Alcatraz ArrivalBeing married to an airline pilot has its perks.  In fact, I kind of think that the Pilot has the Best Job Ever, and I should know, since after all he’s spent 17-plus years in the military as well.  Why is it the best job ever, other than the fact that it means he no longer has to spend months on end in places like Afghanistan or Iraq?

Because sometimes he gets trips to terrific places and his family can tag along.

So recently, tag along is exactly what we did, on a trip to San Francisco, California.  We didn’t fly out with him- we went out a little earlier so that we could meet up with family and have dinner with them, which we did, at an Italian cafe in North Beach, not far from our hotel.  (Okay, well, we didn’t actually eat there- we ate Chipotle before we got there.  That’s one of the bummers of being gluten free…  most Italian food is effectively ruled out, but the glass of wine I had was delicious!)  And do you know what the best part of the evening was, besides seeing family?  That we walked everywhere we went.  At night.  And were (mostly) safe because everybody else was out there walking too.  I love Atlanta, you know, but a walking city it is not.

But San Francisco is very much a walking city, and I’d bet you we probably put in about 10 miles in our two days out there.  I could certainly live that way!  And one of the things we did while ambling about the city was to go on a tour of Alcatraz.  Now, touring Alcatraz is not something you do on a whim.  We had to order tickets about a month in advance- apparently, everyone wants to tour the place, making it a very popular tourist destination.  Which typically makes me not want to do something.  But, this is an exception- one of those things you really have to do if you’re visiting San Francisco- kind of like going up the Eiffel Tower if you’re in Paris.  Yes, everybody’s doing it, but that’s because it really is that cool.  And so, into the very long line we shuffled, and onto the boat that takes you out to the island.  In my opinion, anything that gets you out onto the water is worth doing- I love being on the ocean even for short rides in the harbor (I have been known, back when we were spending lots of time up at Whidbey Island courtesy of the US Navy, to ride the ferry boats just for fun).  And this one is a very short ride out to the island that houses the famous prison.  In no time at all, you are stepping out onto where some of history’s most notorious criminals were housed in the early part of the 20th century.  That the ride is short is in itself significant:  these criminals really were being kept very, very close to the city, teeming with normal life, all happening right there almost in front of them.  But they were also worlds away.  You could see how strong and swift the current was, and feel the chill of the cold, cold waters of the Pacific.  They are pretty sure that nobody who tried to escape ever actually made it.

The prison itself is a fascinating place to walk through.  You are given a headset to guide you, and you get to learn about the cells where the different individuals were held, where they ate their meals, and everything about their strictly controlled lives.  You learn about who tried to escape, who was held there, and yes, that does mean Al Capone.  And the best part of the tour for us was the fact that we just read a book together called “Al Capone Does My Shirts” by Gennifer Choldenko.  Things don’t always come together that smoothly for me- it sounds good in theory to read about a place and then go visit it, right?  Actually making it happen, however, is more complicated than that.  But we pulled it off this time, and as we walked around the island, we were imagining Moose and his sister Natalie and where they might have lived and what they felt like, living there on the island with all those convicts, taking the ferry across to the city in order to go to school or whatever else they needed to do.  Having just read their story brought the island to life for us.

And that is what a good story should do.


Little flower.



The following is a poem by Isabella, as part of our Adventures in Writing exercises.


Little flower

Fruit so sour

Since you’re still not grown.

Now you’re all alone.

Other flowers are all wilted,

Very bent and very tilted

Past their prime

You have time

To shine like the evening sun.

Everyone you will stun.

Little flower

How they’ll glower

When you are a leafy jewel.

Leafy tendrils into spools.

Velveteen petals

Sunlight settles

In drops of dew,

Reflecting blue

Of the early morning sky.

The wind’s small sigh

Ruffles through your leaves.

A small petal, it thieves.

Down comes a hand

Around your thin waist, it lands.

A gentle pluck.

A careless tuck.

“You, I will take,

A nice centerpiece, you will make.”

Spring fever!

IMG_2989Okay, let’s all admit it.  We’re ready to be done for the year so we can go outside and play.  Am I right?  I keep seeing ads for the Georgia barrier islands and they are calling my name!  Or anyplace, really, that doesn’t involve me working (which, for the record, COMPLETELY rules out camping of any sort).  And as luck would have it, next week is spring break.  This seems odd to me- weren’t we just on winter break a few weeks ago?  I guess that was way back in February.  And I am certainly not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

What my children don’t realize, though, is that while they will be getting a break from the structured, once a week program that they attend for math and science, there will still be a lot of learning happening in this homeschooling household.  We have managed to acquire three different museum memberships, you see, and we are going to be full-on museum gluttons next week.

The first membership we bought this year was to the High Museum, which is a terrific for art here in Atlanta.  I have loved going there for years, and knew that I’d eventually get around to purchasing a yearlong membership in our Atlanta museum rotation.  Even getting there becomes an education- in order to avoid paying for parking in the museum’s pricey parking deck, we hop on Atlanta’s public transportation train (yes!  Atlanta does in fact have public transportation!  I know you can’t tell that by all the traffic here, but we do).  It also lets us stay as long as we want without getting antsy about getting stuck on 400 North at 5 pm.  And I just enjoy being at the High.  It’s such an orderly, soothing place, with its clean architectural lines, light colored floors, and white walls.  And of course, there is the art.  The permanent collection is lovely, and there are new exhibits on a regular basis.  There’s even one coming up on cars, which should really appeal to my 10 year old son.  All in all, it’s just a great place to spend the day.  And it makes me, for just a moment, feel like a sophisticated urbanite instead of a suburban homeschooling mom who badly needs her roots touched up…

Our second membership is to the Atlanta History Center.  This is one we have done for several years now- it keeps staying in our rotation because they keep on doing a half price membership drive each spring and I can’t resist the bargain.  And it is truly a bargain, because this place is terrific.  Back when I was working on my Masters’ degree, I used their research library all the time.  Now, we use it for learning about, well, history.  There is a fabulous Civil War exhibit, as well as one on folk crafts of the South and another about the Cherokee who were here first.  And weekend after next, they will be doing their Sheep to Shawl festival.  We can’t wait.

And finally, we have returned to an old favorite for our third membership:  The Fernbank.  We love this place, even though we have a bit of a history with it: When my son was about 4 and we were brand new to Atlanta, we were visiting this museum one day.  It was near closing time, and we were in the museum gift shop buying a Christmas tree ornament when I turned around and my son was gone.  And I mean completely gone.  After 15 minutes of searching the museum- doors all locked down, all guards searching every exhibit, every bathroom all at once, a woman knocked on the mueum’s front door and she was holding his hand.  He’d decided to go on out to the parking lot by himself… even typing those words makes my breath stop at what could have happened…

But it didn’t, and we’ve forgiven the Fernbank and can claim the dubious honor of having shut it down entirely for that 15 minutes.  All that aside, it’s a wonderful place and we love coming here.  It kind of feels like home, really.  Plus, all the security guards still recognize us, a full 6 years later…

So that’s the museum lineup for next week.  Just think of all the learning that is going to be happening, and it will all be disguised as fun!

I feel a little sneaky.

The idea drawer.

Bella, utah
This photo actually has nothing to do with this post, except that it gives me such fabulous ideas… this is my daughter last fall on their hiking trip to Utah. My husband took this- with his iPhone, of all things. So much for my expensive, fancy camera!

I’m slowly working my way through a book titled “Acts of Teaching:  How to Teach Writing”, by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson.  In many ways for me the book is a reinforcement of the way we already do things- process versus product!  Read to learn!  Literature instead of textbooks!  But more than that, and I mean way, WAY more than that is what the book is teaching me.  Naturally, I got the book from my private educational consultant, Ed.D., otherwise known as my mom.  She is, quite simply, the best source of help I could ever possibly want.

But this book, oh, this book.

It’s terrific.  We had already started implementing some of the strategies, such as the daily journaling and just getting your pencil down on the paper and writing. Which I must confess is actually more like 3 days a week journaling because the science and math classes that we take on Mondays and Tuesdays fill those days to the exclusion of anything else.  But anyway, our 3 days a week journaling is quite fun, and has led to a couple of the recent blog entries posted here because when my daughter is allowed to run with whatever she feels like writing about at the moment, I see great things.  My son, however, is having a harder time with it.  His constant complaint:  “I don’t know what to write about!”

As if he doesn’t have anything to write about.

I mean, the kid’s not exactly locked into a white, soundproof room with nothing to do.  No way.  This family does stuff.  We just got back from the Hill Country for our yearly family golf tournament, complete with golf cart crash and ambulance ride to the hospital…  Does this sound boring to you?  Quite frankly, after this weekend I could use a little boring.  I am tired.

But the concept I just came across in “Acts of Teaching” is the idea drawer, which is how one poet that is discussed in the book handles her prewriting.  The idea is that you simply collect up things that move you, or inspire you, or simply remind you of your life and what’s been happening to you in a drawer.  Bits of the stuff of life.  And then you go back to your drawer, and see what becomes something in your brain that you want to write about.  This is, essentially, the prewriting stage.  It’s actually something I’ve done for years, in a way, myself, to inspire paintings.  I take images from magazines or photos and hang onto them until they inspire something that simply must be put onto paper in my own way.

So here’s what I’m thinking for our own idea drawers:  We’re traveling again in a couple of days, to San Francisco this time.  I’m going to require each kid to keep their journals with them, and to jot down things that they see that are interesting or pick up bits of things that interest them, and then when we get home, to deposit these things into their own personal idea drawer (I’ve already got the perfect place).  We’ll let those things stew if necessary.  Then we’ll see what we come up with as we take our ideas (prewriting) and try to organize them on paper (writing).

Wish me luck- I’ve got a seriously reluctant writer on my hands in my ten year old son.  But I think this next stage of our adventures in writing is going to be fun.