Sunday, June 24, 2012

To the Manor!

So we're in NY for a few days visiting grandparents. The very first thing we had to do once we got here was to deal with the heat wave. The news made the whole thing sound terrible, a total scorcher with near 100% humidity. So early in the morning on the first day of the heat wave we went to a couple of stores and picked up a toy that connects to the hose and sprays water all around; a pack of water balloons; a NERF gun, and a tub of plaster of Paris.

Yet, as it turned out, the heat wave wasn't all that bad (at least not if you are from NC where a typical day in August is upper 90s with high humidity). We played outside a bit with the balloons and the water toy. But M really wanted to play with his new NERF gun. So inside we went.

We ended the day by going to a pool with my cousin, his wive and their two kids. The water in the pool was warm as milk; there was a dog there (it's a private pool); and snacks. So we stayed for almost 3 hours and came back totally exhausted.

The next day was a bit more mellow. I took M to the movies to see Madagascar 3. He really loved it, although he was a bit upset about not getting popcorn. But I explained to him that for the price of a small bag of popcorn at the movies I can make him a large tub of popcorn at home for days. He was ok with that and later got a HUGE tub of freshly popped popcorn (all it took was like 3 spoon fulls of dried corn and maybe 10 minutes of my time). Oh, and as for Madagascar, turns out M liked Alex the Lion, but he really loved the penguins "because they built all those mechanical mechanisms, Mama!"

Oh, and the plaster of Paris? Well, we've been making casts of different shells and also some of the toys. M is building a huge collection of casts that, in addition to sea shells, includes a screw, a lug nut, tire prints of a toy garbage truck, R2D2 and R5D4. The last 2 are what M calls "casts of astromechs in carbonite". More casts are planned for in the next few days.

Then today we went to Phillipsburg Manor. Sure, we've been to it before, last year. But honestly, I love the place! There's always so much to see and learn! So Grandma, M and myself drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge to the Sleepy Hollow (yep, THAT Sleepy Hollow) early in the morning.

For a while there were very few visitors there, so we got pretty much a private tour of the house and the mill. And then we got to help out on the farm - plant a peanut seedling and saw an old rotten fence post for firewood. Telling you, every time we go, we do something awesome there!

And after all this excitement - the manor and more plaster casts - we went to IKEA. Turns out, it was a good day to go because they had a cartoonist there (free, he didn't even take tips) and he drew M and myself. Don't we look awesome?!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Going to the Maker Faire

Last week we went to our second Maker Faire NC (ok, so it's a mini-faire, but still cool). I dunno about you, but I love these things! 

So first, there was the take-apart station with all the different old printers and electronic gadgets and a bunch of basic tools (screwdrivers, wire cutters, etc) to take them apart. M immediately tried grabbing the big mallet, but I managed to stop him in time. Instead, we picked up screwdrivers and tried taking apart an old printer. It was tough! M's motivation was huge though - any parts you managed to pry off were yours to keep!
Next, we went to look at some robots, but they weren't doing much. Instead, we looked at the awesome guns and gadgets at the steam punk stand. So unbelievably cool! M lost interest pretty quickly since he couldn't touch anything there (I think he was still in the take-apart mode, so this was a big switch).
Thinker-Linkers were there again, but this time M didn't want to play with them. You see, now he can play with this building set every time we go to the Life and Science Museum. And since we go there early in the mornings on non-busy days, he sometimes has the entire set to himself. So at the Maker Faire he instead chose to concentrate on the Chaos Machine. Now, if you love marble runs, then you'd sure appreciate this monster one. And the kids are allowed to add to it! I saw it last year too, but didn't realize that it's actually sold as expandable kits. Now I'm thinking about buying the starter one (maybe a good New Year's gift?)
We also visited the STEM bus and they had this really cool display that showed what the inside of a fertilized egg looks like each day for 21 days (no real eggs, just plastic ones that could be taken apart). The last one had this cutest little chick in it! I think this is the kind of stuff that I personally can spend hours exploring (I found this set on Amazon and it's not at all expensive). M looked very interested as well... until someone mentioned that a near-space balloon was about to go up. 
And so we finished our trip to the Faire with the balloon launch. I can't say that it was exciting to watch all the prep work. But M seemed to be absolutely absorbed in it. And then the balloon went up (real fast) and we all waved and M was as happy as a clam about the whole deal. Which reminded him about this little place...

 ... the Life and Science Museum in Durham. We have a membership there this year. However, since our car is old and I'm scared it's going to break any day and the museum is quite far from us, we've only gone there 3 times this year. But I said ok and so the day after the Faire I took M to the museum. I've made a mistake of telling him in advance that we'd be stopping by the Scrap Exchange afterwards (if you've ever been to The Scrap Exchange, you know how exciting that place is for children and adults).
 So M spent about 2 hours at the museum, mostly going through every single items in the space exploration exhibit. I've just finished reading Mary Roach's hilarious and informative "Packing for Mars" and was able to re-tell him the parts of the book about space food (above) and space toilets (below, old versions).
The exciting thing is that it seems since last time we visited, the museum has acquired more space stuff from a private collection. For example, there was Buzz Aldrin's radiation meter and bags used for collecting lunar rocks. And there was a real honest to goodness lunar rock there too!

After this, M tried digging for fossils in the museum's Dinosaur Trail digging patch, but his mind was occupied with the treasures awaiting him at the Exchange. So he begged to go (that's a first) and said that "we have to leave at least something for another visit, Mama". Right he is. We'll go back once we return from NY because there's a new outdoor exhibit opening, called Into the Mist.

This Week's Books - Trash, Oceans and Emil

Well, we are actually reading quite a bit less this week than usual. Maybe it's because it's summer and we're trying to be outside as much as possible. Or maybe because we are visiting grandparents in NY for a couple of weeks and there's just way too much going on here. So here are the books:

I was very happy to find this book, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, at the library. It blends M's interest in trash, recycling and protecting the Earth with our Ocean Odyssey theme at his Junior First Lego League club. Did we read the whole book? No. It's written for older children. But we looked through the pictures and read selectively from the text. We also learned about Earth's oceans, major currents, the Great Garbage Patches, and talked about different marine animals (in the context of them getting hurt by all the trash in the oceans).

The following Lego League meeting was all about intertidal zone. As part of their learning experience, kids did a little craft, trying to make an animal or a plant that inhabits the intertidal zone. Some made anemones, others - mussels, yet others - starfish. M was pretty stubborn about sticking to his choice - ocean surface littered with trash. When I pointed out that it was neither animal or plant, he said that he knew it, but if he didn't do it, nobody would remember about it. And so there it is on the poster - blue "bubble" pattern with ugly brownish marks on it for trash.

Ah, I love the Magic School Bus books and so does M. We picked this one at the local B&N store to go along with the Ocean Odyssey theme. This's been the hardest one for me to translate so far. I just don't know the names of all the different fish and mollusks mentioned here. I had to constantly look up the correct translations. And I kept forgetting them right away 'cause I had more to look up. And then the online translator I used had no options for "ocean floor vents". Urghh... But still, it's a cool book and we'll return to it again. Plus, as usual with MSB books, it has lots of cool project ideas.

This TinTin book M picked up at the library because it had a rocket on it and it was about the Moon. Plus, as he later explained, the dog in a spacesuit was funny. I was a bit concerned about being able to sight-translate the entire book. But it was really not a big deal and I managed it ok. I think it's mostly because I've read so many space stories to him that I got the vocab down pat. M got so into the narrative, which gets pretty suspenseful at times, that he was literally biting his nails. And every time Tintin would get out safe, M jumped on the couch and did a bit of a victory dance. So funny!

 After we were done, M ran into the family room, pulled out these Melissa and Doug cardboard blocks and promptly built himself a lunar tank. If you are wondering about all those cylinders, those are spare oxygen tanks, just in case (in the story Tintin and friends run low of oxygen on their voyage to the Moon).

The big exciting news is that Grandpa got back from his trip to Russia with a ton of great books for M. So we've got plenty of new stuff to read. For now this is our bedtime reading - Emil of Lonneberga. Unfortunately, this book is not well-known in the US. But it's extremely popular and well-loved in Russia and deservedly so (just as all the other books by Astrid Lindgren). I've read abridged versions of a few stories to M before. But this time, these are full-length, very detailed stories, each taking a good half-hour to get through. And they are funny too! So we are both enjoying them a lot. Unfortunately, this edition is terribly illustrated (as so many Russian children's books are). Still, we're happy we got this book!

Ah, I almost completely forgot about this one! This book, Fixiki, is another one from the stash Grandpa hauled from Russia. I'm not crazy about Fixiki, the tiny people that live inside appliances, computers and mechanical contraptions. Mostly because the cartoons are annoying. Plus the big green Fixik's name is Papus, which in Russian sounds just like "papoose". But M loves Fixiki and can't get enough of them. Plus, this book is very well illustrated (with still frames from the Fixiki cartoons). It's a pretty good read although there's really no story, just lots of trivia info about each of the characters. It's not a long book either, so we went through it in just a couple of days. And that's all we've been reading this week.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Books We've Been Reading

I keep forgetting to post the books we've been reading. One of the reasons is that we've been re-reading the same books about trash and recycling that I mentioned before. Plus with so many things going on we sort of slowed down a bit with our reading. So this is a recap of the last couple of weeks.

I love books by Gail Gibbons for their illustrations (you can almost tell the story without even reading it) and for the simple, yet not simplistic language she uses to describe complicated things. Combine the two and these books are some of the easiest for me to sight-translate. And with the hurricane season upon us, this is a timely read. Plus it will help me get M more involved in hurricane preparedness, like checking our supply kit and talking about what we're going to do in case of emergency.

See, what did I tell you about Gail Gibbons's books? This is another one we've been reading last week. We haven't gotten through the whole book since there's quite a lot to absorb. So we are going to pick it up again this week. M's been very interested in what Earth is made of. So we talked about the inner and outer core, the mantle and the crust. And he asked what would happen if the inner core is removed and what would happen if the repairs crew digging on the street corner would dig clear through the crust and into the mantle.

Ok, this was M's choice. He's been fascinated with the human body, particularly the brain and the skeleton, for a couple of years now and knows well all the major organs and body systems. This is not the book we read together. Instead, he flips through it on his own and brings it to me to show the most interesting finds. Like today he found a picture of a mummy and asked whether it was a real human being and if yes, why it looked the way it did. We also had some interesting discussions after M found pictures of an eye, a cell, a brain scan and a picture showing the structure of a bone (hey, Mom, this looks like a tree!)

As I am trying to find the Russian translation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, we are listening to the English CDs. We finished the first 4 books, including The Farmer Boy (after listening to this one M got busy making hay for his toy cows; we still have piles of dry grass all over the family room). M is particularly worried about Pa. Every time Pa has to leave, M asks whether he's going to come back to Ma and the girls. Overall though, M alternates between saying that life in the "ancient colonial times" was boring and difficult or exciting and interesting. I am thinking about doing a whole big unit study based on the books.

Bedtime is always our Russian story time. After finishing Pippi Longstocking, we had no new Russian books, so we started re-reading this collection of stories by Grigori Oster. M just can't get enough of Котенок по имени Гав, Приключения Пифа and lately, 38 попугаев (turns out, the stories are a lot funnier than the cartoons and we both enjoy them). There is a lot of deep math thinking in these stories, for example when the little elephant and the parrot try to figure out what does "a lot" mean, how many coconuts are "a lot" and how many are not. Or the hilarious story with a title that can be translated as "Unmanipulatives".

I mentioned that we finished reading Pippi Longstocking. This is not the edition that I have. But I bet this one doesn't have pictures in it either (except for the cover). I'm not sure why Russian publishers are so against putting lots of good quality pictures in books (Publishing house Mahaon is a notable exception). M just didn't care to listen to a book that had no pictures in it at all. So I got him an audio book (English) from the library and he loved it. After that, he was very eager to listen to the Russian story even without pictures.

This has been our latest library find, Gianni Rodari's "Phone Tales". He's not at all well-known in the US, but is still quite popular in Russia (at least with parents my age). This book is an exact opposite of the one about Pippi. It is wonderfully illustrated. Each page has a colorful picture with lots of interesting details. But the stories themselves are hit or miss. Some are just cute; some are endearing. Yet there are plenty that are nothing, but moralistic mess like the one about an absent-minded boy who gets so distracted on his walk that he loses first his hand, then his arm, his foot, his leg and his nose and neighbors bring all those body parts back to his mom who puts the boy back together. At the same time, the story that follows it, called Confused Grandpa is just adorable. In it grandpa is trying to read newspaper while his grandson insists on hearing a story. So grandpa distractedly tells him a story of the Little Red Riding Hood, messes up all the details, sends his grandson to get chewing gum and finally gets to read his paper. We've just started reading this book, so I'm not sure how it's going to turn out overall.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Going to the Beach

This summer we are going to try participating in Junior First Lego League with our friends from the homeschooling group. And the theme is Ocean Odyssey. So it was only appropriate to accept our friend's invitation to go to the beach.

Now, here's a math problem for you. How many bagels should you pack for a day trip with two adults and three boys (5, 5 and 3-year old), assuming that there will be plenty of other food too. The answer is at the bottom of the post.

Ah, we had a wonderful morning at the beach. The water was so nice and warm and the waves were strong enough for boogie boarding, yet not so strong that they'd pull the kids off their feet. And we got to the beach early enough to snag a shady spot under the pier. Perfect!

Since the kids outnumbered the adults on our trip, we couldn't go swim. Nor could we really take turns watching the kids because each of them wanted to do something totally different - one wanted to run from the waves, another one - jump in them, and the third one - search for pretty shells far from the water's edge. Still, it is impossible not to have a good time at the beach on a day like this. It really makes me miss living close to the beach!

Once we all had enough sun and were getting good and hungry (not to mention our parking meter running out of time), we drove over to Wilmington for a picnic at the USS North Carolina.

Needless to say, a tour of the battleship followed. This was a very thorough tour and the five-year olds led the way. They wanted to climb every ladder and look into every nook and cranny of the ship. And they wanted to check out every gun mount, every firing position, and turn everything that could be turned. Imagine how much fun they had in the engine room! When someone decided to replace "a kid in a candy store" metaphor with something fresher, I will suggest "a 5-year old in a battleship engine room".

I know when M is really taken with a sight since he demands a camera and starts taking pictures. Surprise-surprise, the ones he took this time around, in the engine room and in the ship's kitchen, turned out really well. Enjoy!

After the kids explored everything there was to explore, it was time to make some souvenir pennies. M collects them now (he's up to 5, but we're hoping to really work on expanding his collection this summer). Since we got home very late from the beach and M went straight to bed, he didn't have a chance to play with his new penny until the next day.

Now, the next day he wanted to count all his coins (5) and all the spaces in his special coin book (36) and figure out how many more pennies he'd need before the book is full (31). And then we talked about how each time we make these pennies we also need several quarters. Which led to M digging up some loose change and arranging it on the floor. Which led to him noticing that in our loose change pennies outnumber other coins. Which led to this interesting conversation:

M: Mama, when I organize all these coins just right, I will unlock a secret of the coins.
Me: Ok, honey.
M: Ok, I'm done now. Look! And I know the secret of the coins.
Me (trying to sound interested as I'm washing the dishes): Oh, yeah? What is it, honey?
M: You see, there are lots of the little coins, too many. And so there are too many of them and we have a problem. And then they decided what to do with this problem. Sort of like three people decided. The first one said: "Let's throw the little coins away". And they said "no". Then the other one said: "Let's recycle them." And they said "no". And the other one said: "Let's turn them into souvenir coins instead". And they all said "good plan!"
Me: speechless

And now to answer the bagel question: you need 13 bagels. Moms eat one bagel each for a total of two bagels. One bagel gets dropped on the ground and cannot be recovered. Kids eat the rest.

Transit of Venus


That's it. We're getting a telescope! I've been thinking about one for years, even before M was born. And he's been asking about one on and off for the last 2 years.

The need for our own telescope (or at least strong binoculars) became especially evident during the transit of Venus. Of course, we weren't going to miss it! And of course we needed to figure out a way to look at the sun without our eyes suffering permanent damage.

It was too late (the night before the transit) to buy special glasses, so instead after doing some research online I decided to make a sun scope out of some old boxes. The first one we made didn't work too well; it was hard to control and aim at the sun. So we tried again, this time following this how-to (except we used lots and lots of duct tape to connect the boxes).

The sun scope was easy enough to use, but the picture was tiny. The sun was no bigger than a dime and forget about seeing Venus! Still, our sun scope got lots of attention from folks that got together on the parking garage's roof next to the new Nature Research Center in the downtown.

However, I was glad when we scored a pair of special glasses. Now we could look at the sun! I even got to see the transit! M says he didn't see anything. Which is entirely possible since it's pretty hard for a 5-year old. There were also a couple of telescopes set up on the roof, but the lines to them were horrible. By the time it was our turn the sun was almost setting and they were rushing folks through. I looked for a fraction of a second and didn't see anything except for a giant orange blob and same with M. He was pretty upset about it too.

I tried to reassure him that he'll get to see many more celestial events like that in the future. To which he replied "but Mom, you said yourself that this is a very-very rare event". So I tried to look up some upcoming eclipses (none visible from our area until 2014) and settled on meteor showers. I told him how we'll get our own telescope and will find a spot for it and we'll sit wrapped in warm blankets, watch the stars and drink hot chocolate. M brightened after hearing this and said that he was very happy and glad we made our solarscope and that he can't wait to watch meteor showers with me. So now I am looking for a telescope.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

2012 Summer Bucket List

It's not quite mid-June and we've already checked a few things off our summer bucket list. Ok, so our list is very informal in a sense that it's not written down (which I probably should do). Nor is it complete since we keep adding things to it.

So far here's what we have:

  • Visit the Life and Science Museum in Durham (while there, stop by the wonderful Scrap Exchange)
  • Play at the Marbles Kids Museum - we no longer have membership, so we'll only go a couple of times this summer. M still has a lot of fun there. 
  • Go to the beach - after our most recent trip to Wrightsville Beach M wants to go every weekend. But I'm thinking 3-4 times this summer plus a couple of trips to the big lake nearby would be enough.
  • Go to Pick-Your-Own peaches and grapes farm
  • Go to Florida for a week - this is a much-anticipated and long-overdue trip for all of us
  • Visit Bronx Zoo and possibly Brooklyn Aquarium while in NY
  • Visit the Trash Museum in CT - it's a drive from where we'll be in NY, but how can we miss it?!
  • Planetarium (at least Morehead, but possibly also the one in Daytona Beach when we go to FL)
  • Participate in the summer program for the Junior First Lego League - it's done through our homeschooling group and the first meeting is on Monday. M is excited.
  • Catch a movie - we haven't been to movies in over a year. So I'm thinking either Raleighwood (I love the atmosphere and the seats are so comfortable) or a less expensive dollar movies option. Heck, why not do both?!
  • Go on long walks exploring the neighborhood and looking for treasures - today we went on a nature trail around a nearby lake. We saw 2 large owls, a rabbit, lots of birds and fireflies. Plus we found letters in the roots of the trees and even got to spell a secret word with them.
  • Make ice-cream
  • Camp out (even if it's just in the backyard)
  • Build a giant mud volcano
  • Make our own concrete stepping stone
  • Make a solar oven - last year we didn't succeed; we'll try again this year
  • Watch the transit of Venus and pretty much any celestial event we can - that's why I am now looking for a used telescope on Craigslist.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Homeschool Showcase

Our homeschooling group holds a really cool annual showcase to mark the end of the school year. It's a nice way for families to reflect on some of the work done over the year, present their favorite projects and get to see what others have done. And it's free and open to the public.

I really wanted to participate in the showcase this year and I was delighted when M agreed. Not only did he agree, but he took the major part in preparing our display. Surprisingly, he even painted (and he generally avoids paints).

Then he had this great idea about display title. The title was going to be "Garbology". I stenciled it on the cardboard and was wondering how to color it in. And M suggested not coloring, but instead making a collage with little pieces of recyclable garbage that he collected - cardboard, paper, plastic bags, foil.

If you are wondering about the colorful mountain, it's actually a landfill. He even drew and colored leachate pipes. Part of it is closed, sealed off and turned into a park (M drew some grass and helped me make the trees). The other, lower, part is an open landfill. The round bingo-looking things on the left side are some of the more interesting garbage-related activities we've done.

M also selected two of his garbage trucks to represent the rest at the showcase and made a mini-landfill with colorful pieces of paper for demonstration. And we brought as many of the books we've read about garbage as we could.

Of course, during the showcase M was busy looking at other things, mostly Legos and Lego Robotics stands. Also, as it happened, in the play section (set up in the middle of the room so the little kids can stay busy while their parents check out displays) there was a toy garbage truck. So it kept M busy for a long time.
And after the showcase I took him out for some frozen yogurt at this new (to us) place, Minchie's. We loved it 'cause it was a yogurt bar and you get to mix whatever wild combination of frozen yogurts and toppings you wish. And while you're making up your mind, you can taste any of the yogurts too!