Category Archives: adventures

snow storm 2014

You might think that post-title is odd, but seriously, we only get snow every few years here, and an actual storm comes once a decade or something.  Plus, I’ve lived hear twenty-five years and it has never been this cold.  I asked my great aunt if she ever remembered a winter like this and she said, “Yep! In 1976.” So, there you go.  I’ll be a great aunt one day and my nephew’s kids will ask me about some crazy ass weather we’ll be having and I’ll say, “yep, we had some snow like this once, Back in 2014.”

It all started last Wednesday when the kids were out at a park, playing with aforementioned great aunt, when the first flakes started coming down.  I gave her a call, all low-key, “Hey, I should probably come get the kids now.”  “Okay, sure, see you in a bit…” The picture of nonchalance.  Because hey, when it snows here it almost never sticks and when it does, takes at least an overnight to amount to anything.  Plenty of time, no sweat.  I did up a mug of hot tea, found my wallet, and headed for the car.

By the time I was on the road, it was already slippery.  Fifteen minutes later the roads were covered.  Meeting up we were all, “Shit, shit, we made a mistake!”  The normally fifteen minute ride home took me an HOUR, my hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. We passed NINE cars in ditches in that ten mile drive, people out standing by their hopelessly stuck cars, waiting on help.  Terrifying to this Southern Girl, let me tell you.  I had to bold that mofo sentence just to convey the horror.  I mean, only a half hour earlier it had been black asphalt!  What the hell, Weather?

But we made it.  I was SHAKING by the time we pulled into our driveway.  Seriously, I turned off the car and my hands were flapping so hard I couldn’t get the key out of the ignition.  Look, 1) no one in North Carolina—at least not the natives—knows how to drive in this stuff, 2) there’s like, one plow for the entire county, and 3) no one has snow tires of any kind.  I don’t even know what snow tires are.  They’re bigger or something, right?  See, we’re hopless.  And then comes some obnoxious Yankee transplant, driving along in his four wheel drive, actually passing me as I inched along the roads with my kids in the back seat and my slow deep breathing to keep myself from a full-blown panic attack….I’ve never been so glad to park my car in my LIFE.

Of course, once we were home, it was soooo pretty, just a big adventure, whoopee!

snow storm 1

snow storm 2

Our big creek looked gorgeous!  And note the plastic bags on the sneakers, because we have no snow gear.

snow storm 4

More and more came down, giant flakes.snow storm 9

snow storm 6

snow storm 7

snow storm 5

By the end of the day, the kids were breaking weapons off the yurt….
snow storm 3

The next day it looked like this:

snow storm 10

You know what came next.  Snow ball fights.

snow storm 12


snow storm 16

snow storm 17

snow storm 13Leading to an arms race…
snow storm 18An army of creepers was raised…snow storm 20Plus some snow usagi folk…snow storm 8

Good times!  Plus, we were super lucky that our power didn’t go out.  Being snowed in is lots more fun with hot water and wifi.

But check this:   today, only five days later, it’s 65 degrees out!  The kids are out playing in the remaining snow in short sleeves!  Freaking daffodils are coming up.  I’m so confused.

It’s weird, I tell you.  Weird.

Of course, I was talking to my good friend in upstate New York yesterday and she said, “Oh, yeah, it’s been crazy. We got 23 inches of snow just yesterday.” TWENTY-THREE INCHES.

Forget that.  Snow is pretty, but I prefer it to be an amusing couple-of-days house guest, one that knows when it’s time to leave.  Snow should not be a way of life, thank you very much.

Is this the back side of global warming?

my cycling role-play continues

1- Back in the summer when I hurt my hamstring, I did some cycling role-play on our old stationary bike  and stumbled upon Sufferfest, a fabulous series of cycling-workout-vids.

2- Then winter came along and I found my usual tendency towards being cold has leveled up—I can not get warm!  I’m this shivering, bundled person that my family likes to mock for my ridiculous outfits.  Yes, I drink hot tea and read while sitting on a heating pad and wearing a down coat.  In the kitchen.  Did I mention my funny hats?

At some point, these two things, Sufferfest and Being Cold, collided in my head.  “Hmmm, I’m not cold when I bike-to-sweating, and the effect lasts for an hour or two.  Maybe I could Sufferfest my way to a faster metabolism and a normal body temperature???”

Except I kind of hate my old stationary bike.  It’s lame, uncomfortable, and the seat is held on with duct tape.  Plus, there is this complete lack of data.  No miles, no speed, no heart-rate, nothing.  How can I fulfill my Quantified Self OCD with no gathered data???  No charts and graphs?  No deep analytics? How?

So I started looking around for an improved indoor cycle thingy that would work better, give me the data I wanted, and lack duct tape if at all possible. A spin bike, maybe.  Surely there were spin bikes with exportable data these days?

There are.  For $2000.  Ouch.

Okay!  Back to the drawing board!

Next idea: what if I took my old bike, a present from SuperHubby, from a yard sale years ago, and put it on a trainer (a tripod thing that lets you “ride” a bike inside the house without going anywhere)?  Add a cadence sensor, and heck, I’d be in business.  No spiffy, spendy, spin bike required!

I mentioned this idea to my husband in passing, not realizing that I had forgotten, once again, that he is a Hoarder Extraordinaire, Grandmaster Level. “Oh,” he says, “I have a trainer somewhere around here.  Let me go look.”

Um.  What?

Sure enough, ten minutes later he is dragging a Minoura Magnetic SomethingOrOther trainer he had gotten from who knows where, ready to be used for my cycling-warm-up scheme.  Instant manifestation for me!  Although who knows how long he had had that thing sitting around, waiting for his moment….

A hundred bucks later ($50 to get the gears working properly on my bike, plus $40 for a Wahoo Blue SC Cadence and Speed sensor), plus the heartrate monitor I already had, and BOOM.  I was in business!

cycle trainer

Look at those crazy foam letter things we got at some point when the kids were little.  The general consensus around here is I should spell something out with them like “Train harder!  Go Go GO!” And no, I can’t easily get into my dresser now, but it’s okay, I tend to wear the same things over and over anyway.  Oh, and that’s Luc’s Weapons Locker behind there on the right, where he keeps his massive sword (stick) collection and his multiple Light Sabers, Laser Guns, and Assorted Weapons of Mass Destruction.  The dark side of four busy people in a yurt: piles on top of the piles.

BUT, I can now bike whenever I want.  Woot!  I get cold, I get on the bike for 30 minutes, and shazam, I’m warm again.  Bonus: I can participate in the Archetype of being as a Badass Cyclist Chick, without having to ride a bike on a actual road.  Because I’m terrified of actual cycling!  Winning!  AND I can upload all the data I want to my Cyclometer app and geek out to my heart’s content.  Oh yeah, baby.

Moral: There is almost always a super low-budget version of any activity, most often using other people’s cast-off junk.  Although I’m kind of scared what else my husband has squirreled away around here. I mean, how random was that, to just happen to have a bike trainer?

NOTE: I actually wrote this post pre-Christmas and hadn’t gotten around to publishing it.  But now I have to publish it, because there is a post-Christmas part of the tale that needs telling, and this one is necessary backstory.  So, there  you are, some cycling backstory, with another cycling post to come….

making muscadine wine, part 2…we actually did it, christmas wine, yum

I wrote here about my friend’s new house and the abundant grape vines that came with it, plus about how it reminded me of my Granddaddy’s wine.  Well, I turned it around in my head for a while, interviewed my dad and two aunts about what they remembered, and pieced together Granddaddy’s recipe.  Maybe.  Anyway, Sophie and I decided to give it a go.

First, Granddaddy’s old homemade grape masher and five gallon carboy were unearthed from the old barn.

wine making 5

I bought an auto-siphon and an air-lock.  And then my lovely friend gave us 15 lbs of grapes, the last of the season’s golden scuppernongs, a kind of muscadine native to North Carolina.

making wine 1Scuppernongs are this gorgeous bronze color, so pretty! 

First step, mash the grapes.  We did it in a five gallon bucket, food-grade plastic, from Walmart, on Halloween.  The grapes are super acidic so gloves are essential if you want to keep the skin on your hands.

making wine 3

Sophie and I liked squeezing the grapes one at a time, like eyeballs, squirt!, tres funny—but only doable with a small quantity of grapes.

Here is the mash.  It think we could have mashed it more, actually.  We kind of got bored.  Although you don’t want to mash enough to damage the seeds, which, apparently, will ruin your wine.

making wine 2

We covered the mash with cheesecloth and a giant rubberband.  No added yeast.  Granddaddy just used the yeast on the grapes, so that’s what we did, too.

The skins floated, the seeds sank.  The juice was in the middle.

A week later it was bubbling and smelling super grape-y so I decided to go ahead and siphon it off.  Granddaddy’s carboy seemed too big for the amount of juice we had, so we used a one-gallon jug that had had apple juice in it.  Siphoning went okay at first, but as the juice layer got thinner we kept getting seeds stuck in the siphon, very annoying, jamming the siphon and requiring us to stop and clear it out.  This part could definitely have been handled better, resulting in more juice obtained from the grapes (possibly twice as much, I would estimate), but we were the blind leading the blind.  Still, we got about 2/3 of a gallon of juice, enough to early fill our jug, so we called it a win.

Please take a moment now to appreciate how Lucille Ball that whole scene was, Sophie and I in our rubber gloves, holding overly-long syphon tubing all over the kitchen, which kept popping out of bottle tops, squirting juice everywhere as we tried to get juice from the bucket into the bottle—and then the siphon jams up again, and again, oh man, we were laughing so hard, shouting, covered in sticky mash.  It was a disaster.

Moving along!  After cleaning up, we added 1 1/2 pounds of sugar to the juice and about 1 quart boiled water to top off the jug.  Then we sealed it with the airlock (half vodka, half water inside) and waited.

Somehow I totally forgot to take a picture of this stage!  But I found this in the corner of another picture that included our ridiculously crowded kitchen counter, plus my morning coffee.  So here is a grainy image of our second-fermentation set up.

making wine 4

Yes, the stopper is upside down!  It didn’t fit, it and the opening both being exactly 2 inches.  I turned it upside down and jammed it on that way.  Oh well.  This is just how we roll around here.  Keep right on moving….

It bubbled actively for a month or so.  A layer of white developed on the bottom of the bottle, which I think is dead yeast.  The later of foam on the top turned sort of brown, kind of gross looking.  Slowly more solids fell out, leaving clear yellow liquid.  Maybe it was turning into wine.

By mid-December the bubbles had become tiny tiny and I decided it was probably done.  Solstice wine!

We opened it up.  Would it be undrinkable?  Vinegar?  Nasty?  Put us in the hospital?

To all of those: NO.  It was delicious!!!  Sweet but not too sweet (not as sweet as Granddaddy’s).  A lovely scuppernong afterflavor.  Kind of floral almost.  Not too strong.  Definitely alcoholic as a half glass got me tipsy.  I’m a total lightweight.

High five for me and Sophie!

We got three bottles from our jug and Sophie designed us a label.

winemaking 7

Grandharry’s Muscadine Wine!

I wish we had made more, it’s really, really yummy.  We took one bottle to the Lassiter family gathering last night and everyone had some.  Lots of congrats on the wine’s success, so I guess it worked.

One fellow, a vintner himself, said I should hide the recipe, haha, but I reckon I’m an open source kind of gal, thus this post.  If you’ve got 15 lbs of scuppernongs, I highly recommend trying it out.

wine making 6

I’m totally adding vintner to my resume.

9 year old runs a 5k! or, my daughter is totally badass

Before the 5k, a little aikido.  You see, they canceled the advanced kids aikido class at Sophie’s dojo, so she started going to a “mixed kids and adults” class that turned out to be, basically, an adults class + Sophie.  The first time she went, there were six men (two were teenagers, but they were both near six feet tall), one woman, and my little girl.  They tossed her like she was made of delicate China until she told them to stop.  “You can throw me harder.  It’s okay.”  After that she was just one of the guys.  “How old are you?” one of them asked at the end of class.  “Nine.”  Eyes popping: “Wow.”

sophie aikido 2013 2Sophie in the seiza line.  See her little head, below the shoulders of everyone else?

I would have been so terrified to do something like that when I was 9.  Hell, I still would be terrified to do something like that.

But she loved it that first night, talked non-stop on the way home, couldn’t wait for the next class.  The sensei was super terrific about having her there, too, very inclusive and supportive.

I said, “Sophie you are totally badass.”

“No,” she said, “I’m just very determined.  It’s like, my superpower.”

sophie aikido 2013 1Sweeping the mat at the end of class. 

So what did Determined Sophie do today?

She ran a 5k.

It started last fall when her Granddad, a longtime runner, suggested—jokingly, I think—that she do a race with him.  She gave it a moment’s thought and said, “Sure.  I’d like that.”

I kind of don’t think he believed her.

But she started training, basically just building up to 5k (that’s 3 miles and a bit more), adding a bit more distance each time.

sophie running 1Fall colors, SO pretty…

We took her to a park not far from here that has a measured loop of about a third of a mile and she worked up from 3 times around to 10 times around.

sophie running 2barefoot running through our forest

Then, oh no!, Granddad had to pull out, health issues, he’s fine but he can’t run for a month.

Sophie was so disappointed.  She wanted to do the run, but didn’t want to do it alone.

Not to fear, AwesomeDad stepped up!  Now our thrice-weekly runs at the park looked like this:

sophie running 3Way to go, Dad!!

He ran cross country back in college, but hasn’t run in years.  Despite that, he was able to run the full 5k his first time at the park, I was impressed.  Kind of a slow job, Sophie lapped him, but he did it.  “This is all your fault,” he would grumble as he ran by Luc and I, who are pit crew and cheering section.  Secretly, I think he liked it.  I know Sophie liked him doing it with her.

Finally, the big day.  Question:  WHY THE HELL DO THEY SCHEDULE THESE THINGS AT 8 IN THE MORNING????  It’s cold!  And darkish!  And we should be sleeping!

At least the rain that was threatening held off.  Thank goodness for that.

sophie runs a 5k

Bang!  And they’re off!  See Sophie under the yellow arrow?  There was a big turn out, all ages, shapes, and kinds of people.  Lots of folks were dressed in Christmas gear, reindeer ears, Christmas tree hats, red and white striped socks.  I saw two green-faced Grinches.  At least three people ran pushing babies in strollers, wow.  Quite the party!

Just thirty-two minutes later, here Sophie is crossing the finish line!

Sophie runs 5k 3

Just after I took this photo, cheering my head off, she ran straight over to me and hugged me. I’m not going to lie, I teared up a little. She did too. A great moment!

And guest what?  She won first place in her age group!  She got a medal!

sophie runs 5k 4She was so surprised!

I told you she is totally badass.  Seriously, she has always impressed the heck out of me.

Adorable Luc ran, too, the one mile Kids Run.  Here he is zooming down to the finish line….

Luc runs a mile 2coming in for a fast finish….

And here he is with his star award!

luc runs a mile So cute, I could eat him up.

A big day!  I’ve got that whole parental-flushed-with-pride thing going on, which is nice.  And although I didn’t run at all, I’m exhausted.  Being the cheering crew and photographer is harder work than you might think.  I might have gotten some chafing.  I think I’m going to go take a nap.

in which a mom & her two kids build a $600 gaming computer and it actually works!

We did it!  We built a freaking computer!  Let it be known that if a not-very-tech-savvy woman of modest intelligence, an eight year old, and a nearly ten year old can figure this out, ANYONE can do it.  On the other hand, maybe we have buckets of heretofore unaknowledged geek bad-assery that we drew upon to face this challenge.  Whatevs.  We did it.  See our build here at, a totally awesome site that anyone building a computer should make use of.  Other resources we used are at the bottom of this post.

But first, some pictures.

Because if you don’t blog it, it didn’t happen.

Here is the elaborate tool kit we needed for doing this epic task.

See, we decided to build a computer this morning (“why not? we’ve got all the parts and it’s raining today….”) and then at the last moment realized we had no idea where Paul keeps the good tools.  This was the only screwdriver we could find.  But it totally did the job.  You really don’t need much to put these babies together.

The other very important item necessary for for computer building?

Strawberry Pocky.  Food of the Gods.  Good thing we went to the Asian Market yesterday.

So that was it.  We were ready.  Time to unbox the motherboard.  And away we go!

This is me taking pictures of Luc, 8, who is taking pictures of the motherboard.  It’s all very meta.

Moving right along, here is Luc installing the RAM.

He was so nervous!

Henry, on the other hand, was totally relaxed.  He slept through the whole thing.

Here is Sophie, 9, installing the mobo into the case.  My first panicky run-to-google moment was when I didn’t know what the standoffs looked like.  Was it this tiny, black, screw-like thing?  Or this one?  Or this one?  We are newbs, all the way.  The blind leading the blind, baby!

Second tricky moment: the screw holes didn’t line up well with the standoffs.  You don’t want to use brute force when installing a motherboard!!!  But we did, a little bit. It was okay.

Sophie plugging in the front panel connectors….

Etc, etc.  When all the components were in, we broke for lunch.  It had taken about an hour and half to get that far…we went slowly and followed along with this excellent video (also in the resources section below).

After lunch came plugging in the power supply, mostly me at this point, although Sophie helped.  Several tricky moments there…what does this plug into?  I can’t get it to go in!  What the fuck is this cord for????  [pant pant pant]

But in the end, we had this:


Although, I feel like we could have done better with the cord management, and I’m not sure we’ve got enough cooling in there.  *chews nails*

But, of course, we were miles from done because, although everything was in, it still might  be just a giant, black, brick. If we pushed the power button, would it sit there, still and lifeless?  Where and how would we find the problem if it was broken?

Moment of truth.    No more stalling, it was time.

Sophie pressed the button.


We cheered!  Henry, startled, barked.  The BIOS screen came up, all blue and texty.  It was goddamn beautiful.

An hour later I had Windows installed and was putting in the drivers, which I had already downloaded onto a thumbdrive, thanks to the tip on the Newegg video below (the part 3 vid).  And here is the new computer, mid installation, my yellow tablet of notes from various sources, ready to be referred to, as needed, plus the Windows 7 magic key box….

It took about two hours to work through all the drivers and updates and virus software, yada yada.  This was the hardest part, especially for the kids who were bored and hot to play the new machine. I only had an upgrade Windows 7 disk, so I had to do some work-arounds to get it to give me a clean install, plus adding the virus software, 133 Windows updates, and Java (for the all important Minecraft!).  Thank the gods for google or none of this would have been possible.

And that’s it!  It’s up and running.  Luc is playing Minecraft LAG-FREE as we speak.  Here he is at the very first Minecraft moment, showing the screen to his bestest Miinecraft buddy through Facetime on his ipod.


Super exciting!  And dang if this machine isn’t crazy fast!  At least compared to our old rig.  And the visuals are super pretty, plus the rendering seems nearly instant.  A tremendous improvement over our six year old Gateway system.  Six years, that’s like a hundred in computer years.  That thing was practically wood-burning.


We spent time reading Building a PC in Easy Steps by Stuart Yarnold out-loud over breakfasts.  It really helped us understand the components inside a computer and the state of the computer world.  Books are pretty much outdated the minute they are published, but this one had just, just, come out, and I found it jibed with most of the bleeding-edge stuff I read on Tomshardware.  Lots of great pictures and a solid overview for the kids, especially.

I already mentioned which lets you put in your very own parts list, and it will tell you the cheapest price for each item (including current rebates, etc), as well as telling you if your list is compatible.  Amazing!  Plus a little graph for showing how that combo of components would have priced out over time.  I put in our build list (once we had come up with it) and then watched the prices, waiting for it to drop before I pulled the trigger.  You can also look at other people’s builds, and read a TON of reviews.  A great site.  Indispensable. and Newegg are two more great sites I read quite at bit at for reviews, both pro and user.  I bought most of the components at Newegg, a few at Amazon, depending on who was cheapest.

I used this page to do a clean install of Windows 7 from an upgrade disk.

And the videos.  The first by TechReport was the one we watched as we did the build.  It did a great job of walking us through each step, and used AMD parts as well as Intel, plus several cooling options, so we could watch the bits that applied specifically to our build and fast-forward the rest.  Thanks TechReport!

This Newegg series was terrific. Here is part 2, on the building. I used part 3 for the Windows and drivers installation. Super helpful.

This is a great vid from EasyPCBuilder, excellent for brevity, clarity, and just giving us another view of the process.

Finally, this video, over at PCpartpicker, was the first one we watched and made it all seem doable. Luc and I watched this one together and decided that, yes, we could do it, and from there it all got started.

But wait, no, it was Polykow who inspired me to even try all of this when she told of building a computer with her son. Her unschooling enthusiasm is infectious.

And a huge thanks to Grandma for helping to fund our project! It would have taken a lot, lot, longer to get here without you. xoxoxox

the graveyard of abandoned ipods

Get this: the kids are building a freaking computer. Like the total badass geeks we are. Well, I mean, we’re watching a load of videos on Youtube—the place where the early 21st century thinking person goes to learn anything these days—and are soaking in the geeky goodness therein. After months of research, we have (1) selected our build and (2) purchased the parts (shout of thanks to Grandma for helping fund our little project!). We are very nearly ready to go.  Can you believe us?  I can’t.  But you should hear my eight year old talking about DDR3 RAM and whether we should get an aftermarket cooler.  Should be an adventure.

What’s with the breasts on that video card box???

But whoa, slow down—because before we can build a new computer, we have to have a place to put it. No small task in a 700 sq ft yurt. So today, in preparation for the upcoming build-party we are cleaning out the old filing cabinets, yeah, the ones we brought over from the pre-yurt farmhouse we lived in pre-babies, that’s over eight years ago, FULL of crap….and also long forgotten treasures.

Like these….

The evolution of the ipod!  Sophie took this—the last two are the current crop, Luc’s 4th gen and my 5th gen iTouch.  Ipods and pre-ipods (hard to even remember those days, it’s so novel to look at an actual walkman now), audio devices forgotten and lost, left on the roadside of life, stashed in the back of the filing cabinets and still full of whatever I was listening to the last time I booted them up. There are actually a few devices missing, like that old Rio mp3 player that used in its early pre-ipod beginning. I was a total early adopter.  I wonder what I did with that little Rio?

Man, these cabinets are full of tons of crazy stuff, cords from things we cant identify, old photos, my husband’s long braid from he he was a hippy and had hair down to his waist. (I miss his hair!  Sob!)  Then there are the paper files on our various interests back from the days pre-internet when you couldn;t just look up whatever the fuck you wanted. Plus the usual mountains of receipts and taxes from a decade or two ago. Into the burn pule with all of it!

The kids think it is all bizarre and hilarious, like excavating ancient history, artifacts from before they were born, from before the world was as it is.  Hell, I found dream journals from when I was in high school.  (I’m keeping those.  I don’t know why.  Nostalgic purposes.)

I can’t believe this shite has been clogging up our tiny house for all this time.  It’s damn fun to let it all go. I feel like a whole new person!  Makes me want to tackle other parts of the house like…the bookshelves.

(No!  Run!  The horror!)

Stay tuned for our Thanksgiving Computer Building adventure.

Hopefully it will not be a report of how we burnt half the yurt down.

happy halloween!

Every year our country neighbors go ALL OUT in the Halloween decorations department and come up with yet another crazy taleau of scary goodness for all to see. This year was no exception!  If this is your first time seeing this stuff, use the Halloween tag to go back to previous years, you will not be disappointed.

This year we have a lovely trip to university, Ivy League no less…

It’s hard to see but this guy has a never-ending stream of drool (water) flowing down his mouth, super gross, and the cat on the side there is wearing a graduation cap while it consumes the rat.

I know the feeling, guys.

Dorm living!  And below is his roommate….

The Chem class was REALLY REALLY gross up close.

The whole house gets the treatment….

Yeah, I don’t want his job.

This gal’s name tag says “Recruitment”

Hard to see in the photo, but he bowls are full of ears and hands and and hearts.  UGH.


I love the LOL on this guy.  Such a friendly fellow!

This last fellow was about 10 feet tall!

Happy Halloween!


adventures in flu…no, really, it was pretty much fun

In the end, all of us went down with the flu.  I was only the first.  This was the Week Of Flu.  Aching, puking, fever, snotting, the works.

How the heck do you turn that into a party?

Two words for you:  Adventure Time.

Bleary, collapsed on the sofa-bed-thing we have in front of the tv, sneezing, coughing, and blowing our noses, various configurations of the four of us (depending on who was where in the Flu Development Arc) have spent the last week watching all five seasons of Adventure Time in one, free-flowing, ginormous marathon.  And yeah, it kind of turned “whole family gets the flu” from something sucky into something wonderful.  Sick people cuddled up together, watching colorful candy characters having adventures…and then deconstructing each episode afterwards, with calls of ” ‘nother one!”, and then rewatching eps for clues…despite being as sick as any of us has been in years, I think I speak for us all when I say, we had a really good time.

If you haven’t heard of Adventure Time, here is the low-down.  Its a terrific animated tv-show about Finn, the last human in a post-apocalyptic world, having heroic adventures with his mutated, shape-stretchy, dog, Jake.  There is the candy kingdom where everyone is a piece of candy that talks, such as Princess Bubblegum who is a science genius, or Peppermint Butler who seems to have some dark, secret life.  There is Marceline, a 1000 year old vampire from the Nightosphere, who just wants to hang out and play her bass.  There’s the Ice King who starts out as a cackling, mad villain constantly capturing Princesses (of which there are MANY) to try to force them into pathetic parodies of marriage…only he actually has an amazing backstory (he’s 1000 years old, too) and is revealed to be quite the tragic hero figure, with a side-helping of stuff to say about mental illness.  There’s BMO the sentient gaming system who has a rich role-playing life and a questionable gender.  There’s Lumpy Space Princess who thinks everyone is after her lumps.  There are…well, I mean, there are TONS of characters, and all of them are interesting.  I could go on and on.

Yes, occasionally there are dud eps.  For example, after some STELLAR eps in season five, the last few left me bored and unsatisfied.  But that is the exception as mostly the show is terrific, quirky, bizarre, and often surprisingly moving.  There are eps that made me cry, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Plenty are laugh out loud funny.  Some are puzzling thinkers.  Some are slightly disturbing.  Many are contradictions.  You know, it’s rare for a show to be so thoroughly engaging to a seven and nine year old, and a also to a couple of forty-two year olds.  Note that the first few eps of the first season aren’t quite at full quality yet—the animation, the voice acting, the stories—so give it a chance past those….

But if you like smart, non-traditional storytelling, complex grey-and-grey storylines and characters, funny sweet cute art, and the occasional well-done poot joke, this show may be for you.  And if you’re sick with kids, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Oh, and did I mention it’s feminist?  How many cartoons can you say THAT about?  I like the alternate time-line/backstory eps.  The Marceline/Simon arc is the best, for me.  The gender-swap eps (Finn become Fiona, Jake becomes Cake, etc) are pretty fabulous, too.  And such continuity!  Examine backgrounds for pieces of previous eps, like the two sphinx characters locked in psychic battle for all eterninty on the top of the castle…and yep, they’re still there several eps later when we see the castle again.  Finn’s hair even grows out from his various hair-cuts at a realistic clip!  Okay, I’ll stop gushing.

For a quick taste, look at this funny post about how Adventure Time is making you a better person—it has many amusing giffs from the show to give you a sense of the humor and tone of it.

It makes me happy that this show is being made.

So, yesterday, crawling out of the sick field, we left the yurt for the first time all week.  After our sick-bed seclusion and our All-Adventure-All-The-Time experience,  the world looked…surreal.

Colors were brighter.  Building seemed to have moved.  Like when you’ve been away from your hometown for a while and then come back and everything seems…different.

I started flipping through the radio stations.  First song, “I love you just the way you are.”  Not the Billy Joel version, but some new, super-chirpy pop song.  Nice message, I guess, but no.  Too perky.  Change the channel.  The next song was a country song with this kind of desperate guy saying, “don’t you want to stay with me tonight?”  Dude, up your game.  Flip.  Next song, rock, “Touch that dial, turn me on, start me like a motor, make me run.”  Better, at least it had amusing metaphors.  But, naa. Finally, a mournful blues song, “The thrill is gone.  The thrill is gone, baby.  The thrill is gone, gone away.”

Sophie and I started laughing.  “That was fast,” she said.  “It was a whole relationship arc!” I said.  “In song!” she said.  Cackle, giggle.

The whimsical lives of Finn and Jake had leaked out into the regular world!

Moral of the story:  Anything, even the flu, can be fun, given the right seasoning.  Finn and Jake taught us that.

japanese, one kanji at a time — anki, ajatt, tim ferriss, and benny lewis

I was joking the other day about learning Japanese because we spent last Wednesday learning the hiragana on the ipad—but look at us, here we are a week later still at it, clocking about 20 kanji a day and up to about a hundred now.  It’s fun, like learning a pretty code, or a kind of stylized art.  Who knows how far we’ll go?

One thing I hadn’t considered when we started this is that learning Japanese puts me and the kids on the same level with regard to reading.  For example, in English, Luc is at the “sound it out” stage with reading, and in hiragana, so am I.  So we both squint at the Japanese and make the sounds and feel elated when we get the word a minute or two later.  It occurred to me that the two of us struggling together like that is a totally different experience for him from him struggling to get a word while I sit there already knowing the word and biting my tongue.  He kind of hates the pressure (even though I put none on, it is built into the scenario, you know?) of him reading in front of me, so he rarely does it.  But reading Japanese together—such as we manage—is fun, both of us flailing around and then fist bumping when we get it right.

The first step of learning hiragana—thinking “I bet there is an app for this”—was pretty easy.  46 characters is a doable task, easily accomplished.  But when our interest in Japanese stuck beyond that, how to approach it, what is the next step?  Thousands of kanji, compound words, vocab, grammar, pronunciation?  Yikes!

Keep it a game, just like hiragana was for us, play at it, do it for fun—I mean, we just won’t if it isn’t.

Tooling around the internet looking for an idea I ran across this blog, All Japanese All The Time, AJATT for short, written by a young man who taught himself Japanese in 18 months by watching anime, reading manga, and doing SRS (more about that last one in a minute).  Hey, now that sounds like just the method for us!  Khatzumoto, as he names himself, ended up getting a job in Japan and lives there now, how cool is that?  And Khatz is big on learning is fun, fun gets done, classes suck, if you aren’t enjoying it, screw it, move on—which fits right into our unschooling philosophy.

AJATT suggests two things to start: 1) learn the main kanji first, 2000 of them, using the book Remembering the Kanji and an SRS system and 2) creating an immersive environment where you have fun Japanese stuff, music, anime, manga, around you all the time, playing in the background, even if you don’t understand it.  Well, the immersive thing is easy for us to pull off—we cut out a piece of cardboard to cover the bottom bit of our tv where the subtitles show and boom, Crunchyroll gives us as much Japanese as we care to listen to.  Now how about this SRS thingy?

It turns out memory has a highly predictable fade-out curve.  Actually I had just been reading about this in Tim Ferris’s new(ish) book, the Four Hour Chef, which I had thought was about cooking (it is, in part) so I hadn’t picked it up (not really interesting in cooking), until I realized the book is really about learning, something I am very interested in.  Speaking of Japanese, Ferris learned Japanese while in high school in Japan by tackling the 2000 “basic literacy” kanji (the same 2000 Khatz says to get under your belt first) all listed on a poster he put on his wall.  One poster’s worth of kanji seemed a doable task and broke the mountain of Japanese down into doable chunks, an important part of his learning method he calls “compression.”  Ferris has tons of stuff to say in Chef about speed learning, languages, memory, breaking things down, etc.  It’s a cooking book in that he uses learning-to-cook as the test subject he applies his fancy learning techniques to. It’s a fun book.

But back to SRS.  Basically, we forget at a very predictable rate—unless we are re-exposed to that nugget of memory in a repeated fashion.  Each exposure to that memory has a longer half-life, until finally the half-life is longer than your remaining life span and you will, essentially, never forget it.  So the trick in memorizing something is exposing yourself to it say, a kanji, just before you forget it again, with each exposure further out in time.  At first that might be every minute, or ever ten minutes.  Then once a day.  Then maybe in four days.  Then again in a week.  SRS stands for “spaced recognition software” and is a computerized flashcard system that does all of this automatically.  That is, it repeats the kanji (or whatever) in a spaced manner, depending on how you rank your ease of recall, for best retention.  Here’s how it goes: the SRS shows you the kanji (or the meaning of the kanji, you could do it either way) and you think or or write down the meaning (or kanji) and then look at the answer.  Then you rank it according to how hard it was for you to answer.  You had no clue or got it completely wrong?  The SRS’ll show you that card in another couple of minutes.  Part-way right?  Maybe in fifteen minutes.  Easy?  Tomorrow or the next day.  Super easy?  It won’t show you that card again for several days, or a week, just as you might be starting to forget it.  And then that re-exposure will extend that kanji’s life in your memory for another chunk of time.  Isn’t that nifty?

Here is a terrific article about all of this in Wired magazine that says all this much better than I do, and with pictures.

There are several SRS programs out there.  Anki is the one we downloaded because it is, say it with me now, FREE.  Supermemo is another, created by Piotr Wozinak, the Polish researcher who is behind Supermemo and if featured in that Wired article above.  Surusu is another free one, created by Khatzumoto from All Japanese All The Time for his own use, also free and web based.

We loaded up Anki with a Remembering the Kanji deck from the shared decks available on the Anki site, and boom, we’re learning kanji.  Anki shows us the cards, starting at the beginning of the book and working through, and we just do the card, rank it, and move on.  Then, depending on how we rank it, Anki will show us the same flashcards again in a minute, ten minutes, a day, next week, etc, just enough exposure to keep it in memory, not too much to waste our time, not too infrequently so that we forget.

Anki use is mostly Sophie and I, although Luc watches from the side and makes the occasional suggestion when we get stuck.  It feels super easy to do, not like pounding vocabulary used to when I studied French in school.  It’s like a video game, really. Twenty new cards a day doesn’t feel hard yet, just like leveling up.

We also got Japanese versions of the first volumes of Yotsuba and One Piece, two of our favorite mangas.  They look so cool with all those characters crawling all over the pages!  Japanese manga as it is meant to be read!  The otaku in me smiles in delight.

An aside, there is a cool video interview/conversation between Tim Ferris and Benny Lewis, another speed-langage learner and ployglot (I think he knows six or ten languages or something crazy) with some interesting things to say—and then, in the interview Tim holds up his copy of volume one of One Piece.  Sophie and I looked at each other in surprise and did this happy cheer, like, yeah! One Piece fans unite!  Great interview and actually the first place I heard of Khatzumoto, it was just in passing, but I noted it down and went and found it.  The webs, they will take you anywhere you want to go, one click at a time.

After learning the 2000 kanji, Khatz has some next-phase advice on new sorts of Anki cards that include sentences and paragraphs, but we’re not there yet.  Honestly, I have no idea if we’ll actually get there.  Learning 2000 kanji is a big enough task!  Do we have the motivation and interest to follow through on such a big project as really learning the whole langauge?  Who knows?  Who cares?  It’s fun today, and that’s enough.

I’ll tell you one thing.  If we DO learn Japanese we are SO going to Japan, I don’t care if we have to take out a second mortgage.

Oh no!  Time to go watch more anime and read more manga!  Darn.  Here is that interview for your viewing pleasure.