Monday, November 22, 2010

Our Fall Crafts

With Space being the theme of choice these days we don't get to do much of unrelated activities. The play stove in the play kitchen has been cold for days. The Candy Land game sits lonely on the shelf. The drum is collecting dust up in the attic (I actually don't mind this last one).

Surprisingly though, M makes an exception for holiday crafts and activities. But he definitely keeps these two types of activities separate. The family room and the hallway leading to it is where his space stuff is - rockets, shuttles, puzzles and games, and craft displays. The kitchen and the living room is where we decorate for the holidays.

Anyway, back to the fall crafts. Here's a couple we've made this far:

1. Leaf garland - I got the idea from The Artful Parent blog. The good news was that I found the silver oil pens on sale at the craft store. The bad news was that they were on sale for a good reason - they weren't writing too well, especially the thinner ones. But I gave M the thicker of the two pens and he enjoyed drawing with them on the leaves.

2. Contact paper collage - first, we went on a walk to collect all the different leaves and flowers. That was a lot of fun on its own, kind of like a scavenger hunt. Then we dried them (all those volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica do come handy after all). Then M decided that he needed to snip all the stems with his little scissors (hard work, but he did well). But the most exciting thing for me was that M started and finished this entire collage BY HIMSELF! Usually he asks for my help just a few minutes into the project or loses interest altogether.
I think, given that it's the end of November, we'll wrap up our fall crafts for this year. Time to work on winter crafts :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our First Treehouse!

Yay, after almost three months the first tree house is ready. No, not the A-frame one, but the other one. Of course, the platform itself and the railing around it were ready back in September. Then we took a little break trying to figure out how to build the stairs or a ladder.

You see, this perch sits really high on the tree, more than 7ft above the ground. A vertical ladder of some sort wouldn't be safe enough for the little ones. Even dumping a truck-full of sand there wouldn't make it much safer as there are lots of tree roots sticking out here and there.

Then my dad visited (in October, around the NC State Fair time) and came up with an idea of a proper staircase with landings and all. So he and Chris got to work and got it mostly done. Then we took another break because of the weather and not having enough hours in the day.

Finally, the railing was done and Chris primed the super-structure. Now, priming and painting this monster is really the most tedious and time-consuming job we've done so far. And by "we" I mean Chris. I did help him just a bit, but mostly I ended up entertaining M and chasing him away from the paint can and the brushes (we'll do some awesome painting project with the leftover paint though). So here it is, the super-duper tree house! Ta-da!

More Space Stuff

Are you tired yet? Well, M's fascination with space is nowhere near over, just the opposite. We read The Magic School Bus Takes a Moonwalk daily and The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System - almost daily. That's in addition to lots and lots of other awesome books about planets and galaxies and astronauts that we go through several times a day.

We also finished the space helmet. It's giant! I clearly over-estimated my child's head size, but at least he won't get stuck in it. Plus now even adults can try it on (and believe me, we have no shortage of the takers).

Now when M goes anywhere where there might be other children (or adults) he wants to dress up in not only the space suit, but also wear the helmet and the "oxygen tanks". And when he's not in this uniform, he likes to approach people and announce to them "I'm going to be an astronaut when I grow up". He then proceeds to introduce me as Ms. Frizzle (the awesome, but strangely-dressed teacher from The Magic School Bus series).

He addresses me as Ms. Frizzle throughout the day as in "Ms. Frizzle, we have a problem" or "Ms. Frizzle, you are the strangest teacher in school" or "Ms. Frizzle, I have a question for you" or "Ms. Frizzle, take us to the magic school bus". And yes, he addresses himself in plural sometimes because while I'm Ms. Frizzle, he is her entire class. Oh, and our cat, Xander, is renamed "Liz, the lizard" on these occasions.

Being Ms. Frizzle is really not so bad at all. Especially compared to all my previous gigs as Winni the Pooh, the ghost, Lolochka the puppy, Zamatayu the dog, Luna 3 the lunar module, the witch, etc, etc. At least I no longer have to speak in alarmingly low, startlingly high or unnaturally constipated voices. And I get to hear things such as "That was a great field trip, Ms. Frizzle" pretty much after every playdate and outing.

But I started running out of ideas for space-related games and craft activities. Thankfully, our local teacher's store had this awesome book - Solar System - Curriculum Based Hands-on Activities. It's for Grades 1-3, but I looked through it quickly and it seemed that many of the activities could be easily adapted to a younger child.

M was very excited when I told him we'll be doing more space experiments. So far we've done the experiment to see how impact craters are formed and why a space ship can't land on a gas giant. This sounds fancy, but all it took was some sand and potatoes for the former and an egg and a coin for the latter.
We also made a couple of catapults. One was large, simple and not very spectacular. The other one, slightly more complicated and much smaller was awesome. It shot little foil projectiles clear across the room!

Then we took a little break to look at some pictures of space stuff. And that's how we accidentally stumbled upon a new game. We lined up the cards, set the catapult some distance away and tried landing foil meteors on different space objects. Then M tried to launch the little astronaut into a black hole to see him get spaghettified.

Monday, November 15, 2010


A quick and simple math craft that I saw in the last Family Fun issue and that M and I did a few days ago. I couldn't think of what else to do that day after a successful crayon-melting experiment (trying to see what would happen when a spaceship (crayon) flies too close to the Sun (our oven)).

Fortunately, I had 20 small paper plates that were taking up valuable shelf space in my kitchen for the last couple of years. M got to use the stapler, so he loved it. He also made an observation ('cause you know, astronauts observe and experiment) that the resulting polyhedron looked somewhat like a ball. Except it had lots of surfaces and edges (new words!) and wouldn't bounce.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Poem

Big, HUGE update - tonight M recited an entire little nursery rhyme. Here we go:

In case you're wondering, the little rhyme goes like this:

Маленькая мышка по городу бежит,
Глядит во все окошки
И пальчиком грозит.
А кто не лег в кроватку?
А кто не хочет спать?
Такого непослушного я буду щекотать!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Millions of Stars and a Backhoe

This is M's spaceship. It's huge (all three of us plus the cat can fit in it at once) and has lots of stuff attached to it - a control panel, lots of buttons, a mailbox, a gas tank (can't see it from this angle very well), a telescope (can't see it at all), and the faithful robot Zigzagoroll (hey, M named him).

(What's up with all these posts?! Well, we were so busy doing all sorts of fun stuff lately and I meant to blog about it as it happened... Except that we all got sick. And as we got better, we had to hit the ground running - Chris had his work and I had, well, my biz. Plus all the house chores that piled up sky-high in just a couple of days (incredible!).

So I'm playing the catch-up now while I procrastinate and put off work projects.)

The weekend before we all got sick we all went to the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill. Now that M is into space and being an astronaut, it was a perfect excuse for me to go (I love planetarium shows even better than I love IMAX ones).

M couldn't wait to go to the planetarium. Of course, he had to put his space suit on! You see, in his "The Magic Schoolbus: Lost in Space" the story begins with a field trip to a planetarium. Except planetarium is closed for repairs. I think he secretly counted on our car turning into a rocket at some point and blasting off into space a la the Magic Schoolbus.

Well, let's just say that M enjoyed every second of the planetarium show (we watched the one based on one of The Magic Treehouse books). And he learned a lot of new stuff, like what galaxies are and what black holes are and how one can get spaghettified if one falls into a black hole.

So on our way back home, he told us about all this. Except that he doesn't pronounce his "r"s and "l"s in some of the words. So it came out something like this: "See, in space there are many galaxies. Galaxies have millions of stars! And there are backhoes! Backhoes are dangeyos and you don't fall in them!"
When we got back home, he played with his spaceship (at the top of this post), which, by the one is not a spaceship at all, but now it's his lunar module. And then he felt inspired to build a model of the International Space Station out of the off-cuts from our everlasting treehouse project. And we were duly amazed.

P.S. Ah, if you are wondering why M is wearing a little furry critter backpack with his space suit, the answer is simple and kinda obvious - since M's in open space, he needs oxygen to breath and the pack stores his "кислородные баллоны" (oxygen tanks).
P.P.S. This is the latest in our collection of space crafts (no pun intended). This little guy is Giotto, a space probe that was sent to the Halley comet. Don't know what went into the original, but this model is built with a toilet paper tube, a section of an egg carton, a plastic lid from a spice container, foil, painters tape and a small piece of wood.

Candy Science

Since this year's Halloween was on a Sunday, we didn't get as many visitors as we planned for and, consequently, had lots of candy left.

So the next day I asked M if he wanted to try a few candy experiments. He's all excited about experiments since, you know, that's what astronauts do on the space station. Our experiments were nothing fancy - just mixing hard candy with hot and cold water, soda, vinegar, flour, and salt. Oh, and we microwaved a few of the concoctions. Soda and vinegar mixes were huge hits as well as nuking the mixtures. We also finally learned that not everything that smells good tastes good. That's a huge breakthrough, don't you think?!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Halloween? Not!

This is an old pic I took a week or so before Halloween. Everyone thinks M's astronaut costume is just that, a Halloween costume. Boy, are they wrong! It is NOT a Halloween costume! As a matter of fact, M wore it almost every day in October EXCEPT on Halloween. To him it's not a costume, but a uniform.
Something he puts on when he works as an astronaut and gets ready to "go into the open Space". That's just what he says: "я иду в открытый космос!" Just the other day he said "мое призвание, мама, быть космонавтом!" (my calling, Mama, is to be an astronaut!).

S'mores Time!!!

Yes, it's finally cool enough that all the mosquitoes died. So ok, maybe they didn't die, but are hybernating or have migrated to the warmer climes, but I prefer to think they ALL DIED. Anywho, we can finally spend meaningful amount of time in our backyard without pouring huge quantities of bug repellent on ourselves and still suffering most terrible bites.

So we've been busy on various yard projects, most notably - building a tree house. I've been busy pulling ivy, Virginia creeper and other weeds. We can finally see the soil that is our backyard. Seriously!

And now we have a little cleared out area that's just big enough and flat enough and close enough to the house to make it a (probably temporary) grilling area. So finally we moved the little smoker grill that we've had for like 3 years from the driveway to where it belongs, in the backyard.

And finally we toasted some marshmallows (or do you grill them?) and even made some s'mores!

Monday, November 1, 2010


Did I mention that grandparents were visiting from NY at the end of October? And I'm just now getting around to writing about it! Actually, I'm not even going to write about it. Instead, I'll rely on pictures which are supposed to be better than thousands of words (at least when taken by someone who knows more about photography than I do).

The main theme of this visit was "work hard and then work even harder". Here we go...

Grandpa was on a mission to build a ladder to the tree house. But we ran into a problem - the treehouse platform is just too high on the tree for any regular ladder to be used by a preschooler (or anyone who's not exactly a monkey). Grandpa came up with a solution so grand in scale that it included 3 flights of stairs and 2 landings. But darn it, it's safe! (Secretly, I prefer it to any other option 'cause I'm not giving up on an idea of a romantic stargazing evening with wine in real glasses and have you ever tried climbing down a vertical ladder in the dark after a few glasses of wine?!)

M got to participate in much of the action. Here he is helping to drill holes to secure one of the landings. But the rest of the time he ran around the yard, helped Grandma (more on this - later), bugged Xander (keep scrolling), and built various structures out of his newest set of building blocks - off-cuts from construction lumber (the non-treated ones).
At the end of the first day the super-structure looked like this:
And this is what it looked like at the end of the second day of construction work:

Yeah, that's a lot of work! Mind you, no construction plans or blue prints other than what Grandpa came up with on the fly and jotted down on a piece of paper that he kept losing. Add to that communication difficulties (Grandpa - almost no English, my hubby - practically no Russian) and this starts looking as challenging as the International Space Station.
Drinking to the success of the project became paramaunt! Plus it helped to bridge the linguistic divide.

As I mentioned, M got all sorts of awesome homeschool education that weekend and not just in toasting. Here he is with his own tape measure:
Does he know how to use it? You betcha! Here he's measuring the girth of our cat, Xander. The verdict - too fat and too lazy.
In the mean time, in the other corner of the yard, Grandma was also very busy, but with landscaping chores.
Pulling weeds, raking leaves, building compost piles,

replanting some of the herbs (here she is replanting the Bay Laurel seedling that she first grew from seed, gave to me to be neglected throughout the summer, and then rescued just in time; not to say I don't have a green thumb - check out that huge mint mound behind Grandma)

Plus she cooked. One of the evenings we decided to dine al fresco (yeah, fancy like that) and put Grandma in charge of lighting the grill and fixing up something quick and delicious - baked potatoes, grilled hot dogs, baked apples. She's good at making the best out of the most rustic conditions.

As a reward, we took Grandparents to the Fair, fed them s'mores and let them spoil their one and only grandson. Totally fair!