Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Our Magical Metal Detector

Will has owned this metal detector for a few years now--

--after she asked for one as a Christmas gift. She'd played around with it off and on in our old yard, my parents' yard, and the park, but never really found anything much, so when she brought it to me a couple of weeks ago and asked for new batteries for it so that she could play with it here, I didn't think much of it.

But oh, my gosh. Our yard is a TREASURE FIELD!

Or junk field. Whichever term you prefer.

Based on the old general store on our property, which I was told is from 1910, and the blue Mason jars that I sometimes find at the old dump site out in our woods, I knew that the property was pretty old, and I'm always discovering interesting things about it that reveal how it's aged--when I tried to dig up and move some daffodils that were in the way of my proposed chicken yard this spring, I found out that the bulbs were all about two feet down by now, and every now and then I uncover another one or two of these limestone blocks laid out nice and flat:

Obviously, every time that happens, I worry that I've uncovered a grave marker, but in reality, they're probably marking garden paths, or the placement of long-demolished outbuildings.

Anyway, it turns out that a 100+ years-old property, originally owned by people who just left things like general stores and paving stones and Mason jars lying about when they were done with them, is a magical place to play with a metal detector. You walk into the yard, anywhere you want to begin, start gently swinging it back and forth--
Yes, a child-sized metal detector is the perfect height for me. I am very short.
 --and within a dozen steps you have a hit. Sometimes, yes, it's old wire, or a rusted tuna can, or other piece of modern-ish trash, all of which I'm fine to discover, as I consider it important to our property clean-up to dig up the trash for proper disposal.

Other times, however...
I *think* that these are nails with a machined shank but hand-forged heads.

Horseshoe!!! We. Were. THRILLED! Horseshoes are hard to date, but this one doesn't have calkins or a toe clip. I plan to clean it and then mount it above our doorway.
This part is so exciting that Gracie can't bear to look.
For a while you just dig, occasionally reapplying the metal detector to make sure that you're still in the correct spot, sometimes readjusting when it's clear that your hole is shifting in the wrong direction.
When you start to see something that's metal (it'll probably be red from rust), you then have to start digging around it, often with your bare hands, to expose it without putting pressure on it. It would be tragic to break something awesome out of carelessness and haste!
gratuitous photo of pretty kitty
Found it!
Matt's theory, which seems solid, is that it's a meter of some sort. There's a glass front, and through the broken glass you can see that there are gears of some sort inside. I want to clean it, identify it, and then maybe take it apart if it's not valuable.
 Now that we're actually finding cool things more often than not, metal detecting has turned into an exciting hobby. The metal detector sits by the door now, and sometimes, when I've just finished a burdensome chore and know that another is next on my list, I think, "I'll just go out and find one thing first."

And then I do, and then the cooking/cleaning/sewing 50 drawstring bags for an etsy order isn't so lame, what with all the thinking I can do about what I found and how I'm going to identify it and the best way to clean it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Latest: Flowers and Cardboard and Fish and Fruit

Happy Holiday Weekend! We are happily in the middle of our Memorial Day weekend over here, made perfect with plenty of fried egg sandwiches, reading, watching a capella videos on YouTube (seriously, check out the Vanderbilt Melodores. I may have to cosplay as that Sweater Weather dude at Gen Con next month), playing with the metal detector in the yard (you are not going to BELIEVE the stuff we found!!! I'll post on it later), watching movies at the drive-in, working in the yard, etc.

I still have a giant wholesale candle order to finish fulfilling, but somehow I've convinced myself this weekend that I should also make more bendy yarn, and try my hand at sewing myself a shirt (a first! I rarely sew for myself, which I have recently decided is silly, right?), and make bookmarks so that each of our home bookshelves can have a jar of them ready for reading. Now that I've done all that, what can I distract myself with today to avoid sewing 50 drawstring bags, cutting 350 4" wicks, and rolling 350 candles?

Painting a water cycle diagram on the rain barrel, probably. Shopping for milkweed seedlings. Sewing a grocery tote out of a bag that once held 50 pounds of kidney beans.

Related to none of those fun projects, here is a catch-up of all my latest posts over at Crafting a Green World. Click over to read them in full, and if any of the ads strike your fancy for also clicking on, well... ad revenue is the necessary evil behind how I get paid:

Wow, that was a LOT! I'm currently working on tutes that use chalk ink and tutes that use a blowtorch (squee!), tutes that involve my rain barrel, and tutes that involve play silks and Easter egg dye, so stay tuned!

P.S. Here I am on Facebook, where I sometimes post embarrassing photos and tell you about the weird things that the kids just said.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Shopping in Chicago: American Science and Surplus

We are not big shoppers (which is a good thing, as over a year into our "new" house, we have still not completely unpacked!), but I knew that during our trip to Chicago, there were exactly two stores that I wanted to visit.

The first is American Science and Surplus, a store that sells hard-core scientific equipment AND totally random surplus. I shop online from them every now and then, and I've gotten chemistry equipment, glass jars and test tubes and beakers and such, surplus restaurant crayons for when I was making crayon rocket pops for craft fairs, surplus science and craft and building kits for my secret present bin in the top of my bedroom closet (Santa often pulls from this bin, as does the Easter Bunny and sometimes the Tooth Fairy), and a hundred other just totally random things.

It's one of those stores where you can't go looking for exactly what you need, but if you go looking, you'll find tons of things that are exactly what you want.

The physical store location was just as fun and chaotic as I'd hoped, with lots of really cool finds on display and plenty of things for the kids to look at under Matt's supervision while I enjoyed myself shopping. I tried to contain myself--I didn't buy 10 of the specimen mounts as I still think that I should have, nor did I buy the gas mask like I TOTALLY should have, nor nearly as many beakers as I wanted--but here's what I came home with, for a little less than a hundred dollars:

  • microscope slide storage case--I've been researching how to create permanent slides. This is where I can store them!
  • specimen mounts--You use these to store and display fossils and other finds. These mounts are exactly the same as the ones that I buy from Carolina Biological Supply Company, only five bucks cheaper and sans shipping (although sales tax is really expensive!). I would have bought more than two, because I NEED more than two, but I still hold a previous vow to myself to figure out how to DIY these, so I held myself in check.
  • cello sheets--The kids have a lot of fun with these for craft and science projects. We need to make more color viewers, in particular.
  • owl pellet--just one, because the kids have both dissected owl pellets before. I'll keep it with my other homeschool supplies until something comes up that inspires its dissection. 
  • pipettes--Can't have too many of these! I buy a few whenever I see them cheaply. Most recently, the kids used them as part of their soda bottle Cartesian divers.
  • giant mercury thermometer--I'm hoping this will come in handy with hands-on math and science.
  • Methyl blue--Making our own slides!
  • measured syringes--I only bought a couple for experimentation, but hopefully they'll come in handy for math, science, and crafts.
  • magnets--these were pretty strong, and they've each got two holes in them, to make it easy to tie them to something or use them in a project. I bought two.
  • Erlenmeyer flask--You can use these with a flame, so they're very useful. I only bought one, to make sure that the quality is what I expect (it will fail if it explodes all over me while I'm holding it over a heat source), but if it is, I'll probably order more from them online.
  • shrink plastic--I LOVE shrinky dinks!
  • cat toys, random bottle, giant rubber band--This is stuff that the kids picked out. The giant rubber band, in particular, has been super fun.
  • dentistry tools--You also use these for fossil prep, so I was stoked to find them.
  • giant weather balloon--I have no idea. But one day its purpose will become clear, I know.
  • Revolutionary War battlefield map--I actually don't remember picking this out. Matt or one of the kids must have.
  • adding machine tape--This stuff is actually dead useful for homeschooling. Think timelines and number lines.
  • solar cell. Will is interested in robotics and machines, and learning how to support this is one of my summer goals.
  • build an engine kit--Same thing. We'll build an engine!
  • stethoscope--We definitely used to have one, but I think it disappeared in the move.
  • test tube brush--Finally, we can clean our test tubes!
I skipped all of the tempting science kits, because I'm trying to limit my random purchases these days to things that count as tools or supplies--like rock hammer over geology kit, that kind of thing. I got rid of tons of preschool homeschool stuff during the move, most of which hadn't been a great deal of use during preschool at home, and that made me realize that tools are much more versatile than kits or finished items, and will be more useful over the total number of years that I want to spend homeschooling with the kids.

However, if I lived near an American Science and Surplus... I'd have a huge problem. Our house would be collapsing under the weight of all of my surplus Soviet military gear and my random electronics components and my crazy-cheap beakers. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

We Went to Chicago: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Although we had been warned about what the weather would probably be like (Thanks, Cheryl! I wish I'd taken your advice!), I was snookered by a mild forecast and did NOT pack appropriate clothing for our detour home through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the three national parks in Indiana and the first national park that we've visited in our home state.

Our hoodies were adequate for damp, windy, foggy Chicago, but at Indiana Dunes, cold rain was added to the mix. I should have packed rain gear.
Nevertheless, as you can see in the photo below Syd clutching her Junior Ranger book, we toughed it out and saw all the things so that the kids could earn those coveted badges:

The kids did manage to run around and play and have fun--they're made of much sterner stuff than their parents are!

I'm feeling a lot of mom guilt, though, because Will has SUPER wanted to come to this specific national park for a year now, and for a year I'd been putting her off, only to then turn around and say, "Sure I'll take you, Kid! I'll take you, alright, but only on a miserable, cold, rainy day! Have fun!"

We're clearly going back to Indiana Dunes one hot day this summer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

We Went to Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago

Finally finished with all of his boring workity-work, Matt was able to spend our last day in Chicago with us. We tooled through Daley and Millennium Parks plenty more, but our ultimate destination was the Art Institute of Chicago.

Let's see some fancy art!
This one politely accommodated my baffling request to pose with the work of art.
This one... not so much. I love how even Van Gogh, himself, is giving her a look of exasperation.
I sort of got them to do this one, but then, even I gave up. Really, all I wanted to do was reshoot it with Will holding the pitchfork in the correct hand! You'd think I was proposing that she do something genuinely embarrassing!
 To be fair, I really AM an embarrassing person to be with.

I studied Medieval Christian art, in part, in grad school, and I have a special talent for identifying all the people and icons in Crucifixion scenes, so I insisted on doing a lot of that at the museum. Lots of "Look, there's Mary, obviously, because she's about to faint, but check out the ginger chick literally trying to scale the cross--that's Mary Magdalene! Oh, and see the guy with the spear? Ooh, and the other guy with the cup? We could totally start our own magical quest to go look for them in real life--it's the basis for, like, every good adventure movie!"

In between medieval art, Van Gogh, and American Gothic, we saw all the other things:
This one is interesting because that blue chick in the foreground was at one point CUT OUT of the painting on account of she's scandalous. She was reattached, but if you look closely, you can see the seams.

We did a lot of looking at all the things, and then took a lunch break.

We travel a lot, and when we do, I like to pack practically all of our food for the trip. Fast food is unhealthy, sit-down food is expensive (and still tends to be unhealthy), and both options are more time-consuming than simply sitting down and eating one's packed sandwich, chips, and clementine. I like to plan for a couple of special meals during a trip, but I've found that it's just much easier to budget for groceries than it is for restaurants, and I find the experience of sitting in a park eating sandwiches to be much more enjoyable than sitting in a cafe eating a meal.

The kids and I are easy with food--in the hotel room in the morning, we make nut butter and jelly sandwiches and bag up some chips and decide who wants clementines and who wants baby carrots and we're done until dinner. As we walked out of the art museum and into the park for lunch, however, the kids and I discussing who had made what kind of sandwich (there was a rare jar of Nutella in our grocery bag on this trip, and it had been featured in all kinds of yummy combinations), Matt reminded us all that he is NOT easy with food.

In fact, just between you and me, Matt is a fussy eater.

I offered the man half of my almond butter and raspberry jam bagel. Syd said that he could have some of her Nutella and jelly sandwich. There were two perfectly good granola bars up for grabs by anyone. But Matt insisted, "No, I want REAL food!"

Real food, hmm? Real food. As opposed to the imaginary lunches that I have been feeding my children as I chaperone them around Chicago and show them all the sights all by myself for two days, eh?

Fine. Since we're walking to the park, anyway, and since hot dogs are on my list of Chicago meals that I wanted to experience during our visit (we'd eaten the other item, deep-dish pizza, for dinner the other night), I suggested that we eat hot dogs instead of our packed lunches.

The kids' hot dogs had onions and relish and mustard on them. My hot dog had onions, relish, mustard, vinegar, tomato slices, jalepenos, and a pickle.

Matt's hot dog? It consisted of a plain weiner on a plain bun. A toddler wouldn't even order a hot dog that way. It was also probably--what, 400 calories? How that man planned to sustain himself through an entire afternoon at an art museum and then a walk back to the hotel and then an hour's drive on to the Indiana Dunes I do not know.

But at least it was real food.

My hot dog, just in case you're keeping score, was quite yummy.

Matt and I had seen our must-sees in the morning, but the museum also has a Family Scavenger Hunt, and kids get a prize for completing it, so we devoted the afternoon to that, putting the kids in charge of all navigation and clue deciphering:

Let me tell you--this scavenger hunt MADE our trip to the art museum. The kids dutifully followed us around all morning and looked at all the stuff and were interested, but it was clear that it was OUR thing, you know? But the Family Scavenger Hunt was their thing, and so they had to figure out the navigation and the clues.

Can I just say that navigating the Art Institute of Chicago is impossible? It wouldn't be terribly laid out if the signage was better, but most of the time it's absent, and when it is there, it's confusing--I swear that at one staircase, the American Art sign pointed in two different directions, and neither way would really get you to American Art.

Add to that the fact that although each gallery has a number, that number is not always (or often) displayed in that gallery, so that you can see where you actually are in order to navigate from there. Will would study the map deeply, draw our path from where we were to where we wanted to go, and then we'd still get lost getting there, because we couldn't follow the numbers:

Nevertheless, the Family Scavenger Hunt was huge fun, AND it got us all over the museum, looking at exhibits like the fascinating miniatures, and the paperweights, that I otherwise wouldn't have gone to see.
The kids have been asked to figure out what animal inspired the dragon's tail (it's an alligator!).
After we completed the scavenger hunt, the kids got prizes (mini sketchbooks--very awesome) and I bought postcards. I'm a big postcard buyer, but art museums are really the only places that you can still get a good selection of postcards. At a buck or so each, I feel like art print postcards are a decent price for a mini-print of a piece of art--I always pick out a few for our gallery wall or our homeschooling, and I always let the kids each choose one to put on the wall by their beds.

Our visit to Chicago connected us to lots of subjects that I'd like to slowly continue to explore in the next few weeks, not the least of which is a deeper study of some of the artists and artworks that we encountered here.

Here are some more of the Chicago-themed resources that we've been enjoying:

Friday, May 15, 2015

We Went to Chicago: Field Museum

The Field Museum is on the same museum campus as Shedd Aquarium, which means that the next day, we caught the bus there like total pros.

Meet my favorite fossil, Sue:

You might remember that I'm a big Sue fangirl--I'm fascinated by her history, and the story of her discovery and the controversy of her ownership. We visited the Museum @ Black Hills Institute over the summer, and I was excited to revisit her with that context in mind.

If you stand in exactly the correct spot, Sue can look you right in the eye:

Of course, that isn't her real skull there on the skeleton. Her real skull is upstairs, and it looks like this:

See the mirror underneath it so that you can see it from all angles? I LOVE that touch.

As the kids and I were admiring Sue and taking photos and heavily discussing all aspects of her form, a nice docent dude walked over and asked if we had any questions. You may remember this about me, but I LOVE docents, and I ALWAYS have questions.

So when the docent walked over, I was all excited to ask him the question that the kids and I had been debating amongst ourselves. You see Sue's tail?

Sue's tail has some interesting similarities to the edmontosaurus tail. Just last month, we were in the Children's Museum of Indianapolis Fossil Prep Lab, prepping specimens of neural spine (that bone above the tail) and chevron (that bone underneath the tail). So both edmontosaurus annectens and tyrannosaurus rex have those bones. But what about the actual vertebrae? One of the paleontologists at the Children's Museum took us back into the warehouse to see a cast of a complete edmontosaurus skeleton, so we could view the neural spines and chevrons where they belong, but neither the kids nor I could remember if the edmontosaurus also had vertebrae in its tail with that horizontal bone sticking out. Could the docent tell us what the name was of that bone in Sue's tail, and possibly explain if the tail structure of all dinosaurs was similar, or if there were interesting differences between dinosaur species?

The docent stared at me, blinking occasionally, as I explained my question, then waited politely to make sure I'd finished and wasn't merely pausing for breath before setting off again, then paused while deliberating his answer, then finally said, "Ma'am, I cannot answer that question."


Fortunately, he then asked ME some questions (about the mummified dinosaur that's on display at the Children's Museum--I love that dinosaur mummy!), and we eventually parted as friends, although I saw him still standing near Sue a couple of hours later when we again passed through the lobby, and I am 100% positive that he saw us and immediately turned his back and pretended that we weren't there.

Our admission to the Field Museum was free, on account of our local science museum, the Wonderlab, has reciprocal benefits there (I LOVE the ASTC Passport Program!), but I also bought us admission to the Field Museum's temporary exhibit on Vikings. One of my (too many) emphases in grad school was Old Norse, so I have a tediously detailed knowledge of and acutely nerdy interest in the Vikings.

Random story: As I was purchasing our admission tickets, the cashier asked how many tickets to the Viking exhibit I wanted. I looked over at the kids to make sure that there was no random adult standing with us and pretending to be my co-parent, and then said, "Um, three?"

The cashier, sensing my confusion, explained, "Well, some people only buy tickets for themselves, not their kids."

"What do they do with their kids while they're in the exhibit?"

She shrugged. "Leave them outside, I guess."

If I'd left my kids outside, I would have NO ONE to nerdily point out runes to!

And at one point, as Syd and I were looking at little figurines, I saw an image of Freyja, and happily pointed at her and exclaimed to Syd, "Look, it's Freyja! Remember when I told you about Freyja? She's the one with the cat-skin gloves!" Syd obediently looked at it and nodded in a vaguely interested way, but the couple standing just on our other side edged away from me uncomfortably.

And Friends, this exhibit had TEXTILE specimens!!!!

Insert contented sigh.

Oh, and this is super cool:

It's excavated from a boat burial. I don't remember if the boat was burned or only buried, but either way, the wood, of course, had long decomposed by the time it was discovered, and only the rivets were left. So for this display, the curator hung the rivets from fishing line, exactly as they would be placed in the real boat!

See, it's both 3D and boat-shaped!

Coolest. Exhibit. Ever.

I also really like the Field Museum because, even though many of its exhibits are updated and quite modern, many are exactly the same as they were when the museum was first founded:

Old-school to the extreme. Will, especially, LOVES it:

This kid could walk around this museum all day, looking at every single thing in every single case and reading every single accompanying caption:

This one, on the other hand...

The Field Museum has a cool app that we played with--you scan a QR code at the exhibit, and you can see even MORE detailed information about it on your phone!

I knew we wouldn't be able to cover the entire museum in one day, so I had the kids take turns choosing galleries--we'd explore that gallery, and when we found ourselves back in the lobby, it was another kid's turn. 

Syd's first choice (after my turn--Vikings--and Will's turn--Mammals of Asia) was an updated exhibit on evolution. It began with the Big Bang, and you followed the history of the universe, then the earth, through the exhibit, passing various Extinction Level Events and seeing cool things and, partway through, finding your way into the dinosaur gallery! 

Oh, Happy Land.

Immediately after this photo was taken, I sat back down on the bench just behind me to better admire the Daspletosaurus there (this specimen used to be misidentified as an Albertasaurus!!!). A dude walked up, point and shoot camera in hand, snapped a photo of the dinosaur, then turned to me and said, "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is!" I heartily exclaimed.

"I wonder if you'd like this book?" Random Dude then asked. "It offers another point of view."

And then, my friends, you are not going to freaking believe it, but RANDOM DUDE PULLED A RELIGIOUS TRACT OUT OF HIS SHIRT POCKET AND TRIED TO HAND IT TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'd instinctively reached my hand out when he offered, but as soon as I got a glimpse of what he was offering I snatched my hand back to my chest, then realized that I was being rude, so I smiled a SUPER crazy I Am Not Freaking Out AND Yet Am Totally Freaking Out smile, said, "Oh, no thank you," as nicely as I could, and began to giggle out of horror and embarrassment.

Dude left the dinosaur gallery immediately after this, because avoiding the crazy lady is more important than spreading the gospel.

Seriously, though--could he have made a poorer choice than to approach ME?!? I cannot have looked in any way like his target demographic, fangirling over the dinosaur bones like the biggest nerdy nerd who had ever nerded. My religious conversion in the dinosaur gallery of the evolution exhibit at the science museum... that's just a non-starter.

Okay, though, but Friends, this moment, when I was handed and ALMOST TOUCHED an anti-evolution religious tract, this moment has seared into my brain so clearly that I can clearly picture that tract.

And if I can picture it, I can research it.

And, Friends, I freaking FOUND it. For your reading pleasure/horror, I offer to you the link to the complete anti-evolution, incomprehensible religious tract entitled Big Daddy?

Suffer through it, and then rest yourself back in the arms of this welcoming, wonderful dinosaur:

Seriously, have you hugged a parasaurolophus today?

Check it out--Base Ten blocks!

Oh, and this--a ritual burial dating from the Pleistocene Epoch:

And our good friend, the mammoth:

By closing time, we were all super punchy and basically just crazed with informative overstimulation. Witness: 

Will was SO excited to see a life-sized model of a shaduf that she ran to find me, tugged me over, and then basically just beamed and pointed until I recognized it, as well. 
By the time we were ready to go, we were so dead-tired that when Will discovered that the large gift shop downstairs didn't stock the gummy dinosaurs that she'd wanted to buy from the "Sue Store" upstairs but I'd put her off because I didn't want to carry them around all day, she decided that she didn't want to walk back upstairs and go buy them.

Imagine. Too tired for gummy dinosaurs!

I conceded that in the future, we could purchase the crap that the children want to purchase in the gift shop of their origin as they encounter them, although I'm not going to be the one carrying that crap around all day. And I guess I know what to buy her for her birthday now!


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