Boat parade on Redwood Creek

A little motorboat covered in christmas lights with a tree at the prow was idling in the middle of our end of the harbor yesterday afteroon. We asked them what was up and they told us about a lighted boat parade from Docktown to Bair Island and back. We were very excited!

I charged up the battery on the Daisy, our sail/row/motor boat, and bailed out all the rainwater and set up the engine. The Daisy has an electric trolling motor that runs off a marine battery. Marine batteries use gel instead of liquid, and are specially insulated, so that if your boat sinks, the battery fluid won’t leak out and poison everything. The trolling motor is almost perfectly quiet, but not very powerful. Usually we can go faster than the current caused by wind and tide in the creek. Usually!

Milo in the boat parade

While we didn’t have holiday lights to put up, I did have some green glow sticks and a few flashlights. So we managed a red light to port, a green light to starboard, and I hung a white flashlight down my back. That made us legal to be out on the water after dark. The extra green glowstick was for Moomin to wave around.

Out on the water we saw a few sail and motor boats cruising around Redwood Creek. We sang “Jingle Boats” which we made up on the spot.

Dashing through the waves, in a one horsepower boat,
O’er the waves we go, when we’re all afloat!
Jingle Boats, Jingle Boats, Jingle all afloat,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horsepower boat!

There were other people singing and one very huge magnificent ship:

boat parade on redwood creek

The smallest sailboat and the motorboat with the tree came up into our part of the harbor to sing carols. We joined them and even tied up to the sailboat to share one of their laminated books of lyrics. They had some great boating xmas carols written by Cynthia Shelton: Let it blow, one about being stuck in the mud, and my favorite one to the tune of Winter wonderland, “Livin’ on a dock by the bay.” Though it has able-ist language and maybe is a little passive aggressive towards whoever lives or lived in slip 34, I laughed pretty hard. Moomin mostly laughed at the line about poop since he doesn’t realize very much about social dynamics or what “being out on parole” means. I wonder if this is the same Cynthia who was an attorney and helped me with my disability paperwork at the Independent Living Center in about 1995? Maybe so!

Gone awaaaaay, are the bat rays
Here to stayyyy, is a nutcase,
In slip 34, He’s the sloop next door,
Livin’ on a dock by the bay.

Pelicans open fire, Bombardiers here for hire,
Hey do me a favor, and poop on my neighbor,
Livin’ on a dock by the bay.

Who says every liveaboard is crazy,
On the lam or maybe on the dole,
Not all of us are whackamoles are lazy,
Or psychopaths out briefly on parole,

Later on we will have some, margaritas or buttered hot rum,
Pretend we are cruisers ‘stead of slip-bound loser,
Livin’ on a dock by the bay.

boat parade on redwood creek

The main singer on the sailboat kept yelling at the guys by the engine to sing more. They didn’t want to! Moomin also got very much into telling them off for not singing enough and not having proper spirit about caroling. If there was a job for righteously telling people off, he would do well. (Perhaps a future activist.) I figured out at the end the reluctant singers were the lady’s teenage sons! They invited us back to Docktown to the Peninsula Yacht Club (not as fancy as it sounds, a lot more homey) for soup and lasagna, which was tempting for me but not for Moomin who does not eat either of those things since they don’t come in “nugget” form.

Another great song to the tune of Silent Night.

Stormy night, Land out of sight,
All alone, Holding tight

Force 8 or 9, with 30 foot waves,
I should have heeded the NOAA,

Now I’ll sleep with the fishes!
Sharing some zzzz’s with the fish.

I felt lucky we happened across this impromptu boat parade. It was beautiful out on the creek after dark and very sweet to sing goofy carols with our neighbors. Moomin had wanted me to organize something like a water caroling party but I didn’t have that quite together to do. So, lucky us, we found the carolers!

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Reading Watership Down

Watership Down is our new bedtime reading book. Moomin and I started it last night. I gave him two warnings: it’s intense, and it sometimes has long boring descriptions of scenery. My pitch for the book was basically the book cover and “A book about rabbit society from the point of view of rabbits, with stories within stories about their mythology.” Moomin was sold!

Watership Down book cover

We read about 7 or 8 chapters, with Moomin taking over to read aloud to me in the middle so my voice could have a break. He got very excited at various points and stopped the story to explain back to me what was happening. He really loved the first footnote on page 3 where it becomes clear that the author is writing as if translating from rabbit language! And then he got very interested in what was happening narratively, as the author describes the scenery, describes the rabbits, and then almost cinematically pulls in to a tight focus on the rabbits and then they start talking to each other. He stopped me there to talk about how that was clever and as the reader, you don’t know at first that the book is going to be from the rabbits’ point of view. My budding narrative theorist! (I think he gets this ability for analysis from reading and re-reading Scott Mccloud’s “Understanding Comics” and its sequels.)

The first chapter also has a great scene that engaged him immediately. Hazel and Fiver are about to eat a cowslip and the bullying Owsla member, Toadflax, takes it from them. Their reaction to this routine injustice made him identify strongly with the characters. He wanted to know what they were going to do! Then Hazel and Fiver went to warn the Chief Rabbit that something bad was going to happen to the warren. He got very excited here too, outraged at the indifferent authority of the Chief Rabbit not taking the young rabbits seriously – condescending to them.

A bunch of rabbits led by Hazel then leave the warren and, exhausted in the middle of a scary forest, tell a story from rabbit mythology. We both had trouble pronouncing “El-ahrairah”. It keeps coming out more like El Herrera. Oh well! Moomin loved the El-ahrairah myth where the sun god Frith blesses the rabbit’s butt. He also nearly exploded at the speech the sun god gives at the end where he poetically exhorts El-ahrairah as “Prince with a Thousand Enemies”.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.

If you read this book aloud you will definitely notice the sentence length can be a challenge for kids. I admire a very long sentence that goes on for a page and a half and while he rolled his eyes at this and at my commentary! “Just say it!” But I think he secretly admires the audaciousness and poetry of Adams’ long sentences. It’s good for kids to be exposed to complicated grammatic structures — early!

Meanwhile, he is reading a phonebook-sized book called American Indian Myths and Legends that I’ve had lying around. We read a few of them together over the last few weeks and then I noticed he had started to plough on through the whole thing beginning to end.

This book strikes me as being pretty decent especially as it has explanations after each story that make it clear that First Nations people exist now and are not “from the past” as so many books frame the history of the Americas. Sadly I realized this year that in Moomin’s school education though they spent an entire year talking about California history and the Ohlone and Miwok people, he had no clue that there were active Ohlone or Miwok people today – and there are. The school projects all seem to be about The Far Distant Past.

I also like the book for having multiple tellings of the same or very similar stories.

Moomin explained to me with great outrage that some of the stories were “inappropriate!!!” The book’s organization by subject meant that he was able to skip the chapter called “Stories of Love and Lust”. Bad enough that he had to suffer through the musical at school called “Nightmare on Puberty Street”. Right now he would rather give that stuff a miss.

Next up I might read him some of the less racy selections from Technicians of the Sacred, but I should really look for something more modern and more in line with my politics. I’d also kind of like to read him some things from the Popul Vuh though they’re more morbid than he likes, I know he would enjoy the stories of Hunahpu and Xblanque going to the underworld. But first we have to get through all zillion pages of Watership Down.

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Houseboat Christmas

Draping some mardi gras beads over a ficus tree . . . that was our Christmas decor last year. This year I’m determined not to be such a grinchy slacker. The floggings will continue until the boat is decorated!

pirate flag xmas ornament

I picked up Moomin from dance practice and we went to pick out a live tree in a pot from the cheap plant nursery, MMM Plants. For 40 bucks we got a three foot high fir tree. Not bad! Our neighbor carried it into the boat and I set it up on deck on a table. Moomin and I draped it with sparkly red fabric that I got free somewhere earlier in the year and had stashed away.

When I went to plug in the xmas lights in my bedroom and run the cord out the window, the power went out! The extension cord I was using had fallen into the water, and I guess its innards rusted. The three electrical outlets in my cabin still don’t work, so I’m running my bedroom heater (and the tree) off our neighbor Roy’s extension cord hooked up to an outlet in the main cabin.

Anyway, after some messing about with flashlights and the boat’s control panel… which you have to see! It’s so complicated looking! Our neighbor came to look at it and had no more clue than we did. He had clearly been splicing the mainbrace a bit hard that evening. We flipped a lot of switches!

boat's electrical panel

So, we gave up on fixing the electricity and decorated the tree. I had a little plastic bin of ornaments stashed away in the bilge, plus a few more that I bought at Big Lots. Moomin likes fancy ornaments and even at 3 years old scoffed at my construction paper chains and snowflakes made of toothpicks. He’s like a dragon who could sleep on a hoard made entirely of sparkle, glitter, and chandeliers. So I’ve been trying to pick up shiny ornaments at garage sales and so on. The transparent, iridescent star I got in NYC was a hit and the tree looked great!

Decorating the tree

In my further efforts not to be a crappy parent, I baked cookies, kind of! We only have a toaster oven. So, on one of my infrequent forays into Whole Foods I got some refrigerator cookie dough, and made some cookies on a tiny aluminum sheet in the toaster oven. This worked AMAZINGLY well. The cookies were tasty! No pre-heating necessary! The toaster oven dings and turns itself off when 10 minutes are up, so no one had to eat the burned cookies. Go, me!

Over Thanksgiving while Moomin was at my sister’s house he consented to taste hot chocolate for the very first time. Believe me, I’ve tried. What? Milk is disgusting and *hot* milk would just burn and why ruin some good chocolate that way? Give fisssh, keep nasssty chipssss. “I tried it and guess what, I actually liked it!” So he sipped his tiny half-mug of hot chocolate, ate his cookies, and hung things tentatively from bent paper clips on the prickly tree with his shirt sleeves pulled over his hands for protection from the spikes. It was a good party.

I do require a craft project to properly feel christmasy. I had gotten a 2 dollar pack of glittery pipe cleaners at Office Max, which is right next to Big Lots.

Which reminds me, I went to Big Lots instead of Target because the Target in Redwood City has a very ancient electric scooter which goes about .5 miles per hour and turns off every few feet, and to make it start again, you have to stand up. That misses the point of being a mobility aid for disabled people, if you ask me, and when I pointed this out to the Target store manager, he just shrugged and said no one ever used that scooter anyway. I WONDER WHY. So, anyway, Big Lots and Office Max got my holiday shopping money.

Back to the pipe cleaners! Moomin was so pleased at the glittery pipe cleaners, which seem so much more real and grown up than the regular kind, which I routinely keep in stock. We made pipe cleaner stars, trees, kayaks, a houseboat, and some ocean waves. Moomin missed Oblomovka’s daughter and said she would probably like to make some tree ornaments with him when she gets back, and they could make them for presents or to sell at garage sales.

admiring the tree

The harbor is starting to look really splendid at night with christmas lights all over the boats, reflected in the water. In another week it will be spectacular since we have some neighbors who run lights all the way up their masts and rigging.

We also made a plan to do kayak christmas caroling. Here we come a kayaking among the waves so green! If you want to join us in a borrowed small boat, let me know. Next week at high tide we’re going to serenade the neighbors. Because Moomin will be in NY with his dad’s family for the entire holiday break I figured I would make an effort to do holiday-like things beforehand, making more of a fuss than just “extra day of opening presents”.

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Crockpot green curry chicken – cheap!

My staple food is chicken taco stuff made in a crockpot, but this week I varied it to be Thai green curry chicken stuff. I go to Trader Joe’s a couple of times a month to get luxury groceries, and then a couple of times a week, to the local Latin American corner store for my staple groceries. Here’s my green curry thai chicken recipe for the crockpot!

Jar of green curry stuff from Trader Joes (about $3)
1.5 lb boneless skinless chicken ($5)
Half a cabbage, chopped ($1)
Red bell and green ancho pepper, chopped ($3)
can of light coconut milk ($2)
3 roma tomatoes, chopped ($2)

I put everything in the crockpot and cook it for about 5 hours on the slow setting. I don’t bother to chop up the chicken. Once it cooks I can just break it up a bit with a wooden spoon.

Thai green curry chicken soup

During the week I ate my thai green curry chicken in a lot of different ways. It was good reheated with rice. It made a nice curried omelette. With chicken broth added, with cherry tomatoes cut in half, fresh red pepper and lime, and a few drops of hot pepper sauce, it’s extremely delicious soup. This week, I mostly ate the green curry as soup!

The container of chicken broth was another $2, limes are 5 for $1, a carton of cherry tomatoes was $3, and we can probably call the rice and eggs another $2. For about $25, I ate very well for an entire week, with minimal fuss and time, good variety, and fresh veggies every day.

The cabbage worked well as a cheap substitute for bamboo shoots. But this weekly crockpot comes out more expensive than tacos, because of the jar of curry sauce and the coconut millk.

I cook without onion, because onions disagree with Oblomovka, who is the only other person regularly eating my cooking. You might like onions in your curry though. Carrots would also be nice.

Moomin won’t eat stuff like this! He exists on a diet of hot dogs, bread and cheese, rice, carrots, korean snack seaweed, full fat chocolate yogurt, ice cream, chicken nuggets, cereal, peanut butter, and eggs.

Houseboat kitchen

This dinner-for-the-week plan would work better for me if I had a working microwave in the houseboat. Then I wouldn’t get a pan dirty to reheat food. As it is, I just heat up a little bit of the chicken stuff in a tiny non stick pan.

Next time I cook chicken tacos in the crockpot I’ll write up my recipe. And I already wrote up my recipe for crockpot congee.

What do you think of my cheap, no-fuss, time-saving cooking plan?

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The Mystery of Air Waffle Inn

Tonight at bedtime Moomin and I read the title story in The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton. During the bit where there is an evil guy whipping one of the characters who has a baby strapped to her back while working in a field, Moomin sat straight up in bed and yelled “WHAT!!!?” Yes, kid, slavery was bad like that. I’m going to see if he’ll read “A Girl Named Boy” which is about a girl who is sick and tired of her parents trying to raise her consciousness of the history of slavery in their family, until she accidentally goes back in time and experiences life as a slave in Virginia. I thought of Walter Mosely’s 47 but realized it was too intense and meant for older kids. A Girl Named Boy should be just about right for Moomin!

At school this week they had a visit from a traveling musical about important teenage issues. It’s called “Nightmare on Puberty Street” which made me laugh since … Do 6th graders these days know what that even refers to? Do 10 year olds generally watch ancient horror films? Anyway, Moomin reported that it started off with a long song called “Am I Normal” and then went into an even longer song about people calling other people bad names. I asked if it was hilarious or just embarrassing and he said it would be hilarious to a 40 year old but not so much if you were a kid, and that none of it was anything he had to worry about except for M. the kid who makes fun of him now has a long list of new horrible names to call him. “Sometimes I imagine that instead of ignoring him, I could kick him right in the nuts.”

Moomin’s doing a book report on The Mystery of Lilac Inn, which M. the bully told him was only for girls. We laughed about how stupid that was. (I was like “What… it’s not like I read a book WITH MY VAGINA” to which Moomin replied smirkily, “Point!”, and then we laughed uproariously. I would have said exactly that at age 11, while he is much more subtle of a person.) Then we made fun of Nancy Drew and her dad and her cousins and how their mysteries always wind up being the same mystery but they don’t realize it till very very last minute. He pointed out that Nancy Drew almost always gets tied up by the criminals who then gloat about their plans in front of her and then she screams for help. “Instead, she should know karate, and when two bad guys come at her, she should figure out which one to attack first, and then kick him in the nuts. Then punch the other one in the nose. Then, don’t scream for help.” We talked about Tom Swift and I tried also to describe the horror and pain and glory that is the Bobbsey Twins. Moomin laughed a lot at my description of how their nemesis, Danny Rugg, always shows up no matter what town or even another country the twins go to, and then is mildly naughty and gets in trouble and is sent home.

Mystery at Lilac Inn

Then Moomin pulled out Whales on Stilts, an awesome hilarious book, to show me the list of fake book titles that make fun of Tom Swift and that sort of old-fashioned series.

  • – Jasper Dash and His Astounding Auto-Cycle
  • – Jasper Dash and His Amazing Voice Catapult
  • – Jasper Dash and His Stupendous Air Waffle

    We laughed so hard over the stupendous air waffle that we both got asthma.

    We got a tiny christmas tree tonight, an alive one in a pot, for 40 bucks! Moomin picked it out. Tomorrow I’ll have the energy for us to decorate it. But today I worked a lot and drove Oblomovka to the airport and did 6 loads of laundry and washed a week’s worth of dishes and then there was an electrical problem in the aft cabin so I had to borrow an extension cord so that I could have heat. So, no tree decorating! Only collapsing!

    In other news, I have been a somewhat rotten parent this last month, at least that’s how it felt to me. I was often sick with a cold, barely able to get around the boat and its stairs and trying to keep it together till bedtime (ie not crying, and not taking painkillers), didn’t have the right food in the house most of the time (um, we are having hot dogs… again), was gone for a week on a trip to NY right at the holidays, and when I was here and wasn’t in bed hiding from the world, was emotionally caught up in a situation of my neighbor’s. Basically I used whatever energy I had to help out with her domestic violence and court situation, and things came out pretty well, but it upset me on top of being sick, I could not blog about it openly because it was too personal, and it seemed like the only decent thing I did for Moomin was to read to him lots and lots at night and watch his dance practices (which are great – they have a 5 minute long routine to Tabloid Junkie). I’m sure there were good moments and I’m being too harsh. We did kayak a bit during the 3 days I wasn’t sick, including a nice trip out with a new neighbor kid, Dani. On the trip, I had a fabulous time, and wasn’t sick, things were great but very tiring, and I got to play with L.Q. and M’s daughter, Little Ada and went with her and Big A. to Plimoth Plantation — feeling bad that Moomin wasn’t there. Anyway, I feel more myself again this week. Back in the saddle!

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    Halloween parties and parades

    My Zomboni from Plants vs. Zombies costume came out great. I painted the Zamboni design on white fabric with cheap tempera and tied it over my lap. A cardboard box would have made it too awkward to wheel myself around the neighborhood. Another section of white sheet was draped behind the chair back to make the Zomboni’s ice trail! Only one person recognized the costume from the game. She pointed and laughed and gave me the thumbs up. Other people, well, I have no idea what they thought!

    Zomboni

    Oblomovka was Crazy Dave from Plants vs. Zombies. No one recognized it and most people said things like “Oh! You’re a POTHEAD!”

    crazy dave

    Or “spilled breakfast.” One tiny kid pointed and screamed “Pan on the head! Pan on the head!!!” So I’d say it was a successful costume.

    Moomin’s The God Horus costume came out well too. For his dance studio’s party, he left off the double crown of the Pharoahs of Egypt, but was still cheered as a finalist in the party’s costume contest!

    Milo as the God Horus

    I love to make costumes and to see how people dress up. The quality of store-bought costumes has really improved since I was a kid. The only year I remember having a boughten costume (as Laura Ingalls would say) it was a trash-bag-thin piece of plastic with a skeleton printed on it.

    Over the last few days I’ve been to Egypt Day, Oblomovka’s daughter’s school Halloween Parade, Moomin’s dance studio’s party complete with home-made haunted house in a tent, trick or treating up and down Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights, and then a long night of handing out candy as swarms of kids ran around in the dark. Tonight there’s a Dia de los Muertos parade in the Mission, so I’ll don the Zomboni costume one more time!

    The school parade was very old school. All the kids walked around a small blacktop courtyard while the principal or someone yelled muffled things through a bad PA system. The best part was when all the superheros and ninjas were called into the center of the courtyard to pose for a photo. Instead they piled on top of each other in an epic melee.

    The Bernal party was great though I have never loved the idea of going up and down a street or a mall full of businesses. Half the point of the holiday is getting to knock on doors of strangers and neighbors, to feel that everyone is generous and to peek inside their houses. I also like how many people who don’t have kids enjoy this holiday and dote on the children in their cute costumes. This still happened in Bernal, in fact, it happened so much that we gave away two bags of candy, some Twizzlers (unwrapped) and Oreos and a bag of marshmallows (also unwrapped) and then were reduced to handfuls of coins from the change jar. The main drag with businesses was friendly too but because it was so crowded, felt less free and easy. I was happy to see a lessening of unwrapped-candy paranoia, as I was given handfulls of jellybeans, cookies, and apples.

    Here are some other highlights of Halloween:

    A small, charismatic police officer:

    Police costume

    Dance performances:

    Community Street Jam

    The head-on-a-platter costume:

    Community Street Jam

    And Moomin (not in costume) heading off on Halloween morning on a bus with his entire 6th grade class, on a camping trip!

    Milo

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    Analysis of Prospero’s speech

    Tonight as we cast about for something new to read I decided it was Time for Shakespeare. Moomin’s school just put on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he had mixed feelings about! I wanted to read The Tempest because it has boats and islands in it and have never really liked Midsummer Night’s Dream because people are so schmoopy over it.

    I prepared some stuffed animals to be our actors. Prospero was a large lobster and Miranda the smaller lobster. Ferdinand was a rat. Ariel was a small manta ray.

    BlogHer Food - crocheted lobster

    I explained pretty much everything. We stopped to act out and imagine the shipwreck and some of the bits of Ariel and Prospero’s conversation. Moomin was annoyed but laughing at the funny parts and fairly enthusiastic. It was inherently funny that we were doing Shakespeare with rats and lobsters.

    Then, during Prospero’s long-winded speech about his studies and his brother Antonio doing most of the governing, he keeps barking at Miranda to see if she’s listening. Dost thou attend? Miranda basically keeps going “Yes, dad… still listening… how fascinating… yawn!”

    At some point during this scene Moomin stopped me and said pointedly, “You know how Prospero keeps going BLAH BLAH BLAH are you listening? and Miranda keeps going Yeah yeah I’m listening? Well, that reminds me of the actual reality of right now!”

    I argued that the language is pretty, the jokes funny, and the blah blah bits build up to be interesting. He was unconvinced!

    Maybe I started the Shakespeare a little too soon?! Or maybe the time is never! Still, I thought it would be nice to read a little, with lobster actors, before it all gets ruined for him in 9th grade by some dull teacher!

    I note that my son has gotten a bit of a sharp tongue… I wonder from who…

    Shakespeare: not a hit. The Tao Te Ching: Sparked interest and conversation, but ultimately, rejection. The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson: Compelling, and good because it was Egypt-ish, but too long winded and going on about souls and signs and the Gods and good government, with not enough action. I should finish the last few chapters of Kidnapped, though they’re also a little boring, which is why I started skipping to new books. I refuse to buckle down and read Animorphs and am going to keep reading weird books to Moomin, that he wouldn’t otherwise read, as long as he will tolerate them!

    milo reading at breakfast

    He did really like Harriet the Spy, at least.

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    The Domes at Oz Farm

    This month Moomin and I went for a weekend trip to stay in a geodesic dome at Oz Farms with Oblomovka and his daughter, and Yatima and her family. I spent most of the weekend in bed looking out from the huge glass windows of the wooden dome or sitting on the deck with a view of a hay field and a hilly redwood forest. The kids played in the creek and ran wild in the woods. No one got poison oak.

    domes

    You can see the huge windows here & the beauty of their construction. I lay in bed a lot looking out the windows at the trees and fields and the soaring domed roof. The two domes are stuck together and share a bathroom and big kitchen with lots of equipment. There was a wood stove in each dome & a big pile of firewood on the deck outside, where we watched the stars from family sized lounge chairs.

    The farm and domes were built in the mid-70s as part of a communal farm and utopian community. It was called The Village or Village Oz and was one of hundreds of back to the land efforts. Lawrence Kroll has a few pages of photos of the dome construction and Oz life.

    domes

    At some point the farm was sold. It is a working organic farm now with apples as its main crop but also a variety of veggies & fruit that are sold through CSAs. The cabins, yurts, and domes all around the valley and its little forests & fields are available for people to rent. So it’s a farm with one foot in the tourist industry so that city slickers like us can fool around in the woods & the Garcia River for a weekend. The kids had a great time roaming free in the forest while the grownups appreciated the beds, kitchen, and indoor plumbing (there was a jacuzzi!)

    posing

    I would not call this place accessible by any stretch of the imagination but I managed to get in there and park myself.

    The details of the wooden domes were very beautiful. I read up after I got back home on dome construction. It seems the roof of a dome often leaks and there is a small industry of expert roofers and carpenters who restore vintage 70s zonohedra to fix the roof leaks and skylights. I’ll keep that in mind for when I start my cult in the woods…

    We got to see the golden hayfields and dusty live-oak-green up close & personal and the cathedralish redwoods plus a sunny pebbled stream safe for kids to play in. It was a nice vacation and I’m going to write up all the fun things we did! I think it was amazing and worth it just to sleep in a geodesic dome – and for the kids to have the memories of doing that.

    In retrospect: I wonder if we were right on top of the San Andreas Fault?

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    How to make a Plants vs. Zombies costume

    I’ve thought about how to make a Plants vs. Zombies costume. Here’s several good ways to make them yourself, very cheaply!

    traffic cone zombie

    DIY Traffic cone zombie costume: Brown jacket, red tie, green face powder, jeans and boots. For the traffic cone hat, I’d order a $4.00 pack of Construction cone party hats, good for creating a whole squad of zombies. But it would also be quite easy to make traffic cone hats from a cardboard box or some posterboard.

    * Cut out the square base of the traffic cone from cardboard or foamboard.
    * Measure around your head with a string.
    * Use the string to mark a circle on the cardboard.
    * Cut out the cardboard with a box knife.
    * Cut out thinner cardboard or posterboard in a three-quarters-circle (sort of a Pac-Man shape) to make the cone.
    * Tape it all together firmly on the inside with duct tape.
    * Spray paint it orange. Or use tempera paint, or orange construction paper with lots of tape. A little black paint detailing will fancy it up.

    For butter on top of the traffic cone zombie, take an ordinary square butter box. Open the flaps to the box and scallop them a bit so they look like butter melting. Paint the box yellow and tape it onto the top of your traffic cone. Now you can easily be a zombie with butter on your head!

    Playdoh would also work well to create the butter on your head, but the cardboard box option would be a lot lighter. For extra realism for the splatted butter edges, use yellow felt cut in nice blobby shapes taped onto the bottom of the butter box.

    Green face powder is easily available at Halloween or party stores. You could also use a combination of green face paint sticks (greasepaint) and regular face powder on top.

    Since I use a wheelchair, I thought about being an ice machine zombie, the one driving a Zamboni. This might also work well with a bicycle or a stroller. Wear a red hat as the Zomboni driver does, and a black jacket. Use a cardboard box spray-painted white and blue, with a big red “Z” on it, for the Zomboni. Black wheels could be painted on or cut out of black foamboard. For the wheelchair, I could fasten this over my lap with some straps.

    It would be very easy to convert a stroller into a cardboard-box Zomboni. Then put a red hat on your baby. Instant baby Plants vs. Zombies costume!

    A bit of white fabric trailing behind the stroller or wheelchair would look great as the ice. Make it long enough to trail to the ground, but not so big that it gets caught in your wheels or that you trip on it.

    zombie driving a zomboni

    Crazy Dave is also an easy costume. White polo shirt, saucepan on your head, trim your beard if you dare or paste on a fake beard. For props, Crazy Dave could have bacon or a taco made out of cheap felt from the craft store. Felt is easy to glue together and usually costs about 50 cents per sheet.

    Have fun being zombies! Or plants, but their costumes seem too clunky and annoying while zombies are easy.

    Take a look at this Plants vs. Zombies cake if you love the game as much as we do!

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    Posted in Creativity, How-To | Tagged , , | 24 Comments

    Reading with kids: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

    For bedtime reading, Moomin and I are reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, one of my favorite kids’ books. It has a lot of great scope for imagination as its hero David climbs the stairs in a creepy ruined mansion in a thunderstorm, deals with his miserly uncle, is shanghaied, shipwrecked and marooned, and then is implicated in an assassination and has to go into on the run as an outlaw.

    Kidnapped illustration of fight

    We skipped a little bit of the first chapter, as it’s ponderous and its humor doesn’t come through very well to a kid, at least to my kid. I’ve also skipped some of the more detailed bits of Scottish clan politics. We talked about the Scotland rebellion against England, and Moomin grasped that the peasants were being forced to dress differently and pay two rents and were also being forced out of their homes — and why they might ally themselves with England’s enemy, France.

    Another hurdle for this book is the Scottish dialect but once Moomin kenned that “ken” means know, he got into it. The best bits for him so far have been the bravado of Alan Breck, David’s friend from an epic fight on a ship and companion in their flight from the British soldiers.

    The dialect can be daunting but once you get into the swing of it, really fun, and great practice for figuring out words from context:

    “I’ll chance it, Alan,” said I. “I’ll go with you.”

    “But mind you,” said Alan, “it’s no small thing. Ye maun lie bare and hard, and brook many an empty belly. Your bed shall be the moorcock’s, and your life shall be like the hunted deer’s, and ye shall sleep with your hand upon your weapons. Ay, man, ye shall taigle many a weary foot, or we get clear! I tell ye this at the start, for it’s a life that I ken well. But if ye ask what other chance ye have, I answer: Nane. Either take to the heather with me, or else hang.”

    “And that’s a choice very easily made,” said I; and we shook hands upon it.

    “And now let’s take another keek at the red-coats,” says Alan, and he led me to the north-eastern fringe of the wood.

    We talked about what the hell this meant for quite a while. “What does he mean, that’s a choice very easiliy made?” Moomin analyzed what David meant by that, and has stopped the story in other situations to understand what the characters mean in their conversations. That is actually one of the huge strengths of Kidnapped – dialogue that establishes characters’ relationships and what they’re thinking. From David’s terse “that’s a choice very easily made” we see his position as a citizen undermined. He had trusted in the English and in the criminal justice system and his own innocence, but in this situation, he sees that there could be no justice for him. Aside from that moral analysis, we both cracked up when we hit the word “taigle”. It was over the top.

    I recommend reading short pieces from books that are over your kid’s head. With a younger kid you might just start in the middle of the book in an action scene, after summarizing the story’s setup and listing some characters. But rather than going for a condensed or heavily edited dumbed-down book, read bits of the original text. I try to get a narrative flow going with exciting action scenes that I know Moomin will be imagining as a comic book or a movie. Once the flow is going a bit, you can interrupt it with explanations briefly – and then keep moving! After your boring lecturey explanations, remind your kid what just happened, maybe read the last sentence before you stopped. If your child asks questions you could try to remember them and look up further information when it isn’t bedtime but don’t get on the Internet to look stuff up at 9:30pm on a school night (I speak from experience.)

    Here’s another technique for reading a book that’s slightly over your child’s head: Stop after a paragraph and gloss it with a brief summary of what just happened. “So, he’s going back and forth between Scotland and France, smuggling money to keep the English King from getting the taxes.” Like that!

    As we raced through the book I told Moomin that my favorite chapter was the one where David is marooned on an island. He can’t swim, the pole from the ship that helped him get ashore floated off, there’s no shelter and it’s cold and raining; the raw shellfish and filthy puddles he eats and drinks to survive make him throw up. He gets pneumonia and a hole in his pocket loses him all his gold coins. Then he despairs that a passing boat doesn’t rescue him. Finally he realizes the channel between his island and the mainland becomes a mudflat at low tide and he could have walked off the island all along. I love this chapter! He’s so miserable. Then feels so silly when he figures out how to escape. I always thought, “Well, that’lll never happen to ME… because I know to look for the tidal causeway!” But to Moomin’s mind, I’m very weird for liking something that’s about a character’s misery. He explained that the chapter was just sad and depressing and that we were just different in what we enjoy.

    This happened again for the chapter where David and Alan are on the run from the redcoat soldiers & have to spend a day cowering on top of a tall rock, broiling in the sun with nothing to drink while soldiers roam around looking for them. “Why would you think this is good, Mom?” “Well… because I might be kind of miserable for some reason but at least I’m not hiding on top of a rock in the hot sun? And because whenever I do climb up a rock, I imagine that I’m in this exciting scene, being really heroic and enduring it and escaping.” He is probably still thinking that over.

    David Balfour is privileged, though he’s an orphan and penniless and kidnapped. He comes from the Low Countries rather than the Highlands and speaks good English. It becomes clear over the story that David identifies with his oppressors at first. He starts out shocked at Alan and the other Highlanders’ actions and attitude, but ends up realizing that in the eyes of the English he’s fair game. So while he also starts out very uptight about the Scotland Rebellion, he ends up in some sympathy with it (as he runs away from soldiers and meets the people in the Highlands.) I thought Moomin might find this interesting too; why might a “good citizen” have sympathy or give support to a political rebellion? He will likely need to think about that during his lifetime as he already appears to struggle with ethical questions between law, rules, and “what is right”.

    After that we read some chapters of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. He likes to think about what would actually make a person wise, so this seems like a good start along with Kalila and Dimna (The Mirror For Princes). Most of it made him roll his eyes, but he liked the verse about emptiness and the inside of a pot and the inside of a house being the important parts because they’re what you can fill up with stuff and they’re what you actually use. I enjoyed his outrage at some of the verses about denial of the senses. Next up, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which he will surely enjoy more than the Tao.

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    Posted in Books, Parenting | Tagged , , | 21 Comments

    Kids and houseboats

    Guest post today from Moomin! He wrote about our liveaboard life for a school report and it didn’t come out sounding like this guy’s. It’s good to know that Moomin noticed the old sailmaker was a bit “off” since actually the sailmaker was drunk as hell and was raised as a neo-nazi and talked constantly about “overcoming” his racism and I can’t even go into the details of all that because this is a G-rated blog and the sailmaker’s overcoming techniques and conversation were not rated G. Sooo with that stellar introduction, here’s Moomin’s report on what it’s like for kids to live on a houseboat!

    IMG_0578

    The Second Chance

    I was amazed when I first saw my mom’s houseboat. It was almost a year ago when I first started coming to it. Mom had rented the boat (the Second Chance, it was called) from someone else, and I hope we have it for a long time! It has a small porch in back and a small pilothouse up top that opens up to the roof of the porch. It’s also a great place to play, as long as you don’t mess with the controls. There’s even a hatch in the front end of the boat (my room) that goes to the lower roof, and that’s not all.

    Another thing: every room is covered in furry green carpet. Those rooms include my mom’s and my bedrooms, which are practically all bed. However, I should not just tell you about the boat itself.

    There is more to this than how the boat looks. The S.C. is in Pete’s Harbor, Slip 6, along with other boats like the Hannah Lee II, who are good friends with us. Strangely, all of us can tell the tide just by looking at the bridge connecting to the dock. That’s because the dock always floats, so when the tide goes down, the bridge tilts down. When the water goes up, the bridge levels. However, this tide table wasn’t very useful, since our engines were broken down and we didn’t have any other boats. That is, at the start we didn’t.

    Now we have three more boats: The Daisy, the No Brakes, and the Water Bug. The Daisy we had gotten from an old sail maker (nobody said it, but we all thought he was weird or crazy). It was 3 things at once: a sailboat, a rowboat, and a motorboat. Mom had gotten the kayaks from an actual company. Now, every boat is all fun!

    We read “Kidnapped” some more last night and got to the point where David Balfour is trapped on a little island. With Moomin’s awareness of the tide, I feel sure he wouldn’t have been trapped for long!

    I wonder if he will still think every boat is all fun when we haul the kayaks out of the water and scrub the seaweed off?!

    Someday I’d like to live on a boat with working engines and go cruising all over the San Francisco Bay and the Delta.

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    Posted in Boats!, Books | Tagged , , , , , | 25 Comments

    Best Mashups for Kids

    I love great mashups but a bunch of them are really sweary or sexist so I skip over them in the car if kids are around, less because I’m uptight about it and more because they would find it embarrassing. Here’s my list of awesome mashups that kids will like, appropriate for any age. If you like this list, you might also like my Best New Wave Songs for Kids and Best Punk Rock Songs for Kids!

    These mashups are even better if you play some of the original songs first for your kids so they understand some of the creativity that goes into a mashup! Watch the original videos, then the mashup music videos. And you can stay on top of some of the best mashups by checking the Bootie site every month.

    bootie sf logo

    I Want You D.A.N.C.E. (Justice vs. Jackson 5) – ComaR – Best of Bootie 2008. Cheerful and upbeat! (YouTube)

    Galvanize the EmpireParty Ben. Dramatic Star Wars music mixed with dance beat and rap. Mild swear words but not that anyone will notice.

    We Will Ska You – bittersoundfoundation. Kids like “We Will Rock You” but for me… after 30 years … it gets really tedious. This speeded up ska version makes it more than bearable. It’s amazing!

    Harder Better Faster Stronger / Lava Lava – Daft Punk vs. Boys Noize – onemoredisco.com. This is good for kids who like to dance like robots or superheroes. (Download)

    Tequila Lip Gloss (Lil Mama vs. The Champs) – DJ Paul V. – Best of Bootie 2007. This video mashup is beautifully done with Lil Mama dancing in a high school cut with the “Tequila” scene of Pee Wee Herman dancing in a biker bar. (YouTube)

    Pretty Rudy – Go Home Productions . A great mashup of The Specials “Message to Rudy” and TLC. (YouTube)

    Tricky Sandman – Run D.M.C. vs. Metallica – DJ MIF – Best of Bootie 2006. This is good for rocking out, headbanging, or jumping around. If your kids like metal, go for Tricky Sandman! Not the most feminist lyrics out there but not obviously overtly horrible either.

    Walkin’ Out Yo Girlfriend (Unk vs. Avril Lavigne vs. Toni Basil) – DJ Lobsterdust. Unk’s original song has some objectionable words, but this version is clean! I love the point where Hey Mickey is strongly mixed in in the last half.

    Girls on Film Freak Out – DJ Magnet. Chic vs. Duran Duran This is a great music video mashup! (YouTube)

    Hung Up On Soul (Death Cab For Cutie vs. Madonna). (YouTube)

    Dance Dreams (Lady Gaga vs. Eurythmics) – Divide & Kreate

    There are a zillion more great mashups! This is a good list of mashups that don’t instantly blast your ears with cuss words so you can play them in the car in front of your kids without embarrassing anyone. They’re also educational and a great way to teach kids about creativity, music, art, DIY, bricolage, and the joys of downloading and information sharing. Enjoy!

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    Posted in Creativity, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

    Meme Day: Kittens Inspired by Kittens

    kittens inspired by kittens

    This week’s meme is the “Kittens Inspired by Kittens” video! It’s a funny YouTube video, great for kids, from 2008 of a little kid about 6 years old, Maddie Kelly, pretending to read a book called Kittens. Each photo gets some commentary either about the photo or in the voice of the kittens on the page. It’s her ideas about what the kittens are thinking. Kids are not often amused at how cute other kids are but this video will make pretty much any child crack up laughing.

    Kittens Inspired by Kittens got boingboinged in 2009 and in 2010 it made Time Magazine’s best 50 Internet videos list.

    I like how the parent filming this video doesn’t say anything or boss his daughter around. I kind of picture them filming her once in a while as she makes up great stuff, and this one happened to come out hilarious and perfect. It’s a good video to watch with kids because it’s funny, and it inspires kids to want to take their videos of themselves making stuff up. But it also has perfect meme potential in that you can take Maddie’s style of narration and “read” anything that way.

    Last week’s meme was Dramatic Chipmunk which I know should really be called Dramatic Prairie Dog or “How to give your child nightmares about scary music”. If I got something wrong about Kittens and it should really be called Prairie dogs Inspired by Prairie Dogs then let me know.

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    Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

    We saw a seal!

    Recently I took the kids out on Redwood Creek in the early morning at low tide in the Daisy. Very early in the morning, there’s almost no wind, and the water is glassy with gentle ripples. It’s the best time to see seals!

    As we came out of the harbor and the creek opened up wide all around us, we all took turns steering and gazing out across the water towards Bair Island. It was chilly. I was still in my pajamas. There was some skepticism. Was this one of those made-up adult claims that someone was going to be “fun” when really, nothing happens?

    we might see a seal if we keep looking

    And then pretty quickly… WE SAW A SEAL! OMG we saw a seal! It looked at us! It was swimming alongside us with its head and tail out of the water!

    OMG OMG WE SAW A SEAL

    Ork! ork! ork! ork! ork! ork! ork! ork! Do you think it can hear us? Are we talking seal language to it? Does it think the boat is a huge whale?

    ork ork ork do you think it can hear us

    It makes me happy to know that Redwood Creek and Bair Island are clean and safe enough to make a good home for seals. I wonder how many seals there are in San Francisco Bay, in general? I’ve heard the population in Corkscrew Slough just up the creek is about 50-100 during the seal pupping season. They’re not just at Pier 39!

    DSCF0039

    We drove around for a while telling everyone we met that we had seen a seal. Then quietly motored back to the boat and had breakfast. I could do that every morning and not get tired of it!

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    Posted in Boats! | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments