Friday, May 30, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Great Book Combos, Cake Fails, and Shark Teeth

 1.  My friend Bill pointed out that you rarely see The Agony and the Ecstasy and Electronics for the Evil Genius on the same shelf.  I suppose he's right. 

I feel like there's something about this book shelf that encapsulates my life.

Big Enough
2 .  I am always on the look out for spots with poor drainage so that when we get a few days of rain we can have a Ducky Day.

This involves putting on rubber boots and hunting down the biggest puddle we can find... After a thorough soaking, we head home for baths, popcorn and hot chocolate!

We started this when Mxyl and Klenda were toddlers, but if you get a big enough puddle, everyone still wants to play!

3. Joy!  Rapturous delight!  This year I used my birthday money to buy a tree peony!  This is a long term investment, but, over the next 50 or so years this graceful plant will get about 6 feet high and 8 feet wide with progressively larger flowers.

This year I get three blossoms this size (8 inches of petals that look like they are cut from iridescent purple silk).
 4. Have you ever made something you were sure was going to be wonderful, and right about the time you are finishing, you suddenly realize...

That it's a terrifyingly creepy dinosaur cake that looks like it's planning to eat your head?

Yeah.  I know. We all go through that.

Fortunately the cake was for Choclo, and he declared it his favorite cake ever.
Trekking to the beach at Purse Park
 5.  It's shark tooth season!  We live in Maryland, in a spot that was covered with a shark infested sea (30 million years ago).  Yes, some people probably would try not to think about that too much.  But we find this wonderful: since each shark has thousands of teeth throughout it's life, our soil is embedded with millions of fossil teeth!

From Bayfront Beach
Fortunately, we don't have to dig for them.  They are continually washed out of the soil and found on the banks of rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Which means, on pleasant spring days, we spend the day at the beachplaying in the sand and enjoying the water collecting fossils.

These are teeth, ray plates, and bone fragments (from whales and dolphins) from our latest day off scientific expedition.

If you're wondering why this is seasonal, I have two words for you: jelly and fish.

6. We finished our model rockets this week! We will meet one more time on Sunday to launch at NASA Goddard (I really do love saying that!) and we are done with our Astronomy and Rocket classes.  Hooray!  So fun!

7. If you are wondering what happened to The Big Trip, we are still traveling in Japan, although we will be leaving soon for Mongolia.  Blog posts coming soon, I promise.  We just got snowed under with birthdays, anniversaries, and end of year craziness.

If you are wondering what the heck that's about, the short answer is that we came across a truly enormous pile of imaginary money, and we have been using it to take a once in a life time trip around the world.  You're free to join us, and/or if you live someplace we will, or should be going, to have us "stay" with you!

Happy weekend!  More fun with Jen!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Guest Blog by Klenda: LOTS of shark teeth

We went to the bay and found a few more more shark teeth than usual (Hercules uses litotes) . We were starting to wonder why none of the other Adventurers had come, because they had said that they would, when a truckload of assorted children and moms arrived...
The moms, most with 5+ kids.
playing in the shallows.
We saw a horseshoe crab couple laying eggs (I don't think we took a picture, sorry) and two ducks. Choclo announced, "I got REALLY close to the ducks, and they didn't even bite me or hurt me!"
Trying not to get soaked.

So many shark teeth that we're buried beneath!

We eldest kids tried to escape from the middle school kids, who had gotten into a massive water fight, by wading way out.

We couldn't. Escape.

 In fact, we all got much wetter then expected.

Not that that's a bad thing.

And this was the accumulated work of 2 or 3 hours of hunting.
Why, yes, this is only what the seven of us found, not counting the other families. Why do you ask?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Guest Blog by Mxyl: Videos of Our Trip!

Hello, everyone!  On our trip discovering the world (although you'd think, being on this planet for 7 years, we'd already know something) we've shown you pictures, written blog posts, and described in detail where we've gone, and even showed you some videos of the trip and attractions.  There's one thing, however, that you have yet to see: us!

Here, recorded in stunning Super HD, is one and a half minutes of digitally remastered, optically digitized, full-fledged, spectacular, Han-shot-first amazingness of Zorg, Klenda and my reactions to Australia:

Allllright.  So maybe I exaggerated a bit. 

Anyway, I'm pretty sure we've forgotten someone else: our most hammy actor, Oob!  Here he is in Hawaii in an even more spectacular video!!

Lots of thanks to Ms. Anabelle for the leis and other Hawaiian things!

Mata atode,
ミクシェル ヴォータパーズ

Monday, May 26, 2014

More Memorial Day

 Every Memorial Day I look through my garden to find flowers to decorate the family graves. 

I like to get them from here, because this was the garden where my father-in-law planted his roses.

This is a house where extended family gathered, and many of these plants were seen by those whose graves they will decorate.

It's a living memory.

Usually, Memorial Day comes around, hot and muggy, and the garden is in a lull between the last of the late spring and the first of the summer flowers. I have to search for the last of the roses.

Not this year!  Thanks to a cold winter and a cool spring, we are in the peak of roses and irises, and all manner of flowers!
This year, the bouquets practically make themselves: red and white roses with salvia for Aunt Toni, the wonderful woman who first made me feel really welcome to the family.

Irises and roses for my father in law, Grandpop Bob, who died before I met him,but whose life and virtues I enjoy every day in my husband.

Dark purple irises for his younger brother.

Old fashioned pinks, geraniums and white roses for his mom, and azaleas for his dad.

 The family gathers, and off we go, caravanning to first one cemetery, then another.

We've all brought flowers, and we have fun arranging them for each person just so.

We tell stories.  We talk about how much each person would have enjoyed their flowers.  Probably do enjoy the fact that we are coming out the way they did...
 We enjoy our time together as a family.

The kids pick up the fallen petals and arrange them in patterns on the headstones.

We pray for our departed dear ones.

We smile and head for home, time for a big cookout, time for more togetherness, more stories. 

The weather is perfect: sunny, 72 with a light breeze.

This year the kids promised to put on a play for us, and it turned into many, many plays, most of them based on Aesop's fables.

Grandpop Bob would have liked that.  Maybe he did!

Happy Memorial Day!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Poem of the Week: Memorial Day

Long before Memorial Day was celebrated with cook outs, it was celebrated by visiting the graves of veterans and decorating them with flowers.  Back then it was called Decoration Day.  Since we have many veterans in our family, we continue to decorate the graves, and then we go home and have a big family cook out!

Decoration Day
By: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
  On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
  Nor sentry's shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
  And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
  Or the drum's redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
  No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
  No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
  Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
  It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
  The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
  Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
  We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
  The memory shall be ours.

HT:Maine Historical Society

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Other Stuff Going On

 I had a birthday!  I actually spent my birthday visiting my  mom and dad up in NJ with Zorg.

Here are Mom and Zorg bringing in my cake with 44 lit candles!!

Yes, I did blow them all out.

No, the fire department did not help.

It was the cutest cake, too!  When they showed it to me, I thought they had gotten me a porcelain flower knick knack, but no,that clay is all frosting!
 We were also celebrating my mom's birthday, and Mother's Day, so it was all pretty festive.  I prepared and planted a garden for my mom, so she'll have something nice when I'm not there.  It was a really nice visit, and I'm so glad Zorg got to spend the time with my folks!

We also got to visit an amazing playground!  I would love to play on an adult sized one of these!  If you are ever in Andover, NJ on a non-school day, their school playground is fantastic!

And, when we got home, Klenda had made me another lovely cake!

And the Zoomlians had gotten me an array of awesomeness unlikely to be equalled to the ending of the world!  Hyperbole, you say? Not so.

They got me two things I've wanted for a long time: the SHIELD Helicarrier and a Jaeger!!

I have them hanging over my desk, so you can see that the Helicarrier won't actually solve all my parking problems in the way I had envisioned, BUT,  I'm using the Helicarrier as the drop vehicle for my Jaeger.  If you are not blown away by how incredibly awesome this actually is, clearly you have not seen Avengers and Pacific Rim.
At least not as many times as I have.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kids' Rocket Science: Third Law of Motion

 The third law is the one everyone remembers: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The favorite demonstration of this is the Newton's Cradle.  Perfectly equal and opposite reactions!

Having done this lesson a number of times, here is my advice: yes, you need a Newton's Cradle; no, you can't make one yourself; yes, you will need a new one each time because the kids will play with it until they tangle the lines irretrievably.  The good news is that it's less than $10 counting shipping. Do not take it out of the box until just before class time.

An interesting  part of the equal and opposite law is what I think of as the "billiards corollary" because this is how professional pool sharks actually make their shots.  When a ball strikes another object, it bounces off with equal force (minus whatever was absorbed by the object) in the exact opposite direction (at the opposite angle).  Lacking a pool table, we showed  this by rolling golf balls against the wall at different angles.

It's easy to see how this law works when things are moving, but most every day encounters with it are fairly static: when you sit down on a chair, you are pushing down on the chair with your entire weight, say, 100 lbs. The chair is pushing back 100 pounds. One kid asked what happened if the chair didn't push back, the answer is that if the chair can't push back enough, it breaks and I fall on the floor, which hopefully can still push back enough!

My favorite way of looking at this law is by having two kids (of roughly equal mass) stand on skateboards and push each other.  Lacking skateboards, I had them take turns standing in our wagon and pushing against me. Of course, as hard as they pushed, they moved away!

That led to a conversation about recoil: cannons, guns, baseball bats, and so forth.

 Then it was time to make the Alka-Seltzer rockets.  When I was setting up the class, I ran a few test flights to make sure that my Alka-Seltzer tablets were still good.

The good news was that the tablets were fine.

The bad news was that some of my old film canisters (which I had successfully used for this the last four times I ran this class) were no longer holding pressure. 

 Worse news: during the actual class, all the canisters, even the ones that had worked for the tests failed.  The farthest a rocket got was 6 inches off the ground! Usually we can get 20 feet in the air!

What a disappointment.


So I decided to do some tea rockets instead! 

Not a perfect demonstration of the third law, but much more satisfying!

 And I could use the left over tea to serve the class tea and strawberries!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kids' Rocket Science: Second Law of Motion

 The Second Law is probably the hardest to explain to young kids: F=ma.  Force is equal to mass times acceleration.  I like to put it as: "The heavier it is, the harder it is to push.", and "The harder you push the farther it goes."

The fact is, it's more specific than that.  If push something exactly twice as hard, it goes exactly twice as far.  If something is exactly half the mass of the first thing, it will go exactly twice as far, all other things being equal.

 We looked at this several ways.  I used a very light ball, and a sand filled ball that happened to be a similar size, and tried tossing them. This is good because it confirms their everyday understanding that, yeah, you have to use more force to throw a heavier ball. Naturally, any boys in the class will try to throw the heavy ball as far as possible, but, in my view, that's okay- they can feel the extra effort it takes to heave the extra mass.

Then we tried dropping the two balls in the sand box.  This was actually a better experiment because you could easily see the dents left behind by the two balls (the heavier ball left a deeper dent because it fell with more force, while the acceleration of gravity was constant)

We also rolled real golf balls and foam golf balls (you could use ping pong balls) down an incline and saw that the more massive balls rolled farther. Again, this is somewhat more useful than throwing because the gravitational acceleration is constant when you use gravity.

It also explains why, in the Pinewood Derby, you are not allowed to have your car weigh more (have more mass) than a certain standard.  It would be an unfair advantage because the heavier cars would always win.

Now, I did say these rules applied with all other things being equal... Such circumstances are pretty rare on Earth.  A baseball hit with twice as much force won't actually go twice as far.  Why not?  One reason is that it will have gravity pulling on it for a longer  time since it will be in the air a longer time. Another reason is that it has to travel through more air, and therefore more air resistance.

Ah, air resistance.  That's pretty important when you're talking about rockets.  How far can you throw a piece of paper?

Try throwing a plain flat sheet of paper as hard as you can.  It's pretty hilarious, actually.  One of the kids immediately suggested that we wad it up into a ball.  That went much farther, even though it was the same mass as the flat sheet.  Then I folded a sheet into a paper airplane, and that went clear across the room and pegged Zorg.  Sorry, Zorg!

 We made Puff Rockets from this printable pattern.  They are designed to have a very low mass, as well as minimal air resistance, and they go remarkably far on a puff of air (provided by you!).

You can also experiment with flying them with and without the fin assembly.  It really lets the kids discover for themselves why rockets have fins.
 Super fun!  Thank you Mxyl for the pictures!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Anniversary!

 24 years! 

Can you believe it?!

Still smiling.

Still cracking each other up nearly a quarter of a century later...

So happy we got to get married young (we were both 20)!

So glad we get to grow old(er) together!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Poem of the Week

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)

William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Thou'lt Be Afraid to Hear It

Guest blog by the Emperor

We recently completed a huge study of Macbeth!  The Scottish Play is a particular favorite of mine, and I've seen probably eight different versions of it.  I also teach it at my public school, and have done so since the late '90s, so teaching it to my own kids was an interesting experience.  Mxyl, Klenda, Zorg, and Leena embarked upon the quest with great enthusiasm.

We started with a taped stage production of Jeremy Brett (Sherlock Holmes in the '90s BBC productions) playing Macbeth.  We'd chosen this production, a rather traditional one in full medieval garb, because we had fond memories of having seen a production of this version when we were younger, but it wasn't as strong as we'd remembered.  It turns out that's because it isn't the same Jeremy Brett Macbeth we'd seen--I distinctly remember two scenes, the banquet and the fight with Young Siward, being significantly different.  Here's a small clip, just to give you the flavor of what we ended up seeing:

It was good enough to give them the plot, anyway.  They then watched the hard-to-find post-apocalyptic version of Macbeth starring Sean Pertwee (Alfred in this coming fall's Gotham TV show).  The only way I know of to see this is to rent the DVD from Netflix.  The special effects for Macbeth's second encounter with the witches is pretty wretched, but aside from that, it's one of my favorite versions--Pertwee is excellent, and their Lady Macbeth is probably my favorite of all time.  Here's the chillingly-fantastic banquet scene, which you simply must watch through till the end:

We then watched the animated half-hour Shakespeare Tales: Macbeth, just to recapitulate everything, and then a few carefully-selected five-minute highlight scenes from other versions, including Roman Polanski's 1971 version starring Jon Finch, Trevor Nunn's 1979 version starring Sir Ian McKellan, Rupert Goold's 2010 version starring Sir Patrick Stewart, and the trailer for Kenneth Branagh's 2014 stage version starring ... ahem ... himself.

Youtube was very helpful in selecting these scenes.

The last thing all of us watched was Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth, featuring Ethan Hawke, which is available on both Youtube and Amazon Prime.  Deep and informative, penetrating and psychological, this video was extremely helpful in helping my kids (both here and in school) think about the play on a whole new level.  Nevertheless, it does include a few moments of bare behind and one brief but semi-approving mention of a lesbian, so you may want to preview it to decide whether you want to edit it before sharing it with your kids.

Finally, I waved Leena goodbye, for the final version of Macbeth the rest of us would be viewing was the filmed version of the Folger Shakespeare Theater's 2008 version directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller, the stage magicians) and Aaron Posner.  It costs $12 (plus shipping), and it's quite bloody (!), but it also has more comic relief than usual.  Their Lady Macbeth is rather poor, but their actor for Macbeth is simply the best I've ever seen, as are their witches, their porter, their incidental music, and their special effects.  Their costuming is an interesting amalgam of authentic middle ages and leather trenchcoats, with excellent blocking and camera work.  I don't agree with every directorial decision they made, but at least they took risks.  As for the kids, they were fascinated to see that going through Macbeth a third time, they weren't bored, but instead invigorated, keyed in, curious, filled with anticipation and imagination. I highly recommend this version for teenagers with strong stomachs--it is indeed very bloody.

The kids left the Macbeth unit with a greater understanding not only of that one play, but of the power of a director to interpret any play.  Perhaps more importantly, though, they left with an understanding of the danger that comes with ambition, of following temptations, of being too easy a sell to an argument you'd rather agree with anyway.  They understand, through the power of story, that trying to get whatever you want by whatever means necessary may be "the way the world works"--but it's also the way the world falls.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Oob!

 Can you believe that Oob is 7?

Really-o, truly-o!

We celebrated in style with an all day playground hop, dinner with Grammy and Pop at a Chinese restaurant, and an angel food cake with chocolate raspberry whipped cream! Yum!

And presents!
One favorite was this Lego Ninjago helicopter from Mxyl and Klenda.  I think part of the present was getting help putting it together...

Seven Great Things About Oob

1.He tells silly jokes!

2. He wakes up a little before 6 most mornings and comes in to snuggle a bit with Mom and Dad.

3. He can put together fantastic towers and block structures, then knock them down with birds!

3. He has an uncanny ability to do math in his head.

4. He loves to read, and can read pretty much anything he wants to.  Who knows?  Maybe he's reading this right now!

4. He likes to pray a decade of the Rosary for someone, whenever he hears they are having a hard time.

5. He likes to write sweet and funny letters to me, and to the rest of his family.

5. He has a Secret Identity, but I won't tell what it is.

6. He likes to help anyone that needs help!

6. He likes to text Mumpy before he goes to bed most nights.

7. He loves to look at things under the microscope!

Happy Birthday Ooby!!

Update by Mxyl:

I've also been doing a few artistic things in celebration.  Here's my photo, "Seven," which I personally think expresses a lot about the age:

And here's my work on the Ninjago helicopter using After Effects--a bit cheap-looking, but it's one of my first tries with a physical green screen: