Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Tooth Chicken Brought Me a Squid!!

How's that for a statistically improbable sentence?  Nevertheless, it's quite true.  The wiggly crown that turned into the Tooth from Heck continued to misbehave, ending with gum surgery followed by extraction yesterday.

I must admit, when the dentist told me (a while back) that I would likely lose the tooth, my first thought was to wonder what the Tooth Chicken would bring.

I've decided to call him Squiddy!

He's entirely hand sewn, and very affectionate with the children, as you can see. Either that or he's really hungry.

As Oob said, "He's sooo cuuuute!  And piiiiink!"

I haven't had a visit from the Tooth Chicken in decades, but it was worth the wait.  As long time readers know, I love squid!

Monday, January 30, 2012

More Biology

One of my goals with this class is to make it a transition class towards college.  I've been teaching the kids to take notes, study, keep a lab notebook, and (hopefully) learn at a college rate. 

I'm not sure why high school science is usually presented so slowly, but I've always thought the slow bit rate was an interest killer. Not a problem in this class!

Last week we learned (in one two hour class) all the parts of the cell.  I wrote out and explained the parts using candy as models for all the organelles.  If you've ever seen a ribosome, I think you'll agree, they look exactly like nerd candies!

When I had finished my explanation, I had them build cells, using the candy and jello.  The animal cell was a wiggly orange heap, but the plant cell had a firm (tupperware) cell wall!

They then identified and explained and ate their models...

Next, I assigned two organelles to each kid and had them put on a skit in which they portrayed their cell parts.   I used a sheet as the cell membrane.  Mxyl did an excellent nucleus: "Hey!  I tell everyone around here what to do!  Get back to work!!!"

Then we went on to talk about diffusion and osmosis.  I used perfume to show diffusion in air (spray at one end of the room and have kids tell you as they smell it).  And I used food coloring in three jars of water (cold, medium and hot) to show diffusion in liquid. 

Osmosis was the most fun!  Osmosis is the movement of water from an area of greater concentration to less concentration across a membrane.  Really, it's a specialized form of diffusion and very handy to know about whether you are making pickles or washing your contacts or dealing with a sick child!

First, I skinned some eggs.  Unfertilized chicken eggs are a single large cell, but they are hard to look at as a cell unless you take the shell off or "skin" them.  You can do this easily by soaking them in vinegar for two days. As an extra bonus, the vinegar not only dissolves the shell (very fizzy and cool by itself!), it also toughens the membrane so you can pick the skinned egg up and carry it around!  It should be noted that the egg is still completely raw...

We put one egg into water (hypotonic), one into corn syrup (hypertonic), and one into salt water (isotonic?  the Zoomlians made this part up!).

Here's what they look like:

The top one is the corn syrup and you can see how the membrane shriveled as it the water was drawn out of the egg and it shrank.

The next one down is the salt water egg.  It wasn't completely isotonic, probably because the concentration of water is determined by more than salt; the egg contains a lot of protein, so the water was drawn in and it swelled.

The bottom jar is our egg in water, and it is swollen nearly to bursting!  It has a weird taut feel... 

In all of these, the same thing is happening: water is moving from an area of greater concentration (outside the membrane in the water jar, inside the membrane in the corn syrup jar) to an area of lesser concentration (inside the membrane in the water jar, outside the membrane in the corn syrup jar).

I had done 8 eggs total, so we had one left over (each family had their own experiment).  Zorg decided to try his own experiment, throwing the last egg (I think to see if it was really raw).

It was quite spectacular!   He threw it hard enough that he ruptured the membrane!  The white flew about 10 feet and the (denser) yolk flew about 20 feet!  Both were, in fact, quite raw.  An excellent demonstration of physics!  A great idea to do that outside!

Sunday, January 29, 2012


 I've been so busy, I don't think I've even mentioned that we started a high school Biology class two weeks ago!

We have Mxyl and two home school friends (all actually in High School), as well as Klenda (faking it well), and Zorg (auditing the class and enjoying it heartily).

Another parent is doing the driving and (yet ) another parent (Choclo's godmother) is watching Choclo, Oob and Leena.  The godmother tells me that watching those three is hilarious!

The first visit, Choclo and Oob went methodically hand in hand through her house, informing her about their discoveries: Do you know that you have legos?

Later: Do you know that you have a dog?! 

Still later: Do you know that you have a BABY!?!

So this has been good for all of us: the older kids get time with their friends, Choclo and the younger kids get to spend time with the godmother and her younger kids, and, best of all,  I get to teach Biology!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Early Warning

Oob: Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, MOM!

Me: Yes?

Oob: Can you teach me to drive?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crazy Day

On Wednesday, we started doing our usual Wednesday field trips again.  This time, we went to the BMI.  No, not the place to measure your Mass Body Index, we went to the Baltimore Museum of Industry!

This is always a fun trip.  The museum is set up as an indoor town where you wander through buildings (stores, canneries, garment factories, print shops, and smithies) looking at (and trying out!) the machines used in different places.

Here are the Zoomlians at the port (harbor) section.

My favorite was the bakery, where we saw a gigantic rolling pin used to cut out donuts.  The Zoomlians preferred the TV sound stage where they staged a talent show the like of which I have never seen...

Then it was off to the bizarre alien playground.

I don't know who designed this, but they were a twisted genius. 

And I'm pretty sure they were not human.

But it's a great place to visit!

They have this ring thing.  It's exactly like a merry go round (except there's no center, you can't sit down, it's on an angle and, if you have more than one person on at a time, you are likely to kill each other)

And they have a slide like object (the blue thing extending to the left) that is convex, grooved and without sides.  It also wobbles.

My kids, being Zoomlians, have a fabulous time!

I think what's fun about it is that there is no obvious, per-determined way to play with the stuff, so the kids just make stuff up. Also, it has not been "child-safed," so we have a distinctive thrill (right before the "Aiiieeeeee! THUMP).

Next, it was off to the library where I reached my long cherished dream of escaping the library with less than 50 books (47!), mostly because it was a long walk back to Blue Streak (parked at the playground).  My true dream is to escape with less than 50 books in less than an hour, but we must take our victories where we may...

I should dream for all that AND finding all the books the first time I try to return them, but even my imagination can't stretch that far!

Then it was home to make dinner and collapse in a book besotted heap.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guest blog by Mxyl: Why I hate orange-kneed tarantulas

Mxyl: Well, YOU'D be scared too, if you were in the middle of writing a blog post and suddenly a 10-foot-long-- never mind.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guest blog by Mxyl: Happy Demidolthood Klenda!

Mxyl here.  Good news: Klenda has just survived her first few nights as a teenager.

You see, there are two different kinds of age people are at: Child and a dolt.  However, I--and now Klenda--are at the most dangerous age: when we are half of each.  I call this being a demidolt.

Also called half-dolts, demidolts contain random powers that are necessary for their survival; mine is super-clumsiness, allowing me to increase of decrease the clumsiness or coordination of other beings (though I can't use this on myself yet; it looks like it'll just have to be 0% coordination for me)  and I also can construct really long sentences, while Klenda actually appears to have the rare and virtually uncontrollable power of... breaking random body parts!

But the less you know about this the better, so I'd better stop saying these things now.  But just so you know, if you ever run into a dark-cloaked man with four arms who calls himself Khiruptorr, you'd better say you know nothing abou--

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Klenda!

She's been on earth for...let me see....About 4,745 days. Or rather, 13 years. And,of course, we had a party! Or two...or three!                                                 #1 First and foremost, a Tie-Dye Party!  This was a sleep over with friends.  In the evening they tied and dyed the shirts.  They also tried drawing designs freehand and then folding them, and I thought those shirts came out very well.  The over night soak gave amazing colors!
They also made tie dyed (chocolate) cupcakes and ate tie dyed grilled cheese sandwiches!

They watched Dreamer, played Quelf, and then did a game called Piggly Wiggly.

In this game, "it" leaves the room and everyone gets into a random sleeping bag.  "It" then returns, sits on a random sleeping bag and asks, "Piggly Wiggly?"

The bag's occupant replies, "Oink, oink!" and "it" guesses who is in the bag.

#2 We had our family get together with Grammy and Pop at the Chinese restaurant, and then came back for (angel food) cake and ice cream and presents.

Her biggest present was half an i pod touch (she had saved up enough for the other half!).  Since all the "i" devices can text each other, we have been texting knock knock jokes and puns...a lot!

#3 A second family get together with extended family (i. e. Mr.Bill and Miss Tracy).

Obviously this called for more (strawberry) cake and ice cream!!!

My dear Klenda, you are finally really and truly a teenager!
You are growing into such a lovely young woman, puns and all.

I enjoyed your babyhood and childhood so much, and I'm very excited to walk with you in this next stage of your life.

You are developing into something truly beautiful for God!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Insults From an English Teacher's Offspring

Leena:  Most of them were oxymorons, but the rest were complete idioms!


The Emperor: But then, one of them fell into a comma!
Me: But only for a period.
The Prime Minister: I've gotta quote that one.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Weird Weather

 It's official.  We've lapped seasons.

This morning the early Spring snowdrops are blooming....

And so are the Fall camellias.

The camellias are usually the last thing blooming, and I pick the last of them for Thanksgiving.

 I still have dozens of my late white camellias, and even one or two frostbitten pink ones. And now I have half a dozen snowdrops in the shade on the north side of the house.  Crazy! 

Anyone else having a weird winter?

And, I forgot to mention, we had a white Christmas!

That means different things to different people, so let me be specific: it snowed and we had a dusting on the ground on the very last day of the Christmas season, January 9th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord! 

Maybe we're stretching it a bit, but we'll take what we can get, especially since it hit 70 two days before that snow!

Monday, January 16, 2012


Last Friday we had our long awaited US History party.

After 2 (and a half) years of study, and 10,000 years of history, we were ready to celebrate for a long time.  In fact, we took the whole day!

We started with a true colonial breakfast: popcorn with cream (and sugar).

Then we had historical fun blocks.  We rotated between Battle of Britain (WWII fighter plane game), Mission US (online Revolutionary War role playing mystery game), this great game that has you match events from US history with years (best capstone review project possible!), and Wii exercise games which had nothing to do with history.

In the afternoon, the party really got going!

 We played Minutemen.  In this game, you wait until your kids are least expecting it and then you attempt to startle their socks off by screaming, "The British are coming!"

They then have 60 seconds to grab something that represents their gun, and something that represents their powder (usually something sack-like).

I really enjoy this game, but I think they're on to me.  They were lined up in 20 seconds with nary a sock in sight.
 Then we did Guess the Historical Figure.

They dress up and we have to identify them.

Some are specific, like Annie Oakley here.

Others were general like the 70s girl, the 60s Star Trek fan, and the soldier from the Future.

I almost forgot!  My favorite game was 10,000 in 5.  That would be 10,000 years of history (narrated by me) acted out in 5 minutes (by them).  I'm not sure how long it actually took, but it raised the bar for hysterical historical!

All this was accompanied by lots of snacks and a sound track of music from different eras.

We had pizza for dinner.

And, if you could guess what shape I was trying to get the cupcakes to make, you could have cupcakes for dessert!

Can you get it?

Sunday, January 15, 2012


We had the portfolio review last Thursday and we had a great time!

The only down side is that I keep remembering things I forgot to say... 

Days later, I am still coming up with, "I totally forgot to mention the gingerbread houses!" and, "Oh yeah, three of the kids are taking piano lessons!" and ,"Ooooh!  All of those scout badges!"

Anyway, I love making a big deal out of the review, and it's important to me to really reflect on what we did and what we'd like to do... but by Friday I was in definite need of some R and R.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guest blog by Mxyl: Speaking of Education...

I have improved my skills at photoshop lightsabers & here is a quick tip to fighting evil clones, only while fighting more than one at a time: Think what Jason did when he was overwhelmed.  Get them to fight each other and, since a clone is not as smart as the original, none of them will remember to force blast the other, so they will merely tire themselves out so much that they can hardly stand up.

I have also been working on a special effects software known as particleIllusion.  So far I am testing what it can do on the trial version.

  The answer is quite impressive, but I do not know if it is worth 300$

Forgotten Science: Trees

I finished my portfolios and was talking to a friend about them when she reminded me that I had totally forgotten about the other science classes I taught!

This was a continuation of the Tuesday Science class.  One of her kids was allergic to our birds, so we had to have class outside (and we had to stop when the weather got cold!).  What could we study outside???

I dunno, what's outside to study? (Look out the window.)  Trees!
  • We walked around the neighborhood, learning to identify trees by their leaves, bark, structure and leaf scars.
  • We looked at slices of wood and learned about the heartwood (the dead but supportive center) and the cambium, the thin  ring beneath the bark that is the living tree.  The ring regenerates each year- last year's cambium will be heartwood this year (or possibly sapwood, an intermediate stage)- and this is why we can tell the age of the tree by counting its rings.  This is also why cutting a ring around a tree will kill it.

  • We talked about the xylem and phloem (both are in the cambium) and went through the progress of a drop of water from the root hairs in the soil up through the xylem  and out of the leaves on the top of the tree, and the progress of sugars down from those leaves through the phloem to the roots.(If you ever get confused, phloem flows down).
  • We used magnifying glasses to look at the stoma on the  leaves.  These tiny holes are the trees lungs.  Fascinating stuff!!
  • This was in early November, so we also collected colorful leaves and talked about the fact that these colors were always there, just covered up by the large quantity of chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis.
  • We reviewed the seasons, and the angle of the Earth causing the shortening of the days that signaled the trees to stop making chlorophyll.
  • We talked about roots.  Roots absorb water, store food and anchor the tree.  But did you know that roots only go down two feet or so?  It's true!  The roots go out nearly three times the length of the branches, but they don't go down (comparatively) very far at all.  This is because, below a certain depth, there isn't enough oxygen in the soil for the roots to survive.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spice Cake

Choclo read this early reader titled, "Spice Cake."

In it, a mouse finds a recipe and makes, you guessed it, a spice cake!
Would you like to make a spice cake, Choclo?

Of course!  I used a plain vanilla cake mix and let Choclo go through all my (baking) spices.  He smelled each one and decided how much to add to the batter.

We mixed and baked and frosted and decorated with cinnamon candies and Swedish fish.

Yum!  Spice cake!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Portfolio Review

Yes, it's true, I neglected the blog this weekend because I was off goofing around getting my portfolios together...  Shocking, really!

If you're wondering what a portfolio review is, it's the twice a year check up that my state does on my home school.  And I love them!  Maryland actually only requires that I demonstrate that my children have made progress in a range of subjects, not tremendously difficult to prove, actually.

It all starts when I realize  I have a review coming up.  I "realize" this in my inbox.

Reviewer: Courteous e mail reminder.
Me: Aaaaaahhhh!  Really?  So soon? What did we do?  Did we do anything in the past 6 months?

I then go through my blog and records and rediscover all the fun and fabulous things we actually did and I get excited about everything again (plus  a million more ideas of things we could do next).

By the time we get to the interview it goes like this:

Reviewer (very politely - I love my interviewer!): You are actually educating your kids, right?
Me: You're not going to believe all the great stuff we did!!!

And we go on from there and have a big brag fest.  The county now consistently gives me the same kind, supportive interviewer (who does not read this blog, by the way), so I know we'll both have a great time.

This review is covering last June to last December and here are:

my science posts,
my history posts,
Mxyl posts,
Klenda posts,
Zorg posts,
Leena Posts,
Choclo posts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Magic Castle

At least, it seems like magic to me!

Oob gave Mxyl the world's teeniest Lego set:  Neuschwanstein Castle small enough to fit on your palm!


Somewhat smaller than the original:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Magic Garden

 One present I knew that Zorg would like was this "Magic Garden."  It's really a capillary action and crystal formation experiment in a very appealing disguise!

Here we see it just as it was set up.  You can see the "magic liquid" (water with mineral salts) traveling up the paper mountain and trees bu capillary action.

Within an hour, you could see the crystals begin to form on the tips of the "branches" and "grass."
An hour later.....  The "cherry blossoms" are developing nicely.

Three hours in, we have "snow" on the mountain!

 Four hours in...

By evening (maybe 7 hours), everything seems fully developed!
But by morning, we have even more crystals!

We're pretty sure this is the max since the crystals and paper show definite signs of drying.

What a great experiment!

Monday, January 2, 2012

On the 9th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me...

 This morning I found this mysterious Christmas present all wrapped up and waiting for me in the middle of the kitchen.

Who could it be from?

I wonder what's inside...

I shook it and it made giggling noises!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

 We have been continuing to celebrate Christmas (we do all 12 days), and we had a an additional New Year's celebration.  As you may know, we open presents slowly: each person opens a present and then they go off and play with it.  We usually open about 3 presents on Christmas, and then one a day for the rest of the days.  That's not as hard as it sounds, since we are having small parties with friends through the 12 days.  This year, with every kid buying gifts for every other kid, we had a lot of presents!

On New Year's Eve, (7th day of Christmas) we visited Grammy's house and did a big extended family Christmas thing.  Have I mentioned I love the Emperor's family?  One of their traditions is for people to prepare a written memory, often of the people who have gone before us.  This year, Ole Ed did a funny and touching bit about the music different people in the family loved.  It was really lovely.

The funniest Christmas presents to date (we are still opening presents) are these "drinking glasses" which Grammy got for Choclo and Oob.  I don't know which was funnier, the name or the look of studious concentration on their faces!

That evening we had our New Year's bash starting with a fancy dinner which was a selection of hors d'oeuvres.

We counted down to midnight in Rio (8 our time), then toasted the new year (with cherry 7Up) and watched the fireworks in Sydney.

Then we pulled our crackers and watched a Cirque de Soliel.  This year was Saltimbanco - very fun!

I would say that it's a New Year's tradition for the boys to wear clashing PJs, but, really, it's more like a New Year's Resolution... several years in a row...