Monday, March 31, 2014

Gospel Dessert: Fourth Sunday

 The Gospel this week was the story of the man born blind.  Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud, anoints the man's eyes with the mud and then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.

I always had the mental picture of the pool as being nearby.  It turns out it was a bit more than half a mile away - which explains why, after he was healed, he didn't immediately see Jesus.

Klenda made our Gospel dessert, a "mud pie." Less muddy than some other years, but still delicious!

Also on Sunday, God sent us an early April Fool's joke when our rainy day took a turn for the snowy.

Here we have snow on our snow drops!

We probably have a few hundred snow drops, which Oob still amusingly calls rain drops.  Yesterday, they were definitely snow drops!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Poem of the Week

Bread of the World, In Mercy Broken

Bread of the world, in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul, in mercy shed,
By Whom the words of life were spoken,
And in Whose death our sins are dead.

Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed;
And be Thy feast to us the token,
That by Thy grace our souls are fed.

Reginald Heber (1783-1826)

HT: Journey with Jesus

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kids Astronomy: Planets Part 2

Moving out into the outer solar system, we come to Jupiter, king of the planets. What do you get when you add very massive planet plus close to an asteroid belt?  In this case, 62 moons!

At at 100 times the size of Earth, you would think a Jovian day would be very long. Nope.  A day on Jupiter lasts a mere 10 hours.

That super fast spin generates incredible winds and super storms, like the Great Red Spot, a hurricane that is larger than the entire Earth and has been going on for at least 400 years.

Choclo is using our tornado tube with orange water and red glitter to demonstrate the storm.
 All the gas giants have rings, but none are as well known as Saturn's.  I used more powder and salt to demonstrate the dust and ice which form those rings.  I then had a lab assistant drag pencils (eraser side down) across it to show how Saturn's moons "shepherd" the rings into distinct sections.

As a kid, I was told that the gas giants had no surface below all that atmosphere, that they were gas all the way through.  This made no sense to me.  Wouldn't the mass of the planet crush the gas into a solid, or at least a liquid?

The actual answer seems to be yes, at least for Jupiter and Saturn.  But there is still no "surface." It is now believed that the gases are compressed so gradually, that there is no definite point where the atmosphere stops being gas and starts being liquid.

 Next up, the mysterious (and hard to pronounce) Uranus.  Firstly, we don't know why it spins on it's side, but it gives it really strange seasons.

We used the globe and flashlight trick again, and it's worth ding just to see this for yourself.

During winter, half of the entire planet gets no sun for 21 years. During summer (21 years) the sun does not set.  In spring and fall, they get something more like our days and nights.

Weirder than that, scientists think there is a surface under Uranus's atmosphere.  One theory is that the surface is very cold and covered with large diamonds.  Another theory holds that the surface is a very hot (5000 degree) ocean.

So, anyone want to go and find out?

That leaves Neptune as the last of the true planets.  It's like Uranus, only smaller, and with faster winds.  Neptune has a large, long lasting hurricane called The Great Dark Spot, and a white cloud (very helpful when measuring rotation) which astronomers call "Scooter" for the speed with which it scoots around the planet.

What about Pluto?  Two interesting things about our distant dwarf planet.

Did you know that they keep finding new moons of Pluto? Right now it's up to four, with a possible fifth awaiting verification. Not bad considering Pluto is much smaller than our own moon!

Also, its one of many Kuiper belt object (also called Trans Neptuniam Objects).

The Kuiper belt is like a second asteroid belt after Neptune, except the "asteroids" are larger, farther apart, and their orbits are a little bit tilted from the rest of the planets' orbits.

Past the Kuiper belt, you have the Oort cloud.  This is  a remenant  of the cloud of dust and gas the solar system formed from, and it is the very outer fringe of the solar system.

It's so far away from the sun, that the sun's gravity holds objects here very weakly.  Any passing object can affect trajectories here, sometimes sending chunks of ice and dust spinning towards the inner solar system.

We call these comets!  And here is how to make one.

Line a bowl with a trash bag.
Pour in 2 cups of water.
Add a few spoons of sand or dirt.
Add a splash of ammonia.
Add some simple sugars (dark corn syrup or molasses)
Stir, then add 1 cups of crushed dry ice.
Wearing gloves (!) form the freezing mess into a snowball by pressing on the outside of the trash bag.

Dump it out, and there you have it!

Of course, to be a real comet, you'd have to shoot it into space, but if you'd rather keep it here, you can make your own "solar wind" by blowing on it.  The dry ice generates a fine "tail" and the whole "dirty snowball" eventually disintegrates into a lacy ball of ice in very much the way a real comet does.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Kid's Astronomy: Planets Part 1

Can you name the planets?  Do you consider Pluto a planet?  What is a planet, anyway?

The planets all go around the sun, of course, but so do plenty of things that aren't planets (asteroids and comets, for example).

The planets are all more or less round: they have enough mass to draw themselves into a rough sphere.  But there are large asteroids and dwarf planets that do that.

A true planet is large (massive) enough that it's gravity has cleared all the space around it.

That means we know of 8 planets and 11 dwarf planets.  Oops, they found another dwarf planet yesterday!  So that makes 12 dwarves, so far!

So, more or less round?  Aren't the planets ball shaped?  Actually, most of them are a little squashed from spinning.  The faster the spin, the more they bulge at the equator.  It's really noticeable with Saturn!

Here's an easy way to see why this happens: Cut out two long thin strips of construction paper and punch holes on both ends.

Thread the holes onto a pencil so that you form a ball with the pencil just inserted a little way into the ball (we stapled the part where the strips cross to give some stability).

When you twirl the pencil, the ball flattens from the centrifugal force, just like the planets!

But even the true planets aren't very similar.  Some are small and rocky, and some are huge and made of gas.  Ever wonder why?  And why are the close ones rocky, and the gas ones far away?

We think it has to do with the way the solar system was formed.  The sun formed from a cloud of dust and gas: as bits bumped into each other and stuck, the gravitational pull increased, sucking more and more of the cloud into a central location and starting things spinning.

When the sun grew large enough to ignite (more on this in another class) it began in spurts that blew bursts of solar wind like explosions across the solar system.  Lighter gases were blown farther out, heavier elements stayed closer to the center.  Meanwhile, at the fringes, bits of dust and gas that hadn't been drawn near yet, stayed the same.

You can see this if you take a black trash bag and lay it flat.  Mix together talcum powder to represent the lighter gases and a bit of salt to be the heavier rocky elements.  Drop the mixture onto a corner of the trash bag while you (or a bunch of kids!) blow.  You'll find powder clear across the bag, but most of the salt will stay close to where you dropped it.

And, of course, you can see it in the solar system with the near rocky planets, the distant gas planets, and the far icy and rocky Kuiper belt dwarf planets.

First up, we looked at Mercury: so small, so rocky, so hot (800 facing the sun), so cold (-300 facing space), and so fast (zipping around in it's 88 day year)!   To look at why the close planets have such short years, I took a long stick with a knob at one end, and a knitting needle with a ball at the end.  I stood them side by side, ball side up, and then let them fall to the ground.  The larger stick moved faster, but the shorter needle took less time: it was covering less distance.

Then we looked at Venus: 900 degrees - hotter than Mercury - how can that be?  Earth and Venus started out not only the same size, but also containing the same proportions of elements.  The two were nearly identical!  But Venus was too close to the sun.  That extra heat developed a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere that held in heat and created clouds of sulfuric acid.  There's a reason we send rovers to Mars, not Venus!

I had set a pair of identical ceramic tiles in a 300 degree oven half an hour before the class.  At the beginning of the class, I took them out and covered one with a wool blanket to simulate Venus's insulating atmosphere.  Now, 20 minutes later, I removed the blanket and took the temperature of each tile with a scanning thermometer.  The covered tile was 140, the uncovered 100.

Next up, we have Earth, the Goldilocks planet!  Not too hot, not too cold, juuuust right for liquid water.

 I took the kids downstairs, turned out the lights, and showed them the seasons on our globe using a flashlight.  When our part of the Earth is tilted towards the sun, we have summer.  When it's tilted away, we have winter.

I have found that most kids think that the Earth is closer to the sun in summer.  Here in the Northern hemisphere, in the summer the Earth is actually at its furthest point away from the sun (and in our winter, the Earth is closest to the sun).  The opposite is true for the Southern hemisphere, which is why their seasons, all else equal, are slightly more extreme.  The 23 degree tilt towards or away from the sun is really what makes the difference.

The last of the inner planets, Mars is only half the size of Earth.  Too cold, too small to hold a good atmosphere, most of the surface water has evaporated.  It's a dead planet in the largest sense: it's core has cooled and solidified.

It no longer has volcanoes, moving tectonic plates, or, critically, a magnetic field.  Earth has a magnetic field because our core is liquid and moving as the planet spins.  That field shields us from all sorts of solar and cosmic radiation which would otherwise wipe out life on the surface of the planet.

My "Mars" rock isn't from Mars, it's common iron stone that we found on a fossil expedition, but it's similar to the iron rich rocks which give "The Red Planet" it's color (and weirdly enough eroded to look alien!

Absolutely NOT!
Last for today: the asteroid belt.  When I was a kid, it was thought that the asteroids could be the remains of a destroyed planet.  Now astronomers think it is debris that didn't have enough mass to coalesce, thanks in part to the pull of Jupiter.

One thing they always agreed on: remember the asteroid belt in Star Wars?

That is absolutely NOT what an asteroid belt looks like!  If there were that many rocks, you'd have a planet there.  In real life, standing on an asteroid in the densest part of the belt, you would not be able to see any other asteroids.

The total mass of all the asteroids is estimated to be about 4% of the mass of our moon.

Stay tuned, tomorrow I'll post the rest of the solar system!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Half Way There

How's your Lent going?  Ours is going very quickly!

We are 20 steps in today on our Walking with Jesus poster.

The Zoomlians take turns coloring in footsteps, so we have a wide variety of prints.

The well is from the Woman at the Well in last Sunday's gospel.  We're headed towards a village.  Which gospel will that be?
 Our branches have been sprouting fruit and leaves as we notice each other bearing good fruit.  A lot of the fruit has come in the form of little kindnesses and thoughtful acts between the kids, and lots of extra help being offered.

Very sweet crop of fruit this year!!

We have lots of art around from the feasts we have been celebrating.

These are coloring pages of St. Joseph that we cut out and wiped with oil to give a stained glass effect.

 Our scripture cross keeps growing, too.  We put up the 20th square today - half way there!

We are cycling through the seven of us (usually the Emperor is at school), taking turns drawing and reading.

It's given us a wide array of art styles that's really fun to look through!  How many scripture stories can you identify from our pictures?
 Our Lent altar continues to evolve.  We forced some forsythia (say that 5 times fast).  I know that some people prefer to fast from flowers during Lent, but I feel like it's a time of blooming growth.

Our pile of squares is shrinking.  We need to cut out more fruit and leaves for the basket.

Our sacrifice bean jar is filling up: I had to put out more beans - a good sign!

Speaking of good signs...

It may be 30 degrees out with snow on the ground today, but our giant pussy willow is blooming!  Or catkin-ing.  Or turning fuzzy, anyway!

It must be spring! 

I wonder if it feels like it must still be early Lent because spring is so late in coming this year?

Pussy willows make me think of Lent because they were used for many years in place of palms for Palm Sunday before modern transport brought palms to non tropical countries.

Happy Half Way to Easter!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Week Three Gospel Dessert Plus

This week we had the Woman at the Well, one of our all time favorite gospel readings!

We made blue jello "water" and thenconstructed the well around it with rice crispy treat "bricks."

Easy peasy!

Tuesday was the feast of the Annunciation!

We had angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream.  Get it, angel food cake?

Yum, yum!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kids' Astronomy: Movement and Distance

We started the class in a state of high excitement: the younger kids had not been in my class before, but had heard a lot from the older siblings.  We started out outside to burn off some of that energy!

 I told the kids to move in as many ways and in as many directions as they could think of, but they had to stop moving when I yelled "Freeze!"

After a few rounds of this, I told the kids that they were still moving. They were moving 700 mph west.  The older kids figured it out, first: they were moving because the Earth was spinning.

I explained that at the equator, they would be moving 1000 mph, and I took out a globe and showed them (with clay dots) how different latitudes traveled at different speeds (and that every step you took south, increased your speed!).

But how else were they moving?  Around the sun at 19 miles per second! But the sun is also moving, spinning and orbiting the Milky Way at 514,000 mph. We had to try it!

I was the sun and the kids tried orbiting (then spinning and orbiting) me as I moved.  It was really very silly! 

And, of course, the galaxy is moving, too.  In fact, if you add up all of our movement, relative to the center of the universe, we are moving at a mind boggling 805,000 miles...per second!

To look at how everything is moving relative to everything else, I had them draw clusters of dots on balloons, then inflate the balloons.  It's a good model for how everything in the universe is moving away from everything else.

So, the first point is that we re always moving, and moving quite quickly.

The second point is that things are really far away.

I showed the kids a standard picture of the solar system, and asked them what was wrong with the picture.

The planets and sun aren't sized correctly.

They also aren't spaced correctly.

At all.

I took a 20 sided die (the size of a grape) and had one lucky kid stand on our street corner.  That was the Earth.  Another kid held a pea, and stood a foot away.  That was the moon, correctly sized and spaced.  The sun, in this scale, is a 6 foot sphere.  I have a son who is 6 feet tall (but not wide), so Mxyl was our sun!  But where would he be, if the earth was grape sized?

This is the picture he took from the correct distance, a tenth of a mile away.  It was perfect!  Before he left, we set the "Earth" on the ground next to him as a size comparison.  Now we could see how small he looked away over there!

And the rest of the solar system?  At this scale, Jupiter (grapefruit sized) would be half a mile off, and Neptune (lemon sized would be 3 miles away.  The entire solar system, including the kuiper belt and the Oort cloud would take, at this scale, a jaw dropping 10,000 miles!

Which is why you rarely see an accurately scaled model of the solar system.  Although I did make one for this class: It's a black piece of construction paper with the tiniest pin prick I could make at the center.

But why are the things in the solar system moving?

Primarily, it's gravity, and gravity is a side effect of mass.  So how do you explain mass?  They need to understand volume, mass and weight.  If you don't explain volume at the same time as the others, the kids get confused between size and mass.

I have them reach as far as they can reach.  Volume is the amount of space you take up.  I put my hand in a bowl of water so they could see how my hand took up space and moved the water away. Naturally, they all wanted to try.

scale and balance
What weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?  They have the same mass, but very different volumes!  Mass is how much stuff there is in you.   I had them jump and feel the mass of their bodies as they moved.

Then I used my primary balance to show mass another way.  As long as there was the same amount of stuff (the same mass) on both sides of the balance (in this case, baby teddy bears), it was steady.  That's the same if it's on the moon, or Jupiter, or here on Earth.  This mass of 5 equal bears will always equal the mass of 5 equal bears (about 28 grams).  Mass is measured on a balance

Weight is measured on a scale: a scale just measures how far it's pushed down.  Because gravity is relatively constant on Earth, the same amount of mass pushes down the same amount on the scale here.  But it would push down more on a larger planet, and less on a smaller one.

Just like the more magnets you have, the more magnetic pull you have (I used a bunch of magnets), the more mass you have, the more gravitational pull you have.  I "pulled" a kid in, and then, since we had increased in mass, we pulled a few more in, and so on.

Then it was back outside to look at orbiting bodies.  Zorg used his foxtail ball to demonstrate that an object in orbit will move away in a straight line as soon as whatever force keeping it in orbit is released.
Lastly, we looked at the effect of friction on orbits.

We rolled two marbles around in identical cake pans with one lined with construction paper.  The one with the paper slowed faster because of the friction with the paper.  Next time, I'd line it with fabric to make a larger difference between the two.

And then it was time to go!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kids' Astronomy and Rocket Science: the Big Picture

 Okay, technically, it's not rocket science.  It's model rocket science.

And it's super fun!

We started our younger kids science class last Thursday.  I have 11 students aged 6 to 12 (including Oob, Choclo, and Leena) and 5 older lab assistants (including Zorg, Klenda and Mxyl, our staff photographer).  All photos will be from from Mxyl.

Here's how our class is set up:
1 Motion and Distance
2 Earth and Other Planets
3 The Moon
4 The Sun and Other Stars
(Easter Break)
5 Rockets: Newton's First Law
6 Rockets: Newton's Second Law
7 Rockets: Newton's Third Law
8 Visit Observatory (at night!)
9 Build Rockets
9.5 Optional extra build class for older kids and fancy paint jobs
10 Launch Rockets at NASA Goddard

I'm drawing a lot from Janice Van Cleave's Astronomy for Every Kid, and from the rocket program developed by my cousin, Ed (whose granddaughter is taking the class!).   I'll post all the materials and sources as I go - most of it's free, either printable on line or stuff you probably have.  The exception is the model rockets themselves.  I'm getting them in a class pack from AC Supply - way the cheapest and easiest way to do it.

Cheapest because it breaks down to $15-$20 a complete rocket (including 2 engines per rocket) counting the shipping.

 Easiest because I'm getting rockets with pre-molded fin assemblies.  If you are doing this with single digit kids, this is the way to go.  Older kids can get their own fins on straight, but with younger kids, it's an exercise in frustration..

I've now done the rocket program three or four times and I keep adding on and fiddling with it.  I blogged about the rockets last time in 2011.  This time around, each class is an hour.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Poem of the Week

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn,
Greece, VIc

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.


Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.


She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,


She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

By Denise Levertov

HT Ignatian Spirituality

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Guest Blog by Mxyl: More Basilica and Walters

WARNING: as I run a blog on technical things, this may contain a few notes on photo taking.  Feel free to skip over any of it.

Anyway: after a crash course on camera shooting, I'm back as well.

As the Prime Minister said, the Basilica is a beautiful place dedicated to Our Lady of the World, where all sorts of shines are devoted to Mary as certain countries honor her.  Here's a shot of Our Lady of Portugal using framing (looking for frames within frames can make for great pictures--see?  Here's one already):
The main hall was great for leading lines.  Also, just for fun, I took a separate photo with an object in the foreground to indicate depth.
Absolutely beautiful place.

At the Walters, I had a lot of fun with sculptures.  One of the best way to take photos of sculptures is to shoot from a point of view which people generally don't look at it from; getting closer to the sculpture and focusing on the face can dramatically change the meaning.

The man now looks almost like a philosopher.

After that, I took a bust of an actress (for Athena?) and modified the shot in different ways:

Probably my favorite--the statue "looks" with us

Rows are also fun ways to take pictures, like the evangelists as described in Revelation.

More characterization of sculptures and such:
 And here's my favorite:

More Rows!!

Perfect placement!!!

And stuff like that!!!!

This shot, as you can see, has been perfectly executed, with--
welllll, okay, maybe the rows aren't perfect, but they're still...
They're... kind of okay?

Alright, fine, so maybe the first one's head is flat, the second one doesn't have a nose and the third one isn't even the same material, but still...


Well, I'll be back sometime before Easter!


This month I took Choclo and Oob up to visit Mumpy.

And Klenda up to visit Pa.

Actually everyone visited everyone, and we all had a wonderful time!

The lake was still frozen, and the kids spent hours playing the same games I played with my brother and sister.

This time of year, the top of the lake melts and refreezes, so that the surface is unbelievably smooth.

Any one kid can easily pull two others in sleds and then sling them across the nearly frictionless surface!

Klenda did more woodworking with Pa, and got to play around with a very fast, very rugged remote control car that Pa likes to try ideas on. 

I got to sort through some of my Dad's decorations and awards, and I got to listen to more stories!

I also got my Mom reconnected with texting.  Oob and Choclo love to text her silly things.

What a great visit!