Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Really Old School

High School Musical, circa 1450 A.D.

So, today I kind of played hooky to go to school. Is that the sign of a total nerd or what?! Okay, I didn't actually play hooky, I took a day of vacation but it sounded funnier the other way. (disclaimer added in case any current or future employers track me down to this blog...which is a terrifying thought!)

By now you are probably wondering where we'd encounter 15th-Century students in the middle of the workweek? Simple answer: Like many people, we have a time machine.

What, you don't? Bummer!

This time we decided to travel back to the Renaissance Period as a school experience for Mini and Mambo. Sidenote: I may have to stop calling Miniwether "Miniwether" as the top of her head is currently level with Misseswether's ears! For better or worse, about +5,000 other students had the same idea. The cool thing about the Texas Renaissance Festival School Days is that it is open to "regular" schools and homeschoolers alike. The tickets are $6 in advance or $8 at the door, which is a heck of a deal. They also drop the price on certain foods like the traditional turkey leg. Not every performer is there, but many school drama clubs and choirs fill in with really amazing bits of plays and music, such as the picture at the beginning of this post.

The Wethergirls, cloaked against the Fall chill. Sidenote: Misseswether is in high heels...and also found a small mound to stand on to make here look taller than her 6-yr. old daughter.

While the entertainment my have been dropped down a notch, all the regular demonstrations of Medieval techniques were up and running. Swords were clashing, glass was being blown, coins were minted, the blacksmith was smithing...


...and the printer took on Miniwether as an apprentice. I'm going to miss that girl.

Of course the most popular edutainment show was still on: The Birds of Prey! Nothing wow's an audience like a falcon swooping by inches above their heads on it's way to catch a fake leather bird!

Fresh meat eater!

Carrion eater.

Get to this show early if you want a seat...and hide your turkey legs!

Do NOT do this at the Bird of Prey show!!

Since this was a school activity the girls did have to do homework while we were there.

Draw something you see, write down what it was, where you saw it, when you saw it, and why you liked it. Mambowether chose to drawn "the entire faire!" and then filled her paper with a wild mishmash of colorful scribbles, which actually did end up looking like the faire...if you were looking at it while spinning in circles...

...on a frog with a purple coat. She LOVES that frog.

Miniwether in gym class working on the rope swing, which is actually a giant swing powered by pulling a big rope.

The faire closed at 4pm during the School Days event. We had been in constant motion there since a little after 9am so even though I hadn't seen everything it was kind of nice to have it close that early, especially since I know we are coming back in a few weeks. Five minutes after we left the parking lot the sky opened up a deluge of water. Up until then the day had been beautiful, mostly cool with a bit of warmth later in the day. Since at that point the faire was closed for the day, rain didn't matter.

I highly recommend going to the Texas Renaissance Festival School Days if you can swing it. I was a little concerned about being surrounded by kids but it turns out 99.999% of them were very well behaved. I guess honor students are more likely to get to go to this than troublemakers. Not every shop was open and many that were had only a small sample of wares out (shoplifting had been a problem in the past, perhaps showing that current good students may end up being the white-collar embezzlers of the future?). Also, no knives, swords, maces, or other weapons were for sale, though you could still buy wooden replicas. I don't think beer or other alcoholic beverages were on sale today which meant that there were no drunken dumb@sses making trouble. That almost made up for there being no knives for sale.

And home after a big day. I'd say this is proof that everyone had a lot of fun!

Adventure! Excitement! Old School Musical!

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's a clam.

The Last Organic Outpost community gardens (not a clam).

Being and adventurer means traveling to interesting and exciting places. Do this long enough and eventually interesting and exciting places start seeking you out, which is really cool. Saturday's adventure arose from an e-mail exchange with a botany student. She and her father are volunteers at Fifth Ward farm belt, the creation of one amazing man named Joe Nelson Icet. A farmer trapped in the city, he has spent thousands of his own dollars and hours turning Houston's abandoned wastelands in into thriving gardens community gardens.

Joe under cool urban farm art.

This Saturday they were having a big fund-raising event involving live bands, free food, and many kid-friendly things like live chickens and hand-made nails. Oh, and of course face painting!

Painting the face.

It's a butterfly!

It's a clam!

Yes, Miniwether had a clam painted on her face. She couldn't decide what to have painted and I jokingly suggested a clam. Having complete trust in daddywether, she told the painter that was what she wanted. The rest of the day was spent explaining to friends, family, and assorted strangers that it wasn't poorly done butterfly but a most excellently-painted clam. I thought the pearl was an especially nice touch.

Free pizza from Ruggles Green certified green restaurant.

Several restaurants were giving away yummy food, assorted green groups were trying to get people to sign petitions, artists sold their wares, and a performance group put on a play about pollution. However the Wethergirls preferred the sandlot/playground.

My kids, get used to seeing them.


Me, I prefer fire. The blacksmith and I talked for a while and he explained how he uses all his tools to the girls. He even made Miniwether two nails which she added to her Box of Treasures when we got home.

I also liked Joe's okra. Some of these plants were as big as small trees!

Joe and I spent some time talking and if things work out right I'll be helping them set up some display beds of wild edible plants. That should be super-awesome!

The Last Organic Outpost offers a great place to learn gardening. Every Saturday, weather-permitting, you can learn the tips and tricks of growing food in Houston while helping them expand their gardens. Donations are always accepted and the money goes towards purchasing soil, equipment, seeds, and paying their irrigation bill. Hmm, seems like a good way to feed your soul while helping feed the community.

Adventure! Excitement! Urban Renewal!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And then West

I've been spending a lot of time driving the last two weeks. Something over 1420 miles if google maps can be trusted, most of which was on I-10. First east to New Orleans and then west into the Texas Hill Country.

I'd say Mambowether thought it was worth it.

It was time for the Texas Hoodlums 2009 Fall Thing! Four days of camping, bushcraft, eating, and making merry! Sadly we could only attend three days, and two of those were spent on the road to/from the gathering. My original plan was to go alone but with a wife and kids like mine that plan was quickly shot down. So instead of arriving either late Thursday night or early Friday morning we ended up arriving well after dark Friday evening. Misseswether teaches art studies for our homeschooling group and couldn't play hooky Friday. Oh well.

Actually, at this point our fellow Hoodlums weren't even expecting me. I picked up a wicked head cold in New Orleans so I told them I probably wouldn't be coming. There were many shouts of joy and greetings when they saw my truck bouncing across the field to our traditional the campsite and several Hoodlums ran over to help us set up camp in the dark. Thirty minutes later under Misseswether's directions a patch of empty soil had been turned into a 4-star campsite loaded with amenities. When camping with Misseswether certain comforts are required...

Wethercamp: including the Amazing Box o' Stuff and our own private privie.

The Wethergirls were tired after the long drive out to Oxford Ranch and quickly decided to go to bed. Misseswether stayed with them and I joined them an hour later.

Saturday morning in paradise.

Being an early riser, I had the pleasure of watching the sun rise over the fishing pond. A few others were up but until the first cup of coffee had been drank it's not really safe to approach the average Hoodlum, mainly because the average Hoodlum (man or woman) carries a minimum of three knives and a large-caliber handgun.

Three knives I traded for at the Fall Thing, an 18" Cold Steel Bowie Machete, an Ontario Knives Spec Plus Quartermaster, and a custom skinner.

As usual at Hoodlum gatherings, there was plenty of stuff to do. Of course my daughters chose fishing while I went hunting edible plants and Misseswether attended presentations on wound care and how to make/sew your own outdoors gear. The making class really excited her and as soon as I can get her some patterns and fabric she's going to make us all sorts of cool stuff.

Fishing with RCWalla.

Me looking at plants.

One of the big, traditional Hoodlum events is the trade blanket. This is a great place to get rid of excess gear, interesting artifacts, and assorts other outdoorsy stuff. Miniwether shyly partook for the first time. I had given her a raccoon skull to put up for trade which scored her a really nice, hand-made bamboo flute.

Sinew-wrapped bamboo fulute!

More importantly, the flute making included a lesson to get her started playing. Both she and Misseswether spent a lot of time practicing with it. I expect beautiful music from them soon.

There was also a forge set up where the Hoodlum custom knife makers were working. These guys do amazing work, not only making knives but also beautiful custom leather sheaths for their knives. This weekend they were making a "big chopper" knife from I think the leaf spring of a car and also a tomahawk from a ball peen hammer.

Cranking the bellows.

Heating the steel.

Of course, what would time in the woods be without critters?!

Miniwether and crickets. She'd catch them, then toss them into the water where turtles would swim up and eat them. It was very entertaining!

Giant red ants.

Dragonflies were swarming all over.

A black widow spider, just to keep us on our toes.

Some sort of rodent.

Alas, Saturday passed way too quickly, but that just meant it was time for the other thing Hoodlums do exceptionally well in the woods: EAT!

Saturday night potluck.


Eating around the campfire.

The very cool Hoodlum Wolf O'Lantern.

There was no moon and we were miles from anywhere so the Milky Way filled the sky. I tried taking a picture but it didn't work. It was wonderful to see it again. It was the Wethergirls' first time and they were amazed by it. In Houston only the thirty brightest stars are visible but above us that night were millions and millions of stars. We all spent a lot of time just looking up at them in awe.

The Wethergirls had run themselves ragged and even a sky full of stars couldn't keep them awake. They and Misseswether retired around 9pm while I once again stayed up late drinking hard apple cider and talking. It kind of helped my head cold, though actually sleeping would have probably helped it more. Throughout the night coyotes howled off in the distance.

The bright dot is Venus.

Sunday morning came way too soon. It seemed like we had just set up camp and now it was time to pack it all up again. Once again Misseswether took charge.

This is how you roll a sleeping bag! Sidenote: this is why they call her "Heels". Those are the shoes she wore all weekend, just like last time.

Taking down the tent. Eventually she figured out why I was taking so many pictures of her...

One must lay on the tent to pack it down as small as possible.

Meanwhile I just kept the girls out of her way.

Treasure! Or just a pile of rose really depends on your point of view. Sidenote: Shotgunner's Girl was proof the best toy for a kid is another kid. Those two were inseparable the whole time.

Red Rider packed and ready to head home. Sidenote: bungie cords scratch the heck out of your paint job, even if the metal hooks are vinyl-coated. Grrrr!

Me after a late lunch at a Jack in the Box in New Braunfels on the drive home.

It's difficult to keep the girls entertained during the long drive home. We don't have/want an in-car DVD player so the girls slept, which was great and also drew pictures of their weekend, which was neat.

"That's me and that's mommy and that's daddy and that's a a rodent of some sort."

"That's Mambo in her sleeping bad just before she peed in it."

Eventually we made it home. Misseswether tried to scrub the girls clean while I unloaded Red Rider, then we both collapsed into bed. Monday night was spent put all the gear away and making lists of what we did and didn't use. Each time we go out I try and cut back on the amount of gear we take without cutting into Misseswether's comfort.

Hmmm, looking back over this post it seems like a very boring writeup of a wonderful time. Sorry about that. Sometimes I think I've jumped the shark with this blog. Oh well, if it's just a family scrapbook for me to look back on years from now then so be it. Hopefully you'll find a few useful or entertaining nuggets in it.

Adventure! Excitement! Camp!