Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Might It Be Norwalk?

Among the many things we did last week, we went to the Stepping Stones Kids museum in Norwalk, CT. We've been there last winter, but with the reciprocal membership deal we get through our Life and Science Museum, we get in for free. So why not go and explore the place some more? 

Ok, it's a bit of a drive and I don't like that, across TZB and on I-95 through heavy traffic. Oh, well... But the museum was great! Funny, in the winter, when it was cold and dreary, M couldn't get enough of water play. But now, as the temps were hitting record highs, he didn't at all care for water fun and instead spent a huge chunk of time exploring wind tunnels and figuring out which pieces of foam would fly better.

The museum had a new exhibit about sound. It had some cool stuff in it, such as a theremin and several slapophones. But many of the things only made sense or worked if you read the instructions. So not very easy for pre-readers to explore independently. Plus I think a sound exhibit is best explored in relative quiet, something hard to come by at a kids museum.

The wonderful Animusic was still there and we spent about half an hour watching the vids while M was running around with other kids (and sometimes stopping to watch).

The big discovery was the outdoor playspace. We didn't get to check it out last winter since it was just too cold. This time around we did and it's just wonderful. There aren't many toys. Actually, there are no toys at all. Instead, there are these plastic and foam things that you can play with. Kids were turning them into tunnels, marble runs, castles, hideouts, obstacle courses, light sabers, what have you. It was so cool to observe how different children played differently with the same objects and how their imagination was working full throttle (something that I think doesn't get exercised enough with many other toys).

We had an idea to also check out the Aquarium which is just a couple of minutes away (albeit not easy to walk to). But it was getting late and we wanted to get back before serious traffic started on TZB. So instead we drove to East Norwalk for a stroll along the Long Island Sound. Ah, it was awesome even though a bit chilly and windy. I couldn't find a way to get to the Calf Pasture Beach since it appeared to be a part of a gated community. But we parked streetside and walked along the sound a bit. Parts of the waterfront there are private, but there are enough places for public access. So we got to the water and explored the tiny sandy beach for oyster shells.

The houses we walked by were beautiful too, sort of like straight out of a movie (in fact, both the original and the remake of Stepford Wives were filmed partially in Norwalk). So I started thinking about maybe moving there. And why not? It's only an hour or so from NYC and you can get to Manhattan on Metro-North. It's close to grandparents and cousins. It has a large Russian community, a good size homeschooling community, lots of interesting places, etc. The only thing is house prices and traffic. Hmm... Maybe in a few years... For now we'll just visit.

Other Things in NY

We're almost ready to head home. I can't wait to see my cat and to check on my garden. I originally planned on being in NY for only 10 days, but decided to extend the stay for another week. Returning home is always nice, but this time especially so since July is when Chris comes home for R&R.

In the mean time, while we're still in NY, here are some pictures, in no particular order. Last weekend we went to pick wild blueberries with my cousin and his eldest daughter. It was a lot of fun even though we only found a handful (quite literally) of ripe blueberries. The rest were still green. But the few tiny berries that we did find were delicious, very different from the store-bought ones or the ones that grow in my garden.

 But it was more than just picking berries. We searched for all sorts of interesting things - seed pods, flowers, ferns, butterflies and such and took pictures whenever we could.
 ... and that included, unfortunately, trash. Ok, so there wasn't all that much of it since the trail we were on is not used all that often. Fortunately, this time we had a couple of plastic bags with us and the kids got really into this whole garbage hunt.
 But not everything we did in NY had to be about garbage. Ok, so here we are getting ready to have some tea, Russian-style.
 And also there was gardening M did with Grandma. Grandma's plants are covered with these plastic containers. It sort of looks like she's growing a plastic box plant. Well, not exactly, these are berry bushes. Seriously, haven't you ever wandered how all those berries you buy in store end up neatly packed into plastic containers? Well, that's how!
 Ok, I'm pulling your leg, of course. This is just Grandma's latest attempt to protect the harvest from all sorts of critters - chipmunks, squirrels, a ground hog and lots and lots of birds. It's a bit less tedious to use plastic boxes than little mesh bags she used last year (and still uses whenever she runs out of boxes)
 Do the efforts pay off? Ok, here's the day's haul of blueberries, currants and cherries. If not for the bags, these would had been eaten by the wildlife. But now M gets to eat them instead.
 We also grilled. Here's Grandma acting, not very successfully, as the grill master with me looking on (it's fascinating to watch others work). M shot this pictures. He is getting much better with the focus and the composition.
And that's us enjoying ice-cream on the deck after the day's work's done.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Museum of Garbage, At Last!

Speaking of garbage... We finally made it to the Museum of Garbage. Yep, it's a real museum, although it's a pretty tiny one. But don't let its size or out of the way location discourage you from going there. It's simply awesome!

I found out about this museum thanks to Laura from Bedtime Math. Yep, her daily e-mails are awesome like that. You and your kids get to learn a lot of cool stuff in addition to solving interesting and very practical math problems.

Ok, so I promised M to go to this museum next time we're in NY 'cause CT is much closer to NY than to NC. Except, when I looked at the map, I found out that the museum was still good 100 miles away from the Grandparents' house. And to get there I had to take I-95 which I totally hate for its traffic. But a promise is a promise. And so we went there last week.

And as I said, it was totally cool! First, you get in and there's this Temple of Trash which is fun just to look at. Or you can play scavenger hunt in it (and it's not at all easy).

The museum has exhibits for various ages. I think even middle-school aged kids will find it interesting. For young ones there are a few hands-on activities. M absolutely loved the "sort your trash" display. You get to operate a conveyor belt and sort various recyclables. He was there for a long time!

There is also a bookshelf in the corner of this area. Do not overlook it! It has lots of children's books about impact of trash on the environment and about recycling. Most of these books I haven't read to M yet (and we've read a lot of garbage-themed books). With so much to see and do, M didn't want to listen to my reading. But he couldn't resist this adorable story called Dougal, the Garbage Dump Bear. It is such a cute story! I'm totally in love and am going to buy this book. As one of the Amazon reviews says: "Highly recommend it for someone who loves stuffed animals or garbage!" I loved the book so much that I tried finding out a bit more about its author, Matt Dray. Couldn't find much, but will continue looking.

After that, we all went to see the best part of the museum. Well, guess what?! Ok, this museum is built right next to a recycling sorting facility. So if you go to the second floor of the museum, you will find yourself in a gallery overlooking the unloading bay and sorting floor.

Seriously, this is so cool - you get to see trucks bringing recyclables in, bulldozers pushing huge piles of garbage together, conveyor belts going in all directions, carrying recyclables to various stations where they get separated - paper and cardboard, plastic, aluminum, glass - all in different areas. And you get to see lots of bales of compacted recyclables (M loves those since that's what Wall-E was doing, compacting trash into cubes).

Of course, there's even more in the museum. For example, there's a display that shows all the trash produced by Sustainable Dave over one full year. It's surprisingly little. So little, in fact, that it's even less than the amount of trash generated by the artist who worked on the display itself. Sadly, both Dave's trash and the artist's trash, combined, are still less than what you can collect walking 100 yards on Sandy Hook's bay side beach.

There was also a craft area for making collages with cut up food packaging, left over pieces of paper and jigsaw puzzle pieces from incomplete sets. M and Grandma worked on the collage (sunrise over the landfill, I think) while I made little souvenir name tags.

Even though there were quite a few other things to see and explore, it was time for us to head home. We were trying to beat the end-of-day traffic on Tappan Zee Bridge (no such luck). I hope we get to visit this museum again in the future. Sure, it's a long drive, but the Stepping Stones museum in Norwalk are on the way and I think the trips can be combined (especially if we stay somewhere overnight).

P.S. Thinking about this trip, I think what I liked most about the museum was the emphasis they place on REDUCING the stream of garbage we create even if it's all recyclable. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Beach Trip to Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook is not the closest beach to Grandparents (that would be Rye). But it's the nicest. I briefly entertained the idea of going to the Fire Island (it'd be awesome, especially since M loves the Pinky Pye story). But getting there is a pain and, from what I understand, it's very crowded this time of the year. So we'll leave it until next time. Instead, M, myself and Grandma went to Sandy Hook.

So, Sandy Hook... Here are my three likes about the place - treasure hunting on the bay side, Ft. Hancock lighthouse, and a pocket-size beach of Horseshoe Cove. Three things I don't like about the place - rip currents, Ft Hancock and trash.

Ok, Ft Hancock needs some clarification. It's a really cool place with an interesting history. But the problem with it is its layout is very confusing (like pretty much all the Army bases I've been to) and hard to drive around and there few signs posted around do not help much. Nor does the map that you can get at the lighthouse.

I can't say that I like Sandy Hook's ocean side beaches. I must be spoiled after living in Daytona Beach for years and then moving to North Carolina. The beaches I'm used to are wide, gently sloping, with warmer water. In short, nothing like Sandy Hook. 

So we didn't spend too much time on the ocean side. Just enough to explore the big rocks, cover M with sand and make a horseshoe crab out of plaster of Paris (it was meant to be a hand-print, but turned out a blob that we decided looked like a crab). When we got home, M drew eye lashes and a big smile on it and promised to take it home to introduce to all the toys.

We had way more fun walking on the bayside, right across the road from the ocean side beaches. Again, we didn't swim there, partly because the water was a bit too cold, but mostly because on the bay the water is not clear and you can't see the bottom. Combined with strong currents and no lifeguards it makes me feel very uncomfortable. Besides, it was just way more interesting to treasure hunt.

Fortunately, M completely agreed. And we spent a couple of hours walking around, wading into the water just a little bit, finding all sorts of mollusks, sea weed, rocks, even a small piece of glass smoothed by the waves. We also found lots of crabs, mostly dead, but also a couple of live ones and plenty of perfectly preserved and very fragile tiny shells of horseshoe crabs (and one really big one, but it reeked and we decided to leave it be).

The beach wasn't really crowded since we went there on a Wednesday. It does get a lot busier on weekends. But even a not-so-busy beach is littered with trash, especially on the bay side where junk gets caught in seaweed and vegetation. That's pretty sad considering how beautiful the place really is. Next time we go, I think we'll turn our treasure hunt into a bit of a cleanup. Or I should make it a rule to pack a garbage bag and gloves every time we go places.

No More Lego Kits!

I think I'm going to make it my rule from now on - no more buying Lego kits for M. Sure, there are some awesome kits out there and we do have quite a few at home. But so far playing with kits has been way too frustrating and not nearly as rewarding as playing with loose bricks. 

I recently ordered bulk Lego bricks from Ebay. To supplement those I just bought an inexpensive (as far as anything Lego goes) set of 600 bricks (if you're interested, it's set #4628). With these two new acquisitions, M's been building stuff every day.

When it comes to kits, even fairly simple ones, he gets put off by directions. Even though he can follow directions reasonably well, he gets intimidated and requires too much hand-holding. With loose Legos he just builds, frequently early in the morning when I'm still asleep.

Not to mention that loose bricks let him build just about anything he imagines. Lately he's been building a rocket with a launch pad, a police station with a prison (after watching Lego Police episodes on YouTube), a truck to move "everything in the world", a bunch of satellites, a super cell phone and much more.

Finally, keeping Lego kits organized has proved to be a nightmare. I recently got several tiered plastic drawers on casters and put each kit into a separate drawer. Naively, I thought it was going to work out just perfectly. Yeah, if you have a Lego-builder in your house, you're laughing at me now, I know. After just one week after this organizing "stroke of genius", half our Lego kits miss small, but absolutely essential and hard-to-get parts. Loose bricks will definitely help me with this issue.

I still have to find or re-order the missing pieces. And I still have to come with a way to store the kits so they are accessible, but manageable. But hopefully M's building activities will be a bit less taxing on my obsessive-compulsive idea of "a place for everything and everything in its place".