Saturday, January 31, 2009

Everglades National Park

Before I moved here, I had an idea that "The Everglades" were just a national park in Florida somewhere. Now I know that the Greater Everglades ecosystem is an 18,000-square mile tapestry of rivers, lakes, sawgrass sloughs, cypress swamps and estuarine bays.A large portion of this is protected through more than 20 national and state parks, conservation areas, and wildlife refuges. Some is also privately owned. If you look at Google Maps or Google Earth, you'll see all the developed part of South Florida around the edges and then everything in the middle is the Everglades.
So I was under the impression that if you saw one part of the Everglades, you had seen it all. I was wrong. We finally got around to visiting Shark Valley, one of the areas of Everglades National Park. There is a small gift shop, some bathrooms, sign posts and a 14-mile paved loop. There is a tram, which we opted not to ride because of the two-hour commitment, and other choose to bike the loop or walk it. But before you get there, you'll see gators everywhere. Seriously, there was one fifteen feet from the entrance, partially blocking the road!
It was amazing. The flora and fauna, the scenery, the feel, the air, it was almost magical. Why didn't we go sooner? I'll never know. We'll be back soon, though.

Friday, January 30, 2009

5 Cookies In Our Jar

No, we did not have twins this week. Kevin's parents came to stay with us, which was a blast. They seemed to enjoy the South Florida weather (I guess it's a little better than Salt Lake City weather in January). Since Kevin is all work-y and school-y, I got to take them around and show off all our favorite haunts. Please enjoy this slideshow of some of the great stuff we did.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Proud Mommy Moment


We went to the Museum of Discovery and Science and spent some good time in the small kids' area. Stellan decided to climb the "Hammock" exhibit for the first time. He hasn't shown any interest to this point, even though it seems so awesome that I've had to stop myself from climbing it. It has lots of levels and nets to keep the kids safe.
For some reason, today was different. It was probably the troop of other kids that inspired him, but he jumped right up and followed. One of the oldest kids (probably 7) helped him along and he made it all the way to the top and back down again. What a big boy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

No Rest For the Weary


I have decided that I need to start conditioning for Girls Camp. I was asked to be in charge of the high adventure expedition with the 16 year old girls, so I'm getting in shape and I'm taking Stellan with me. We got a baby backpack on Craigslist and I've been putting it to good use by hitting the trail at least three times a week. Anyone want to join us?

Serious Stuff

I really want the education world to improve before my child enters it. And of course I hope the new administration (President Obama, I'm talking to you!) can miraculously fix things by then, not just for Stellan, but for all the children who really have been left behind academically and otherwise, despite what the DOE tries to tell me. But in case that process isn't complete quickly enough for your tastes or mine (in the next 3 and half years is my timetable), here's something I want to share with every parent out there who wants their own kid to get a great education, and wants it enough to do something about it.
One of my heroes in life works in the education field. She has an awesome job - she teaches students how to teach, teachers how to learn and administrators how to let the rest learn and teach. Last week she posted an amazing article on her blog. So I'm reprinting it here in case you might find it useful. I did. (Sorry for the repeat if you happen to be in the middle section of our Venn diagram of friendship.)

Tips from a Reformer

Or is it reformist? I have used several different explanations for what I do for a living and most of it includes the word "reform." My newest description includes the word "redesign" but then people think I mean the actual school building (which is sort of part of my job description since you have to plan for using the space correctly but doesn't get to the heart of what I do.) 

The more I do this work the more I know that it is essential to the development of our country and I want to encourage everyone to more grassroots movement of reform in their own city. Below are a list of questions that every parent should ask the principal of the school--perhaps even superintendent or school board. You might ask the teacher but frequently they are limited by school administration because they control the teacher's ability to be free in the classroom to do proper instruction.

Question #1: What are the learning outcomes for the school? 

Every high school has to have a set of learning outcomes in order to get accreditation for college--elementary schools SHOULD go through the accreditation process but many skip it. If the person cannot tell you what the learning outcomes are for the school, Houston, we have a problem. If they do have a list you should look for something aboutcritical thinking or problem solving, something about citizenship or being a part of the community, some schools use the term work ethicfor those things but that is really a different issue. Other key learning outcomes typically cover communication (oral or written or both) and some type of numeracy. Numeracy is a made up word but it refers to math literacy. Finally look for something that measures collaborationor group work. Many schools are now realizing that technology literacy is important for kids, but I would argue that our children already have tech literacy and we should be measuring their ability to use it appropriately in a classroom setting (ie, using it as a tool besides just using it to replace traditional assignments like online tests and some worksheets).

Question #2: How are the learning outcomes being measured?

People can say "oh we have 8 learning outcomes and they are about blah blah" but if it is a true learning outcome, it should be measured. If the teacher gradebooks all have categories of tests, quizzes, and homework, the only skills they are measuring are testing skills and work ethic. Think about it--do you want your child to be measured solely based on their ability to take a test? Or do you want them to also develop thinking skills, collaborative abilities, communication skills, etc.

Question #3: How is the school developing critical thinking and problem solving/how is creativity and innovation rewarded?

Anyone who is anyone knows that the US suffered in the 80s from low math and science scores internationally. What most people don't think about it is how America has managed to stay on top in innovation and creativity in spite of these test scores. We MUST have content literacy, don't get me wrong--but students have to be encouraged to create new products, come up with new ideas, etc. The time has passed in which people can graduate from high school and get a job as a robot in a factory. If kids are only regurgitating information, they are not encouraged to really bloom and be creative.

Question #4: How does the school use data to inform practices?

They will like this because everyone asks about the data--but they just ask what it IS. How many teachers are told to "raise test scores" without analyzing the current group of kids. Most teachers look at the year prior and try to address the low areas with NEW kids. This sounds psycho people, but it is exactly what happens in schools. So if I am a parent and my kids test scores are low, I do NOT care how the teacher addressed it last year or the group of kids that went through last year. I want to know how is my specific child increasing achievement and if they only measure the school has is test scores (proved by a lack of learning outcomes in other areas) then I need to know how they are using that to specialize an education for my chillins.

Question #5: How does the school support struggling teachers? 

If I am willing to perform an "experiment" in letting a first year teacher, or even worse, a student teacher, use my children to become a good teacher, I need to believe that a principal or other support coach is working with them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I want to see discussions around curriculum. If someone says "oh we have BTSA or some other new teacher support", I want to know what % of the time with that mentor is actually spent with curriculum. Most of the time is just dealing with classroom management strategies, or paper pushing. Classroom management (ie discipline) is important obviously, but if a new teacher can really get a handle on engaging and powerful teaching, at least a child who is trying can get access to the curriculum.

Question #6: What are some examples of "real world" scenarios in which my children are engaged?

The key word here is applied curriculum. Who cares if they can add and subtract negative numbers if that math has no purpose? All I am asking is that the teacher say something like "when you only have ten dollars, how can you possible subtract 16 dollars?" and then have them come up with stuff like "well your mom could loan you 6 dollars and then you would have -6, right? Then if you borrowed 10 the next time it would be -10 plus -6. If you get 20 from grandma, then you have 4. Etc." If the kids are learning math for the sake of math, the only thing they learn is how to take a test. Same goes for all subject areas. If they are learning about the history of the state but don't apply any lessons to current events, es no bueno. Ideally the teacher creates a problem or scenario and the kids are asked to solve it in a project or problem based environment, but I know schools are light years behind that. 

Question #7: How is my child being taught to work with other students?

This is especially important if your child is one of the top students in the class. Collaboration is consistently the number one skill employers demand of their employees yet state that very few people are prepared to come to the table and work well with others. Kids who are super smart learn that they do better on their own (due to the perceived stupidity of others) and begin to develop a sense that isolated geniuses are better on their own. If the school encourages (forces) kids to consistently work with other kids, the children see much earlier on their role as a person who can either push others to succeed (ie become their future bosses) or work alone and not recognize that everyone has contributions in this world (picture your sweet little kid 10 years from now working with some idiota and deciding immediately that the person has nothing to offer. When that idiota gets promoted due to nepotism or some other unique circumstance (like it turns out the person is actually a whiz with programming, etc.) what is your kiddo's future? Now flip-flop the situation and pretend like your child helped push the person to be better and always provided support no matter how tough it was? The idiota gets promoted (or better yet, your child gets promoted because the boss noticed how well he helped created harmony in the company) and then who is better off now? So many parents worry that group work will "drag my kid down" and we continue to see people entering the work force ill-prepared to collaborate. 

Question #8: What can I do to help support the school as we move forward to make these changes? 

It takes a village, duh. And if you want your child to get this kind of education, you have to fight for it, against the winds of your community often times. If you doubt what I am saying, read The World is Flat. Read Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Read any studies by the US Dept of Labor for the last 20 years. Check out the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and tell me that this stuff is not important. Don't worry about risks, your smarty smart pants kids will get educated since the number one correlating factor to literacy is parent education level (and according to Freakanomics the sheer number of books in your home). Nothing that the school does is going to mess up your kid if you are actively working at home to read and think with them so don't be afraid to push them. In case you didn't know, only 25% of Americans have a BA or higher, so if you are one of them, your kids are likely in the top 25% of the nation in achievement (probably reflected in their test scores). What will we do if America does not prepare our kids? No doomsday, just further sinking of our european travel opportunities, that is it.

You can thank me later.
Great article! And I do thank you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

5 Years On Mars!

If you have been following my other blog, you already know that this month marks the fifth anniversary of the successful landing of the Mars Exploration Rovers on the Red Planet. Kevin and I decided to celebrate by reconstructing our LEGO Mars Rover. We built it years ago and I kept it on display at SBMNH, but we disassembled it when I lef the Museum. It took us over a week to get it together and functioning properly, but we documented it so that you could track our progress. Enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2009

You Know That Cold Front?

The one that spanked most of the Eastern seaboard? It finally hit Florida this week.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stellan v. Slide

We went to a beach festival a couple weeks ago, and I've been remiss in posting this slideshow and video about the event. I think you'll enjoy it. By the way, the slide was one of those really large (15 feet tall) inflatable slides they put up at carnivals. Stellan wasn't afraid, even for a second. He charged it. Several times.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

To All The Doubters

There have been those who have not quite believed that I shaved my head, and kept it that way for a long time. Well, here is your evidence. This is not just any photo, this is a photo that was recently sent to me by Terri Sheridan, Librarian and Archive Collection Specialist at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This is a vintage photo taken in 1997 during our Shell-a-bration summer exhibition. At the time, I was working at Shellrassic Park, the dig pit where kids dug up shell fragments and matched them to whole shells on an identification board. So this is official and legitimate; notice the name badge with the maiden name and the cheesy teenage grin (I was 18 then, but kept my head shaved well into my 21st year). I shaved my head. And the Florida heat doesn't much dissuade me from doing it again.

P.S. Anyone who knew me then can please feel free to back this story up in the comments section. And if you shaved your head with me, maybe it's time for a post on your blog about it! (I'm talking to you, Leigh...)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Day Stellan Became a Tourist Attraction

We took Stellan for a cruise along the Hollywood Broadwalk (think waterfront, all you Santa Barbarians) the other night. Although he couldn't see it, he definitely heard the sound of the pretty new water feature they put in. He demanded to be released (which we had luckily anticipated and had dressed him in a swim diaper and trunks) and quickly followed his ears back to the fountains. He wasted no time jumping in and enjoying himself immensely.
We were not the only ones cruising the broadwalk. Apparently it is a grandparent tourist mecca, because Stellan quickly found himself surrounded by adoring older people who were whispering to their partners reminescently in several languages. He did not disappoint.

Planning Ahead

luke skywalker, age 6
Originally uploaded by olrebbie
I have found the perfect costume for Stellan 4 Halloweens from now. And if he won't wear it, I will. Although I'll probably have to arm wrestle Kevin for it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dining In the Nude

Here is why Stellan no longer eats his favorite food while clothed. (But you may want to buy stock in Spray 'N' Wash just in case.)

What I Wouldn't Give For a Washing Machine Of My Own from Krissie Cook on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gumbo Limbo

Who can resist going to a nature center called Gumbo Limbo?
I'm pretty sure you're asking yourself what gumbo limbo means. This is straight out of their brochure: "Gumbo limbo is sometimes called the 'Tourist Tree' for its red and peeling bark." Like many of the local nature centers (did I mention I love Florida because I can say that?), it features a walk through the hammock (some nature centers have canopy walks), indoor museum exhibits and outdoor animal tanks and enclosures. There is also open space and a butterfly garden. We enjoyed our trip very much, especially the gift shop.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

First Day of Nursery

Today was that hallowed day that all LDS parents await so anxiously, the first day of nursery. In LDS congregations world-wide, kids can attend the nursery during Sunday School once they turn 18 months old. (Before that, their parents have to schlep them around to their own classes. Cute when they're little, less cute when they're 17 1/2 months old and make known their preference to be the one up front talking.)
So here's how it went. I dropped him off on my way to Primary, where I lead the music. Since he's the only kid between 18 months and 3 years old, there are no other kids in the nursery. So I had to leave him with a really nice lady that he didn't know and no other kids. He wasn't happy. He cried. A lot. He clung to me more than I can ever recall him clinging. I was flattered and then callously walked out.
One hour later, Kevin checked in on him. Kevin says he saw Stellan cowering in the corner in hysterics. (The nursery lady said he was fine.) Then Stellan saw Daddy and nursery time was over, despite the fact that there was really still another 40 minutes. Oh well.
Needless to say, we'll all be happier when Elsa turns 18 months in February.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Reason #84357 I Love Kevin

Because of this.

We got a dry-erase board, and now he updates it frequently with new cheesy pick-up lines.

Also, because Stellan threw up all over himself during nap time yesterday. OK, that's not what makes Kevin so awesome. What makes Kevin so awesome is that as we were deciding who would go to the laundromat to wash the various spewed-upon items and who would stay home to cook dinner and bathe the child, Kevin said to me, "You should choose which one you would rather do. You were the one who had to clean up the puke, and I feel bad I wasn't there to help. So I want to make up for it by doing whichever job you would rather do less." Vomit has never been more romantic.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Stellan Stats

Age: 18 months, 2 days, 7 hours, 47 minutes at the time of this posting
Weight: 25.6 pounds (50th percentile)
Height: 34 inches (90th percentile)
Head Circumference: 49 centimeters (75th percentile)
Hours Spent at the Doctor's Office Ascertaining This: 2.5
Liquids Consumed Today: 37 ounces at the time of this posting
Nighttime Wake Ups: 2
Nap Length: 3 hours
Blocks Strewn Around the Living Room: 78
Cuteness: Off the charts

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Tragedy Can Be Your Gain

Today I discovered a blog entirely devoted to recipes using Trader Joe's ingredients. I'll say that again: there's a blog full of recipes made from Trader Joe's fare.
This is a double whammy for me. First, I cannot believe how awesome that is. Some of the recent recipes include Holiday Tres Leches Cake, Chocolate Truffle Trifle and Black Bean Cornbread. The second feeling I have is one of terrible disappointment - the closest Trader Joe's to my house is 648 miles away. If you've been a committed and longtime purveyor of the Cookie Jar, you're already familiar with my fondness for Trader Joe's. If not, now you know we are devotees; we have even been known to smuggle some of our favorite TJ's items back from Cali on our trips home.
So hopefully you, dear reader, find yourself in closer proximity to Trader Joe's than I do. Try the blog, lots of recipes I wish I could try. The authors have even published a book full of TJ's recipes, if you're into that sort of thing. And if you are, please invite us over for dinner!

Monday, January 5, 2009

One Final Holiday Post

While in California, I was lucky enough to be able to spend more time with my siblings, who I don't get to see enough. In particular, my sis Caroline (or KK, as we know her in the fam) and I spent some quality time together. She's famous for her awesome facial expressions, so I put together a slide show I've called The Many Faces of KK. Please enjoy, and do watch until the end for the special bonus slide.

Our Trip To Santa Barbara: The Slide Show

Our Trip to Santa Barbara: The Movie

Our Trip to Santa Barbara: The Movie (Abridged) from Krissie Cook on Vimeo.

And yes, we did pick the first song just for Jason and Carol.

Our Trip To Santa Barbara: The Highlights

We were lucky enough to spend The Holidays in Santa Barbara with my family. It was a great trip, two weeks long. We had a great time with all the various family branches, and even got to see a few friends (though not as many as we would have liked). So here are the highlights, not including things about which I already blogged:

- Hanging out with my sister Jenn and her beautiful daughter Chase, who is 4 months old
- Visiting SBMNH with my mentor and astronomy inspiration, Amanda (who I know will read this and blush)
- Finding out that Stellan's limp was caused by a mere ankle strain and not something more serious (injury was sustained while jumping off furniture)
- Watching Grandma and Granny ride Hers & Hers Razor scooters at the park
- Wearing pants and long sleeves
- Letting Stellan play in autumn leaves (instead of storm-strewn palm fronds)
- Having Levi grab me by the hand and make me lead him to Stellan, as well as seeing his mom and dad
- Introducing Stellan to the Christmas train (you know, the iconic one that runs around the tree)
- Watching the two boys I babysat for many years entertain my child (payback is sweet!)
- Accompanying 11-year-old Josh (who lives next door to the Grandmas) as he played the trumpet for the trolley that trolls the neighborhood during the holiday season
- Recounting the Christmas story to Stellan on Christmas tree using finger puppets
- Watching Stellan freak out when he encountered a huge (and plastic) gator waiting for him in the tub (it was supposed to be amusing, and it was - but not to him)
- Enjoying a big huge Christmas Eve celebration with almost all of my brothers and sisters + spouses and kids (12 out of 16 ain't bad!)
- Wearing the shiny silver "bling teeth" KK put in everyone's stockings for a family photo
- Holding a family white elephant using gifts provided entirely by my kid brother Matt (who is on his mission in Indiana); he sent lots of funky glassware from a glass factory that was closing
- Watching my sister chop 14 inches off her hair (donated to Locks of Love)
- Eating way too many Dutch Babies on Christmas morning
- Watching my kid open present after present; he is loving all his new stuff!
- Going to the biggest Christmas dinner I've ever been to (26 people all crammed into my aunt and uncle's gorgeous home; executed with precision and grace)
- Talking to my aforementioned missionary brother (he can only call on Mother's Day and Christmas, and he only gets to call his parents)
- The Bounce House. The Grandmas actually bought a small bounce house at Kaybee Toys, which was going out of business. The amount of fun experienced by all parties present cannot be overstated.
- Enjoying a lazy morning-after-Christmas at the local elementary school with Stellan and Grandma and Grandpa (lazy for us, not Stellan)
- Having my dad pull me and Stellan home from the school in the wagon (I bet he thought he was through with that long ago)
- The Farming Game, which I love but never get a chance to play
- Decorating sugar cookies with some of the sibs
- Kevin and I actually going out to eat and even to (gasp!) see a movie
- The night when Maggie asked, "Which would you like for dessert? I have hot chocolate cakes, peppermint ice cream, homemade chocolate sauce, fresh whipped cream and cream puffs." and Kevin answered, "Yes." I'm still enjoying the lingering aftertaste of the dessertiest dessert of my life.
- Chile verde burritos to go from La Carreta as breakfast at Goleta Beach
- Organizing a small mob to head to the zoo
- Visiting Stellan's great grandparents on the way to LAX

Following this post, I'll put up some photos (just the very best of the 700+ we took) in a slideshow on a different post. I'll also post a video of some of our good times (again shortened from 40 minutes of footage to 9). Please enjoy! Also, if you'd like to see many more of the photos, I have uploaded the following albums. If you'd like any of these photos in better resolution, please contact me and I will send them to you.

Uploaded to Picasa:
Stellan and Chase
Shoreline Park
Willowglen Park
Stellan and Levi
Sunday Dinner With the Spattersons
Stelly Z. and Riley P.
Christmas Day at Dad and Maggie's
Christmas at Beeb and Bob's
Flodquist Bouncer Madness
Hope School With Grandma and Grandpa
Cookie Decorating
SB Zoo

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ringing In

Now that 2008 is over, I can conclusively declare that it would be hard to imagine a year where more changed in our lives. Instead of long (AKA boring) paragraph form, I have created this comparative diagram:

Click for bigger image (and readability).

Here's to a peaceful and prosperous New Year! (And as I'm writing it, I want you to know I'm not just using a stock phrase - I truly wish the world peace and prosperity, and that includes you.)