Sunday, April 29, 2012

Half-way Point

I am at a half-way point right now. Six months ago my hubby packed his A bag, his B bag, his rucksack and a huge rolling bag and left. Well, actually, I dropped him off at his Army unit. And now we are half-way through his year-long deployment. They say the first half is the toughest and things will start moving faster from now on. I am not so sure. But I do hope so 'cause honestly, I'm kind of hitting the wall. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Things have been much easier than I imagined they'd be. Six months ago I was freaking out about issues like

1) how am I going to wake up at 6am every morning for a whole year? (I am not a morning person plus I work 'til 12am-1am every night)
2) what if we get snowed in this winter (I can't drive in the snow or ice)
3) what if M has to go to an emergency room in the middle of the night? What if I have to go to an emergency room in the middle of the night? (who's going to stay with M since we have no relatives in the area; I was a bit freaked out about medical stuff 'cause I just had a surgery a few days before Chris's deployment)
4) what if the car breaks down big time (it's a 2002 KIA with almost 160K on it)
5) what if I get really sick, like with a stomach virus, and can't take care of M for a few days? (this did happen about a year ago when both Chris and I caught a stomach bug from M and got sick at the same time)
6) what if... you name it, I was worried about it.

Well, none of these problems proved to be all that scary

1) every evening I set up a snack and water for M so he has something to eat when he wakes up. He then (mostly) quietly plays with his toys for an hour or so and I get some extra sleep. Oh, and I moved his bedtime to 8pm instead of 7pm, so he wakes up a bit later now too.
2) the winter was very mild, no snow at all
3) hasn't happened yet and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Plus if something doesn't feel quite right, I immediately make an appointment with a doctor. Call me paranoid, but I figure, better be safe than sorry.
4) I took the car to the mechanic for some repairs, none too serious. The guy assured me that the car is in good shape. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one as well.
5) Haven't gotten sick so far (tfu-tfu-tfu) and keeping fingers crossed, of course. Plus I have an emergency supply of healthy-ish snacks for M to feed himself for a day or so if I'm so sick I can't fix something for him.

Yet other issues, rather unexpected ones, popped up and I have to deal with them every single day. This is all mundane, domestic stuff, nothing extraordinary. Yet, as the Russian saying goes капля камень точит (little strokes fell great oaks). 

Some of it comes from my choice of homeschooling M and the fact that he still has a major separation anxiety. He absolutely does not stay with anyone other than me for any length of time. Another source of issues is me constantly trying to do more than just keeping things together. I keep re-arranging furniture, re-organizing toy storage, etc. OCD, maybe? My latest project is clearing our backyard of all the weeds (our backyard is overgrown with English ivy, poison ivy, and Virginia creeper, making for an interesting challenge). 

I've had lots of offers of help (mostly babysitting) from friends and I am so grateful!. But unfortunately I can't take you up on these offers (see above). Instead, let's just have lots of playdates! So here's how you can help me get through my mid-way slump:

1. Tell me I'm doing a great job :)
2. Chat with M for a few minutes when you stop by. It makes him very happy to have someone other than me to talk to about garbage trucks, Star Wars, and robots.
3. Don't ask me to babysit your kids, please-please (I have a hard time saying "no", but honestly, I'm a bit overwhelmed at the moment). If you do ask, please-please, let's keep it to like an hour or so. 
4. Come over for tea, playdates, or just to say "hello". Or come stay at our place for a few days if you are not local. I'm always happy to have guests.
5. If you can't stop by, give me a buzz once in a while or e-mail me. Send me your latest pictures too!
6. If you can, take pix of me and M doing stuff together and don't forget to e-mail them to me (as much time as I spend with M this year, 24/7 really, I have like almost no pictures of the two of us).

We'll continue doing ok or even better than ok as we've been doing so far. We only have a few months left. Not even 6 months. How come? Well, you see, we came up with this awesome counting system - we don't count the current month (so on May 1st we don't count the entire May); we don't count the last month; and we don't count the month when Chris is supposed to come down here for a couple of weeks for R&R. So really, we only have 3 months left! Hooray!!!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Books, Books, Books

This week we have been reading these books:

Continuing with M's interest in everything garbage-related, we got just about every garbage truck book from the library. This particular book is very basic. It just relays the basic facts of what a garbage truck does. But the pictures are great, so M just flips through it on his own. We are re-reading Smash! Mash! Crash! There goes the trash! and a few other garbage books I already mentioned.

As for books not related (or at least not totally related) to garbage, we've found the absolutely wonderful Wendel's Workshop by Chris Riddell. M loved-loved-loved the book. The story is so simple, but humorous. The illustrations are wonderful. It's about an inventor mouse, a bunch of junkbots, a messy room and yes, about trash too. After re-reading this book several times, M took it into his "workshop" (our family room) and started inventing and drawing blueprints.

Funny story about this book. When I read it the first time, we got to the point where it talks about how sometimes Wendel was so busy inventing, that he forgot to go to bed at night. Right away M asked me "Does Wendel have a mommy? Isn't he a baby mouse?" I said, sure, he had a mom. "So how come he gets to stay up late and work at night?" asked M. Hmm...

I try, whenever possible, to add books about things other than robots, space, and garbage trucks to our reading "diet". Sometimes M flatly refuses to even look through them. Other times, as with this book, he seems interested. I only read it to him once, but it was a very nice experience. The irony of this book was that the only experiences that were foreign to M had to do with the pages where Polina (the Russian girl from the book) went to school. The rest of it - having blini or porridge for breakfast, playing ladushki game, drinking tea around a samovar, etc was all too familiar. The coolest part of reading this book was when I pointed out to a photo of the children writing Russian words on a blackboard and M could read the word!

Grandpa is going to Russia for a month or so and M's been talking about wanting to go to Russia too. So this book was a very timely read for us. And then M asked me to find some YouTube videos of Russian garbage trucks :)

I couldn't believe my luck when I found this book at the library sale a few weeks ago. It was only $0.50 and I snagged it right away. The poems in this book are so funny and the illustrations are even funnier. We've been reading it at bed time for the last few days. M's favorite poems from this book are Веселая квампания and Мёдопровод.

Our other Russian-language book this week has been fairy tales by Korney Chukovsky. I love them and remember many by heart. I started reading them to M when he wasn't even a year old. But then we took a long break from these charming stories, except the one about Barmaley which he'd ask me to read to him now and then. But earlier in the week we re-read the entire book and for the first time M seemed to be really interested in all, even in Dr Aibolit. Maybe we'll return to them after a few more days with the Merry Company.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trip to the Landfill

Today was the day! We finally took a tour of the county landfill. And it was one of the most interesting tours we've been on. Needless to say, M was so excited!

The free tour was organized by South Wake Solid Waste Management. After we got to the landfill, we were given a brief, but very informative presentation describing all the areas of the landfill (with areal photographs) and the layers it was composed of.

Then we all got into a big van and taken to the spot just a few yards away from the landfill's cell that is now being filled with garbage. Since it was Saturday, things were pretty slow. We saw only three or four garbage trucks pulling into the area and unloading. Consequently, there was only one compactor working. But that was just fine since even a not so busy landfill was a very happening place. But not very smelly at all.

Actually, that was one of the most surprising things of all. Even standing just across a road from all that trash, it didn't smell all that bad. Sure, there was an occasional whiff, but not much more than the smell from a dumpster behind a typical restaurant.

Another surprise was how clean the place was. I mean, sure, there was a whole lot of garbage in the cell, but driving all around the landfill we saw maybe just a couple of small pieces (plastic bags, actually), laying around, and there was a crew member walking towards them to pick them up and return to the proper area.

We were taken to all the interesting areas of the landfill, including the methane flare and the leachate tank. We also got to go to the very top of the old, sealed field. From 400 ft up, we had a nice 360 view of the entire facility as well as of the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in the distance (what, you haven't gotten one in your neighborhood?!) It was almost a picnic-perfect spot, I'm telling you.

And then the tour was over and we returned back to the old transfer station shed. The last cool thing we got to see from the van was an area in which oyster shells are collected before being shipped to the coast. And then we got back to our car and headed home, but only after dropping off some old batteries at the household hazardous waste drop-off area.

If you live in Wake County, you can register for the next available tour (on Sept 10) - it's free and very interesting. You'll definitely think twice before throwing things away.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursdays at Our House

I've come to love Thursdays lately. Why? Mostly because we spend the entire day at home. And it feels nice. Actually, let me correct myself here. We do spend a whole lot of time in the house on Thursdays, but we spend even more time out in the yard.

That's because Thursday is a garbage pick-up day in our neighborhood. So first thing in the morning, right after breakfast and home school we rush into the front yard. From that moment we have about 4 hours to spend outside. Yes, that's a lot of time, so we try to make the most of it. 

We do a whole lot of weeding, picking up pine cones and sweet gumballs and battling with crabgrass. We've also been busy clearing the wooded part of our yard overgrown with ivy. My secret plan is to hang a hammock and hang some solar lanterns too. When it's done, I will be able to supervise M waiting for garbage trucks from the comfort of my hammock.

Of course, weeding doesn't take up 4 hours (not if you do it every single week). So for the last hour or so we end up just waiting... M busies himself with his toy garbage trucks; the cat lazies in the sun; and I try to read a book while simultaneously answering M's "is the truck going to be here soon?" questions.

Do you believe me when I say that the garbage truck drivers know M, wave at him, get out of the truck to talk to him and, whenever possible, get the crusher blade working  to smash-mash-crash all that trash? You better believe me.
The last truck usually comes by around 2-2:30pm. That's when we head back inside for a quick lunch. And then our fantastic speech therapist, Natalia, comes over. I can't believe my luck finally finding a speech therapist that a) my son adores, b) I like, c) is very effective, d) believes in holistic approach and e) is a native Russian speaker. 
Then later in the evening we now join a group of other Russian moms and children for a Russian story and tea time. And that's our Thursdays. Somehow we still end up staying busy. But at least it's a no-driving-around busy which I do like for a change.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This Week We Are Reading

Here are some more books we've been reading this week.

Jack the Builder by Stuart J Murphy. The story is really simple - a boy builds something with blocks. First, with two, then with three, five, etc. The structures look simple, but the boy's imagination transforms them into something amazing. M already builds a lot of very imaginative structures with the blocks, so this story was very easy to relate to. The math was too simple, so we came up with our own challenges. The one M loved the most was to divide all the blocks we had evenly between us, then race to build structures using all available blocks.

When it was my turn to invent a game, I came up with an idea of rolling dice to determine how many blocks to take from a pile. Then build something with just those blocks and little odds and ends (pipe cleaners, straws, nuts and bolts, shells) that we have lots and lots of.

Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French. We both loved this cute story! It's absolutely wonderful in its simplicity. Wombats don't lead very excited or varied lives. Whenever they don't sleep or scratch, they eat grass and roots. The little wombat in the book is no exception... until he gets new neighbors.

As simple as the story is, it's a great book to develop critical thinking skills. After reading this story a few times, I asked M to imagine what would this story sound like if told by wombat's new neighbors, the humans. Back in January we had this post on the Moebius Noodles Facebook page:
"Point of view reversals through stories are important for developing the algebraic look at math and life, say to use the fact that addition and subtraction are inverses to calculate smarter."
Another great benefit of reading this book was that M's consumption of carrots increased dramatically over the next couple of days.

We also read, or rather played with Press Here by Herve Tullet. I wrote a review and some ideas for math play based on this book over at the Moebius Noodles blog.

We've been re-reading this Russian book for the upteenth time now. M still laughs and enjoys it as much as he did the first time we read it, if not more. Now he even quotes lines from it. I am getting pretty good at making myself sound like all the different characters in the story. Maybe there's bright future for me in audio books recording?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Museum of Garbage is Open, Sort of

I guess it will always remain the work in progress, M's Museum of Garbage. So don't expect an official ribbon-cutting. But I took some pictures of what's there and will now (finally) share them. But first, a disclaimer - nothing in this museum is organized on shelves or displays. Stuff is pretty much everywhere and you have to know that it's a museum piece.

First, there's this giant poster. Ok, ok, I did draw the garbage trucks and colored most of them. M did color some of it, but he mostly concentrated on drawing the rest of the stuff on the poster. It's kind of hard to see, but there's blue sky and a bright yellow sun shining onto roadways and a couple of tall buildings. Originally, M planned on drawing a bunch of small houses so garbage trucks would have lots of garbage to pick up. But then he realized that it'd be a lot of work. So instead he drew two multi-story apartment buildings.

Then there's a recycling stations and a garbage burning factory next to the buildings and a landfill (where all the pieces of paper are glued to the poster).

Next, on the door leading into the museum room (family room), there's a garbage bag sample. M wanted to show what garbage bags are made of and cut a piece of plastic out of one and put it on the door. In case you don't get it, there's a whole entire trash bag hanging on the handle.

Here's M's snowboard that he made for me. Why a snowboard? I don't know. I think he watched an episode of "How Things Are Made" that featured a snowboard making factory. I think what really stuck in his mind was how snowboards get decorated. So he used some painters' tape and pencils and then asked me to draw the "Waste Management" logo (he colored it) and a few garbage trucks.

On the wall underneath the window there are two Contact paper collages. One is called "The trash of our house" and the other one - "The trash of our yard". M had a third one in mind, "The trash of our world", but it's kind of really ambitious so he hasn't started yet.

There are also all his garbage trucks with their hoppers usually full of garbage (ok, torn paper, pieces of cut up cardboard, pebbles, small ziploc bags, etc).

There's usually some sort of block structure, but it changes. The one on the picture now is WALL-E's house with rotating shelves. Before that, it was a recycling operation with a conveyor belt and a compactor. And before that there was a SMART station (from one of the recycling videos on YouTube).

Oh, and there's also a stash of pictures M took of various pieces of garbage (above is just one example from our "know your garbage" experiment), a cut-out about some super-efficient trash burning station, and some blueprints M drew of recycling operations. And that's our museum!

He'll be happy to show you his museum if you are in town. The admission is free and the museum is open most days, morning to night.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Finally Strawberries!

The weather's been crazy the entire week. After an insane and unheard of pea-size hail that we had a couple of weeks ago, it really cooled off a whole lot. We had to pull our long sleeved t-shirts and even light sweaters out of storage again. Yeah, I know, I sound like a wimp. But c'mon, we had 80-degree weather at the end of March and even turned the heater off.

But finally it seems that the cold snap is over. Which means we can go pick strawberries. Yippie!
Once again we went to Porter's which is like the closest field to us. So close, in fact, that we can get there in about 20 minutes on local roads and, most importantly, it's totally on the way to a bunch of other things, like the Farmers' Market and a couple of great parks.

Of course, this being Saturday morning, it was pretty busy there. All the giant strawberries were gone from the pick-your-own field. But there were still tons of smaller ones. I asked M if we should pick one or two baskets. His response was "let's pick three!". So we picked up two empty baskets, chose a lane in the field and got to work.

Or rather I got to work and M started running up and down the lane with his basket. In all this running and having fun he did pick about a third of the basket. So maybe his approach was better than mine (getting straight to work and not taking any time to enjoy what's going on).

After we finished picking strawberries and went to pay for them, M said "I think this place has something yummy we got last time" (a year ago!). I played all innocent and asked "oh yeah, what?". "I think it was ice-cream last year" was the response. Yup, it sure was delicious locally made ice-cream. Now, they sell ice-cream from a regular freezer, like the one you'd find in someone's house. In other words, the freezer has no window in it to see what's inside. Nor does it have a picture of what's in it. Just a sign and M can't read yet (not in English anyway). So I was really amazed at his memory (this is from a boy who has a hard time memorizing the letter "Ы" no matter how many times we go over it).

But we did buy an ice-cream and shared it. And it was delicious! We just sat there enjoying the whole experience, savoring ice-cream while inhaling the sweet smell of ripe strawberries. M, never short on words, proclaimed "Mama, I wish we could stay here forever and even live here!"

Needless to say, we are already planning our next outing to the field. What am I going to do with all the strawberries?

1. Eat them, of course!
2. Make strawberry smoothie, strawberry rhubarb crisp, and strawberry mousse.
3. Strawberry chips are delicious and much better than potato chips too.
4. Strawberry sauce (kind of like apple sauce) to freeze.
5. Strawberry candy (larger chunks of strawberries dried until they are dry-ish, but pliable, like fruit leather)
6. Strawberry jam (yes, it's really-really good!)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Egg Carton Crafts - Moon

We don't do a lot of crafts here. We do have lots and lots of stuff going on, but it's mostly all about building with blocks, digging and maybe sometimes drawing with markers. But painting, cutting and gluing stuff together into something new - we don't do much of that. Most of my attempts at introducing a craft idea are met with a "yeah, cool, but not now" shoulder shrug or an outright resistance. Still, sometimes the stars line up just right... Like for today's egg carton craft.

Even though M is totally into garbage trucks right now, he still spends a whole lot of time on his "old" interests, space exploration being one of them. In fact, he insisted we pick up America in Space: NASA's First 50 Years  book from the library (it was on display) and has been leafing through it in his spare time.

So late last night he had an idea to make a mock-up lunar surface for his plastic astronauts to practice. It had to be big enough for his lunar module 3D puzzle too. I had an empty egg carton laying around and asked if he would need it. YES!

Today he dug up some sand and sifted it to get rid of contaminants not present in lunar soil (his explanation, not mine). He then cut the carton in half (he only wanted to use the top of it) and spread half a bottle of glue on it. Then it was as simple as dumping sand on top and waiting for it to dry. But wait, Moon has rocks on it, doesn't it? So I went to dig through my supplies for another bottle of glue while M went to the yard to find  some rocks. They had to be just right - small and sparkly.

It was interesting to observe him looking for rocks. He gets easily bored and frustrated with large tasks and I was afraid that was going to happen here as well (since he wanted "a lot of rocks"). But he broke the task down into smaller, more manageable chunks - "now I'll go get 4 rocks and then - 3 more" and ended up collecting 20 or so of them.

Then he glued them onto the sand-covered carton in just the right spots, making sure to leave enough smooth surface for the lunar module to land on (the Sea of Tranquility, you know). And he covered the glue with some more sand. And then we waited (I used the time to make a tiny American flag with a flag sticker, a toothpick and some air-dry clay).

Finally, it was time to put everything together. Black paper first (the darkness of Space), then the Earth (M's WorldBank piggy bank). Then the freshly minted lunar surface. Finally, the astronauts (in white) and cosmonauts (in red), the lunar landing module and the flag were carefully placed. I stepped away to get something and returned back to "The Eagle has landed!" announcement.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Garbage Books

Ok, ok, so these are not garbage books, but rather books about garbage. But I had to start with something. Going along with M's new passion for all things garbage related, we've been reading lots and lots of books about it.

Unfortunately, our otherwise excellent library doesn't have that many books about garbage trucks. I think they have about 4-5 non-fiction titles and we borrowed and read them all. This one was ok, although it didn't have as many different garbage trucks as M hoped for. But we made up for the lack of garbage truck diversity by going to Youtube for this video. The book itself was very simple to translate since it was beginner readers' books - big letters, present tense only, short sentences, etc.

This was our next book. We read through it a few times and M keeps looking through the pictures on his own. At this point, garbage collectors are his heroes. Last week he got to shake hands with the driver of the truck that picks up recycling in our neighborhood. That totally made M's day! The nice thing about this book is that each page has a little clock at the top that shows when a driver starts his day, finishes pick ups, drives to the landfill, fuels up the truck, etc.

I am always cautious about English-language story books, mostly because so many of them are written in verse. This makes them impossible to sight-translate into Russian. I Stink, however, is brilliant. It's not a poem so translating the story is a breeze. Basically, it's about a stinky and a bit grouchy garbage truck that is proud of its terrible smell. He even lets you in on the secret by giving out the recipe for his "alphabet soup" (it includes, among other objects, dirty diapers, puppy poo, stinky sneakers, moldy meatballs, etc, etc). That's where things get tough. When translating into Russian, I just gave up on the idea of keeping ingredients in alphabetical order or maintaining the alliterations. Still, it worked out great and M loved the book. We must've read it a couple of dozen times, if not more.

Plus we came up with a game based on the book. We would get a basket of our Russian magnetic letters and one of M's toy garbage trucks. We then would take turns pulling letters out of the basket and trying to come up with disgusting garbage that starts with that letter. If we succeeded, the truck got to "eat" the letter. It was fun and M actually asked to play it again after a while.

Now this book was recommended to us by our very helpful librarian, Mr. Erik. When I looked at it at first I was irritated. It was in verse! I don't read books in English to M (he actually asks me not to) and, as I mentioned, on-the-spot translation into Russian is a pain for books like this. But the pictures looked so awesome and M was so eager to hear the story, that he agreed to hearing it in English. And now I'm glad that he did and we read this book. It's simply awesome. It's beyond awesome. It's unbelievably great!

We read it five times in a row and then read it a few times each day for days! M quotes whole passages from this book (and he simply refuses to memorize any kind of poetry). This is the first book that he memorized so well, that I found him one morning sitting by himself, flipping through the pages and "reading" pretty close to the original text.

Ok, so this one is not a book. It's an audio book. Since it's not me reading, M doesn't have a problem with it being in English. He loves Judy Moody and Stink stories (too bad our library doesn't have that many of them on CDs). This particular one is about JM trying to save the world with help of recycling. Needless to say, it was a big hit over here. In fact, it inspired M to conduct a day-long garbage survey and weight in (but more on that later).

Books about garbage, recycling and garbage trucks that we haven't read yet, but might soon:

Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers (for now we watch this video on YouTube)
Garbage, Waste, Dumps and You by Connie C. Miller
Andrew Lost: In the Garbage by J.C. Greenburg (M loves Andrew Lost stories on CDs, but we haven't heard this one yet)
Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter
Garbage and Recycling by Rosie Harlow (looks like this book has lots of ideas for experiments)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Little Houses

We've been very busy, including building a couple of little houses. The first one is very temporary where basically I throw some old sheets over a climbing frame and M puts pillow cases and little rugs there to make it "cozy". Then he goes off to collect dandelions for food. I told him a while ago that pretty much every part of a dandelion is edible and he seemed to be very taken by the fact.

The second house was something we just decided on one day. It's in the secret corner of our yard. I raked a few inches of old pine needles and leaves off the ground and pulled all the English ivy, set up a frame with some sturdy-looking sticks. I was going to make an honest to goodness survival-style A-frame out of sticks and leaves. But turns out, we don't have enough sticks. Or rather, we do, but they are either not long enough, not thick enough, not sturdy enough or all of the above.

Thankfully, Grandma is a genius and she gave me an idea to use our old reed fencing instead. I had to cut it to size and pad it with some old leaves. But it seems to be working well, even standing up to moderate rain. Next, we (and this time it was actually mostly M) collected rocks from all over the yard and put them into a circle for where we will (maybe) roast marshmallows.

Finally, M asked to keep the exact location very secret because this is his secret Rebel Alliance base on Hoth. So unless you are his old teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Master Yoda himself, you likely won't get to see it in person.