hauling hundreds of kids around. In addition to the planned activities of the IDVA, I will find educational experiences in the community that match what my son is studying. He's not just going to learn, but he's going to see how what he studies affects the real world. And he's going to have some fun at the same time.

Not everybody can home-school their kids. But I've been given this opportunity, and I'm going to take it. I really have no doubt that he's going to thrive in this environment.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Family Road Trip: End of the Road

Time to wrap-up our week in Washington... Before we continue, though, we need a little end of vacation music to accompany us as we head back home. Here's Lindsey Buckingham's "Dancin' 'Cross The USA" from the end of one of my favorite films, National Lampoon's Vacation.

Thanks for sitting patiently through my boring vacation slide show! As always, click on the pictures for a larger view.

After saying farewell to the beautiful beaches of Kalaloch, we drove further north on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, following Highway 101 through mile after mile of lush forests. Eventually we found ourselves at the Lake Crescent Lodge restaurant just in time for lunch.

This 90-year-old lodge is about as picturesque as you could ask for. The lake, surrounded by the Olympic Mountains, is gorgeous but very cold. Great for sitting and looking, but I don't think I'd even dip my toe in those glacial waters. Not sure we'd stay there with the kids, as the ocean beaches are so much more fun for them.

Like I said, an inviting place for just sittin' and starin'... I gave this one the sepia treatment because it looked like a scene from the past. You know, back before TVs and radios, when people used to just sit and talk and breathe deeply.

While at Lake Crescent, we hiked the one-mile trail up to Marymere Falls. This is a great little hike for kids. The falls are actually kind of anti-climactic because the hike to get there is so easy and enjoyable. Well, the last few hundred yards are kind of steep, but a relatively easy climb with handrails to grab onto.

After that we drove non-stop to catch the ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island. The kids enjoyed the ferry ride and couldn't believe our car was actually on a boat.

My original plan was to leisurely drive down the southern end of Whidbey Island, maybe stopping at a lavender farm. But we were running late and realized we had just 28 minutes to drive the 30 miles from Kingston to Clinton, where the ferry would take us to the mainland. I didn't want to miss it as we were expected for dinner at a relative's house in Everett and it was already 7:30pm. So we failed to observe the posted speed limit, hit every green light, and made the 8 o'clock ferry with literally 30 seconds to spare.

I should've known we'd never make the dinner, though... After leaving the ferry, we drove past the huge Boeing plant, found the Interstate, and came to a screeching halt in the never-ending gridlock that is Seattle traffic. Eventually we found our hotel and a Mitzel's.

The next day we drove home on Highway 2, stopping in Leavenworth, a mock Bavarian town that is basically one big tourist trap. I found the place to be a little disappointing, as shopping is not my thing. The food, however, was delicious...

I don't know what all was on this family platter at King Ludwig's Restaurant. A whole chicken, something from a pig, spicy sausages, several types of sauerkraut, a potato concoction. We scarfed most of it down and then had to listen to polka music for an hour (we had no choice, we couldn't move).

Bob Otto's Polka Pals were rockin' the joint. I almost did the "Chicken Dance" but, as I said, I couldn't move from all the food in my belly. Good thing too, as my son would've died from embarrassment if I'd stood up and bawked like a chicken in public.

We arrived home to a pair of very lonely cats. It was good to be back. This trip was most memorable for discovering a place - Kalaloch Beach - to which we'll return for more family fun in the years to come.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Family Road Trip: Days 3 & 4

The next few days of our stay at Kalaloch Lodge were spent exploring the miles and miles of beaches. In particular, the kids loved one stretch, cleverly named Beach #4, that had rocks to climb on and tide pools to study. We also spent an entire afternoon and evening on Kalaloch Beach just lounging around a driftwood bonfire. There were other families on the beach, but not within 200 yards of us. Total peace and tranquility.

One morning we drove into the Hoh Rain Forest to hike among the towering moss-covered Sitka spruce and western hemlock, some of which grow to heights of 300 feet. Even though this area averages 150 inches of rain a year, we saw nothing but dry weather and blue skies. Well, we couldn't actually see the sky from the trails of the rain forest, but we knew it was up there somewhere.

If you're ever visiting the Hoh Rain Forest, be sure to stop at the Hard Rain Cafe for a salmonburger!

Here are some photos from Days 3 & 4 of our Road Trip... As always, click on the picture for a larger view:

My wife and kids check out the tide pools on Beach #4.

In my constant quest to get the perfect photo, I scamper to the far reaches of the tide pools. Luckily, I didn't slip on some barnacles and plummet headfirst into the crashing waves to be slammed repeatedly against the rocks before the riptide pulled my lifeless body miles out to sea where it might be torn apart by a pod of killer whales.

The starfish pose politely.

Like a scene out of CSI, there were crab body parts scattered everywhere. I don't know why. My son felt bad for them, so he built this Crab Memorial.

Along the Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest. It's a good thing we didn't dress my daughter in green that day, we never would've found her!

These two massive trees reminded me of something right out of Jurassic Park. I half expected to look up and see a brontosaurus.

My son took a lot of tree pictures in the rain forest. There wasn't much else to photograph!

The driftwood fire burns hot while my daughter does her fire dance down by the waves.

There's nothing quite like hot dogs roasted over a beach fire. We had all the condiments: mustard, sand, ketchup, sand, relish, sand...

A creature made out of driftwood. This is almost as much fun as making sand castles.

The kids get ready for 'Smores as the sun sets over Kalaloch Beach.

Next post... Days 5 & 6: Crescent Lake and Leavenworth

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Family Road Trip: Day 2

After exploring Mt. St. Helens, we drove north to the Olympic Peninsula, following Highway 101 through Aberdeen (birthplace of Kurt Cobain) and then into a portion of the Olympic National Park called Kalaloch Beach.

We had no idea what to expect, as I had never been to this part of the state before. I made reservations at Kalaloch Lodge based solely on their web site. It turned out to be one of the most serene and beautiful places I've ever visited. The kids went absolutely wild when they saw this expansive driftwood-covered beach that stretched for miles and miles.

Kalaloch Lodge consists of a few dozen cabins atop a bluff overlooking the beach. The rustic-looking cabin we were in had a kitchen, two queen beds, wood stove, and a bathroom with shower - this was definitely not "roughing it." But we spent little time in our cabin. When you're at the beach, you want to be on the beach. And that's where we headed that first afternoon, playing in the sand and surf until sundown.

Here are some photos from Day 2 of our Road Trip... As always, click on the picture for a larger view:

View of Kalaloch Creek from the Lodge restaurant (which serves some mighty fresh seafood).

So much sand, such a little bucket.

"Walk with me, Grasshopper."

My son patrols the beach.

Beach sand... The gift that keeps on giving.

Sunset on Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Next post... Day 3: Tide pools!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Family Road Trip: Day 1

Since we've seen and done everything in Idaho, we had to pack up the Wagonqueen Family Truckster and head west to find new adventures on our week-long family road trip.

On the first day we found ourselves in western Washington, staring up at the smoldering crater of the Mt. St. Helens volcano. The kids were initially disappointed not to find rivers of lava everywhere, but they soon discovered that the 1980 eruption left behind a wasteland of devastation that was just as amazing.

Even 26 years later, there are places that look like the surface of the moon. And then, just around a corner, there are lush forests and ponds teeming with new life.

Here are a few images from the first day of our trip... Click the pictures for a larger view

On Johnston Ridge, six miles from the volcano, overlooking the massive landslide that buried Spirit Lake and the Toutle River. Nothing much grows out there. Very humbling.

Near Johnston Ridge, a shattered tree bears witness to the power of the eruption. My kids hike a narrow trail with Mt. St. Helens looming in the background.

Beauty in the blast zone.

My family on a trail near Johnston Ridge. Broken and battered trees are everywhere, but most of them are buried under mountains of debris.

The Hummock Trail is a 2.5-mile loop through the debris field in the North Fork Toutle River Valley. The resulting erosion has created an eerie place of conical mounds and wetlands. The up and down trail was tough for the kids toward the end, but it was well worth the effort. In no other place around the volcano will you see all the different ecosystems that are returning to the area.

Along the Hummock Trail, a new pond where life is returning with a vengeance.

Next post... Day 2: The Ocean!

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Back From The Beach

Click the picture for a larger image.

We're back from a week-long excursion to faraway places. I'll probably be writing about it for another seven days, or longer! It will take me hours to sort through the 1000+ photos I took, but here's one of them. That's my son and daughter, walking in the sunset on Kalaloch Beach (in Washington's Olympic National Park).

We had quite an adventure, but I will save those stories for the days to come.