Friday, February 25, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Spring is Coming!

1. The pussy willows are in their full glory!

I must confess, with the Zoomlians sick and the weather turning cold again, I hadn't noticed them at all this year until this morning - what a delightful surprise!

2. Daffodils are poking up all over. These green shoots are the color of hope in February.

3. This is last year's nest in the lilacs, but it's a symbol of all things Spring to me.

4. The snowdrops started blooming (with an exquisite sense of timing) this past Tuesday when we got a late snow squall that canceled school.

5. The branches I pruned last week started blooming! I think these are cherry blossoms.

6. I immediately went out to pick some forsythia to force and noticed it already had a flower or two. I picked some anyway- maybe it will be "coaxing" instead of "forcing."

7. The weeds have already started in the garden. Nice to see some green, anyway!

I can not express how odd it feels to have this much Spring before Lent has started...

More with Jen!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guess What Choclo Likes

When I asked him which pictures he wanted in his room, a certain theme developed.

It's The Great Wall of Penguins!

He was interested in a few of the other pictures I showed him, "But, " he confided, "I mostly like penguins."

We can do that!

Oob is more interested in the trucks.

I have this dream that having just a few favorite toys on low shelves will make it easier to teach the younger boys to clean up after themselves. We should all have a dream.

The piece de resistance, however, has to be this cheerful fellow.

We were actually looking for a new humidifier for the older boys' room (last week's cold has lingered into this week's nasty cough), but when we saw him, Mxyl and Zorg agreed that they should have their old humidifier so Choclo could have a penguin.

That's brotherly love!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Purple Boys

By Friday night, Mxyl and Zorg had made their beds.

We had gotten these cool duvet covers on clearance at Ikea. In the picture they look like dots, but a little closer, all the dots are connected and they look like molecules. I got two extras ($8 each, not a hard call) and used one to make the window curtains and one to make a curtain for use as a closet door.

And the older boys were DONE! They slept in their new room last night!

This was the silver room that had caused Choclo such angst. I wasn't that excited to paint over it since it was only last March that I painted it and it had taken 5 or 6 coats. I should have used a gray base coat to cover the blue and green stripes and then done one coat of silver, but, live and learn.

And here is the NEW younger boys' room!

The Emperor gave me a big boost on this one. I swept the huge mass of detritus out the door into a big pile in the library and he sorted it all out while I painted.

I'm not sure it shows, but I used a bit of texture on the roller, so it's not a straight single color of purple. But it is PURPLE!

We set Oob up with a cozy little nest in the bottom bunk, and this will be his first night bunking with Choclo (prayers appreciated!).

My favorite part of this project was stocking the book shelf with all our favorites for this age: Corduroy, Babar, Sendack, Baese, Mouse Paint, Suess, Goodnight Moon, Monster Machines, and so many others.

Now about that library...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Crazy Week

Also known as: the seven reasons I didn't blog much this week!

1. I got all my pruning for the year done on the very last cold day! For those who don't need to prune, when the weather warms up, the sap rises and it's very hard on the plants if you lop off bits when the sap is running.

Anyway, I started on the ice damage (agnus castus) and ended up getting to all of the fruit trees (red cherry, white cherry, plum, pear, and crab apple). I even was able to start teaching Klenda how, where and why to prune!

A nice side benefit to pruning fruit trees is being able to force the blossoms from the trimmings. You mash the ends with a hammer (so they absorb more water) then put them in a vase. Also, I kept a few branches for the parakeets to chew on.

2. I went to a meeting with the Archdiocese of Washington to help determine their home school policy. This was great!

One of the issues that has come up in the past is that some parishes require homeschooled kids to attend CCD because they are "not in a Catholic school." It looks like Cardinal Wuerl wants a paradigm shift.

He wants pastors to care for three groups of kids: those in Catholic schools, those in CCD, and those being homeschooled. I do choose to send my kids (and sometimes teach) CCD, but this is still very good news. I also like it that the Cardinal wants to be sure homeschool families are connected to their parishes.

3. We also had our big Valentine's celebration. I think Valentine's day is a major feast for us because the family is the school of love (or possibly, we are all goofballs who love to celebrate things).
I blogged about our celebration here, but I thought I'd share the recipe for Pink Burping Cows of Love. This year it was cherry ice cream, pink heart shaped marshmallows, cherry soda, and a cherry on top!

Here are the Zoomlians enjoying them with cupcakes.

4. We made huge progress on our major household reorganization! We totally cleared the store room, created a storage area in the nursery, and sorted out the resulting detritus in the homeschool room and guest room! Thank you to the many people who prayed for me on this job!

5. All the kids came down with a nasty cold, some with fevers. We actually missed a bunch of stuff this week including Spanish class, co-op/Adventurers, and Science class. I'll spare you the goobery pictures on this one!

6. I figured out that some minor weirdness I had been going through was actually due to minor thyroid problems! It's still considered "sub clinical" so I am going to try some supplements before moving on to standard medication.

7. Mxyl and Zorg painted their new room yesterday, and will be making their bed today! Yes, it's a brand new Ikea bunk bed. I suspect they will be able to do it all on their own, but we'll see. I figure that, after all those fantastically complicated Lego diagrams, this will be easy peasy lemon squeezy for them.

More with Jen!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Mxyl and Zorg picked out paint and painted their new room! It's actually 4 colors of purple.

Naturally, the girls wanted new paint, too. They were willing to do the work and pay for the paint, so that was an easy yes.

Then I felt the younger boys might want a color of their choice in their room since the older boys had pretty much picked out the silver spaceship theme that was there now. I asked and they (both!) said, "Purple!"

Just to be sure, I asked again,"Right now, your room is silver. Do you want it to be silver, or purple?"


Fine. I bought the purple paint for them, went home and got the older boys started on their room. I went off and made dinner.

Around dinner time, Choclo came downstairs with a face of utter woe: "You painted it silver! I wanted purple!"

Somehow he hadn't really noticed that he had been living in a silver room for the last year? It took an amazing amount of time to convince him that I had not, in actual fact, popped up to his room and painted the whole thing silver while making dinner. Sigh.

Eventually, it was OK, But the emperor told me later that night that Choclo's "not-so-happy thing" that day was that Mommy had painted his room silver!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Or, as we like to say, "Happy feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius!"

You did remember to create a new alphabet for your sweetheart, didn't you?

Oh, yeah, although the current Roman Calendar only lists those guys, we also celebrate the old feast of St. Valentine today.

Boy, do we!

We added hearts to all of our snowflake decorations on the ceiling and windows!

Klenda painted our other windows with hearts.

We made Valentine holders earlier this month and have been busily filling them up!

And what would Valentine's Day be without food that was pink, heart shaped, or both?!

We did a special Valentine home school packet based on the great stuff from Enchanted Learning. The kids particularly like their Valentine Venn Diagrams.

We had a treasure hunt!

We bought a dozen heart shaped balloons!

Dinner will be raspberry pork chops with salt potatoes!

To finish things off, we will be bringing back the Pink Burping Cows of Love!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winds of Change

Things are really moving around here! We finally decided that yes, we should get Oob out of a crib before he graduates high school.

He's actually three, but I think we unconsciously baby him a bit.

Or maybe it's just that he goes to bed so nicely and happily and he likes his crib.

Or maybe it's just that I will just never ever feel like it's a good time to do the small child wandering around at night thing. Sigh.

Actually, I think it has to do with this: If we move Oob, we have to move him somewhere. Do we squeeze 4 boys in one room? Probably not. So that means reclaiming another room, probably our Lego/exercise/storage room, which means we need to figure out where to put all of that stuff, which means reorganizing most of the rooms in the house!

Yeah, I think the real reason Oob has been in the crib so long has more to do with my mortal dread of major household reorganization than anything else.

This too shall pass! In the mean time, Mxyl has posted a note on the Lego room door: Coming Soon: The Doom Room, currently under construction.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cool Oob

This much coolness before breakfast is hard to take!

In other Oob news, his new favorite book is Ten Apples Up on Top.

He loves to count the apples. Strangely, instead of counting, say, the apples on the tiger's head, he wants to count all the apples on the page. So when the page is saying, "eight apples," he is counting 24.
My favorite Oob counting, however, is the way he gives me hugs and kisses before bed. He counts them:1, 2, 3, 4,....25, 26 ,27, 100!

Thanks to Klenda for grabbing the camera!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


This was a super fun trip! We started the American History museum today. We spent quite a bit of time in the "Inventions at Play" exhibit, and our kids made a lot of neat stuff, especially with the tiled mirror patterns and the whirligigs.

We then went to the Spark Lab where the kids did two experiments, one with the Cartesian Diver and one looking at acid/base indicators and carbonization of water.

The Cartesian Diver is the one where you have a carefully weighted tube with a little air in it. When you place it in a sealed container of water, you can compress the container, thereby adding pressure to the air in the tube. The compressed air is denser, so your "diver" sinks. When you release the pressure, the air expands and and the "diver" rises.

The other experiment I had never seen. They put an acid/base indicator in water, and then dropped in some dry ice. The water changed to a dramatic blue - the acid color - because the dry ice was releasing carbon dioxide into the water thereby forming carbonic acid! Plus, it was foaming and bubbling and giving off mist, how cool is that?!

Spark labs, if you've never been there, is also full of science toys to play with. Our kids were very into that, but I was even more pleased that, when a large group of younger kids came in, our kids helped them with the science stuff.

We next did the new exhibit on paper engineering. This is an exhibit that didn't look like much at first, but ended up being more amazing the longer you looked. It was all pop up books and books with moving parts. Did you know that these things have been around since the 1400s?! My favorite was a Christmas book that folded into a "carousel" of the Nativity story in intricate silhouette, but I also liked the one that folded out into a dollhouse. The Big Pop Up Book of Phobias was also not to be missed. Kinda.

UPDATE: I can't believe it! That carousel book I loved can be seen here! But it can be bought for less than $12 here!!!

Did I mention we saw Stanley? We did.

While they had been doing the Spark Lab, Stephanie and I took turns stealing away into Julia Child's kitchen. That was fantastic, but we blabbed about it, and all the kids wanted to go, and it was wonderful, but we ended up getting back ten minutes late, and now we want to cook something really nice for dinner, which is a problem for me because the kid of the week has hot dogs scheduled for today.. .

And we're going back next week!!!!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Weather Science Round 3

Our last class on weather was about wild weather: hurricanes and tornadoes. So fun to study - especially since Maryland rarely sees either!

I started with 3 containers. One was completely filled with rice, representing the molecules in a solid - when you shook it, not much happened. One was half full of coarse sugar - when you shook it, it flowed around the container like a liquid. The last was empty except for a few metal marbles. When you shook that (plastic) container, the marbles went all over and crashed into each other.

The idea was that heat adds energy and makes the molecules move faster, causing them to bounce off each other and expand.

We went on to fill a plastic water bottle with steam from the kettle. The bottle expanded and then we capped it and put it in the freezer. The bottle shriveled up as the gasses cooled and shrank - very satisfying for the kids to watch, especially when we opened it up and heard the "hiss" of more air entering the bottle.

While I was at it, I mentioned the thing that expands when you cool it far enough: water! We filled a glass jar, capped it tightly and put it (in a ziplock bag) in the freezer. We will see what happened on Friday!

The idea that ice floats is so fascinating to me. I really see it as evidence of God's care for the world. If you think about it, life on Earth could not exist if water didn't expand when it froze. If ice sank, you could not have life in the oceans and all the deep currents that keep our weather going would stop. If the ice was at the bottom, since cold tends to fall, it could never melt, the seas would just fill up with ice.

Anyway, we talked about the difference between tornadoes (small but the most intense storm on Earth) and hurricanes (vast, fueled by energy in the water).

We talked about the hot air rising and cold air falling at the same time. What happens when a bunch of people want to go up the stairs at the same time a bunch of people want to go down the stairs? (chaos, mostly, in my experience!) What happens when you let water go down the drain in the bathtub? God has a better answer! The water spins going down and that opens a tunnel in the center for the air to come up. That's what happens in tornadoes and hurricanes as well, although I'm not sure it would work for people and stairs.

So, of course, we had to make the tornado in a bottle! We actually have a connector for this experiment, but I couldn't find it, so we used duct tape (and a mop for the spills..). You fill a soda bottle half full of water (we added color and glitter for fun), stick another bottle on top and tape them together with duct tape.

I have to admit, having four Zoomlian lab assistants is great! There are only six or so kids (Oob comes and goes) in the class, as well as a mom or two hanging out, and with that much help you can do just about anything, even with kids as young as Oob. Thank you, Zoomlians!!

Next week we are skipping, but we will pick up again the following week with volcanoes and plate tectonics!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Return of the Adventurers

The Bureau of Printing and Engraving was very fun, although I was glad we did not have to wait in line for it. We saw about $300 million being made!! We were all pretty fascinated, I think. The tour was pretty short, however.

With the extra time we visited Whistler's "Peacock Room" in the Freer Gallery. Pardon me if you already know this story.

I asked the kids what they would do if they had $50 million and wanted to spruce up their room a bit. They had some pretty exciting answers! A wealthy industrialist named Leyland had just such a quandry. He had a favorite painting, however, so he ended up hiring the artist who painted the picture to redo the whole room to go with the picture. That would be Whistler. Then he went on vacation in Europe...

Whistler made a few changes.

Then a few more.

Whistler was very pleased with how the room was going - so pleased that he started inviting people in to admire it.

Word spread and eventually, a rather irritated Leyland heard of it.

He had some sharp words for Whistler.

The artist blithely painted the main open wall with Leyland as an angry peacock attacking a peaceful peacock (identifiable as Whistler).

Leyland was furious, but not stupid. The room is amazingly beautiful and he kept it just as Whistler had painted it. After Leyland's death, Freer bought it and donated it to the Freer Gallery where you can see it today.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Watch Out!

I'm still on my knitting jag.

Yes, Leena is being smothered in scarves! To be fair, the hat was knitted by her devoted aunt. I'm not too good with hats, but did I mention I can knit beards?

I knit the scarf while watching the Super Bowl. I felt mildly guilty about that. I mean, I think there is some unwritten rule that you don't knit during the Super Bowl. Perhaps I shouldn't mention that I also was drinking... tea.

Is it all my fault that the Steelers lost?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Girls' Night

We added another girl to Girls' Night! It's my lovely and talented friend, whose blog name shall be Rose!

She has two fantastic boys and a great husband, but sometimes you just need some girl time...

She can do make up (in styles more recent than the 80s!)!

She likes tea!

She is super artistic and creative!

She's always upbeat and encouraging!

She's a great addition!!!

Last night we were making jewelry (and drinking tea and dancing, of course) and she got me through a craft project I had been wanting to do for 4 or 5 months.

Specifically, some time ago, the Emperor brought me roses. The flowers had died, er, dried quite nicely, and I had wanted to do something with them.

With a little extra girl encouragement, we hot glued them to a plastic Christmas ball, and added ribbons and pearls!

So pretty!!!! And just in time for a Valentine's decoration!

Rose thought of the pearls and that's what takes it over the top IMHO.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weather Science Round 2

This was fun! After a quick review, we started talking about the water cycle.

I like to start with a globe and the question: Where does all that water come from?
Rain? Streams and rivers? Yes, but where does that water come from? The water cycle!

We experienced evaporation and evaporative cooling. This was interesting. As you may know, phase changes require energy. A super easy way to see this is to moisten one forearm with a damp paper towel and then blow on both arms. As the water evaporates from the wet arm, it uses the heat from your body to make the conversion from a liquid to a gas: presto! Evaporative cooling! This is why sweating cools you off (unless it's summer near Washington DC with 97% humidity).

We went on to look at the different kinds of clouds. Then we went into the kitchen to make our own. I used a quart mason jar for this and a saucer that I had put into the freezer. Here is what we did:

1. I filled the jar 1/3 full with very hot water (just off the boil).

2. I added a few drops of rubbing alcohol and a drop of blue food coloring.

3. I put the frozen saucer over the mouth of the jar and added some ice to the top to keep the saucer cool.

A cloud (fog) quickly formed inside the jar. One of the interesting things you can point out is that the water is blue and the cloud is not. This shows that it's just the water evaporating - the main reason the sea is salt!

Next we made some rain. I used two large pots for this. The lower pot was boiling on the stove and the upper pot contained ice water. I just held the cold pot over the warm pot and got an unexpectedly large cloud (!) but also quite a bit of water condensing off the cold pot and raining back into the lower pot. Look! It's our own water cycle! Our energy is being produced by the stove instead of the sun.

This class is giving me food for thought about teaching. One thing I find is: I really like to teach. Another: I like to teach small, short, hands on classes where I can get total engagement from the kids. Still more: I end up teaching on two levels during these classes. The younger kids are absorbing the basics, but we have a steady stream of questions and commentary from the older Zoomlians. And then: I like to have a basic plan for the class, but be ready to go in other directions as questions come up. Lastly: I owe a lot to the Emperor for teaching me so much about teaching!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


We gave Klenda Epic Mickey for her birthday.

We are big fans of the old comic strips, "Mickey Vs. the Phantom Blot," and "Mickey on Sky Island" being our favorites, so we were so excited to see this come out.

It was fantastic! But after half an hour, Choclo was sick of it.


After we had cleaned up the couch and gotten him packed off to bed, Klenda turned out to be sick, too. In fact, Zorg and Mxyl also weren't feeling too well.

We had gotten hit with an epic stomach bug!

Or had we?

Mxyl figured it out first: it was the game that was making us sick!

A quick Google search confirmed that this was not an isolated problem. Ugh!

It turns out that you can condition yourself out of it, but so far, we haven't had the guts to try.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Meating the Budget Part 2

I know what you're thinking: Didn't you ever take microbiology? What are you thinking handling spice jars and raw chicken!

You're right, no job is complete without clean up! I like to use those disinfecting wipes, but a 10% bleach/90% water solution works just as well. This time I had neither on hand, so I wiped everything down with alcohol (must be at least 90%!). Don't forget the counter, the sink and the faucet!!

And I dumped the apron directly into the wash.

If you always presume that all chicken is covered with salmonella, it will keep you honest with your clean up and you'll never get sick. Just clean everything the chicken touched and everything that touched anything that the chicken touched, and well, you get the idea!

I often think of a lab mate at JHU. He was a 3rd year MD/PHD student and he was tapped to teach first year med students basic laboratory safety. He taught them all abut the importance of wearing gloves and aseptic technique... and after they left, he cleaned up from the lab without gloves.

He ended up in the hospital with a bad infection from the s. aureus he had been using in his demonstration.


But it taught me a lesson: clean up is not about looking good; be careful every time!