Friday, August 31, 2012

Before School Started...

The last week before school was absolutely crazy. Here are some things that come to mind mostly because I remembered to take pictures.

 Having lunch with all his Wall-Es.

 Building aliens out of magnetic pattern tiles.

 Building Titanic out of some foam blocks I picked up for another project. He was so happy with his "Titanic" and kept telling me "Look, I'm the captain of the Titanic! I'm the captain of the Titanic!" I think he first learned about it at his Jr FLL club. He then asked me why Titanic was called "Titanic" and, after listening to my explanation, said that if he was to name an ocean ship after something big and powerful, he'd name it not Titanic, but "Whale-ic" ('cause whales are the biggest in the ocean).

He then asked me what happened to the Titanic and I explained briefly. Unexpectedly, it came up last week. We were at a cafe and there was the weather report on TV, showing the path of the Hurricane Isaac. M looked a bit worried, so I explained that Isaac wasn't going to affect us. "There is nothing to worry about, hon", I said. To which he replied with a sigh "Yeah, this is exactly what they said about the Titanic".
 Making an Empire (Star Wars) symbol out of magnetic shapes.
 Getting his new astronaut space suit, putting it on and going for a moonwalk in the yard.
 Planting the American flag while on the moonwalk.
And collecting moon rocks.

Plus we had a few playdates, a couple of birthday parties, a book club meeting, and a movie outing. Wew! I'm glad the school is in session now!

Before I forget, here are M's steps for surviving a playdate with girls:

1. Взять с собой световой меч - Take a lightsaber with you
2. Одеть костюм Бобы Фета - Put on a Boba Fett costume
3. Размахивать световым мечом - Wave the lightsaber around
4. Начать сражаться - Start battling
5. Делать все страшное - Do everything scary
6. Найти других мальчиков и подружиться с ними - Find and befriend other boys

First FIRST Certificate

I recently read an article on that listed 27 skills a child should have that are not taught in school. These are some tough skills to teach mostly because you can't teach them by reading books about them or just talking about them. You have to model each and every one of these skills. And frankly, I lack a few myself. But the list is far from complete. So I started thinking what other skills I'd add to it. Mostly I thought about the ones that I, regretfully, don't have (but it's never too late to learn them, right?)

One of the very first ones I thought of was the ability to finish what you've started. I'm terrible at it! When I look around the house, I see a ton of half-done or barely started projects. In my blogging notebook (for the company blogs I write for) I have a ton of ideas and even rough drafts that I'm yet to complete. And my bucket list is just not getting any shorter and nor does my reading list.

So now I'm trying to be better at it, at finishing what I've started that is. Hopefully, it will transform my life in all sorts of positive ways, but most importantly, it will set out a good example for M. I think, so far, he's doing way better than his Mama.

Consider this - he actually finished his first-ever Junior FIRST Lego League! Yes, and he's got a certificate to prove it! And he can't wait for the next session to start in less than 2 weeks.

Now, this Jr FLL was organized by some awesome homeschooling moms. Not only did they organize it, they coached all those 5-8 year olds the entire summer! All I did was to bring snacks (once) and help with some prep work (twice). Which was good 'cause I had no idea what Jr FLL was about when I first signed M up for it. 

You can find out more about it on the official Jr FLL page. If you were to ask M what Jr FLL was all about, he'd tell you it's about Legos, running around with friends, and about oceans. That's because the theme for the summer was Ocean Odyssey. So for 8 weeks the kids got together once a week for about 3 hours to learn about oceans through videos, books, experiments and, of course, Legos.

At the end of the 8 weeks, they got into teams. Each team had to create a poster board that showcased the team members and what they learned about oceans. And they had to build an ocean scene on a large Lego plate. They also had to build some ocean-going vehicles - boats, submarines, etc., maybe even with moving parts.

The big unexpected and exciting outcome of the Ocean Odyssey for M was that he really liked the topic. He loved learning about the oceans and a trip to FL really helped too. Of course, he concentrated on his favorite topics, like protecting oceans from trash (this was a recurring theme in his conversations and crafts) and underwater volcanoes. But he also loved learning about fish and whales and dolphins and, especially, corals. He now says "Mama, I have a new interest - oceans" which makes me very happy.

Then there was a bit open-house type event where other teams who worked through the summer came over with their displays and Lego plates. Kids got to see each other's work, explore others ocean scenes and get certificates for participation (this was not a part of the official Jr FLL competition though).
The open house was awesome. In addition to the displays, there were some cool stations set up for kids, including sand art, foil boats, and a huge Lego build with tons of blocks. M tried his hand at every one of these activities. But the one he loved the most was taking apart old printers. A while ago we tried something like this at a local Maker Faire. But it was more of a "break it into the smallest pieces you can" deal whereas here the kids were given a task of taking certain parts (mostly motors) out without damaging them. So the only tools they could use were screwdrivers. I thought that'd dampen M's interest, but boy was I wrong!
He spent about an hour, I think, working intently on a printer and then - on a scanner. Took out a couple of motors and proudly handed them to the adult supervisor. Then he asked if he could take home some plastic gears he found and also the two printed circuit boards he took out. He was particularly happy about the PCBs.
Him and his little friend each got 2 boards and immediately started pretend-playing that those were parts of a city they called Electrocity. They talked excitedly about their Electrocity for a while and M kept at it for a couple more days, spending hours pouring over his PCBs, showing me where everything was in his Electrocity - a school, a university, a museum of everything, a store called "Everything Showers" (if you're curious, it sells soap and bath fixtures) and a store called "Everything Batteries", a central square, a water tower, a soda tower, a milk tower, etc, etc. He also explored the city roads and came to the conclusion that there were no intersections in Electrocity. I hinted that the traffic lights would not be necessary, but he countered that the road were so narrow that they better have traffic lights to warn cars of other slower cars in their way (sort of like the railroad signals, I guess).

This is not to say he doesn't know what the "roads" on PCBs are for. He actually explained to me right away that, according to one of his favorite cartoons, the roads are really for "electrical current to run along". I honestly had no idea he knew this since this particular cartoon, called "Fixiki" irritates the heck out of me and I refuse to watch it.

But the most important thing was, of course, that he finished the entire Jr FLL summer session. It was hard with all our travels and other distractions that happen in the summer. And it was hard because working with small Lego pieces is difficult for M. And it was hard because he was one of the youngest boys in the group and the youngest on his team. But he did it and he built his vehicle and worked with others on building the ocean scene. He also built his own ocean scene on a smaller plate at home. It showed a beautiful beach with a turtle nest (there were some eggs in it even) and a secret treasure chest and the ocean had lots of corals and sea weed with lots of little places for fish to hide. I didn't have a chance to take a picture since I kept forgetting and then it got taken apart to build a sensory deprivation chamber for astronaut training.

And now M's counting days for the next Jr FLL challenge to start. The theme is Super Seniors. I'll keep you posted. Let me know if your child participates in Jr FLL.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Finally Florida

Hello and where have you been?! Ok, fine, so I haven't updated much lately. There have been some very good reasons - Chris coming home for his military leave, a vacation, being sick, and finally, having a power outage just as I sat down to write this. So I'm just going to post a bunch of pictures from our trip to Florida.

 This is our first morning in Florida. We got to Jacksonville late in the evening the day before. First thing we did, we took M for a short walk on the beach. So next morning he got up half an hour or so before sunrise and made sure to wake us up with "Let's go to the beach now!". And so we went, while it was still dark, and stayed there 'til sunrise. I actually went on a jog! And we found some huge horseshoe crabs and two tracks made by sea turtles!
It was a very long day for us since we planned on driving down Cape Canaveral, seeing as much of NASA as we could and then driving to our hotel in Melbourne. And even though we got up awfully early, we didn't leave 'til late morning since we had to stop by the MWR office to buy tickets to all the attractions we planned on seeing.

By the time we got to NASA, it was shortly after noon. But you know, we still had plenty of time. Could we see more while at NASA? Sure. For example, we didn't go to any of the IMAX movies and only went on a standard bus tour. Nor did we go on a tour of the Rocket Garden and a few other things.

But that's just what I'm saying - the place is overwhelming! It's best to not rush to see everything. Especially since we're pretty certain we'll be coming back again very soon.
 Our next attraction was going to be the Legoland! Great place to go... in the winter. But since it was the end of July when we went, it was super-hot and not in the good way. Seriously, what they need there are those misting sprinklers to cool folks standing in lines. We really hoped to get drenched at the water show and made sure to sit in the splash zone. But nothing happened! Seriously, you have to be in the front row at the water cannons to get wet. Otherwise, you just sit there and sweat.

I'm not a big fan of rides and I was relieved that M didn't care to stand in lines for the rides. Instead, he wanted to walk around the park and see as much as possible. And there's so much to see. I mean, check out this awesome Lego Space Shuttle ready for launch on the Lego launch platform!

Or how about this Lego Darth Vader! Totally awesome, isn't it? BTW, not sure if you can see M's T-shirt, but it's all about Star Wars and Legos.

But the best part of the visit to the park was the water park. Do you know that Legoland has a water park? And it is great! Next time we go, I'll make sure to reserve one of the cabanas with a mini-fridge. I definitely could've used it, especially since we didn't discover the wave pool 'til the second or third hour at the water park.
We spent the last 3 days in Daytona Beach. It's really a very nice place to be if you know where to go. We had a blast there thanks to our wise decision to stay out of Daytona Beach itself and instead spend time in Daytona Beach Shores, Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna Beach. Here we are enjoying the boat ride with my friend, Ella.
 And this adorable puppy? Well, I rescued him from the rocks in New Smyrna Beach (actually, in the Ponce Inlet). Yep, someone lost him and he ended up getting tossed in the waves with sand all over him. But I rescued him, dried him up, shook sand out of him, then put him through a washer and a dryer. And he's now as good as new and super-adorable.
This is also in Ponce Inlet. After running around, playing in the water and digging in the sand, M started to complain about his swimming trunks hurting him. It was a long way to the car and I had nothing to change him into except my T-shirt. Stinking cute, isn't he?
If you go to New Smyrna Beach, you just have to stop by the Dairy Queen on the US-1. We always do! It's a great place and cheap. As you can see, M is still wearing my t-shirt, looking like a little girl.
 Another thing we enjoy doing is playing mini-golf. This place was the closest to our hotel (did I tell you we snagged a "3 nights for the price of 2" deal at The Shores Resort?! Highly recommend it!) Why is M on Chris's back? Well, last time we were in DB, M was not even a year old. We went to play mini-golf at this same place and have a pic of Chris t-ing off with M on his back in a carrier.
Another place to go while in Daytona is definitely Ponce Inlet, specifically, the lighthouse there. Not only do you get to climb to the top for amazing views, you get to check out the grounds too, see how the lighthouse keepers lived (and died), and see a great collection of Fresnel lenses. It's surprisingly interesting. I'm just so lucky M loves lighthouses even more than I do.
The good thing about Daytona, as opposed to, say, Winter Haven (where Legoland is), is that it's right on the beach. So there's usually some breeze and you don't feel the heat as badly as inland. It was a lot more tolerable than North Carolina, actually. Still, one afternoon was so super hot and stuffy, that we decided to spend it indoors at the local Museum of Arts and Science. At some point we lived right next door to it! 

Well, a lot changed since then and we were pleasantly surprised to find quite a nice children's wing open in the museum. It was small, but very well thought-out, with lots of cool hands-on stuff that we don't have in the kids museums in NC. Like this station where you get to explore pulleys by pulling yourself up. 
This is our hotel in the background. Telling ya, it was super nice! The only gripe we have is about their prices at the restaurant. They are crazy!

Here's Chris and M looking very busy building a sand castle. We thought we built it far enough from the water to see at least some of it left standing in the morning. Nope. Good thing we took pictures.

This castle had it all - a bunch of towers, a moat, a bridge, and even a lighthouse! Not bad at all!

One of the nicest things about our hotel (apart from a really nice room) was that they had a deck with a cabana and some fire pits for roasting marshmallows. It's supposed to work like this - you pick up a bag with your s'mores kit in the hotel room and bring it down to the pit. You get the skewers at the cabana. Then you get into these comfortable chairs, enjoy ocean views and the breezes, sip a beverage (ordered at the same cabana) and roast s'mores. Except, of course, the kit comes with like 6 marshmallows and costs $10! Crazy, I'm telling ya. So we went out and bought a huge bag of marshmallows. Honestly, we didn't see the sign that said "Absolutely no outside food or drinks". But c'mon, the money we saved on marshmallows we probably spent much of it on drinks.

And this is a picture of all of us on our last morning in Daytona. What's the deal with the little dude? Not sure, but he was in one of his moods and it wasn't a nice one either. But he cheered up somewhat on the drive back when we told him we'd make a stop in St. Augustine. M's immediate question was "is there a gift shop there?" Upon hearing that St. Augustine is pretty much a one giant gift shop, he once again became his sweet and charming self.

P.S. If you are puzzled about the very top picture, it's from Legoland. Each of us put together a Hero Factory hero and I photographed our creations all together since we have so few pictures with the three of us.