School

Japan and Russia, 1905 (Part I)

When our house’s previous owner sold it to us she left behind several sheds full of books and other random items in various states of decay. Most of the stuff had been destroyed by weather, rodents or just the passage of time, but there were a few treasures to be found among the trash. Thirteen years later I’m still working my way through the literally hundreds of books that survived in decent shape, protected by stacks of their less-lucky brethren.

The previous owner was an elderly woman whose mother had been a teacher a LONG time ago, so there were also some nice turn-of-the century scholastic memorabilia items, like fancy wooden pointers and brass handbells and ooooooold textbooks and such. Years ago when I was first sorting it all out I gave the oldest antique books their own high shelf in my computer room, away from sticky and curious child-hands, and resolved to look through them more closely during some hypothetical stretch of leisure time in the future. (More than a decade later most of those old volumes remain unexplored. What is this “leisure time” of which you speak?)

A few weeks (or possibly months? The tempus, she fugit) ago I was searching that shelf for a particular textbook on basic physics that I thought Luke would enjoy, and I came across an old handwritten journal of what appears to be school essays. I pulled it down to read, and found myself completely enthralled by the first essay: a vivid description of the Russo-Japanese War and its predicted effects on the rest of the world, written in May of 1905 while the war was still being fought. This was before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before Pearl Harbor, before both World Wars, back when relations between Japan and the US were friendly and unstrained. It was before Krushchev, before Stalin or Lenin, when Imperial Russia was the largest country in the world and ruled by an Emperor who was likewise on good political terms with the US for the most part. The essay’s author had some definite opinions of his own but in general it’s a fascinating, educational and relatively objective glimpse into a younger, much more optimistic world. I like it so much that I’ve decided to transcribe it here so that you, dear Internet, can read it for yourself. I’m going to break it up into three or four chunks, because it’s rather long. I’ve corrected some minor spelling and punctuation errors, but otherwise it’s a faithful copy of the original. Enjoy!

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THE DESTINY OF THE FAR EAST

Japan’s quarrel with Russia began with her birth as a modern nation, and has ever progressed steadily toward the present inevitable climax.

Russia, overcrowded with a population of one hundred and ten million souls, 90% of whom are illiterate peasants, bounded in by the Arctic Zone to the north, populous Europe to the west, and by the principles embodied in the “Balance of Power” to the south, has for centuries overflowed to the east. Recently a single track of railway has been completed connecting Vladivostok and Moscow, more than five thousand miles distant from each other. All along this road of steel Russian cities have sprung up, while branch lines have been dropped southward to carry Russian advance to the gates of Peking and the borders of Korea. At the beginning of the present century the czar was lord of a vast and continuous stretch of territory measuring nearly nine million of square miles — about one-seventh of the land surface of the globe — and inhabited by a total of about one hundred and forty million people.

Japan’s marvelous development has been social, industrial, intellectual, and military, not territorial; but her population has swelled to a figure which threatens to crowd the island empire to suffocation unless an outlet can be found for her ever-increasing human surplus. At present, to one hundred and forty seven thousand square miles of mountainous country, of which only one-twelfth is cultivable, she reckons about forty seven million inhabitants. She needs, as Russia may never need, additional territory upon which to plant colonies. Fertile, sparsely settled Korea lies at her very door, and the rich commercial field of Manchuria lies beyond. Both countries desire the commerce of Korea and Manchuria, but the quarrel between them turns upon a far more vital issue than any trade question. Russia’s age-long ambition has been to reach the open ocean and to possess ports that would give her an unfettered outlook upon the world. Unable to face the combined forces of the western nations, Russia moved along the line of least resistance and spread eastward. Here her conquest was easy and finally she reached the ocean. She gradually extended her frontier southward and built the fortified port of Vladivostok. A significant name, for that it means “the control of the east.” By diplomatic and military moves they occupied Manchuria. But now she began to desire Korea, just as a century ago, owning the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, desired Florida, and she took steps to get a footing there.

Is the mighty empire to be halted in her forward march? Is she to be prevented from rounding out her position on the Pacific? Is she to be driven back from the ports that she has striven so long and hard to win? Is she to suffer a loss of prestige that would be almost as disastrous to her as the wresting from her of valuable territory? It does not seem possible that she can accept such a tremendous and crushing defeat so long as she has strength left to strike against the daring islanders who have challenged her to battle.

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Part II

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A Thoroughly Enjoyable Day

Yesterday was the kind of day that, at the very beginning of my marriage, I thought we’d be having all the time once our kids were about this age. (That sentence is kind of hard to parse. Read it a few times until it makes sense.) It wasn’t a spectacularly exciting day, or expensive or complicated, it was just…fun.

Slight tangent: there is a family that goes to our church that is seriously Little-House-On-The-Prairie homesteading old fashioned. They are very nice. They have something like eight or nine kids, and Elizabeth has bonded with one of the girls, and two of the boys are pretty close to Luke’s age (one a little younger and one a little older). I’d mentioned to the mom and dad how disappointed Luke was that his trip to camp didn’t include a visit to the gold mine, and that I planned to take him to see it myself. They told me that they homeschool all of their children, and that they are planning an educational field trip up to Julian as soon as school starts (so they can get school credits for it), and that they plan to visit the gold mine, the museum, the old historic jail, the old cemetery…all the stuff that Luke would go absolutely wild over. So OBVIOUSLY I invited myself and my kids along for that trip. And also I am seriously considering having them homeschool Luke and Elizabeth along with their kids.

But I didn’t want to make Luke wait another month for his first gold mine experience, so I hopped back online to see what else we could find in the meantime, and I discovered The Smith Ranch. As soon as I saw that there was a ride on an old narrow-gauge mining train involved, I knew this was what I was looking for. Luke has been crazy about trains pretty much his whole life. I made reservations for the following Monday.

The homesteading family — lets call them the Ingalls since they’ve requested that I not use their real name on the Internet — had mentioned a nice park in Julian that they planned to stop at for lunch on their field-trip day, so I looked it up and figured I’d add that into Monday’s trip too.

So yesterday me and the kids packed a picnic lunch and drove up to Julian. The park was a bit farther off the beaten path than I’d expected, but we found it with no problem. And then…somehow I managed to lock my keys in my car while filling out the parking fee ticket stub for the front window.

On a family trip with Steve that might have been enough to sour the whole day right there, but yesterday it was one of the little things that are not worth sweating. My one concern was that we might not make it to the Smith Ranch in time for the mine tour, but my spidey-sense (I don’t know what else to call it but I’ve come to trust it over the past 15 months) was telling me that everything would be fine, so I sent Luke and Elizabeth and the lunch-filled cooler off to frolic on the playground together while I examined my options. I found a park employee with a Slim-Jim, but my door locks would not bend to his will, so I called AAA and as it happened there was a AAA assistance place thingie just seven miles up the road and there was already a truck headed in my direction on another call and maybe 15 minutes after I phoned for help my door was unlocked and I was good to go.

I didn’t have time to explore the park with the kids, but we got to the ranch right on time and still in fine spirits.

The Smith Ranch? Is awesome. The guy who owns it used to be a high school teacher and he obviously knows how to connect with kids. He was in constant teaching mode but in the best possible way. There was only us and one other couple there, so Luke and Elizabeth got most of his attention and he really drew them into the historical setting.

The tour began with the train ride:

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It stopped several times at various points of interest, like this pear tree that was planted in the 1840’s by the miners that had originally settled the claim:

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One of the stops was at a little fort the family is constructing from trees that have died in the drought. Teacher Guy asked Luke to help him raise the flag there:

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There were old 1800’s-era artifacts all over the place.

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Eventually the train pulled up at the mineshaft entrance, and guests were given the option of walking in or riding in an ore cart. The kids chose the ore cart, the rest of us walked.

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The mine itself is still in the process of being re-excavated after having been filled with dirt at some point before the current owners moved in. It only goes back about 40 feet right now, but that’s deep enough to be pitch-black and cold…you really get a sense of being underground. But what I enjoyed most wasn’t the mine itself, it was the way Teacher Guy (and his wife, when she joined us as we were coming back out of the shaft) wove a steady stream of verbal imagery that vividly brought that period of history to life for us.

After we left the mine we were brought to an old sluicing trough with crushed quartz and sand and water and a few gold-painted pebbles in it. They showed us how to pan for the “gold,” and we all had fun trying our hand at that. Then they opened up their little “general store,” which was fascinating because it was full of more pioneer artifacts, and we got to trade the “nuggets” we’d found for stick candy and red licorice. We adults enjoyed the panning (and the candy!), but Luke and Elizabeth were MESMERIZED by the whole concept. They stayed at it long after the rest of us had wandered off.

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Later we all got to cross a shallow gully on the kind of rope bridge the old settlers used to make…

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…and then we sat down in a shady spot while Teacher Guy and his wife showed us more artifacts and told us the stories behind them. I know it probably sounds dry and boring, but it wasn’t at all. Even the kids were hanging on their every word.

They had a reproduction of a letter that a Great-Great-Uncle of the wife had written during that time period, and apparently back then sending letters was seriously expensive business because the writer had gone to great lengths to conserve paper and postage and this letter had still cost him $5 to mail — one-third of a month’s pay for him! And look at the tricks he’d used:

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He not only used both sides of the paper, he actually used each side TWICE — once writing vertically and again writing horizontally. And he left a little blank square on one side, where he wrote the mailing address after he’d folded the letter to create its own envelope.

Mrs. Teacher read us part of the letter, and it was very entertaining.

The whole experience, the whole afternoon, was relaxed and fun and educational and awesome. I was so glad we’d gone.

Julian was settled as a gold rush town, but what it’s most famous for nowadays is its pies. The whole town is full of fruit trees, mostly apple, and the Julian Pie Company uses nothing but locally grown fruit. We stopped there on the way home and picked up a dutch apple pie.

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It was scrumptious.

So that was our first family trip to Julian, and definitely not the last; I think there’s enough historical stuff up there to keep Luke hooked for quite a while. I’m really looking forward to our field trip with the Ingalls next month.

The funny thing is, Steve used to go up there all the time during our marriage, and he made it a point never to let me or the kids go with him. (And now I know why, but that’s another subject.) How ironic is it that we had to ditch the cowboy before Luke got to explore a fascinating, historical Old West town only 60 miles from home?

Tomorrow the kids have a playdate at the Ingalls homestead, and Mrs. Ingalls and I will be discussing the possibility of having Luke and Elizabeth homeschooled with her brood. I’d have to clear it with Steve, but he knows as well as I do what a crappy school Hamilton is.

It’s breathtaking, how fast the changes are coming these days. I wonder what our lives will look like a year from now, or five years from now.

I’m looking forward to finding out.

Categories: Family, Friends, kids, Life, Love, School | 3 Comments

Hits and Misses

So remember when I said that I don’t need any special events to show me how far Luke has come in the past six months? Well it turns out I get one anyway, because life is just that kind of awesome these days!

Luke has a history of being kind of a spaz at school. From day one he has found the whole environment there to be too noisy and chaotic and populated with untrustworthy sorts who were probably all Out To Get Him. It’s been…a challenge, for him and for his teachers and fellow students.

Over the past couple of months or so I’ve been getting an occasional Friday phone call from his teacher to tell me that he’s had a wonderfully good week. He’s been learning to sit quietly in class, do his work at the same time and in the same manner as the other kids, and play cooperatively with his peers at recess.

And today at the school awards assembly he was presented with a P.R.O. Award.

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It stands for People Respecting Others, and it’s awarded to students who have been exceptionally good citizens and demonstrated exemplary social skills. For Luke to have won it is huge. I could not be more proud of him.

And then there’s Elizabeth. She’s been having the sort of week that reminds me that underneath that marvelous veneer of brilliance and creativity there’s still a regular kid who from time to time can be as refreshingly goofy as the rest of us.

Conversation a few days ago in the car on the way home from the bus stop:

Elizabeth: “We’re learning about the colonists this week.”

Me [because sadly my geek brain instantly jumped to various colony planets in the Star Trek ‘verse and I was pretty sure her class wasn’t studying any of those]: “Really? Which colonists?”

Elizabeth [pausing in a “busted” sort of way because she was probably thinking about dragons or something while the teacher was talking about the colonists in question]: “Um…the…um…the colonists in the American Revolution?”

Me: “Oh! The American colonists, okay.” Duh.

Elizabeth: “Our class is divided up into groups. I’m in the ‘colonists’ group. We were supposed to write letters today. I wrote a letter to the colonists telling them not to do the Boston Tea Party.”

Me: “Really? You don’t think the colonists had a right to protest being taxed without governmental representation?”

Elizabeth: “….”

Luke: “She just thinks it’s too girly and she doesn’t want to have to do it.”

Me: “Too…girly…Elizabeth, you weren’t really listening to the teacher when she was talking about the Boston Tea Party, were you?”

Elizabeth: “Um…possibly not completely….”

Me: [Gives a brief description of the colonists dressed as Indians raiding the ships and dumping the tea into the harbor and why they did it.]

Elizabeth: “Oh.”

Me: “You were picturing a bunch of old guys in powdered wigs and, like, frilly aprons — ”

Luke: “And their dolls!”

Me: “…And their dolls, sitting around sipping tea?”

Elizabeth: “….Something like that. Yeah.”

Elizabeth has been having That Sort Of Week. The topper came yesterday at recess when she decided to find out what would happen if she let go of the swing chains in mid-swing. Luckily that part of the school playground is on sand rather than asphalt, so she got away with some impressive abrasions on her face rather than a fractured skull.

Today when she received her Bookworm Award she looked like she’d just gone a few rounds with a belt sander.

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And somehow in that moment I finally saw a resemblance between us.

The tomboyishly scraped-up face, the certificate officially recognizing her bookworm status…yes. That was me at ten-going-on-eleven.

Take that, aliens! You MISSED a couple of my genes when you were replacing them with your extraterrestrial DNA!

Yeah, this is why I have a blog. So I don’t say stuff like that out loud at school awards ceremonies.

Luke and Elizabeth? You guys rock.

Categories: Family, Humor, kids, Life, Love, School | 2 Comments

Curse Those Internet Bugs!

The kids’ school Fall Festival fundraiser was Saturday, and other than the fact that I TOTALLY FORGOT that I’d promised to make cookies for the cakewalk, the whole thing seemed to be a grand success. I was helping with the throw-darts-at-balloons booth, and we had brisk business from start to finish. I was mildly concerned that we might run into, you know, complications, what with handing sharp metal implements to tiny toddlers and rowdy eight-year-olds and goth teens, but we didn’t have a single problem all day. Other than the wind occasionally gusting up and blowing our dartboard down, which usually necessitated the replacement of a bunch of popped balloons. I kept an anxious eye on my cardboard jail a few booths away, and saw that they’d solved the wind issue in the simplest possible way: the guys running the jail booth just stood on each side and held onto it when it threatened to blow away. Kids loved the jail concept, and there was a steady stream of “prisoners” in and out of it the whole time.

Steve brought the kids to the Festival around noon and they seemed to enjoy it, though I didn’t get to see much of them while they were there. AND there were plenty of baked goods for the cakewalks even without my forgotten cookies, so all was well.

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One by one this past week or two I’ve watched my favorite bloggers succumb to the the vicious cold that’s been going around. Maybe I should have been more careful when I visited their blogsites, because sure enough that nasty little bug CLOBBERED me Sunday morning. I snuffled my way through church and our Sunday dinner party, went to bed early, and then got maybe four hours’ sleep because I felt too crappy to doze off. I really need to stay away from sick peoples’ blogs; those internet virii are freaking relentless.

Monday I dragged my sorry self down to Temec to do my weekly shopping. I would have put it off, but I had an appointment to get my hair cut and didn’t want to reschedule. I had her touch up my highlights at the same time, and asked her to match the chlorinated silver shade because I’ve decided I like it that way. I’d post a pic, but this cold is seriously kicking my butt. Aside from the pretty pretty haircut I’m about as photogenic as a day-old serving of cold Spam in a dirty ashtray right now. Pics later, when my nose isn’t red and my skin isn’t chapped and I don’t have purple shadows under my eyes.

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When I got home from Temecula yesterday I didn’t feel like doing much of anything that involved effort, so I went to hang out with the kittens for a while. They live in the back of the house for now (the kids’ rooms and the adjacent playroom), so I hadn’t really seen much of them. The kids attend to their food and water, and other than cleaning out their litter box a few days ago my life has been simplified rather than complicated by their arrival. But I felt like it was time for me to get to know them, so in I went to officially introduce myself.

Except they wanted nothing to do with me. They skittered under furniture when I tried to pet them, indignantly objected when I cornered them and picked them up, and wriggled free as soon as they got the chance. I was an unwelcome invader in their little kitten lives. This worried me, because I’ve adopted kittens in the past that have turned out to be irredeemably non-domesticable, and that wasn’t what I’d wanted for my kids. I finally left them alone, feeling disappointed in their lack of sociability.

That evening, Elizabeth called me into the playroom to show me something she’d made out of marbles and plastic blocks. Luke and the kittens were in there too, so after I’d admired her marble sculpture thingy I sat down on the steps to see if there was any interaction between the four of them.

HA. I needn’t have worried. The kittens treated Elizabeth like a big fun climby toy, and from time to time Stripes would leave off frolicking to come over to Luke for petting. He would absently stroke her while going on with what he was doing (building beautiful little houses and cars out of paper), and then she’d dash back and scramble up Elizabeth again.

So, no worries about the four of them not getting along. I guess I’m the only suspicious-looking stranger here. I can live with that.

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Elizabeth says she has renamed her kitten “Madcat.” You know, like Dr. Claw’s feline henchman. I’m not entirely comfortable with the fact that she’s named her cute little kitty after the evil pet of of an evil genius, but I suppose one must pick one’s battles wisely and let the little stuff go, right?

Is it bad that when I saw this pic at the Cheezburger site I immediately thought of my sweet girl?

Siiiiiiiggghhhhh.

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Adventures In Cardboard

One of the things I volunteered to do for the Fall Festival fundraiser at the kids’ school was to transform a big cardboard box into a jail cell. The idea is that someone pays a ticket or two to put someone else in jail, and then the jailed person has to pay a ticket or two to get out. Family friendly fun!

So here’s what I made:

The problem is, I can’t figure out how to keep it from blowing away when the wind kicks up, which is very often does in Anza. The structure has to be completely collapsible so it can be transported and stored, so the roof comes off and closes on hinges. I could weight the floor if it had one, but I don’t know how to make a removable floor that can be securely attached to the rest of the thing.

Ideas, anyone? How can I keep my jail from ending up in the next county if the Festival falls on a windy day?

Categories: Artwork, Family, Life, School | 3 Comments

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