Saturday, April 10, 2010


It was either Maria, or it was Alex... one of them had the idea. But they both loved the idea, which is why the Bird House will soon have a windmill. They're in the kitchen right now... I could get some clarification, but I kind of like the mystery.

Anyway. Alex and Maria were inspired to build a windmill, and they spent an entire evening discussing it and designing it, and thinking up ways it will serve us. I love Maria's calculations and diagrams. I love Alex's calculations and diagrams too, but for slightly different reasons. I also love the budget :: So far he's made everything from found parts and bits. Next up are skateboard bearings. Do you have any skateboard bearings sitting around? Would you like to get rid of them?

The breeze already wants to turn it. He attached a drill to it and did a spin demonstration. He plans to hook it up to a generator. Max asked how a generator works, and Alex explained it. And I paid very close attention, but I pretty much think it works by magic. I kind of like mystery.

Mom: Alex, come here. Let me ask you something (points to picture): What can it do?

Alex: It's like a propeller in reverse... where instead of pushing the air, the air pushes against the blade and turns it. The spinning will turn a dynamo.

Mom: Dynamo? Isn't that laundry detergent?

Alex: A dynamo is a solid state magnet surrounded by coiled copper wires, that rotates and creates a positive and negative charge at its two poles.

Mom: Sounds illegal.

Alex: The charge it generates will go in the house's grid, and provide power to our home.

Mom: You are a good boy.

Alex: grins

Here are Maria and Alex painting the windmill. I believe Alex is holding the ladder, and Maria has the brush.

Mom: Maria, tell me about this picture.

Maria: Dat's about we paint the winmill.

Mom: What color will you paint the windmill(ignoring the obvious)?

Maria: I guess blue. Blue is Paradoxy.

Mom: You're a good girl.

Spring break at the Bird House, it's how we roll spin.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Bliss in the Weeds

Besides earthquakes and aftershocks, something else has been going on in So Cal... we've been blessed with amazing weather. Almost summer-like, almost late summer-like, which is when it tends to be even better than the month of gloom we have in June. We've been making mint tea, and minding the rose buds, watering our orchard, taking dinner outdoors, and soaking up the beauty in the breeze.

Even the weeds look verdant and good, although on closer inspection I can see we are going to be plagued with stickers if I don't selectively yank the offenders. Betty surveys the land, and she is glad. This is spring, she declares. This is Betty season.

Up close I notice the stickers, and closer still... I see the lady bug beetles. Loads and loads of scurrying red beetles, and black dotties on red beetles. Eating the aphids beetles. Darling and good, lady bug beetles.

And baby ladies. Baby beetles. Did you know? Some people don't recognize these reticular little bugs as ladybug larvae. Now you understand why I am delaying the weed pulling party. I love pulling weeds. Honestly. I would gladly pull weeds in my yard, than get my nails done. There are lots of things I would rather do than get my nails done. But still. I get lost in happy garden bliss when I am pulling weeds. When I get around to it, I will be very courteous of the ladies.

Betty, are you courteous of the Lady Beetles?

Yes, Betty and the Lady Beetles are neighbors, and friends.
O, Betty, eres bellisima. Chica-chica.

So, with the children home from school, and the sun shining, I am blissfully sitting amongst the weeds. Counting hummingbirds and dreaming of figs. The lady bugs are traveling up and down the highway of stalks and leaves. Maria digs holes. Alex builds a windmill. William watches, and chats. Max reads The Hobbit, again. Geoff makes garage progress. And slowly the sun slips west.

Stickers are inevitable, as is the return of school.

Happiness can be so fragile. Fortunately it is also abundant, and easily nurtured.

I like to pause, to recognize happiness, and the pleasure it gives... before the memory flies away.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Three Days In Vegas

It would be impossible, for me anyway, to spend three days in Las Vegas and not take seven hundred photographs. Don't worry only seventy are in focus, and for now, I am sharing less than thirty. My last post, from the pit, emphasized my most favoritist part of FRC Las Vegas, but there were some other good moments throughout...

Day Uno
Thank goodness for the sweet team members that not only smile at Maria, but happily include her in the team spirit and revelry. Of course it helps that she packs awesome toys. The first day in Vegas is the slowest, and very long, and it helps to have a good friend to pass the time with. Right, Suki and Maria?

Then there is always tic-tac-toe. Already been here eight hours... only four hours left!

So, in the pit they have a job to do, but in the stands, it's about team building, alliances, and Spirit! And how many buttons you can hang from your T-shirt before it stretches into a tunic. Tom, how much does your shirt weigh?

Maria loves having her picture taken with team mascots, like 585's Cyber Penguin.

Everybody, meet John. John is an FRC safety dude, keeping limbs and lives sound. Here he is helping adjust Maria's safety goggles. Thank you John. After a twelve hour day, we needed all the help we could get.

Day Segundo

Hey, Soul Sisters.
Isn't it great when the right song starts playing and you gotta stand up and sing along? Love it.

Isn't it great when the Midnight Mechanics are in the house?
Okay. I love this team. They are a sentimental favorite, and not just because they live Spirit and Gracious Professionalism. It goes way back to Geoff's first job, and Mr Preuss.

Don't you panic Maria, you're with the Midnight Mechanics.

Now. this. is. super cool. CJ, dude. You have sweet mascot skills.
Fortunately, no Aliens, showed up, but if trouble arose 2102 was prepared. Gotta love the ingenuity of a member, when he builds something for his team.

This was one of the nicest and most reassuring sights, all three days of FRC. Looking up in the stands and seeing the fans that came all the way from Oregon to support robotics and their grandchildren. They are always supportive.

It's the Paradox and the Mini-Paradox sidekick.

I thought they would scare her, but no. No, she tracked them down. She gave them chocolate Paradox eggs, then she asked for her picture to be taken. No Redstorm is going to frighten this Paradox.

Moving along... here is a fine feathered fellow from Team 4.
Team numbers are the FIRST identity of each team, and it shows the order in which the teams were founded. This makes Team 4 an original, early team.

Now, the Devil Duckies, of Team San Diego, are 1266, a relatively newer team.
It's nice when you are watching matches and getting to know the teams to understand these things, and get some perspective on all of it.

Our good friends and allies, The Midnight Mechanics, are the oldest team in our area, and they are the founders of Team San Diego. "This coalition works together in an effort to bring FIRST ideals to Southern California (and, eventually, across the border) as well."
Very nice. They have inspiring outreach skills.

2102 Team Paradox and 812 Midnight Mechanics attract a lot of positive attention with their spirited and gracious attitudes.

And positive attention from Mark Leon is something an aspiring engineer never forgets.

With these two leaders in the stands, it's no wonder the team brought home an award for Team Spirit.

Hey, lil homegirl...
Sorry. Esa, thinks she hails from East Los Homes.
Orale, Chica, ponte en paz. You gotta save some attitude for mañana.

Then there's these two... gotta keep an eye on these silly guys.

Day Tercero

By the third day things start to slow really pick up. Hey, they don't get the Spirit Award for napping and moping.

Building alliances and showing our team spirit matters throughout the three day event. Maria continued to support her favorite team, by passing out eggs, greeting mascots and players, and regularly singing the praises of Paradox. A robot can do well on the field, but a Team's overall success also depends on the attitudes and actions of all of its players, throughout the event.

Another awesome fan from Oregon. Ron knows, and supports, a good game when he sees one. I think he enjoyed following the matches, analyzing the teams, and getting visits and hugs from his granddaughter.

It's great that so many team families get involved.

It's great that team spirit spreads throughout the arena.
Who would want to be left out of the fun?
Outreach is a major component of 2102, so is dancing!
So, a Paradox would never turn their back on a Phoenix.

Outreach is about building community relations, promoting FIRST and FLL, inspiring new members, and including all members. Good outreach does a team good.

Good outreach does a team good, 'cause who would want to be left out of the fun?

And when a team looks out for another, everyone does better.
Success! Kyle and Maria know.

Andrea, you gave me such an honor, when you handed this to me... a chance to hold a symbol of the weekend's success. I think you can guess, it made Maria pretty happy too. Thank you for being a constant and true inspiration. As a leader, and as a member, of the club you personify the ideals of your team.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Home Again

Everyone has heard the marketing quip... What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Well, it's a lie! A smelly, dirty lie. Okay, so the "smelly dirty" part is in the washer, but I am still disillusioned.
We came home with three loads of spirited laundry. Something that smells of fear, and cheer, anticipation, and earthquake-road trip survival... and none of it stayed in Vegas, baby. It's all in my laundry room.

Fortunately, before I was up to my nostrils in Vegas memories, we had the most amazing and comforting welcome home, Happy Easter ever. We drove west Sunday morning, and it was a doozy. The five 6 hour drive was plagued with high winds, and closed restaurants, then an earthquake... which, to be honest, we did not notice traveling at 67 mph in wind gusts, but still! Were we ever whooped.

But, the Bird House was open, and Ruth was in the kitchen filling the air with fragrant aromas. Holly and Rich were ahem... The Easter Bunny had just left, and eggs were hidden all over the backyard.

I am ruined forever. From now on, I will always secretly hope that after every road trip we are greeted by family or friends, and a beautiful and abundant home cooked meal. That the children will have fun awaiting them, that there will be chilled wine on the patio, cut flowers in a vase, and that all the cares of the road and long weekend will evaporate as we laugh and play.

It was nice putting off laundry. It was a relief not having to search for any open market, so I could throw together a healthy holiday dinner. It was comforting, after the melancholy of saying good-by to family, to be greeted by more family. Every detail and nicety was considered and thoughtfully planned, and our only expectation was to enjoy ourselves... and we did. Very much.

Since then, I confess, I spent an entire day doing next to nothing. Writing, downloading pictures. Trying to figure out why FB would not let me get into Lexulous... important nothings like that. What a luxury.

Then we started to reacclimate to our domestic climate. I started in on the laundry and dishes, bought cat food. Alex, Maria, and I went east to our old El Rancho neck of the prairie and we visited our favorite thrift shop. Now we have more forks, a new table cloth, shirts that fit Alex, and a little, metal Peanuts lunch pail that Maria cherishes. We also stopped at the tortilleria, and brought home some hot corn ones, and some jamaica flowers for punch.

Back home, Geoff reaffirmed his commitment to unpacking. And the first box he opened revealed something like a Christmas present! Not since 1997... that's how long it's been since our bread-maker was been out of a moving box. We packed it when the cord was destroyed, and it never came out until now. So, Geoff and Alex set to get it back in working order. All of those moves, six total, must have shaken stuff loose, because they had to do more than replace the cord. I think they kind of enjoyed themselves. And when I figure out how to crank her up and get her baking again, we will all be enjoying ourselves. Toast 'n' Jelly Days, coming soon!

I still do have chicks on the brain. It is spring, and I want chicks. But. Always with the big but. But, I have to get prepared, and time things, and be responsible... blah-blah-blah. Being an adult can be so overrated. Hopefully, signs and articles, and circumstances will align and Polish chicks, or Silkies, will be more than just hencakes on the griddle.

Now, there's nothing to stop me from making some salsa to go with those fresh corn tortillas. So I roasted one chile verde, and I have tomatoes and a jalapeño simmering on the stove. Cilantro from the garden, a bit of white onion finely diced. Sal. Pimiento. Ajo. Blend, and go!

We're home.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Something Beautiful

My favorite moment of FRC Las Vegas was in the pit, on Thursday. Some people were openly disappointed about the chaos, and by the difficult decisions that were made about the robot.

I thought it was beautiful.
Of course I always have loved seeing the team at work. No matter who was doing what, I always saw the team effort, the team spirit.

But Thursday was special, because it was a mess. Sort of. Depends on your attitude, I guess.

None of us is on target every day, in every moment, but we must always strive to do our best. Clearly we were not aiming for a safety award, and obviously the team did not arrive with a tested, smoothly operating machine, but I saw something else... I saw real world problems tackled with real world skills. (as a teen, I hated adults talking about "the real world" as though high school is a bubble-world, free of hardship and challenges, so know that I use this term only to emphasize that the students were not working in a bubble-world, free of hardship and challenges).

I saw students, teammates, confronted with failures and difficult choices. And the executive members of the student team chose decisively to make a major change in their strategy. I saw cooperation, intense industry, ingenuity, and teamwork under tremendous pressure. It was beautiful. They pushed. They held power tools and found parts, they improvised. They demonstrated that they know how to design and build a robot, and in a pit, away from a metal shop and breathing room... I doubt many other teams could have done the same.

I saw a team of new members and seasoned members taking initiative and risks. Agreeing to work together. When the team was making hands-on changes, adapting to the circumstances, and pushing to do better, it was the best team in Las Vegas. It's easy to say we want to inspire engineering, and we care more about learning than winning, but actually applying those beliefs in competition, and staying true to those goals is much harder when you are not winning, when things are not working as well as planned.

Thursday was It.
The goals, the visions, the capabilities of students, the groundwork set by the founding members... all of it was alive and thriving in that pit. It was truly awesome. And it worked.

I wish there were an award for students who never give up, never surrender, who stand by their decisions and their peers, in the pit and in the arena, and celebrate every loss and win, because it is all about learning and having fun. 2102 Team Paradox won that award Thursday afternoon.

What they dared to do Thursday worked. It was worthy of respect and celebration.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Family First
Naturally I have heard the expression family first before, but recently, a bright and wise young woman reminded me how important the meaning really is. No surprise she's a Robotics alumnus... Amy K. you are smart, and friendly.

In that spirit, family first, I want express my love and gratitude to some dear family. We have been immersed (such an appropriate word) in robotics. As you may have noticed, I went a bit bonkers with the love, leaving my personal comfort zone to pump up a program I believe in. I am not apologizing for my enthusiasm, but I do want to acknowledge that the heavy focus on robotics did take away time and energy from at least two young men, who are not actually on a team. William and Max were in scripted into robo immersion, and though I asked them to step out of their comfort zones, they have never complained. They have missed Alex, and Geoff. They have filled in around the house and taken care of a certain little sister. They have spent long days traveling to FRC events, and longer days in huge and boisterous arenas. They have contributed as much, perhaps more, than some certified team members, and they done this with quiet humility, and endless patience.

William, thank you for being kind and dependable, for caring so deeply about each of us, and for doing your best each and every day. I appreciate your intelligence and humor. I appreciate that you have been sincerely supportive of Alex's dreams, and his well being, and that in your own way, you have been a Gracious and Spirited team player.

Max, thank you for being patient and supportive. In our home, in school, no matter the challenges and distractions, you stay true. You work diligently, steadfastly, and you give us every reason to be proud of you. If it wouldn't make you terribly uncomfortable I would do a “cheer” just for you. You Inspire me to be ethical, reasonable, and to do my best, and better.

Geoff loves robotics too... well, just about anything Geek gets him charged, but I do want to thank him. He was happy to be a programming mentor, to extend his time to the build team, to build a mini-robo world in our home, so he could extend his hours even more... but, when things got extra intense, when Atlanta become an option, I asked him to take it to the next level. We certainly did not need to put off domestic duties, like moving in to our home, or repairing the roof, but I basically implored him to ignore all the *homeless* whining I did for the last six years, and turn all of our reserve energy and focus on Atlanta, the team and robotics. I promised not to make a single complaint about boxes, leaks, and domestic perils, because I felt such drive to see this through, for the team to get to the next level.

Thank you Geoff. You taught me that dreams can come true, that it takes work to make it so. Thank you for being a mentor, for being a father, for being my partner. Your time away is never easy, and volunteering to be away from home is a bit nuts, especially after your “regular” office hours, but I love what I have seen. I love the programmers you mentor, the talks about design, the energy and dedication, the metal shop industry... the teamwork. I love when ideas are made in to creations, and creations are tested and run... succeed or fail, the pleasure and rewards are in the journey and the learning. Thank you for the pleasure of being a witness to your grace and professionalism. (I love your mind)

Maria. Maria, you spirited, smiling, dancing, inventive robo-princess. Thank you for wanting to be in the arena, for stuffing plushy wings, for sitting through long meetings, and longer FRC events... actually, you hardly “sat” at any FRC event. Thank you for cheering, and building alliances with your chocolate eggs, for walking to the pit to “check on the robot,” for learning the songs, dances and cheers. It's such a joy to witness your Team Spirit.

Alex, thank you for bringing us in to this exciting world. Thank you for sharing your passion and excitement for robotics, for design, for build, for engineering, for creation. You have some sweet skills, and more importantly, you have challenged yourself to learn more, try harder, and push yourself. Thank you for letting me nudge you onto the “dance floor.” You are a quiet thinker, a reserved young man, and I greatly admire your willingness to delve in to high school, this new social world... it's a big world, and I know you are going to find a welcoming and appreciative place in it. Thank you for appreciating me, for welcoming me in to math, science, sportsmanship, and engineering... you are an inspiration in so many ways.

We are in Las Vegas on this Easter morning. And we will be heading home soon. Thank you Mom and Dad for flying here to meet us, to cheer! What Time is It?! I know we always have your support, but it made me extra stoked to share the event with you guys. It was fun for me to turn and see your faces, to know you were keeping score, waving pom-poms, tracking our Maria-Mini-Paradox, and sharing in our joy. Thank you-thank you-thank you!

And back home? Ruth and Holly have been our pit crew, feeding Betty and the Ratty-Rats, chasing cats, and keeping the peace at the Bird House. No team is complete without all of its supporters. Thank you Ruth, for bunking at the Bird House, for waiting to welcome us home. Thank you Holly for your support too. We'll see you all soon.

Overflowing with gratitude, and spirit... what a wonderful way to begin this Easter day.

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