Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back Home

It's been a week since we got back after a long winter up north, in the snowy coldness and desolation of New York (ok, I am exaggerating the desolation part, but just a little bit).

Getting back was pretty amazing. The weather couldn't have been better - 70+ degrees and sunny. The drawback - weeds in the front yard were chest-high (ok, exaggerating again, but not by much). Plus the lawn mower wouldn't start. So I pulled what I could by hand and let the rest grow. By my estimates we've got a couple more weeks before the city fines us.

While in the yard, I was making grand plans (as usual) for growing all sorts of delicious and beautiful things. I planted one bed of spring greens, radishes, swiss chard and some other odds and ends. Then picked up dahlia tubers at Lowe's, totally on a whim and planted them in the second bed. Also planted some peas into the middle of the third bed. And then I started thinking about all the other awesome goodness - a fig tree, a plum tree, a few blueberry bushes in between, a peony to the right of the fig tree, some lingonberries by the window... Plus finally edging the drive-way side of the yard with brick... Thankfully the weather turned cold and rainy so I could catch a breath.

Which turned me onto an indoor project - M's room. Yes, I'm repainting it since M wants it to be all about Cosmos, what else. Which means, of course, that all those crazy shelves we've attached to the walls had to come down. And all the picture frames. Which meant lots and lots of holes to fill. Which meant no going back on the repainting idea. So I've been painting this one room since Friday. Granted it's a huge room and even has knee walls which are a huge pain, especially for someone short like myself.

M helped me quite a bit with one of the walls. He got so into it that he even painted a bit of the window trim. I didn't notice it in time... Oh well... My paint job isn't perfect either. In some places it looks as if I was painting under influence. But the important thing is it's getting done and looking good.

Other than gardening and painting, I also started working out at the gym. The horrible winter of not moving much, not doing much, and eating delicious freshly baked bread left its mark on me - 10 extra pounds. So I'm at the gym 3 days a week now working them off because I don't want to spend money on all new summer clothes (I hate clothes shopping).

Chris is hopping around on his crutches and trying to help me whenever he can. And I try to run interferance so he could just sit down, put his leg up and rest. And he complains that he's bored to death. And then he makes delicious crepes for breakfast and bakes bread in the evenings.

M is doing great. He ends up working on whatever I work, but not really helping. Like today I was fixing dinner so he wanted to do the same. He started making some kind of salad with pieces of cucumber, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Then he said it was going to be "Butter Barrel" candy (something he picked up from a Mercy Watson CD). So he asked me for some butter. I gave him a small piece which he proceeded to cut into tiny pieces one of which he put into the bowl with the other ingredients. The bowl then went into a microwave (don't worry, under my expert supervision). The rest of the butter was left all over the kitchen, including on the floor.

All this keeps me plenty busy so I don't have time to even take pictures - very unusual for me. So this is a post with no pictures in it, sorry... I finish painting the room this week and get my camera out, I promise.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Weeks 8 and 9 - Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

These two weeks zoomed by so fast that didn't have a chance to update my blog. Things were constantly changing. For example, in the space of 3 days our departure date (from NY) changed 4 times!
As you might know, Chris had to come home earlier than planned because he took a nasty fall (actually, a series of 7 or so nasty falls). As a result, he is on crutches for the next few weeks. What was at first thought to be a nasty sprain is in fact a full-blown fructure. So here ya go - a BIG change.

Then a bit out of a blue I had a pretty big and extremely urgent project for one of my clients. In fact, I was so busy with it that I had to put a few other biz projects on the back burner. And then I had to catch up on those...
But we still managed to have some fun and get some stuff other than work done.
During our last week or so in NY, M got into building with unit blocks. Most of the stuff he built was part of his Space Exploration program - a house for the astronauts (see above), another building where they'd train for the missions (see below), a launch complex, a hangar for the space shuttle, etc.

There was also a huge change in how he built them. He used to ask me for help balancing the blocks or even coming up with design ideas. But lately he's been building completely on his own. Which obviously makes me very happy and proud.

Now the only thing he asks from me is to take his picture next to his latest creation.

The weather cleared up some. Even though it still remained very cold, at least the snow melted. It started to feel like spring! Change in the weather meant that M and Grandpa could finally launch some real rockets. You can imagine the excitement!

No snow meant that we could finally go to a playground. Sure, there was mud all over the place, but that just upped the fun factor. Except on the first day when it was so cold that after about 20 minutes M asked me if we could go home already.

In our last week in NY we spent quite a lot of time in the backyard. M got to sit in Grandpa's new airplane! And check out the first greens in Grandma's veggie garden. We also played soccer with this huge dirty mostly deflated Chuck E. Cheese-themed ball. Even Grandpa got in on the action.

We also built this structure (above) from a playhouse someone junked and Grandpa picked up months ago. Do you know what this is? Nope, it's not a house or a castle. And it's not a rocket or a space station or a space shuttle.

Ok, I'm going to tell you - it's a ship. A regular ocean-going ship. M was the captain and I was both the crew and the passengers. My responsibilities were few and consisted mostly of saying "Ay Ay, Captain!". The captain, on the other hand, stayed very busy making snacks and coffee in the galley, appearing on the deck only to fight sharks.

Back indoors we did a couple of projects. I came up with one after seeing this idea on a couple of blogs. This is an art-science project since it combines painting with pendulum action. The set up is very simple - a funnel suspended from a broomstick and filled with paint. It got pretty messy, but M was really into it (and he still doesn't like messing with paint). In fact, he chose the colors and operated the pendulum. He then got into mixing colors with a stirring stick.

The second project was M's own invention. He actually got so into it that he was at it for almost 2 hours straight and then continued on and off for the next couple of days. The setup was much more elaborate and included a printer paper box, some leftover cardboard (from building our hexbug habitat), a large pot, an old broken tripod, lots of sticks, pinecones, and pieces of wood and a space heater (set on low for safety). So what do you think this whole thing is? Ok, I'm going to tell you right away 'cause you won't guess in a million years. Ready? It's a machine for making rainbow-colored hay from ground lunar stones (which explains the moon on the floor in the backgroud). At least it was that on Day 1. On Day 2 the setup was simplified a bit and became a bonfire so we could all warm ourselves up.

In between all this fun we also managed to make it to Brighton Beach. I promised myself not to get M more Russian books this time (I bought him a ton in the last few weeks). But you know me - I can't resist good books. And the ones I saw at the Kids' World store were fantastic. Plus Grandpa insisted on footing the bill. So M got about 6-7 more books, including an awesome Encyclopedia of Space Exploration, this time - in Russian. Then I went to the bookstore for grownups and bought a few more books, this time - for myself, mostly about Russian history and language.

And then it was time to pack and leave. We had to get a mini-van to fit all the stuff we were taking with us even though I left quite a few books and toys and most our winter clothes in the attic. But in all fairness, we had 3 adults, a child, a cat and a pair of crutches to fit into the car. Why 3 adults? My brother volunteered to help us with the move back (I told ya last year - he is (mostly) an angel). And now we're finally back home! Well, we've actually been back for almost a week already, but that's another story.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hex Bug Nano - So Kewl!

Ok, so M chose a hex bug at the Liberty Science Center gift shop. Which was fine by me since a) it wasn't about space, b) it was small, c) it was much less expensive than most other stuff in the shop.

Next day we played with the hex bug (by the way, M chose the Nano, a bug that looks like and acts like a roach). First, we built a small enclosure for it with the blocks. Then we gradually expanded it and made it into a maze with several rooms. Along the way we figured that we had to reinforce the corners, otherwise the Nano was going to bang its head against them until a small crack would appear. Then just like a real roach, it'd squeese through and run away.

After building several versions of block mazes, we came up with a better idea. We cut a few "doors" in an empty cardboard box, turned it upside down trapping Hex underneath and tried to guess which door it'd run out of. Sometimes it'd run out of one door only to immediate run into a door next to it. That was a lot of fun.

Then I wrote numbers above each door. I kept it simple - 1,2,3. We counted out 10 beads for the Nano to eat. Depending on which door it'd run out of, we'd give him that exact number of beads. M especially loved this game.

Then I tried surrounding some of the exits with enclosures of different geometry - a rectangle, a triangle and a semi-circle, to see which ones the Nano would negotiate faster (find its way back to the door it came out of). This wasn't particularly exciting though since the Nano kept getting stuck in the corners where enclosures were taped to the walls.
I knew that we could buy a whole habitat for the Hex. It also doubles as a battle arena. But it looked very boring. Plus I didn't care to spend any more money and buy any more plastic stuff that we'd have to bring back with us. So instead we decided to create our own Nano habitat. M and I sat down, decided on various obstacles and general layout.

Then we raided our junk pile and recycling box to find tubes, wires, cardboard boxes, and plastic cups for a labyrinth. The end result was a bit unexpected. By the time we finished gluing down the last piece of the habitat, our Nano got lost. We couldn't find it anywhere and so ended up going to the store to buy a new one.

Week 7 - Science Museum

If I remember correctly, that's when we went to the Liberty Science Center in NJ. It was a cold and windy day... And I had a head cold or something like that. So my memory is a bit fuzzy when it comes to the details.

First we took the train to Hoboken, NJ. A real-life double-decker train (guess which deck we were on) that moved snail-like from one station to the next until just over an hour later it reached Hoboken.

Usually this train is empty on Saturday mornings (or was it a Sunday morning?). But not this time. Hoboken was having a pre-St. Patrick's day parade and drink-fest that day. So every platform was full of drunk revelers and the train cars were choke-full, standing room only, after just 3 or 4 stops. Good thing we got in at the first stop and had to get out at the last one. The downside - spilts beer all over the train and some drunks chanting "drink up-drink up-drink up" for like 30 mins straight.
Why did I have to take M's car seat with me, you ask? 'Cause we weren't going to take the train on the way back, but instead ride in a nice BMW car. But here's M familiarizing himself with the local real estate market while waiting for the train.

Before going to the museum we stopped by J's place (my brother's girlfriend who sacrificed a huge chunk of her day to be our cab driver. Thanks, J!) She has this awesome dog, Guinness. Isn't he adorable?! And he is super smart too and very nice with kids. So not only did M get to give him some treats and play with him, but also was able to walk him for a little bit (with our supervision, of course).
Finally, the museum... What can I tell you? It's awesome and huge and absolutely overwhelming. Full of people too, but I s'pose everything is on a weekend. So we went to almost all the exibits except for the Sensory Tunnel one. I didn't think M would've liked it (they warn you to prepare for 10 minutes of crawling on all fours in a sensory maze in pitch dark). And I didn't feel all that well to drag him through it on my back. Maybe next time.

But him and Arkadiy did go on a space roller-coaster simulator. And tried their hands at controlling a mini-excavator. And drilled for oil. And dredged the Hudson River. Plus we got to see all sorts of interesting things about germs, watched an operating theater in action (a banana was getting staple-ectomy done by a couple of 6-year olds).
And we went outside for a breath of air and a great photo op, but just for a few seconds - it was windy and M wanted to get back, like RIGHT AWAY. Oh, and also created giant soap bubbles and attempted to control a neuclear reactor, a hydroelectro station, a wind turbine and something else equally awesome with lost of buttons and levers and lights (I think it was a laser beam).
All said and done, by 5pm (the closing time), we found ourselves in the museum's store. M wanted some more Space stuff, but I put my foot down and said he could get 1 small thing that was not space-themed. So instead he got himself a hex bug. But I'll talk about this separately since it's so cool.
Then it was time to walk Guinness again and head home. Needless to say, M fell asleep half-way. He was actually so tired that he didn't wake up when I moved him from the car to the bed and changed him into PJs.

The next day he wanted to paint something. Here's what he painted.
The description that he gave me: "Mama, this is something glassy with stinky beer and it fell on the floor and broke into lots of pieces. And then here is a big germ!"