Ronin’s projects



I don’t think that I have been giving Ronin’s art enough time on my blog, but his work is fantastic and growing more mature by the day. I encourage his development and continue to give him more resources. I love to see his delight as he discovers more forms of expression.


Scrap paper ship


First one side


Then the other side of little green men and spaceships

These next two sketches show a disappointed Ronin after he got a face painting at the zoo. He had an octopus on his face, and he was sad about it. I told him that it did look like an octopus, but it was a happy cartoon-like octopus. He “Hmmmph!”ed and promptly sat down at the table and drew me a picture of the type of octopus he would have preferred to have on his face during the face painting session. He labeled it (I’m correcting for spelling), “Both are octopuses. One looks more like real life. The other looks more like a cartoon.” I was sure he could have done a much better job at the face painting booth, but those people need to emphasize speed over detail most of the time, and their aim is often for little kids.


Comparing realistic vs cartoon art


Ronin holding up his drawing next to his cartoon octopus

At Christmas, we made some homemade snow globes. Ronin chose to populate his snow globes with miniature redwood trees and hikers and campers. He thought Grandpa Bruce would like those. He was very precise about the placement.


Ronin’s hiking and camping snow globe figurines

We also made some trees for another snow globe. Ronin loved this part. I tried to make a tree too, but Ronin’s tree was far better than mine. He was more patient and his fingers were smaller.


Making trees for snow globes

I took Ronin to Treasure Island on an outing one day during another staged snow day. Ronin built the most impressive little snowman after he finished rolling around on the mound of snow. People kept stopping to take pictures of it. It helped that there was an arts and crafts table nearby that kept dropping stuff.


Ronin’s snowman

These next sketches date back over a long period of time. I keep piles of some of the best pictures and then photograph them all at once before putting them away.


World War II tank

Justin was doing something on this page first, and then Ronin used the rest of this. Ronin decided to label it (math, drawing) so people would be clear which was which.


Drawing and math

I’m pretty sure this next sketch is the one my grandmother thought my mom had done. It has a style reminiscent of some  things she has drawn.


Skyscraper attack


Car, terrain


Miscellaneous dinosaurs


Truck on a road

This next project was from a day that I stretched out a length of contact paper on the table and put some white paper with oval face shapes, otherwise blank, underneath it. I set out a bunch of magazines, scissors, little jars of stuff from the craft cupboard, and told the kids to make whatever they wanted on the faces. Ronin cut out some fur and used googly eyes and sequins and gems and made Grandpa Bruce. The nice thing about the contact paper is that it’s sticky but not too sticky, so articles can be picked up and moved around.


Grandpa Bruce

My dad gave Ronin a set of pastels for Christmas, since it was one of the items on our wish list. This shell was one of the first things he drew.

Shell, oil pastels

Shell, pastels

Finally, Ronin created this amazing ship on an Etch-a-Sketch in about 10 minutes while waiting and bored at an office.

Etch-a-Sketch ship

Etch-a-Sketch ship

Our wonderful weekend away

Happy anniversary!

Happy anniversary!

My mom gifted us with an entire weekend away from the children, and we took advantage of it in between our birthdays and around our anniversary. It was a little spur-of-the-moment, and it was one of the few weekends in the past year that it was actually stormy, so we couldn’t spend much time outside. I couldn’t find any rooms available in the places that that were recommended out of town, but I did find a nearby resort that seemed decadent enough to celebrate nearby.

Palace of Fine Arts, overlooking the cloud-laden Golden Gate Bridge

Palace of Fine Arts, overlooking the cloud-laden Golden Gate Bridge

We stayed in on Friday night, since I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep the night before and we wanted to rest up. The next day, we left in a leisurely manner and went across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco, to a museum where we’d never been. We toured the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, which has an amazing collection of art and artifacts, and has a beautiful view.  They had a fantastic Rodin collection there and paintings that I’d seen in books. They had a nail from ancient Babylonia, with cuneiform writing on it. They had an entire salon (French neoclassical) from Louis XVI restored and installed, from parquet floor to ornately gilded walls to the arrangement of the chairs to the lighting to the window treatments to the coved ceiling.

Justin and a Rodin

Justin and a Rodin

After the museum, we went to Pagan Restaurant right nearby, which has a huge menu of Burmese and Thai food. We got Thai iced teas and a few appetizers and one main course, and it was delicious. Pagan is pronounced “Bagan” and is a huge ancient city in Burma. Justin traveled through Burma about a decade ago and took a lot of really nice photos then, which is why “Burma” was one of the first 50 words that Ronin learned how to say. Ronin was fond of a picture we have on the wall and asked about it enough that he learned that word as early as he learned basic colors and body parts and common foods and drinks and animals.

"DANGERGOUS" is even worse than dangerous

“DANGERGOUS” is even worse than dangerous

After lunch, Justin and I went to Sutro Baths at Land’s End in San Francisco. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I heard this wonderful podcast about it on 99% Invisible about the allure of the Young Ruin. Check out the link, and you’ll want to go there, too. I will not take the time to describe the fascinating history of this place, since my links provide far more context and do a much better job than I could do. Every time we’ve had a weekend free, or even a weekend in San Francisco, it’s been too stormy to go. It took me a while to make the connection, but one of our other favorite places, Playland-Not-At-The-Beach, is filled with artifacts from the amusement park that used to be here.

Perfect for Valentine's Day, a heart-shaped hole in the rock

Perfect for Valentine’s Day, a heart-shaped hole in the rock

We walked around the ruins of Sutro Baths, and saw the waves pounding at the walls and frothing through passageways and spraying against rocks. We went through the tunnel, watched the waves sweep up through a few inlets, and stood at the other side. It was dark and uneven and full of little screams and laughs as people tripped through it.

Justin on the hill overlooking Sutro Baths

Justin on the hill overlooking Sutro Baths



It started to rain again and the wind was whipping around us as we explored, so we thought we should end this segment of our expedition and head over to our hotel. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Cavallo Point in Sausalito, where we had a “date night” reservation including one night’s stay, a dinner credit at their acclaimed restaurant, and breakfast. This is a luxury resort in a National Park setting, so for most of the day we were in the Golden Gate National Park, on both sides of the bridge.

Here is a picture of it on a sunny day

Here is a picture of it on a sunny day

We had a room in the more modern section, up on the hill, with views of the bridge. There is no driving in most of the resort, so they recommend valet parking and a golf cart escort to the room. However, we were in Justin’s car and he has modified it enough that it is difficult for other people to drive it. Converting it to run on ethanol was just a small part of the work he has done. The valet parking attendants looked askance at us, but even I have never driven it. We went to the self-park area and walked up the hill with our bags. It wasn’t raining too hard yet.

View from our room

View from our room at Cavallo Point

Our room was lovely. There was a fireplace, a huge bathtub, a sitting area, another sitting area, a balcony with a couple of chairs, lots of windows. There was also a leftover salami that a previous guest had left, completely wrapped, which we chose to think of in the same manner as the two chocolates that were waiting for us. We went down to the reception at the main cabin later on, and enjoyed sipping wine on the long porch while watching kids and dogs run on the big lawn. We strolled through the art gallery. Our dinner reservation wasn’t until 8:30, so we filled the time with relaxing and exploring and chatting.

Our dinner menu

Our dinner menu

We ended up getting the tasting menu. I don’t know if you can see this, but it was one small thing after another for a long time. We started out in high spirits, conversing easily and enjoying ourselves a lot, but eventually we lost our steam. It was all very good, but after a long day we were tired and not used to staying up that late and eating for that long. Our last two items were given to us in boxes and we went back to our room, dodging the raindrops. The fireplace had been turned on, soft romantic music was playing in the dim glow of the room, and a scent of lavender filled the air. The covers were turned back and from across the room I spied a tube of something on the bed! I was a little suspicious of what it was until I saw the staff had put the “organic lavender relaxing spritz” on the bed.

Breakfast in bed!

About to have breakfast in bed!

I was so glad the next morning when I saw we had the option to get room service instead of having our breakfast in the restaurant, because it was pouring out and I wanted coffee and Justin was still asleep. I ordered food and we had breakfast in bed without worrying about laundry. We left in a bit of a hurry because the winds were picking up again and the ground was wet and the car was parked in a eucalyptus grove.

Eucalyptus trees, native to Australia, have adapted to climates all over the world thanks to their shallow root system. Approximately 90 percent of a eucalyptus tree’s roots grow in the top 12 inches of soil, which allows them to survive in areas of limited rainfall and harsh environments. After heavy rains when the soil is drenched and when strong winds come along, exposed eucalyptus trees can easily topple over. These are the trees that have been falling all over the Bay Area during the past big storms. The winds had torn the screen off our window at the resort and all kinds of things were banging around. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear trees crashing. We did know the kids were okay, though, because both Mom and Claire sent us emails.

Another stormy view from our room

Another stormy view from our room

We had two more stops on our date weekend. I didn’t take pictures. We drove back over to the East Bay. We had lunch at a pasta place and then watched The Imitation Game, a real movie in a real theater. We got back home around 5 PM Sunday evening, so we had a full 48 hours to ourselves. It was possibly the best present I’ve ever gotten, and I’m only saying “possibly” because I don’t want to be unknowingly forgetting some really awesome present that really was the best present ever but is escaping my mind in the sleepless years of present. Or maybe it’s better to just think everything is always the best, without hesitation, like Ronin often says, “Today is the best day ever!”

School Read-A-Thon Fundraiser

Ronin, trying on a day in the life of a daddy

Ronin, trying on a day in the life of his dad

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember this annual event. Our school has two fundraisers a year and this one is the largest one. I much prefer a fundraiser that promotes reading and only happens once (I don’t solicit anything for the other one) over having the children try to sell lots of little things throughout the year. Our school brings in local authors and other celebrities such as firefighters and athletes to read stories to the children throughout this time.

Justin and Claire reading together last Easter

Justin and Claire reading together last Easter

The money that is raised during this fundraiser will continue to support science, music, art, and physical education programs, plus help with teacher’s aides and classroom supplies.

Soren took this picture of Claire and Ronin reading while waiting for hair cuts

Soren took this picture of Claire and Ronin reading while waiting for haircuts

That was part of the recommended official plea. The kids are also supposed to commit to reading 30 minutes or more a day between February 13th and February 28th and to keep track of the total minutes they read, although donations are not linked to minutes read. It is really hard to keep track of the minutes they read. We have books everywhere, and they are reading constantly. There are books in the car. There are books all over the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in the living room. Books are piled everywhere. Every time I say I need to get rid of some books to make space for all of the books that keep coming in, a high-pitched whine comes out of Claire’s mouth that sounds remarkably like “Nooooowhaaahhhhhhh!”

Books from the past few days accumulated near the front door.

Books from the past few days accumulated near the front door.

Ronin will start reading while he’s brushing his teeth, and then forget he’s brushing his teeth and just keep reading, with his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. With just the bits I witnessed yesterday, I wrote down a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes of Ronin reading, and I know I didn’t get it all. I have been having to document it, because there is no way the kids could write all of their books down in the tiny space allotted for each day.

Books on Soren's bed, shortly after waking up

Books on Soren’s bed, shortly after waking up (that is a toy fried egg)

Claire woke me up in a panic in the middle of the night last night because she didn’t know where one of her books was. She was worried that she might wake up later on with a bad dream and not be able to find it to distract herself. In my sleep-muddled state, I had to clarify with her that she was worried that she might be worried later. It worked for me to tell her to worry about that later, too. She found the book in the morning, and then put it down to read another book, and then couldn’t find it again because she’d been walking around reading. I love that they read so much. This reminds me of me when I was a kid. I never thought I would be a mom that would tell my children to put the books down for any reason, but I have to do it or they’d never get anything done.

Play kitchen, totally taken over with books over the past few days

Play kitchen, totally taken over with books over the past few days

I ran around the house yesterday and took pictures of the stacks of books that we have. At least once a week all of the books get crammed back on the shelves. Often it’s because we can’t find a library book. I like periodically documenting all of the books. Eventually we’ll have no toys left on the shelves and it will just be books. My dad has bookshelves in front of other bookshelves. I do not want to get to that point. Our house is so much smaller and we have so many more people in it.

Claire reading a "Wimpy Kid" book on my Kindle at swimming lessons

Claire reading a “Wimpy Kid” book on my Kindle during swimming lessons

Their teacher lets me know that they are both highly advanced readers. Claire has been making special trips up to a 5th grade classroom so she can get books that are at the right reading level for her.  Ronin is also testing and reading above grade level. Ronin also prefers very technical, non-fiction books whereas Claire likes fiction with plots, and those books tend to go a little faster.

Claire was reading to Soren and he became too snuggly to continue

Claire was reading to Soren and he became too cuddly to continue

The principal of the school has promised to kiss a snake if the fundraising goal is met. I’m not sure how many of you care about that, but the children find it delightful.

Section of book/toy shelf

Section of book/toy shelf

Section of book/toy shelf

Section of book/toy shelf

Another section of book/toy shelf

Another section of book/toy shelf

I read when I’m brushing my teeth, and before I had kids I used to read while I was stirring things on the stove, so I’m not surprised Claire and Ronin love to read so much. In Pocatello Idaho, when I had to walk about a mile through downtown after school, I used to always do it while reading. I got very good at telling where curbs were in my peripheral vision. If Claire and Ronin can get better about remembering their primary task while they read, I won’t take away their books while they’re supposed to be brushing their teeth.

Claire reading last Fall

Claire reading last Fall

If you would like to contribute to this year’s Read-A-Thon, please contact me directly and I will let you know how to give. You can make a check out to the PTA of our school and send it to me, or I can give you a link for online donations. It is fully tax-deductible. Thank you so much!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Mini canvases on mini easels.

Mini canvases on mini easels

Soren was the only one who brought in homemade valentines this year. Justin and I were gifted an incredible weekend away from the kids last weekend and VD snuck up on us, so 12 homemade valentines were easy to handle, especially with Soren who wasn’t in school every day. It was harder with Claire and Ronin who had a total of almost 60 valentines to bring plus three huge bags of fruit for their classroom party, and no free time during the days. I ended up getting a bunch of little valentine crafts to give to their classmates, and they came up with notes to print on stickers for their friends.

I did end up going back and getting some extra miniature canvases, because they were so fun to work with. We all had fun making miniature art on the mini canvases.

A walk around Tilden’s Little Farm over Christmas Break

Tilden's Little Farm has been looking as pretty as a postcard

Tilden’s Little Farm has been looking as pretty as a postcard

The recent rains have been making everything look prettier. Grass is growing, hillsides are green and lush, everything looks vibrant and alive. Streambeds have water in them again.

Soren loves feeding the cows

Soren loves feeding the cows

One day over Christmas break, Claire asked Justin for a “Daddy day,” so I took the boys out for a day of adventure. We packed up some food for ourselves and for the animals and started out at the main barn area of Little Farm. Soren and Ronin fed the animals. It is interesting to watch their different techniques. Soren ran around as fast as he could, peeling off one stalk and then another, and feeding the cows and then the goats and then the sheep and dancing with joy as the animals gobbled them down. He then had no more celery and begged Ronin for some of his and squawked about the unfairness of it all.

An interested goat is about to snack on Soren

An interested goat is about to snack on Soren

Ronin, on the other hand, conserved his celery and used it only sparingly. He had most of his left by the time Soren was done with all of his. He shared a little bit, but I pointed out to Soren that this is the difference between saving and spending. Soren was in a position where he was unhappy, and Ronin hadn’t enjoyed feeding the animals yet but he did have celery left over and could choose to use it or get pleasure out of giving it away. I also showed Soren how there was a lot of celery scattered on the ground outside the pens that the animals had dropped, and he could just as easily pick that up and not have to beg anyone. Crisis averted.

We learned that black sheep have black tongues

We learned that black sheep have black tongues

After we fed the animals and had a snack, we walked down the trail to Jewel Lake and took the Pack Rat trail back. It was beautiful. We saw a lot of bubbles rising on the water on the lake’s surface, and watched them for a while before ducks surfaced. There were a lot of different ducks diving under the water, but the only one I remember is “bufflehead” because the name is so interesting.

Ronin and Soren pointing out something interesting by the lake

Ronin pointing out something interesting by the lake

There were a couple of teenaged girls stuck in the reeds out by the edges the lake. Soren decided to rescue them, so he walked out on a little trail and called out to them. He was very proud of himself for leading them to safety.

Soren trying to lure the teenaged girls to safety

Soren trying to get closer to the teenagers

We bought a couple of new bandanas at the Little Farm, printed with nature activities and car trip activities. When Soren goes on our walks, I have a really hard time getting anyone to be quiet and look or listen for woodland creatures. I hoped that we could start focusing on being observant, or at least appeal to his ninja side and be quiet and sneaky.

Soren being a ninja

Soren being a ninja

I was very successful at encouraging Soren to be a ninja. He has started telling Justin that he trained at a ninja school and when questioned further, he said that well, maybe it wasn’t a specific school, but he had enough training that he became a ninja because he knew all of the tricks. This wasn’t just because of me, of course. He had ninja predilections prior to this. He loves the jumping out and attacking people bit, but is still not so good at the quiet and sneaky parts.

Ronin was being a pirate with no idea what was in store for him

Ronin the pirate, with no idea what was in store for him

It made our walk through the woods a little less than peaceful. Soren and Ronin played ninja vs. pirate for a good part of the walk, and had a lot of fun hiding and leaping out at each other.

Soren has been asking for an all-black outfit lately, because he thinks the red is a little too visible. I am just glad he’s been willing to wear the red, since the fleece is cozy on cold and damp days and he can be so hard to keep track of when he wants to run around like crazy.

I promise I won't ask for anything else after I can disappear!

I promise I won’t ask for anything else after I can disappear!

Ronin, in the meantime, was a little discouraged at how short our walk was and asked if we could go for at least a 5-mile hike next time. He kept prodding me at every trail marker to take the longer way back. I have been walking more and more, but the most I am averaging is about 5-7 miles a day and any more than that is still hard on my feet. Soren is still not up for the long hikes that Ronin likes, mostly because he has a hard time pacing himself.

Ronin, wishing for a longer hike

Ronin, yearning for a 13-mile hike so he can beat his record

Even though I can’t deliver the kinds of hikes that Ronin expects from Justin, an all-day hike through the redwoods in areas he’s never seen before, I think it does all of us a lot of good to get out in combinations we don’t normally try. Soren and Ronin had a lot of fun together on our walk, playing together and being adventurous and rough-housing, and it was a little bit of a departure from the Claire-and-Soren caregiving relationship or owner/puppy games that usually happen.

Measuring how far the sticks can go into the mud

Measuring how far the sticks can go into the mud in Jewel Lake

Even when we are just 2 kids and 1 adult, it is almost as easy as it is with 1 kid, now that kids don’t need diapers changed and don’t randomly fall off of things while tottering around. I have more challenges with 3 kids and 2 adults, because I have too many different needs to account for, and too many different people ricocheting around me trying to talk all at once. Often I can zoom after Soren because he seems to be most out-of-control on a regular basis, and I just interject as needed with everyone else, but it does feel like I lose out on valuable 1:1 time with the older kids. I’m also starting to notice how the lack of time for quiet conversation and thoughtfulness is making it so I can only hear about what they want me to know about.

Wood ear mushrooms

Trametes versicolor, or “turkey tail” fungus on a fallen log (possibly)

I will leave you with some interesting fungal facts that Soren and I learned recently. We were watching a forestry program online and learned about conks (fungal bodies around trees, which can be shelf-like or round, hard or soft, temporary or long-lasting). These indicate the tree has rot inside. I took the above picture during our walk at Tilden’s Little Farm, and I had always just thought of these as pretty mushrooms, as I think all of the mushrooms around here. We love it when it rains because mushrooms proliferate like crazy. We recently saw someone carrying one of the classic poisonous red toadstools with white dots (Amanita muscaria) out of a public place in fear that some innocent child might be tempted to eat it.

I tried to read up a little bit more about this bracket fungus, or polypore, and found an article about it from one of my favorite local nature magazines:

How Can You Tell a True Turkey Tail from an Imposter?

So maybe the one I photographed wasn’t a T. versicolor, since I didn’t check it out underneath its tail feathers. I still think it’s pretty.

Jewel Lake, Tilden Park

Jewel Lake, Tilden Park, midwinter

December rain, wild weather, flooding and storms

Singing in the rain

Singing in the rain

We have a week left and this is now the 7th wettest December on record, which was set in 1889. San Francisco has had 11.5″ of rain this month. More rain is expected by Christmas. We have had some really bad commuting days, with drives of more than 2 hours. My last day of work before Christmas was canceled at 2:34 AM by a phone call from my boss, who told me the power was out and all procedures were being rescheduled.

In my neighborhood, the email lists have been suggesting that people “adopt a drain” near their houses, because the storms blow leaves off the trees and the rains wash them down the street and they clog up the drains and pretty soon the water is knee deep.

I have been trying to take every opportunity to walk now that my foot is starting to get better, and I walk the kids to school and back, even in the pouring rain. Soren has decided that since he is going to be an animal doctor when he grows up, he has to rescue all of the worms.

Soren holding his hand out my window. (We were parked.)

Soren holding his hand out my window.

One day schools were even canceled due to the heavy rain. I have had a few snow days in my life. They were very rare, because most of the places I lived that had them were used to dealing with snow. Lots of snow.

One house we lived in. The driveway was impassable in winter and we dragged groceries up by sled.

One house we lived in when I was growing up. The driveway was impassable in winter and we dragged groceries up by sled.

Later. I’m trying to catch up again. It’s not December anymore. It’s mid-January and there has been hardly any precipitation since the beginning of the year. The schools have decided to take back that rain day, by scheduling school on a day that was previously a planning day, and even adding some hours onto a shortened day.

Walking home from school through the rain

Walking home from school through the rain

It did get pretty bad for a while, though. A couple of counties declared a state of emergency. There were mudslides and rockslides on State Highway 1, and it looks like the road to Muir Woods will be impacted at least until the summer. At least 60 trees toppled over in San Francisco and there were local mudslides in The City. We had been thinking about going out to Land’s End and exploring the cliffs and the ruins of Sutro Baths for a while, but there was a mudslide that covered the path and tore up some trees right around the same time I thought maybe we shouldn’t go because of the weather. I guess I was right.

Sometimes the skies seemed ominous when we went for hikes

Sometimes the skies seemed ominous when we went for hikes

We still managed to get outside in between and sometimes during the heavy rains, but we mostly stuck to paved paths away from trees or cliffs. Even low-lying areas near the sea were prone to flooding, and cars were getting stuck in deep water in underpasses or even on freeways.

Aside from a little relief from our drought, the heavy rains have uncovered some interesting fossils along the coastal bluffs, including a rare megalodon tooth that was found on a Santa Cruz beach. I’m glad we had all that rain. It would be nice if we had it a little more spread out instead of all of it at once every few years, but we’ll take what we can get.