Archive for the 'School' Category


Posted by laura on Jun 08 2011 | Fun, School

Last full day at elementary school. Woohoooo!

You know, she rides down this hill many a morning with her hands up over her head, and I trail behind her with my heart in my throat. She’s been trying to teach me to ride hands free – she has a mantra that she repeats that has to do with sitting up straight and looking ahead, and I’d like to believe that I’m getting better at applying that to my life, although I still can not ride a bike without holding on.

She’s also trying to teach me how to hula hoop, and I’ll be honest – it’s not going any better.

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Posted by laura on Jun 06 2011 | Making, School, Uncategorized

It’s the last week of school! How exactly did that happen? I have catching up to do here, but first, let’s just have a word or two about this week. This is Honey’s last week in her elementary school, and somehow I ended up on the ‘graduation committee.’ Ok, that’s a bit disingenuous as I actually know exactly how it happened. It went like this:

My Friend Barb: “Hey, Laura, you should be on the graduation committee with me!”

Me: “OKAY!!!”

See how easy that was? Barb is a dangerous woman. It’s a good thing she doesn’t smoke. Suddenly there I was, on a committee with these ridiculously talented parents who were coming up with loads of great ideas and I was just hanging on for dear life. I have a suspicion that there’s a manual called “How to Succeed in Committees Without Really Trying” and that each these women has a dog-eared copy resting on her bedside table. It’s right next to the “How to Apply Makeup” manual, which I also seem to have missed.

In the end, the committee decided to call the event “Passport to Middle School” and go with a whole airplane/travel kind of thing, which I really liked because heck, who doesn’t love a theme, right? Plus I get a little itchy talking about ‘graduations’ before high school. (Curmudgeon.) Besides, who do you think came up with the idea? You guessed it – Barb.

I’ll get some photos of all the decorations as the week progresses, but one of my favorite things is that the diplomas are going to be handed out in what looks like oversized passports. Hard to describe, but they’re totally fantastic. The folder is blue with an embossed passport stamp on the cover, and inside is the diploma and a replica of the first page of a passport – the form was printed and the students wrote in their own names and place of birth, etc. Each one even has a photo – they look terrific.

The job I got was making the programs. Compared to what the other committee members have managed to pull together, I’m a little embarrassed that this is all I’ve really been doing besides just generally helping out. I was looking around the auditorium after one of the music performances a few weeks ago, though, and there remaining on every single chair was the program for the performance. It makes sense – during the event, it’s nice to know the names and numbers of all the players, but after the event, well, it’s not exactly a keepsake. This got me thinking; what program would be tempting to keep?

Playing off the theme, I came up with a boarding pass and itinerary sheet as the event program. Not a novel idea, but maybe just that bit closer to sliding into the diploma folder rather than into the recycle bin. Here’s the program cover:

And here’s the ‘itinerary.’

Of course, none of the students will have the slightest idea what this is – there’s nothing quite like dating yourself in front of 84 fifth graders.

I was feeling pleased that the design used just a third of a sheet of paper for the cover and one single sheet for the content, but a graphic designer I am not, and there were a couple of elements I forgot. First and foremost – to get the full bleed on the cover (that’s having the color run all the way off the paper without a white border), I’d need to print these on a printer, not at the copy shop. Second, just to photocopy the second sheet in color turned out to be over $100, which was my budget for the whole thing.

My trusty old garage sale paper cutter and I spent some quality time together today.

It kept snickering at our printer, which would print three sheets and then completely spin out. “OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod there’s NO PAPER in the tray!!” I’d open the paper tray, poke the stack of paper a couple of times and slide it back in. Then the printer would print a few more sheets and moan, “Oh man. That’s it. I think – yep, I’m SURE, now I’m totally out of Cyan.” I’d replace the ink cartridge, it would hum along for a few more pages and then, “Oh NO!!” What is it now? “There’s NO PAPER in the tray!!!! AUGH!!!! I can’t work like this!!!!!” No, printer, there’s plenty of paper in the tray. Meanwhile the paper cutter just kept on cutting. I swear, it was like working between the prima donna and the stage hand of the print production world.

Eventually though, we made it to the end. 200 cover sheets.

I brought the second sheets to Kinkos for copying (in black and white) and folding, so tomorrow I can staple them all together. All in all, I was psyched that it came together more easily than I anticipated. Everything takes doing, though. There’s this whole team of people coming up with ideas and decorations and plans to make this event fun and thoughtful for the students, but unless you did any of these jobs, you probably wouldn’t know what’s entailed.

Today I was in the classroom helping the students complete a small project that will be part of the design on the walls of the school auditorium. Having pored over all their names on the diplomas and passports and programs over the past couple of weeks, I feel as though I know each one of them intimately at this point. I walked past one of the students and asked, “Sarah, are you finished with your writing?” She looked up at me and said yes. Then she paused, narrowed her eyes at me and asked warily, “Wait… how do you know my name?”

For a split second I was sorely tempted to say, “Sarah, I’m from the future and I’m here to save your life but there’s no time to talk – a cyborg assassin is blowing up the front office as we speak! RUN!!” But I didn’t, because she’s a child and she has no business watching that movie yet. I figured I should stick with honest and reassuring, so I said, “I’m a mother. We know everything.”

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Explain Your Reasoning

Posted by laura on Oct 14 2010 | School, Uncategorized

Honey is working on her math homework in the next room. One of the problems asks for an explanation of her answer.

“Do you spell because b-e-c-a-u-s-e?”


“How do you spell decimal? Oh wait. Never mind.”

[long pause]

“How do you spell ta-da?”

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Day One

Posted by laura on Aug 25 2010 | School

Back to school – I dread it, and then when it arrives it’s actually quite fun to see everyone again. There’s a beautiful sense of hope that will hum for a week or two while everyone compares summers and gets to know new teachers.

It didn’t hurt that it was a goldilocks day all around. Not too hot, not too foggy – just right. The kids like their teachers so far, and they each have good friends in class, which doesn’t hurt.

Here’s a back to school story in which poor parenting (finally) pays off.

Last week, a number of smart parents we know were easing their kids back into earlier bed and rising times, to make the transition to school time a little less painful. Oh yes, we thought, of course you’d do that. But then we just kept filling our evenings and staying up late, and we’d think, we’d really better get on that transition action. Then on Monday night we got all indignant and said “It’s the last real summer night!” and let them stay up a bit later – nothing crazy, mind you, but late enough that we were sure we’d officially blown any shot at a normal sleep schedule for the night before school. The kids would be groggy and listless, and it would be squarely our fault.

Then Tuesday night rolled in, and wouldn’t you know it was just like Tuesday day, which was HOT. HOT HOT HOT. Hot enough to prove our kids really should not ever live in the south (heck I’m not sure they could make it in Novato) since the heat made them completely pathetic, and that night they could not sleep a wink. Honey wandered into our room at midnight groaning; she’d never sleep again in her life. Then, understandably, she crawled in next to me and conked out, because it’s so much cooler squashed in between your parents.

Can you even imagine how grumpy we’d be today if we’d invested all that effort into a proper sleep transition? That was a close one.

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It’s the Hap, Happiest Time of the Year

Posted by laura on Jun 17 2010 | Fun, School

Or at least one of them! Last day of school yesterday. WAHOOOOO!!!!

We’ve talked about teacher gifts here in the past. This summer we hit the same dilemma and ended up with the same solution – money into the general gift pool and sampler bags of our favorite types of cookies with thank you notes attached. Thank you notes are not easy, which is what makes them worthwhile. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Here we are, heading off on the last school day of the year.

We love our crossing guard. He’s a professional pianist who travels back to China for competitions every summer.

The last day of kindergarten sure is bittersweet. Does it get better than kindergarten? At our school, the 5th graders have a ‘graduation’ ceremony on the last day. (Let me just quickly get it over with – I’m a curmudgeon about this, I realize, but I just don’t like graduations before high school. There.) Anyway, the school does a lovely job with the whole thing; beautiful slideshow, a brief thoughtful statement about each student, great decorations on the walls with the kids’ pictures. Very nice. This year the 5th graders passed around a microphone and each told one memory of her/his time at the school, with a small takeaway at the end. Some were absolutely hysterical, and one kid told a story about his mother having to drop him off early before school one day when he was in kindergarten.

He said he was the only kid waiting outside the classroom, but his mother had told him people would be coming along soon, so at first he didn’t worry. Then as time passed and he’d been waiting and waiting with no one else showing up, he started to cry. “Then,” he said, “like a knight in shining armor, the lawn mowing guy walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, ‘It’s going to be alright.’” That how this student summed up what he’d learned so far in school – it’s going to be alright.

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Back From the Fort

Posted by laura on Apr 05 2010 | Fun, Making, School, Tasty

Whew. We made it. Our trip to Sutter’s Fort was challenging, incredibly fun, and thankfully over without a hitch.

I can just hear all those pioneers from the 1840’s laughing. “You call that a hard day?” they’re saying. “Shoot. You don’t know a hard day from a hog’s beard.” (Now they’re laughing even harder. “Hog’s beard?? What the Sam Hill is that?!”) So fine, I’ll amend my statement. It wasn’t that hard, in the scheme of hard. But I was very sleepy when I got home.

We dropped the kids off at school at 6:45 am. They rode up to Sacramento in buses while we drove with all the supplies. I was on the kitchen crew, so when we got up to Sutter’s Fort, we brought in all the food, inventoried the kitchens, and set everything up for the day. Meanwhile, the kids all went to the train museum in historic Sacramento and traded in the buses for horse-drawn wagons, which pulled them through the city streets to the fort. When they arrived, all the parents went out to greet them. We were allowed to take a few photos as they rolled in, and here’s a glimpse:

There were actually five wagons of kids.

Once inside the fort, there was a brief welcome by John Sutter (played by one of Honey’s classmates), and then we all got to work.

I have very few photos of the day – partly because they didn’t want us to break the time period by walking around with cameras, and partly because we were pretty much working the whole time. The students rotated through stations where they participated in activities that were standard fare in the fort while it was active. At each station, parents would give them a bit of history, demonstrate the activity and give them some work to do – the stations were baking, spinning & weaving, laundry, animal care, corn husk dolls, kitchen, trapping, carpentry, trade store, vaqueros, candle-making, blacksmith and covered wagon. All of the parents had been trained at the fort so they could not only teach our students, but act as the fort’s docents for all the other visitors as well. (There were only a couple of stations with docents that were not parents from our school – the blacksmith and the main animal care docent.) That day, there were four other school groups visiting, so there was plenty of foot traffic.

In the kitchen, we had lunch and dinner to prepare for 150 people. Let’s just say that by the end of the day, we all had a healthy respect for the cooks of the time. Our lunch was a simple, ploughman-style deal wrapped up in waxed paper, since we didn’t all sit down for that meal. Here are two of my beautiful friends working on the lunch assembly line:

We had to be sure that any containers we used were at least possible for the time period, so all serving bowls had to be wood or metal, and the waxed paper was all torn into lengths out of sight in the ‘modern’ kitchen that we could use for washing up. The first groups of kids helped us wash apples, slice cheese and wrap lunches. Just before noon, they all assembled on the lawn and ate during mail call.

After lunch, we went into full dinner prep. I wish I’d had time to take some photos of the period kitchen to show you the fireplace in action – hopefully I’ll be able to grab a shot or two from the parents who were assigned to document the day. You can see one shot of the kitchen on the Sutter’s Fort State Park website, and it gives you a bit of a glimpse – all along the back wall are the fabulous cast iron pots and dutch ovens we got to use to prep the dinner. What you don’t see is the fireplace where we got to hang those pots on massive iron swing arms and surround the dutch oven with the coals from the (wood) fire. After being away from a hotshop for so many years, I have to admit it was great to be back in the heat!

Of course, where there’s fire, there also has to be some serious respect. Particularly when your Environmental Learning Program training materials contain sentences like this one:

“Hearth injuries were second only to childbearing (birthing babies) as the leading cause of death in women.”

Okay then! Good to know! We all learned how to tuck our skirts between our knees when moving the pots around in the fireplace or on the spit outside, just to make sure our hems didn’t start smoldering. But lifting those big old pots, swaying with water and carrots or beans, with iron hooks and sliding them onto the spit, or in among the coals… seriously, it was awesome. And the dinner! It was amazing too. The kids filled their plates at long tables covered with cucumber salad, freshly baked bread and churned butter, grilled chicken, ribs and salmon, black beans, pinto beans, carrots caramelized by a long slow cook in the fire, and mashed potatoes. This was all followed by apple cake and cream whipped by hand. It was delicious.

After dinner, the kids learned some folk dances and songs from a team called The Amazing Harmonatras – folk musicians who teach history through music. I thought my Uncle George would have like hearing that part! The kids learned a few Gold Rush folk songs and even galloped through a couple of line dances before settling in to hear some stories. I wish I could have heard more of that part of the performance, but we were all cleaning up like mad to meet our end-of-day deadline. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen to us if we ran past our end time, but we knew it wouldn’t be pretty. Everything had to be cleaned, cast iron oiled, utensils carefully put back in place and two kitchens inventoried before we got the green light to close up shop for the day. It had to be perfect, and thanks to all the volunteers who washed and cleaned, it was. Turns out that many hands might not always make light work, exactly, but they certainly can get the work done. And how. Looks like we’ll get to come back next year.

Oh and in case you’re wondering – all the sewing did get done. A group of parents sewed 95 bags for students and volunteers to use for their supplies – a batch of mine looked like this:

And my dress actually came out. I don’t have pictures of it on (thank heavens) – but here it is the next day:

A little ragged, and smelling of smoke from the fires, but still in one piece.

So there you have it. Now, if you’re ever just dying to know something about Sutter’s Fort, 1840’s California cookery, or if you simply have a need for a fetching pioneer frock, I’m your gal.

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This Week in March

Posted by laura on Mar 25 2010 | Fun, School, Uncategorized

Here’s a little of what’s going on around here:

I have this one scrappy lilac bush in back that pops out about seven clumps of blossoms every spring and then spends the rest of the year feeling just a bit sorry for itself. It ain’t pretty, most of the time, but it sure is worth it for these two weeks in March, when I can bury my nose in those tiny purple blossoms and transport myself back in time. I’m usually about six, tangled in the stalky base of that lilac at the front corner of our house, surrounded by lush, leafy sweetness and the drone of bees and distant lawn mowers. Sometimes I’m older and in the kitchen, and Mum has just brought in an armful of lilac branches to put in a big vase, and the room is filled with that incomparable relief of spring.

We’re marching inevitably closer to our Sutter’s Fort day, now just a week away. I’ve been stitching up the bags for the students and writing this letter to Honey. They have a surprise mail call up at the fort, and all the parents are meant to submit letters to their children, written in a style appropriate to the time and their children’s characters. Honey’s character is Ellen Murphy (appropriately enough) and I managed to dig up a little bit about the party she traveled with across the frontier, so I was able to send her a letter from a pretend friend back in Missouri.

She probably won’t be able to read a third of the letter, due to my erratic calligraphy and some vocabulary that’s a touch past its expiration date. Although I should not, I’m just going to say now that it’s a pretty fine letter. My first go at fourth grade may have been a bit shaky, but this time I’m nailing it.

Honey, on the other hand… seriously. She’s a week away from portraying a young woman from the 1840s, and she goes and gets braces put on her teeth. Where’s the commitment to authenticity, people?! Sheesh. I told her she’s simply not allowed to smile that day. Or eat. Or talk, for that matter.

No, but really. She has braces now. In fact, she has so much paraphernalia in her mouth, I shudder to think of her next trip through the metal detectors. (Ok, so I just spent 10 minutes trying to spell paraphernalia. Somebody tell me what that ‘r’ is doing in there.) She’s in good spirits, though.

Of course there’s always a lot of this going on around the house. We were particularly fond of this arrangement. Hot Wheels is being his usual goofy self. Yesterday he played himself in a game of Go Fish – open hand. It was so funny to listen to that a couple of times I had to write down what he said. Here’s a little glimpse (now I realize it can be annoying to write the way kids pronounce words instead of the proper word, so I’m just throwing it out there that the whole game, Hot Wheels said “fiss” instead of “fish”):

“Do you have a 4?

Nope – go fish.

Do you have a queen?

Aauugh – you are the master of this game!!

No I’m not – you’re still winning!

Do you have a 6?

Go fish.

Do you have an 8?

Haw, man!  You’re beating me up!”

That’s the way it went. Not sure yet whether this warrants creative writing class or therapy.

So there you have it – March Madness.

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Did You Hear

Posted by laura on Mar 17 2010 | Making, School

a muffled cry for help?

That would have been me, calling out from under an avalanche of cotton and muslin. Honey’s fourth grade class goes to Sutter’s Fort on the first of April, and we’ve been in full production mode, putting together her outfit, my outfit, and a pile of bags for the kids to use for their lunches and notebooks.

Overall, it’s been really fun. I’ve spent a couple of sunny Sundays cutting and adjusting and stitching away, listening to the Blind Boys of Alabama and learning a good deal. For example, I learned how to grade my seams! (I gave most of them Bs and one B+.)

I also discovered that had I been alive in the 184os, I would have been sunk. I have a hard enough time with patterns and a sewing machine – the idea of cutting the material freestyle and sewing it up by hand just gives me hives.

See that sleeve on the right there? My pattern called for an elastic cuff, but that would be a no-go for this time period, so I figured, no worries – I’ll just stitch up a cuff to cap the end of that sleeve. I wanted it to be a bit adjustable, since we’ll pass this dress down to our friends next year, and just working it out burned up a good section of my brain cells. They were nice ones, too – I’ll miss ‘em.

Of course, typical me, I ended up pacing myself pretty well for a while and then staying up into the night last night finishing all the button holes and hems, since they needed to wear their outfits to school today for a costume check. So by the time I realized I really needed to lop off a good 8 inches off the bottoms of the apron and the dress, it was just too late, so I hemmed them sloppily and will have to go back. Bah. I still hate hemming. I certainly wasn’t doing myself any favors, though – look at that hem! It’s like a foot high!! No wonder it’s wonky. It never had a chance.

The good news? She likes it anyway.

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Another Bike Post

Posted by laura on Dec 11 2009 | Awesome, Bicycle, Fun, School

Here are three fun biking events from the past two weeks:

1. Family Ride to Tiburon

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we finally took a great ride that we’d been planning forever with our friends Rik and Sherri and their two awesome kids. We went from Mill Valley to Tiburon on a clear and windy Saturday afternoon. The ride was amazing; only one challenging hill and mostly beautiful bike path, tons of people out enjoying the day, stunning views of the bay and the city to the south. Everything went smoothly and the kids all had a fantastic time. We stopped at Waypoint pizza and got the back room all to ourselves – the food was made even more tasty by our ride beforehand. After we ate, we admired the view for a bit before heading back home.


Tom has this great app called Runkeeper on his iPhone which tracks all the stats on your adventures – distance, time, pace and even elevation – using the phone’s gps. Here’s the screen for our return ride from Tiburon:


How awesome is that?! The kids loved checking out the route and looking at the elevation chart – speed certainly is variable when your riders range from six to, well, you know, more than six. I love the information design on these screens – they’re easy to read and beautiful to look at. So satisfying. All in all, it was an incredible day.

2. Walk and Wheel Wednesdays

As I’ve mentioned here before, I put in a small amount of time for the Safe Routes to School committee at our kids’ elementary school. One of the ways we’re trying to build participation in the program is to encourage a weekly walk/wheel/carpool to school day. We try to drum up enthusiasm for the whole idea by putting up posters and a table at the school entrance on the first Wednesday of each month. Whole Foods was good enough to give us some bags of granola to hand out to the students, and we’ve been stamping hands to show they participated. However, we’ve been struggling to come up with other ways to get the message out without printing up hundreds of flyers that will just be tossed when the kids go home after school.

Last week, I started thinking about edible advertising. So I bought a couple bags of cuties and some food markers and put the message right on the clementines.


They had faces on one side, and “Walk & Wheel Wednesdays” on the other. It was fun watching the kids trying to decide which face to choose, and I think they worked pretty well. Anyone out there have other ideas? I’d love to hear them.


3. Xtra Clean

I’ve carried lots of fun things with my xtracycle.


I love having a bike that can carry my vacuum cleaner.

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iWalk 2009

Posted by laura on Oct 07 2009 | Bicycle, School

We participated in International Walk to School Day here in our town today. Over the past few weeks, the Safe Routes to School committee at our elementary school has prepped for this event; we worked with students to make posters, promoted the event all over the school and arranged for healthy snacks and Safe Routes patches to hand out as walkers, bikers and carpoolers rocked up to school.


Here’s a shot from the path to school. That lady on my xtracycle? Not me. It’s one of our fantastic PE teachers. I rode to school early this morning with my bike completely loaded up with a box of granola samples kindly donated by our local Whole Foods, a huge tupperware of orange slices, serving trays, you name it. The minute I arrived, I saw our PE teacher, who commandeered my bike to chase down the principal, who was heading up the bike path to meet the crowd of walkers heading in from the community center. I didn’t get to see the path when things were going full tilt, but I heard it was mayhem. Woohoo!


Look who’s got new wheels! He finally has hand brakes and gears, thanks to a lucky garage sale find. He’s beyond happy.


Here are some riders filling in one section of our bike racks. It’s tricky to take shots without any faces in them – thanks for this one, Tom!


The bike racks filled up pretty quickly…


Check out that sweet minty green bike! The black one behind it doesn’t look that fancy in this shot, but it’s got a very cool industrial rear rack. Having good equipment sure makes the decision to ride an easier one.

In the end, we handed out 270 badges to students who walked, rolled and carpooled to school this morning. Not a bad turnout!

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