Monday, June 5, 2017

Living Light


We practice minimalism in a different way. We’ve applied it to our out-and-about living.  We travel light, and I love it!

Minimalism, and thoughts of living mindfully are in the air this week.  On Racheous, Rachel talked about her family’s recent move, and how switched to a more mindful set of possessions on the way.  At Jitterberry, Jessica discussed her family’s transition to a minimalism lifestyle.

We practice minimalism in a different way, we’ve applied it to our out-and-about living.  We travel light, and I love it.

Before we had kids I was spooked by strollers.  They inevitably seemed to be loaded with numerous items on their bottom tray.  They also seemed to inspire the use of diaper bags, or other parent-laden luggage.  My typical outing at that point involved throwing a collapsible fishing rod, a tackle box about a quarter the size of a shoe box, a few pancakes wrapped in a paper towel, and perhaps a cup of earthworms into a small pack.  I enjoyed fishing in hard to reach places off the trail, behind brambles, and away from people.  If I carried too much, I couldn’t get there.  I wanted to share these experiences with my kids.  Consequently, the stroller/diaper-bag combo gave me the willies.  I need not have worried, a solution was close at hand.

I’d seen women in Boulder coffee shops with babies in wraps.  Their lives looked delightful.  They bounced into the shop with a small bag, and a kid strapped to their torso, and ordered their coffee.  If the baby was awake out of the wrap they’d come for some lap-time.  If the kid was asleep, they’d let them continue to snooze.  These moms had skills that even I would never develop.  They’d take the wrap all the way off.  When they were ready to go, they’d inevitably tie it back on with the baby in a different comfy potion.  Baby on the chest on the way in, on the back or perhaps tucked onto the side on the way out.  Showboats!

So, before we had kids, my partner and I talked things through.  We decided we could have a wrap if the kids were wrapped to me.  We don’t do diaper bags.  We just throw the minimum equipment we need for an outing into one of our packs.  We take snacks, (the kids and I travel on our stomachs), a few diapers, a package of wipes, and a few plastic bags to hold the old diapers in.  Of late, it’s all gone into our 6-year-old’s bag.  I’ll give you that as the kids grow, we need to bring more food, but this is balanced out by the smaller kids getting backpacks to carry their own things in as they get larger.

Our experience at outwards-bound minimalism has been incredible!  We can leave to go on adventures at a moments notice.  We can change routes and plans easily.  And, it’s a piece of cake to take public transit, and maneuver around town—dividing up to scamper through crowds, and having a great time!

How do you lighten your load? 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Respectful Parenting, Electronics System Theory, and Faith

Inspired by the Sara’s recent post about respectful parenting +Happiness is here vis-à-vis Minecraft screen time.  The end analysis there?  Trust your kids, and parent respectfully.

In electrical systems theory, we divide circuits up into two categories, differentiators and integrators.  Differentiators make circuits more sensitive to every little change.  The circuit doesn't miss much, but it might flail around quickly.  Integrators on the other hand cause the system as a whole to be less sensitive to small changes.  Systems with integrators won't respond to a small change, they simply add it to a total response, and wait for more information.  If the changes continue to happen in the same way, ultimately the system will respond, but it takes time and consistency.

This is how I view Sara’s description of handling video game screen time.  I would have been inclined to shutdown all the screens after two days spent exclusively on a video game.  If I'd done this, I wouldn't have given the 'system' of our kids the time to organically respond to their new environment.  By taking a more integrated approach like Sara did, it's easier to see what the system wanted to do for itself, and how it normally behaves without outside influences.

I like the integrating approach better, though it's occasionally difficult to remember to use it when I'm caught up in the moment.  I find myself thinking, 'something's changed, change it back.'  I might also phrase the whole thing with integrators and differentiators in a different way—in terms of faith.  It’s sometimes difficult, but it’s always been helpful for me to have faith that the kids are competent, and are going to figure things out for themselves in a healthy way.  Sure, I can offer advice if they want it, (and I do), but they get the best results, and grow the most, I think, when I’m not involved.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Bus Our Living Room

 Public transit…  Our living room activities mostly take place on the buses and trains of San Francisco.  If we get on a bus at an early enough stop, we can consume the entire back row of seats; there’s five of us and there’s five seats.  Our deepest conversations happen there, we talk about things like “How do number base systems work?”  “Why is it not OK to pick up food from the ground close to a train station,” (answer Pee).  “Where do puddles underground in train stations come from,” (same answer.)  Some of our conversations like the pee exploration gather other bus passengers.  A young lady with her one year old strapped to her chest figured she’d have to have the conversation with her kid soon enough, and wanted to get the youths’ take on public pee in the city.  This often leads to utter hilarity—our 4 year-old No. 2 wasn’t sure it was such a bad thing to pee on walls.  Most of our conversations draw more quiet audiences—the ladies grinning and chuckling as our oldest, then four years old, and I discussed how we eat meat, muscles are meat, and therefore we eat muscles.  From there it was on to more draconian topics like blood.  (Yes, No. 1’s a died-in-the-wool meat-eater).  Sometimes our reverie is interrupted by others who feel the need to contribute to our entertainment.  Who needs cable?  Did I see the Super Bowl this year?  I didn’t need to.  A tipsy gentleman give us the complete play by play on the way back from Oakland to San Francisco.  He even acted out some of the more linear plays for us in the aisle of the train.  Other we provide unexpected ‘entertainment’ for others.  I’m sure, not everyone in the back of the bus was interested in listening to the travails of Scooby Doo overlaid with the adventures of Groot as we trundled home from last Sunday’s birthday party.    That gives us what feels like a clubhouse on the bus.  

What about you?  Do you spend the majority of your quality time in or out of the house? What’s your favorite quality time activity?


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Climbing

The kids climbed this week!  Not metaphorically, although, I’m sure they did that too, but actually physically.  They all climbed things they’d never been able to climb before.  It started, I suppose, with the giant El Cid statue outside the Legion of Honor here in San Francisco, where the kids met their friends to go see the Monet exhibit one last time before it closed.  The statue is a huge brass affair mounted on top of a ten foot high concrete pedestal.  One of the kids started to climb up it.  Soon the other five kids followed suit.  There were beveled curves cast into the concrete that looked to have been created expressly for the purpose of defeating climbing.  The kids, however, quickly came up with a way of wedging their boots onto the concrete while grasping the bevel above and pulling.  They were making it up the side, but it was a bit too tall.

Perhaps it was later that night—it might have been a few nights before—we found our two-year-old, No. 3 on top of the second bunk.  Her brother No. 2, our four-year-old had helped her up the first time, but this time, she’d does it herself.  She’d called out to Mom/Dad, and I’d found her—happy as a clam—atop the bunks.  No. 2 had a trick he used to get up there when he was smaller—wedging himself between the bed and the bunk to climb to the top  I pushed the bunks all the way into the wall just out of laziness.  As it turns out, that is not No. 3’s trick.  We haven’t seen her go up yet, all we know is she’s fast!

Over the weekend, the climbing incidents well, climbed, so to speak.  We went to the skate park on Saturday.  Everyone is balancing, better, everyone is coasting longer.  We’ve got three skater kids!  But I was talking about climbing right?  After we lost interest at the skate park we ventured a few stops up the adjacent bus line for breakfast, and then walked back down to a tiny playground whose only piece of equipment is a giant, fourteen-foot-high rope and steel climbing structure in the shape of a sphere.  No. 1, our 6-year-old, was able to reach the top almost immediately the first time we visited when the playground opened a few months ago.  This weekend, we looked away for a moment, and when we looked back, No. 2 was up there as well!  No.3 made it one rope rung up, and watched hers sibs from there.

The next day, on the way back from a birthday party we found ourselves waiting for our bus home outside of a MUNI train station.  No. 1 asked if she could climb a large art deco planter that concealed the bus stop from the nearby road.  We said “sure,” in that easy offhanded way that parents do when they don’t think they need to think through all the consequences.  A few moments later, No. 1 was most of the way up.  I took another look at the structure, and it was the El Cid bevel from earlier in the week only shorter.  Then, No. 1 pulled hard, and just like a rock climber rose to a perch right next to the elevated concrete plant pot.  She made a controlled climb back down, stopping midway to let her younger sister get out of the way of her descent.  A few minutes after that, No. 2 who had been watching intently made it up to the top as well.  About five minutes after the initial ask, we had two soot covered kids, (they maybe never clean the outside of our train stations), who were grinning from ear to ear at what they’d done.

We all ambled onto the bus.  The five of us sat in a little cluster in the back corner reading our comic books to each other.  We spend lots of our quality family time on public transit.  None of us need to pay attention to the road… but that’s a story for another day.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Motors!!!

One of the kids' friends asked about magnets a few weeks ago.  This led to three weeks worth of play dates on electric circuits, electromagnets, and last but not least, Motors!!!  (It's nice to have a physicist in the family).

The motors were amazingly simple to put together, so I’m including the instructions.  Here’s a picture so we have something to talk about.



The parts are:
1 D cell battery
1 pound of 18 awg magnet wire, (you don’t need the whole pound, but Amazon sells It by the pound… seriously)
1 piece of cardboard out of the side of a box,
1 magnet
scotch tape

The How
Tape the D cell to the cardboard so it can’t move.  Next, cut two 4 inch pieces of magnet wire.  The next step is a bit of work, but use a kitchen knife, or a piece of sandpaper to scrape off the red insulation until you just see bare copper wire.  Place a dime size loop in one end of the wire, and then bend it over at a right angle to the rest of the wire to serve as a foot.  In the other end of the wire, make at least two pencil diameter loops to hold up the motor’s rotor, (the large coil of wire shown in the picture).  Tape the feet you made to the cardboard on either side of the battery, then tape the two wires to either side of the battery so that each of them is in contact with one of the poles, (the silver ends), of the battery.  Wrap the tape around a few times, and wrap it tight to make sure each wire is actually touching the pole.

Next, wrap magnet wire around the D cell to make the rotor coil.  Make about 10 turns.  This coil of wire is going to be the motor’s rotor, (a fancy name for the spinning bit).  Tie the ends of the wire through the loop so the loop can’t unravel, and leave about two inches of wire sticking out from opposite sides of the loop as shown in the picture.

Here’s the tricky bit.  Strip half the insulation off the pieces of wire sticking out from the coil.  Make the ends of the wire look like the diagram below.



If you strip off all the insulation, the motor won’t work.  The wire extending from the rotor needs to make electrical contact with the pencil diameter wire hoops attached to the battery only half the time.  It’ll spin through half a circle making electrical contact to the two posts you made earlier, and then during the next half circle it won’t.  Watch the wire on the left side of the rotor in the video . As it spins, you'll see that the side with insulation is visible, and then the side with bare metal.  (More on this in the ‘Why It Works’ section).

Now, insert the rotor into the pencil diameter hoops as shown in the picture.  Place the magnet on the battery pointed up at the rotor.  Then, give the rotor a little spin to get it moving, and it should spin happily around all on its own.




Next Time: Why it works

All the stuff for making motors: