Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

Postcrossing Fun

November 30, 2015 @ 9:02 pm | Filed under: , ,

postcrossing wall

I joined Postcrossing a couple of months ago and now it’s taking over our kitchen wall—in the best way. This is a site for exchanging postcards with people around the world. Hmm, “exchange” isn’t the right word because these aren’t reciprocal swaps where you send a card to someone and get one back from the same person. Instead, you create a profile and then you’re given the name and address of another user. You send a postcard to that person. When he receives it, he registers the card, which prompts the system to send your address to someone different. In the beginning, you’re allowed to send up to five cards at once. As people begin to receive and register your cards, your maximum increases. Not that you have to send out five, six, seven cards all at once. You can do it one at a time if you like.

So far we have sent out ten cards and received eight—from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Taiwan, India, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland! As you can see, we’re taping them to the wall above our world map. So much fun. This is a pretty delightful way to combine the joys of snail mail with a whizbang dose of world geography.

There are no words to describe…

September 9, 2013 @ 9:09 am | Filed under: , ,

…just how much this kid loves Paddle-to-the-Sea.


“A bumpy line of buildings stretched like castles along the horizon. They were grain elevators at Port Arthur and Fort William filled with mountains of grain which trains had brought from the plains of western Canada. The ships now passing Paddle would carry the grain to other lake ports and other lands…”

(She decided to draw stalks of wheat to represent the grain. She’s charting Paddle’s journey through the Great Lakes in blue.)

Mid-April Adventures

April 17, 2013 @ 5:45 pm | Filed under: , , ,

Oh, the broom, the bonny bonny broom…*

Yesterday we had our Journey North Mystery Class wrap-up party. Huge fun all around: each family revealed its Mystery City location and we celebrated with a feast of dishes from the far-off locales. (Even the one American city in this year’s batch is far-off from us here in San Diego.) I won’t say more about the secret locations, since I know some of you are participating in your own groups and may not have had your big reveals yet. But ohhhh, was the food good.

I’ll give this much away: Beanie’s and my contribution were these Icelandic pancakes (pönnukökur).


(Beloved Carl Larsson print hiding a snarl of electrical cords.)

Here’s the recipe we followed, and here’s a delightful video demonstration by Icelandic cook Margret:

How to Make Icelandic Pönnukökur from Iceland on Vimeo.

At the end of the video she demonstrates the most common ways to serve the pancakes: sprinkled with sugar (as we did above) or spread with jam and a generous dollop of whipped cream. I didn’t think the cream would hold up at a potluck, but you can be sure we’re going to give that version a go very, very soon.

*My sweet broom is in bloom, lightening my heart not only with its sunny blossoms but also the way it puts one of my favorite Scottish ballads into my head every time I glance its direction.

Tomorrow Jane, Rose, and I are off on a new adventure—a Peterson family first: open house at the university Jane plans to attend in the fall. Talk about blinking. Seems only last week this happened:


Journey North Mystery Class!

February 1, 2013 @ 8:50 am | Filed under:

Journey North Mystery ClassIt’s time again for one of my favorite events of the year. We’ve been doing the Journey North Mystery Class since forever—missed last year, but Beanie’s enthusiastically on board this year and we’re getting set up today.

Here’s a post I wrote several years back full of nuts and bolts info.

To dive in today, you’ll print out a form and a graph and begin calculating photoperiods—the amount of time between sunrise and sunset—for your own town and the ten Mystery Cities around the world. Don’t worry, it’s not too complicated. You chart this info each week for ten weeks. (New Mystery City data is posted on Fridays. Today’s the first day!)

If you’re doing it on your own, feel free to downscale: choose just a few mystery cities to chart. Maybe one for each kid?

Holler if you have any questions at all. I love this project immensely! Geography, science, math, mystery, FUN!

A Little Bit More About Journey North

February 6, 2008 @ 8:23 pm | Filed under:

A couple of people had questions after last week’s post.

Do you think a 7yr old could handle this? With parental guidance, of course. Or would it be way over her head?

I’d say it totally depends on the kid. The math would be way too hard, but I can see some seven-year-olds enjoying the graphing and the detective work. My Rose is 9 1/2 and had no interest whatsoever in the project last year or the year before, even while her big sister was jumping around the room with excitement over discoveries. Today, for the first time, I noticed Rose hovering on the fringes of the discussion. Our group is mostly the ten-to-twelve-year-old crowd, Jane’s peers, but one or two younger sibs have joined in.

I think if I were doing it alone with a seven-year-old, I’d pick just one or two of the ten mystery classes to work with.

I am new to Journey North and trying to set up an every other week
class like you describe above. Can you tell me a little bit about the
structure you envision for the "class?" I am picture mostly group
discussion, sharing of data, etc. Do you intend to offer any actual
lessons? How long will the every other week class last? Is an hour
appropriate? My class will be composed of 5th through 8th graders.

Well, our every-other-week Shakespeare Club has become a meet-EVERY-week club for Journey North. However, most of the kids will probably skip a week or two somewhere along the line. Today we were missing two families, which was fine. They’ll do this week’s graphing at home, or catch up next week. I am very low-key about this kind of thing—I have to be, or else the structure & planning would intimidate me right out of doing it at all.

So here’s how we’re working it, more or less. We have about 11 kids participating, give or take a younger sib or two. Almost everyone shows up at our house for lunch, for most of them are coming straight from other activities and I wanted to make things as simple as possible for the moms. They bring their lunches and wolf them down so they can play for a while before we begin.

When everyone is here and has eaten (and that includes me!), I round the kids up and we crowd around the kitchen table. (And may I interject here another gigantic whoop of gratitude for the wonderful BIG new dinner table my parents gave us for Christmas? I can’t imagine how we’d have pulled this off with the old one.)

Last week, the first week of the project, I began by trying to set the stage a little: we looked at the globe and I emphasized the mystery element, the ten classes of schoolchildren hidden who knows where around this globe…and we talked a little about latitude and longitude, looking at the lines on the map. We looked up our own hometown latitude and noted how relatively close we are to the equator.

Then we looked up our local sunrise and sunset times for the previous Monday (all the photoperiod data relates to the Mondays) and worked together (with Jane at the chalkboard) to calculate our photoperiod. We did it both as a subtraction problem on the board and just by looking at the clock and figuring the minutes and hours.

Then I passed out the graphs (we had printed them out in advance), one for each kid, and we graphed our hometown photoperiod. Nice simple beginning. We divvied up the ten Mystery Classes (again, one for each kid, with two kids sharing a class) and that was that for the first meeting. We are still working on our scenes from Shakespeare Club, so we practiced those for a while and then there was a snack and free play time.

Today was more Journey North, less Shakespeare. (We will keep working on our scenes for a few more weeks and then perform them for the parents.) I think today’s meeting set the pattern for the whole project. Again, we worked on hometown photoperiod first, graphed that, and then everyone pooled their Mystery Class photoperiod findings and graphed all ten locations. This was a busy, noisy, jumbly activity. Another mom helped me help the kids who needed help. (You follow that?) We took one Mystery Class at a time, graphing everything together. Some of the kids had already calculated their photoperiod, but most had not, so we just did figured it out as we went.

It went pretty smoothly, though there was certainly some confusion in places over how to read the chart, which class # were we doing now, etc. I imagine it’ll get a bit less jumbly as we go: these beginning weeks present a lot of hands-on activity that is new to most of the kids. Only two of our group have done Journey North before.

All this figuring and graphing took under an hour, I think. I know we were finished quite early in the afternoon, and then of course the kids stuck around for some play time. Our Titania and Oberon performed their scene for us, which was delightful (and included a cameo by Beanie as Puck).

I won’t be teaching any formal lessons during the project, but I’ll pull in other resources as we go…there are some good books about longitude, for example, and some fun websites that show what part of the earth is in daylight at any given hour, things like that.

Honestly, I’m very much a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. The main thing is for the kids to have fun, and I figure the less they have to listen to me yap, the more fun for them. Today they were all giggling because I kept getting the times mixed up and announcing (authoritatively) the wrong answers, and the clever twelve-year-old girls at the other end of the table had to keep correcting me. Which is why I keep clever twelve-year-old girls around, of course!

Journey North Mystery Class

January 30, 2008 @ 7:31 am | Filed under: ,

In yesterday’s links I mentioned with some jubilation that the Journey North Mystery Class is starting this week. Tami asked,

do you know if it’s too late to join the Journey North class? In a
nutshell, can you explain it, and how much time it takes? Thanks!

With the caveat that I am incapable of writing the ‘nutshell’ version of anything (hee!), I’d love to take a stab at answering this. We (Jane and I—the younger kids have not yet been interested) have participated in the Mystery Class the past two years, and it has been delightful.

It is definitely not too late to join. Things are just getting rolling. Here’s how it works: Journey North has selected ten classes of schoolchildren in cities all around the world. Their locations are kept secret until the big reveal in May. These are the ten "mystery classes," and the game is to figure out where in the world they are.

You begin by figuring out their latitudes. Each week you compare your own local photoperiod (the amount of time between sunrise and sunset) to the photoperiods of the ten mystery classes. You graph this data on a chart. In just a few weeks’ time you’ll begin to see patterns and get a feel for where some of the mystery classes might be.

(It’s very exciting.)

Sometime in March, Journey North will release "longitude clues." By performing some calculations, you’ll be able to determine the longitude of the Mystery Classes. Now you’re really starting to have an idea where these classes might be!

Next come the cultural clues. Each week, as you continue to chart the photoperiod data, you’ll be given a set of clues about the culture and terrain of the ten mystery locations. This is when the fun kicks into high gear. You’ll be able to zero in on the specific towns in which the mystery classes are hiding.

In late April, you submit your guesses to Journey North. The following week, the answers are posted on the website and you can see how close you came. You may participate alone or as part of a group. All you have to do is register at the Journey North website (no cost, no strings). All the instructions and clues are there, along with a download of the chart.

The past two years, I led a group of online friends in the activity. We divided up the Mystery Classes so that each family was only responsible for calculating the data for one or two locations. (This is totally permissible and is in fact encouraged. Most participants are classes of schoolchildren who are usually divided into partner groups, each with its assigned mystery class.)

This year, I’m hosting a group of local friends. The kids in Jane’s peer group have been coming over every other week to read Shakespeare together (such a blast), and we’re going to set the Bard aside for a while to do the Mystery Class project together. We’ll be meeting weekly, more or less, to keep up with the data-sharing.

If your family was working solo and found the eleven sets of calculations to be too much to keep up with (ten mystery classes plus your hometown), you could easily drop some of the mystery classes and just work on a few. The registration with Journey North is largely a formality; there is no real interaction on the website except for submitting your answers at the end (which you don’t have to do if you don’t want). Of course, the JN folks love feedback, and they post lots of letters and ideas from participants.

It is amazing how much learning is packed into this activity: we have learned so much about geography, latitude, longitude, other cultures, math, etc etc etc. I cannot say enough good things about the project. I’ve been positively giddy about getting started this year. Jane too. Last year she worked side by side with the one local friend who was part of our online group, and those two eleven-year-olds had a wonderful time, let me tell you. So did their mothers. Right, Erica?

The project is just beginning this week, so it is by no means too late to get started. You calculate your local photoperiod every Monday—that is, you use each Monday’s sunrise and sunset times for the calculation. Here’s a website where you can look up the sunrise and sunset times for any date. Journey North releases the week’s new clues on Fridays, but the info is always up on the website for whenever you are ready to work with it. We’ll be doing all our work on Wednesdays, for example.

Working with online friends was great fun, these past two years. With hometowns spread all over the world, simply comparing our local photoperiods was fascinating. And I have to say, charting the increase in daylight time week after week really helped combat the late winter blues. (The first year, I mean, when we still lived in Virginia. Here in San Diego, last winter was a marvel of sunny days. This year has been quite a bit chillier.)

Tami asked about the time commitment. As you get started, it doesn’t take very long: a math problem on Monday to get your local photoperiod; and then however long it takes you to figure out and chart the photoperiods for the ten mystery classes—or however many you are responsible for. A half hour, perhaps? If you’re doing all ten? Maybe an hour for a younger child? I would say an hour a week is probably realistic, for the first six or seven weeks. The longitude day will take longer, but it’s fun, exciting work.

Later you’ll spend lots of time on Google and elsewhere, reading up on the tidbits revealed in the cultural clues. That’s fun time, detective time, and it flies by.

I told you it wouldn’t fit into a nutshell! Not even a Brazil nut.

Earlier posts on Journey North Mystery Class:
this one has a picture of our graph
this one was from last year

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Breakfast with Beanie

August 9, 2007 @ 8:13 am | Filed under: ,

She is perched beside me, eating a bowl of Life cereal. We are enjoying a peaceful lull between waves of happy chaos: the utterly fantastic week-long visit with our beloved Virginia Joneses (or Jonesii, as Scott calls them) and a still-in-the-planning stages rendezvous with the Cottage Clan.

(Beanie: "Mommy, did you know whales nurse their babies?")

Our Jonesii visit passed all too quickly, a delicious blur of San Diego sightseeing, cinnamon bear devouring, Settlers of Catan playing, sandwich making, late-night giggling, air mattress bouncing, sunscreen slathering, ant battling, and talking, talking, talking. The six girls (her three, my three) managed to share four mattresses and a futon in one room for eight nights without mishap, which is a notable achievement, if you ask me.

(Beanie: "I’m afraid you will be sad to hear that I poked my stomach on the corner of the table. But don’t worry, I’m OK.")

There is tons to write about last week, but I don’t know when it will happen. This is one of the busiest Augusts we’ve ever had. Our globe-trotting friend Keri will return to the States next week, and we get her first. If you want lots of visits from friends, San Diego is the place to reside, let me tell you!

(Beanie, who is now interlocking arms with me as I type and she reads 1001 Bugs to Spot: "I can tell you a lot about honeybees, you know.")

Travel seems to have been the theme for this year of my family’s life. We’ve hung breathlessly on Keri’s adventures and Alice’s. We made our own epic journey and have had a glorious time exploring this new frontier. More adventures await—some this very day, in fact. I’m off to prepare…but in the interest of leaving you with something useful, here’s a post I wrote a long while back about how even when we were stuck at home for a long time during Wonderboy’s precarious infancy, we managed to make many circuits of the globe in the company of a charming flagbearer named Mr. Putty.

Recently the kids and I hit upon a new idea that has brought an extra
layer of interest and mirth to our morning read-aloud sessions. We
decided to make a little marker that we could move around the globe to
the location of each story we’re reading. We started with a little blob
of blue putty—you know, the kind that was supposed to hold our timeline
to the wall without marking up the paint. It didn’t. Instead, it seems
to travel all around the house in the busy fingers of my children.

Well, now it travels around the globe. A little piece of it, at
least. Such a simple idea, and such fun! Yesterday Mr. Putty began (as
he always does) here in Virginia; hopped over to Palestine; sojourned
down to Egypt; zipped to Italy to visit St. John Bosco; flew back
across the Atlantic to New England, where Robert Frost was picking
apples; escaped to Germany to avoid hearing my children mangle the
language in our sitting room; reunited with us in Greenland, where a
windswept traveler was regaling the household of Eric the Red with
tales of a new land to the west; hurried to Scandinavia, arriving just
in time to see some strange folks pop out of the armpit of Ymir the
frost giant; and there he lingered for the rest of the day.

The girls take turns assisting Mr. Putty with his travels. (Beanie
often has to be dissuaded from allowing him to visit her grandparents
in Colorado instead of venturing to his next book-inspired rendesvous.)
At some point, our intrepid explorer sprouted a tiny American flag
(complete with gold-painted toothpick flagpole) from the top of his
blobby self. While I’m a little uncomfortable with the imperial
overtones of such an adornment—Mr. Putty is, in effect, planting the
U.S. flag in the soil of countries all over the world—it does make it
easier to see where he’s stuck himself now. And it’s such a sweet
little flag.

Dear Mr. Putty! I wonder where in the world he’ll go today?

Comments are off

Our Favorite World Travelers

May 31, 2007 @ 11:45 pm | Filed under:

As I mentioned on Lilting House the other day, Jane and I are reading Richard Halliburton’s travel narration, The Royal Road to Romance.

Halliburton is a funny guy, writing in a rather purple style to make
fun of his own overblown romantic notions of adventure—and yet, though
he mocks himself, he’s serious, too. For this young Princeton grad, the
lands across the sea beckon with a siren song full of promise and
mystery and adventure. His writing reminds me of L.M. Montgomery.
By the time he and his college roommate finally land jobs as
entry-level seamen (having first been forced to grow out their sharp
Ivy League haircuts and lay hold of some scruffy clothes, salting their
speech so as to pass for actual sailors—albeit with a "hire these kids"
letter from the president of the shipping co in their pockets, just in
case the disguise fails), the girls and I were hooked.

We are still only just getting started, but Richard and his roommate, Irvine, have made it across the Atlantic and, after a bicycle journey from Hamburg, have decided the first Big Adventure on their agenda is the scaling of the Matterhorn. Never mind that they have never climbed a mountain before, nor that the mountaineering season is over, nor that they have no equipment. The same confident air that allowed them to charm their way onto the sailing vessel described above lands them a couple of Swiss tour guides who don’t realize they’ve got total newbies on their hands until halfway up the mountain.

The wind caught me as I clutched the rope, blew me like a pendulum away from cliff wall and over the sheer five thousand foot precipice. My eyes went blind; my arms ceased to exist; my head swam in half-consciousness. Once more Adolph had to come to the rescue…

Amazingly, they make it to the summit. Halliburton, breathless from his exertions and near-death experiences, won’t let us catch our breath either. He paints us a picture of the magnificent view and we find ourselves longing to stand atop those heights ourselves, greeting the winds at the top of the world—and then the next moment he’s making us shriek with laughter.

The abyss beneath us, the bewildering panorama about us, cast a spell that awed me to silence. I began to believe it awed Irvine too, for I saw him clasp his hands and look out over the six thousand foot chasm with an expression that assured me he was in tune with the Infinite.

"Oh, Dick," he whispered in such unusually solemn tones that I awaited some great inspired utterance about the sublimity of nature and the glory of God.

Breathlessly, tremblingly, I listened.

"At last," he continued in a far-away voice, "after talking about it and dreaming about it all these years, at last, I can actually SPIT A MILE!"

Shortly thereafter, Richard proves he had the makings of an excellent blogger:

…I, clinging to the wooden cross that marks the Swiss-Italian border and scrounging into the snow to keep from being blown away, got out my inseparable note-book, and with frozen fingers laboriously inscribed a thought or two on the wind-whipped page.

"If you fell from here to Zermatt," he snapped impatiently, "you’d write scenic impressions in that confounded note-book on the way down."

Our friend Keri is traveling the world at present. As we read Halliburton’s narrative, Keri is constantly on my mind. Richard the recent college grad is (at this early stage of his memoir, at least) playing the starring role in his travels. Keri’s letters are ensemble pieces; she is a compassionate and shrewd people-watcher, a woman keenly interested in the customs and personalities of the people she encounters.

Her letters are a treat.

If I’m ever asked what traveling tip was the most useful to me, it
would be that I learned where the 5-star hotels are located. Usually
the staff can speak the basics of my language. After a few days feeling
totally adrift in China, I went to the lobby of a swanky hotel, and the
girl in the gift shop helped me with the map, taught me to say hello,
please, thank you the correct way. Sometimes it’s worth the cup of
expensive coffee for a place of understanding.
In India, they must use old British text books, as "kindly" is usually
substituted for "please." As in, "Would you kindly follow me." Also in
India, "thank you" is never said. A few people even asked me why I said
it so much. This at first struck me as rude, but the whole vibe of
India led me to see that gratitude isn’t expected by doing the right
thing, such as answering a person for directions, or a transaction at a
store. With that said, my gratitude was always appreciated.
The other night I was walking down a very busy street here in a
touristy section. A young Asian man stepped aside for me to pass, and I
thanked him in Thai. He shook his head. I tried it in Laos, Vietnamese,
and Khmer. Shook his head no. Said it in Chinese. No. Said it in
English. In an American Southern accent, he said, "You’re welcome,
ma’am." He’s from Texas. 

There is a Chinese word, it sounds like "laiwhoia", but is carried out
as a long word. This means, "Heads up, we have a white person here."
I’d hear this if I was in a crowd, waiting at a traffic light. People
there wouldn’t stare at me, but give quick sneaky glances. It was
polite, actually. After awhile, I’d hear it and could feel all the
little looks I was getting. A few times, I wouldn’t hear the word, so I’d play around and say it myself. It never failed to have everyone around me laugh. The best
thing, is when you can joke around without a shared language. There’s
something pure about it, in a way.

I would love to have been a fly on one of those streetcorners, watching the laugh ripple through the crowd. Keri also wrote about sharing jokes without language in an earlier letter, during her time in Hanoi. 

Two young girls approached me and in pretty bad English asked if they could stand with me. I said yes and they quickly hopped up the ledge next to me and started talking. They are both 20 and in university there. Both came from small villages. They were very happy to practice their English and I was happy to learn more about their world. So every night we’d meet for a few hours. We always sat in the same spot and they’d each keep one hand on my leg. I think they thought I’d unexpectedly run off! If other people came by to join our conversation, they’d each grab my hand and talk a bit faster. They said that not many tourists want to spend time talking to locals. I enjoyed talking to them much more then seeing the pagodas and museums of Vietnam.

It’s odd how even without a common language people will tease each other and make jokes. We laughed a lot. While they didn’t have a smooth flow of the language they could rip off a very sophisticated sentence.

It reminded me of a time when Michael and I came out to visit you in Long Island. I think Jane must have been 5 maybe 6. I know Rose was alive, but I don’t think Beanie had come around yet. Jane was holding a toy, a horse, with the horn and wings. Pegasus. Michael asked her what it was and she didn’t reply right away. So I said that it was a magic horse that can fly. Jane nodded and then went on to talk about the myth and story of Pegasus in great detail. Michael looked at me like I was a total idiot. I looked at Jane like she was totally brilliant. I realized then if I keep my mouth shut people are sometimes formulating some smart thoughts and pulling the words together and eventually will say something much more smart than, "It’s a magic horse!!!"

That’s how these girls were. They would stop and think for a few minutes, then ask a smart question, or explain a cultural difference in splendid detail. Thanks to Jane I was quiet enough to let it happen.

Keri plans to stop off here for a while when her trip is over. I intend to be quiet enough to hear the rest of her stories.