Monday, August 31, 2015

The Martian

I generally borrow library books to read on my Kindle, but I made an exception last week.  I bought "The Martian" by Andy Weir.  I wanted to read the book to "screen" it to see if I could let Big Boy read it.  We have seen the previews for the movie this summer and he is very interested in the story, so I thought it would be good if he could read the book and then see the movie.  He reads very difficult books (he has finished the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, and is currently reading Eragon), but I was worried about content.

Big Boy is 8 years old.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure the language in The Marian is appropriate for an 8-year-old.  There are a few swear words (not that many, but they tend to come in clusters) - nothing he hasn't heard before, but probably not appropriate for his age level.  My husband doesn't think it's acceptable, so we will leave it for now.  Other than the adult language issue, the book is an adventure story and really has no adult themes or any content that I would be hesitant to let Big Boy read.   

I was pleasantly surprised by the book.  I loved it and I didn't want to put it down!  I read it very quickly because the story is fast-paced, interesting, suspenseful, and exciting.  A real action-adventure story with a very likeable main character.  While I didn't understand all of the science described in the book it is expressed in a manner that I could digest and comprehend it for the purposes of the story.  The science explanations are plentiful but they don't weigh the story down and the pace is fast but not frantic.

Now I'm looking forward to seeing the film....

Sunday, August 30, 2015

This Weekend - Houston Museum of Natural Science; Museum of Fine Arts Houston - Artful Thursday; Houston Zoo; and Sheldon Lake State Park

I'm starting this weekend on Thursday because that's when the fun started!

Thursday - Houston Museum of Natural Science; and Museum of Fine Arts Houston - Artful Thursday

In Houston, Thursday is "Free Museum Thursday" and this week we took advantage of it!  After school I picked up the boys and we headed over to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  It closed not long after we arrived, but we had enough time to take a thorough look at the Hall of Ancient Egypt.  We ended up joining a free tour and it was spectacular.  The tour guide was engaging and interesting to the kids and the adults.  Big Boy really wanted to see the mummies and we saw 3 - 2 of them had bare faces.

Once the museum closed we had a picnic outdoors and then headed over to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.  Here we only saw one exhibit - Shadow Monsters!  We arrived around 6:00 p.m. and the boys played in the exhibit for a while.  Then, just before 6:30 p.m. the exhibit closed for a special performance of the Houston Ballet Academy in the Shadow Monsters exhibit - this performance was a part of the "Artful Thursdays" series.  The piece they performed was titled "beyond the shadow of a doubt".

I have to admit that the performance was not what I expected.  I knew it was a ballet company, so I expected a classical ballet performance somehow overlayed into the exhibit.  Instead it was a modern dance performance accompanied by a single percussionist and a brief spoken word poem.  The dancers made brilliant use of the Shadow Monsters exhibit by incorporating it's themes into their programme and by using the actual exhibit itself as a stage and prop  - they were interacting with the screens, cameras, and lights. 

The performance was moving and disturbing from the adult perspective and so much fun for the kids (because they didn't understand the message of the poem).  My boys sat on the edges of their seats for the entire show and they loved every minute of it.  On the way home they kept chattering about their favourite parts.  I had planned to leave partway through the show (because it ran through bedtime) but during the performance they begged me to stay so we did.



Friday - Angel Food

Friday was uneventful - but I made a delicious angel food cake!  The cake was to celebrate the bigger boys finishing their first week of school.  

I think it was a great week!  Big Boy reconnected with his old friends and started to find his way in his new class.  Little Boy struggled the first few days at drop off but now he goes to school eagerly and is excited to tell me about his day when I pick him up.  Baby Boy, as always, is teary at drop off but the teacher reports that he does very well during the day.



Saturday - Houston Zoo

For lunch on Saturday I made a new soup.  I used a recipe from Michael Smith called "Thai Coconut Curry Soup" (here's a link:  http://chefmichaelsmith.com/recipe/thai-coconut-curry-soup/).  This soup was way outside my comfort zone in terms of both eating and cooking, but I ended up loving it!  It has a tangy rich flavour and is a filling comfort food.  It took a bit of messing around to make it because some of the ingredients were new to me...next time I'll be quicker!  My husband loved this soup and asked me to make it again - it's a keeper.  Best part is we have leftovers for tonight!

Oops - I slopped onto the sides of the bowl!
On Saturday we took the kids to the zoo.  But it wasn't our typical trip to the zoo - we turned our usual routine on it's head!  Instead of heading out in the morning, we went mid-afternoon, after naps.  This changed everything - the parking lot was crowded (we lucked into a space without too much hassle), and the zoo was full of people.   When we arrived the Swap Shop was closing so we hustled over because the kids wanted to do a trade.

After the Swap Shop we typically make our way over to the new gorilla exhibit by walking past the giraffes.  On Saturday we changed it up.  We went to the petting zoo.  Little Boy loves the petting zoo.  In the Houston Zoo instead of touching the animals with your hands, they give you brushes to stroke through their fur.  The only animals out for petting on Saturday were goats.  Little Boy and Baby Boy petted some goats while Big Boy made sure we all knew he wasn't into it.

We cleaned our hands and then had a quick snack before looking at the bats exhibit.  On the way over the kids popped into the interactive mongoose display.  Then we looked at some prairie animals including a bald eagle.

Once we were finished at the children's zoo area we saw the elephants and then walked through the aquarium.  We left the zoo just before supper time and enjoyed a late dinner at home.

Sunday - Sheldon Lake State Park

Today is Sunday and we spent a pleasant morning at Sheldon Lake State Park.  One of the best things about this park is that it is only 30 minutes from our house....that sounds mean, doesn't it?  But the proximity to our home is a big deal, it makes this State Park more "visitable" than some of the others.  

The lily pads are out at Sheldon Lake and they have gorgeous, giant flowers.  We walked around the ponds and over the recycled bridge before we climbed the tower.  This is the first time that my husband has visited the park when the tower was open.  We had a wonderful view of downtown, but unfortunately I couldn't get my camera to "see" it.  I'm not sure why....maybe it was because it was in the distance with mist and clouds in between.  

Sheldon Lake is a beautiful park, so I (naturally) took a lot of pictures.  I wanted to express how the park "feels" so here is an assortment of photos that I think show what it's like:



Giant lily pads!
   








The tower - it has an elevator powered by solar panels.
Unfortunately the elevator has never been working during one of our visits - stairs for us!

This swampy area is next to the park....I still don't love this aesthetic, but I'm including this photo because it's a large part of the vista from the tower.
 




I took some nice pictures of my boys (if you are family I already emailed them to you) and we had a fun walk in slightly cooler temperatures.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Studies

I've seen statistics about how much knowledge kids "lose" over the summer.  The premise is that once kids are out of school for the summer, if they don't keep up with academic activity, their brains basically rot and the material that they learned during the previous school year seeps out at an alarming rate.  I believe it....Big Boy seems to forget everything (including how to add!) immediately after the last day of school.

I decided to avoid brain rot this summer - I planned to have the boys do a little bit of "homework" every day.  We followed through with this plan!  About 6 days a week, the boys worked on workbooks.  Little Boy worked on printing his letters and math while Big Boy worked on his times tables and advanced addition and subtraction.  Then Little Boy read a couple of BOB books every day (more on his reading later).  Big Boy practiced his musical instrument.  Big Boy loves to read so he continued to read for fun.

At first the boys thought the workbooks were fun.  They eagerly sat down the first couple of days and worked through the pages.  Then, they got annoyed when they figured out their friends didn't have to do workbooks.  We continued to do the workbooks so they got over being annoyed.  After a while they challenged themselves to do better work (get a better score, etc.) than the day before.

The entire homework routine took about 20 minutes a day.  This was not a huge time commitment and I think the boys benefitted - from practicing their school curriculum, and also from learning to sit down do some work each day without procrastinating.

In addition to our home studies, Big Boy also participated in the ACE Learning programme at his tennis lessons.  During this programme the kids worked on language arts, math, and logic problems.  He had a lot of fun at these classes.

While the older boys were working away, Baby Boy would colour or make pictures with his stamps.  Sometimes he just played, but he usually wanted to sit and work with his brothers.

Here is a picture of the workbooks that Big Boy and Little Boy completed this summer.  There are also some partially completed books - I didn't include those.  


As you can see, I prefer Kumon books.  Kumon books are well organized and the material is set out in a clear and interesting manner.  I'm sure there are other great workbooks, but the Kumon books I've purchased have been consistently excellent.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nap Pillow

It's new year, and Little Boy needed a new pillow for classroom naps.  

In previous years my favourite pillow was the baby pillow from Ikea, called the "LEN Crib Pillow" ($5.99).  We've had a few of them and they usually last through a school year.  When I bought our last LEN, I could not buy a pillow case for it without also buying a blanket (it was a set) and we didn't need the blanket so I had to sew a pillowcase.  I found that annoying.  I also found that last year's LEN washed flat quickly and the stuffing separated into little "balls" inside the pillow so it was uncomfortable.

I looked for an alternative and I found the Walmart Travel Pillow (http://www.walmart.com/ip/17047745?reviews_limit=9&) - now it's my favourite!  It's the perfect size for Baby Boy at night and Little Boy for nap.  So far they've washed well and are still "puffy" after a few weeks of use.  Walmart also sells a matching zip-up pillow case (http://www.walmart.com/ip/17301159?reviews_limit=9&).  The pillow is sold for the very reasonable price of $3.48 and the pillowcase is $2.24 so for $5.72 you have the complete set.  The pillowcase on the link is a plain one, but in store there are more designs.  Baby Boy picked out a bright chevron print that he liked.  Unfortunately, Little Boy didn't like any of the patterns of the ready-made cases so I agreed to sew him one.

I took my coupons and Little Boy and I headed to the store where I like to buy my fabric.  We looked around a bit and he found a print he liked right away.  We shuffled through the rest of the section but he was set on the first print he found.  I had the fabric cut and we paid - it cost a grand total of $2.71.  I had leftover fabric for the contrast trim from the Creature Power Suits (http://janiceljlj.blogspot.com/2015/07/creature-power.html).  

I made the pillowcase with a fold-over contrast trim that has no seam showing.  Some people call this the "burrito method" or the "pull through method".  It was simple and quick, although I reached a bump in the road when my half-yard of fabric only measured to just barely 17" (maybe it shrunk when I pre-washed??  but only in one direction?) - next time I will add more of a cushion when I'm buying fabric (haha....see the pun?).

Anyways, here is a picture of the finished project....are you surprised at the print he picked?  I'm not!



Ballcap Buddy - Amazing!

Wanna see something gross?  How could you possibly say "no" to that?

This is Little Boy's cap after playing tennis wearing it for a whole summer:





Yuck yuck yuck!  Those are sweat stains....even on the brim and embroidery.  

I wasn't sure how to clean a cap so I checked with my good friend Google and I quickly found many descriptions of cleaning methods involving a toothbrush or nailbrush.   I was not into doing that!  I looked into gadgets and found the "Ballcap Buddy" - a device that allows you to wash your ball cap in the dishwasher or washing machine.  I picked one up in our local Academy store for $3.99.

The Ballcap Buddy looks like this:


It's basically a supportive cage for your hat.  I put Little Boy's hat in, inserted it into the dishwasher, turned on a quick cycle  and crossed my fingers....



I am so pleased with the results!

Here is how it looked when it came out wet...so much better already.


I left the cap to dry inside the Buddy because the internal cage holds the cap in shape.


Here is a picture of the completely clean and dry hat.  It is so clean.  It looks a little more worn than when it was brand new (because he's worn it for a year or so and intensively this past summer), but otherwise it is as good as new and not sweaty at all!


Sunday, August 23, 2015

First Day of School Interview - Little Boy and Big Boy

This year, Little Boy and Big Boy are going to the same school (hooray!) and therefore they share the first day of school.  We start tomorrow but I'm assuming we will have a household of chaos in the morning so I interviewed them a day early.  

Little Boy is nervous about school.  It's a new school for him and he doesn't know any of the other children in his class.  He will be in a dual language programme where English is not the main language of instruction and that will be a big challenge!  He will work on learning Spanish.  I hope he has a great day tomorrow but I'm worried he will cry and cling when I drop him off.

Little Boy - About to Start Pre-K 4

1.  I am 3 feet and 7 1/2 inches tall and I weigh 42 pounds.

2.  My favourite thing to play is:  Lego

3.  My favourite colour is:  Orange and Blue

4.  My favourite book is:  Jake and the Flumflum Tree

5.  My favourite TV show is:  Star Wars

6.  My favourite food is:  Turkey

7.  My favourite activity is:  Riding Bike

8.  I really like:  School

9.  I really don't like:  Broccoli 

10.  My favourite thing about myself is:  I am smart

11.  This year I want to:  Make new friends

12.  When I grow up, I want to:  Be an engineer

***********
Big Boy is returning to his school and friends.  He has a new teacher and he is excited to be in a different part of the school with the "big kids".

Big Boy - About to Start Grade 3

1.  I am 4 feet and 3 1/2 inches tall and I weigh 58 pounds.

2.  My favourite thing to play is:  Star Wars

3.  My favourite colour is:  Green

4.  My favourite book is:  Percy Jackson and Harry Potter

5.  My favourite TV show is:  Ben 10

6.  My favourite food is:  Potatoes au Gratin

7.  My favourite activity is:  Playing hockey

8.  I really like:  Reading

9.  I really don't like:  Onions

10.  My favourite thing about myself is:  I am fast

11.  This year I want to:  Learn a new game

12.  When I grow up, I want to:  Have a car

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First Day of School Interview - Baby Boy

Baby Boy has the first "first day of school" in our family this year!  Here's what he had to say about it:

Baby Boy - About to Start Mother's Day Out

1.  I am 36 inches tall and I weigh about 30 pounds.

2.  My favourite thing to play is:  Batman

3.  My favourite colour is:  Blue

4.  My favourite book is:  Tabby McTat

5.  My favourite TV show is:  Lego Batman

6.  My favourite food is:  Sushi

7.  My favourite activity is:  Play

8.  I really like:  Batman

9.  I really don't like:  Going to school

10.  This year I want to:  Play

11.  When I grow up, I want to be:  Batman