Saturday, February 28, 2009


The boys dancing in Grandma's kitchen to the Sergio Mendes album she listened to constantly during our visit.


We have disappeared for a bit! I will now attempt to update on all our goings-on, but it may just be a collection of photos with brief descriptions. Once I'm caught up, I can perhaps then properly post something of interest.

The boys and I spent a week at Grandma Cat and Grandpa Jim's house while Papa went to a conference in Florida with several of his best buddies. Amazingly, I discovered that we have finally hit an age where my children feel far more transportable, despite still being in carseats. I think it was not having the pressure of maintaining my house and my life that allowed me to do nothing but visit and run errands and explore with them.

So the second day in town, we went to the Children's museum. There was a special exhibit about materials science. I didn't think it was very well done as the descriptions with each display required some basic information that was lacking. Still, we played with things. Bastian hit some xylophones.This was really super cool. It's a liquid that has iron particles in it, so when you move a magnet close to it, they all are drawn to it, forming solids. There were several similar exhibits including some mud stuff where you stuck your hands in big rubber gloves in a box and played with it, then moved a magnet over it to "freeze" the mud.
The boys are always fascinated by the Lego display there. I'm not entirely sure of its purpose, but I think there's a Lego club that either uses the space or is affiliated somehow as we saw a case with some Lego awards in it. Aleks really wants to be in a Lego competition since I pulled out my Lego award that I won when I was 9.
Of course the boys played with the Lego there too, even though they do that most of the time at home already.
There's a giant two story (maybe more) slide inside the building, as well as tubes that go up into a room with a glass-ceiling. The glass ceiling mostly looks out onto the roof and there's some trees beyond it. It's not a terribly exciting view other than being up pretty high. It's also very warm in the room. During the winter, this is an excellent side-effect of chasing wee ones up. In the summer, not so much.
Even though it wasn't supposed to be, the tidal pool was open so Bastian and I could touch starfish and anemones. I had no idea that the skin of humans is unaffected by the anemone. Upon googling, I find that this is not true for all anemones, but some of them.

The boys always like dancing in the room with the screen that senses you as you dance to music. It's very colorful. I like playing in it too, but didn't want to ruin the fun for the million toddlers crowded inside.
We were told there was to be a demonstration on materials science wherein there would be lots of smashing of things, so we decided to go. It turns out that an old family friend was actually doing the demonstration. The boys got squirmy as the smashing didn't take place until a lengthy explanation about materials science that I felt was a little above their understanding of things. It was as though in order to really get what he was talking about, one had to have a basic understanding of physics along with an understanding of the language of physics. Things like "matter" or atomic structures. Maybe I'm just too interested in a complete understanding and they did fine.

He did mix some polycarbonate compound together to create a foam that grew, which was exciting. I don't think the boys had any idea what a polycarbonate compound was though. Now we're the proud owners of two cups of foam that I don't know what to do with.
We wanted to see the otters get fed, but decided to keep moving instead since Aleks tried to climb in with the turtles. The otters were quite friendly and active. That's always awesome.
The next day of our visit, we went to an old high school friend of mine's house who has three unschooled boys. A friend of hers' was also there and had four unschooled boys, plus my friend was babysitting a baby girl. Poor girl was outnumbered 9 to 1. The boys played lots of Lego and Wii and promptly disappeared a box-and-a-half of Thin Mints. I love Girl Scout cookie season.

In the evening, the boys broke out Lord of the Rings Monopoly and Aleks made up his own rules. Later, he drew his own game board based on it, made money, used small figures for game pieces, and wrote a list of rules that made no sense to me. His game is called Maco. I'm not sure how you play. I think you pretty much make up rules as you go along, much like Creature Cards, and try to have them favor you winning. This is not the kind of gameplay I'm good at, however, much to Aleks' disappointment and frustration.
Friday night, Bastian started nursing again! Argh! He nursed to sleep! We weaned in August, so this is...weird, mainly.
Saturday night, I got to go out with old friends from high school (to a drag show with some of the fanciest trannies I've seen in awhile) while Grandma Cat watched Bastian for me and Aleks spend the night with his cousin, Noah, at Grandma Cathy's house.On Sunday, we went to a pancake breakfast at a local nature center. For a pre-paid donation, Aleks got to take home a half pint of maple syrup made from sap collected on the property including a bucket with his name on it. After eating, we toured the Sugar House where the syrup is made and found Aleks' sap bucket. Then we went to see all the animals. The sheep were still pregnant, but lambing season is fast a'coming. There were super cute piglets and a calf that would run whenever the boys got near. He may have been a teenaged bull, though, come to think of it. All the photos are stuck on Jim's camera, so I'll have to add them to this post later.

After the brunch, I went to see yet another friend from high school who had just had a baby girl. I knitted her an eggplant hat earlier in the week and put it on her baby head:
The boys spent the last of our days using what Aleks has claimed as His camera. We had an old Sony Cybershot that broke. When I bought a new camera a couple of years ago now, I bought another, slightly higher end Cybershot and thus ended up with two batteries (which is very nice) and then didn't have to buy a new memory card. Aleks took the old dead camera out of a drawer where it had been until I figure out how to recycle it (or bother to figure that out) and put a battery in it. Miraculously, it just worked again. So now he says it belongs to him. Which is nice because he was surely going to break my new one anyway and really, kinda already has a bit.

Here's Grandpa Jim after dinner one evening:
Both boys together (I like this picture a lot):
Bastian's squished face!
Ziggy, the cat, who hid most of the weekend away from the boys. She's the last of the housepets (the dog, Bootsie, sadly died just after our visit at Thanksgiving) and is getting old. Ziggy was discovered at about four weeks old on the windowsill in the snow by my sister Natalie when she was in second grade. She's now about fourteen. Poor kitty.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Terrible Cold

Aleks, Papa, and I ended up with a terrible cold that at first I thought was the flu, due to Aleks' fever and my own achiness and misery. To try to help everyone out (including Bastian, who seemed to have had a rather mild version of it prior to the rest of us), I made cold and sore throat teas and gave the boys a tea party. Bastian liked it and drank all his tea with honey, sugar, and cream. Lots of cream. In fact, he drained my half-and-half supply which I use in my coffee.
Aleks missed the tea party, though I really tried to get him to join in, because he fell asleep inside the lambs wool on the dining room floor.
I thought that, being sick, this would mean he'd still go to sleep okay that night. No such luck. It seemed the nap just helped him feel better. Then the fever really set in and we had to miss both speech therapy and his yearly cleft clinic visit, which is rescheduled for the 19th of March. That was a disappointment, but there wasn't much to do about it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Creature Cards

So there are lots and lots of unschoolers that play Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z or whatever the latest Japanese card game is. I had to Google just to spell Pokemon, so clearly, we are not of that sort. Awhile back, however, Aleks got an interest in Bakugan from watching the cartoons on Cartoon Network's website (no TV does one no good these days). He then started drawing Bakugan of his very own. He also used the term "Creature Cards" to refer to them. Or so I thought.

At first, his bakugan were all quite small and he would cut playing-card-sized pieces of paper out of larger ones in order to draw them. Then he started insisting on full-sized creature cards. Actually, for awhile he started with the large ones, went to the small ones and for a long time now hasn't been drawing any at all. Until recently that is. These new ones are all "creature cards" and not "bakugan" at all, so I am told, and are full-sized sheets of letter paper. Which in itself is somewhat bothersome as I had to scour the art pile for blank sheets to print tax information this evening (thus a trip to OfficeMax or another such officey big box store is in order).

He's been drawing them lots the last couple of weeks. He took a bunch in his backpack to Jonas' house for his first sleepover back in November and they "played" the game then. A few weeks ago, he somehow talked ten-year-old Miranda into playing though. For Art Day this Tuesday, I'd had nothing planned due to being overwhelmed with Dumb Things I Gotta Do, so Aleks got everyone drawing their own creature cards and they all played. The mamas sat drinking tea in the dining room, discussing overwhelm and unschooling, and listening as the children all shouted out rules and their cards' attributes to one another. It was like Calvin Ball for role-playing cards.

What amazed me most was not just that Aleks had invented this game all by himself or the way that it was played, but that he talked others into believing it was a legitimate game as well, including kids much older than him who were already accustomed to role-playing card games. It gives me a strange, not-my-thing-but-validating-of-unschooling-nonetheless feeling. If he'd suddenly learned something phenomenal about quantum physics, it'd make a lot of sense to feel validated (and, come to think of it, I think he must know a bit about quantum physics just due to our discussions, huh). This, however, is strange and wonderful and brilliantly creative (despite the occasional tendency to lean on mass produced characters).

Speaking of leaning on mass-produced storylines and characters, an interesting discussion came up about that in We Are Wizards, a documentary about the genre of Harry Potter-associated rock music known as Wizard Rock. There was quite the argument for re-use of known characters that was quite convincing. Something about it being as old as time. Reminded me of Joseph Campbell somehow. Definitely check it out, if that strikes your fancy. At the very least, allow it to turn you on to Brad Neely. Oh dear, there I've gone hittin' my own little flow and totally neglected the story I was busy tellin'.

Ah yes, mass-produced characters. I have a sampling of some of the creature cards. I recognize this cycloptic alien dude, but I can't be sure from where. Either he's some form of Ugly Doll or else he's meant to represent Sheldon J. Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants. I'm guessing the latter. You can see that the "health" bar of this card is all filled in, which probably explains why I found it in the recycling - it could no longer be used. The small image on the right represents the card character's skills or attributes.
This is a King Cobra card. I liked that Aleks started drawing random animals. Though of course, like all children growing up in the 80s, he first learned of the King Cobra from Indiana Jones.
This one just delighted me so. This is a Water Bear creature card. Its only skill is hibernation. That may be why it hasn't been used yet.
This is a "color-changing chameleon" creature card. Aleks is very keen on the color-changing aspect of chameleons. He's really into chameleons. They have five toes, you know, and on the hind legs, they're arranged quite weird.
This one really made me quite excited. This is a frill lizard creature card. We have a plastic one that was brought back from Australia by a family friend and named Leonardo "Jon" DiCaprio. I think it was named that mostly to piss Jon off. And I don't know why the hatin' on Leo. It appears that this card's attributes is that he bites. I believe that triangle is a tooth.
This is an Iron Man creature card, also already used up. Aleks never even saw Iron Man, so he must be appearing in commercials somewhere or something.
This is a Spiderman creature card. Also expired. It always excites me to see Aleks color in his drawings. He doesn't like to. He draws very quickly and it takes too much time, usually.
This is Spiderman's enemy, Venom. It must be that Cartoon Network's website is showing some of this. Clearly, I am such a good mother as I pay so close attention to what my children are doing. They could be downloading porn for all I know.
Finally, Aleks' pièce de résistance, the three-headed dragon creature card. He worked exceptionally hard on this just to beat Miranda come Tuesday. He was so terribly proud of it that he had me scan it into the computer to post on the blog or on somebody's Facebook wall, come to think of it. Having it scanned came in quite handy when the original was damaged with water prior to game play. We were able to simply print out a new one. Which made us think that digital may be an excellent format for storing art in general.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cantilevered Lincoln Log House

Aleks built this cantilevered Lincoln Log house in the bright late Monday morning light. He wanted me to take a picture. So I did. He's brilliant, really. Just like Frank Lloyd Wright.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lego Club Fridays

This week at Lego Club, we brought Bastian with us for the first time. It was also Ivy's birthday, so there was a little bit of a party. We spent the morning (also known as afternoon for early risers) making her a paper crane mobile that said "Happy 6th Birthday Ivy!" I folded the cranes and put it all together and Aleks copied the words onto little bits of marbled construction paper. We used novelty yarn that is really a strange ribbon and a chopstick for the rest. I used super glue to attach the yarn to the cranes because we were in a hurry. I got a bit on my fingers too, but it didn't last and I didn't get stuck to anything like Grandpa Jim did on Christmas morning.

Ivy's mother brought paper balloons and taketombo for all the kids. We had a great deal of fun figuring out how to use them. Then it was Lego playing, battles with vacuum cleaner parts and our friend Ian's assorted duct tape inventions, and the creation of many marble runs. Most of the kids were much older than Aleks and all were older than Bastian, but they managed to play nicely nonetheless. It's always fun to hang out with lots of other real-life unschooling families. They are so much more flawed and interesting and easy to be around than much of the ideologues represented on internet forums, I find.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Graffiti Knitting

After lots of not spending any money at all, I took the boys to the coffee shop for a cookie. I figure we deserve a break now and then. Aleks sat drawing pictures of skulls and water bears for all the employees, as he is accustomed to, and I tried to keep Bastian from running amidst the studious hoards and their many laptops. We also had a nice long chat with an off-duty employee and friend, Felicia, while she sat knitting.

Felicia was knitting a hat, but I told her about how I'd planned to do some graffiti knitting that very evening with the boys in tow. I'd worked up a swatch ages ago for the specific intent of wrapping it about a pole in Coventry, but had not yet managed to get it actually mounted. A Facebook exchange earlier in the day on Poetic Terrorism reminded me that I still needed to get my Slytherin swatch up there.

Thus, after cookie and my coffee, that's just what we did. The boys whined as a light drizzle fell upon us and I insisted they hold tightly to my bag so I could both stitch up a seam and make sure they didn't run in the street. Passersby glanced our way bemusedly and one woman said, "Is this a bit of public art?" To which I replied, "Yes!" And she responded, "Wonderful!"I'm considering a Gryffindor swatch for the opposite pole. My hope is that others will notice and begin adding bits of their own. I was sure to choose poles that were generally left unaddorned for holidays and which were cold and sterile and in great need of sweaters.
Afterwards, we went to Tommy's for dinner, a real treat to round off our time out. Then on the walk home, we got caught in the rain and bitterly cold wind, which made the whole of the day - despite the cookie and dinner out and all the talking and visiting and drawing - the Worst Day of Alek's Life.

Alas, there is no pleasing the kid. He's suddenly going on 15, it seems. He talks of wanting to be a teenager so that he can be "cool." I've assured him that teenagers mostly just want to be adults and that the whole of adolescence is immensely frustrating. I don't think he's taking my word for it. I don't think he should either.

We talked about it more later and he decided that it was both the Best Day of his Life due to the cookie and dinner and talking and drawing and visiting and the Worst Day of his Life due to the getting caught in the rain. He said the graffiti knitting was just boring. Harumph.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Art Day - Monkey Making

I need to sew a sock monkey for a friend, so I figured we'd try sewing for our Tuesday Art Day. That's not really what happened, but Miranda and Ivy each got a sock monkey made by their mother. They also each started an embroidery piece, but took it home unfinished. Donna from Purple Kappa whipped these two monkeys up much quicker than I'd have done. Just like our collection, she made one traditional and one funky monkey.While I was taking the picture, Bastian got upset that our funky monkey was not also being photographed, so we added him in.
Here's all the kids with assorted stuffies. Aleks is holding Miranda's wolf that she'd brought with her.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hail the King of the Couch

While I was busy meddling with photos on the computer, Aleks took apart the couch in order to make himself a throne. Then he insisted Bastian wait on him, bringing him snacks, his crown, assorted pillows and blankets, and the broom to serve as his scepter.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Monday Morning Photo Shoot

I borrowed a friend's fancypants camera for a shoot I had. I also kept it around for a few extra hours to take pictures of the boys, in part hoping that I would realize that what I manage with my point-and-shoot is quite nice enough. I was wrong. I still am aching tremendously for a fancypants camera I cannot afford nor justify being in debt for. In the meantime, I got nice photos of the boys...Wrestling, as they are quite apt to do.
The hearts I made for Valentine's Day, hanging in the dining room window with all the other window crafts.

I got the boys painting to put them in a natural state in which I might take photos. Bastian covered the whole of his paper, quite intently, in lovely autumnal shades.
Aleks made usual Aleks faces.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Natural History Museum Visit

After speech therapy, the boys and I headed to the Natural History Museum to make good with our new Happy Hollow passes. The whole way there Aleks asked complicated questions about snakes and neanderthals. His barrage of query did not let up the whole time we were there either. I had to keep speed reading all the signs and labels to tell him about almost everything in the entire museum. It was a whole new experience.

What are these compasses?
Well, they're not compasses, they're sundials, though looking at them, they do appear to have compasses on them, presumably for pointing out which way to stand to tell the time. I didn't get so far as to explain that they were for telling time before he was on to the next thing.What are these? This in the solar system - the planets where we live. What is this on this one? Well that's Saturn. Saturn has rings which are really thin, like paper, I think, and are composed of rocks and dust and gasses.
How about this one? This is Jupiter. It's the biggest planet in our solar system.
What are these things? These are Jupiter's moons. Jupiter is named after a Roman God and these are his conquests. Except the moons are named after Greek mythology, so they would have been his conquests were he Zeus, which he's just the Roman equivalent of. Um... that may be more than a six-year-old cared to know. I think he was satisfied with, "These are Jupiter's moons."
What's this? The near-side of the moon in bronze.
This is the far side of the moon. Or as Pink Floyd called it, The Dark Side of the Moon.
The cobra was perfect as there had been lots of talk of cobras due to Indiana Jones.
The museum changed the lion display to showcase a leopard hunting a gazelle.
It's a pretty awesome display and the kids felt so too.
What's that? Those are Native Americans. Why are there rocks in that? They're building a boat and they need the rocks to hold it in place. I bet we could make a boat out of bark, do you think so?
Look! A mammoth! What's that one? That's a mammoth over there, this is a, um, it's a Mastodon. What's a mastodon? Well, it's a heavy metal band. It's also like an elephant only furry, so like a mammoth, but not woolly, just a little furry.
The dinosaur skeleton exhibits also changed as the T. Rex was added to the permanent collection. Now the Triceratops and the T. Rex square off.
Since we got there so late in the day, the Discovery Center was already closed, but we went to look at the Gems and Minerals gallery. I thought Aleks would dig it since he seemed really into checking out jewels last summer. He ended up not being too terribly fascinated by the semi-precious stones, but the amber with the insects stuck in it was interesting. We kept looking at different types of crystals for awhile. I found the wide variety of crystal forms fascinating.
The kidney ore looks like some prop from a sci-fi movie.

We spent a long time talking about plate tectonics and earthquakes and volcanoes in relation. Aleks was just an unending array of questions about everything, leaping wildly from subject to subject as things caught his fancy.

Just as we were coming to Space, Bastian, I swear, said "meteor" and pointed to these. Which are not in fact meteors, but which are mistaken for meteors and the plaque beneath them says "meteor." It was quite strange and he ran off for some interactive computer activity almost immediately, so I could ask no further questions.
On the way out, we put coins in the vortex as we always do. Just then we noticed a brain puzzler display in the special exhibit room. We had three minutes left in which we completed but one puzzler.

While walking to the car, the boys insisted on spending some time climbing the stegosaurus statue outside. The setting sun and clear skies provided nice light for picture taking, so I got a bunch...

Aleks was wearing his Obama button hat. A friend at Lego Club had one, so when the grandparents sent their campaign buttons, Aleks attached them to one of the Zissou hats.

I even took a few photos of me, since not many of those exist these days.
It had been warmer in the sun during the day, but the encroaching dusk dropped the temperature significantly.
Bastian was quite upset that Aleks and I walk faster than he does. I waited, but he whined
the whole
way over.