Thursday, March 29, 2012

Following the Oregon Trail

After studying the early explorers in history last year, we are now learning about American history. We spent several months on colonial history and the American Revolution, then read about Lewis and Clark. Peter read and enjoyed the book Seaman's Journal: On the Trail with Lewis and Clark, which is written from the perspective of the Newfoundland dog that accompanied the Corps of Discovery. Next, the boys will watch Ken Burn's documentary on the exploration. Following that we covered the gold rush and Oregon state history. It was kind of fun that on the day we read about the end of the Oregon Trail and the Father of Oregon, Dr. John McLoughlin, we happened to drive to Oregon City (the official end of the Oregon Trail) and drove by his historical home site. (We went to Oregon City to pick up our new dog, Danner.) Unfortunately, because we were in the city in the evening, we couldn't stop and go into any of the pioneer museums there, but because we had just finished our studies of the area the boys' short visit was very much enriched.

Fortuitously, our local home school group planned a field trip to a more local pioneer museum in The Dalles, a place that also claims to be the End of the Oregon Trail. The Discovery Center has exhibits on Native American history, Lewis and Clark, and pioneer history. Lewis and Clark traveled right through this region on the Columbia River. Some day I'll have to take the boys out to Astoria on the coast where the Corps of Discovery stayed for the winter before returning east.

Our visit to this museum was a bit too short to thoroughly absorb all the information on display (don't all museum visits tend to be that way?) but what we did see enhanced our understanding of what we had read.

In our reading, we had learned about mountain men, trappers and rendezvous so this display of their typical gear was interesting.

This was meant to depict the camping spot on the trail for the members of the Corps of Discovery.

The boys ran through the early Oregon state history displays, as boys are wont to do.

The main event for the visit was a planned project for the homeschool group. The museum had a clever way for the students to think through what it was like to be a pioneer on the Oregon Trail. The kids were divided into two groups, each representing a wagon train. Each group was appointed a Trail Master. Peter was head of one train and Sam was the leader of the other. They were given honorary straw hats. Other kids were given jobs for their group such as record keeper, animal herder, etc. Each team was given a set of dice and the rules for rolling them.

By rolling the dice and doing a little math on each question they were to determine the status of their wagon train.

The record keeper wrote down the results of each roll. The two teams compared their answers.

The idea was that the wagon train had just reached The Dalles after being on the Oregon Trail crossing the plains all summer. They still needed to pass the Cascade mountain range to continue west and reach the Willamette Valley, the promised land, where they would buy land and farm. If they arrived in The Dalles in August they would have plenty of time to get across the mountains.

After they determined the status of their wagon train, the number of people and animals, how much money they had, etc., they then had to explore which option would be most feasible for continuing west- rafting everything down the Columbia River or crossing Mount Hood on the Barlow Road, a toll road with many dangers.

More dice rolling determined how successful each option would be for the group.

Each group would decide which route they would take.

I thought this information was particularly interesting, especially considering the disdain some people hold for the county east of us. Wasco county at one time covered all the (original Oregon) territory from the Rocky Mountains to the Cascade Range!

At the end of the project, Sam and Peter, as wagon masters, reported on the success (or lack thereof) of their wagon trains.

I thought this project was well-done and informative. It was a good way for the students to think through some of the details of the dangers of traveling in the nineteenth century. My boys were severely disappointed though, that they were not physically loading a covered wagon and hitching up real live oxen to drive. They fully expected the museum to provide them with that kind of experience.

The museum director reported to us that he was conducting a class for a school in Louisiana via Skype following our project with him. Maybe the Discovery Center would do this for other homeschool groups in the country. If you are interested, it could be worth contacting them to find out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

West Coast Teapots

I stopped in to the gallery the other day to see the show called West Coast Teapots.

I had seen a show announcement and happened to walk by during its opening reception a few weeks ago. I stayed outside and gazed through the windows at the potters and collectors, many of whom I recognized, holding their glasses of wine and talking pottery. I couldn't bring myself to go inside and spend the evening explaining why I didn't have a teapot in the show and why I am manipulating cake instead of clay.

I heaved a sigh and walked on.

Someday, I swear, I will get back into my studio for more than an hour, if only to make replacements for all my dinnerware that has been broken in the last two years.

So I made a trip to the gallery to view the show knowing the pots were going to holler the Siren's call.

Teapots have always been a special challenge to potters. There are many design and functional elements to a teapot. The perfect pot will have all the elements working seamlessly together. The handle needs to feel comfortable and balanced in the hand while supporting the weight and tipping of the pot itself during use. The spout needs to be angled correctly and the lip of it finished carefully so that it doesn't drip when pouring. The lid must fit snuggly but not too much and that can really be a problem to solve. Throw in a desire for an imaginative design and glazes that complement the shape and the challenges mount. Then there is the possibility of warping, twisting or cracking of seams. When a gallery wants to bring out the best talent in the ceramic world, they have a teapot show.

I loved this teapot set which was made by the show's curator, a potter living just down the road from me, Jim Diem. This one asked me to take it home.

But this! I loved, loved, loved! The teapot was great but I really wanted the cups. The red glaze, so hard to get, is divine. The slip trailing, the finishing details....I want!

Another teapot by the same artist as the cups above, Jeff Morales (check out the pull chain desk lamp on his website- Amazing!) really wanted to come home with me.

I love the colors and simplicity of this set. It says Coffee to me rather than Tea.

Every element of this charmer fits perfectly with each other, the delicate feet under the weighty spherical shape gives it whimsy.

Funky and masculine.

So fun!

This has a beautiful blue celadon glaze with a classic carved surface.

This set really grabbed me with the careful sgraffito work. I loved the texture and subdued color as well as the salt glaze finish. Salt glaze gets me every time.

So this was my prize. It just jumped into my bag. I wanted the whole set, especially that teapot, but the wallet said No. I hated to break up the set by buying just one element but the gallery manager assured me it was fine.

Can you see the animal on this pot? What an imaginative design. Great glaze too.

If I could just cut back on sleep and showering, maybe I can get some time in the studio again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cross Country

Over the weekend the boys got a chance to go on their first cross country ski outing. Our neighbor is a world class bi-athlete. He competed in biathlon which is cross country skiing and shooting. His sons are my boy's best friends. The family took the boys with them on one of their many cross country excursions on the mountain. I gave Samuel the camera and these are the photos he came home with. I don't have much commentary since I was not on the trip but I think the photos are great. It looks like it was a gorgeous day to be on the mountain with new snow and bright sunshine.

This is the snow bank in the parking lot of the nordic center. Lots of snow removal this year!

Peter suited up for his run.

Samuel, ready to go.

The boys having their snack.

Sam looks like a pro.

I think I'm going to have to try this sport. Such a gorgeous setting for a workout.

What a fun morning!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Fling

One last blanket of white before the season is officially over here in the Great Northwest.

We always seem to have the opposite weather from the rest of the country which currently has unseasonably warm temperatures. This beautiful snow, sparkling under the morning sunshine, drew me out for a walk before the school day commenced.

A snowfall like this in December generates lots of excitement- charming snowmen, closed schools, driving anxieties, hyperbolic weathermen, and lots and lots of hot chocolate consumption.

But in March, two days into the official spring calender, the reactions to snow like this range from blasé to consternation. People are wanting to wear flip flops and plant their gardens, not drink hot chocolate and sit by the fire.

Not me. Now that the plague is gone and we're all sleeping through the night, I'm happy to stay holed up just a bit longer and pretend the seed orders and spring cleaning are still weeks away.

I enjoyed my snowy morning excursion as much as I would have in December except that the snow falling on me from the trees kept insisting that this was a spring snow and would soon be gone.

Farewell winter.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

I see the future. There will be cake.

After a busy week preparing for a weekend scheduled from end to end with deadlines and then meeting all those deadlines I collapsed Sunday night in a stupor. Not ready for Monday, it came anyway.

I started Saturday morning by making and delivering a St. Patrick's Day wedding cake.

There was not a shade of green to be seen anywhere in the elegant decor.

The wedding delivery was followed by two consultations with bridal couples. I had to turn down three, count 'em!- three other couples who wanted to meet the same day. Sheesh! What a year it's going to be!

I didn't have time to meet more brides because I had to get home and finish preparing for the bridal show on Sunday.

I made a fudge cake as my contribution to the door prizes.

And I made this fondant covered styrofoam display cake for my table decoration. Fondant is not my usual style but I had fun with the challenge of this.

I also had to make an apple slab pie and ice the sheet cakes that I was serving as samples of my baking at the show.

The bridal show was small but very elegant, held at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, an historic landmark sitting high on a cliff over the Columbia River Gorge.

The hotel served a buffet of samples of their wedding menus to the brides and their entourages.

The florists that provide flowers for my cakes all summer long were also in attendance. One made this spectacular rose arrangement that was so fitting in style for the hotel that has seen many dignitaries, presidents and old Hollywood celebrities, like Valentino, for whom they named their fireplace lounge.

The bonus of knowing the florist is that she gave me some of these roses after the show. I couldn't say no.

The main attraction of the hotel as a wedding venue is the phenomenal views. On this day the view was adorned with a rainbow and for once I had my camera.

This weekend was a foreshadowing of my summer to come. Until the wedding season arrives I am content to enjoy the last weekends of winter when I can stay indoors and not think about the mountain of cakes I will be baking and icing while other people are on vacation or enjoying the beach. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying that I am finding I don't long for spring like I used to. I'll enjoy my break while I still have it.