Thursday, May 26, 2011

Last Weekend - Chicken Tour and More

It's almost time for the long weekend and I'm finally catching up with work stuff. So I realized that I didn't post anything about last weekend.

Well, the big news, of course, is that the world didn't end. I wanted to be the first one to know so I stayed up 'til midnight Eastern Time. But then I thought well, what if the Rapture was scheduled for Central Time? So I stayed up 'til 1am. Nothing... So then I thought what if it's on California time, but at this point I felt too sleepy and didn't care much.
We had a long day on Saturday. First, we went on a much-awaited (by me) chicken tour called Henside the Beltline Tour D'Coop which I think is a pretty clever name. I think this is our fourth year going to this tour. It's not just the chickens that you get to see, but other people's yards.
And since most people who keep chickens here also happen to have some kind of veggie gardens, it's of particular interest to me. Also, most families on the tour have young children so their yards are very kid-friendly.

This year M was very interested in petting a chicken. In many of the houses we went to chickens are truly free-range, roaming around the yard. But catching a chicken is not very easy, as M found out. Fortunately, one of the houses we went to had a pet dwarf potbellied pig who just loved being petted.
The next day after the tour we went to pick cherries. I did mention some time ago that I am now on a Craigslist scavenger hunt. I search their free ads almost every day looking for things. One time I picked up about 50 or so magazines, mostly with recipes and gardening tips. Another time I picked up pine logs to edge the paths in the garden.
Then one day I saw an ad that said "come and pick cherries - free". Well, so we did. The place is kind of a drive from us, but we didn't have much else going on. So we went and picked about 8 pounds of delicious sour cherries. Now even taking into account gas money, this is a good deal. Besides, it seems impossible to buy sour cherries around here, even at the Farmers' Market.
And they are just perfect for pies!!! So Chris and M were busy making a delicious cherry pie from scratch!

Making Things

In case you're wondering, this above is our DIY Darth Vader. He's made out of towel roll tube, a paper cup, some black felt, stickers and little plastic pieces all painted black and hot-glued together.

Did I tell you that M is off his wanting to be an astronaut thing? So much so that he doesn't even care to go to NASA. Plus he actually suggested to tear down his big cardboard rocket! He gave us three reasons as to why the change of heart:

1. The International Space Station is too small, no place for running around;
2. Astronauts have to be there for long stretches of time;
3. Astronauts have to train in a huge pool and train under water.
This is a clone trooper wind-up toy we found at the flea market for $1. He's in a secret rebel hide-out. There's also a capsule waiting for lift-off.

For a period of about 2 days he wanted to be Mickey Mouse and that got me worried. Knowing how he really get into these things and stays with his "themes" for a while, I was afraid of having to sing "Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggidy dog..." and speak in a very high-pitched voice for months.
This plane has nothing to do with Star Wars. We went to a Trader Joe's store and M noticed all the planes made from recycled things and pieces of cardboard. So M immediately wanted to have a plane made out of junk. We didn't have anything for a fuselage, so we had to promptly drink a can of V8. We also used a paper cup, some cardboard from old boxes, 2 wooden spools, some wire and, of course, loads of ducttape.

Fortunately, he moved on. He's into Star Wars now, big time. Which is kind of a mixed blessing. Turns out, Star Wars has a ton of toys and every single one of these toys is very expensive. And the old ones are called "collectibles" and cost even more than the new ones. How inconvenient!
This is a Jedi Starfighter made out of some tubes we got at Scrap Exchange, another paper cup and some Popsicle sticks. Actually, M figured out how to arrange the pieces by himself and then Chris glued them together with hot glue.

But never fear! Fortunately at this point M doesn't care if a toy is store-bought or home-made. Actually, I take that back. He prefers home-made toys, the junkier the better. So lately there's been a lot of toy making at our house. We're actually starting to run out of spare parts. Hence the recent trip to Scrap Exchange. Our hot glue expenditures went up dramatically as well, but still we are ok compared to having to buy all these toys.
This strange contraption is a Probe Droid of the kind that Darth Vader sends out to find Luke Skywalker. This one is made out of some plastic containers from Whole Foods, a toilet paper tube, shoe laces, more spools, some beads and various odds and ends. M's contribution (other than helping figure out which part to use where) was creating the probe's tentacles.

Of course, now all the toys are Star Wars themed - Darth Vader, various spaceships and escape capsules, droids, etc.
This is Scrap Exchange, our new most favorite place to go explore when in Durham.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our Garden Update

All this rain has been wonderful for our garden. I don't think we had to water it once in the last two weeks and yet everything is growing nicely.
The other day a woman stopped by our yard, got out of the car and knocked on the door. I thought she wanted to sell us something. Turns out, she wanted to ask some questions about the garden 'cause she said her own doesn't look anything this nice. I'm not trying to brag here, just saying...
So far we've had radishes and mustard greens, 2 kinds of lettuces, and some sorrel (it finally recovered from whatever's been bugging it). The blueberries are slowly ripening and I have to cover them with a net to protect from the birds.
The dwarf peach tree is doing great too, even though I broke the top of it while transporting it in our tiny car. I pulled all but one peaches off the branches. Want to give it a chance to properly root so hopefully we have more peaches next year.
The tomatoes and squashes and cucumbers are growing very fast. Actually, they are starting to bloom already. So hopefully we will start seeing more from our garden in just a few weeks. It's pretty hot, so swiss chard and kale aren't doing all that great. But they are growing nevertheless.
Since Chris can't help me much this year I didn't plant as much as I did last year. Still, all 4 beds are filled with no room to spare. And my small collection of herbs is doing fine in their containers. Now if I can only find a grape vine!

Messy Art Again and All the Rain

This last week has been a very busy one for us. At least I remembered to take my camera with me, most of the time.
M asked to do a Big Messy Art project! Hooray, this has never happened before since he'd rather do almost anything else than paint. But this time he asked, no, insisted, on doing the "blow-dryer art". Remembering lessons learned the last time we tried this project, I prepared a couple of ping-pong balls, paint thinned with water, and a piece of paper securely taped to the box.
Also this week - we've had quite a lot of rain, but in between all the showers and thunderstorms we managed to go pick some mulberries. Actually, we got to go a couple of times, once with Chris and then, during the week - just M and I. For that second trip I got an old trike out of the attic. It's an old Kettler that I picked up at a Kids Exchange sale a year or so ago. I thought I got a good deal on it, but turned out the bike needed new set of tires which meant that the entire rear wheels assembly had to be changed. So for right now it's running as is and I'm just counting on M outgrowing his trike soon enough.
Big surprise this year - turns out, M can ride a trike all by himself... on a smooth surface and preferably on a slight downhill slope. Anything rough or uphill requires too much work, so he stops pedaling and asks me to push him. But boy, he loves riding downhill, going as fast as he can. Except that he keeps looking over his shoulder to make sure I'm not holding the bike. And when he does this, the bike swerves widely which scares me a whole lot since the breaks aren't all that great either.
Still, we managed to get as far along the Art Museum trail as the Two Mulberries. You see, the mulberries at the trailhead get picked a lot. When we got there, there weren't that many berries within easy reach. But most casual walkers don't go far enough into the woods and runners and bikers don't care about stopping and snacking. So it's left to us, serious berry hunters, to pick and eat them berries.
With our bellies full (we also had a mini-picnic half-way to the mulberries), we started heading back, but got caught in a downpour. So M pedaled and I pushed and panting we got to a little pavilion half-way to the car. It's a very nice pavilion with sweeping views of the entire Museum Park, but we never before made it there.
Another thing we did this week was testing our water wall. I saw this idea here and liked it 'cause it looked so simple. Besides, I already had all the components - a big piece of left-over peg board and lots of containers. So I took the next step - handed it all to Chris and told him that, when put together properly, it would make a terrific water toy (yes, he is a very patient and understanding man).
He set to work. Turned out that the bolts I had didn't match the holes in the pegboard. Nothing some drilling couldn't fix though. M seemed to be interested mostly in getting a hold of the drill. Once the wall was assembled, he showed remarkably little interest in it. Hmm, back to the drawing board since he generally likes everything that is remotely like a marble run. I might try PVC pipes and clear tubing instead.
At the end of the week we made a great discovery. We found a new (to us) park not far from the house (15-minute drive). The awesome feature of this park is its slides. They are built into the slopes. Somehow this makes them a lot more attractive to children of all ages (and to adults as well). M and a bunch of other boys from the local homeschooling group spent close to 2 hrs on these slides! Or rather on the rubberized slopes. There's something very compelling in being able to slide down the hillside.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Math Games Week 4 - Iconic Numbers

I must admit, this has been the hardest Math Games week so far and we didn't get much done. One reason is that I'm not exactly sure how to explain the concept of iconic numbers to M. I tried explaining to Chris, but he didn't understand it which tells me I'm not fully understanding it myself (otherwise I'd find a way to convey the idea).
Another reason is that this week's been crazy busy with projects and also with doing lots of DIY junk toy making. Which is exciting, of course.

The third reason is that we seem to be stuck on the symmetry games, specifically the Mirror Book game. It's really not a bad situation at all and I see that M is developing the game. I simply left the mirror book standing open on a low shelf and noticed that almost every day M brings a small toy and puts it into the book, then adjusts the angle between the mirrors.
Today was different though. He actually created a couple of things just for the mirror book - very exciting! First, he built a simple spaceship shape out of some foam mosaic blocks. I then suggested putting it into a mirror book. It was so awesome to hear him gasp in delight when he saw the result - a beautiful snowflake. We then tried it with a couple more spaceships that Chris built.

I then left the two of them to their own devices and went to finish cooking dinner (chicken braised with artichoke hearts and fennel). When I went back into the room, M proudly showed me a mound of foam shapes in between the "leaves" of the mirror book and explained that it was a volcano.
As for the iconic numbers. I occasionally remembered about them on our many walks this week and asked M to look for them. But he didn't show much interest. Fractals were a notable exception. He actually came up with a silly "living on the roof" game that led us to drawing this fractal roof (the image quality is really poor, sorry about that). And then I showed him a few fractal images online.

I'm not giving up on the iconic numbers just yet. I think I'm just going to continue bring them up as we come across them and hope that at some point things will magically click.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Math Games Week 3 - Taking a Break

This week there are no new games posted, so we've been taking it easy and replaying a few games from the previous weeks. We played another chimera grid game, this one is 100% Star Wars related. M loved it!

I splurged on a huge Star Wars sticker book - so worth it. The stickers are
reusable so they'll last us a while. Plus a friend suggested an idea of turning a few of the stickers into magnets for even more fun. Hooray!
In the mean time, we created this comic story grid and filled it with stickers and words. I still had to draw a couple of things since strangely the sticker book did not have a single sticker of Princess Leia in her golden bikini. Nor did it have pictures of Jabba the Hut. Weird...

Oh, and we also made this Darth Vader 'cause I didn't care to spend any more money on Star Wars stuff (telling ya, M's entire space program, including the lunar module, must've cost less than a 2-inch R2D2 action figure). So I put my foot down and said "no" to all the requests for a Darth Vader toy. Instead, I said that we would just make one. So here he is - a toilet paper roll, a paper cup, left-over felt and some stickers.
These last couple of pix are from a couple of weeks back, I think. I had some tomato cages laying around waiting for me to use them. M got to them first and decided that they were just perfect as weaving looms. So he spent quite some time in the yard weaving twigs, branches, flowers and ribbons through them, then pulling it all down and starting again until he got tired of the game.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Math Games Week 2 - Grids

We are continuing playing with math this week through the Moebius Noodles project (do you like the name, by the way?). The first week was all about symmetry. The second week's theme is grids and functions.

The games were a lot more challenging for me to wrap my brain around. Yet they were fun. We got to try most of them:
The first game was called Chimera Grids. It introduced the concept of structured variations and some big words such as table, row, column, cell, combination. Since M is not into Star Wars (more on this later), our grids were all about the Star Wars characters. In one we created chimeras or combinations of torsos and legs of three different characters - R2D2, Chewbacca, and, of course, Darth Vader.
The storyline of the second grid is built around R2D2 looking for a suitable house for himself. I can't start to describe how much fun M had with these grids. Who would've thought, really?! I can still hear his happy laugh when we came up with a chimera we called Chewvader. "Чувейдер рулез!"

The next game was all about introducing gradients. There are so many ways to do it, but ours involved pen and paper (yeah, I realize I need to learn to draw better). This time it was R2D2 that traveled along a horizontal line. When he went to the left, he got bigger. When he went to the right, he got smaller. The big question we discussed was just how small (or big) would R2D2 get if he continued traveling way beyond the page's boundaries. M asked me this question - would he be so small that a bacteria would eat him? I said that yes, he'd get super-tiny like the nanobots we'd been reading about and even smaller. Then I asked him what would R2D2 need to do to escape from the hungry bacteria. With just a slight pause and a look at the paper, M said "R2D2 would need to move this way" pointing to the left side of the picture.

We also played another gradient-related game a couple of days later. It was basically role-playing the Goldilocks and Three Bears story. Except instead of the Three Bears we had Three Robots and instead of Goldilocks - a DIY Death Star made out of egg carton cells. First the robots had to eat bolts and drink gasoline. Then they all went on a walk around their garage. The Death Star landed and scared them. They all had to hide behind different-sized objects. Finally, they all made friends and there was much cheering.

We never got around to making our own grids as such. But the day before this assignment I asked Maria, the math brain behind the course, if comics could be viewed as examples of grids in literature. She said that without a doubt they would. Funny enough, the next day a homeschooling friend gave us just that - a blank comic strip and challenged to come up with a story. I wasn't sure M would be into it. Boy, I totally underestimated my son. Into it? He loved the activity. Of course, I had to draw everything and write the words. But he came up with the entire story - the plot, the lines, the sets.

It's in Russian, so if you don't read Russian yet (how come?!) it's all about Luke Skywalker saving Princess Leia from evil robots, flying her safely through an asteroid belt and into the Galaxy far-far-away.

The next game was called "Grid Hangman". It is played just like the regular hangman game, but with a grid (also, instead of hanging anyone we built a house). So you make up the rules of how the elements in your grid will change from cell to cell (in both rows and columns) and the other player tries to guess the rule. Admittedly, I didn't tie it into any kind of Star Wars story so M's reception was lukewarm. We will try again when I figure out how to get it more Star Wars-y.

The final game was Multiplication Towers. We just played it today. At first M was into it since the story was Wall-E building his towers of multi-colored trash in the grid cells. At first M helped Wall-E find just the right interlocking blocks (by color and size) , but somewhere in the middle of the second row he got tired of the game and moved on to something else (building a Starfighter that came to frighten and then to friend Wall-E). Good thing too 'cause turned out I didn't have enough blocks to complete that row let alone for the entire game. Didn't get a chance to take a picture either.

We Play

Mother's Day Treats

How did you spend this year's Mother's Day? I'm going to take a moment here to list all the stuff I got to do:
  • Finished planting my veggie garden.
  • Went for an impromptu family picnic at the Lake Wheeler Park. Best thing about it was that I didn't have to cook. We picked up all the food at the Farmers' Market Seafood restaurant.
  • Went strawberry picking at the new field I found, Porter Farm.

And that was the first day of the Mother's Day weekend.

  • On Sunday the most wonderful thing happened - I got to sleep in. Yessss, until 9:30 am!!!
  • And then I was treated to a delicious breakfast of homemade French toast made with home-baked bread and also homemade chocolate dipped strawberries.
  • Plus I got a hand-made card and a little bouquet of flowers (they grow right by our front stoop) tied with a ribbon.
  • Oh, and I got a new pair of sandals (not home-made at all, but bought at the local DSW).