Sunday, September 30, 2007

Homeschool Day at Hidden Villa

Hidden Villa had a homeschool day on Friday. They were closed to everyone except those who had registered, and offered a variety of special events and classes. The day was gray and overcast, and it even rained a little at one point, but we had a great time for all that.

We started out with the biscuit-making workshop. It sounds so simple, but at Hidden Villa they always include a lot of enrichment with the basic activity, so there was a lot of discussion of farming, harvesting, baking, etc. They also made butter by shaking cream in a jar. This is an activity everyone enjoys. It's so amazing to watch the cream change right in front of your eyes. Not for the first time, though,I found myself wondering why they didn't show the kids a churn, just for them to see how people used to do it before all this new-fangled machinery came in. After making the biscuits, they finished up with some lively eco-themed versions of tag (predator and prey, summer and winter). It was time to check out the rest of the farm.

Unfortunately we didn't get too far, because another activity they had going that day was origami. The room was very crowded, so I sat outside on the porch and knitted away at some socks. Next thing you know, I hear Ziad's voice saying things like, Then you fold it like this, and open it up over here..." Yes, Ziad was teaching the origami instructors new folds. I don't know whether to find this cute or obnoxious, but the instructors were very nice about it, and complimented him profusely.

We had to drag him out of there to go check out the hens and the new chicks. The new chicks turned out to be much larger (and less cute, in my opinion) than one might have expected. Ziad and Maya each got a chance to hold one, though, and Ziad was entranced with the way it snuggled down and just relaxed for him. He didn't want to give it back, but the docent was moving on to showing where the eggs were laid. This was followed by a handful of corn for everyone to feed the chickens foraging outside, and again, we had to drag Ziad out of there in order to go get lunch.

Lunch had been made in a variety of workshops that morning. There were the biscuits, and also cheese and soup and salad. I really, really wanted to try them, and in fact, saved some to take home. Everything was very good, and most of it had been grown and prepared on the farm. They had an old-fashioned dance band playing (square and line dance, I mean) and it was just so pleasant to sit out on the grass. The only problem was that Ziad ran into some kids he knew, and it was impossible to get him to sit down and eat. This created difficulties for everyone later, when he got tired and hungry and cranky, but at least he had fun with his friends.

The afternoon was devoted to one last activity per child. Unfortunately, they did not choose the same activity. Maya wanted to milk goats up in the white barn, while Ziad wanted to explore wool and felting in the educational center. Unfortunately these two locations were separated by about a five-minute walk, so I didn't really get to observe either of them, as I shuttled back and forth keeping tabs on the two of them. For those who are interested, Ziad and Maya's posts describe them below.

We could have stayed longer, and maybe on another day we would have, but I find driving tiring and so wanted to get home before the rush hour started. All in all, it was a great day, gray skies notwithstanding. Hidden Villa is a wonderful place.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wool crafts at Hidden Villa

by Ziad

Making a felt pouch:

Wool has thousand of tiny hooks on each hair, and when we felted the wool we were trying to get them to hook together. I don't think mine did.

In the beginning, the wool was kind of soft and all tangled, with the hairs going in different directions. It wasn't in threads, like yarn is. We put it in these paddles that were kind of like hairbrushes, and we pulled them apart to spread them out to straighten out the hairs. This is called carding. Then we put them in a cross and put a tennis ball on top. We wrapped the cross around the ball and dunked it in soapy water. Then we squeezed the water out and dumped it in rinse water and then squeezed that out. I was doing fine until we put the wool into a ball and soaked in the soapy water and then started rinsing it. I just hated that. Then we dried it out and cut a cross-shaped hole at the greenest part. We gradually pulled out the tennis ball.


I hated the spinning because my wool kept ripping and I couldn't get it together. I couldn't get the bits of wool that I was making into the yarn thin enough.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Milking a Goat at Hidden Villa

by Maya

The man who milks the goats showed us the goat food. There were two kinds. The first was kind of like Cheerios with sugar on them. He wouldn't let us eat them, but he said he eats them himself sometimes. They were little pellets. The other food was also pellets, except it was longer and more greyish-colored. He scooped it up into

The woman showed us how to milk the goats. We used our thumbs for an example. You squeeze from the top and the more gently down to the bottom. This way you get all the milk at the top and then push it down from the bottom. If you just squeeze at the bottom it hurts the goat.

They said they get ten pounds of milk every day. They goat they milk is going to have babies. The man told us that they only have milk when they have babies, but they stay like that for almost the whole year.

The man who milks the goats dumped some food onto a tray. The goat was really excited. It was putting its hooves on the fence. I think they did that to make it stay still while we milked it. We were only milking one goat. Because of that we had to wait in line for our turn. I was near the end. When we got to it, it was really fun to milk it. Nobody ever got kicked or butted. I hope they do that again. While I waited for Mom to come pick me up, we got to pet all the goats in the pen. Then we got to pet that same one because they let it into the pen. They had the thing of what they gave the goats. I was glad Mom got there soon because they dumped some food in the pen and so most of the goats were interested in the food and so we couldn't pet them. Only one wasn't. I think it was the one that we milked because it had already eaten at the place where we milked it. It was really fun.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The second week finished


So now we're going into the third week of Ramadan. I've been thinking a lot lately about how different life is for me when I'm fasting. As much as I try to be normal, I spend a fair amount of energy trying to get through the day. Sometimes I throw in the towel altogether and just hunker down and wait for sunset. Consequently, I have less energy for things like returning phone calls, getting together with people, etc. At the end of the month, I find I have let a lot of opportunities slip by. When Ramadan ends, it's like being Rip Van Winkle, waking up to a world that was different than the one I fell asleep in. I've lost touch with people, Ziad and Maya have fallen behind in their work, their musical progress has stalled. I hope this is happening less this year than in others. It helps a lot that the children are less childlike. Now that they are older they are more capable of working independently. Rather than needing my support, they have been supporting me. Maybe that's why, even though we fast longer days each year, fasting itself has become more a fact of life and less of an enormous struggle. Still challenging, though.

And, much as I focus on getting through each day, I am focusing on getting through the month. Two out of four weeks done! Fourteen out of thirty days. I look out the window and see a beautiful full moon.

(Note: The calligraphy above says Ramadan mubarak, or congratulations on Ramadan (roughly). I love arabic calligraphy, and have since I was very young. It's graceful lines have always seemed to me to be the height of elegance.)


Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Monday, September 24, 2007

Now there's something you don't see every day

Here is a turkey on our neighbor's roof.

Here are a lot of turkeys on our neighbor's roof.

They've been on our roof as well -- turkeys on the roof make a very strange noise.

Oddly, they disappeared some time around Thanksgiving last year, and we haven't seen them since.

Post inspired by Jennifer's recent mysterious experience with turkey(s).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Photos of Big Sur ...

... just because they're beautiful.

This is the Big Sur coastline, viewed from Nepenthe, followed by Big Sur beach.

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Sunday well-spent

We started the day at the farmer's market in Los Gatos. There are two vendors there who know us: the crepe-maker and the apple seller. We're not the only ones who like the crepes there. If you don't get there early, the line can take up to 45 minutes. I didn't really realize the line was that long until I timed it one time -- it's always kind of cool to watch the people and their dogs, and eavesdrop on the people in front of me in line (I am terrible about that), so it's not a long or uncomfortable 45 minutes. Unless you're hungry. All things considered, we like to try to get there before 9. It's funny that the crepe maker knows who we are, and we know who he is, but we don't know each others' names. He'll always be the crepe guy to me.

Same with the apple seller. Considering that he's there for only a few months each year, it's kind of cool that he always recognizes us. Ziad is a huge fan of the apples we buy there, and looks forward every fall to the day when apples will be at the market again. This is one of the few places to buy the elusive Gravenstein, an apple not widely cultivated because it does not keep or transport well. They were the only apples my grandmother would cook with though, or so my mother tells me. They have a beautiful taste and fragrance, and hold their texture well. Their season is usually short, but there they were today, so I brought some home, along with some McIntosh, which are my favorite apple to eat. Ziad and Maya also bought an assortment, but since they all go together in one bag it's hard to remember what kinds they are.

The afternoon was spent getting ready to put food in the oven. I really like to bake more than one thing at a time, thereby getting maximal use out of the energy I'm using to heat the oven. Today I made:

for dinner tonight:
a huge pan of lasagne
peach crisp

for dinner tomorrow:
meatballs, half with tomato sauce, half without
apple crisp

Okay, so it doesn't sound so impressive written down, but I don't think I could fit another pan in the oven. And I cleaned up after myself, too! The kitchen is clean! So now we have lots of counter space to pile the dirty dinner dishes on .... oh, well.

Rainy Saturday

Well, on Saturday we didn't go to the dragon boat festival in San Francisco.

We didn't go to Redwood City for the downtown party.

No, we headed over to Yarn Dogs for a class on lace knitting. And it turns out that while I am quite good at figuring out how the patterns work, actual lace weight yarn makes me crazy. I can barely even see it on the needles, or feel it against my fingers. I guess this is good information, but I kind of regret having spent my Saturday acquiring it. And the worst part is, I haven't actually given up on it entirely, and will probably throw my back out from the stress of trying to improve my skill at something that I am most likely entirely unsuited for.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The first week

This morning, the second week of Ramadan begins. The first week is always such a huge milestone for me. I look in the sky and I can see the moon half-full, and I know that we've taken a good first step in our month of fasting.

What's interesting to me is that every year feels so different. I can still remember two years ago, how shell-shocked I felt on the first day. Maya and Ziad had their first day in a new program that was just starting up, and I felt somehow like I was looking at the world from the bottom of a deep hole. This year, on the first day, Ziad had his first day back in his Nature Awareness program, and Maya and I went to a conference with our consultant from their charter school, and I was chatting with her and talking a blue streak. It was really a good day, although I was tired when we got home.

Which brings me to the overwhelming sensation of this first week: fatigue. I'm hungry sometimes, and thirsty a lot, but that doesn't seem to bother me too much. Sometimes I get so tired, so fast, that I imagine this must be what narcolepsy feels like. I go from feeling fine and energetic to having no energy at all, in a very short time. Which is pretty scary if I happen to be driving. On the way home from San Francisco last Saturday, I had to pull over and close my eyes for a few minutes, even though I wasn't particularly tired when we first got in the car. On the plus side, I haven't gotten sick.

Every week is different. This last week we went to Santa Cruz on Thursday, San Francisco on Saturday, Santa Rosa on Monday. We had a birthday party on Sunday, guitar on Tuesday, piano and scouts on Wednesday. We'll have OT on Friday, and maybe a play date (or perhaps a book group meeting). Well, it's no wonder I need to rest sometimes. I just hope the next three weeks aren't any busier than this one.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

What a beautiful morning

Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market

We went to the Ferry Plaza because I wanted to buy some chocolate there. It's kind of a silly reason, but I also wanted to go to the Ferry Plaza because I love it there. Even when I'm not eating myself, I love to sit with Ziad and Maya on the walkway where the restaurants have their tables, looking out over the water at the Bay Bridge, watching the ferries come and go. You can see Treasure Island, and even Alcatraz, and the sun and the water make everything look surreally beautiful. I feel as if I'm wandering through a painting.

This day, though, the Farmer's Market was in full swing. I've never had a chance to check the San Francisco Farmer's Market out, and I have to say, I was really impressed. They have EVERYTHING there! Meats, eggs, cheese, produce of all descriptions (I'm actually starting to get tired of heirloom tomatoes), fresh fish, smoked fish, sausages, and all kinds of prepared foods and baked goods. I exercised self-restraint until we got to the place where they were selling heirloom beans. They had all kinds of beans I have never even heard of, and some that I've always been curious about, like scarlet runner beans. There were red beans, beige and yellow beans, black beans, brown beans, round beans, big beans, small beans -- all kinds of beans, and all beautiful. They even had a huge basket of all different kind of beans for people to run through their fingers, admiring the colors and smooth texture. Since beans keep practically forever, it didn't feel too frivolous to get four pounds worth. Now that I have them home, I'm not sure how long it's going to take us to eat them, but I sure enjoy looking at them.

Cable Car Museum

Ziad wanted to go to the Cable Car Museum. He wanted it so much that I spend a good half hour circling various permutations of streets in the vicinity, looking, looking, looking for a parking place. Damn! Parking is tight around there. We had chosen to drive to the museum rather than figure out the bus/trolley/cable car combination that would have gotten us from the ferry plaza, largely because it seemed faster. By the time I had parked, I wasn't so sure. Plus we were all kind of dizzy from going around in circles.

We finally got there, though, and walked into the building. It's a noisy place, because the wheels (called sheaves) that turn the cables that pull the cars are right out in the open. There's not all that much to see, but it's free, and it's interesting. Because Ziad is getting older, I enforced a little learning: "Either tell me something you learned today or go learn something and then tell me." He chose to look at the gripping mechanism that the cars use for hitching a ride on the cables.

I myself was interested to learn that the cable cars were installed around 1897, and by the 1940s were slated for destruction. It took a determined and forceful effort to save them. Reading about the fight for their survival, I remembered what an integral part they are of San Francisco's image in other parts of the world. Living nearby, I think of San Francisco as part of my backyard. We love the museums, the restaurants, the ocean, the bridge, the ballet, and yes, the cable cars. The cable cars themselves, though, are really a small part of the overall picture. In fact, Ziad and Maya had never even been on one until a few years ago. My point, though, is that something can seem out of date and irrelevant 70 years after it's construction, but integral and valuable 70 years after that. The fact that San Francisco has one of the few operational cable car systems in the world is now a source of civic pride.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

My husband, wildlife photographer

I'm not sure what kind of hawk this is. A red-tail perhaps?

This jay was completely unimpressed by the proximity of humans or the noise of the camera. Perhaps he was trying for a modeling career.

We love squirrels. They can have all the bird food they want.
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ramadan mubarak

Today is the first day of Ramadan.

I got up early to make breakfast for my husband, the kind we used to eat with his family on weekends before we had kids and everyone's schedules got so wildly divergent. We had:

Foul (pronounced fool)-- this is a kind of bean salad, made with fava beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

Za'atar -- this is an herb mix that you eat by dipping a piece of bread into olive oil, and then into the za'atar.

Cucumbers and olives

Feta cheese

Lebni -- some people call this Greek yogurt. It is yogurt that has the whey strained out so that it is very thick and creamy. The most common way of serving it is with olive oil poured over it, and crushed dried mint sprinkled over that. It has a beautiful refreshing taste.

Halaweh -- or halvah. This is a paste of ground sesame seeds sweetened (a lot) with sugar. The kind we like also has pistachios.

Cherry preserves

French bread and butter -- it may seem odd not to eat all this food with pita bread, but Nabil likes baguettes better.

We needed to finish eating by 5:37, but Nabil actually had to go back to work for something he had forgotten, so he left around 5:15 to do that. It's odd to think that many people are leaving for work then, or have already left, whereas he is going to drive to work, pick something up, and then come home to sleep.

It may seem odd to talk about a day of fasting with descriptions of food, but one thing that Ramadan does is help you truly appreciate the food you have. This will be a long day for me, because Ziad will spend the day in Santa Cruz, accompanied by Maya and me.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Out and about

Master Gardeners

I've been wanting for a long time to go check out the demonstration garden in Palo Alto. Glancing at the calender, I saw that they were offering a class, "Insects in the Garden: the good, the bad, and the ugly." It seemed the perfect opportunity. So we piled into the car and headed over.

The garden is beautiful. The class was interesting. They had lots of insects in jars to take a look at, and piles of little magnifying glasses to roam the garden with. I've never taken a magnifying class to a living plant before, and I saw plenty of miniature creatures whose existence I would never have suspected.

We also saw some lacewing eggs. I had just read about lacewing eggs a few nights previously:

I would burst suddenly into the house and startle the family with the news that the strange, spiky black caterpillars on the roses were not roses at all, but the young of lady-birds, or with the equally astonishing news that lacewing-flies laid eggs on stilts. This last miracle I was lucky enough to witness. I found a lacewing-fly on the roses and watched her as she climbed about the leaves, admiring her beautiful, fragile wings like green glass, and her enormous liquid golden eyes. Presently she stopped on the surface of a rose-leaf and lowered the tip of her abdomen. She remained like that for a moment and then raised her tail, and from it, to my astonishment, rose a slender thread, like a pale hair. Then, on the very tip of this stalk, appeared the egg. The female had a rest, and then repeated the performance until the surface of the rose-leaf looked as though it was covered with a forest of tiny club moss. The laying over, the female rippled her antennae briefly and flew off in a mist of green gauze wings.

--Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals
These lacewing eggs were not so prolific, but still amazing to view.

Unfortunately, heat and hunger gave us short attention spans, so we left early and headed over to the Cantor Arts Center, where we ate lunch and visited their exhibit

The Art of Being Touareg

We saw:

a tent -- the tent was beautiful in it's own right, but also interesting, because tents traditionally belong to the women. As the Touareg settle into houses, which are typically owned by men, the women are losing their property rights, and what was once a matrilineal society is changing.

silver work
There was a lot of silver jewelry, and two craftsmen on hand demonstrating their art. In addition to the jewelry, they had made several little silver animals that Ziad was very taken with.

veiled men -- the craftsmen were in traditional clothes, which include turbans and veils for the men. It's clear that these veils are an important protection for people who spend their lives in the harsh desert environment, and it really made me think about societies where this style of dress has morphed into a tool of oppression. If you've ever read Dune, these men looked like they could have stepped right out of its pages. I gather they mostly wear these clothes now when they are acting as cultural representatives to Westerners. It's too bad, because the robes are both elegant and impressive, giving them a real sense of presence.

modern applications -- there was a section showing fashion motifs taken from Touareg design elements.

Guess what? The air conditioning was too cold. We couldn't really linger as long as I would have liked. The exhibit is over now, but I would like to do some research and find out more about this culture.