Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Drummer and a Colonial Chef

That's what M wanted to be "when he grows up" as of last week. The drummer is an old one, although I'm surprised that it's still making the list since he hasn't been obsessed with drums for quite some time now. The colonial chef needs some explanation (very little, so bear with me here).

Ok, so a few months ago we went to all those Lower Hudson Valley historic places and M paid particular attention to a gristmill and the kitchens and gardens. So I bought him a book at the souvenir shop, called "Colonial Cook". At first we read it every day, sometimes several times a day. Then things calmed down a bit and we moved on.

Except last week we went to the Historic Oak View Plantation. It's a great place to visit any day (and it's free to boot). But on weekday mornings they have lots of school groups and, consequently, ongoing presentations from 10am to 12pm. Fun!

On the days we went there (yes, we ended up going two days in a row), M collected the eggs from the chickens, milked a cow, drove a tractor (ok, that's not quite Colonial, but it's a real tractor!), washed laundry using a washboard and soap made of pig fat and lye, picked and cleaned cotton, churned butter, and cooked in a real Colonial-era kitchen! Ok, so all of this was pretend stuff, except for the washing.

But the kitchen is a real kitchen with all the real implements. So M sat through the entire presentation (he just made his way into the room and sat down on the floor amongst the elementary school students; he even raised his hand once or twice as the presenter was asking questions). And then, after the school group left, he walked around the kitchen and pretended how and what he was cooking. Needless to say, we're reading "Colonial Cook" again now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I am a Russian Kosmonavt

Ok, well, I am not a Russian kosmonaut, but that's what M says about himself now. It all started last week when we walked into a Marshall's store to pick up some underpants for M and walked out with a hot-orange astronaut costume. The following several days M spent pretty much living in this thing, taking it off only at night.

Then we read the Magic School Bus book, the one about them exploring the Solar system. We already had a small astronaut and a toy space shuttle. Then we built rockets at SparkCon. And today M said that we had to buy more astronauts 'cause the one we had at home was feeling lonely. So we bought a space-themed Toob.

Our art project for the day was white-on-black painting. M said that the big sheet of black paper was kosmos and he then painted a big planet and lots of stars on it and proudly showed the results to his "ashtronauts" (that's what he calls them in English).

SparkCon Weekend Blast-Off

I had no idea, but apparently every year there's this big festival in Raleigh called SparkCon. I'm not going to explain what it's all about since you can read about it over at SparkCon's site. Besides, I'm not 100% sure I understand all of it anyway. But here's what SparkCon meant for M and I this past weekend (Chris was busy being a soldier - running, marching, doing paperwork, and trying to find his way in the woods without a GPS).

So, first and foremost M didn't care very much to go to a festival. That was a not-so-promising beginning. Then we got there very early and he didn't really want to do any crafts at the crafts tent. Slowly he got into it and we did a couple of projects that involved mostly stickers, but he was very cranky through it all.

Things were getting from bad to worse. As the festival was getting busier, M decided that he wouldn't walk, but rather had to be wheeled in a stroller. Fine... So we strolled the entire length of the Fayetteville Street, checking out artists that were busy creating chalk paintings. Here are some of the ones I loved the most.

Then, on the way back we spied this super-cool water sculpture and M wanted to try it out. Perfect! Finally, out of his stroller! As he waited patiently for his turn, a couple of kids in front of him knocked down the main bamboo supports and the entire installation fell down.
The embarrased parents rushed in to right it up. Just as we almost, but not quite fixed the darn thing, another little kid climbed on the low stool to pour water in, leaned on the pipe a bit too much and sent it tumbling down again. Once again, all the parents (and some passerbies) rushed in to save the moment.

In the mean time, M was running back and forth to watch the water flow down the pipes and back into the bucket. Sure thing, he tripped over the raffia strings and knocked down the ENTIRE installation. After being knocked down 3 times in about 3 minutes, this structure did not look the same any longer. The pipes were cracked and wouldn't line up. But the kids were still fascinated by it. Besides, it brought so many total strangers together as they valiantly, but vainly tried to re-build it. So I think it was definitely the most hands-on activity that required team work and fostered a sense of community at SparkCon. And for that it deserves special recognition (that's why I'm writing about it in all the details; besides it gave me a great idea for a water feature for M's playground).
Warmed up with all this fixing-things stuff, we stopped by the ScrapExchange tent. Let me tell you, it's been so much fun that now I'm thinking about taking M to Durham at some point to their studio for some extended crafting. I mean, how can it not be super-duper awesome - there are bags and boxes and barrells filled to the bream with all sorts of scraps - fabric, plastic parts of all shapes and sizes, paper, sticky paper, stickers, tape, yarn, etc, etc - and you and your kid are left to create something out of all (or part) of it using nothing but scissors and again, some sticky tape. Awesome awesomeness, that's what I call it!

Evidently many other people shared my opinion because it was easily the busiest place on Fayetteville St in the early afternoon. And I think parents got into the building process with as much or more enthusiasm than their little ones. A couple of boys and their dads built rockets and, predictably, set off a chain reaction - now every boy wanted to make a rocket. M was no exception. It took us a little while, but we've our first rocket. It was held together primarily with stickers and rubberbands (I won't be surprised if NASA hires M or me one of these days).

After that it was time to go 'cause it was getting late and M was obviously tired. But he made me promise that we'd return the next day to build an even bigger rocket. To be perfectly honest, he didn't have to push too hard on this one. Come to think of it, I might've even suggested this idea to him myself and he replied "Hooray!".

The next day, Sunday, both of us could hardly wait for the festival to open. We got to the ScrapExchange tent and for a few minutes were the only ones. Right away, we started on the rocket. But it was a bigger one, with a more advanced design and, after the Saturday stumpede, fewer materials to work with. Took us a bit longer, but we've managed. Well, M mostly kept bringing me various odds and ends and asking to add them to the rocket. That's, for example, why our rocket is probably the only one with an attached hanger (hey, every rocket needs it to weather the storms in; yeah, I know, it's spelled differently).
And then we built a few other things - a pair of binoculars that gave M an idea to build a robot that he named ZigZag-a-Roll (yeah, sometimes he surprises me with the names he picks). If you look at the robot carefully, you can still see the binoculars - they are now robot's legs. Finally, M fashioned a gun (what else) out of some spare parts.

It was time to move on and we walked down the street, admiring the chalk art. Ok, I was doing the admiring and M was mostly insisting on moving on. Then we got to the blocks area where for a while M was the only kid for a while. He promptly collected all the blocks and attempted to build a house with a door, but ended up with a tall long wall. Still, he was happy with the result and so was I.
That, plus a few hot dogs and a bucket of french fries really made his weekend!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Tree House Project - Phase 1

For the record - it's not just 1 tree house. Instead, it's an A-frame tree house on two trees, a small platform on another tree and a rope bridge connecting the two. Each tree house would, of course, have its own ladder. Not to mention all other bells and whistles - a pulley for lifting baskets with food, a trap door in the A-frame house, a zip line, a tire swing, a bell, signaling flags, strings of tiny garden lights, etc, etc.
I hope you understand that such a big project is not something that can be done in a weekend. Not when you only have a Kia Rio to haul building materials. Definintely not when you have just one ladder.

But lots and lots of work was done nevertheless. First, supports for the platform went up (we re-used a bunch of lumber from an old deck - recycling is good for your soul and for your wallet).

Don't let this picture fool you. The finished platform is almost 9 feet from the ground!

The platform structure is up and my brother is the first one to test it. Nothing broke or came loose!

Putting on some finishing touches...

Here's what it looked like from the ground. For some reason both Chris and Arkadiy were very proud of it. What's the big deal, I ask?Actually, this is where I ask "what's the big deal".

It's well after 2pm on Saturday and less than 24 hrs until my brother has to leave. In short, it's about time the guys started working on the A-frame tree house.

M's been busy building his own little structure. Oh, do you see all the new lumber in the background? Yeah, there was a Home Depot run earlier that day. Luckily for all involved (and for our little Kia) the guys ran into our neighbors at the store. The neighbors, who have a mini-van, volunteered to bring the lumber over to our yard. They are awesome!

The supports for the A-frame are up and being tested. They hold well!

This is a cat's-eye view of the building process. Actually, I stand corrected. If it was the cat's-eye view, the picture would be totally dark as the lazy cat napped through most of the day. At least he mellowed out towards my brother, enough so that Arkadiy could walk around the house without fearing a scalping attempt from Xander.
The next morning... The A-frame is put together on the ground. How are they going to put it 9 ft up in the air with just 1 ladder, 1 rope and no pulleys? Scroll down to see (spoiler alert - noone got hurt or even scared).

See how they do it? Yep, some pure muscle power.

Aided by my hubby's natural height with some extra assistance from a ladder, the frame goes up in practically no time (20-30 minutes, not much longer).

Inspired by the fine example, M sets to drill holes in our deck.

And what was I up to? Well, I cooked (a little), took pictures (a whole lot!) and then, after we dropped Arkadiy at the airport and M fell sound asleep, I played a small, but very determined bulldozer. Check out the cleared patch made by moi on Sunday afternoon. (You can sort of get an idea of what it looked like by comparing it to the background on the photo - underbrush, English ivy, poison ivy, 5-inche layer of pine needles with lots of random objects buried underneath - broken glass, old speakers wire, pieces of plastic, etc, all courtesy of the previous home owners).

My Brother is an Angel

In case you don't know it - my brother is an angel. Sure, he doesn't come across as one if you run into him at a party. After all, angels aren't supposed to have big muscles, shave their heads and speak with a Russian accent. But then you get to know the guy and, if things work out (meaning - he likes you enough to be your friend), you find out that I'm 100% correct.
Still in doubt? Check it out - he flew down to Raleigh for a weekend and endured food shortages (this house doesn't have anything to nosh on for sure), no TV, weirdly slow Internet, a semi-comfortable day bed in the family room, a murderously-inclined undeclawed 14lb cat who, aparently, doesn't like angels all that much, lots and lots of mosquitoes in the backyard and a preschooler who wakes up at 6am and gets loud right away - all to build a tree house for this said preschooler! (Ok, and to go to The Pit for some BBQ Eastern North Carolina style)

Ah, and he wore head-to-toe whites for the job too! Telling you - an angel!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What We Do When We Stay Home

Sometimes M wakes up in this peculiar mood when he simply refuses to go out to a park or a store or a museum. And sometimes he might feel a bit under the weather and then we have no choice but to stay away from other kids (lemme tell ya - this boy's sniffles are highly contagious; I know first-hand!).

So here's what we've been up to lately on our stay-inside days:

1. Baking a "lazy pie" - sauteeing sliced apples with some raisins and just a bit of brown sugar. Oh, don't forget cinnamon! My recommendation - forget about healthy/unhealthy and sautee in real butter, not in vegetable oil - tastes tons better. Then put the apples in a deep overproof dish and place Pillsbury Dough biscuits on top (I like the flaky kind). I guess it'll work with other types of biscuits as well. Or with cookie dough. Stick the "pie" into a preheated oven and wait until the "crust" bakes through. Let it cool some and enjoy. BTW, I've made mini-pies in ramekins and M loved them even more.
2. Use leftover dough from the pie to conduct all sorts of scientfic experiments using lots of salt and water. Had to take this one outside after a few big spills.
3. Making a juicing machine - at first it was for juicing apples only. But then M expanded it to lemons and oranges (hooray for the cheap-o plastic life-size lemons and oranges from the Dollar Store). M came up with the idea and most of the design all by himself and I helped him to glue and tape the pieces together. He then proceeded to decorate the machine with markers. Guess what he drew on it - an entire digestive system, from esophagus to large intestine. I mean, just by looking at it you can't tell what it is, but he provided a very thorough commentary as he was working on it. After some thinking he also drew a heart and some blood vessels on it. But no eyes or mouth because "Mama, it's just a machine".
4. Making a secret treasure box by, primarily, painting inside it and then putting all sorts of paper clippings, stickers, buttons, rocks, etc inside. Then building a birthday cake out of styrofoam piece, 3 wooden skewers, a bunch of wooden spools and balls and fuzzy sticks.
5. Drawing a picture on our giant chalkboard wall. First - a big smily sun. Second - lots of grass. Third - an airplane (ok, I helped with that one) and another airplane "electric and with no wings" (what???). Fourth - lots and lots of clouds. Then declaring that he wanted to be a pilot. And a chef. So I say that maybe he can have a plane with a kitchen in it. "Silly idea, Mama... I'm going to think about it" and then he drew a kitchen inside the plane.

Memorial Day Weekend in Charlotte

Last weekend we took off to see our friends in Charlotte and to have an excuse for me to shop at IKEA. IKEA shopping didn't go too well though. We bought everything on my list which was just a bunch of small things. And we bought one thing that wasn't on my list but that we really needed - a small metal round side table. Well, guess what? I went through self-service checkout lane and, trying to keep one eye on M and the other one - on the checkout display, I ended up forgetting the darn table. I did pay for it, just forget to grab the box. That was on Friday afternoon. I didn't discover it until we came back home and unpacked on Monday evening. Urghhh...

But the visit itself was great. The boys (M and our friends' 2.5-year old) played together most of the time and didn't get into too many squabbles.

On Saturday we all went to the town of Waxhaw for a stroll. It's always nice there, at least in the old historic part of town. This time we went to a small farmers' market, watched a cargo train go by, had a coffee break at a local coffee shop (that's where I saw this awesome headline in a local paper).
The boys behaved well enough that we even stopped by a couple of antique shops. After a short stop at a broom-making store (it's like a museum there - very interesting and the owner weaves brooms while chatting you up) and a long one at a used books store, we headed back to the house.
The next day we all went to Charlotte proper. I've never been there before and didn't expect it to be such a pleasant city to stroll around. The museums are aplenty, but pricey. We went to the Museum of the New South - a very interesting place and very kid-friendly. So kid-friendly, in fact, that it was hard to get the boys out of there on time.
We also walked past the B0A headquarters building(s). Lemme tell you something - if you have any doubt about whether BoA is an evil organization, just take a look at their building and a piece of sculpture adorning the small plaza in front of it. I guarantee you won't sleep for a couple of nights. Another urghhh!

Ah, we did go to a couple of parks. One, the Freedom park, was especially nice and I think we could've strolled around it for hours. And they have a playground too. And on that playground they have a REAL steam engine! The kids can go inside and look out of the windows and pretend to be the drivers. M flat out refused to leave the park declaring that he wanted to stay there for the rest of the day and be the engineer.
In the evenings, after putting little ones to bed, we watched artsy movies (ok, OSS117 was an exception), drank red wine and ate delicious chocolate cake that my friend Lana makes so well. Oh, and she also speaks French (in addition to Russian and English). So on our first evening there we decided that she'd try to teach me some French. It was fun, although after some wine I definitely had problems concentrating on the grammar.

Chris and Lana's hubby, Patrick, grilled one evening. Actually, Chris grilled 'cause Patrick said he needed to learn from a real American (Patrick is Belgian). Check it out - doesn't Chris look really manly and all-American next to this big shiny grill?