Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Stuff M Says

This is probably of no interest to you unless you happen to be M's parent or grandparent. So it's mostly for my records so I don't forget these things. M's been making just the most interesting statements lately (all in Russian):

  • Ю. такой щедрый! Он мне подарил столько игрушек! Он - настоящий друг!
  • Мама, смотри, что я нашёл. Я такой находчивый, правда?
  • Мы с Ю. - други. А еще мы сыны. Он - для тети Наталки, а я - для тебя.
  • Мне печально, когда Ю. наказывают. Но я не плачу, потому что я же - джедай.
  • Не плачь, Ю.! Джедаи должны управлять своими эмоциями, а не подчиняться им!
  • Меня мальчик зло толкнул и я подвернул ногу и палец. Теперь я - раненый джедай.
  • Один мальчик толкнул меня, когда я лез на горку. Но я повернулся и сказал ему специальным джедайским голосом - стоп!
  • Мама, ты сделала две критические ошибки. Одна ошибка - в том, что ты меня за уши потащила в магазин игрушек. Вторая - что ты потратила деньги.
  • Да, это хорошая игрушка, но меня она не интересует. Меня интересует только все космическое и звездно-воиновское и роботы. 
  • Мама, я сделаю робота, чтобы он посуду мыл и готовил и игрушки убирал и деньги в банк относил.
  • Я вот тру-тру руки, но они шершавые. Это, наверное, микробы.
  • Передада, передада! When I ask him what it means, he explains that it means someone who передумал сказать да (changed his mind from yes to no; a flip-flopper).

If he doesn't like how a conversation is going, he says давай лучше об этом потом поговорим.

Мама, а когда Боба Фет родился, у него уже была броня? Нет? А как он ее получил? (Я объясняю, что Боба подрос, много тренировался, а потом, уже взрослым, получил броню). М вздыхает: Как же это сложно! Такая большая разница между взрослыми и детьми!

At a Chinese buffet, M is trying to share his dessert with me. But I'm full and tell him "Thank you! It's so nice of you to share, but I just can't eat another bite". He responds: Это потому, что у нас организм по разному устроен. Дети вот могут есть, а потом вырастают, и уже больше не могут.

  • Мама, какой сегодня чудесный день! Давай наслаждаться свежим воздухом.
  • Этот TIE-fighter - на хорошей стороне. Он раньше был плохим, но я с ним поговорил и он перешел на светлую сторону.
And the latest one from tonight:

Мама, что такое ОРЗ? I explain that это острое респираторное заболевание. М спрашивает, а острое это как? Я объясняю, что это когда заболеваешь неожиданно быстро и сразу очень плохо. М подумал и говорит: "понятно. Это острое как если на ежа сел."

Celebrating the Season

Since we were in NY for the first half of December, we sort of missed out on all the holiday prep. Once we got back, I concentrated mostly on cleaning and decluttering which is all done. The only undecluttered area is M's room, but taking care of that one is kind of tough since, well, he's with me all the time and have you ever tried getting rid of your child's old toys while he's home with you? Talking about Mission: Impossible, they should have Tom Cruise do that for one of the sequels, maybe call it Mission: Impossible - Stealth Trash Can Protocol.

Plus I don't throw old stuff away unless it's in bad shape (which is almost never), but instead donate it. Doing that is also difficult since M goes everywhere with me and he gets awfully suspicious about all those donations boxes. But anyway, I'm getting off track here...

So, the house is mostly clean and ready for the New Year. This is not the most cheerful season for us since Chris is gone, but don't you think we are left to celebrate all the holidays on our own. In fact, we have way too many invitations to various parties, dinners and playdates. Big love goes to all our wonderful friends who might (or might not) be reading this post!

Last Tuesday, on the first night of Hannukah, we went to the Jewish Cultural Festival held in the nearby Cary. I wasn't sure what to expect there, but it turned out great and we had an amazing time there with M. First, he did a couple of Hannukah crafts. Can you guess which ones? Of course, he made a menorah out of paper, silver pipe cleaners and LOTS of Hannukah-themed stickers. He got totally into the craft and only stopped when there was no space left for any more stickers on both sides of the menorah. Only then did he move on to the candle-making craft which he also loved.

We got to the crafts area early on when it wasn't very busy. So by the time more kids showed up we were done and ready to move on to something bigger and better. Luckily, we were just in time for an olive oil making workshop. The moment I saw the hand-cranked press, I knew M would love this presentation. What I didn't expect was how hands-on it was for the kids. They got the front-row seats AND got to help the rabbi press the oil. Along the way they learned about the story and the miracle of Hannukah. Once oil was pressed, it had to be separated. Since we didn't have days to wait like in the times of Judah Maccabee, a centrifuge was used. So the kids ended up with vials of oil that they poured into the cups on the menorah, the wick was made out of a cotton ball and it all worked out beautifully!

Again, M loved the whole process and held his hand up high every time the rabbi asked for volunteers. Also while at the festival, we ran into a neighbor of ours and she invited us for a Hannukah party complete with dreidel games, latkes and Hannukah music. The kids at the party were a few years older than M, but he did just fine and had a lot of fun there. Now he thinks that Hannukah is an awesome holiday and we need to do it more often!

We also started getting ready for the New Year which I, as someone who grew up in Russia, consider one of the most important holidays of the year. And since New Year prep is much like Christmas prep, we got ready for that one along the way. First, we decorated the gingerbread house. 

Actually, this year M did most of the decorating. I just put the house together and made the icing. And since it came in a wonderfully simple to use and organic kit, I can't take any credit for this. Except I made it a lot less organic by giving M some jelly beans, gummy bears, mini marshmellows and chocolate chips for decor. Wait, chocs were organic, so there, it's a mostly organic house.

Then we went to the Farmers' Market to buy a tree. We managed to find one small enough to fit into the trunk of our KIA Rio. Or maybe it says something about how spacious that trunk really is? Nah, it's a pretty small tree! I put up the strings of lights and M did pretty much all the rest of decorating work. I did help him with a few ornaments that were either too tricky to attach or had to go up high. He was so excited about the tree and kept saying елочка! я тебя так люблю! сейчас вот наряжу и тебе понравится! спасибо, елочка, что ты пришла к нам! (New Year tree! I love you so much! I'm going to decorate you now and you'll like it! Thank you for coming to us!). 

We also went to a New Year party at the local Russian school. The party was open to all and we were told that all kids would get little gifts from Father Frost who was supposed to appear at the end of the party. Now, Russian New Year party is not just a party, it's a concert where kids from the school perform songs, dances, and skits. M was a bit bored with that. But then all the kids were asked to come up to the stage and read a poem or sing a song for the Snow Maiden and M practically ran to the stage. When it was his turn, he stood up in front of the audience of about 100 people and in loud and clear voice ringing with enthusiasm read the little rhyme he chose and memorized all by himself: Экскаватор ров копает. Сто лопат он заменяет! (Excavator digs the ditch. It replaces 100 shovels! - yeah, I know, it doesn't rhyme in English, but in Russian it does). For this he got a great round of applause (I think it was because a) quite a few people in the crowd know him; b) he beamed with happiness; c) he didn't mumble or shout into the mic and d) the rhyme was mercifully short (this was like the second hour of the concert and everyone was a bit tired)).

I thought M was going to be most interested in Ded Moroz. But turns out, it was the Snow Maiden who truly made an impression. Must've been her all-white and sparkly dress and a white-fur hat. M later kept talking about her, but said that "she behaved oddly. She went into the hallway and disappeared". I explained that she had other parties to go to. Then M thought about it a bit longer and said "Mama, I think the Snow Maiden really likes it when it's clean and neat and all is in its place". I asked him why he thought so and he explained that it was her beautiful all-white dress that gave him this idea. Not too shabby.

Ok, well, I'm totally running my mouth here... Today, on Christmas Eve, we were going to see our friends for a celebration and a playdate. But their youngest is sick and we didn't go. Instead, I took M to jump on inflatables as a reward for behaving so well and doing all the chores. And then we went to see our other friends...

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Son's View of Things


M loves taking pictures with a camera. We have my little digital point and shoot which isn't such a great camera. But it's light and easy for him to operate. Plus I won't feel terribly upset if he breaks it 'cause it's not that expensive (although at some point it was).

He takes pictures with it whenever he can. It's a challenge for him 'cause his hands shake pretty badly (we are working on this and some other issues with an occupational therapist, but so far have seen little improvement). So most pictures come out blurry. Yet sometimes he takes pretty good pictures and I love looking through them and seeing the world the way he sees it.

This is me. I was super busy sorting through the old issues of the Russian Life magazine. It's a very blurry image, but that's how most of his photos come out. Makes me really appreciate what it takes for him to concentrate on keeping his hands steady.
This is one of his LEGO Heroes from the Hero Factory. He LOVES the cartoon (we found it dubbed in Russian) and can assemble the toys by himself (again, no small fit for him).
This is the bear from Toy Story 3. M didn't care much for the movie, but is absolutely taken by the Imaginext toy called "Tri-County Recycling Center". This is his second Imaginext toy (he got a shuttle launch pad last year for the holidays) and he LOVES them. He plays with them almost every single day. Lemme tell you, when you find a toy that entertains your child every day for a year, you don't feel bad at all for shelling out $$$.

For all y'all non-Star Wars fans, this is a TIE fighter. We found this vintage one at the flea market. Not exactly a bargain at $20, but again, something M loves and plays with a whole lot. Now, in the Star Wars bad guys use TIE fighters. But M will explain to you that he actually talked to this particular TIE fighter and explained to come to the good side. So this is a reformed TIE fighter which makes it very special and unique.

Holiday Season 2011

Is it holiday season already? I seriously can't tell. First, it's very warm here, in NC. We've been running around in light sweaters for a couple of days. Then it started to rain, but it's still warm. No snow, no ice, nothing. We went to a Christmas tree farm today to walk around. It was nice, but felt more like an early September outing. Last year at the same time at the same Christmas farm there was a bit of snow on the ground, the pond was frozen and it was cold enough to wear hats, gloves and warm jackets and still get cold.

Third reason it doesn't feel like holidays yet is that I haven't put up any decorations. Part of it is that we just got back from NY. But part of the reason is that I really don't feel like dragging all these decorations down from the attic, unpacking, then packing back after just a few days. I'm not being lazy either, just overwhelmed.

Forth, and main, reason it hasn't felt like holidays yet is, of course, Chris is not going to be home. Just doesn't feel very happy about it.

Of course, we're going to do something. Tomorrow we plan on getting a very small New Year tree. We talked about decorating it with all sorts of edible things - popcorn strands, cranberries, nuts, dried fruits, candies, etc. Needless to say, M is very excited about this idea and has been asking me to put this tree in his room. Yeah, right! But at least I'll be spared the trouble of getting the regular decorations from our tiny attic where I always bump my head on the roof beams.

I was also thinking about putting together a gingerbread house and will get a kit tomorrow. M loved this activity last year and can help out way more this year. Except I'd decorate it with Hannukah colors and with chocolate coins and pretzel stars :) And we'll play our Hannukah CDs and drink hot chocolate or maybe spiced apple cider.

So as I mentioned, we just got back from NY. You'd think that being there, I'd have more time to update the blog. Nope. Besides, there wasn't much going on apart from the usual hanging around the grandparents' house, helping Grandma with baking and building toy airplanes with Grandpa. The main events of our 3-week long stay were:

1. The Thanksgiving dinner with the family - my aunt Sofia hosted and it was great as usual. It was very nice to see my oldest cousin and his family since they live in Ohio and I don't get to see them often.

2. We took a train to Hoboken, NJ to spend an afternoon with my brother and his girlfriend. That was exciting since it involved a train ride (M kept taking pictures with a cell phone to, as he explained, "remember it all for later"), playing with an awesome chocolate lab who's super smart and awfully cute, enjoying a gorgeously-decorated Christmas tree and getting gifts.

One of the gifts was Myachis (just google it). They are like hacky sacks but aren't exactly. We had lots of fun practicing all different Myachi tricks. Finally, my bro and his girlfriend invited us to a Vietnamese restaurant. Needless to say, after an afternoon like this M fell asleep on the drive back and didn't wake up until the next morning.

3. We went to a trampoline place nearby, in Valley Cottage, called BounceOnIt.Finally, there's something in the area that is fun for both the kids and the adults. These are not inflatables, but real trampolines. So adults can have just as much (or even more) fun as kids. The place is great and I hope they stay open so we can go back whenever we're in NY.

4. M got to spend a lot of time with his second cousins. He really loved playing with them. At first he was concerned about the youngest one 'cause he thought she'd break his toys or chew them. But she's a big 2.5-year old now, so that was ok. And then, she's into all the silliness M is into - running around the house, screaming, hiding, jumping, laughing. So they had a jolly good time. But he also loved spending time with his oldest cousin who is now 7. Although the games weren't as wild. Instead, they'd try playing a board game or "do chemistry" with vinegar and soda.

5. We went to Brighton Beach, as usual. This time M walked all around and didn't complain about being tired. Nor was he a pest when it came to me browsing books at a bookstore there (usually he starts whining after the first 2 minutes there). He even got his wish of playing on the playground there and running on the beach. Plus we ate at a really nice restaurant, called "Tatiana" (delicious, but expensive).

That was such a wonderful trip with the grandparents, that M said that he wanted to spend his birthday on Brighton. His plan was we'd go there, he'd get a pastry, would walk around some, get a toy from the toy store and then we'd all go to a restaurant for some fried calamari. Funny story about calamari. In Russian the word is кольмары and sounds much like комары, mosquitoes. M never ate calamari before. So I asked him if he wanted to try and he thought I was offering him fried mosquitoes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Math Fun and All

Another week is over and done with. Lots of things happened, mostly me getting sick with some cold or something (still recovering from it). Plus we traveled to NY to spend upcoming holidays with the family. Since homeschooling and work from home allow lots of flexibility, we plan on staying in NY for a couple of weeks.

Since I wasn't feeling well, we didn't do as much school as planned. Still, the little that we did was fun and M kept asking for more, especially more math. In addition to our math and logic worksheets, we explored color gradients, guessed patterns with the help of a talking turkey, and built lots of cool stuff with the magnetic shape tiles. For more details on these and other games, head over to the Moebius Noodles blog.

But mostly it was all about free play, especially closer to the end of the week when I was a) too sick to plan much and b) too busy preparing for our trip. Fortunately, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, sunny and warm.

We went on a very long walk to the park by the Art Museum. I love this park! There's really a lot for kids to do there even though there's not a single playground structure in sight. In addition to lots of walking and a bit of running and rolling down small hills, we played in the sand, played "find a letter and jump on it" game, discussed sculpture, and observed a cute little snake.

And the yard was covered in leaves. So we racked them, put them into a pile next to our compost bin (for future use), then created a different pile on the soft grass. That's where M spent a few hours one afternoon jumping, digging, flipping, rolling and swimming in the leaves.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wake Med Surgery Open House

Last weekend we went to Wake Med hospital for a Surgery Open House. It was awesome. They set up 5 operating rooms, each for a different surgery. There was a neuro surgery OR set up for tumor removal. There was a heart surgery OR set up for a bypass surgery. There was a bone surgery OR set up for knee replacement (gruesome, I tell ya). And finally, there was an ENT OR set up for tonsillectomy.

Of course, everything was hands-on. We were welcome to touch pretty much everything, including some very expensive equipment. M got to play with the knobs on the heart and lungs machine and try pushing the button on the electric saw used to cut through the rib cage.

Wait, didn't I say there were 5 rooms? Yep, the last one was set up for robotic surgery. Which is not a surgery done on robots, but the one done by robots. And there was a real surgical robot in there. And the kids got to try their hand at controlling it!

Oh, and we were given a tour of the OR, including pre-op rooms. During the tour, kids got to make a little craft - they decorated breathing masks for anesthesia with stickers. M decorated his mask with smiley faces and said that these were germs. Back home, I heard him explaining about the mask to his favorite R2-D2 (yeah, he's got more than one): "See here, Artoo, I'm going to take you upstairs for the night and I'll put this mask on you and you'll fall asleep and won't be scared of anything and won't feel anything".

First Two Weeks Are Over

I can't believe it's been two weeks since Chris left. It seems like it's been at least a month. But at the same time, how can it be? After all, we are crazy busy here. But here we are, 2 weeks down, 50 or so to go.

As I mentioned, we've been exceptionally busy. Mostly because we are still in the process of establishing a new schedule and routines. Mornings are pretty much taken care of at this point. I even get to stay in bed until shortly after 7am (compared to 6:30ish when Chris was home). Today was absolutely amazing, record-setting morning - my early riser slept in until 7:30am! Yeah, it's a fluke, but oh what a nice surprise! So, what's my secret for staying in bed for so long? Well, it's all about snacks and snuggles. Every night before going to bed, I bring a small snack upstairs, usually some dried fruits. This way, there's no more "Mommy, I want to eat breakfast" at 6am. Plus I let him snuggle in my bed and build a nest out of all the pillows. And now that I revealed my secrets and bragged about my superior problem-solving skills, I've probably jinxed it. Better prepare for a 5:30am wake-up tomorrow.

(This is a portrait of me as a mermaid, in case you're wondering. Why mermaid? M figured it was easier to draw a fishtail than a dress).

After breakfast and a quick clean-up it's time for homeschool. So far we do math and reading in a pretty formal sit-down and work way. To my great surprise, M likes math a lot more than reading at this point. He's also making some good progress in it. We are still staying in the first 10, but are about to move on. One interesting thing that I noticed is that he does really well with arithmetic as long as there's a story behind each problem. So, we explore all the different ways of building a two-story Jedi academy with 6 training rooms. And we figure out whether the astronauts collected odd or even number of moon rocks. And we learn combinations theory through Sandwich Recipe game. And we do some Jedi mind tricks that include subitizing (estimating quantity without counting) and "follow-the-leader" Lego builds. If you are interested in more details about different math games we play, start reading my new blog, Moebius Noodles.

Reading is a struggle for now. He still loves when I read to him and asks to be read to a lot. But trying to read by himself, even very short words, is a struggle and a chore. Except when the words I write are downright silly or scatological in nature (yep, he's big on toilet humor right now).

Going to the YMCA is a part of our routine now. I wish we could go daily, but even 3 times a week is a struggle for M who still gets very upset about being left in the childcare room. But honestly, I love the childcare at the Y. First, when we come in, the staff-to-children ratio is pretty much 1:1. Second, there's no TV in the room. Third, they actually play with children, read books to them and do crafts. Fourth, they give them healthful snacks at around noon.

A free membership at the YMCA is one of the benefits for families of the deployed soldiers. And it's absolutely awesome! The Alexander Y is our nearest branch and is the nicest in Raleigh (and quite possibly in the world!). Awesome childcare. Cardio classes starting every 30 minutes or so in 2 studios. Indoor track. Racket ball courts (gotta try that out). An indoor pool! So far I've started with cardio classes (belly dancing on Mondays, toning on Wednesdays and Fridays) and some free weights. But I think I'm going to add some swimming to the mix too. And on weekends, M and I go to family yoga, family Zumba and to public swim. Seriously, I'm in love with this Y!

Evening routine is still a work in progress. We have a friend who's about M's age. So the last couple of weeks the two would spend pretty much every evening playing together (not always peacefully). Unfortunately, the boy's family is relocating in a month.

In other news, I think I mentioned that I'm cleaning up, decluttering and re-organizing the entire house. My plan for the first two weeks was to fix the family room. Well, that's done now and looks nice and neat. Putting toys away takes only 5 minutes even after the wildest playdate. But I also cleaned up the entryway closet and the secret junk closet in the upstairs closet. Next up is organizing the paperwork. And that's what I'll be doing tonight.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Send Off


Chris came home for a week before leaving again. So we didn't have much time really for anything. Instead, we tried to pretend we were on a little vacation. Which meant we ate out a lot and took M to all sorts of fun kiddie places, like a place with lots of inflatables and also to a pumpkin patch.

Oh, and we also did some last-minute garden chores. It might seem weird to spend so much time (half a day) clearing the front yard and planting some strawberry plants. But really, we had a blast! It was a perfect stress-relief.

Then it was time to drive to Greensboro for the send-off ceremony. That part pretty much sucked 'cause I hate saying goodbye when I'm the one staying behind. And I really don't like ceremonies.

But there were some good moments, like when we went to an arcade place near the hotel.

Next day M and I dropped Chris off (another goodbye, arghhh) and drove back home. So now we're back and settling into our new routines. Not to say that our new routines are all that different from our old routines. Mornings are different though 'cause usually it's Chris who gets up early with M, helps him get dressed and fixes him breakfast. Now it's my job and, predictably, M wakes up as early as ever (around 5:30am on most days). So I'm trying to teach him to either play quietly in his room or come stay with me, but also quietly. Yeah, I know, it's a steep learning curve.

But overall we've been terribly busy. Thankfully, M is getting way better at playing by himself. Plus he's just so funny now. Which makes things a lot easier. Including preparing for Halloween. We put up some homemade decor and even though the weather was horrible (cold rain), this little Boba Fett went trick-o-treating.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Catching Up

We've been back in NC for some time now, but things got off to a shaky start what with Chris leaving for training again and with my surgery. So that explain the yet another long break between the posts.

Things are almost back to normal now:

I pretty much cut down on all the detailed planning for our homeschool that I did for the first couple of months. It's mostly because apart from math and reading, nothing else tended to happen as planned. M sets up his own pace here. I figure, since he follows along with math and reading, I can reciprocate by following his lead in all the other subjects.

At this point our daily school work looks something like this:

Math - first, we do 2-3 works sheets of logic and reasoning problems. He's working through a problems marked for ages 5-6 now although it's definitely not effortless. Since many of these problems require connecting the dots, drawing circles, coloring and otherwise putting a pencil to paper, he gets to work on his fine motor skills.

More Math - then we do "counting math" for 10 minutes or so. We are still staying within 1-10, but mostly working with numbers between 5 and 10 - adding, subtracting, even dividing. Also working on the concepts of odd and even, zero, and half of something (works so well with M's current interest in matching quantities of just about anything to his age, 4.5). We still use a lot of manipulatives for this math.

Reading - I'm grateful for a Russian cartoon called Smeshariki. M loves it (ok, I do too 'cause it's so funny). More importantly, he is a lot more willing to read now. The key is to have a reading primer book that's built around the cartoon. Thankfully I do have this book (having borrowed it from my cousin). So every day we practice reading two-letter combinations and then move onto longer words. M is a bit more fluent now, blends much better and is not particularly scared of long words. At least he was fine reading "воронка" and "мухомор" and a few other longish words. We are even trying some very short and simple sentences now.

More Reading - generally we end up our school with a reading session where I read chapter books. It can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on M's mood. He always loves this part of our school. The coolest part for me is that now he recognizes small-print letters in the books and points them out to me. He can even read some of the book titles, especially if they are short and the typeface is simple.

Everything else - this includes building with Legos (he actually prefers little blocks now and is not very interested in Duplos at all). Or it can be tinkering with his rather large collection of spare parts and junk. Or it can be playing with an even more sizable collection of rockets and robots. Starting this week, it's all about making decorations for Halloween.

Other than homeschool, he goes to soccer once a week and loves it so far. We also go to playgrounds, have playdates with his friends, and generally fill up our time with all sorts of interesting things, such as going to a Lego festival (actually, Chris took M there since I was in the la-la land thanks to Percocet).

Thankfully, Chris took quite a few pictures plus M told me all about the gigantic Lego StarWars sculptures. I think it was seeing these sculptures that made him re-consider Legos as a building medium. Before the festival he wasn't too keen on Legos. But afterwards, if he gets a new idea for building something (like every 5 minutes), he says that he can do it out of Legos. Because, as M put it, "you can build everything with Legos".

Finally, he's back to the idea of being an astronaut. Which means wearing his space suit, helmet, gloves to the playground and carrying an American flag ("so I can stick it into the ground like astronauts on the Moon and my friends will understand then"). So after running around the playground for a while and sliding down the slides, M decided that it was time for him to fix the rocket (the big slide). So here you see him clinging to the side of the rocket, trying not to float away into space while performing extensive (took him like half an hour) repairs on one of the boosters.