Sunday, April 11, 2010

2nd Place! The 2010 State Geography Bee

G with his 2nd-place trophy.

We're thrilled that G finally achieved one of his goals with geography and the Geography Bee - reaching the final 10 at the state level - although he would have loved to have won and gone on to compete at Nationals.

We've been asked lots and lots of questions regarding the Geography Bee, hosted by National Geographic, and what it takes to compete. If you'd like to learn more about the Bee, please take a look at G's website GeoBeeUniverse. He plans on spending a lot of time on the site this summer, updating it and compiling more info to help future competitors. For now, you can get at least an idea of what's involved in studying for the Bee. (Keep in mind, however, that we're learning too, and G's site is in no way affiliated with National Geographic.)

Here's how it works, in a nutshell:
(I've listed as examples some of the questions that G received at this year's State Bee, as best I can remember them. As the questions from the Bee are the property of National Geographic and thus copyrighted, if I have accidentally worded the questions here precisely as they have, it is purely coincidental. My memory isn't usually that good. Ha.)


All interested kids compete. All homeschoolers in a city must compete in the same Bee. (Not sure exactly how schools decide their winner, but the contest for schools and homeschoolers follows the same rules.)

The winner of each school - Austin Area Homeschoolers is considered a school for the purposes of the Bee - takes a written test of 70 multiple-choice questions.

The students with the top 100 scores compete at the State level in Dallas.

G with Eric Yang, the 2009 National Geography Bee winner,
who is from Texas - we got to watch him win State last year.
Believe it or not, Eric is less than a year older than G;
he plays basketball. Can you tell?

STATE LEVEL (Nationals follows the same procedure as State):

Preliminary Round: This round is held to determine which 10 competitors will compete in the Final Round.

The 100 competitors (sometimes a few more, if there was a tie for the top scores) are broken into 5 groups. Each group is asked the same series of questions, consisting of 8 rounds. That is, each competitor must answer 8 questions, 1 in each round. Each round is in a different category, such as bodies of water, famous landmarks, or country borders. The questions might be U.S. questions or world questions within each round.

In past years in Texas, there have been more than 10 competitors with perfect scores in the Preliminary Round. In 2009, there were 17 perfect scores, and in 2008, there were 19. Those competitors answered as many tiebreakers as necessary to whittle the number down to 10.

However, this year only 6 received perfect scores in Preliminaries - one of which was G. That allowed him the luxury of resting during the tiebreaker round.

Final Round: This round is held to narrow the field to 2 competitors, who will compete in the Championship Round.

The Final Round is double elimination, meaning that competitors are allowed one miss and are eliminated after the second miss.

First Round: U.S. Geography
Example question: Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs through Mississippi and Alabama, ends in which state located to the north? (Tennessee)

Second Round: Google Imagery (Google is a sponsor of the Bee)
Example question: West Thumb Geyser Basin is located on the edge of Yellowstone Lake in which state? (Wyoming)

Third Round: All competitors answered this question on individual white boards
Example question: Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, located in Alberta, forms an International Peace Park with a U.S. National Park located in what state to the south? (Montana)

Fourth Round: This was a bar graph on U.S. Foreign Assistance. The competitors had to look at the graph and answer questions. I don't have an example for this round, since you'd have to see the graph for it to make sense.

Fifth Round: Analogies
Example question: Green Bay is to Lake Michigan as Saginaw Bay is to what? (Lake Huron)

Sixth Round: Country Borders
Example question: What country borders Burkina Faso and Libya? (Niger)

Seventh Round: Again, all competitors answered this question on individual white boards
The Baikal-Amur Mainline, with close to 2,000 miles of track, takes its name from a lake and river in the eastern part of which country? (Russia)

Eighth+ Round: At this point, there are no more categories. The moderator simply goes down a list of questions and continues until a competitor has two misses, at which time he is eliminated. (BTW, there were no girls in this year's Final Round.)
There were still 7 competitors in the game at this point, but they dropped off one by one.
Example question: Efforts have been made to clean up the estuary of the Thames River, located in the southeastern part of what country? (United Kingdom)
Example question: In the 1940s, mining of bauxite shifted this island country's main export from bananas and sugar. Name this country. (Jamaica)
Example question: In the 1960s, Rwanda and Burundi gained independence from what European country? (Belgium) The audience audibly exhaled at G's correct answer, and the moderator shook his head, chuckled, and said, "Amazing."
Example question: Fogo, Sao Tiago, and Boa Vista are part of which Atlantic island group? (Cape Verde Islands)
Example question: What island east of St. Vincent gained its independence in 1966? (Barbados)
Third-place competitor goes out. G and one other competitor are the only two left - they had both missed one question at this point, G missing the last question asked in the Final Round, one about an ancient carved Buddha statue located in a country, with no geographic clues given.

Championship Round: When the field is down to two contestants, the slate is wiped clean and 3 championship questions are asked. The winner is the competitor who answers the most questions correctly. However, both competitors answered all three questions correctly.
Example question: Jedda, the port for the holy city of Mecca, is located on what body of water? (Red Sea)

Since all three questions were answered correctly, tiebreakers were asked in sudden death. Both of the first two tiebreakers were answered correctly.
Example question: What country includes the islands of Melville, Mornington, and Bathurst? (Australia) Note: Although our competitors answered this question correctly, there must have been some controversy surrounding it, because two of the islands are also found in Canada, and National Geographic doesn't ask "trick" questions. Apparently, Mornington was changed to Wellesley in the state bees in later time zones.

The question that decided the Bee - which was painful to G for the simple fact that he had studied this but couldn't pull up the answer in time - was this:
The island of Rapa Nui is more commonly known by what English name? (Easter Island)

All in all, an exciting and victorious day. G still has something to strive for next year, so not at all a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children"

NurtureShock is my new favorite book (at least until my next new favorite). I just recently finished it, and I don't exactly agree whole-heartedly with everything in it, but that's okay.

But here's what I love about it. It doesn't take social wisdom as gospel, and it backs up its statements with research. I'm a self-proclaimed information junkie, so I eat up anything that's supported by numbers.

Case in point: What's the primary cause of obesity in children? Television, obviously.

Wrong. It turns out that kids who are obese don't spend any more time in front of a screen than slim children. Really?


This book will shake up your ideas of children and raising them.

Want one reason to read the book? After reading the chapter on sleep with my children, they all willing agreed to go to bed without coming up with reasons why they should stay up. They started discussing among themselves the most advantageous bedtime and working out strategies to get everything done before they needed to be winding down.

How's that for a recommendation?

This is along the same lines as Freakonomics, which I enjoyed - but not nearly as much. NurtureShock is likely to have a much larger impact on the way I parent.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Christmas Creativity

In keeping with my New Life, I've begun focusing on being more creative.

For years, my family (parents and siblings) have eschewed spending money on Christmas gifts. But this created a problem, because we all enjoyed gathering as a family and giving items that we'd lovingly selected.

So one year we decided that we would set some rules. Gifts could only be 1) made, 2) bought used, or 3) recycled. In other words, no gifts purchased new. This was a great boon to our wallets, but it soon became apparent that we were trading money for ingenuity.

I love to sew, so most years I ended up sewing gifts. Over the past twenty years, however, I've run out of ideas for making gifts that anyone would actually want to receive. No one really wants a tea cozy, ya know?

A few years ago I came across this book, It's a Wrap, and I thought it would be great fun to make tortilla warmers. It took me a while to make the time, but I finally decided to do it.

This was for my oldest sister, a musician, whose favorite color is purple.

Made for my middle sister, an artist who loves bright jewel tones.

For my nephew (another artist), who just started college this year
and who probably eats a lot of tortillas.

My parents' ... my mom loves blue and green
and is an artist as well and so likes funky stuff.

For my parents' helper, who lives about four miles away.
A real country girl, hence the leather.

Any suggestions for gift I can make next year? Bring 'em on!

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Year, New Life

Seeing as we’re coming up on the end of January, I decided it’s high time I make a New Year’s post. (Better late than never, right?)

Some of you may have wondered why I went from blogging almost every day to being virtually silent these past couple of months. Frankly, I’ve gone through a bit of a mid-life crisis, and something happened recently that forced me to take stock of what’s important, and thus reevaluate my priorities.

Toward the end of last year, I started feeling overwhelmed. What with aging/declining/dying parents who depend on me for their emotional strength (and their ER visits - even though they live three hours away), menopause, puberty (times two), homeschooling (times three), and all my volunteer work, I was feeling a tad stretched. And mentally I felt like I was going to break.

I’d finally come to the conclusion that something was going to have to give. I’d been sacrificing sleep, exercise, patience, health, and time (and love) with my children and husband, and that wasn’t something I could continue over the long haul.

Then I got a phone call that created something of an epiphany for me.

One Thursday morning my mom called. You see, my dad’s sister has the same sort of undetermined dementia that my dad has. She’s younger than he by a few years, and although she started into the dementia at an earlier age, her disease has progressed more slowly, and today she’s still able to dress herself and manage (to a certain extent) her day-to-day activities with help.

But that’s not why my mom called. She called to tell me that my aunt’s son - my cousin - was just put on Alzheimer’s medication.

He’s 52.

The same age as my oldest sister and a year younger than my husband.

I’m 47.


This shit is inherited.

To say that that was like a kick in the stomach was putting it mildly. I felt like I’d been given a death sentence.

Would I suffer the same fate, at perhaps an even earlier age?

How many good years did I have left?

How long before I began forgetting conversations with my husband? Milestones with my children? Graduations? Weddings? Births???

I sobbed in H’s arms, cried on the phone with my sisters, and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself.

Then, a few nights later as I lay sleepless, realizations flashed into my mind. This was the epiphany. Suddenly, I could categorize these realizations under the “what I know for sure” label.


1. Only a few things in life really matter. My children. My husband. My family. Love. Life. Creativity. Joy. The right now.

None of us knows how much time we have left. Does it matter that I might mentally begin to decline in five, ten, or even three years? Of course it does. But not nearly as much as how I spend those years. I could die in a car accident tomorrow. Do I want my children’s last memories of me to be ones in which I’m feeling sorry for myself, lamenting what might be ... rather than seizing the moment and living what is right now?

2. I know what my priorities are. I decided to dump everything that wasn’t a priority, everything that didn’t feed my love for life and make me feel energized. If I was doing something “selfless” (i.e., volunteering) but it wasn’t filling me with life energy and love, then I was doing it for the wrong reasons and, ultimately, I wasn’t helping anyone.

I came to realize, after some soul searching, that the reasons I volunteered weren’t the right ones. Like the celebrity who does some charity work simply for the PR (and thus ends up with the public looking at him with distaste), I found that I was needing the “strokes,” filling my need for recognition - I was still looking outside myself for validation. Not good for anyone. Who needs a “helpful hand” when that hand is simply grasping for praise?

But still, I was torn. Everyone is supposed to volunteer, give ‘til it hurts, smile while doing it, and be fulfilled from it.

But giving to others to the extent that I was somehow didn’t fit in with my priority list. It sounds extraordinarily self-centered, I’m fully aware. Nevertheless, I decided to give up my volunteering because I couldn’t devote myself to my family and also give to those outside my family ... and I experienced some guilt for choosing not to help out those who need it. (If I had removed myself a little from the emotion, I would have realized that the guilt in and of itself was an obvious sign that I wasn’t on the right track. Ask and It Is Given mentions guilt as a sure signal that you’re not on the path to happiness.)

Want to hear something interesting? This one thing solidified my what-I-know-for-sure decision to focus on my priorities and drop my volunteering. A few days after I mailed my letters to drop some of my volunteering efforts, I was on my once-a-week walk with one of my dearest friends, and as usual, we got to talking about spiritual matters and personal development. I filled her in on my reprioritization of my life and the fact that I was scaling back in order to devote my time to my family - and how torn I was about it. She looked at me wide eyed and said something like, “You won’t believe how many volunteer opportunities have landed in my lap this week!” She explained that she had lately been feeling the urge to get more involved (she once was a member of the Peace Corps but hadn’t volunteered in ages) but hadn’t found anything that seemed doable.

What are the odds of me deciding to quit volunteering the very same week that she suddenly found herself in the midst of half a dozen golden opportunities after years of dearth? Well, if you look at the world as a place of connected consciousness, I guess the odds are pretty high after all.

If I had any lingering doubts about refocusing on my priorities, that one conversation put them to rest. I have since completely embraced this decision, and I feel stronger, clearer, healthier, and happier than I have in a span of time that’s too long for me to remember. To change a phrase, the universe works in mysterious ways.

3. I’m lucky. I had only the potential of a life-threatening issue to bring me to awareness. I want to heed this and not wait for a true crisis to figure things out. All around me I hear of people who have cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or other immediate and possibly fatal issues. All I have is a threat. I’ve got it pretty good.

One more interesting thing ... Since my epiphany, I haven’t lost my temper. Not once. I walk through my day smiling and singing. If I have only three good years left and if I can spend them all without losing my temper, it’ll be worth it.

Odd, isn't it ... this threat of looming dementia causing joy and light-heartedness?

Thanks for reading through this long explanation. As far as this blog is concerned, the fallout is that I’ll continue to post occasionally, but it won’t be nearly as often as I had once planned. If the spirit moves me and I want to share something, I will. If I don’t, I won’t feel guilty.

I won’t be venting, chastising others for their parenting practices, or lamenting about how inconvenient/horrible/tedious anything is. This will be a place for my celebration of life in all its forms: good books, happy parenting snippets, interesting homeschooling stories, creative outlets, and all other enriching facets of life.

Come back and read about my new life. Or not. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter?

Your family. Love. Joy. Creativity. Life. Your connection to the world. This moment.

Experience them all to the fullest. And if in doing so you never visit my blog again, I’ll be ecstatic.