The Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo <– Yes. This IS the Bronx Zoo.

More than anything, my family enjoys outtings related to history and nature. Our vacation this year in South Carolina will give us plenty of each. Until then, we grab every free minute we have and we run to the nearest path to hike or bike. When we have a few additional free minutes, we enjoy lesisurly walks through the woods or, like yesterday, through the Bronx Zoo.

I meant to ask how many acres the zoo occupies but I never did. One thing is for sure – the zoo is tremendous. We have never covered all the grounds in one visit. We do not object to that, however, since it’s a reason to go back again and again.

While there yesterday, we took the ‘Asia Monorail’. A wonderful narrated tour through the Asia exhibit. While I rode in the monorail and looked out at the vast open space, I realized how different the zoo was now than when I was a kid.

My firsr clear memory of the zoo comes from a 7th grade trip I went on with my science class. What stands out clearly for me is the lion’s cage. And that’s just what it was – a cage. Between the bars of the cage and visitors, was what might have been a two-yard gap and then a fence. I don’t have specific memories of the cage except that of cement. Cement flooring, cement slabs for climbing and napping… certainly nothing true to a lion’s natural habitat.

As an animal lover, I’m so happy now when I look out at the ‘enclosures’ our Bronx Zoo animals have. The natural terrain is glorious. It seems to go on forever. The animals roam freely – or somewhat freely – and have streams, ponds, real trees and grasses. Not cement floors and iron bars. They’re rehabilitated if they’re injured and mated in safety if they’re in danger of extinction. So many species have been preserved because of the work done in zoos today.

As often as I go to the Bronx Zoo, I always manage to forget I’m smack in the middle of the city. The Bronx River Parkway – a heavily traveled highway – borders the zoo on one side, and the Bronx River – the ony fresh water river in New York – winds through the center of the zoo. Trees tower over head, birds sing cheerful tunes and man and beast show a certain respect for one another. Kinda nice, if you ask me.

Bronx River The Bronx River – view from the Asia Monorail

Just to give you an idea of the magnificence of the place, here are a couple of photos from our trip yesterday – including one with Daughter feeding a rather brazen and brave female peacock.

Bronx Zoo Deer Bronx Zoo - Red Panda

Puma in her habitat Bronx Zoo - Feeding a peahen

The Archaeological Perspective

As a fairly new homeschooling family, I’ve been amazed to discover how many learning opportunities there are for children beyond traditional book learning. We left public school at the beginning of last year and immediately began an online curriculum with teacher support. I believed there had to be structure, and to me ‘structure’ meant textbooks, essays and tests. Boy, was I wrong.

It has taken me two full ‘school’ years to fully realize book learning isn’t all there is. While we have experienced an amazingly wide range of hands-on activities – one more exciting than the other – I would have to say the best, by far, is the most recent. It’s called The Archaeological Perspective and it is a 4-day archaeological camp.

When my daughter was too young to even pronounce the word ‘archaeologist’, she knew that’s what she wanted to be. She called it being a ‘bone hunter’. She’s realized that dream this week in a very small but significant way.

During the camp, the children attending are taught a brief history of the period they will be unearthing. In this case, it is China’s Ch’in Dynasty – 3rd Century BC. Actual artifacts from that period (as well as earlier and later periods) are buried and the children are taught how to properly excavate the area, uncover stunning and fragile objects, handle them carefully and clean them thoroughly.

This is how their site was set up –

The Archaeological Perspective  Do-the-dig 2

And here are some of the remarkable artifacts they unearthed – keep in mind, these are NOT reproductions. They are the actual artifacts.

Do-the-dig 3 Do-the-Dig - 4 Do-the-dige 5 - Terra Cotta Archer Do-the-dig 6

Daughter is enthralled. She cannot wait each morning to get up and get out there to see what else she’ll discover. She’s actually handling objects made thousands of years ago – THOUSANDS of years ago!!! – and has learned the history of their creation.

After digging for three days, there will be a ‘museum’ presentation of all the artifacts the children have uncovered, and a reception with foods of the region. This is one week out of 12 1/2 years that I’ve actually been happy to have my daughter playing in dirt… and looking like she’s enjoyed every second of it.

Indiana Jones… move over, handsome… there’s a new Indy in town.

The stuff of history

“A skinny black kid from the south side of Chicago” vs. a former first lady… and the ‘skinny black kid’ wins.

Forget where your allegiance lies, this is history.

When Obama and Clinton had their first solo debate we made sure we taped it – to preserve the moment. They were the only candidates left standing and the debate between them – a woman and a black man – was the first in our history. Imagine how it would be if Obama actually chose Clinton as his running mate. There would be no turning back from that forward motion. Young girls – black and white – would be witness to the shattering of that glass ceiling. Indeed, they’ve already witnessed it’s weakening.

But is America, as a whole, ready for a black president? A female president – or vice president? Where I come from, the answer is a resounding, “YES!” Alas, as it’s been pointed out to people from my neck of the woods, New York is not the world and so we must consider the desires of those in the rest of our country. Imagine. 😉

I think it’s safe to say a huge majority of Americans are – and have been – ready for a major change in our leadership. So, assume for a moment Obama and/or Clinton share your political views… or, if you’d rather, imagine a nameless black or female candidate. Do you think this country is ready for that kind of change? Or do you think people will panic at the last moment and vote for the status quo?

Ten Chapters done – ten to go

The book-in-a-week workshop I took with April Kihlstrom was excellent. I wish I could recycle the free time I’d purposely scheduled for that week so I could use and reuse it, again and again. Alas, free time isn’t always easy to come by.

However, the flow is still there. What I learned from the workshop is how to silence that inner editor. At least for a little while. I find I am now able to let go of ‘perfection’ and just write. I find myself falling deeper and deeper into character and watching – as a reader – the story develop right in front of me. There are times now when I’m writing so quickly, so firmly inside my character’s head, that I’m left breathless and wishing I could simply turn the page and see what happens next. How cool to fall so deeply into the story that I forget I’m its creator.

Now, just because I’ve hogtied and gagged my inner editor, don’t think I’m writing sloppy. I’m just writing fast because I’ve finally – FINALLY – realized this first draft is for my eyes only. It doesn’t matter if I replace a couple of key descriptive words with ???’s, it doesn’t matter if I’m not sure whether hero and heroine are traveling north or east. What matters is that mood, voice and flow of story remain constant. And constant happens naturally when there’s forward motion only – not back and forth nit-picking until that inner editor is somewhat satisfied.

I’ve now come to the middle of my story. Chapter 10. Over and out. Just days ago, I’d finished Chapter 9 and struggled – as usual – to ‘start’ the next chapter. The beauty of this is that I can reread the last couple of paragraphs I’d written and I’m immediately sucked back into the story and ready to roll… when free time allows.

Now if only I could find a way to hogtie time…

My new favorite breakfast… or lunch… or…

French toast, eggs, pancakes? They’re all good for breakfast and have their mmm-mmm moments. BUT my new favorite is a zucchini omelet. It’s easy and fast and makes a very large fluffy omelet – enough to feed two, maybe three, depending on how large you make your servings.

Zucchini and Onion Omelet

2 small or 1 medium zucchini, washed and diced

1/2 cup chopped onion

4 eggs beaten

dash curry powder (okay… I use 3 dashes…)

dash marjoram (and 3 dashes for this one, too. 😉 )

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for sautéing

Parmesan cheese (optional – Daughter loves it, I don’t think it’s necessary)

Heat olive oil in medium fry pan until hot but not smoking. Add diced zucchini and chopped onion.

Chopped zucchini and onion

Sauté over low flame for 7-8 minutes or until vegetables are softened and just starting to brown, stirring occasionally.

Saute - Zucchini and onion

Allow zucchini mixture to cool for about five minutes, then sprinkle with curry powder and marjoram. Mix well. Blend into beaten eggs along with salt and pepper (and 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan if using).

Heat an additional drop of olive oil – just enough to coat bottom of pan – using medium heat. Then pour egg mixture in pan being careful to evenly distribute zucchini. Cook for one minute, gently lifting sides to let uncooked egg flow to the bottom.

When edges are set but center is still soft, reduce heat slightly and allow to cook uncovered for 3 minutes.

Loosen omelet from pan, then slide omelet onto a large plate. Invert pan over omelet, then carefully invert plate and pan toether to transfer omelet back to pan, cooked side up.

Cook until underside is set – about one minute. Then slide omelet onto plate, quarter and serve with toast. Yum. 🙂

Zucchini Quiche

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do… and just so you know, it’s easier when someone, anyone, helps you with the cleaning… like my Fidget…

Fidget in Dishwasher

😀

Tow-away zones

They’re paving my street this morning.

Yesterday, the Department of Transportation (DOT) posted signs about roadwork and no parking. My busy, overdeveloped, main street had suddenly become a 6am – 6pm tow-away zone.

Now, I have to tell you, parking here is a major issue. When one is lucky enough to get a spot in front of their own home, it’s the envy of the neighborhood. And THEN, when that person has to leave that spot, they usually beg a friend or family member with a driveway to tag them. They pull out, the friend pulls in. When they come home, the friend goes back to their own driveway, and they get their spot back. It’s a never ending cycle. People have even followed me in their cars like a cat stalking prey as I’ve walked to the corner deli. You know they’re not looking to kidnap or hurt you. They just want your parking space. I’ve had to stop and tell them, “Sorry… I’m not pulling out of anywhere.”

So, when at 6:30am today, the DOT trucks inched up our block and spoke in clear and heavy New York accents over the loudspeaker saying, “If you have a car parked on this street, move it or it’s gonna be towed”, I have to be honest and say, some of us would have preferred a towing to searching for some other spot for our cars. At least with a tow, the car would have a place, out of view, to rest without worry of being stripped or stolen.

Today? Well, we were lucky enough to spy a spot last night and can just about see it on the side street at the corner. Tonight? Well… you can bet everyone who is in town will be racing to get onto the street at exactly 6 so they can reclaim their spot or occupy someone else’s… I’ll be taking my wheel lock off by 5:30 so when 6:00 comes, I can make the switch that much quicker. For those not in town by six tonight? Well, trust me, they’re going to be stressing all the way home about where they’re going to put their car since all the good spots will be taken by the time they get there.

Ah, city life. Love it or hate it, it’s always a challenge.

What’s the greatest challenge in your neck of the woods?

Summer opener

The birthday honoree in this house gets to choose whatever it is s/he wants to do on his/her birthday. I always choose something to do with nature – maybe a ride upstate to visit one of the mansions so we can later stroll the grounds and picnic under some shady tree or on the banks of the Hudson.

Since my birthday is today, the end of May, it’s always connected to Memorial Day weekend – and that means an extra day to play. 🙂

This weekend was fabulous. Daughter worked a fund raising event for the shelter all day on Saturday while Hubby worked. That meant I was free to write without interruption for several hours. I am now up to Chapter 11. Or just about. I’ve slipped with my Book-in-a-week focus (obviously, since it’s been more like a month plus) but I’m still writing faster and tighter than ever before.

Sunday, we went to Old Bethpage Village Restoration. We go there often and never tire of it. It’s a living history village on Long Island. They’ve taken houses from around Long Island that date back to the 17 and 1800’s and relocated them on this property. It’s set up to look like a working farming village of the period. Like Williamsburg, Virginia, only not as well funded. It’s such a sweet and peaceful place that reminds us of all we have now as compared to the people of that time.

This is the only home in the Village that is original to the property. It was built in the 1700’s with rooms added on through the 1800’s. It was home to Quakers who worked the farm. The immediate area is still a working farm with some of the animals actual descents from the originals.

OBVR - Powell Farm OBVR - Powell Farm2

Some of the homes are classic stuctures that clearly stand the test of time. Isn’t this one beautiful?OBVR - Kirby

Also on the grounds… a cemetery from the 17 and 1800’s…

OBVR - Cemetery

After dinner in a colonial era restaurant, we stopped near home, at Fort Totten, to watch the sunset. So pretty and peaceful, isn’t it?

Sunset

Yesterday, we went to Sands Point Preserve, a stunning reminder of Long Island’s Gold Coast history. There’s a castle on the property called the Castle Gould. In the 1920’s, the filthy rich Gould family had this home built in the style of Castle Kilkenny in Ireland.

It’s a stunning building and the property – including the drive in from the main road – is breathtakingly beautiful. However, after waiting two years for this castle to be built…

Caslte Gould (Castle Gould on Long Island)

…the Gould family took one look and turned up their noses. They hated it and never spent a day or night inside of it. And there it sits all these years later, a gift to Nassau County. Lucky for us, I suppose, but hard to grasp the concept of just how much money these people had that they could simply walk away.

There are two other homes on the property which now belongs to the town. Hempstead House and Falaise. In all the years we’ve been visiting Sand’s Point Preserve, we’ve never gone on a day when Falaise has been available to tour. We’ve made it our mission to get there at some point THIS summer and finally see the place.

Hempstead house is lovely and, in my opinion, in a much nicer location than Castle Gould.  Hempstead House – side view, facing the Castle Gould (acres away)Hempstead House - Side

Hempstead House - rearview Rear view of Hempstead House

Harry Guggenheim had this house built and used the Castle Gould – which had been left to rot – as a carriage house.

He used the Castle as a carriage house. Imagine?

The view from the back of the house and yard is of the Long Island Sound and it is just magnificent, in my opinion. Since funds are low, Hempstead house is not as well-maintained as it could be, nor is it open for tours, but the bottom floor is often used for social or fund raising events.

Yesterday, we used the grounds to (try to) fly our Nemo kite.

Hempstead House - Kite

The kite, apparently, was afraid of heights, but check out the view of the Sound. ::sigh::

What a glorious day it was. What a beautiful weekend. A perfect way to remember our heroes, to start the summer and to celebrate yet another birthday.

Assessmet tests, percentiles and bragging

For children in the public school system, assessment tests are practically a weekly thing. The schedule for testing is incredible. No wonder ‘teaching for the test’ is such a common concept now. For homeschoolers, there is a requirement that children take one state assessment test every other year until high school, then every year until graduation.

Since this is my daughter’s second year of homeschooling, we were obligated to select one of our state’s approved tests and administer it. A friend of mine is a public school teacher, and she graciously agreed to proctor this test for Daughter.

It’s the typical, timed, No. 2 pencil test. Remember those?

Needless to say, Daughter was stressed. Anytime we have to be tested on what we know – or don’t know – stress levels rise. You can imagine mine rose, too. I felt as though it were not just Daughter being tested, but myself as well. I have, after all, been her teacher for the past two years.

In order to ‘pass’ these assessment tests, children have to score in the 33rd percentile. In case you’re unsure what that means, allow me to explain – it means in order to pass, a child must score higher on the test than 33% of the children who have taken it. It has nothing to do with their actual score. Yes. You read that correctly.

Well, I knew Daughter would pass but I wanted her to breeze by, not simply pass. After all the effort she – and I – put in this year (and last), I hoped for that. My hopes were answered yesterday when her score came back from the state. She not only surpassed the 33% expectation, she surpassed everything I could have dreamed. My homeschooled child scored in the 98th percentile.

Snoopy-dancing!

When I took the time to average her overall scores and not just gaze dreamily at the percentile, I saw her average is a 96. Ninety-six.

How wonderful it was to realize all the work this child did throughout the year , all of my gentle persuasion  , my agressive mothering, my patience , and reserved encouragment paid off so well.

We celebrated last night. What an affirming end to our second homeschooling year.

Oooo, goody! Rebates!

So, the federal government is sending each and everyone of us a $600 rebate. Cool, right? What will you do with yours? Well… you might want to think long and hard about that before you run out and spend it… because…

If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China.

If we spend it on gasoline it will go to the Arabs.

If we purchase a computer it will go to India.

If we purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.           

If we purchase a good car it will go to Japan.

If we purchase useless crap it will go to Taiwan.

And none of it will help the American economy.

The only way to keep that money here at home is to buy prostitutes, weed, beer, cigarettes, whiskey, and tattoos, since these are the only products still produced here in the states.

No, I want cola.

The images from China this week have been heartbreaking. The devastation is unimaginable, and the loss of lives is shocking… and still rising.

But from this horror, there are amazing stories of survival, which should really come as no surprise since the human spirit is such an amazing and powerful thing.

The earthquake hit just over a week ago. You would think everyone buried under the rubble of their city would have passed on by now. But just yesterday, they pulled a man from the jumble that was once his fertilizer factory. The man’s daughter would not give up on him. She organized a search party of her own and screamed and called for him until, finally, he answered. Stunned, thrilled, all movements ceased and she called out, “Father? Is that you?” To which he replied, “Yes. I’m thirsty.”

I’m thirsty.

100 hours after hearing the man’s voice, soldiers managed to remove him from the rubble, leaving his leg behind, but his spirit in tact.

Further away, three 10-year-old girls were found together under the remnants of their school where so many children perished. All three were rescued – whole. How did they survive – these young children, alone, terrified, injured? How was it possible for them to hang on until they could be plucked from that hell?

They talked to each other. They told jokes and cried. Together. Close to the end, before they knew they would be saved, one girl cied, “I want water.” To which another girl joked, “No. I want cola.”

Maybe there’s something we can learn here, something that can keep us going in our difficult times. Knowing that very little if anything we’ve experienced has been as devastating as what those three girls experienced and survived, has got to give us a boost regardless of the trials ahead.

I’ll remember that young girl’s humor. The next time I whine about something I can’t have, or think a situation is hopeless, I’ll think about that child and how she took a situation where asking and getting the smallest thing was impossible and not only stated what she wanted – not water, cola- but laughed at the absurdity of it. And survived.

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