Archive for the 'Schooling' category

Zelda’s First Protest, Rocking it Portland Style


What’s a Portland Mom to do when her husband and oldest daughter are away in Medford for a soccer tournament during Memorial Day weekend? Why take her youngest daughter out to experience her first protest, of course!

In the spirit of protesting GMOs and Monsanto, Zelda and I armed ourselves with art supplies, constructed a few homemade posters (pictured above) and repaired to the Lloyd District for some Democracy in action. And, we would be remiss if we didn’t credit Alexander Rokoff for giving us permission to use some of his images from the War on Nature painting series. A huge thank you, Alex, because everyone loved that sign! (Click to enlarge and see the sign on the left inspired by his art work.)

After finishing our stint, I filmed the melee that was the finish line, condensing it down into moments that were memorable for us, including:

  • For my parents, the bee protestors. At 11 seconds.
  • Dude in sunglasses, shorts, and backward baseball cap who takes off running, flips a double bird, and yells, “Fuck Monsanto!” At 15 seconds.
  • The cute older lady with the dog that Zelda and I met riding the streetcar to the protest. At 20 seconds.
  • The guy in the construction/hazmat suit finding love. At 26 seconds.
  • The mad scientists. At 40 seconds.
  • The woman with the pig snout and the bunny ears. At 45 seconds.
  • The Portlandia exacta…a protestor in pajamas (there’s always someone running around in PJs in Portland), and a circus performer contact juggling crystal balls (another Portland staple). At 56 seconds.
  • Alexander Rokoff admirers digging his artwork on our sign. At 1:07 minutes.
  • Requisite drum led chanters. At 1:30 minutes.
  • Protest selfie!! At 1:51 minutes.
  • Matching hazmat suits for this couple. At 2:02 minutes.
  • Corporate exploitation of protest to expose hot thirsty walkers to yerba mate drink. (Which, incidentally, tasted nothing like a real yerba mate.) At 02:14 minutes.
  • Wonderful woman with retro camera documenting us documenting the event. At 02:19 minutes.
  • Free chalk! At 02:27 minutes.

Home Homework is Baaaaack!


I thought we were safe from intense home projects that parents inevitably get dragged into because both Zs had entered middle school. But, no. Just when I thought it was safe to get back in the water, Zoe, of all people, came home this school year with two large-ish home projects. (Again, belated thank yous to my Mum for all the dioramas she built for me — she was so good!)

The first project was a poster (whew, right up my alley, I’m queen of the posters). Zoe and a friend had to do a social studies assignment in Spanish about ancient China. Awesome! Unfortunately, they spent all day researching and dithering as to what their ultimate topic was going to be, not settling on Wu ZeTian until the 11th hour. Ms. Wu’s story was fascinating and we had some great discussions about her rise from a lower level concubine to essentially ruling all of China from 660 to 705, after her husband was debilitated by a stroke. (Tom and I certainly didn’t know squat about the only female ruler of Imperial China, so Zoe and her friend taught us a lot.)

Of course, the earnest 8th graders didn’t budget much time for the poster building, so it was rather hectic at the end. They did a great job constructing a timeline and describing various elements of her life in Spanish, which can be enlarged upper left.

The second project was very unusual. Zoe was studying medieval times and was supposed to do a project, any project, to demonstrate something from that era. She is an awesome catapult constructor, so she decided to build a working catapult, since they were used to lay siege during battles.


It seemed a little bland by itself, so at the 11th hour (noticing a theme here), Zoe decided to build a paper castle that she could storm with the ping pong ball flinging catapult. You can see them both here. (Click to enlarge.) I have to say, I really love the scale of the catapult compared to the castle. This is truly a medieval warmongers dream (and, apparently, an 8th grader’s).

Zoe got a high mark for this project because her social studies teacher LOVED the catapult. Zoe had opted for a ping pong ball to be politically correct. But the teacher, who kept it for months, was wont to fling rocks and other heavy items across the room. And over time, people would add to it, stabilize it, put stiffer rubber bands on it…it really took on a life of its own!

Who knew?

The key to getting an A in social studies: construct working catapult.

Making Your Own Longboard — It Doesn’t Get Any Cooler Than That!

Zoe likes to build things. Hence our excitement that her public middle school has managed to retain something resembling a shop class.

(A minor miracle in these days of endless budget cuts. Next thing you know, they’ll be bringing back slate and chalk for all the kiddos.)

The teacher is pretty hands off, letting the kids do what they want — from building worlds in Minecraft, to using GarageBand to put together a soundtrack, to creating three dimensional models of real buildings in Google Sketchup for budding architects, to making wooden nameplates. (I picture them creating signs such as “This is my room, stay out!”)

The real action, and the gory stories, are with the power tools though. Zoe loves to tell the one about a kid hopping on the power equipment when a substitute teacher was leading the class (supposedly happened years ago), and getting injured. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the potential for grievous bodily harm is apparently irresistible when you are in 7th grade, and they all love to complain about subsequent band saw and sanding restrictions when substitutes are in residence.

A sampling of Zoe’s work this semester:

  • A bird house for my Dad’s 70th birthday! Pictured below.
  • A toy wooden car…sort of an old fashioned dragster.
  • A desk jockey for her, and a desk jockey for me (gift for Mother’s Day). An example of the jockey is pictured below. She heated, bent and sanded the plastic so it was smooth; cut, beveled, sanded and finished the wooden base; and then attached all the accoutrement!
  • A freaking awesome longboard. I think this is the whole reason she was excited about taking the class in the first place. And, we had to sign a waiver of liability in order for her to make just the skate deck!

After Zoe made the board, she raced home and immediately ordered trucks and fat longboard wheels. When they came in, she grabbed the drill, installed it all, and took it outside…only to discover she put the trucks on backward. If she leaned the board to the left, it would turn right, and vice versa! It was hilarious watching her try to ride it anyway. (Talk about exercising your brain.)

She eventually gave up on her backward board, took another pass at truck installation, and voila, she had a fully functional, fantastically fearsome, longboard.

More on Home Homework

We consider it to be good news that Zoe’s entry into middle school has brought with it a dramatic decrease in the types of projects that require Tom and I to be engaged parents. (Please see the edible Portland Bridge project or the edible map of Oregon.)

We aren’t out of the woods yet, though. Zelda is still in fifth grade, and so far this school year, we have had two large poster projects. (Thankfully, nothing edible and no projects with plants that get sent home, but for which we don’t have a spot.)

The two posters she worked on this year are pictured here (click to enlarge and enjoy them in all of their glory)! The first one probably taught Zelda the most, which was the Comet showcase. She launched into that particular poster by creating a forest green border without considering any other layout or design decisions, which she grew to regret later. For this poster, everything had to be done by hand.

I made her sketch out a layout and design for each element, and then we worked on them together. She traced, stenciled, ink blocked, drew, glued, pasteled, and wrote her way through this poster pretty successfully. Even managing to incorporate the green into the title. She particularly liked the purple stenciled border in the bottom right.

Her second project was to create a movie poster for a biography of Jackie Kennedy’s life. This time, she was much more prepared. Out of the gate, she came up with a layout and theme that were very good and that we followed pretty darn closely.

She was a little freaked out about separating Jackie’s visage into four sections, but in the end, decided that it brought attention to her face, which was the point. She warned me though, “Mom, all the other kids are going to ask why her face is in squares.” Sure enough, when she toted the poster to school, her fellow fifth graders, trying to bring order to their visual universe, asked Zelda why she didn’t glue the pieces together without gaps.

The good news with these two projects? No leftover licorice…and we didn’t have to eat any of it!

The Great Oregon Cookie Map

We seem to be averaging an edible family homework project each grade. (Last year, it was the Broadway Bridge that we made out of licorice.)

As if we didn’t have enough to do this winter, Zelda’s elementary school teacher piled on with an assignment to create an edible map of Oregon. (Click to enlarge photos.) We needed to represent and label all bordering states, major rivers, major mountains and mountain ranges, cities, regions, Crater Lake, and the Pacific Ocean. And, with the exception of the labels, everything needed to be consumable.

Zelda and I put our heads together and decided to build from sugar cookie and glaze.

First task was a shopping trip for the wee-est blonde daughter and myself. Armed with her list of topographical necessities, Zelda and I trolled the candy aisles muttering about mountains and cities, drawing our fair share of strange looks. We decided on Hershey’s Hugs for major mountains, Kisses for major mountain chains, and chocolate chips for smaller mountain chains. For cities, we opted to use Dots to anchor the toothpick flags. Cut up giant Tootsie Roll planks anchored labels for mountain chains. And, of course, we bought all manner of wretched artificially colored frosting…and food coloring…and sugar sprinkles…and cake decorations.

Day 1: Zelda selected five sheets of cardstock and we came up with a color coding system for labels. She then cut out zillions of little triangles, labeled them, and glued them to color coded toothpicks. (Picture 1 below.) This was followed by the creation of a paper stencil of the state and its four regions.

Day 2: We baked the giant butter cookie. (Picture 2 below.)

Day 3: This sucker came together fast, and we needed all hands on deck to get everything situated before the glaze set. We began by placing the stencil on the cookie and frosting Oregon, which was followed by a quick sugaring of each region with its own unique color using our regional stencils. As I glazed the states around Oregon, Zelda and Tom madly placed labels in Dots and Tootsie Roll bases, which were located on the map along with the chocolate mountain ranges. We topped off the topography with unnatural neon blue frosted water features, and a neon blue sugared Pacific Ocean. The final step was laying down borders and drawing the compass rose. (Zelda working on a border in Picture 3 below.)

I am happy to report that our map was not only great looking with lots of extra credit features, but it tasted freaking amazing. A big family argument over who got to eat the Cascade Mountain range ensued!!

My Thoughts on “Family” Homework

Family homework does hearken back to my own childhood, which was besprinkled with wretched diorama projects, year after year. I still remember one assignment that stumped me: creating a model of life in the Alaskan wilderness. It did get completed…but, not by me! In truth, my incredibly crafty mother constructed the entire thing, including an amazing canoe, an igloo, and a lashed together dock with some spears leaning against it.

It was awesome, and I got a great grade. Thanks, Mom!

Sadly, this all comes full circle when you become a parent yourself, most recently for us in the form of Zelda’s bridge project, which required that we build a model and a display board for one of Portland’s historic bridges. She chose the Broadway Bridge.

In real life, the Broadway Bridge is painted “Golden Gate Red”, so we figured we would use red licorice to make our model, since it was already the correct color. No painting necessary! We tested both Red Vines and Twizzlers. The latter I prefer to eat, but they were too soft for the bridge. The former won the day, and after we stiffened it with a little rebar, it was time to build. (Rebar, in this case, was straightened paper clips that we ran through the centers.)

Over the course of many weeks, Tom and Zelda worked on the bridge. When it was finished, they placed it upon piers made of marshmallows. Originally, the project was conceived with footers that were two marshmallows high to keep it all in scale, but within 24 hours, the whole thing fell apart. We had to go back to the drawing board and were, predictably, running short on time. Therefore, maintaining proper scale was thrown out the window. Or, to put it more poetically, we decided that the river was at flood-stage height, and went with the single marshmallow piers that are pictured above. We also added some lateral support to prevent the bridge from falling over.

Yes, we got to build two bridges for family homework!

The display board went a little more smoothly. Zelda hand-lettered a bunch of the labels with single letter stamps, which required a lot of iterations, but the red ink matched the bridge in color and the font looked very “period.” She also was featured in one of the photos of the bridge, which her classmates enjoyed.

At school, she and some classmates even made up a song about the Broadway Bridge, sung to the tune of Oh My Darling, Clementine:

The Broadway Bridge is in Portland, 
It would not fit in a fridge.
It is for cars, bikes and walkers, 
It is nowhere near a ridge.

It's a double-leaf Rall bascule, 
It is bigger than a smidge.
It is painted Golden Gate Red.
Yes it is, the Broadway Bridge!

Needless to say, Zelda participated more enthusiastically in this family homework than my pouty, diorama-hating ass ever did.

The Bridges of Multnomah County

We had the opportunity recently to chaperone a very interesting on-foot tour of some of Portland’s fabulous historic bridges. Zelda’s school scored Portland bridge historian, Sharon Wood Wortman, to lead the tour and it was informative for the pint-sized and adult-sized alike.

Thankfully, the weather cooperated and it didn’t rain. In fact, as you can see, we were blessed with big light for photos.

We started our tour at the Oregon Department of Transportation and got to check out all of their bridge cameras on the big screen. The kids were even more impressed with the remote-controlled conference table, where you could press a button, and the center of the table would rise up to reveal a bank of 12 phones to be used during weather/transportation emergencies.

Next, we walked over the Steel Bridge as a freight train rumbled past us, and off in the distance, we could see the Broadway Bridge just beginning to open. It was lovely.

These lucky third graders had the privilege of ascending into the the control tower of the Burnside Bridge, and they also got to lay down on the road while the bridge was opened next to them solely for their benefit. (I’m sure the commuters were wondering what the hell was going on — no boats coming through, bridge open, kids laying on the road screaming as if they were “road kill.”)

We learned:

  • There are something like 781 Douglas Fir trees under the footings for the Burnside Bridge. (Those are waterproof and rated for 100 years, right?)
  • The St. John’s Bridge was originally supposed to be painted with black and yellow stripes. (Thank God they went with the green.)
  • The Broadway Bridge was the longest double leaf bascule bridge in the world when it was built.
  • The Fremont Bridge is the second largest tied-arch bridge in the world.

Tourney in Temperley


[Chess guru Tom chimes in with this report.]

Ordinarily, I like to sleep in on Saturday mornings, but today, Zoe’s chess teacher had other plans for me.

Once every month or so, he volunteers at a junior chess tournament, and he encourages all of his students to participate. Which is awesome, especially since Zoe enjoys the competition. The problem is that on this particular Saturday, we needed to leave the confines of Capital Federal, and travel to the town of Temperley, a suburb located about half an hour south of the city border.

The easiest way to get there would have been to take a taxi all the way to Colegio Alemán (the school hosting the tournament this month), but that would have been rather expensive, and not very adventurous. The alternative was to take the train.

As my family knows a little too well by now, when I’m traveling somewhere for the first time, I like to leave early. So, that meant that even though the tournament started at 10:30 am, we left the house at 8:20 am.

You know, in case something goes wrong.

We found a taxi driver to take us to Estación Constitución (pictured below), and he quickly sized me up as a clueless foreigner, and warned me never to let go of my bag because the station was a dangerous place. I didn’t understand everything he was saying, but Zoe was able to fill in a lot of language gaps for me. In fact, he was so charmed by Zoe’s ability to act as a Spanish-English translator, that he gave her an alfajor. (My Castellano obviously didn’t make the cut, so no cookie for me!)

He dropped us off at the station, we got tickets and hopped on the next train, all without getting mugged. After a pleasant ride to Temperley, we walked a few blocks to the school…

…and, realized we were an hour early.

The chess tournament was a little tough for Zoe this go around. She had her first experience playing with chess clocks, which takes some getting used to. Plus, they have a rule here that if you make three illegal moves, you immediately forfeit the game. (You get to correct the illegal move, but each is a strike against you.) Zoe’s opponents kept putting her in check, but not actually saying “check” (a common chess courtesy), so when Zoe wouldn’t realize her King was imperiled and move some other piece, they would chalk up another illegal move on the scorecard.

After the event, hopped up on the requisite carbs and adrenalin, we managed to negotiate our way home using a train/subway/walking combo — the tournament may not have gone according to plan, but the traveling couldn’t have been smoother!


On Anthems and the Americas


I was reminded at Zelda’s school production celebrating Cristobal Colón‘s discovery of the Americas that we folks from the U.S. are very impatient and direct.

We don’t have long flowery hellos and goodbyes. Instead of taking the time for a nice chat over coffee at a cafe, we choose to order huge caffeinated drinks to go so that we can inhale them in our car while rushing somewhere. And, our national anthem launches into the singing immediately without prelude or conclusion.

Not so the Argentinian anthem, which begins with what seems to be its own symphonic movement prior to anyone actually lending voice. Every time I find myself lulled into self reflection by the Argentine national song’s instrumental introduction, I am subsequently jarred out of my reverie when the vocal portion begins.

We weren’t sure what to expect when we went to Zelda’s celebration of Chris Colon, which featured 1st and 2nd graders as well as some 2 & 3 year old jardín children. To say we were dazzled is an understatement. The older kids (including Zoe) painted the backdrop in art class. All of the costumes and props were great. The wee thespians spoke clearly and no one forgot their lines.

This theater piece had it all: drama, narrators, musical numbers, and charming toddlers. Below are some pictures that show: 1) Christopher contemplating travel; 2) The monarchy of Spain with the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting (Zelda’s part) discussing funding for an expedition; 3) The sailors crossing the Atlantic; 4) The impossibly cute Pre-K kids in a musical sailor number; 5) The Indians and the Europeans meeting; and 6) A musical flag extravaganza honoring all of the countries in the Americas.

I have to say, they take their drama seriously here, and it shows. This exceeded any similar in-school productions we attended at the elementary level in the US. (I confess, I am one of those parents that enjoys seeing my own children perform, but generally, I find these events to be rather boring. So for me, this was certainly a pleasant surprise.) Bravo!



Birthday Party, Argentina Style


Our second party this last Friday was Zelda and Sofia’s joint celebration of birth, commemorated with the Hello Kitty and Pucca cakes that are pictured here.

Zelda’s portion of Party Friday began with a race across town from the wedding reception to a panadería to pick up the crustless (and tasteless, truth be told) miga sandwiches and the masa seca (shortbread cookies with chocolate, dulce de leche and fruit fillings). In the same cab, we left the bakery and drove toward the apartment, where the Zs and I disembarked. Tom continued on from there to the party room, where he dropped off the food and ran to the nearest Chino to get ten, 2 liter bottles of various sodas.

Meanwhile, at the apartment, I was having the girls change (Zelda into her Chinese dress, and Zoe into her more casual clothes), gathering together gift bags, gifts, receipts, money to pay for the festivities, and extras in case I needed to build more gift bags while I was at the party. We had to solve the crisis of Zelda’s underwear showing through her tights as the slits on the side of the dress ran a little high…apparently they don’t make them with sitting “criss cross apple sauce” in mind!

So, with a zillion tons of crap, the Zs and I tromped downstairs and headed for the salon de fiestas in a taxi during rush hour.

The salon was divided into two major rooms — one ostensibly for adults, and one for kids, the latter being the location for the birthday emcees, who had set up with their audio/visual equipment by the time I had arrived.

You can see the kids’ area in the first photo below, when it was still neat and the children were snorfing snacks while waiting for things to get going. By the time all of the munchkins arrived, it was a booming room with a master of ceremonies, multimedia quizzes, and dancing — the birthday entertainment industry is big business here and these guys occupy the little ones for about 2 1/2 hours.

You can see how rapt some of the attendees were in the 2nd photo below. The third shot captures Zelda’s momentary pause to pop something in her mouth!

The second row of images below are some of the party shots the birthday entertainers provided from the event. Both Zelda and Sofia were delighted with these cheesy visuals!

Lest you think everything went well, we did have a few mishaps. Something blew the circuit breaker and there was no lighting for much of the party (making photography difficult). Strangely (thank God, really), there was still enough juice to power the audio/visual though. The other monkey wrench was a student still waiting for their parents thirty minutes after the scheduled end of the party, and we had no way to reach said parents. It all ended happily; however, the mother arrived after some last minute gift shopping, and picked up her daughter!

And lastly, I have to make a small mention about our gift bags. I must say, they were awesome! We went to Chinatown and bought a bunch of crap. Why is that so awesome? Because we purchased different crap than the usual party bag goodies that everyone buys from the usual stores.

Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from negotiating. I always asked the Chinese vendors for a discount since we were buying 16 items at a whack. I figured they let me get away with it because I was speaking my rather rusty Mandarin. At one point, after a small purchase, Tom asked me, “you know you were negotiating over .60 cents there honey?”

I didn’t really get his question!