Saturday, February 25, 2012

Brooklyn Children's Museum

We went, we saw and we enjoyed it a whole lot! The really cool thing about going to kids museums is noticing all the terrific ideas that are totally DIY-able.

At the same time, there are things that M just won't do at home, but is happy to try at a museum, for example, lacing or mosaic tiles.

This time we had lots of cool surprises. M loved the tunnel that lead from the entrance to the exhibits on the first floor. I loved little drawing stations all around the museum. What a terrific idea! And they were well-used too. In fact, most of the times all the drawing stations were occupied by kids putting their impressions of exhibits on paper WITHOUT even being prompted by adults. M was no exception and we left the place with not one, but three drawings. 

One of the drawings was of a rainbow python, inspired by Fantasia, the museum's own 300-lb Burmese python. Isn't she a beauty?! 

M had lots of fun downstairs, but we were getting a bit bored mostly because we couldn't join in. I mean, making sand angels in the museum's indoor sandpit looks like great fun, but not exactly something I'd undertake at this point in my life. 

So we were glad to go upstairs to the Circles exhibit. Basically, it was a hands-on exploration of circles and how they are everywhere and how people use them in just about everything. A couple of weeks ago M and I talked about simple machines and he learned that a wheel is a simple machine. But that was mostly theoretical. This time he actually got to try to pull a heavy weight on a sleigh and then the same weight on a wheeled wagon and I think that totally drove the point home about how simple machines make our work easier. 

Another great hands-on activity was also pretty simple. It basically showed that there are several ways to draw a perfect circle. This was the first time M got to try drawing with a compass. The genius part was that instead of a pencil or a marker, the exhibit used LED lights on some kind of plastic which immediately upped the appeal factor for M. We also got to play with gears, climb into a round boat (ok, I didn't, but I wish I did), try to operate a lathe, and many more things. Great stuff and I hope that one day this exhibit will make it to our local children's museum. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Law of Nature

M is totally into three things right now - Star Wars, space exploration, and garbage. As he recently explained to a friend, "you can't throw trash anywhere, but a trash can. It's the first law of nature." Whenever he sees even a small piece of wrapper on the grass, he points to it and says: "someone disrespected nature. We need to pick it up".

In case you think we are talking about nature conservancy in our homeschool, we are not. Not specifically, that is. So where does he get his ideas? From YouTube, of course! One of our playlists on YouTube is made up almost entirely of videos of garbage trucks, recycling facilities, and tours of city dumps.

A few weeks ago M told me that he wanted to go pick up trash at a park. Why a park? Because, as he explained, a garbage truck can't drive through a park. And since a truck can't come to a park, who would pick up trash there if not a trash picker-upper superhero. How could I argue with that? He was so fired up about his idea that he even went on to make a cape for himself, naturally out of a cut-up trash bag.

For a while the weather wasn't in our favor. But the day before we left for NY, it finally happened - sunny, almost hot, and gorgeous. I suggested we'd go to the NCSU Arboretum. I didn't think we'd find much trash there. But turns out, we found just enough. M started off walking around looking for junk to pick up with the super-claw, but then got carried away with all the beauty around him.

Still, after finding and picking up each piece of trash, he'd put it in the plastic bag and exclaim: "Look, Mama, how much we already picked! We are good trash pickers, aren't we?" And once we were done and on our way back to the car, he said proudly: "Good thing we came here, Mama. Without us, the planet might had died."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

We Are Back with the Trek

Math Trek that is. We tried it the first time last spring and loved it. Unfortunately, we kept missing new treks and then these math scavenger hunts were put on hold by the organizers. So I was very happy to see an announcement for a new trek in February.

This one was called Math in a Machine. We got to go to a ridiculously cool Frantz Automotive shop.

Coincidentally, a few days before the trek, we picked up a bunch of books about simple machines. Things just work out that way. So M had some very basic knowledge about incline planes, pulleys, wheels and such.

At the shop we saw a few of those and plenty of other cool things. M got totally into the scavenger hunt and after a while completely took over the camera.

Catching Up with Random Pictures

Ok, so the pictures aren't so random. Just little odds and ends, photos that I meant to turn into posts, but kept procrastinating and running out of time. On the bright side, you'll be spared long-winded narrative...

The top picture is from all the way back from the Groundhog Day. Turns out, there's a big celebration in Raleigh, complete with our local groundhog predicting the weather. Which we totally missed. Instead, we went to a nature center for a walk-around, looking for groundhog borrows and then doing some groundhog crafts.

Finally, M discovered a couple of kitchen cabinets perfect for hiding. This one, with a lazy susan is particularly good for playing fort.

 Making new toys for M doesn't always work out so well. But he really liked this simple one - a can and some magnets hot-glued to odds and ends.

 Grandpa brought the slide all the way from NY! M helped with the installation.
So now we have a bright yellow and very fast slide in addition to a bright red tree platform.

And that's all for the random pix.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our First Rube Goldberg Machine

And it's a video post too! Pretty self-explanatory. Don't worry, the loud music stops after the first few seconds (just making sure no copyright is violated here).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

New Office and Guest Room

Ever since the incident with this gal that rented a room from us for one month and refused to pay rent, I decided to not look for another renter. Instead, I wanted to reclaim the guest room and make it into a really nice home office/guest room. And I've been busy with this project ever since.

First, I had to sell the twin bed which didn't take long and it was gone in a day. That freed up space so I could paint the walls. One of the walls had to be repainted (same color), but the others needed just minor touch-ups. Thankfully, the home improvement store was able to match the old paint perfectly, so all the painting took less than 3 hours. 

Since I had plenty of paint left over, I decided to repaint the hallway as well. And while at it, I realized that the whole thing would look even better if I refreshed the trim. Except, turns out, I didn't use regular pure white for the trim, but instead used some kind of slightly darker shade of white (if it makes sense) but forgot the name of the color. So I ended up repainting all the trim with pure white. Just as things started to look shiny and new, I noticed that the doors looked curiously dark and decided to repaint them as well. Hmm... That's when I learned the most important rule of door painting - DON"T! Seriously, each door took like 5 coats of paint (to be honest, I still have 1 more door to paint, but I'm just ignoring it for now). Well, at least after all this work the hallway looks very nice.

Back to the room though. I decided that it'd be nice to move our day bed from the family room to the guest room so guest would actually have a bed to sleep on. And I promptly took apart this said day bed and moved this heavy thing into the guest room (then I had to do some paint touch-ups from where the metal frame rubbed the walls). But putting this horrible daybed together was a whole different story. Took me like 2 hours of heavy work! All the while I kept thinking about human factors in engineering and design just so I would stay distracted enough not to curse like a sailor.

Finally, with the bed in place, I had time on my hands to sell the desk. It was simply too big for the space and all. And then I got super lucky and found a new used desk that was just what I was looking for and for exactly the amount I sold the old desk for. Sometimes things just work out this way. 

Doesn't this desk look cute? Goodwill, baby! Except I wanted to paint it. And what do you know, another lucky break. I remembered that I had this beautiful blue paint left over from when I repainted M's room last year. This particular color was too dark for the room, so I ended up with like a gallon of this beautiful paint and kept it (very unusual for me since I tend to get rid of things I don't use).

So I painted the desk! And then I changed all the drawer pulls too. They were the usual American ones. Nice, but boooring, the exact kind everyone expects to have on drawers in this country. Well, I bought a pound of roofing nails at Lowe's and a $3 leather belt at Goodwill and made my own handles. Can you say "handsome!", please.

And yet another lucky break (yep, they just kept on coming and it was getting a bit scary like that) - I found inexpensive curtains at Target that totally matched the paint on the desk! Awesome apple sauce and hooray to me! 

Then, late at night, when M was asleep, I moved two bookcases into the room trying to be very quiet. Why? Because he seems to have very hard time when things around him change. But if it's done when he doesn't see it, then he's ok. So I moved the bookcases and lots of books too. And put this nice little desk lamp and made this cute little terrarium (didn't cost me a penny since I already had everything I needed for it at home and in the backyard). 

All I need now is some kind of a rug for the floor and some artwork for above the bed. Plus another light above the bed, maybe and a small bedside table of some sort. But, but, but, I feel like this won't get finished for a few more weeks (since I'm working on a budget here). Still, it's a nice room and the first guest (my Dad) is arriving in just a few days. Hope he likes it. If you want to come visit, all you have to do is give me a call or e-mail me. Always happy to see you, guys!

Here Goes My Big 5-Year Old!

Yes, it is official. My sweet little M is now a 5-year old (but if you ask him, he will tell you he's still just 4.5 since he decided not to grow up). Just like all the previous years, we didn't really have a birthday party. Unlike the previous 4 years when it was mostly because of various colds and such, this year's decision was entirely M's own.

It all started about 3 weeks ago when he made his birthday wish list. Top item on it was... a garbage truck. Ok, so then about 2 weeks ago he asked me if we could stop by a toy store so he could just look at the toys and point out which ones he wanted for his birthday. Ok, fine. Turns out, the store did have this awesome (and surprisingly inexpensive) garbage truck with lights, sounds, moving parts and a detachable trash bin. Wow! So he begged and begged and I told him that no, it's not his birthday yet and he'd have to wait 2 more weeks.

Except that same evening M came to me looking all sneaky and excited and said that he came up with an idea how to get this truck sooner - to celebrate his birthday the next day. I honestly didn't mind; after all, it's his birthday and he should have a say in it, don't you think? Except I warned him that since it was so unexpected and it was going to be a regular work day, none of his friends would be able to make it. Also, while I was planning on buying a simple dessert, there wouldn't be any candles on it. I also explained that he would get another dessert on his proper birthday, this time, with candles, but it wasn't going to be like a party. M was simply thrilled with the arrangement. He said all he wanted was the toy and then "my friends can just come over and we'll play".

So that's exactly what happened. But we did have a really good birthday day last Thursday. A couple of his friends stopped by for a playdate in mid-afternoon and the boys had lots of fun, including with the toy garbage truck. Later that evening, M's best friend stopped by and even brought a gift and they played some more and had cake and M got to blow out the candles. And today M and his best friend went to the inflatables place and jumped and ran around for a couple of hours.

All in all, I liked the format. It was a lot less stressful and, frankly, a lot less expensive. M was very happy not just with the gifts, but also with so many playdates with his friends. We might adopt this option for the next year if M is so inclined.

Oh, and the gifts M got for his birthday included - a garbage truck and Dr. Porkchop's flying machine (from Toy Story 3); a spy probe and a Federation Troop Transport (from Star Wars); an Encyclopedia of Galactic Battles (Star Wars again), an awesome Lego Tie Figher (c'mon, you know it's from Star Wars) and a set of two pit droids (yep, even more Star Wars).

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is It Winter Yet?

That's the question M keeps asking almost every day. Sure, he knows that it's supposedly winter time now. But then "how come there's no snow?". Good point! In fact, it's been so warm lately that we went ahead and opened our 2012 planting season by sawing lettuce. And don't you be thinking I'm rushing things here.

We first went to a real honest-to-goodness farm to help out sawing lettuce there. Turns out, there's a small organic farm less than 5 minutes away from us. It's an Interfaith Food Shuttle farm and they are always looking for volunteer helpers. I am way too non-committal about things like that, but fortunately I know people who know people who make these things happen. So, long story short, one of the moms in our homeschooling group organized an outing/volunteering for the preschoolers and we went along.

It was a very cold and windy day, as you can probably tell from the pictures. But still, kids had fun. First, they found an old row where carrots grew last fall. Except there were a few carrots left unpulled and forgotten. And the farmer allowed our kiddos to pull and eat (or take home) those lovely organic carrots.

We then got to see the greenhouse and the chicken coup and finally, got to broadcast lettuce seeds, pat them down and cover with the row cover from the cold. I felt inspired. So last weekend, when the weather was really nice and warm (something like upper 60s), we spent a couple of hours in our front yard, weeding, adding fresh compost to the beds, putting mesclun seeds in (I had some left over from last year) and, of course, patting them down. Needless to say, within a day the weather turned from nice and warm to still nice, but kinda chilly. Then yesterday I decided that the ground was too dry and watered it just a little bit. Sure thing, it's been raining since this morning and will rain through the weekend.

Seriously though, I got lots of work done in the front yard cleaning it and making it nice. And M got to spend a lot of time outside figuring out how to keep himself busy. So he started by launching some of his smaller toys into space, then digging a hole in hopes of finding magma. And then he just made himself comfortable next to my sorrel plant and munched on its leaves all the while explaining that it was delicious and full of vitamins (and it was!).

He then decided to make some salad with sorrel, store-bought lettuce, radishes and cucumbers. He patiently cut the cukes, tore the greens and asked me to chop radishes. He then mixed the simple oil and vinegar dressing. He then ate about a forkful of it and proclaimed it a delicious delight, but left most of it untouched (rushed off to play with his friend who is not big on eating salads). The next day he looked at the leftover salad and was surprised to discover that, although the salad lost its crisp, it became even more flavorful. So we talked about wilting, dehydrating qualities of salt, and how vinegar pickles veggies. In the spring, I explained, we'll plant our own radishes and cucumbers and all. Ok, he said, but that's a long way away 'cause it's not even winter yet 'cause where's the snow.