Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day!

 It's a cold rainy day here and several of us have colds, so we don't have a lot of physical leaping going on. We have some kids that want to play leap frog, and some that don't...

 Less than four years ago, anyway! 

But we have found some fun intellectual leaps for the day.

And we would be remiss indeed if we didn't watch this:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And the Oscar Goes to..

This is the winner in the category "animated short film."  Just magic!  I first saw it at The Kid Should See This.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Return of the Gospel Desserts: Week 1

Sunday's Gospel was the Temptation in the Dessert Desert.

Would you choose the angel food cake, or the devil's food?

Mmmmm... Doesn't the devil's food look tempting?  Lots of frosting and chocolate and sprinkles...

The angel's food looks a little boring.

We gave everyone a slice of each and let them choose. 

Surprise!  If you chose the devil's food, you probably did not enjoy it (probably because it was made with salt and vinegar instead of sugar and water).

The moral of the story: the devil's way may look nicer, but it always leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth!

The angel's food was lovely, but I'm sure that's what you chose anyway!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In Other Other News...

My Great Grandfather (my father-in-law's Dad) turns 99 today!

Happy Birthday Grandpa!!

In Other News...

Mxyl and Klenda have completed the final edits on their novella (18,000 words) and have taken the first step towards publication.

This past week, they sent out a query letter to an agent! 

Congratulations Mxyl and Klenda!

Prayers for their success are very welcome!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I've been going to this Basilica since I was a small child, possibly before the main church was even open! (Picture by Zorg)

Whenever I return there, I feel like I am seeing old friends, and (as they open more chapels) meeting new ones.

There's more too it than that, even.  I remember going there with my grandmother and great grandmother who have passed on, and now, when I kneel where they knelt, I pray for them.
 This was Mxyl's favorite artwork, a mosaic of the Woman of Revelation featured on one of the half domes. 
 The new Marionite chapel was my favorite!

This is St. Charbel, a favorite saint in my family.  Perhaps I should rephrase that - we all like him, he's not physically related!

I loved the new chapel - simple, but beautiful with a protected, peaceful feeling. 

The Marionite Rite is mostly in Lebanon, a place in need of peace and protection.

 Here we have Zorg in the chapel of Our Lady of Africa, under a statue of one of the evangelists.

And here is our favorite statue of the Holy Family resting during their flight into Egypt.

I love this piece!  It captures both the strength, weariness, and trust of the small family. 

Plus, it looks to me like Mary is stretching her aching back which seems tremendously realistic to me (there is a donkey lying down on the other side of the statue).

It was a great start to Lent!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ready, Set, Lent

 We did get everything set up on Ash Wednesday, despite the fact that, after I thought we were done, Leena asked with a piteous quaver, "What about our Walking with Jesus poster?"

Fortunately, there is a three year lectionary cycle and we had been doing the poster for four years, so I was able to look up the layout on the blog archives!

So, we start Ash Wednesday at the ash cross near the words, and we follow one footprint a day, coloring it in as we go.  The kids also like to add flowers to represent their sacrifices.

I really like how the vine and branches came out - much less like a tree than usual!  We have written "Jesus" on the vine, and our names on the branches.  One day out, everyone's branch is already bearing fruit!

I ended up running out to the store to get a paper cutter, the better to make forty 4" squares for the Lenten Cross.  It doesn't look like much now, but it will eventually be amazing (we hope).

And Klenda made a jar for the sacrifice beans, so we're all set up and ready for Lent!

For the adults, the Emperor and I are going to start watching Catholicism tonight!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Walters Round Two

 We went back for a second week at the Walters, this time for their Medieval and Japanese collections.  I forgot my camera, so these pictures were taken with my phone.

We went through The Knight's Hall, a beautifully furnished recreation of, well, a medieval knight's hall!  The Zoomlians played chess and checkers there.

Coming out, they have these sculptures representing the four evangelists.  Since I happen to know four people with those names, I had them pose beneath their symbols.
 I handed out cards from their family guide, and all the Zoomlians found their artifacts.  Here is Klenda with the (nearly a thousand year old) Eucharistic dove (an early type of tabernacle) on her card.

One of the high lights of this section is the 1500 year old Mass kit.  I had the kids take a look at it and identify all the sacred vessels we still use today!  The biggest difference was that the paten (plate) was much larger back then because they were using  full loaves of bread.
 I could have spent hours going through this part of the museum.  The art and artifacts are really relics from the age of Faith.  To me, every detail still sings with the love and devotion of those who made them - even more so than the more technically perfect Renaissance artists. 

There's a gritty reality here, especially in their portrayal of a God-Man who suffered for us.  Here is a culture intimately familiar with suffering, contemplating the One who redeemed that suffering.  It's more beautiful to me than the paintings which gloss over and touch up the uglier parts of life.  Those are the parts where we need God the most.

I had never been to the Hackerman house (where the Asian collections are kept) and I was totally unprepared for the astounding beauty of the house itself!

It was like being swept into a Jane Austin novel.
Here you see Mxyl at the bottom of an elegant sweep of stair crowned with a beautiful stained glass dome.  The stained glass (in sunlight) was too much for the phone camera, but it's in the center above all that lacy plaster icing.
 Of course, we were really there to see the swords...

But Choclo found an entire cabinet of carved wooden praying mantises!

 These collections are housed in turn of the century rooms outfitted as the home of a wealthy collector of Asian curiosities.

In this room, Klenda is photographing some cerulean porcelains.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I was more impressed with the drapes and the carved moldings than the porcelain, but I was!

Each room seemed more lavish than the last, but, finally, it was time to head for home.

But first, a quick visit back to the Family Art center.

Did I mention last time that they have a ton of dress up stuff there?

Mxyl tried on a chain mail coif and plate helmet (the hauberk was off limits)  He actually found them a manageable weight!

Choclo went the nifty fabric model and seemed just as pleased!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Fr. Rose was the Chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital when I was working at the lab.  I'm sure he wouldn't remember me if I walked up and bit him, but he managed to make an indelible impression on me...twice!

The first impression was a homily he gave on Ash Wednesday 15 years ago.  I'm not sure I remember what I ate for lunch today, but I can tell you exactly what he said then:

What good are ashes? 

Ashes are good for three things. First, you can use them for traction.  People who live in snowy places often keep a tin of ashes in their car so that, if the car gets stuck in the snow, they can use the ashes to get themselves going again. ( Ever get stuck in a sinful habit and feel like you're spinning your wheels?)

Second, ashes can be used for scouring pots.  Usually this is done when you're camping and you get nasty, stuck on, burned on food at the bottom of the pot - ashes and elbow grease will take it off. (A little spring cleaning for the soul, anyone?)

Third, ashes are used to enrich the soil in the garden.  Ashes help things grow better.  (The ashes have potassium - not only do the plants grow better, it specifically helps them produce more fruit.  Looking for more fruit in your spiritual life?)

Lent is the time given to us to get traction in our spiritual lives, to clean up our act and to grow.  

Thanks, Fr. Rose!

Happy Lent!

We are off to the Basilica for Mass and ashes, and we'll stay a while to tour and pray.  When we come back, we'll do our heavy duty Lent set up.  I used to do this the weekend before, but I've come to realize, I'm just not that organized Ash Wednesday is the perfect time to set up Lent!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Mardi Gras!

We made masks and had a party!

We put on some jazz and dumped whatever was left in the candy drawer into bowls: presto!  Instant party!

We didn't do as much as we've done in past years, but the combination of President's Day, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday kind of compressed the week.

But we can always take an afternoon off for a party...

Oob decided that Daddy was missing out.

Oob:  What time will Daddy come back?

Me: 3:30.

Oob (negotiating): How about... ZERO thirty?

Monday, February 20, 2012


Lent with older kids gets easier in some ways.  When figuring out what to do for Lent, I ask them to finish this sentence: It wouldn't be Lent without...

The vine and the branches.  Basically it's a 7 foot tall vine cut out of brown paper with branches for each member of the family. We cut out tons of leaves and grapes and put them in a basket. Whenever anyone sees someone doing something good, they put a leaf or fruit on that person's branch. On Easter we decorate the vine with Easter lilies. We often put a picture of Jesus and the "vine and branches" quote on the vine.

Gospel desserts! No desserts or sweets except for Sunday, and the Sunday desserts are related to the Gospel of the day.  We have a lot of fun with this!  Also, we keep the cookie jar filled with pretzels.

Sacrifice bean jar. (Klenda's idea) One bean for each sacrifice and on Easter they are replaced with jelly beans to show that Jesus' sacrifice makes our sacrifices sweet.

My basic plan is to follow the classic Lent idea: Prayer , Fasting, Alms-giving.  The no sweets thing takes care of the fasting, and we'll decide together which charity to save for during Lent.We make a jar decorated with pictures related to the people for whom we are raising money.

My prayer idea is to try for daily Mass, and (because scripture , in my mind, is always tied to prayer as part of the ongoing conversation with God) the Lenten Cross.

The Lenten Cross  This is made of 40 squares of light purple paper, each the size of a post-it note. You do a scripture reading, have a kid draw a representation of the reading on a square, and then tape the square to a wall. By Easter the squares form a large cross representing Salvation History. We've done this several times and the kids loved it. You can find the readings and more info here.

That's about it, simply because that's about all I can keep track of for 40 days!    Except of course, tomorrow, we'll watch this:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cool Websites

A few new finds:

Secret Millionaires Club.  This is a site for kids done by Warren Buffet to teach investing and business skills.  Sound like a yawn?  Watch some of the cartoons!  Read his answers to kids' questions!  Play the games! 

The Kid Should See  Videos of amazing stuff from around the web.  The videos aren't usually intended for kids, but they're all appropriate.  And fascinating!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Walters Round One

 I love the Walters!  This is actually an amazing admission when you consider that 12 years ago I swore that I would never go there again.

Back then, I was carrying Klenda, holding Mxyl's toddler hand, and pregnant with Zorg.  Looking back, I was also a young over sensitive mom.

 I was a bit anxious that my two year old behave well in the museum,  but that turned into very anxious when I realized a guard was following us around to make sure my toddler didn't touch anything.

At some point, Mxyl got tired out and sat on the floor.  The guard swooped down and told me  that he couldn't sit on the floor. Really?   He wasn't touching anything.  There wasn't a bench to sit on.  He was two.  No!  He can't sit on the floor! 

I left and swore I'd never go back: the Walters just hates kids.

Ten years later, someone raved about how much fun her kids had at the Walters... Really?

Really!  Somewhere in those ten years, something changed. Changed like Scrooge changed!  I have no idea if the Spirits of Museums actually showed up, but now the Walters loves kids!  And the guards are all kind and helpful, even when telling kids not to lean on the glass (not that the Zoomlians would ever do such a thing!).

They also now have these great family guides to different collections.  The guides contain cards with pictures of different items on display.  It's like a scavenger hunt with questions and stories designed to get kids to think about the times and places the items came from and relate to the people who used those items.  Fantastic!

Unbelievably, the museum is now also FREE!  I had literally paid for my bad experience way back then.

I've returned to my "draw three things" philosophy to museums.  The point here is that, when you try to draw something, you have to really see it in a deeper way.  Improving art skills is sort of a bonus!

This trip we saw the Ancient cultures (Greek, Roman, Egyptian , and Assyrian) and the Hall of Wonders and the Treasury.

We had been watching Egypt's Golden Empire, so the kids really enjoyed the Egyptian stuff. 

One of the things I miss in the Smithsonian is having diverse collections in one museum.  The Walters calls itself an art museum - and it does have plenty of paintings and sculpture - but it also has tons of history, social studies, and science.
 In fact, the buildings themselves are beautiful and evocative.

Here we have "The Collector's Study."  It's a room off of the main museum that is set up as a recreation of an 18th century study filled with art and "curiosities!"

Honestly, I could have spent hours in this room alone!

But nearby was the Hall of Wonders!
 Who could resist?!  Amazing and wonderful things: natural wonders like a giant stuffed crocodile, gems and minerals, and sea shells.  Man made wonders like an Egyptian mummy of a child, curious carved puzzle boxes and furniture and dazzling jewelry.  All of this is set in a room of fabulous carved paneling. 

I think what I love most about the Walters is the way they set up immersive experiences.  You feel like you have stepped back in time and are marveling with those people at these "wonders."

Choclo was amazed at the giant beetles.  They have magnifying glasses all over so that you can see the details of the insect collection.

 I just had to post this picture because I think it's my favorite.  It's a trompe l'oeil .  Honestly, it's just a flat painting, but after seeing the actual Roman carvings (see the first picture) it's so exact that it's hard to believe.  It was patterned on a real Roman carving that had been broken and worn by time.

It's worth clicking on it to see it larger!
Last, but not least, we visited the Family Art Center (did I mention they now love kids?) where the Zoomlian had fun making puppet shows and touching things!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Fink So Doo

Oob (upon waking up with a cold): I fink my dose is on backwards!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Apocryphal Bumper Stickers

I don't actually have a bumper sticker on my car, unless you count the "I'm Proud of my Boy Scout" one, and that's not really a "message".

 I feel funny about bumper stickers in general: can you really have some message for everyone in every situation?  Is there something that would be useful to tell absolutely everyone?  The Gospel is, of course, but it's hard to put on a bumper sticker in a way that not a near occasion of eye rolling.

It's an interesting question, and a kind of game I play with myself: if you could put anything on a bumper sticker, what would it be?

The closest I've come so far has been; "Worry less about how you look, and more about who you are."

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy St. Valentine's Day

Hope you're having a great day!

I made these valentine butterflies for my Biology class.

Kingdom: Animal
Phylum: Invertabrate
Class: Insect
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Genus: Papilio
Species: valentinus

Back at the ranch, we are playing with two dozen heart balloons and drinking Pink Burping Cows...of Love!

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Man for All Seasons

We've been having fun with the play A Man for All Seasons!  Here we have Mxyl as Thomas More, Klenda as his daughter Meg, Leena as Lady Alice (More's wife) and Zorg as Roper, his son in law (who does not drink wine).  It's a lot of lines to memorize for less than three minutes!

Or, as Mxyl says:  We have just acted out a part of "A Man for All Seasons: Act II", which covers St. More in jail during his family's visiting.  I myself have no idea why I'm speaking in a British accent, I do it all the time these days.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Hearty February

We are gearing up for Valentine's Day!

As my kids get older and have more ideas and do more decorating themselves, it gets crazy fun!

Not only do we have heart shaped valentine holders on the walls (with everyone making secret valentines), we have hearts painted on the windows and hearts hanging from the ceiling!

The thing is, if you pass directly under a heart, it's sort of like mistletoe, someone can give you a kiss... ON YOUR NOSE!!!

I'm not sure how and when we picked up the threat, "I'll kiss your nose!"  But... it's crazy!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Going Viral

After all that classification stuff, I had to admit that viruses are classified as "Neither Living, nor Non-Living."  Mxyl immediately asked, "So, they're officially Undead?"

Ummm... You know if you think about that too much...  it's actually not a bad analogy...

So we talked about viral replication (see below), diseases caused by viruses, parasites and hosts (especially the fact that most viruses can only infect one kind of cell, for example, the rabies virus can only infect the nerve cells of certain mammals - did you know that there are no rabid squirrels?), and how viruses spread.

We also talked about our bodies response to viruses (interferon: immediate, general, but weakly effective, WBCs: 1 week, specific, effective, and antibodies: 2 weeks, specific, highly effective).  We also talked about vaccines and (my personal favorite, and the clinically proven BEST way to avoid colds and other communicable diseases) hand washing/hand sanitizer.

And we made fun virus models from machine screws, wire nuts and wire!

Here is a great explanation of viral replication, although it's a bit more detailed than what I did with my class:

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I stumbled (nearly literally) on this nest on the floor in the family room.

Either Choclo and Oob are into the fridge again, or we have a feral chicken loose in the house...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dessert! Dessert! Dessert!!!

Choclo and Oob were (collectively) the Kid of the Week last week.  It's collective because neither of them can come up with 20 things they want to eat. 

Even together, they overlap so much that they only come up with 15 or so, and even then it goes like this:

Oob: Cheeseburgers!

Choclo: Cheeseburgers!  And Pizza!

Oob: Pizza!

Me: You can't do pizza, we just had it last week.

Both: Ohhhhhhhh.

Choclo: ABC soup!

Oob: ABC soup! And Dessert! Dessert! Dessert!!!

Choclo: Yes! We need Dessert! Dessert! Dessert!

Me: Um, OK, I guess it's not Lent yet.  What is "Dessert! Dessert! Dessert!!!"

Choclo: You know, like....Mega Cake! (pictured above)

Oob (dreamily): And dessert...after lunch!

It also included brownies (Dessert!) with chocolate chips (Dessert!)and fudge frosting (Dessert!).

My waistline is looking forward to Lent!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Amaryllis Update

 It's like a slow motion explosion!

Currently 7 blossoms are open, and we have one entire bud to go!

The white flowers are paper whites, a kind of small daffodil often used for "forcing" indoors in the winter.  Strangely, only one of the six was "forcible."

I guess that makes the other five invincible?

Monday, February 6, 2012


Our next Biology class was on classification.  Fun!  We talked about how and why humans compulsively classify things, and the difference between Aristotle's sock drawer and the sock drawer of Linneaeus.
Aristotle only had 2 categories of living things: it was either a plant or an animal (each category had 3 subdivisions: animals were either land, water, or air).  He was Greek, he didn't have socks, but if he had a sock drawer, it would have white socks on one side and black on the other..

Carolus Linneaus, OTH, must have had his socks organized by the colors in the spectrum and then alphabetized by country of manufacture!  He was the father of our modern classification system.  If you can't read the headings in the picture, they are (down) Kingdom, Phylum, Class Order, Family Genus, species, and (across) cat, lion, dog, octopus.

Now my students know how to request a fun and friendly Common Octopus for their birthday, so they don't accidentally get a poisonous and bad tempered Blue Ring Octopus by mistake.  Ahh, science!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Homeschool Dad of the Year

I don't care what school these kids go to during the day, this Dad homeschools his kids in the best sense of the word: teaching them what he loves!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest blog by Mxyl: A more detailed explanation of why I hate orange-kneed tarantulas

In case you didn't get the general idea with the first post...

Cross Curricular Amaryllis

I really love amaryllis, but the big bulbs are very expensive.  Even when I splurge, I usually get a bargain basement bulb with one flower stalk.  The larger, more expensive bulbs often have two stalks.  The wimpier stalks have two blossoms, but the best stalks have 4 trumpet like blooms.

When the amaryllis kits went on clearance at Target, I  pounced!

This turned out to be a great science and Algebra project.

Science, of course, because you can watch the roots (I used a clear container), shoots, and buds develop. In Amaryllis, the flower stalk develops before the leaves emerge.

Algebra because, if you measure the shoots each day, you get a chart that is half of a parabola. 

In our case, we got a surprise!  We got a nice healthy flower stalk, followed by what I presumed to be a leaf...

Surprise!  It was another flower stalk!  We started measuring and charting the second stalk as well.  Then the leaf started to emerge...

Amazingly, it turned out to be third flower stalk!  So, of course we are charting all three!

As you can see, they all follow that parabolic rise.

And, as it opens, I can see that the first stalk has 4 blooms!