Sunday, July 5, 2015

Independence Day the Girl Scout Way

Yesterday was a 4th of July celebrated Girl Scout-style! You know how much we love our town's Independence Day parade, so I was pretty excited to sign my troop up to walk in it this year.

And it WAS exciting, although of course a totally different ballgame from simply showing up with a lawn chair and sitting my butt down to spectate. First of all, I didn't sit my butt down for the entire morning. Well... I kinda did, but also not. I was on the ground, but rather than chilling out, I was doing this:
This wasn't one of my best creations. You should have seen my flag!
I'd spent the evening before Googling "patriotic face painting," and while I was NOT going to be able to paint Girl Scout faces to look like screaming eagles or fireworks skyscapes, I was pretty confident that I could do a silver star, with red and blue streamers around it. So that's what I offered, as each Girl Scout came to sit in front of me: "Would you like a star on your cheek?" I asked. The Girl Scout would nod, I'd paint her a silver star with red and blue streamers around it, I'd show her what it looked like in the mirror, she'd smile and thank me, and the next kid would sit and get her star.

Until one kid asked, "Can I have a flag instead?"

"Why not?" I decided, and attempted a flag. Blue square, red stripes, silver stripes (we're almost out of white), couple of silver dots on the blue. Flag! Add it to my specialties.

So then when a kid sat down in front of me, I asked her, "Would you like a star or a flag?" The kid would tell me which, I'd paint it, and off she'd go.

Until one kid asked, "Can I have a star AND a flag?"

"Why not?" I decided, and painted her a star on one cheek and a flag on the other. No problem.

And then kids started sitting down in front of me with a star or flag already painted on one cheek, happily ready for me to paint their other cheek. No problem.

Until one kid (MY kid!), asked, "Can I have a firework?"

Hmmmmm..... At first I thought about painting a firecracker with sparkles coming off the wick, but then instead attempted a sort of asterisk in red and blue and silver. That didn't turn out super well, but I knew what was going to happen by now, so when the next kid sat down and asked for HER firework, I refined it to a sort of asterisk in red and blue, with silver in the middle and silver sparks around it. It looked... okay. Not completely unlike a firework, I do declare.

And then, as I'm sure you've already guessed, kids started sitting down in front of me with a star and a flag already painted on their cheeks, asking for fireworks on their foreheads. No problem, except that I'm pretty sure they all kicked up a fuss about wearing their hats afterwards. Mustn't smear the fireworks, you know.

If we walk in the parade next year, I'm totally going to study up and practice. Look out for the kids with full-on screaming eagle and firework skyscape face paint!

Meanwhile, the kids who weren't getting their face painted were busy putting Girl Scout stickers on suckers--

--and cooling their heels, attempting to not get into trouble:
See me in the background? I'm painting stars and flags!

I'd also brought sidewalk chalk, and only once did a child write the word "poop" in giant letters on the sidewalk, and she happily covered it in chalked sparkles when I asked her to.

At one point, some of my troop wandered away a bit, and another troop chaperone walked over, clearly intending to ask them who on earth was supervising them. I saw this and totally sent Matt over, explaining to my friend and fellow chaperone, "They won't chastise him--he's a dad! They'll probably congratulate him for interacting with his children."

Totally stereotypical, I know, but you'd be surprised (or not, depending on how tuned in you are to sexism in parenting) how often that works!

In all the prep work for the parade, I'd kind of forgotten about, you know, the PARADE. And so when we finally were herded to our place in the line and finally began the walk, and we turned the corner onto the parade route, I audibly gasped (to be fair, so did my fellow chaperone!) at the giant crowd of people on both sides of us, all cheering and waving and LOOKING. AT. US. 

Thankfully, I had only a mild panic attack before I realized that they were, of course, actually looking at the adorable children in their Girl Scout uniforms, and at the candy that the adorable children were handing out. It was better-ish after that, although an hour after the parade was over, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and couldn't decide if my pink cheeks were sunburn, or if I was still blushing from the ordeal.

Little of both, I eventually decided.

The kids all had a fine time, of course, which was the point of the operation. Nobody got run over by the trailer, which was my particular worry, and I only had to save two of them from that exact thing--a chaperone win! Will, I think, had a better time than Syd--all those people!--but all my Scouts seemed happy, enjoyed the walk, didn't skin their knees or get snatched by a stranger in the crowd, waved and were cheered for, handed out candy, and can now say that they have marched in a parade!

Since our whole troop was going to be together on this day for the parade, we'd decided to convene afterwards at one family's house to have a potluck and celebrate the Bridging of three of our troop members and the Investiture of them all.

Bridging is the ceremony in which a Girl Scout officially advances from one level to the next. There are special activities that she's asked to do to help her synthesize what she's experienced and prepare her for the heightened responsibilities of her new level. There's also a lovely little ceremony involved, that involves crossing--yes, an actual bridge. Our ceremony consisted of having the kid cross to the center of the bridge while a parent spoke about the kid's accomplishments during her time at that level, then she completed the crossing, removed her old uniform vest or sash, and her troop leader (that's me!), helped her put on her new uniform vest. It was a beautiful way to honor all that each kid had done:

People were looking at her, poor kid, so she was nervously bopping that balloon.

And, of course, there's cake! Bridging has a rainbow theme, so I was able to once again trot out my favorite rainbow cake recipe--

--and the kids made a rainbow fruit and vegetable platter to share:

After the potluck, you will not be surprised to know that we went home and took a nap. Well, Matt and I took a nap--I'm pretty sure that the kids just played LEGO Jurassic World on Xbox. I checked it out for them from the library, which means that I'm having a hard time enforcing any screen time limits on it. It IS really fun, AND we only have it for three weeks...

So of course what did the kids want to do that night? 

Watch Jurassic World at the drive-in for the THIRD time.

Of course.

Just enough time for a few at-home fireworks beforehand:

This might possibly be the best 4th of July that we have spent as a family. It had all the elements that we love best--parades, friends, parties, cake, fireworks, family...

... and dinosaurs, of course. Dinosaurs and naps.

Friday, July 3, 2015

How to Sew Girl Scout Badges (because You're Crazy)

Often I'll have Will sew the fun patches onto her Girl Scout vest and Syd's vest, but I tend to place the insignia and earned awards on myself, and...

I sew them. Despite the fact that the badges are all iron-on, I sew them.

I don't know if it's something about my technique, or something about my iron, or something about me as a person, but iron-on patches just do not iron on for me!

Sure, they may act as if they've ironed on, and they may indeed stay ironed on for a few weeks, but after some wear, and DEFINITELY after a wash, they gradually but certainly start to come undone. I hate that. Total pet peeve.

And honestly, if you really count the amount of time that it takes me, at least, to press and wait, and press and hold, and press and check, and press some more,  and then come back later and fix them when they start to come unstuck later, it just takes less time to simply sew the damn things on in the first place.

To sew on Girl Scout badges instead of ironing them, all you really need are:
  • sewing machine with a sharp needle: It doesn't need to be heavy, just sharp.
  • glue stick
  • invisible thread for the top thread
  • thread matching the Girl Scout vest for the bobbin
1. Figure out where everything goes. This is 90% of the effort involved in sewing on the Girl Scout badges. I messed up a couple of times on Syd's vest, sewing fun patches that I mistook for the official badges onto the front of her vest (the Girl Scout shop stocks a Pottery fun patch as well as a Pottery official badge, which if you're a noob, is hella confusing, Girl Scout Shop!), but even if you do that, really it's no big deal, unless your kid is going to meet the president while in her uniform or something, which I know could totally happen! But you'll have advanced knowledge, in that case, so you'll have time to spiff it up. 

Otherwise? NBD.

2. Glue it on. Don't glue everything on at the same time, but instead badge by badge, except in the case of the council insignia and the troop numbers, which need to be glued on together because you'll be sewing them all at once. 

Just put a generous amount of glue from the glue stick onto the back of each patch, then press it firmly onto the vest until it's nice and stuck:

Don't get your hopes up, because this won't stick forever, or even for a super long time, but it will stick well for about the next half-hour or so, which is plenty long enough for you to get it sewn on.

3. Sew it on. Using invisible thread on the top, and thread that matches the vest color in the bobbin, edgestitch around the patch. Fun patches, with their horrible unpredictable shapes, don't need to be painstakingly edgestitched--just go at angles more or less all around, and if a couple of sticky-outy bits aren't stitched down, it won't be noticeable.

There's a slightly different method for council insignia and troop numbers:

For this 3479 for instance, I sewed all the way across the top--9743--then down the 3 to the bottom and across. When I reached the bottom edge of 3, I sewed up that edge, across the top to 4, down 4 and across, up 4 and across to 7, etc.

If you're having trouble with your thread tension while sewing on these patches--the invisible thread breaking, say, or loops forming at the back of the vest--then your needle probably isn't sharp enough. When in doubt, I ALWAYS replace my needle. It's crazy how often that fixes my problem.

Now, all that being said, if you don't want to sew or you're getting frustrated (I had sooooo much to sew onto Girl Scout vests the other night, and after a full episode of Gilmore Girls, I was over it and ready to move on with my life), then use Aleene's Fabric Fusion instead. I like it better than any other fabric glue, including Aleene's Okay to Wash It.

In conclusion, thank you for sitting through that really long, type-A tutorial! I am 100% positive that there is nobody else on this planet who cares that much about how to correctly sew on Girl Scout patches, but that's okay. There's room enough for all us odd fellows. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Some of you may know that fandom, and fan cultures, are major interests of mine. I'm interested in fan cultures academically, because I'm fascinated by the immersive experiences that fans can create around a book, movie, TV show, or video game, and the community that also participates in this experience, and extends it. People take ownership of creative works that already have "owners," because creativity cannot be owned. They feel empowered to rewrite and recast characters and situations to fit their own visions, whether it's finding a way to get Harry and Hermione together as a couple, or exploring the adventures of Rose Tyler and John Smith in their alternate universe. People also forge communities through their fandom, subverting the often socially isolating experiences of TV watching, book reading, and video game playing. They connect online, of course, constantly, finding common ground with other people all over the world who also think there's totally a ton of sexual tension between Sherlock and John, but they also connect in person, through conventions, and the experience is really, really, really fun.

I say that last part because, of course, although I'm very interested in fan culture academically, I'm also interested in it personally. I read and write fanfiction. I have a favorite wizard rock band (It's Swish and Flick, for those of you playing the home game). I collect fan art. I make fan art. I attend fan conventions. And, yes, I cosplay at those conventions. Here I am cosplaying as my favorite superhero, Krrish, at the Indy Pop Con last weekend:

Matt went in regular clothes, but with Sharpie tally marks up and down his arms as one who fights the Silence, and the children cosplayed as their OCs, The Awesomes.

There are a ton of things to do at a fan convention. Some people like to meet celebrities and get photos and autographs. Some people like to buy rare collectibles. Some people like to photograph the other cosplayers. Some people like to meet up with their friends who they usually only interact with online. The kids like to shop for vintage toys and, for Will, dragons and sharp pointy things. Syd likes anything My Little Pony. Matt likes to watch live gaming (at this con, we sat in on a Halo championship that was being livestreamed on Twitch--very cool). I like to browse the fan art for sale in the exhibit hall, all of which is created by super-talented indie crafters and artists, check out brand-new indie comic books and video games, and attend the workshops and panels.

I really like celebrity panels, because I'm always interested in the process of creation, and I always like to hear about a writer or actor's experiences. At this con, for instance, I insisted that we all get up bright and early so that we could be sitting in our seats in the third row of the main hall in time for the first panel of the day, a Q&A with Sam Jones, star of Flash Gordon:

Although Jones is now back in filmmaking, he has apparently spent much of his time since Flash Gordon running a security and extraction services business aimed at high-profile businesspeople traveling to Mexico.

Jones spoke a lot about his experiences making Flash Gordon, of course, but also about his cameos on Ted and Ted 2, and since these are his only film credits, and there's so much time separating them, I was curious about his thoughts on the evolution of filmmaking during that time. I mean, just animating that talking teddy bear in Ted uses technology way beyond all the tech involved in making all the effects in the special effects-heavy, sci-fi Flash Gordon.

As I'm standing with the microphone, however, asking this question, I go off on a little tangent (of course) about how much I'd loved Flash Gordon as a kid, and how one scene in particular--the one in which they're sticking their arms into the woodbeast's lair, when at any moment it could bite their hand off--had scared the stuffing out of me, even though it had required no special effects at all, and I said that I'd watched Flash Gordon "a lot."

"How many times?" Jones asked me.

Well, when Flash Gordon is asking you how many times you've seen his movie, you've got to tell the truth, so I replied with the approximate number, and this number was so large that even the other fanboys/fangirls in the audience with me audibly gasped.

And in case you're curious, the acting in that woodbeast scene was so good, Jones says, because it was an open set, and the lair was actually elaborately constructed as an actual lair, and the actors were actually concerned that little animals could actually have sneaked inside it at some point and could actually be waiting to bite them when they stuck their arms in.

John de Lancie, at his Q&A, had a lot more ground to cover, because he has been in TONS of stuff:

It was interesting, however, to see the way that he thinks of his career. Whereas Edward James Olmos, who I'll tell you about in a minute, had some very powerful things to say about why he chooses only projects that are personally meaningful to him, and how he treats his acting as art, de Lancie portrayed himself as much more of a career actor who chooses his roles based on time and money. For instance, he says that by the time My Little Pony became a hit and people began to contact him about his role as Dischord in the series, he had completely forgotten about having done it. He'd accepted the part, prepared for the role, voiced all his scenes over three days in the audio booth, and then gone about his business, leaving it all behind him.

He therefore had more interesting things to say about the technical aspect of acting, how to fabricate a side story to save a poorly-written scene, how to work with other actors, how to prepare your voice for the recording studio (never eat chocolate when you're going to be doing voice work!).

So he was interesting. And Sam Jones was interesting. But Edward James Olmos?

He was freaking AWESOME!

I'm mostly familiar with his work in Battlestar Galactica and Dexter (I know he's also on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, but I'm not up to date with that series yet, so don't spoil me!), so I already knew that he was a great actor, but the stories that he told about his work, and the way that he cogently explained how  he decided to take the projects that he did, were incredible. He was really sharing what it was like to be a gifted artist and how to make meaningful contributions to society using his gift.

For instance, his role on Miami Vice? He was offered that part while he was still a relatively new actor, and one would think that he would still be interested in taking roles for the money, right? Lots of actors do that their entire careers, and do just fine. But Olmos described getting the call, with an offer that was more money than his father had earned in his entire life.

And he turned it down.

Of course he did take the part, after several more negotiations, and for reasons that went beyond the money. And then he told us a bunch of stories about how miserable it was to work with Don Johnson, who was an utter prima donna, and how their contentious relationship off-camera affected their scenes together, evidence of which you can see in the scenes.

It was really cool.

He offered the same kinds of fascinating insights about all his roles, bringing depth and context to the way that I'll watch Battlestar Galactica and Dexter and Agents of SHIELD from now on. And he's gotten me thinking about how American films portray Hispanic culture.

The other major guests at the con included these super-famous Youtube gamers, Markiplier and Jack Septiceye. Matt and I aren't way into them, but there is a huge fan culture that is WAY into them. Seriously, the line to meet them was hours long--no, it was days long, because when we were all sitting in the main hall waiting for the Edward James Olmos panel to begin at 1:00, they made an announcement that the people who were waiting in line to get in line to meet them were not going to be able to meet them that day, as the line was already full up to the end of the day, and they were given tickets to come back the next day to get in the line.

Here's a little video from the meet-and-greet. What you see here is probably .01% of the fans who came to see them:

When this was filmed, I was waaaaay across the exhibit hall, checking out fan art smack at the other end, and I could still hear the singing.

I bought a couple of great art prints--a My Little Pony castle scene for the kids' bedroom, and a Hermione Granger, surrounded by books, for myself (from this guy)--and saw a ton more great examples of the genre, but a bunch of these types of artists aren't really online. Copyright, you know. Or this isn't their full-time gig. Or they do enough business in person that it's simply not necessary. So now I'm kicking myself for also not buying anything from the artist who creates her own My Little Pony designs based on mythical creatures, or the artist who makes Rorschach prints that look like superheroes, OR the artist who makes furry critters who will sit on your shoulder and can actually move their heads, because who knows when I'll see them again?


Here are some of the awesome artists who ARE online, however:

So that was the con! We saw some cool stuff, we learned some interesting things, and we had a great day together as a family.

And the kids didn't even think it was weird to spend the entire day at a fan convention, so I win!

Monday, June 29, 2015


You'll be pleased to know that the children came home from sleepaway camp last week having had the best. Time. EVER.

Seriously. Syd is my child who can make the retelling of an event take longer than the event itself, and one hour into her summer camp monologue (I think we'd reached the morning of the second full day by then), I realized that this camp experience was way beyond what I'd imagined it ever would be, way beyond anything that I ever did at summer camp (of course, I didn't go to a sleepaway camp until I was in high school and could get scholarships and pay for it myself), and although I get why they do not permit children to phone home from camp, if the kids had just been able to phone me once and express to me even a small portion of the unadulterated fun that they were having, I would not have fretted over them for a moment.

Subtext: I fretted over them the ENTIRE time.

The theme of the children's session was Goonies. Other sessions to choose from during that week included a Harry Potter theme, a luau one, a horseback riding one that spent part of that week at a dude ranch in a different state, a sailing regatta (they'll be important later), and the younger children, who were just experiencing all the traditional camp activities. My two were in that session last year.

Goonies, however, was a pirate theme, and so I think the catalog talked about treasure chests, and a shipwreck breakfast, pirate games, etc. Super fun.

And the children would have had a fine time simply with all that, of course. On the first day, they did get eye patches. They did play plenty of pirate games. They did cook out, and they ate "walking tacos" (small bags of tortilla chips filled with taco stuff, eaten with one's hands...shudder) and "doughboys" (biscuit dough filled with chocolate chips and bananas and marshmallows, rolled in cinnamon sugar, cooked only until doughy, eaten with one's hands... shudder).

You don't go to this camp for a heightened nutritional experience, I should interject here, although you are permitted to provide food for your own camper. On the way to camp, I, with resignation, simply instructed the children, "Just eat something fresh at every meal. A fruit or a vegetable. Something. Please, Children." The mess hall's salad bar is its saving grace, because otherwise their meals are the kind of lowest common denominator kid food that will keep even the pickiest camper from fainting on the trail. Anyway, my one complaint is duly noted.

So, yes, my kids would have been happy with pirate games and tent sleeping (Syd reports that there were many spiders in their tent, and she, Willow, and Maggie, their third bunk mate who is also, apparently, the coolest, funniest, must fun kid in the world, AND who has TWO fish who you can SEE THEIR INSIDES through their skin, named them all, and they all lived in peace and harmony together, just as Girl Scouts and spiders should do), but on the second night, after it was dark and the children had gotten ready for bed, they were then instructed to get their eye patches and water bottles and flashlights, and they all sneaked across camp to vandalize the camp director's cabin.

They all "streamered" (I was given no good description of said streamers, although I asked the kids and was assured that they were not made of toilet paper) the camp director's cabin and her go-cart, but then apparently a light came on in the cabin mid-streamering, and the camp director came running out, started yelling, the children all ran, and the camp director chased them across camp in her go-cart, streamers streaming behind her.

The children encountered the Midnight Mania campers on a night hike and ran by them, screaming (Will claims that the Midnight Mania campers were all shouting at them, "What's going on?" and that Will stopped long enough to shrug nonchalantly and say to them, "Oh, nothing," before continuing to run and scream), then they had the brilliant idea to all hide in the woods until the camp director had passed. They took off their eye patches, stuffed them into their pockets, and pretended that they, too, were on a night hike until they got back to their tents.

The next morning, however, over breakfast, the camp director informed the entire camp of the crime that had been committed, and produced evidence that had been left at the scene of the crime. One child's water bottle. A counselor's activity schedule. And...

An eye patch.

The children all tried to insist that they'd been framed by the Sailing Regatta, the session of older girls with whom they were sharing their campsite, but alas, the truth was out, and as punishment the children all had to do the chicken dance in front of the entire camp.

You'd think these pirates would have learned their lesson from this, but again, after a full day of swimming at the lake (the kids passed their Turtle test and received Salamander wristbands, but decided not to try out for Dragonfly after witnessing one girl try out, fail, and then cry. Permission to swim in the very deep water without a life jacket is not worth such pain, they decided), playing on the DIY Slip n' Slide (it was made from a series of tarps laid out on a hill, and was operated using ample dish soap and one counselor wielding a water hose. The children mostly wanted to tell me about the one kid who managed to scratch herself from ankle to knee on one of the metal grommets at the edge of the tarp and required THREE BAND-AIDS to cover the scratch), and eating snow cones (all the snow cone flavor combinations had complicated Girl Scout names, all of which the kids had memorized and insisted on reciting to me every time their story came to snow cones, which happened a lot), it came up during an evening discussion that not all of the children had seen Goonies, the movie that was technically this session's namesake.

This must be remedied, they decided.

How, you may ask?

Oh, by kidnapping another group's counselor and holding her for ransom.

Syd assures me that this counselor, Lizard, wasn't "actually" tied to the chair, but she was--I think? This story is extremely unclear to me, even after multiple tellings--perhaps taken by boat to the boathouse, and then carried on a chair, and at one point she definitely fell off the chair and onto a counselor's foot, and then definitely held for ransom until a delegate was sent to pay her ransom by means of a Goonies DVD, which the children all watched that evening.

On the final full day of camp, after making popsicle stick treasure chests and being taken sailing by the Sailing Regatta (who were apparently excellent sports about being loudly scapegoated by the Goonies for everything that went wrong in camp, from paper towels left on the bathroom floor to the streamering of the camp director's cabin), the children, from what I can gather, spent the entire afternoon in the sole occupation of pranking all the other campers in the entire camp. They hiked around the entire camp, sent scouts to reconnoiter each campsite, organized themselves into patrols, and strategized a different methodology for getting their streamers onto every single campsite. Hogwarts was easy, apparently, because they were off in the crafts cabin when the Goonies came by and streamered every single one of their tents. The Art Colony, however, was having down time, and so, with devious cleverness, the children sent a few of their number to "wander" over. I probably don't have to tell you that there is nothing that a camp counselor has a better eye for than campers wandering unsupervised, so this strategy worked perfectly. Within a minute, both of Art Colony's counselors, and half of its campers, were with the children, trying to get their convoluted story of a nature hike straight, leaving the other children free to streamer Art Colony's bathroom.

Honestly, while the kids were telling me this story, I kept saying, "Seriously? You seriously did this? Your counselors encouraged you to do this?" The kids kept replying, "Oh, yeah! Puddin' and Sketch and Star helped us!"

Nevertheless, aren't you pretty sure that ten minutes after all the campers left on Friday, Puddin' and Star and Sketch may have found themselves in the camp director's office, having a reaalllly long conversation about pirates and streamers and the concept known as "Getting out of Hand?"

I kept wanting to make sure that none of the other campers had had their fun spoiled by my kids vandalizing their campsites, so I kept asking, "Were the other kids okay with this?" and my kids kept saying, "Oh, everyone said it was so funny!", but then Will said, "Except for Hillcrest. The Hillcresters swore at me."

I said, "Hillcrest?!? The kids in HILLCREST swore at you?!? The kids in Hillcrest are seven and eight years old!" They're so little that they get to stay in a bunkhouse instead of tents, and they have flushing toilets, and showers that they don't have to hike to.

Will said, "Oh, yeah. They SWORE at me."

"Well, what did they say?"

Will just shook her head. "I am NOT going to tell you." And she has stuck to that. Mind you, I swear in front of my kids sometimes. They know some swears, although they haven't used them, themselves, since they were toddlers. And still, knowing that, some seven- and eight-year-olds swore swears to my child SO swearful that she will not repeat them for my delicate Momma ears.

Instead of swearing back at them--good girl!--Will says that she told them all about pit toilets and showers that you have to hike to and spiders that get names because they sleep with you in your tent.

In other words, don't swear like you're a pirate, because you don't know the first thing about tough.

Friends, I was so worried about this camp. I kept my game face on to the kids, of course, but in my heart, I was so worried for them. I was worried that Will wouldn't make any friends. I was worried that Syd wouldn't participate. I was worried that they'd stick together and ignore the other kids. I was worried that they'd feel socially uncomfortable and therefore act out. I was worried that Syd's stomach would hurt. I dropped Syd off with her two fused baby teeth ready to fall out at any second (and they did, during the first activity, while Syd was tie-dying her T-shirt), and I was worried that the other kids would tease her because they looked strange. I was worried that Will would only want to read, and be sullen because she barely had any time to. I was worried that if the kids had a problem, they'd feel too shy to go to their counselors.

None of my worries happened. Not a single one. The kids idolized their counselors, and felt completely comfortable with them. They made friends with all the other campers (Hillcresters aside... ahem). They tried new things. They had adventures. They utilized the salad bar, and consumed their weight in snow cone syrup. They shot arrows and sailed on sailboats. There was an actual plank off the dock at the lake, and they got to walk the plank when they did good deeds (because pirates). They had so much fun that I can hardly believe it.

And they came home to me just barely sunburnt, not too covered in chigger bites, their pockets full of rocks, and they slept for probably fourteen hours that night.

And yes, they're already talking about next year. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that pirates will NOT be one of the themes that's offered again...

Friday, June 26, 2015

I Taught My Kid to Solder

Even though learning how to solder (from an expert--shh!) is one of the activity possibilities in the Girl Scout Junior Jeweler badge, I was nevertheless a little leery when Will showed it to me and asked to learn to solder.

But who am I to refuse a child's desire to use a power tool and play with molten metal?

I actually do know how to solder, although not terribly well. Back in the day, I made many postage stamp pendants--are postage stamp pendants still a thing?

Mental note: check to see if postage stamp pendants are still a thing.

Fortunately, while the kid and I were digging through the garage looking for the soldering iron, copper tape, flux, solder, and jewelry clamps that you need to solder, I also found a set of Christmas ornaments that I had made and taped but never gotten around to actually soldering.

They're pages cut out of a Christmas songbook, sandwiched between glass, already taped. They are PERFECT to learn how to solder on!

I set the kid up, gave her a demonstration, showed her how the solder would only stick to the copper tape and only when it had been fluxed, showed her how to wipe her soldering iron off on a damp sponge, made sure her hair was tied back, reminded her to sit well forward so that I didn't have to take her to the ER to treat third-degree molten silver burns on her thighs, and then... let her go.

Um, this kid is a NATURAL at soldering:

The only time that she needed my help at all was when she added the hanger to the ornament: I held the wire to the top of the ornament so that Will could still hold both the solder and the soldering iron.

Here is Will's finished ornament:

Isn't it beautiful? I've got four others, all taped and ready, so perhaps she'll have done the whole set by Christmas!

Actually, however, as soon as she was done with this one, she asked about creating her own design next.

A postage stamp pendant, then, perhaps?

P.S. I used this book back when I was learning to solder, and I still have it. Ooh--I should show it to Will!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Building Decimal Numbers using Base Ten Blocks

Once again, my favorite math manipulative, the Base Ten block, comes out to play!

Decimal numbers, in my opinion, are harder to visualize than fractions. I mean, the kids have been dealing with fractions, at least in the kitchen, since they were toddlers, but never have I said to them anything like "this recipe calls for .25 cups of sugar." Maybe I should have.

It's even more important, then, that the kids have access to decimal manipulatives when learning these concepts. Unfortunately, Will loathes manipulatives (she knows that solving a problem with manipulatives takes waaaay longer than using an algorithm, and always wants to just skip to the shortest method possible), and so I let her get a couple of lessons into decimals before I pulled them out for her, specifically when I saw that she was having trouble reading the difference between tenths and hundredths in a decimal number.

I mean, if you're going to mistake a tenth for a hundredth, and a hundredth for a tenth, then you REALLY don't understand what that decimal number represents.

Fortunately, decimals ARE easy to represent, using the very same Base Ten blocks that Will has been using since she was three years old:

Above, you see a representation of the decimal system, as well as a sheet of models that I asked Will to make as part of her math one day.

The way that I introduced Base Ten blocks as decimals to Will may be different from the way that you'd need to introduce them to your kiddos--Will is perfectly comfortable with Base Ten blocks, and had a few lessons on decimals prior to this, and so understood the concept of tenths, hundredths, and thousandths.

To begin, then, I handed her a thousand cube and told her, "Imagine that instead of representing one thousand, this thousand cube now represents one whole. Now, if the thousand represents one whole, what block represents tenths?"

Since Will is familiar with Base Ten blocks, she knows that ten hundred flats make one thousand, and since she's had a couple of lessons on decimals, she knows what a tenth is, so she thought for several seconds, then labeled the hundred flat as the representation of a tenth. To reinforce, we used the hundred flats to count up to one whole.

The next step is to ask, "If this cube represents one whole, what block represents the hundredth?"

This one confused Will, probably because she's so familiar with the idea of one hundred unit cubes, so she first picked out the unit, and we talked about that for a while, and I had her lay out ten bars to cover the hundred flat, and asked her how many of those ten bars would equal one thousand cube. A hundred? Well, then the ten bar must represent the hundredth.

After that, the unit cube was easy to pick out as the thousandth.

I then gave Will several decimal numbers and asked her to model them using the Base Ten stamps (I'd rather have had her build them with the blocks, but she'd have flat-out rebelled at that). I should have given her more room to work, but I thought that she was clever with using the space that she had--for instance, a hundred flat stamp with a "x3" written next to it means "three tenths."

Another absolutely essential manipulative for dealing with decimals is a number line that is marked with hundredths and thousandths. I had to Google Image for a while before I found one that I liked, but when I did, I laminated it so that it can be re-used and the kids can write on it with dry-erase markers. It really only has to go up to maybe 5 or so, as it's just another method of having the kids model the numbers, and so you can simply only have them model numbers between 0 and 5. I call this essential because it's another way to visualize the extreme difference between a tenth and a hundredth and a thousandth. With a number line, there's no WAY that you can mistake 2.4 as 2.04, something that's so easy to do if you have no concept of those numbers in your head.

A number line like this is also essential for demonstrating the concept of rounding numbers, with decimals or without. Will was having a lot of trouble with rounding down--she kept wanting to round 7.1, say, down to 6--until I asked her to mark each number on the number line. Since the goal of rounding is to go to the closest integer, it's perfectly clear, when you look at a number on a number line, where it should go. And of course, you explain the concept of 5 rounding up as mere convention.

Syd is super into fractions right now, so I'm planning an extra unit on them for next week, and it'll be simple to also make that a decimal unit. Pizza will of course be involved, as will some of the other activities from my Homeschool: Math: Fractions and Decimals pinboard, but if you've got some other suggestions for fraction and decimal enrichment, definitely let me know!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fifteen More Photos of Fifteen Chickens

If you managed to bravely slog your way through the first fifteen photos of our new chicks, then here, for your viewing pleasure (or, more likely, as another challenge for you to overcome), are the last--for now--fifteen photos.

I'm a little more dicey on the names of some of these chicks, as some of the breeds and the chicks within each breed look identical to me, and the kids are at sleepaway camp and so can't look at me like I'm a fool while they remind me, once again, of each individual chick's name. Anyway, I'll do my best!
We've got three of these. Syd named them Toast, Crisp, and Crunch, because they remind her of buttered toast.

This is Speckle. My aunt got to name her from afar, because she loves the Barred Plymouth Rock, which I *think* this one is.

We've got three of these mostly black ones with white accents. I can identify Spot, who I showed you yesterday, but we also have White Wing and Warrior, who I can't tell apart.

We've got three of these, which we call our "quail chicks," because their facial markings remind us of quail. One is Dan Quayle (you saw her yesterday), one of these is Featherbutt, and I don't remember the name of the third. Or maybe Featherbutt is one of the black chicks and Warrior is one of these?

Although the hatchery was great about refunding the chick that they shorted us (especially because when Matt called to inform them, the person to whom he was speaking said that she thought they'd actually put in an EXTRA chick for us!), they, of course, didn't send them labeled for our convenience, and so identifying which chick is which breed has proven very challenging, especially because we can't rely on how many of each breed Will ordered, since we don't know what breed the missing chick was!

If you'd like to play the home game of chick identification, here is Will's original order:
  • 3 unsexed red sex-link (especially challenging, because I'm told by Will that males and females of this breed are different colors)
  • 1 black australorp female
  • 3 unsexed Easter eggers
  • 1 barred Plymouth rock (I feel like I've successfully identified this as Speckle, above)
  • 1 single-comb Rhode Island red
  • 1 welsummer (Dang! I'd thought that Marshmallow and Hermione were welsummers, but Will only ordered one of these!)
  • 3 black Jersey giants
  • 2 speckled Sussex
Complications are as follows:
  1. We don't know which chick is the missing one, so we can't go by numbers. Although Hermione and Marshmallow seem to be the same breed, for instance, we can't automatically identify them as our two speckled Sussex, because what if the missing chick was also of their breed, and they're actually Easter eggers, or Jersey giants?
  2. Red sex-links apparently look different based on sex, so the one yellow chick that we have could be a red sex-link, or one of the breeds that Will only ordered a single chick from, OR the breed that Will ordered two of, along with the missing chick.
  3. If the hatchery thinks that they added an extra chick to our order, it's also possible that they indeed threw in an extra of something, and in fact we're short by TWO of what we ordered. So we could potentially have an extra chick in any breed, and be missing two chicks from among any of the breeds that we ordered. 
So... yeah. This is apparently how we're all practicing our logical reasoning this summer.


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