msLaura: Modern Mama Laura Hamilton + Dan Baker = Julian Hamilton Baker & Adrian Hamilton Baker "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her."
- Adrienne Rich



These are some of the most recent photos from my photostream on Flickr. Click one of them!
the portable baby


recent posts
Radio France

Science Enrichment - Trees 01 - What is science? What is a tree? Exploring Leaves.

Put your clothes on the rack, and let Nature dry them for free!

The Winter Garden

archive index

April 2010

January 2010

October 2009

September 2009

May 2009

March 2009

January 2009

December 2008

November 2008

October 2008

September 2008

August 2008

July 2008

June 2008

May 2008

April 2008

March 2008

February 2008

January 2008

December 2007

November 2007

October 2007

September 2007

August 2007

July 2007

June 2007

May 2007

April 2007

March 2007

February 2007

January 2007

December 2006

November 2006

October 2006

September 2006

August 2006

July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

December 2005

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

January 2005

December 2004

November 2004

October 2004

September 2004

August 2004

July 2004

June 2004

May 2004

April 2004

March 2004

February 2004

January 2004

December 2003

November 2003

October 2003

September 2003

August 2003

July 2003

June 2003

August 2001

« September 2009 | Main | January 2010 »

October 27, 2009

Radio France

Imagine if the US had TWELVE public radio stations covering everything from news to politics to culture, with a full range of music, from pop to classical, and didn't have to cram everything into NPR.

And imagine that all 12 would be available throughout the country, (no matter where you were, even out in the most rural areas!) and imagine that they didn't constantly have to interrupt the broadcast to beg for money.

Yeah, Radio France is pretty cool.

It's good for practicing my French comprehension (which is rusty), but listening to the level of discourse (smart! unabashedly intellectual! no pandering to the base redneck mob!), the rich cultural offerings presented for the listener's appreciation and enjoyment (music, history, cuisine), and the real *international* news that we never hear about here in the US... I feel like i"m living in an impoverished second-tier country.

Instead we get multiple flavors of HBO, which cost close to $100 a month per household, and although some are good, in general it's a ripoff. We pay much, much more and get much less.

NPR is good, I mean, I'm completely grateful for it, but it would be really cool if *everyone* could get their programs on their radio stations for free, and could get it full-time, not just for a few hours a day because that's all the local alternative radio station could afford to buy.

October 14, 2009

Science Enrichment - Trees 01 - What is science? What is a tree? Exploring Leaves.

This is the first of three science lessons on trees that I've prepared for the Kindergarten-1st grade science enrichment at Discovery Charter School. They do learning around themes, and TREES are the theme for fall. So be it. There is plenty of scientific learning to be done around trees. And since I got my B.S. (that's a Bachelor of Science degree, not Bull Shit) in Ecology with a Botany focus, and almost got my Masters in a similar area, yo...I got mad science skillz, y'all. Also, my student job for several years in a row at SFSU was setting up the General Biology labs each week with live and dead plants and animals, fungi, insects, body parts in jars, wall charts, printed materials, underlined textbooks, all kinds of crazy stuff. I loved that job. I also got to collect, organize and curate all those hundreds of curious things. Wonderful. Cute little cross-eyed planarians!

I'm putting up my lesson plan and materials because it might be useful to other people in a similar situation, and homeschoolers might want to use some or all of the lesson plan and materials with their kids. I'm teaching K/1 students, but I found that we only got to about 30% of the material in class. Kids were too squirrelly in the large group, we didn't have all the parent helpers we were supposed to have, and I overprepared as usual.

I think you could easily use this in a grade 2 or 3 setting, or even higher. I tried to focus on broad concepts. What is science? What is a tree? How do we get from trees? Then the class starts to explore leaves using some basic scientific skills: detailed observation, simple identification of species from leaf and seed specimens, leaf rubbings and drawings, descriptive terminology to describe kinds of leaves and parts of a leaf. Frankly, most adults don't know all this stuff. Anyone can do it and learn something about trees. Do *you* know all the parts of a leaf? Hmmm?

So first, the overall Lesson Plan. I think the best way to present this session is to simply hyperlink from the lesson plan. It's the core. From here you can access everything else.


Welcome to Science Enrichment! Who knows what science is?

· Science is observing the world around you...animals, plants, birds, insects, rocks, clouds, bacteria, water droplets, even outer space… and asking questions about these things and how they work.

· Now make a guess (hypothesis) at a possible answer to your question, and design an experiment to test if that answer could be right or not. Then see what results you get. That is called the scientific method.

· An example: you observe that your dog wags his tail a lot. You think that a wagging tail means that your dog is happy. So you write down what is going on every time you see your dog wagging his tail. He gets food, you pet him, you throw a ball for him, someone he loves comes home, he’s getting ready to go for a walk, he meets another dog that he likes to play with…you notice that there is a pattern…these are all happy events for your dog! If you yell at your dog or punish him, does his tail wag? No. Out of 10 times that your dog wagged his tail, all ten of those waggings took place during a happy event. None happened during a sad event. There is strong evidence that your dog wags his tail when he is happy.

Do you like to find out how things work? Great. Today we are going to start learning about trees. Trees are one kind of plant. Who can tell me what a plant is?

· A plant is a living organism that gathers water and nutrients from the soil, and makes food in its leaves using energy from the sun.

Can an animal make food from the sun?
· No, animals cannot make their own food. Animals use plants or other animals for their food. Only PLANTS can make food from the sun.

There are many different kinds of plants...grasses, vines, bushes, ferns, mosses, green algae but today we are going to talk about trees. Who knows what a tree is? How is a tree different from other plants?

· A tree is the largest of all plants, and it is different from other plants in several ways:
· Most trees grow at least 15-20 feet tall. That is about twice as high as our classroom ceiling. So trees are TALL.
· Trees have a woody stem that is called a trunk, that grows at least 3-4 inches thick and can stand up by itself. So trees also have thick, hard TRUNKS.

Now that we know what a tree is, who can tell me some things that we get from trees?

(I bought a fabulous Understanding Trees - 4 Poster Set from Nature-Watch. They rock.)

· Shade. Where do you like to sit on a hot day?
· Clean air. Trees remove icky stuff from the air and create oxygen, which is what WE breathe.
· Homes for animals. What animals live in or around trees? Birds, squirrels, bugs, mice.
· Food for animals AND humans. Bark, nuts, leaves, seeds and fruit! Can you name a fruit that grows on trees?
· Wood. Can you find something in the classroom made of wood?
· Paper. We all use a lot of paper, don't we? Paper is made of wood that is ground up very, very small, mixed with water, and then spread thinly on a mesh screen. When it dries, we get a sheet of paper! About 10 MILLION trees are cut down to make paper every day.
· Rain! Trees create moisture in the air by pulling water up from the ground and putting it into the air through tiny holes in their leaves. When there is more moisture in the air, clouds can form and rain can fall. So trees help make rain!
· Medicine: too many to list! Aspirin (willow trees), taxol (yew trees), etc.

First we're going to BE a tree, and then we're going to SEE a tree. Everybody stand up, we're going to act out the parts of a tree so that we can remember them.

(to tune of “London Bridge is falling down”)
“Leaves (fingers raised and wiggling), branches (arms straight out forward),
trunk (touch belly with hands) and roots (touch legs/feet)
trunk and roots,
trunk and roots,
leaves, branches, trunk and roots,
those are the parts of a tree!”

And now to SEE a tree!
Take class around the school to see the trees around it.
· Have them name the parts they just acted out. What roots can they see?
· Note differences between conifer and broadleaf trees.
· Have each student collect a leaf or two to bring back to class if they like.

1. Describe Your Leaf!
Each student needs a leaf from outside or from the leaf collection. Writers can optionally have a paper and pencil to write down their description words

Use these documents:
Describe Your Leaf - Instructions
Describe Your Leaf Activity Sheet

Have each student carefully examine his/her leaf and then describe it using some of the terms listed on the activity sheet for this center. Does it have needles or broad leaves? Alternate or opposite leaves? Read the list of description words to the students to help them describe their leaves. You can do each leaf as a group exercise and get input from everyone if you like. Is there consensus on the answers?

2. Worksheets
Need pencils, pens, crayons, scissors.
Worksheet Instructions
Rodney the Root Says...
Is It a Tree?
Explore Tree Shapes

3. Leaf Rubbings
Need white paper and crayons with paper peeled off, leaves of the student's choice. Can they point out the parts of a leaf on their rubbings?
Leaf Anatomy Diagram

4. Identify the Tree
Match 6 specimens of local tree leaves, seeds and bark to the photos and descriptions and see if you can identify them. Careful, each tree is paired with a tricky look-alike. Pay attention to little differences.

Redwood vs. Incense Cedar
Sycamore vs. Sweet Gum
Live Oak vs. Valley Oak

For this activity, you have to actually go out and collect some plant material. I chose 6 readily available trees in my area that I thought were interesting, three lookalike pairs of species to make it a little tricky. Probably ONE lookalike pair would have been fine for K/1. Three pairs were overkill. Oh well. They're pretty obvious to tell apart if you look at them closely, but at first glance they look similar and could be confused.

My advice is to ID *any* tree with the help of a local tree guidebook. Walk around your neighborhood and clip off some sample leaves from whatever you can find. Or get material from a tree that someone can identify for you, then Google information about it. Make a copy of the tree guide page or relevant Googled info/photo and see if kids can pick out the right tree from the leaves and materials.

Older kids can gather leaves from common trees and then use a tree key to try to identify what they found. It's very exciting. Once you identify a tree and look carefully at its leaves, seeds, etc., you don't forget it. You suddenly notice that tree EVERYWHERE! It becomes like an old friend. Super cool and kids DIG it. Naming the living organisms in your natural environment is an valuable skill, one that is being quickly lost in the modern world.

Extra time? Extra credit?
Play “Go Rake” with the Leaf Cards, or other Leaf Games.

Fun Interactive Online Exercise
Trees are Terrific! Travels with Pierre

October 11, 2009

Put your clothes on the rack, and let Nature dry them for free!

I'm trying to use less energy, for a lot of reasons. To save money, to keep our carbon footprint minimal, etc. Lately I've been reading up on line drying of clothes...the average US household spends 6% of the total energy bill on running the clothes dryer. Plus, our clothing has been getting shrunk by the excessive heat of our dryer. Fits fine when I buy it, after I dry it a few times, it's tiny. Even our fleece clothing shrinks up, sweatpants turn into high waters! If I turn the heat down, then it doesn't dry all the way.

I bought one of these expandable accordion-style drying racks many years ago for drying delicates in my tiny San Francisco apartment. It has been sitting in my laundry room folded up on a shelf (it folds down flat, which is great) until a few weeks ago when I read how most Japanese apartment dwellers air-dry their clothing using these same racks, hardly anyone uses gas/electric dryers. That article reminded me that I had a rack like this, so I resolved to start using it for at least every other load of laundry. Took it down, dusted it off, and put it to work.

Turns out, it's great! I usually do a load of laundry around dinnertime, hang it up in about 5 minutes, and it's dry by morning. Our clothes don't get as much wear and tear, and our utility bill has gone down by about 10%.

The only disadvantage is that some fabrics (usually heavy cotton) come out a bit crispy, but I have figured out that I can hang them on the rack until they are almost dry, then I throw them in the dryer for the last few minutes of drying time. And even if they are crispy, usually they soften up within a few minutes of wearing.

I was also surprised to find that outdoor drying on a line (which is what I thought of when I thought of air drying your clothes) is not optimal. Dirt, dust, bird poop, tree sap, leaves, etc. can dirty your clothes. It's better to dry them inside and keep them clean. Saves a lot of hauling of wet clothes too.

Another added benefit to drying inside, especially in winter, is that it will humidify your air and make it easier to breathe. Pretty cool!

I just found this URL ( with every possible type of air drying device for clothing on it, plus resources for where to buy. Astounding. There are some really cool gadgets on there. They knock my accordion rack, but eh...considering that I already have it and use it and like it OK, I'll keep it. It's true that it's difficult to dry sheets on it. Maybe someday I'll make an investment in one of the other racks. Europe has all the killer technology, of course.

October 04, 2009

The Winter Garden

This is by far the most intensive gardening effort I have ever made. Trying to do it right this season finally (now that I no longer have tiny clinging babies to deal with) and actually sustain us through the winter from the garden. Cause California, we can do that!

I just tore out some annoying large woody bushes in my garden plot (and one 8 foot mystery tree with 3-4 inch long deadly thorns that was supposedly Meyer lemon, but grew into something else) that were taking up a big chunk of room right in the sun, so now I'm preparing the ground, digging it up, mixing in iron and blood meal and fish emulsion and compost. Large amounts of manual labor, but once it's done, it's done until next year.

OK, here's my list of seeds that I started last night with the kids...
* Copenhagen Market Cabbage
* Early Dividend Hybrid Broccoli
* Long Harvest Broccoli
* Kohlrabi - Crispy Colors Duo
* Snowball Cauliflower
* Ruby Queen beets
* Purple Top White Globe Turnips
* Kind Midas Long Sweet Carrots
* Baby Leaf Spinach - Catalina
* Lacinato Kale
* Oriental Giant Japanese Spinach
* Gala Mache Salad
* Endive/ Escarole/ Radicchio Mix
* Amsterdam Seasoning Celery (no stalks, just flavorful leaves)
* Slow-bolt Cilantro

If you are thinking of starting a garden in pots, or on a small-scale plot, I would personally start with a salad mix of some sort and Bright Lights Swiss Chard. Maybe throw in some carrots, for a planter garden.

My Swiss Chard from last year re-seeded itself and grew profusely in my garden, in the shade, with no/little additional water, ALL WINTER LONG. Then, when it got hot in later spring, it started to go downhill again (it likes cool to cold weather, like almost all of the above crops). It bolted, re-seeded, I trimmed it back to the ground, and now it has resprouted with vigor in the cooler weather.

Plus, Swiss Chard is DELICIOUS. Easy and delicious and grows profusely. A big winner in the beginning garden.

Broccoli is really fun to grow, watching the flower heads form. I planted it late this spring and it was too hot for it. Right now is a good time to plant, nice and cool.

I'm definitely no expert, I just try to improve and expand on what I did last time around, so over the years I'm getting there, but it certainly hasn't happened all at once! Hopefully I'll be a wise gardener by the time I'm a middle-aged lady and have time to putter around out there.

There is nothing better than going out to the garden to gather food for your meal, and not having to go to the store. So convenient! Also, storing food in the ground or on the plant, instead of in the fridge. EASY.

be notified of updates

subscribe to my RSS feed

short updates

    follow me on Twitter

    recent videos

    Creative Commons License
    This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.