Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

Never in History Has It Been Easier to Learn About Geography

May 3, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Filed under:

There’s a new project underway here in the Lilting House, and Jane and I are very excited about it. I suppose it was natural that we should yearn for something fun to replace the happy hours we’ve been spending on the Journey North Mystery Class, now that (sob!) that project is over for another year. (Although Jane and her pal E. do plan to have one last hurrah with it, finishing off their graphs and discussing the big reveal.)

We’ve been hanging on the adventures-around-the-globe of our beloved friend Keri, who (thanks to a great wireless connection) was able to email us a long, juicy letter about her travels in China and is now in Tibet. Tibet! We flew over there on Google Earth, but she doesn’t show up on the satellite photos. Yet.

Keri’s voyage inspired us to look up a copy of early-20th-century traveler Richard Halliburton‘s book, The Royal Road to Romance. When it first arrived, we couldn’t resist jumping right to the Thailand chapter, since that’s where Keri was at the time. But this week we started it properly, from the beginning.

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. This is going to be a mighty fun read.

And to pile on the fun, we discovered a nifty Google Maps feature that lets you plot a course on a map, with annotations. Thus our new project, the Romantic Journey of Richard Halliburton, a Work in Progress! Ain’t the internets swell?

What I Just Stumbled Upon for Firefox

April 7, 2007 @ 10:08 am | Filed under: , , , ,

I love Firefox. Have I mentioned that I love Firefox? I was browsing the add-ons this morning and found some good, good stuff. 1-Click Weather, for example: a handly little extension that puts current-weather icons in the status bar at the bottom of your screen. Here, I’ll show you:


How handy is that?

I’m also quite pleased with the add-on, which I should have installed a long time ago. It puts two small icons in the top bar of your browser, right next to the window where you type in a URL. The first icon takes you to your bookmarks, and the second one ("tag") allows you to quickly add a new page to your bookmarks. What I especially like is that the tag page pops up in a new window, saving you the trouble of clicking back to the page you were reading. I am using more and more for tagging articles I want to come back to, post about, etc.

But the coolest find of the morning? StumbleUpon, which many of you probably already know about, but I only vaguely recall having heard of before. (Here’s the link to its Firefox add-on page.) StumbleUpon adds another little bar to the top of your browser, under your bookmarks toolbar. At first I didn’t like that at all (since it makes the text area of my browser window just that much smaller), but after playing around with it for a while, I’m totally sold, and here’s why.

When you click on the Stumble icon in that toolbar, you are instantly taken to a random website. When you set up your free StumbleUpon account, you can select categories for these random sites to come from. The sites are recommended by other StumbleUpon users. You can click a thumbs-up icon ("I like this site") or a thumbs-down one ("don’t like it"), or do neither and just go to another page. Okay, thus far, StumbleUpon is just a websurfing tool, right? But what I LOVE about it is the little "Send to" icon in the toolbar. When you click on that, a little pop-up window lets you quickly and easily email the link for the page you’re viewing. No cut-and-pasting. I want to share a site with Scott? Click! It’s on its way.

I LOVE this feature.

It works for any page you’re on, not just sites you have "stumbled upon." Likewise, you can thumbs-up (or down) any website you are visiting. Since the StumbleUpon toolbar is in your browser window all the time (remember, that’s what I didn’t like about it at first?), you can recommend or email any page, any time, very conveniently.

And there’s some pretty interesting stuff to be stumbled upon, I must say. I gave my first (and so far, only) thumbs-up to this awesome site. I have to say awesome like a kid because I am that excited about it. It’s called Earth Album, and it’s the marriage of Google Maps and Flickr. You’re shown a world map, and when you click on any area, a little slide-show bar appears at the top of the screen, with Flickr photos of the region in question. I can’t wait to show this to my children. It’s going to be the perfect compliment to our Journey North project.

What are your favorite Firefox add-ons?  What other awesome hacks am I missing?

Saturday Outing: Cabrillo National Monument

March 31, 2007 @ 5:14 pm | Filed under: , , , ,

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

    He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
  Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                   —John Keats, "On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer"


Gorgeous sunny day yesterday, perfect for an outing we’d been planning. We drove out to Cabrillo National Monument, a Southern California landmark perched on a craggy hill on the tip of the San Diego peninsula. The views are spectacular: to your east, San Diego Bay cradling Coronado Island, and on the far side of the bay, the small cluster of skyscrapers that mark downtown San Diego, and the green hills beyond. To your west, the wide-open Pacific.

The peninsula, a long narrow finger of land, is called Point Loma. You reach it by following Harbor Drive past the airport and winding first west, then south through Fort Rosecranz National Cemetery. The rows and rows of white grave markers extending on both sides of the road reminded me of Arlington.

After we entered the Cabrillo site, we parked in a lot at the base of a stubby hill. The western view drew us to the wall for a long look.



That lower road on the left leads to a beach with tidepools. It was chilly and windy on the point, and a few of us were missing jackets, so we decided to save tidepooling for another day.

A path leads up the little hill to an old lighthouse.


The Old Point Loma Lighthouse guided sailors from 1855 through 1891. Unfortunately, the site proved to be too far from the tip of the peninsula, and fog often obscured the light.

Inside, rooms have been preserved just as the lighthouse keeper’s family might have left them. The main sitting room enchanted my girls; we imagined the lighthouse keeper’s daughters collecting the shells carefully arranged on a shelf or writing letters at the old flip-top desk with all the enticing cubbyholes. It’s the kind of place that sends book ideas charging into one’s mind…

We squeezed up the winding staircase to the bedroom level, but the tower level wasn’t open to the public.

Back down the stairs and through the gate, we found ourselves facing the Bay.


Unfortunately the camera battery died before I got pictures of the Bay. The kids loved seeing the gleaming curves of Coronado Bridge, which we’d driven over on a previous outing. (Veronica Mars viewers will remember the bridge as the setting for some significant scenes involving Logan Echolls’s mother and, later, Logan himself.)


A goodish walk or a short drive from the lighthouse is the Cabrillo Visitor’s Center and a large statue of Juan Cabrillo himself. This picture is from his Wikipedia entry; there is a close-up of his face at the monument’s official website, where you can read all about Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the sixteenth-century Spanish explorer who "discovered" San Diego Bay.

"Cabrillo departed from the port of Navidad, Mexico, on June 27, 1542.
Three months later he arrived at "a very good enclosed port," which is
known today as San Diego Bay. Historians believe he anchored his
flagship, the San Salvador, on Point Loma’s east shore near Cabrillo
National Monument.  Cabrillo later died during the expedition, but his
crew pushed on, possibly as far north as Oregon, before thrashing
winter storms forced them to back to Mexico."

We drove by the Visitor’s Center but tummies were rumbling, and we decided to save that too for the next visit.

Letters from Thailand: the Third

February 26, 2007 @ 7:53 am | Filed under: ,

Feb. 12, 2007

Dear Beanie,

Thailand is called "The Land of Smiling Faces." You, my sweetie, would fit in here rather nicely. People do seem happy here. Maybe because the sun is always shining. It shines so hard many people use umbrellas to keep in the shade.

One thing I’ve enjoyed seeing is the folk dancing. The Thai dancers wear beautiful long dresses in vivid red and gold colors. Their head dresses look heavy. They are very graceful and it’s beautiful to watch.

There are many places to shop for food in Thailand, but my favorite has been the Floating Market. This market is not in a store, but it’s on the river! Shop keepers load up long wooden boats with fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, & seafood. As they float downstream they can stop and sell their goods. You can sit on the river bank and watch everything you need for a delicious dinner float by! I wish you could be with me on that river bank.


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Saturday Hodgepodge

February 24, 2007 @ 2:39 pm | Filed under: , , , ,

I have an in-box full of email (again), a file full of posts-in-progress, and a head cluttered with a bunch more post ideas. I think I’ll declare today a cyber-decluttering day and just cram everything into one big messy post.

The Lucky Scrotum Matter, Revisited

I liked Monica Edinger’s post on the subject at educating alice. She told her class of fourth-graders about the controversy and read them the "offending" page.

When I reached the dreaded scrotum passage there was no reaction
whatsoever… no confusion, no giggles, no questioning. I kept going to
“….he killed that snake even though it bit him in the place where it
hurts the worst for a male…” (3) where there might have been a smile or
two, but no more. After a few more paragraphs I stopped. Eager hands
went up. “It is about the drinking, right?” Others nodded. Finally, one
said, “It’s about what happened to the dog?” The two who already knew
and I nodded. And the kids all said they didn’t get it. That they see
dogs with scrota every day after all. That it was no big deal.

She links to another Times piece on the book (this time an editorial) and some letters to the editor.

Chocolately Goodness for the Ears

I pulled into the library parking lot yesterday morning and put the minivan into park, only to be met with an aggrieved "Mommy, how COULD you???" from Rose—who was the child who begged me to take everyone to the library in the first place. My crime? Turning off the ignition, therefore cutting off Eric Idle in midsentence.

See, we are listening to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory on CD, and Rose isn’t the only one captivated by Eric Idle’s performance. He makes a deliciously funny book even funnier. The voices, oh, the voices! It’s Monty Python on a serious sugar high. I had to play some for Scott, just to watch him weep. He yelled at me too when I turned it off.

We actually did bail on our library trip yesterday. At the girls’ impassioned request, I just drove around for a while so they could keep on listening to the story. We had about twenty minutes to kill before our next appointment, and it would have been tough to squeeze a library visit into that short span of time anyway.

Speaking of Appointments

Yesterday afternoon, Wonderboy had an appointement with a neurologist. Our new pediatrician wants him to make a new-patient visit to all the subspecialists he was seeing in Virginia. This, on top of his speech therapy and audiology appointments, makes for a dizzying amount of running around. I’m tired of it, and we have barely begun.

At least the children’s hospital (where most of these sub-specialties are located) isn’t too awfully far: it’s about a 20-minute drive on San Diego’s fabulous freeways. I adore the freeways here. Have I mentioned that? There are a million of them, more or less, all over the place, and unless you have the misfortune of needing to travel at rush hour like my poor hubby, driving on these highways is positively zippy. Zip, zip, everywhere. And the road signs say exotic things like "Los Angeles, right lane" or "Mexico, keep left." Zip!

But yesterday, it just so happened that I was running a teensy bit late. Not VERY late, just a little. I suppose I should count my blessings because it’s possible that if I’d been on time, I’d have wound up IN the accident that brought traffic to a standstill on the I-8 just minutes after we zipped onto it. Stand. Still.

I knew I was now going to be late to the neurology appointment. I made a frantic call to Scott to tell him to call the doctor’s office and explain that I was ON MY WAY. He was happy to oblige, except for the tiny complication of his not exactly being in the office at that exact moment. I’d caught him on his lunch break, in line at the grocery store. He promised to hurry back to work and make the call. I’d have done it myself but I didn’t know the number by heart, and digging through my bag for my Wonderboy Medical Records Notebook isn’t something I was in a position to do at that moment. Nor was dialing the phone. I can punch Scott’s speed-dial with my thumb, but more than that I dare not do while driving, even at non-zippy speeds.

I arrived at the neuro’s office 20 minutes late for our appointment. The waiting room was empty and I figured they’d taken the next patient already. No problem, right? Oh so wrong. The receptionist sort of jumped when I gave her Wonderboy’s name.

"You didn’t hear? We canceled your appointment."

"Oh no!" I cried. "My husband called to let you know we were going to be late! Accident on the 8!"

She hadn’t caught the details, just the "going to be late" part. Shrugging apologetically, she informed me that the doctor had already given our slot another patient, and after that he had a meeting, but he could see us at 9 a.m. Monday morning.

I could make this a very long story, but without a nice happy ending, I don’t have the heart. Here’s the nutshell version: the doctor wouldn’t see us. Even though the next patient wasn’t due for another 20 minutes. Even though Dr. Neurologist was sitting alone in his office on the other side of the wall. He needed forty minutes for a new patient app, he insisted, and he’d already moved the 3:40 patient to come in at 3:00 and then he had a meeting at 3:40. My pleas to just squeeze in a quick 20-minute app fell on deaf ears. Well, actually they fell on the receptionist’s fairly sympathetic ears, but I could hear her relaying them to the doctor and HE was certainly not responding in a manner indicative of having heard with compassion or understanding.

I turned down the Monday-at-nine appointment, much to their surprise; I told them I had no more openings in my schedule until April.

"Really?" blinked the receptionist.

"Yup," I said, loudly, assuming that if I could hear the doctor through the wall, he could hear me. I explained that my son sees a number of other subspecialists and has consults stacked up through the end of April. There’s always the possibility the doctor will realize he missed out on the chance to pick up an unusual case, and next time maybe he’ll be a little more open to making creative adjustments for unavoidable delays. Slim possibility, but I’m an optimist.

(Hmm, look at that, I did make it a long story anyway.)

A Much Pleasanter Subject

Wednesday’s mail brought a serendipitous conjunction of treasures: a pile of nice fat letters from our dear friend Keri, who is in the middle of a year-long wandering in the Far East, and a copy of Richard Halliburton’s The Royal Road to Romance. The latter is Halliburton’s engaging account of his own Far-East travels. We savored Keri’s letters over breakfast Thursday morning—they are gems, and I am sharing them over at Lilting House—delighting in the soft, petal-strewn, handpressed paper and the colorful descriptions of Thailand penned in Keri’s friendly handwriting. And then of course we had to dive right into the Halliburton book, skipping directly to his Bangkok chapter and comparing his route to Keri’s on the globe. We’ll go back and start at the beginning when I figure out how to make time for one more book in our daily-reading pile.

I’m in My Junior Year of Blogging Now

GottaBook’s Gregory K., inventor of the poetry form known as the Fib, shares a fib in honor of his blog’s one-year anniversary. This reminded me that I missed my own two-year blog anniversary in January. Here’s what I started with:

"You really have your hands full."

This is what I’m always hearing from people, variations on the
theme. Either I have too many balls in the air or too much food on my
plate, or maybe it’s PLATES I’m supposed to be juggling instead of
balls, and I guess in that case any amount of food would be too much.
And it’s true, I’ve had plenty of days when it seems like the
metaphorical spaghetti is raining down upon my head. Especially this
past year, since the baby was born.

But I’m of the mind that a little pasta in the hair can be a good thing, metaphorically speaking.

Full hands are a blessing. Juggling can be exciting. A plate heaped
with food is generally considered something to be thankful for.

And oh boy am I thankful. Sometimes I’m dizzy with thanks. Other
times I’m just dizzy—life whirls by so quickly. What’s on the spinning
plates is a blur. So I thought I’d write about what’s on each dish, the
whole savory smorgasbord.

Happy to say nothing has changed (despite everything having changed this year). I’m still dizzy, and thankful, and savoring the feast.

Letters from Thailand: the Second

February 23, 2007 @ 12:34 pm | Filed under: , ,

Another delightful missive from our globe-trotting pal…

Feb. 12, 2007

Dear Rose,

I think people in Thailand must love elephants. I’ve seen many statues of them as I explore the city. They are in different positions & as big as real ones. I think I’ve seen as many elephant statues in Bangkok as real elephants in India. I like the real ones the best.

Also in Thailand are a lot of geckos. They scamper all over the place & they move very fast. Do they have geckos in California? I think you’d like them.

The hardest part of being in a different country is reading maps & signs. The written language in Thailand is totally different than English so I can spend a lot of time standing on a corner trying to figure out which direction to turn towards. Usually someone comes along to tell me where to go. I’ve gotten myself lost many times, but I rather like the adventure of finding  my way back again.

The most strange thing about Thailand is the potato chips. They are flavored with fish, crab, shrimp, & even seaweed. Rose, it’s as gross as it sounds! If you were here with me, I’d buy us a bag & we’d get lost together!


Letters from Thailand: the First

February 22, 2007 @ 8:30 am | Filed under: ,

Our dear friend Keri is traveling in the far east. When her letters arrive, it’s a holiday here!

February 12, 2007
Bangkok, Thailand

Dear Jane,

MipimgIt’s customary in Thailand to "wai" people. A wai is when you put your hands together in a prayer position, lift them to where your fingertips are level with your nose & then you bow slightly. You’d lift your hands higher to show greater respect to a person. I’ve only been wai’ed at nose level, but I haven’t done anything to warrant greater respect! A wai is given when saying "thank you," "hello," & "goodbye." Also, adults never wai children. When I do, they laugh at me.

In India people would quickly touch their forehead when saying "thank you." In Morocco & Egypt, they’d touch their heart. Tomorrow I leave for Cambodia & I’m looking forward to learning a new sign.

Bangkok is a beautiful city. It reminds me a little of New York City. It’s big & very busy. Because the weather is tropical, plants & flowers are very abundant and lush. It’s odd to see orchids, an expensive & difficult plant to grow, thrive in the sides of roads & vacant fields.

I hope you are enjoying California. I look forward to visiting you there. Until then, I think of you often & wish you were with me to smell the flowers!


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Super-Fun Geography Studies with Journey North’s Mystery Class

January 24, 2007 @ 8:06 am | Filed under:

As one of my little ones used to say, I’m so a-cited! It’s almost time to begin a new season of happy hunting with the Journey North Mystery Class. Ten classes of schoolchildren around the world have been chosen to be Mystery Classes, and it’s up to the rest of us to track down their location. You too can join in the fun!

Here’s how it works. Every Friday, starting this week, Journey North will release some special information about the ten mystery locations: their sunrise and sunset times. You use this data to calculate each location’s photoperiod (how many minutes of daylight it had that day). By graphing the changes in photoperiod, week after week (for eleven weeks), you’ll be able to narrow down the latitude of the Mystery Classes.

To help with the narrowing-down, you also graph your own local photoperiod every Monday. Don’t know what time the sun will rise? You can find out here.

As the project unfolds, Journey North will begin to send other clues to help you locate the Mystery Classes. One biggie will be the longitude clues. In April, participants from all over the world will share their guesses, and the big reveal is in May.

We did this last year with a group of online homeschooling friends. Each family took one Mystery Class to calculate data for, and we pooled the data for our graphs. We had such a good time! It was so exciting to hone in on the locations, make our guesses, discuss the possibilities with the other families in the group. Rilla was born near the end of the project, but that didn’t stop Jane from maniacally calculating photoperiods and drawing all those lovely colored lines on our graph.

I highly recommend this project, whether your family does it alone or with a group. So. Much. Fun!