The Soudan Mine

Photo-heavy post! Be warned!

Yesterday my family and I drove up to Virginia, MN. J’s maternal family is from there, and we wanted to take a look at some of the places she remembers from her childhood. We also drove the half-mile north of Virginia to Soudan, to see the Soudan Mine.

The Soudan Underground Mine State Park is located in Minnesota’s oldest underground mine. We learned a vast amount about the history of mining and mining technology in Minnesota, much of which I will impart to you, here.

We stopped on the way into Virginia at the Mineview Overlook, also called Top of the Rock. The overlook was constructed from mine tailings. It’s an artificial hill about … 150 feet or 50 meters high, on the south edge of Virginia.

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That’s the view north from the overlook. The lake is, of course, a flooded pit mine.

You see, after Linz-Donawitz basic oxygen steelmaking was developed, the oxygen-rich ore from deep in the Soudan Mine was no longer required for bessemer conversion. The oxygen-poor iron littered all over the surface of the Minnesota Arrowhead was easier and cheaper to get. The Soudan Mine was closed, in 1962, and the entire region converted to open-pit taconite mining.

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In the distance, past the shrubbery, is one of the operating taconite mines west of Virginia.

Up at the top of the overlook are a couple of the taconite mining trucks.

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Also, the kids stood in a giant scoop.

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We got lunch at a cafe in Virginia, J spotted the insurance business started by her grandfather, we looked at the old downtown area a bit. Then we drove up to Soudan. I urge you to do a map search for Soudan, MN, to get a sense of how absolutely out in the middle of nowhere this place is.

The tour of the underground mine is 2340 feet below the surface, and 680-something feet below sea level. One gets to level 27 on the original lift used in 1962 for the miners. The lift moves at ten miles per hour, not only vertically but about 500 feet laterally, on a steep diagonal. It is small and loud and vibrates intensely. For those of us who like thrill rides, it was great. For those of us who were concerned about safety, it was worrisome. The ride lasts about three minutes.

I don’t have any pictures of the actual underground tour. For one thing, it was sort of dark. For another … I was entranced. I was listening to the guide, and looking around, and just marveling at it all. But I do have some pictures of the above-ground structures.

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A model of where the tour goes underground. The blue lit line is the path of the tour, the dark blobby structures are the open spaces in the mine.

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The winch that hauls the lift up and down. There are two cars, linked. One goes up and the other goes down.

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A copy of the Notice to Workers regarding explosives. Note the different languages. Our guide made sure to mention that teams underground were deliberately comprised of men who did not speak each others’ languages, prior to the 1930s — to prevent union talk.

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The Drill House, where the drill bits were maintained and sharpened and forged.

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There were signs for ALL the historical drills and drill bits, but only a couple of the photos came out.

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My kids are mighty blacksmiths!

The Drill House left ALL SORTS OF THINGS just, just OUT for you to TOUCH and LIFT. Big rusty metal bars twelve feet long. Working presses. Big metal door-things that go smoosh. And we got to play with them ALL.

We also climbed down the tailings hill to the disused rail line, where a rusting-out hopper car was parked. There were no signs saying don’t climb on it, so the four of us scaled the thing. It was AWESOME.

I highly, highly recommend the park and the tour. It’s lovely. It’s educational. It’s FUN.

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June 6 2013

Let’s see.

1. I went trap shooting on Tuesday, the first time in nearly two years. I managed to shoot nineteen on my second round, which made me feel pretty good. We won’t mention what I shot on my first round.

2. There’s a thing that happens in parenting, which is that one’s kids level up in the sorts of issues one has with them. And it is, reasonably enough, exactly just when one feels one has gotten a grip on the previous issues. We had a long talk with the kids yesterday — not for the first time, I assure you — about exactly what “learning” means.

It means failing.

If you got it right the first time, you didn’t learn anything. The, the process of learning is screwing up, accepting correction and advice, and doing a thing again, better this time.

Speaking as a former kid who coasted through my education until high school, I can say that this definition never occurred to youthful me. No-one likes this definition, of course. Most humans I’ve met really, really, really don’t like screwing things up. And many don’t like being told what to do better. But there you have it.

I rather hope that my kids take this understanding with them into adulthood. No-one expects you to be good at a thing the first time. Teachers are there to catch your mistakes and help you improve. You can try anything, confident that not much is expected of beginners and there are people there to help you. Failure the first few times through means try it again.

3. I started reading Seanan McGuire’s Kindle Serial, Indexing, and love it so far. I’ve only made it through chapter one, but there is a lot to love, here. Fairy tales. Cops. How to make your own life when others would make it for you.

I approve.

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Channeling Anna

J and I have a consensus, when we watch Downton Abbey. Namely, that Anna is the most socially adept, most emotionally aware, most etiquette-aware person on the show. Anna is fantastic. I wish I had Anna’s social skills. But I don’t.

Yet, sometimes, I can channel a wisp of Anna.

Yesterday I went to my daughter’s band recital. It was a “Band Room Concert,” a sort of mini-show the band does in March to get the kids used to the ritual of performing before their concert in May. I never get to make the May show, so I try to go to this one.

K’s band is a band for homeschool kids. The kids range in age from about ten to about fourteen, is my guess. And there is a vast variety of skill. The band performed four songs, three of which … lost their way, briefly, in the middles.

I had a moment of grace. I smiled fondly at this group of earnest, dedicated kids. These kids surrounded by their peers and friends and with their families watching (and recording). I felt certain I knew what Anna Bates would do.

It was a really fun concert. I admire those kids for all their work and commitment. When it was over I gave K a big hug and told her how very glad I was to have come to her concert.

Channeling Anna Bates. Everything I said was true.

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What homeschool looks like at the moment

For those of you following along at home, J and I homeschool our two kids, M and K. There are so many varieties of homeschooling that I, from time to time, talk about what we do and why. This is partially to inform the curious, partially to give ideas and model behaviors for other parents who may be thinking of homeschooling, and partially for my own thinking.

1. K is nine-and-a-half, and in fourth grade. M is nine, and in third grade. This is … a little bit misleading, and a little bit arbitrary, but one has to pick a standard to measure the kids against, and that’s the standard we picked.

2. In the state of Minnesota, annual testing is required for homeschooled kids. We have the kids take the Peabody Test each fall. (Hence picking a grade for comparison.)

3. J and I decided some time ago that we have similar ideas about a curriculum. Competent human beings, by the time they are released into the world, need certain skills. Those skills are many and varied. It’s our job as parents to try to teach ALL of those skills. But in a more strictly academic sense we teach, or provide access to teachers of, the following:

Math – arithmetic, algebra, geometry, money, measurement, fractions, decimals, estimation, probability
Grammar, spelling, punctuation
Composition
Handwriting
Typing
Foreign language
Sciences – y’know, all of them
History – world, American, recent, ancient
Athletics
Swimming
Music
Performance and public speaking
Poetry
Literature – mythology, legend, plays, classic works, new fiction, sf/f, comics
Social Navigation

4. We teach school seven days a week, year-round. We miss about 40 days a year for holidays, field trips, birthdays, vacations, and performances. This is much easier than trying to stop and start each week or season.

5. Each day the kids have what I call “the mandatories.” That’s math, composition or grammar, history, and Spanish.

For math we use Singapore Math. Each kid has their own textbook and workbook, and does a small section of problems. This takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to six hours, depending on the stubborn resistance of the child in question to DOING said math.

Composition switches off with grammar. For composition the kids each have a notebook, and must write a set number of sentences on a topic of their choosing. This practices handwriting, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and composition. For grammar we use The Logic of English, a title that makes me laaauuuuugh. LoE teaches spelling and grammar rules in a way that tries to enforce, well, logic, on English.

At the moment for history we are reading The American Story. It’s a really nice collection of events in U.S. history, those both well-known and more obscure. The kids have a fairly decent grounding in world history already, and now we’re working on specific times and regions.

The kids take a Spanish class for homeschool kids once a week. Each day at home they do a part of their homework for that class.

6. After the mandatories we have the free reading and video sections of school. Each week J goes to the library and gets a large stack of books on a variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction. The kids have to read for twenty-to-thirty minutes from this selection. We keep a loose eye on which books they pick. Left to their own devices K will pick all mythology, legend, and sociology, while M will pick all science, engineering, and military history. We step in from time to time and make them branch out each week.

After the reading the kids finish up school with a School Video. This includes educational videos J has checked out from the library, non-fiction videos we own, such as The Story of Us, Schoolhouse Rock, or anything by David Attenborough, and a host of choices from NetFlix.

The … standard … of what counts as a school video slipped a few years back when M had the flu and watched a LOT of NetFlix. But it includes Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, but excludes Ice Road Truckers. So, y’know.

Standards.

7. For music both kids are in choir at Unity Unitarian Church. In addition, K plays piano and euphonium. For this she has a half-hour practice of each instrument every morning, and lessons once a week.

In addition, K belongs to a homeschool band. Once a week, over lunch, she goes for a lesson and a practice of her band music. (This term they are doing, among other pieces, music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.)

8. The kids take swimming lessons at the YMCA to which we belong. M takes lessons from September through March. K has finished the YMCA’s lesson sequence. We enroll her in a term of Shark once a year, to keep her skills up.

Both of the children are far, far better swimmers than I am.

9. Athletics. Yes indeedy.

Both kids take karate at Running Tiger Shaolin Kenpo, one class a week and five minutes of practice every day. Swimming counts as athletics as well.

M takes a non-performing trampoline class at Circus Juventas. Between karate, swimming, and trampoline, he’s in three classes that teach full-body coordination and awareness. We make sure that he gets exercise every day in addition to these classes. Either homeschool playgroup, or time on our backyard trampoline, or running around the block, or something. Exercised children are calm children. Just like puppies.

K takes karate, as I said, and swim lessons, as I said. She also takes classes at Anda Flamenco once a week. (The Anda Flamenco website makes noise on page load! Caution!) And then there’s circus.

To re-cap, K is heavily involved in Circus Juventas. She’s taking twelve classes this term:

Bicycle
Aerial Techniques
Low Casting II
Contortion I-II
Prep Team
Juggling I
Vault Mini-Trampoline II
Unicycle II
Low Wire I
Clowning I
Trampoline (non-performing)
Triple Trapeze

It covers fourteen and a half hours, over six days a week. K basically has “Athletics” totally covered.

10. Performance

This is covered by things already listed. Miles is in choir. Karla is in choir, band, flamenco, and circus. Neither child worries much about getting up in front of people and doing stuff, as long as they feel adequately prepared. I feel, and J agrees with me, that this is an essential life skill.

11. Social Navigation

This is pretty varied. It includes talking about sex, dating, sexual harassment or abuse. It includes talk of drugs, alcohol, and social situations involving same. It covers talking about friendship, meeting people, and negotiation. It covers etiquette and manners. It covers ethics and morals.

It also covers some pretty basic, yet horribly subtle, skills. How much eye contact is the right amount? What is the right amount to face the person one is speaking to? When does the other person want you to stop talking?

Tricky, tricky things.

12. Other Items

There’s so much to homeschooling that the things I’ve already listed don’t cover.

News: Each morning we read the BBC website headlines to the kids, and watch some BBC News video clips. We talk about the news items and try to explain current events and world politics.

Read Aloud: Every morning, and those evenings which aren’t too late, we read part of a book aloud to the kids. The books vary; science fiction and fantasy, older classics of children’s literature, books featuring girls, boys, and families — all sorts of things. We read books that are slightly beyond where the children are comfortable reading in terms of language or themes. We read books that cover a wide range of times and places and sorts of problems. We try to expose the kids to the sheer variety of human experience as revealed by narrative.

The future is easier is you have a map. Fiction is a guide to possibility.

Chores: Both the kids have chores. Not in exchange for money, but merely because the common good of all people requires that everyone take care of the commons. One takes out the garbage not because one has filled it, but because the garbage needs taking out.

Some chores are assigned because one child does do more of the messing-up. But cleaning one’s own things is not an assigned chore, it’s merely part of life. Cleaning one’s room or playroom are not chores, they are expectations. Picking up the dog bowls each day, now, that’s an assigned chore. It needs doing, and the dogs just don’t seem to help out, you know?

Community service / charity: The kids must perform community service or give money to charity. For now they choose to go with J on her monthly visits to the local nursing home. One morning a month they go and talk to the residents there.

This is also part of J’s community service; we hold the same standards for ourselves as we do for the kids. As a family we sponsor the education of a girl about K’s age living in Guatemala. I donate money regularly to Doctors Without Borders and Heifer International. As the kids get older they will make choices about how they will continue to contribute to the world.

Voting: We go as a family to the polls each year. Because it matters to not only vote, but to be seen by one’s children to care and participate.

Projects and field trips: Oh, we go to museums, and model rocketry launches, and Renaissance Festival, and concerts, and zoos, and vacations. We do stuff.

When we do these other things, we don’t make a Huge Educational Production out of it. Just going and having the experience is learning enough.

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It’s a lot of stuff. Is it more work than conventional school? Less? I think that depends on what a family considers to be difficult. I listen to friends and coworkers discuss their wrangles with school institutions and I think I’ve got it easy. But then I spend three straight hours dealing with decimal-related tears, or cursive-script-rage, and I think that this is perhaps a bit difficult.

There’s no question that this is a lot of driving around and taking kids to various things. But is is any more or less than any family with active kids? I can’t say. I do know that we would find K’s circus goals and commitments very difficult if she were also in school six hours a day.

I’m profoundly glad that we homeschool. I think it lets us challenge our kids while also making allowances for their strengths and weaknesses. I think that they would be different if they were in school. M has certain behavioral and learning quirks which would make institutional education hard for everyone. K likes to slide to the lowest educational expectations unless her teacher, parent, or coach nags at her to do better. As homeschoolers, we can compensate for or counter these tendencies.

I like my kids. I like that they are confident, polite, outgoing, and reasonably empathetic. I like that they have goals they want to pursue, interests that fill them with passion and purpose. I like that they each have academic interests and fields of study they prefer. I am glad to be homeschooling them not only because I think it’s good for them, but because I get to see how awesome they are, every day.

My kids tell me, weekly, that they are going to take over the world.

I don’t think I would mind.

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July 26 2012

1. My kids really, really like the anime and manga property, Sgt. Frog. As far as I can tell, this is a slightly surreal comedy about aliens trying to take over the world. Think Invader Zim crossed with Pinky and the Brain.

This does mean that M walks around the house nigh-constantly saying, “Ke-ke-ke-ke-ke!” Which, he assures me, is how Kululu laughs.

2. We finished The Graveyard Book as our read-aloud book, and are on the third Noel Streatfeild title, Traveling Shoes. (We’ve already read Ballet Shoes and White Boots.)

When we pick the read-aloud books, we try to meet a few goals. We try to read a book to the kids that is a bit beyond where they are currently at in their reading. This doesn’t always mean books with complicated sentence structure. Sometimes it means books with complicated themes or references which will require explanation. But we also try to pick a variety of books that cover different kinds of protagonists. The kids have distinct preferences in their own reading, which is all very well and good. But the read-aloud book provides a bit a of diversity.

J and I are discussing what we will read next. We’ve decided that the kids are old enough for Arrows of the Queen. This is … mildly distressing for me. We have certainly read books to the kids that are beloved childhood classic of my youth. That wasn’t a problem. I remember being a kid reading and loving those books. But Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffery, Stephen King, and Robert Heinlein were the books of my adolescence. My memory of reading them is not of a child’s comprehension, but the mind and personality I have now.

Ulp.

Okay, that’s not quite accurate. I can look back and remember reading the Lackey books and I see differences in how I thought and felt then, and how I think and feel now. But I recall, at the time, being an adult and responding to the books as an adult. A very, very young adult, to be sure. But. Nonetheless.

My kids are still youngish. The haven’t hit puberty yet, though its out there, right around the corner. Their response to Arrows of the Queen won’t be the same as the response I had when I was fourteen. But it’s still odd for me, distinctly odd, to be getting into the books that had such dramatic impact on my worldview for so long.

Honestly, I expect they will love Arrows.

3. I have to do a bunch of cooking today. The weather is cool enough to turn the a/c off, which is good, but not so cool that cooking will be pleasant. Hmph.

4. I have been the seriously most grumpy grumposaurus for days and days. I’m trying to mostly not talk to people on the internet as a consequence. This decision is born out by the fact that I seem to be getting into conflicts with folks when I do talk to them on Twitter. If I don’t respond to you, it’s me, not you, is what I’m saying. And if I do respond to you, it’s still me, not you.

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Kids, CONvergence, and fatality aviation accidents; things in a list

1. Re-entry from the kids having summer camps last week, back to having normal routines, this is going about as well as you’d expect. J tells me that both children appear to have forgotten all math-related skills in a week. I’m not looking forward to my school-teaching days this week.

I hold my breath, leaving M at summer camps. He loves them, but situations where he has to negotiate interactions with his peers are awfully tricky. Unpredictable. Liable to end in punching. Yet the past week seemed to go okay.

2. We’re cleaning the basement. Slowly, painfully, clearing things out of the playroom that don’t get used or that the kids have outgrown. We pawned off an ancient and decrepit hide-a-bed couch. Getting it out of the basement resulted in only superficial injuries, yay.

3. There was a fatality crash this weekend. Not my immediate area of control. It’s fascinating, watching the consensus narrative be constructed. The pilot had been in a crash eight years ago, in which he was flying and his wife and two daughters were killed, leaving him and his son alive. This crash the pilot killed himself and his second wife, leaving the same son, now sixteen years old, critically injured. The narrative we are constructing here at work is that the pilot was at fault both times, killing his family twice. I do not know if that is true; the local news where he died is saying that the previous crash was attributed to pilot error, but I haven’t seen the NTSB report. I asked our Quality Assurance guys, and they haven’t seen the NTSB report from last time, either. We don’t know. Eyewitness reports from the field at this current crash seem to indicate the pilot was doing things in a non-standard and hazardous way.

It is easy to blame the dead guy. It’s easy to say he’s killed his family twice. That narrative fosters the belief that the accident was preventable, and that if WE were the pilot, WE would not have done whatever he did, and WE would have kept our families alive. It’s so easy to be afraid of the unknown and uncontrollable, and so easy to say that it must have been his fault. I know I’m not immune to this sort of thinking. I want to believe that the hazards of the world can be mastered by me, if I am vigilant and responsible and work hard and do the right thing.

Fatality accident statistics beg to differ.

Only half of aviation fatality accidents are attributable to pilot error.

4. I started watching the British tv series Misfits on Hulu. Teenage criminal offenders accidentally get superpowers. It’s a … It’s a weird little show. Dark, gritty, not funny or light-hearted. I really am enjoying it.

5. Work is still busy.

6. CONvergence! I’m going to be at CONvergence this coming weekend, Thursday through Sunday! Thursday and Saturday I will be there with my kids, doing family things. This happens to include running the party circuit Saturday night, collecting snacks and free junk from semi-drunk cabana parties. My kids love doing that way more than I do. Friday and Sunday I will be at the con doing Sigrid-things, like being on panels. Hope to see a number of you there!

Robots!

I won’t be much on the internet today. First, it’s April 1st, and I can’t believe half of what is posted. Second, I’m taking the kids out to see the Minnesota FIRST Regionals.

It’s a robotics competition for high-school-aged kids.

Robots.

See you later, and if you follow me on Twitter, expect pictures.