24 September 2007

Questing for Knowledge

Yesterday we had a family day out by going to Questacon in Canberra. Questacon is a hands-on Science museum, very similar to the McWane center we visited in Alabama (Here, here, here and here).
The first section we came to was "Sideshows" exposing all the tricks of the trade as well as demonstrating some of the rides such as a huge slide "Freefall", a centrifuge and a simulated roller coaster ride. The slide had each participant put on overalls (called "Body Bags" by the attendant) climb some stairs, then hang on a bar two stories above ground and let go. One girl hung onto the bar and decided that letting go sounded like a pretty silly idea and had to be retrieved by the attendant. This photo shows James just as he let go. Peter is already on the stairs ready for another go. Peter somehow managed to get 5 slides to only 3 for James and Eric. Ariel decided that this type of thing was not for her.
The roller coaster simulation was enjoyable. As the pod in which we were enclosed moved and bumped us around, Ariel said, "This is like your driving Dad!"
One of the exhibits centred around Spies and Codes. Eric and Ariel picked up the activity sheet which had the visitor go through the exhibits ferreting out the clues to answer the final mystery. This photo shows Lana helping Ariel unravel one of the secret messages with Martin snugly asleep encased in the Moby Wrap sling. Eric joined forces with another lad about his age and they worked out the answers pretty quickly.
We asked the children their favourite parts:
Lana, Ariel and Eric enjoyed the spy part as it was more involved than just playing.
Eric, James and Peter liked the Freefall slide. James also liked playing with some tubes which attached to a metal wall by magnets, which you manipulated in such a way that a ball travelled from the top to the bottom.
Clare enjoyed the show about balloons and hot air.
Rose just liked playing with lots of things.
And we all enjoyed the mirrors which distorted our appearance to long thin people and a short wide family.

22 September 2007

Always have a spare memory card

My photo plans during our trip was to upload them to my computer each night. This worked fine until the first night of the camp when the card reader failed during the transfer. I uploaded 42 out of 64 photos, but the card was now corrupt!
I had stupidly relied on one memory card with no spare. The little town in which the camp was situated didn't have anything so esoteric as a SD memory card so I had two options. Either take no photos and see if I could retrieve the 22 photos when I got home, or reformat and lose the photos.
I took the first option, so I took no photos beyond the first day. I wasn't able to retrieve the photos after all but I now do have a backup memory card in my camera case.
Use my lesson for your own benefit. :-)

Martin is 5 months old already

Martin is already 5 months old. Time certainly does fly. Many of our friends have asked how he is going so here he is!
He dribbles constantly, lubricating a passage for teeth that must be on the way. He is pushing himself up and can rollover which means we are at defensive stage 2 - no more leaving him alone on the beds and remove inappropriate things from his near vicinity.

19 September 2007

Homeschooling Camp III - Sports and Games

A highlight of the camp is the Sports Carnival. One of the dads handles most of the organisation (here is our report last year) and every child has a go. Even our less than athletically gifted children each get a participation point just for entering each race so help their team. James was so intent on doing his best he strained his recently repaired arm during shotput. He didn't tell anyone and went in the 1000m (5/8 mile) marathon. I saw him crying as he neared the finish line and helped him finish the race.
"What's wrong?" I asked, "A stitch, did you fall over?"
"No," James replied and told me how he strained his arm. So we bandaged it up and by the evening he was much better. At the beginning of the sports award ceremony James was called to the front.
"Who me?" he asked with a shocked expression.
"Yes, you. Come on up."
The organiser and one of the priests had their hands on his shoulders and told the audience how he had gone that extra distance just to get the participation point. James was quite embarrassed - but happy too.
Ariel was also embarrassed. She won the "Best and Fairest" award. This is a perpetual trophy and is awarded to the child who is the most helpful and generally all round good child for the camp. Ariel's face at the moment her name was announced as the winner was worth a photo. But I missed it so she is shown here after the event.
We also learned new games from other families. In this photo I joined Ariel and her friends playing "Hands". Players sit around a table and place their right hand over their neighbour's left hand. Then it begins. One tap means go forwards, two taps means reverse and three means skip the next hand. If you don't tap when you should that hand is removed (from the table, not surgically). It gets quite tricky especially after hands are removed. For example, I tap my hand once on the table and the person on my right taps their hand once and the next hand taps twice. So it reverses and the next hand taps once and I have to tap again. If I tap 3 times, the hand on my left is missed and the next left hand has to tap.

18 September 2007

Homeschooling Camp II - Dads at camp

Last year I was asked what Dads do at homeschool camps and I will answer the question again this year. Dads get involved in the organisation, talks, sports and everything else as homeschooling is a family affair, not just Mum's job.
At the beach the Dads typically act as beach patrol, calling the children back to safer areas. One of the dads has a really penetrating whistle which the children could hear above the waves. Every time they drifted too far away he would whistle, they would look and we would wave our hands getting them back near us. Also, after a long time at the beach, the littler ones found walking on the sand path a bit too tiring so they wanted to be carried. Here is one dad carrying Rose and his daughter back to the camp. (Click the photo for a closer view)
There were a number of talks and catechetical activities organised and the priests asked that the Dads to listen in to the talks for older children. (That's me by the door while Father gives his talk).
One of the best activities for the fathers was the night we had a men's talk and the ladies had their own. We all gathered in one of the halls with a cup of coffee or some dry biscuits and followed an agenda. The discussion was great with each of the dads giving their perspectives on raising children in today's world. By 10pm we stopped and went to round up the younger children and see them to bed.
I noticed Lana wasn't back from her talk so went to the cabin in which the ladies had gathered. There I saw the remains of cake, fancy biscuits, cheese and crackers, some wine and all the elements of a fine party! Typical! We hadn't though of that. Next time we'll arrange something little bit more physically rewarding to go with the mental feast.

(Other camp posts here and here)

17 September 2007

Homeschooling Camp I - Sandcastles

We finally made it to the camp and quickly unloaded the van contents into our cabin. The children promptly vanished and found new and old friends. A Sand Castle competition was arranged for the first afternoon's activities and somehow myself and one of the other mums were made judges. We had three boxes of chocolate to award as prizes. We decided to award a prize for the best Traditional, Artistic and Tenacious sand castles. The first two weren't too hard to select, but the third had a number of groups of children in the running. This first photo shows one of the boys in James' group trying to resurrect their castle after a rather devastating wave.
All that remained was the Cathedral they had built on the lonely mound of sand. So the boys started building even bigger walls around the Cathedral to try again. I don't know if James' efforts at turning back the waves made a difference but it didn't stop him trying. (Click on the photo for more details)
Meanwhile Eric's group of boys started their castle for the 4th (!) time. The first three were washed away to steady groans.
But their castle did survive in time for the judging and won the most tenacious category. Here they are showing off their creation.
The older children/young adults started off spectacularly with several spades and lots of assistants. They achieved a mound of sand about 5 feet high. Then they were distracted by other things and so ended up with just a pile of sand.
"Why didn't we get anything?" one of the young adults asked on the awards night.
"A pile of sand didn't qualify for the traditional or artistic categories and you all eventually gave up and went swimming so it didn't qualify for tenacious either."
"Well, there is that..." he replied.
So next time we will do better. There is always next time.

16 September 2007

Kyogle or thereabouts

Our next stop was near Kyogle so we could visit friends that had recently moved nearby and attend Mass just over the border at Marian Valley, Canungra.
Once again it was more winding roads and hills, but with 7 back seat drivers (luckily Martin hasn't started criticising my driving yet) I drove a lot slower and was more conscious of the effects of the roads on my rearmost passengers.
The key to driving on windy roads is to look out, so when we saw a sign saying "Lookout ahead" we stopped and looked out. This photo shows Lana enjoying the view at Moonbi Lookout (B Where's). (Click Lana's photo for a larger view)
We stayed at a fairly basic caravan park that was adjacent to the rain-forest, so it didn't surprise us to see this not so little spider in the ladies toilet/shower block. The children were all reminded to observe the important lesson to shake out their shoes before putting them on in the morning.
Our friends have taken over a Free Range Eggs farm so the children had the treat of riding quad bikes and collecting eggs while Lana and I had fun chatting and learning all about how the eggs are gathered, cleaned, sorted and distributed.
On Sunday we drove 90 minutes to Marian Valley for Mass. It wasn't as exciting as last time we visited, but we had a great Mass and met many good families afterwards. Then it was back to our rooms and getting ready for the homeschooling Camp tomorrow!

11 September 2007

A Little Bit of History

Tamworth bills itself as the Country Music Capital of Australia. They have plenty of Country music festivals and events, the Golden Guitar museum and tourist trap, and lots of musician based statues and localities.
One place which we did not expect was the Tamworth Powerstation Museum. It is a museum devoted to electricity, especially as it was used in Tamworth. In 1888, Tamworth was the first town in Australia to have electricity powered street lights. Sydney only had their street lights powered by electricity 6 years later! 19 years later Tamworth homes were also connected to electricity.
As today was off peak, the volunteers had plenty of time to lead us through the museum and explain many of the items to us. The entry fee was only $6.50 for a family and we received a personal tour! They have collected a great many electric powered devices, including old fridges, stoves, irons, washing machines and so on. Our guide allowed each of us to feel how heavy an old electric iron was and asked Lana how she would like to iron with that. "I don't iron," promptly answered Lana, "All of our clothes don't need ironing. Even easier!"
In 1988, volunteers reconstructed two steam powered engines which powered the dynamos that provided the first electricity in Tamworth. They found examples of the old engines rusting away in sheds somewhere but all they had for the dynamos were a sketch drawing. With that and some extensive research and lots of ingenuity they rebuilt the dynamos! On special occasions they start up the engines and it all works as it used to. Lana is standing in front of one of the rebuilt engines.
In the park where we had lunch was a statue dedicated to the Lighthorsemen, especially those that served in WWI. Over 500,000 horses from the Australian outback were sent to the Middle East. Most didn't return. Not due to casualties, but because Australia didn't want them back, due to a combination of Quarantine issues and the sheer cost of returning them home. The B-Where's version is here.

7 September 2007

The Chef is a Rat!

Part of our holiday treat was to see Ratatouille. Actually, the treat was to take the family to a nicer restaurant - all you can eat - which the children thought was a pretty good idea. But then one of the children mentioned the cinema and we realised that today was the day Ratatouille would first show. Normally we avoid the cinema as it costs a lot more than buying the DVD and watching it at home. However, we negotiated and traded a nice restaurant for a family movie.

The film was very enjoyable. It is amazing how Pixar is able to weave a story about a rat that can cook into a plot involving family loyalty, love, honesty, integrity and sticking with principles and make it funny as well. (Although in one scene Lana and I both shivered when we saw all the rats amongst the food. We have fought gainst rats in the past!)
Pixar has done it again.

6 September 2007

Interesting Places

When we lived in the US we laughed at local place names. But just to show you it wasn't just America that has interesting place names, here is one of the road signs showing the towns we went through on our trip. The biggest challenge is working out how to pronounce the names. It is not always as you would expect.
For example, one town that is near where Lana grew up is called Wauchope. This is pronounced War-Hope. Lake Cathie is pronounce Lake Cat-Eye. I am pretty sure this is just a quick way to work out who the locals really are!
The best named place was one we passed through a few days later - Wonglepong. Now that is a name to impress outsiders!
Singleton NSW boasts the "Largest Sundial In the World." Ariel is our model demonstrating the size of the thing. We couldn't really fit the top into the picture and be able to see Ariel too!
It is very big, I grant you, but what is the point of a sundial if there is no sun to actually help with telling the time. Is this a case of an early technological power failure?
Our last photo is on our photo blog B Where's, showing Rose Pointing in front of the sign announcing Rose Point. And she looks so cute in her sunglasses. We really couldn't help ourselves.

5 September 2007

Our Holidays Begin

We have been planning our annual holidays for some time, coinciding with the homeschooling camp which is on next week. This time we are taking the inland route to visit some friends and explore new places.
We left Lana's parents to mind the fort on a wet and cloudy day. We really appreciate the extra luggage space in the Ford Transit van. As you can see we have some room spare after packing sleeping bags and linen for all the children, pillows for everyone and blankets and linen for Lana and I, as well as enough clothes and essentials for the trip.
One game we played was "A to Z". This involves everyone looking for a sign or word starting with each letter in order - car licence plates are excluded. As we were on the freeway much of the way, most of our results were truck or road sign related. When the letter "J" was announced, Clare quickly answered "James!" Then it was a new rule clarification - all results had to come from outside the car.
The weather was very variable. Light rain, clear, heavy rain, then drizzle and clear again. We decided to rely on the GPS and take a shorter route off the main freeway. This saved many kilometres, but unfortunately was a very winding road. As the van is rather long each winding part meant the rear seemed to move even more. By the time we had come through that section everyone behind the driver's seat was feeling queezy. "I feel sick." Clare announced and I VERY quickly pulled over and everyone scrambled out. This photo is of James helping Clare who was feeling very unwell.

(I am posting our trip stories now that we are back with a stronger internet connection.)

1 September 2007

General Peter

Today the boys, Ariel and I visited a Napoleonic Wargaming demonstration. While I was with James looking at some historical swords and equipment, Peter and Eric were sitting watching a large Waterloo style wargame. Ariel was sitting by the window reading a book. She reckons wargames are boring for girls.
A regiment of Cavalry had forced some infantry into squares. This meant the men in the unit face bayonets out and the men behind them fire, making them safe from Cavalry who won't charge home through the sharp points.
Peter watched carefully and mentioned to the fellow in charge of the Cavalry, "With the Cavalry don't charge. Use the cannons to fire into the infantry. That makes holes in the defence so the cavalry can go through."
The men playing the game stopped and looked at Peter.
"That's actually pretty good tactics," one said.
"Where did you learn that?" another asked.
Peter answered clearly, "We watched the movie called Waterloo."
A fellow on the other side of the table said, "How old are you?"
"He's 21" someone answered with a smile.
"Look, there's a horse over here," one player said pointing to the figure of the General, "Hop on it and be a General!"
"The French are doing poorly. They need your help."
Peter just stood there looking at all these men talking about this young lad of 8 discussing quite intelligent Napoleonic tactics.
It was pretty funny. Ariel couldn't concentrate on her book.
Peter understands what is involved not just from the film, but the discussions we had during the film. As the battle in the film unfolded I explained what the impact was and why certain tactics were poor and what worked better. Peter obviously absorbed it all and applied it at the right time.