Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited by the amazing Karen over at My Own Mind blog to join the My Writing Process Blog Tour.  Karen is an intelligent, thoughtful homeschooling mom who has written many thought provoking posts I admire, and I'm honored to be in such good company!  There are four questions each blogger is requested to answer.

What am I working on?
My writing is all on this blog, where I can write pieces of the length I prefer and on a schedule I can work with.  My writing goes hand in hand with my photography in documenting the world around us.  My monthly event list of free and low cost events around Portland takes up a good chunk of my free time.  But it's totally worth it, because I always find amazing learning opportunities I'd never find without all the research it takes to make the list.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

I deliberately try to make my posts useful in some way. I like to read blogs if they contain information I can use. And I like to read blogs written by friends, no matter what they are about. But I steer clear of random photos of the gardens and homes of strangers, cutesy craft projects, tedious recipes, etc. which some of the most successful blogs written by homeschoolers are famous for. My favorite craft projects are disposable or edible because clutter is my  arch enemy, but we rarely have time for those anyway.   I've often wondered why on earth some of these blogs are so super popular, because I don't often find information or new ideas I can use in them.  I've read that these blogs are "aspirational"; people love them because they depict a perfect lifestyle where the children are having an idyllic childhood surrounded by exotic chickens and Waldorf toys in dappled sunshine.  I'm happy for their authors if they are making good money from their writing, but this depiction of their homes and lives is obviously artificial and it actually strikes me as sexist. It's every bit as false as the airbrushed women in advertisements, and depictions of perfect homes that no homeschooling mom without staff could ever achieve just feed off our insecurities.  I'm never going to dye easter eggs using natural materials gathered from woodland clearings, or bake cakes that form a picture of a rainbow with each slice.  We don't need that!  We should be proud of all the very hard work us homeschooling moms do to give our kids amazing educations, while still taking care of our families and homes.  No one needs our lives to look like a  Nova Natural catalog.

Why do I write what I do?

I love the Pacific Northwest, and I want to inspire people to get out and discover the spectacular beauty all around us.  I've lived in 5 other large metro areas, and the Portland area is smaller than the rest.  It has more hidden gems than I ever imagined, and I'm still discovering new ones.  So to me it's always worthwhile to drive across town, even *gasp!* to cross the Willamette or even the Columbia to explore.  I'm also constantly surprised by all the amazing things you can find in the natural world, absolutely anywhere, just by looking closely.  I'd love to inspire others to turn over a log and find a salamander, or look closely at a tiny wildflower, tadpole or spider before passing by.

I'm also a strong advocate of direct learning.  We do use curriculum and lots and lots of library materials.  But who remembers a single worksheet from our school days?  Experiences are what we remember.  I could give my child a book on natural history, American history, or world culture, and he may well read something useful and interesting.   But he's far more likely to remember crawling through the Ape Cave while learning how lava tubes form, watching archaeologists working at a dig and explaining what they are finding at their site and how all their tools and equipment work, or attending a cultural celebration filled with the colors, sounds and foods of another land.  I want him to meet lots of people who have jobs that are inspiring, fulfilling and meaningful, and truly get a look at what their work is like firsthand. I'd love to inspire others to find great resources within our community to do the same. Someone once told me that my blog is "not about homeschooling." That's completely wrong.  It's all about homeschooling.  Despite the name, the word does not mean we are confined to sitting at home going over curriculum.  When we do that, it beats me why anyone would want to see pictures of it.  

How does my writing process work? 

The vast majority of my blog posts start with pictures.  I start by editing our photos and selecting which ones will work well on my blog.  Then I write about what we did and saw, and try to include as much information as anyone would need to know to make it useful.  There are so many incredible places and events that happen in our area, I'd like to encourage more families to check them out.  

Two things can be really time consuming.  One is identifying things.  When we find an unusual flower, an intriguing bird, a strange creepy crawly in a tidepool, etc., I want to be able to share with my son and with my readers just what it is, and hopefully learn something about it in the process.   Little by little we're learning quite a lot about the natural world this way.  

Another thing that can be really time consuming is editing. I don't always know when a piece is finished, especially if it's of any real length.  I'll revise, and revise, and revise, trying to keep things as concise as possible.  Not many of us really like to read anymore, and I'm hopeful that people will eventually reach the end!    

Continuing this blog tour the week of August 4 is Jen Swann Downey, the smart, funny and unstoppable force behind her writer's blog, Jen Swann Downey, and the fantastic new children's book "The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand." Time-traveling librarians use ninja fighting in a never-ending quest to defend free speech!  How awesome is that? Read it or be square!!!  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cactus and Succulent Show

Every summer, the Oregon Cactus and Succulent Society has a show and sale at the Portland Nursery.  Succulents thrive in many different climates, but many live in extremely dry regions.  These are gifted with amazing powers to store water in between infrequent rains, and have developed a variety of ways to prevent themselves from being eaten by thirsty desert critters. Only cactuses,  which are New World plants, have spines to protect themselves.  Lithops, or "living rocks", are succulents from southern Africa which can survive more than a year without any rain at all, disguised as rocks.  Jasper came to pick out a few more plants for his collection and took lots of pictures.  All these photos are his.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

June Lake

June Lake.
June Lake is an easy, family friendly hike in a gorgeous part of Mt. St. Helens. It's really close to Lava Canyon, Ape Cave and Trail of Two Forests.  It's popular on summer weekends, but not at all too crowded to be peaceful.  We found huckleberries ripening by the score, Cascades frogs splashing about in the lake, and fog shrouding the peak of Mt. St. Helens. The bottom of the lake was crawling with a bazillion tiny caddisfly larvae which had made their homes from what appeared to be hollow  plant stems. While we were there, we did a pika survey for Cascades Pika Watch, to confirm the presence of these ridiculously cute critters meeping around in the talus.  Pika are relatives of rabbits that live on slopes under rockfalls, and Cascades Pika Watch trains volunteers to help with a citizen science project to monitor their populations.  Pikas have an alarm call  ("meep!") which is hard to miss if you are anywhere near them.  We fully expected to see them as well.  But the area around June Lake has an incredible amount of talus, so there is plenty of space for pikas to carve out territories far from the trail.  We certainly heard them but didn't see so much as a whisker.  However, we were amazed to hear one of their long calls, which is made by males during their breeding season and is much less commonly heard by humans.  It was strange and beautiful!
Mushroom.  Photo by Jasper.
Ant.  Photo by Jasper.
Lipstick lichen.  Photo by Jasper.
Cyanide millipede. Photo by Jasper.
Mt. St. Helens.
Pearly everlasting. 
Tiger lily. 
Inside-out flower.
American dipper, unique among songbirds because they are aquatic.  We enjoyed watching this spunky bird fishing.
Caddisfly larvae.
Cascades frog.
Cascades frog.
Pink mountain-heather.
This log was covered with intricate patterns made by beetles that once nibbled away under its bark.
Slime mold.
This caterpillar was hanging on a thread high in the air.  Some species of caterpillars that live in trees will drop quickly from a thread if they find themselves threatened by a predator, then slowly haul themselves back up.  It looks like hard work!
Tiger lily. 
Prince's pine. 
Sickletop lousewort.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sarracenia Northwest

We love Sarracenia Northwest!  They are growers of extraordinary carnivorous plants in all their wondrous variety.  Until my son became fascinated with them after watching a movie about them, I had no idea they came in so many different shapes and sizes beyond the famous Venus flytrap.  Oregon has several native species. These include the famous cobra lilies of Darlingtonia State Natural Area, which is a kind of pitcher plant; butterworts, which trap their victims on sticky leaves; and sundews, with tendrils covered in jewel-like droplets of sticky liquid that sometimes curl around their prey.  These are all adaptations to nitrogen-poor environments that are often found in bogs, because insects are a great source of nitrogen.  Sarracenia Northwest grows all kinds, both temperate and tropical varieties, in breathtaking colors and shapes.  And they offer an extraordinary level of expert growing advice.  They are generally at the Saturday Market, but they open their Eagle Creek nursery to the public twice a year.  We love to visit during their July open house, and one reason is that many of their plants are still in bloom.  Since they rely on many of the same insects that they eat for pollination, their flowers are often on stalks that rise far above their hungry traps.  Jasper really loves this place, and the very kind and patient people who run it and take the time to answer every question.  It's obvious that this business grew out of the owners' sincere love and fascination for these amazing plants and their desire to share them.  
Pitcher plant. Photo by Jasper.
Sundew. Photo by Jasper.
Photo by Jasper.
Pitcher plant. Photo by Jasper.
Venus flytrap flower. Photo by Jasper.
Sundew. Photo by Jasper.
Cobra lily. Photo by Jasper.
Venus flytrap.
Venus flytrap flowers.