Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back to The Walters Round 2

 Besides all the exhibits, The Walters also has a kids' center in the basement, and it's loaded with things to touch and do.

Here they have a castle shaped puppet theater with an astonishing variety of beautiful puppets.

They also have a swoon worthy dress up bin as well as racks and racks of games, books, and toys keyed to the exhibits in their collection.  Here the Zoomlians are building castles.

 Best of all, they have a corner of touchable stuff: fossils, coral, shells, alligator heads, insects (encased in plastic), replicas of Egyptian artifacts, and (our favorite) a suit of chain mail with a helmet.

Everyone had to try it!

Oob felt the helmet was enough to complete his outfit.

Klenda wore it with style.

 Choclo liked it, but it was heavy!

Leena tried the mail with the helmet, which was even heavier.  Here she is looking fierce.

Zorg was pretty serious about the whole thing.

But Mxyl wore his helmet the way he wears his fedora:  at a jaunty angle!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back to The Walters Round 1

I've mentioned that we could live at The Walters, right?

The Chamber of Wonders alone would make up for all the visiting school groups!

We listened to an audio book of The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in the early fall, and it was clearly on our minds!  If you haven't read it, it's the story of a brother and sister who run away to The Met, and it was one of my favorite books as a kid (that and My Side of the Mountain, do we detect a theme?).

Anyway, the Chamber of Wonders is what our museum wants to be when it grows up.

In the top picture, the table Leena is sitting at is covered with cases of butterflies, beetles, and magnifying glasses so you can see them better.

Klenda is looking at a dazzling display of jewelry and precious artifacts.

In the other picture, you can see a really large alligator, the mummy of a young girl, skulls of various bears, many amazing paintings and a white peacock. 

What you can't see is the beautifully carved cases that Mxyl is looking at.  They are filled with shells, crystals, snakes, and every imaginable natural wonder or curiosity!

 From there we went to the Knight's Hall, where Zorg and Klenda played checkers, Choclo and Oob played chess, and Leena and I played Medieval themed charades.

Meanwhile, Mxyl went through the Medieval galleries looking at all the art and artifacts.

 Next we went through the Egyptian stuff.  It wasn't part of our theme, but Choclo loves Egyptian stuff!  This time he was most interested in the animal mummies: cats, falcons, crocodiles, and baboons.  They also had a "mummy" that was actually dirt and seeds (wrapped up and painted like a mummy).  It would have been buried with someone to grow their food in the afterlife.

One of the things I love most about the Walters is how beautiful the whole museum is.  Just walking through the rooms is a treat. 

We went off through the main museum into the Hackerman House to see their Japanese collection.

The house itself is carefully restored mansion from the late 1800s.  Just gorgeous!

I am always taken with the graceful sweep of the main stairway.  Not only is the staircase itself breathtakingly elegant, it is topped by a dome appointed in carved plaster and crowned with stained glass.

The Zoomlians wanted to know why we couldn't live in a house like this!

For starters, here are my very elegant children on this elegant stairway!

Interestingly, while most of the house is very "Gilded Age" with the items being shown as an American collector would showcase them, the upstairs rooms show Eastern restraint.  There the swords, armor, and other artifacts are displayed against a back drop of bare walls and tatami mats.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Klenda!

In honor of Klenda's 14th birthday, we had a princess party!

Well, we already had the castle, so we figured we'd go for it. Klenda, being Klenda, decided that for this party, she would not be the only princess!

So, the girls all had a great time making tiaras, watching The Princess Bride,  eating red velvet cake, and filming their own musical (!).

It was a slumber party, so, naturally, they spent a great deal of time not sleeping.  What did they do in the wee hours?  Laughed a lot, evidently!

Fourteen Fun Things About Klenda

1. She likes to experiment with creating her own recipes.
2. She has taught herself to play the recorder.
3. She's a leader.
4. She can walk 15 steps on the slack line.
5. She's always willing to help.
6. She is teaching herself watercolor painting.
7. She likes to do calligraphy.
8. She's almost done with Geometry.
9. She's a fast and deadly punster.
9. She's good at all sorts of arts and crafts.
10. She sees the good in others and encourages it.
11. She can do sumi-e painting.
12. She's already a good cook and a great baker.
13. She can compose her own songs.
13. She can knit, sew and embroider.
14. She can count!
14. She's herself, and herself is pretty fantastic!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Feast!

What would a Medieval unit be without a feast?

Putting together a feast is not that hard - it's much more a matter of subtracting ingredients than adding: no potatoes, corn, or tomatoes!  I guess there is the addition of "baking spices" to meat dishes, and that makes it taste a bit exotic.

This is my favorite site for Medieval recipes, although there are many good others floating around on the web.

Since I only have a few scullions, I kept my feast simple:

Roast chicken with herbs
Meat pies (I prepared the filling the night before and used refrigerated pie crusts)
Braised leeks
Spinach with bacon
Mulled wine (grape juice and a bit of wine vinegar, simmered with spices)
Almond milk (I skipped the authentic recipe and just bought it!)

That may or may not seem simple to you, but bear in mind that we usually cook 3 meals a day for at least 8 people, we often have dessert, and we make all our bread.  We're used to cooking a lot of food and we really enjoy it.

We were all set when Zorg decided that we couldn't have a feast without a jester!  So Zorg and Leena were matching masked jesters dressed all in black (Zorg) and white (Leena).  That got the ball rolling:  Choclo and Oob did dancing and tumbling, Mxyl read a humorous epic from the period ("Get Up and Bar the Door"), and the Emperor juggled.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wrap Around

By which I mean my gardening season has wrapped around!

These are my fall blooming camellias.  They usually peak around Thanksgiving, but I might get a few stray blooms through the middle of December.

The entire shrub is covered with flowers!

And here come the snowdrops, just a week or so ahead of schedule: my earliest spring bloomer.

At least this past week it's finally gotten cold.  I'm hoping it will kill off some of the bugs.

And it's been chilling the Bay for today's Polar Plunge, which Mxyl and Zorg are doing!

UPDATE:  It got down to 14 degrees at night, at that zapped the camellias.  I'm glad I took pictures, because those beautiful white flowers turned into brown mush! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Coats of Arms

We started off looking at heraldry in general and having the kids invent coats of arms.

My favorite is the one on the top right: Leena made a coat of arms that is, well, a coat made up of arms.


Anyway, at some point, I googled our last name with "coat of arms" and discovered that our family actually has one!

 Not only that, it actually told us something we didn't know about our family.  The hammer and chisel signify silver miners.  One thing we did know was the village our ancestors had come from, and it turns out to be next to a silver mine!

So, naturally, we tried shaking the family tree a little more!

We found a number of interesting crests, and this has kicked off a mini genealogy revival!  It's been fun to go through the heraldry and see what each coat of arms signifies.

Some of them even come with mottoes.  The McKnight motto translates to: "nothing is too difficult if you really want it." The Reichwald motto we've had a harder time translating.  Google tells me it means "for short and true."  I'm guessing there is another meaning to "short," maybe "direct?"  "for directness and truth?"

Anyway, we've been printing them off and hanging them as banners in our castle.  For the ones that were very pixelated, I had Klenda go over the edges with Marker to smooth them out a little.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Knight Time!

 Knights for our castle!

I trace all willing participants on my Big Roll of Paper, then they draw armor on their outlines.

Here is Leena with her armor!  Because they draw the armor over their outlines, the armor always ends up being a little taller than the kid.

These two are Zorg's and Oob's.

Zorg has a mace and chain.

Oob would like you to know he has a real feather on his helm and you can touch it.

Klenda's armor seems to say, "Smile or I'll slice your head off."  Or, perhaps, "Here's your head, have a nice day!"

Mxyl did golden armor.  Here he is putting the finishing touches on his shield before dashing off to Scouts.

This one of those projects that works for a wide age range.  It seems to work out that the bigger the kid, the more detail they put into it.  The older kids used reference books and websites.  The younger kids used imagination and all the markers in the box.

Everyone has fun with it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Knightly Arts

We're having a weird week.

We had Monday off for MLK Day, and we'll have Friday off for the March for Life, and we're squeezing in our Walters trip.

Throw in three or four doctor visits and we get a complicated three days.

Also, our big Medieval feast is Thursday.

Anyway, I need a quick, fun, relevant art project that was short on time and mess, and here it is:

3-D St. George

(St. George himself was from a much earlier time, but he was super popular in the Middle Ages)

Find some pictures of St George fighting the dragon (like the ones I've helpfully posted here!)

Print them out on photo paper: you want two identical 5 x 7 pictures on each sheet, like this.

Cut out both pictures (we used a paper cutter)

Leave one picture intact, but cut out the main features in the other picture. I leave the definition of "main features" up to the kid.

Tape the cut outs to the original picture using loops of tape so that parts of the picture stand out in 3D.

For extra flair, you can use a toothpick for St. George's lance!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Middle Ages Websites

We found this Lego Castle site based in a museum in Indiana.  It has a "book" of information interspersed with games that let you gain Lego treasure.  It also has a nifty "Design Your Own Coat of Arms" feature. Here is another good simple Coat of Arms template.

And we found an actual Lego castle, built by a home schooling family that got really into it.  We found their video tour fascinating!

This a good portal with tons of Middle Ages sites. You just have to click around because some of the links are dead.

Kid's Castle is fun to explore and has a few good games.

On the web, there are games on everything from the Domesday book to jousting.

Here are good explanations of castle defenses, and armor. 

You can also play Crush the Castle (2) or Castle Clout, but read the about the castle defenses first.

Then, too, you can watch Great Castles of Europe on You Tube, as well as see sword smithing and armor forging.

Make Your Helm in 3 Easy Steps

 I think I mentioned that we have  a lot of swords around the house, but we were lacking in helms.  These were made from construction paper:

1. Tape two sheets together at the short ends, and then at the other short ends (so you have a circle).

2.Place on a head so you can mark where the eye slits and so forth should go. Remove it from the head, and then cut out the parts you want.

3. Tape a third piece of construction  paper to the top of the helm (taping on the inside) and cut it around to fit the shape of the top.

As you can see, you can make your helm closed, like Oob's or open, like Zorg's.  Zorg designed his based on an actual helm.  

If you want to get extra fancy, you can try a movable visor by using those round paper fasteners and a fourth piece of construction paper.  I fold the paper in quarters and cut it to shape (so that it unfolds into a sort of oval) and then cut slits in it (the folding gives you even slits and a symmetrical shape).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stained Glass

Our stained glass project  was pretty simple.

I printed out a punch of stained glass patterns.

The kids each chose one and I taped half a sheet of white tissue paper over the pattern.  We simplified some of the patterns - you don't want a lot of fine lines.

They traced the pattern with black glue. This is regular glue with about 25% black paint, and, while you'll never use that bottle of glue for anything else, it makes a lot of fun projects.

We'd used it on paper before, but not tissue paper, but it worked fine.  We did it on the "shiny side" of the paper, but I think it would have worked either way: it's too thick to spread much.

After it was completely dry (do not skimp on the drying time!), we colored it in with watercolors.  We used the good ones (Prang) because we wanted the color to be as intense as possible when light shines through it.

 As soon as that was dry, we cut it out and taped it to the window. Perfect!

This was Klenda's because she was the only one whose glue was dry enough to paint today!

It occurs to me that you could start with a whole sheet, cut to the size of your window to make a full window effect, but IMHO it's not worth trying as a younger kid project (it's too easy to have them smear the glue if the project is too big).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


 My friend, Fr. Mark, was telling me about his first day back teaching classes, and he recounted it in the style of Hemingway:


in the rain.
blank stares.
vacant minds.
in the rain.
I would conclude with another narrative voice, but if I adopt Melville I would have to offer seventy-five pages on the driving wheel I grasped while traveling in to the seminary, and eighty-five pages on the key I used to open the lock of the side door I entered, and one-hundred pages on the wood used to construct the door, placed on hinges, attached to the door frame by screws, using screwdrivers, twisted in a clockwise direction, by calloused male hands, slippery with sweat, laboring beneath the sweltering sun, in the South, near the water, brackish water to the north, in the Lake, fresh water flowing through the river, fresh but polluted, by agricultural combines and sewerage, from cities upriver, their waste flowing through the winding bends of the river channel, bisecting the continent, like blood flowing over gravel, twisting, turning, but ceaselessly flowing, from North to South, uncaring of the lives that exist because of it, on it, beside it, drinking from it, disposing in it, trash representing the detritus of civilization, a word spawned by hubris, the hubris of denial, denial of what is, what was, and what will be, the detritus in which all things return to the dirt, dry or wet, wet or dry, but still dirt, through the centuries, millennia, eons, ages, always dirt, at the beginning and the end, beneath the sky, sometimes filled with clouds, sometimes clear blue, blue because of the angle of sunlight refracted off the atmosphere insulating our elliptical home from the cold of space, icy cold, a vacuum, empty, void, dark, until one turns to the Sun, then overpowering light, and heat, and radiation, traveling ninety-three million miles, mile, after mile, after mile, after mile, after mile, after mile ........:

I thought this was so hilarious, I had to try it!  I mentioned the epic trip to get the flu shots, right?

Here is a fuller recounting done in the style of Beowulf:

 Long sat I in my lofty hall, yet was I wroth and sorely vexed. 
A pestilence had swept down from the frozen North and layed waste to many in the fair lands.
Noble thanes and hearty villeins alike fell before it's frosty gaze.
I pondered with my heart full sore, what was to be done? 

Then awoke my hero's heart! 
Was I to cower before this threat? 
Nay, I would see what strength and cunning I yet possessed! 
Loudly I called my noble thanes, and swiftly they answered my call!

"Be stout hearted!" quoth I.
"We know this evil afflicts out land. 
Shall we do nothing til it seize us in our beds
and wring our hearts blood from us?
No!  We shall track this evil to it's lair,
We shall strike it first, swiftly and sure!"
Who fears the bite of cold steel,
when glorious victory awaits?"

And my noble thanes would not go unrewarded! 
Much treasure would I, their noble lord bestow:
rich rings, curiously wrought of sugar and such sweetness,
crunchy cookies, filled with chocolate morsels,
all this and more I promised.

So we sailed, swift as the eagle to the doctor's office,
yet not knowing the horrors that awaited us.
For whose blood would not run cold,
surrounded by the scourge of plague contained within those walls?
For, swiftly though we came, slowly would we depart.

Hour after leaden hour passed as we waited in the vile room.
Neither victuals nor provisions could be taken into the realm of terror,
and the hour of feasting, when the mead should flow like rivers,
came and went to our empty sorrow.

Yet when we looked to return, empty in hand and belly,
then it was that the battle was upon us!
A giant nurse from days of old fell upon my first born son
and stabbed him in the arm!
Uttering no cry of pain, right manfully he stood the blow
with grim and noble mein.

Yet she stabbed again, and again,
striking to the left and right,
leaving wounds full sore amongst my brave and noble thanes!
Yet the evilest blade, her hideous battle cry,
"It doth not hurt AT ALL!"

In righteous rage I clove her head, splitting her from stem to stern!
"And this for you! "quoth I, "Fear not, it doth not hurt AT ALL."

Well...ok, maybe that's not exactly what I did.  But I felt like it!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Soldiering On

We are soldiering on, despite an attack of the flu.

All the Zoomlians got flu shots in an epic trip to the pediatricians a week ago Monday.  An hour in, the nurse asked (in a tone suggesting I had not really had an appointment) who had scheduled me. 

The whole thing took nearly two hours (and went well past lunch), so we played bored games to pass the time.  These are not to be confused with board games!  Bored games are games to play when you are unavoidably detained with nothing to do, and every parent needs to have a few at the ready.

If I had a Rutabaga is a good one, and so is When I Was a Kid.  We played the Scary Alphabet Game (go around thinking of scary things for each letter such as Angry Aardvarks Assaulting Avaricious Ants), Telephone, and The Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Flu shots are just so random: Of the first 4 kids, two kids had no pain, and two had a "little pinch", but then the fifth kid got a "right in the nerve cluster shrieking fit" shot.  He did not actually shriek, but the last kid saw it and tried to dig his way out of the room.  Not pretty.  And the nurse telling them, despite vital evidence to the contrary, that it didn't hurt at all... well.

That was the Monday.  The actual flu showed up Thursday night, and by Friday, three kids had it.
Two more have popped up with fevers on and off, the most recent today, so we have various kids in all the stages: fever, no fever but still coughing a lot, and not coughing much but still cranky. And waiting.

We've been going forward with the castle and so forth, taking into account who feels like doing what. It was the perfect time to watch The Court Jester!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Build Your Castle in 5 Easy Steps

 1. Tape paper to the walls.  We used our Big Roll of Paper, and we notched the top layer, but you can leave it straight and add copy paper to make the crenelations later.  The big thing is: just tape the paper to the wall (do to not tape the layers together at this point).

We like round arches over doorways.

2.  Make a dilute solution of black watercolor (or black food coloring) and blot it onto the paper with a wad of paper towels (or a rag).  You want just enough in the wad that it isn't quite dripping.  Don't wipe!  You want it blotchy with some paper showing. The water in the paint will give the paper a stone texture as well as color.

3. After it dries, tape the seams (paper to paper).

4. Draw in the stone.  I used a broom stick marked in sections to keep my horizontal lines even. I like to make the lower courses larger than the top ones to give an illusion of greater height. I penciled the stone in before we painted, and then the Zoomlians traced the lines with gray marker, but it could be done more simply here in one step.

5. If you have a doorway, you can put in a portcullis!  Ours is cut out of folded up layers of foil and is entirely decorative (it doesn't move).  If you figure out a way to make a functional portcullis, we'd love to hear about it!

And here you have it: a castle, ready to be adorned with all manner of knightly embellishment!