Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I Made My Kid a Shirt

Does anyone actually like making muslins?

Not me! It's a freaking waste of fabric, that's for sure, although fine, I get even more pissed if I sew something and it doesn't fit correctly, especially because it would have fitted perfectly if I'd JUST SEWN A FREAKING MUSLIN FIRST.

I compromise with myself in that, when I DO sew a muslin, I try to make it something that will be wearable in its own right, if it works, but out of fabric that I won't be sorry to repurpose or turn into dishrags if it doesn't work. It's even fun, because I'll make fabric choices that I wouldn't normally make, such as the time that I sewed this muslin for Syd out of mismatched stash fabrics that she loved but that I didn't care for and probably wouldn't use in garments of my own design.

How do I end up with stash fabric that I don't love? I cave to kids in fabric stores, that's how.

I've made two recent "muslins that aren't really," both for Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment for this year. One was this basic upcycled jean skirt--

It's sewn from a pair of jeans that fit Syd well in the waist but that were too short and had holes in the knees, to boot--mending the knees of kid-sized skinny jeans is a nightmare repair job! The front piece is stash flannel, the blue dotted bias tape is the last scrap leftover from this hooded towel, and since it wasn't quite long enough for the entire circumference I made two matching pieces of bias tape from the pink flannel to piece it out to fit. See? A little too mismatched for my taste, but the kid likes it just fine.

--which I'm just now realizing the kid tricked me into making shorter than I'd like her skirts to be, but which also let me test out the construction method and desired look for the denim/formalwear fabric skirt that I'm entering in the show.

The other muslin is for a shirt that I'll also sew out of formalwear, but from stretch fabrics that allowed me to substitute jersey knit for the muslin. This turned into a shirt that I really love:

Why yes, I AM using the crap out of that "Think Spring" backdrop for as long as the drive-in owners keep it up. Fun fact: the other night, while I distracted the kids, Matt had to sneak over there in the dark and fix it back, because we came home from fencing and ballet to find that some hooligans had changed it to "Thick Pricks." And THEN about five minutes after Matt had gone out, I saw the lights from a police car RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR HOUSE! I was about to tear outside and run over to inform the cops that Matt was FIXING IT, DAMMIT, but just then he came back in and said that he'd just finished, and the lights were just a police car pulling over a speeder. Whew!
 I really love the hood that I drafted, and the light blue/black color combo. The black fabric is stash jersey knit of indeterminate origin, and the blue fabric is from the backs of two matching Girl Scout camp T-shirts from a few years ago. I didn't think of the idea before I'd already tossed a couple of outgrown Girl Scout T-shirts, but now I'm saving them all for a couple of someday quilts.

The sleeves of this pattern were too short--see? So glad that I sewed a muslin!--and I was sewing late at night while Matt was finishing up a Girl Scout cookie booth with the kids and I managed to sew the ribbing on one cuff inside out. I just sewed the second cuff to match.

I altered the pattern piece of the sleeves to lengthen them after this, but then it turns out that the formal blouse that I'm using for part of the shirt in Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment doesn't have enough material for full-length sleeves, anyway, so that shirt will actually have half-length sleeves.

Oh, well. I like this pattern well enough that I'm sure I'll make a few more. You can't have too many long-sleeved hooded T-shirts!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Twenty Years of To-Do Lists

I was cleaning the other day (I know--big shocker!), and I found many random things. For instance, why did I move house with my entire cloth diaper stash, four years after my last baby toilet trained?

It's all on ebay now, although I probably would have made a lot more off of those diapers if I'd sold them when they weren't "vintage."

I found my wedding album, which I'd been looking everywhere for since I moved. What happened to its cover, however? No idea. I guess that now I get to design a new one!

I recycled several previous generations of instruction manuals for cameras and sewing machines that I no longer have.

I found my mending queue, stuffed into a box and moved to our new house and then put onto a shelf in the back closet. It was actually hard to look at that little stack of little pants with torn knees and little shirts with ripped seams--how did I ever have children so tiny? If you sew, then one day, while your children are still small, I want you to simply whisk away your entire mending queue--yes, the whole thing!--and put it into a time capsule. Look at it again when you and your kids share a shoe size. It will make you cry.

I also found a bunch of old notebooks, and when I flipped through them, I found a bunch of old notes! I don't know why I kept all of my college notebooks, from undergrad and grad school, but I'm pretty stoked to have them now. It turns out that I used to have way better handwriting than I have now, but I didn't start to take all of my class notes in outline format until grad school. I don't think I organized my notes at all as an undergrad!

It turns out, though, that I always wrote to-do lists, and lots of them. I don't remember when I bought my first planner, but it possibly wasn't until I had kids who had extracurriculars that had to be organized. Before that, they showed up in all of my school notebooks, all over all of the pages. Here's my to-write list of topics for the Opinion column that I used to write for my undergrad newspaper, The TCU Daily Skiff:


The other Opinion writers and I measured our success by how many Letters to the Editor were received in response to us. If you REALLY hit a nerve, sometimes a reader would send a personal letter directly to you, as well, or even find out your phone number and call you directly. I got a phone call once from the Student Health Center when I wrote that they should offer the morning after pill. I received a letter, like a genuine, in-the-mail, postage stamped LETTER once, in response to I don't remember what article, but I do remember that the writer was a very devoutly Christian woman who took deep offense to something sacrilegious that I'd written. It actually could have been the same column that pissed off the Student Health Center, as a matter of fact. Anyway, this writer made her points with different colors of inks, and stickers, and a lot of underlining and circling important phrases. Interestingly, my second job (I generally had three to four at any given time to pad out my scholarship) was in the special collections library, and I did a lot of work with the Marguerite Oswald collection. She was convinced that her son had been framed for assassinating Kennedy, and her papers consisted of her fruitless research into that topic, as well as all of the mail she received, both fan mail and hate mail. Many letters of both types were from crazy people. Many of them made their points with different colors of inks, and stickers, and a lot of underlining and circling important phrases.

I was THRILLED to receive my first crazy-person hate mail! I am sure that I still have it somewhere. Perhaps I'll find it the next time I clean...

These next couple of to-do lists make me the happiest, though. The first is from the summer that I had Will. It's clear that I was in serious nesting mode! I mean, washing the windows? I have washed the windows of this current house exactly once. This task listed below, if I ever got around to it, was probably the only time I washed windows in that house:

And this one, with a date of just days before I gave premature birth to Syd, I'm sure did not get completed:

I thought I had another six weeks to bust through that independent study project!

Here's what my to-do lists look like these days: 

All those cookie booths! 

I tend to put all my bits and bobs of notes in my planner these days, whether it's my percentages for making cookie orders, or my plans for sewing Syd's fashion show garment, or lesson plans for future school units or Girl Scout badges, or even, clearly, a bit of old-fashioned math.

I also keep these planners. I don't know if anyone will ever care about them, beyond me--I certainly don't expect to have my papers in a special collections library one day!--but I do like to look through them and reminisce. Looking at my schedule of taking little ones to gymnastics, or Creative Movement, or Montessori Family Night, is a reminder of how fleeting the inconveniences of their childhood are, as fleeting as the pleasures. Seeing something to do with Pappa or Mac written down as casual as you please is a reminder to appreciate my loved ones. Whole weeks blocked off remind me of our great vacations.

Although those to-do lists with things that never got marked through still make me kind of tense to look at...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Crafty Book Review: Once Upon a Piece of Paper

Although for most of the year Matt gives the children art lessons as part of our weekend time together, the early part of the year is NOT conducive to this--this morning, for example, he took Syd to ballet, then while she's there he's going to swing by the Girl Scout office and pick up another 900+ Girl Scout cookies, then go pick up Syd and take her straight to a cookie booth with another girl at the mall for two hours, then come home for two hours, then take both kids over to the next town over for a three-hour cookie booth, then drive home, get home around 10 pm, and put the kids straight to bed because we have another cookie booth at 10 am tomorrow. Meanwhile, Will is having some leisure time this morning before joining everyone for this evening's booth, and I am going to write this blog post and then spend the next twelve hours sewing Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment. And then I'm going to figure out the wattage of a strand of Christmas lights so I can do the math to calculate how many batteries I'll need to run them (don't let me forget to adjust for an 80% efficiency rate) so Syd can wear them as part of her garment. And then I'm gonna go make that happen.

You can see that we're a tad too busy this month for a leisurely afternoon of art instruction, so I've been intentionally incorporating experiential art lessons, the kind that are more focused on creativity than technique, into our school weeks. We've been getting an especial amount of use out of Once Upon a Piece of Paper, which I was given for free by a publicist. It doesn't intimidate Will, since it doesn't focus on drawing by hand (which she wrongly thinks that she's bad at), and it offers the scope for imagination that inspires Syd to go all-out in the crazy-detailed way that she enjoys.

We've made some of the projects more elaborate than the book asks for them to be, simply because they're so fun. This project, for instance, was simply meant to be a quick pass across three or so surfaces, to teach us that groupings often look very nice--

--but I pulled out some small canvases that I purchased at some time or other, and then we somehow all got really invested in our work. Instead of one quick swath of paint, Syd layered and overlapped and added many, many, MANY swaths--

--and that treasure trove of National Geographics that we scored at the public library's last book sale came in very handy, indeed:


 I made my nice little group composition--

--but the kids both really ran with the process and ended up with some super cool results:



We got so invested in doing the project our own way that we completely forgot to even peek into the pad of collage paper that comes with the book. Both kids remembered it for the ice cream project, though:

The project was mostly about making interesting and unusual paper combinations, and seeing how surprisingly well they tend to work together (using ice cream cones for this is pretty brilliant, because it turns out that EVERYTHING looks cute as an ice cream cone!), but Syd added an entire narrative to hers, and those awesome collage people?

She has never made anything like that before! I really love the woman at the top--Syd wants the red piece to be hair, but I think it looks exactly like a scarf. Syd also doesn't think that the blue figure at the bottom looks like a robot at ALL, but I do, and it cracks me up that there's a robot just casually downing some ice cream with all the other folks.

Considering that my goal for each art lesson is for Will to feel comfortable and confident being creative, and for Syd to learn a new skill or technique, I'd have to say that we didn't do too shabbily even without our Husband/Father Artist-in-Residence to guide us!

Friday, February 17, 2017

We're the Cotton Ball Fireball Fail Army

Only eleven more days left in February, and I haven't cracked yet! I've got 12 hours of cookie booths this weekend, with transportation and cookie stock micro-managed only slightly imperfectly; I have the muslins made for Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment, and all of the reclaimed fabrics ready to cut out and sew, AND a plan for the wearable twinkle lights; the kids are happily working their way through the last readings in the National Mythology Exam bibliography, with the understanding that they'll need to re-read them before the Tuesday test, AND I should have a lesson on test-taking strategies before then; school is otherwise progressing smoothly, even though I've given up our other units for the time being to focus on the NME, Science Fair, and the kids' regular daily work, AND even though their computer has been malfunctioning again and we've all been sharing my laptop for all of our various projects, meaning that sometimes I get left messages like this--



--both kids know exactly what they want to do for Thursday's Science Fair, and Syd even has her presentation written, AND Will has made the spare plaster of Paris volcano and the rocket candy fuses and should be ready for her first experiments tonight.

You'd never look at Will's Science Fair topics and think that she was anything but *that* kind of homeschooled kid. Last year's Exothermic Reactions was just a cover for learning about explosions, and led to us making a bunch of homemade smoke bombs of varying non-success. She again was given free reign this year, leading her to come up with the topic of Fire Volcano.

She wants to build a plaster of Paris volcano, then fill it with a variety of flammable materials, from the usual to the unusual, then burn them and see what happens.

See? That's SUCH a homeschooled kid topic. But so what? It's not following the Scientific Method, exactly, but I've always thought that's forced too early, and that it takes the fun out of a lot of experiential learning. But what her topic IS is self-selected, and it interests her. It's made her enthusiastic about planning, and goal setting, and hand-building, and researching, and she's willing to write a presentation and build a display. These are activities that my kid is normally not enthusiastic about. She's also learning chemistry and physics, building her STEM skills and her practical life skills, and its made learning into an exciting adventure.

Shouldn't learning always be an exciting adventure?

I should tell you, though, that my Secret Mom Goal is to gently focus her presentation on Flammable Materials (that just happen to be tested in a Fire Volcano), with comparisons between the reactions of different materials to the same fuse, and recommendations about to properly store and dispose of flammable materials. Perhaps even a bit about first aid for burns? Maybe the formulas for some of the chemical reactions? We'll see...

Lofty goals aside, Will's first foray into research led her to the following discovery: "Mom, nail polish remover is highly flammable! Also, look at this video!"

The video stars a tween--who clearly, based on his nervous glances out of the room, should NOT be doing what he's doing--making a cotton ball fireball using nail polish remover and a lighter, and gently tossing it from hand to hand.

My Mom Response should have probably been horror and disapproval. Instead, without even looking away from the video, I shouted "SYD!!! Do you have any nail polish remover?!?"

Reader, she did. And I had cotton balls. We also had a lighter.

In other words, we were all set!

Well, except that it turns out that Will is more chicken than the chickens:



Fine. I'm more chicken than the chickens, too! Our demonstration quickly devolved into... ridiculousness. Just ridiculousness:



Thank goodness for Matt!

Will is bummed that we can't actually do live performances of any of her Fire Volcano experiments in the meeting room of the public library during the Science Fair, so even though the nail polish remover's real demonstration is going to be done tonight, on the driveway, inside the plaster of Paris volcano, I've told her that we might be able to swing taking some families outside the library onto the sidewalk and maybe demonstrating the cotton ball fireball there.

Of course, she'll have to actually be able to bring herself to actually do it by then...

Monday, February 13, 2017

Coloring Book Review: Draw and Color Your Way to a Younger Brain

From the title, I'd say that Draw and Color Your Way to a Younger Brain (which I received for free from a publicist), is meant for older folks, but it turns out that artsy little tweens also like it quite a lot.

This is now Syd's special coloring book, and she's obsessed with it. She doesn't even have to play by our usual house rule of photocopying what you want to color from the coloring book first, then coloring the copy--it's that important to her to color the originals, just as they are in the book.

The book is a lot like the kid-centric doodle books that Syd also loves, but with more detailed and less silly prompts. It has a lot of "finish this picture" prompts, but also ones that invite you to continue adding detail to an embellished picture, ones that invite you to draw the mirror image of a picture, and ones that ask you to color in the detailed images that adult coloring books are made of.

Here are some of Syd's most recent creations:
finish this picture


adult coloring

mirror drawing

and some more adult coloring that Syd clearly found VERY inspiring!

That last one, in particular, is so pretty that I think that I'm going to frame it for her room.

We've got a Spring Break road trip coming up in a month (and yes, I am counting down the days to it!), so part of my to-do list for the week includes hiding this book from Syd, so that when I whip it out at the start of our trip she'll still have plenty of pages to work on. This, and Junior Ranger books, and audiobooks, and travel Scrabble and Blokus should hopefully keep us entertained!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Homeschool Math: Archimedes and the Method of Exhaustion

With The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way as our spine, the kids and I have been working through a very interesting and hands-on history of math and science. We're using the Student's Quest Guide as a starting point for the hands-on activities, and then I add to them or supplement as needed.

That's exactly what we did with this activity on Archimedes, in which the kids were meant to model his method of approximating pi by calculating the perimeters of inscribed and circumscribed regular polygons for a circle.

Note: The Student's Quest Guide attributes the method of exhaustion to Aristotle, but that's a typo. It was Archimedes.

The Quest Guide had the kids working large-scale, with rope and a meter stick. We chose to also use a tape measure and a protractor triangle.

First the kids drew a large circle on the driveway, exactly the way they did for our sound measurement activity (but with chalk, not stomping in the snow), then drew its diameter, then measured a 90-degree angle from that diameter--

--then used that information to circumscribe a square:


To inscribe a square, you can use the diameters that you've already drawn, or, if you want your inscribed square to line up nicely, you can draw the diagonals of the circumscribed square. Find the points where those lines meet the perimeter of the triangle, and make those the vertices of your inscribed square:



To model Archimedes' method of approximating pi, measure the perimeter of both the circumscribed and inscribed squares and average them, and then divide that by the circle's diameter:

That answer is okay, but it's not terribly accurate, is it?

Want to make it more accurate? Use a regular polygon with more sides!

It got a little crazy trying to do this out on the driveway with chalk and a tape measure, so we moved this activity indoors.

For this, you need a compass, protractor, ruler, and plenty of paper.

We repeated the exercise for inscribing and circumscribing a square, and I let the kids eyeball the circumscribed figures, rather than drawing a diameter to cross the middle and then measuring 90 degrees from it:

The measurements were okay, but not a good approximation of pi.

So we inscribed and circumscribed hexagons instead!

To inscribe a hexagon, draw your diameter, then measure 60 and 120 degrees and draw diameters at those angles.

To circumscribe a hexagon, add diameters drawn at 30 and 150 degrees:
I didn't give the children those instructions, and Syd LOATHED having to use trial-and-error. You can see she's got a few incorrect tries on paper there. Eventually, I told her the degree measurements, but Will was able to complete the task independently.
 Even though my circumscribed hexagon is somehow a little wonky, you can see that I got an approximation of 3.1--that's pretty darn good!

Will tried circumscribing and inscribing an octagon, but the answer wasn't anymore accurate, likely because more lines just means more places for human error. She was VERY impressed when I told her that Archimedes had used a 96-sided figure to make these calculations!

If you can visualize that 96-sided figure, you can see how the more sides you have, the more the figure resembles a circle. 

And that's how you can use a much, much, much more time-consuming method to calculate pi!

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Water Cycle at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Although it's been a while since we've been able to volunteer in the Paleo Lab, due to Victor's long illness and passing, I keep on the lookout for one-shot volunteer opportunities with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, and as a whole it's been a rewarding strategy, as it encourages us to do things, primarily involving working with the young visitors, that we don't generally do in the Paleo Lab.

On this particular day, we were going to volunteer at the museum's After School Night, a special event just for children in various non-profit school-age programs around the city, and for the neighborhood's children (one of the best things about the Children's Museum is the deliberate interest that it takes in improving the quality of life of those who live in the surrounding neighborhood, an area of clear economic disparity compared to the rest of the city).

But of course if we're going to be in the museum anyway, we might as well go early to play!

And of course our first stop in the museum isn't even the museum proper, but the branch of the public library that lives in the museum:

How many other public libraries do YOU know that live inside a museum?

You might remember that we're doing a fast and loose meteorology unit currently, which means that we've been reviewing the water cycle. Remember our cloud in a jar demonstration?

It was just a happy coincidence, then, that most of our museum play happened to be related to that unit. First, as much as the kids miss the giant construction area that used to be in the old ScienceWorks exhibit, they LOVE the new, expansive water table, and they especially love it when they have it all to themselves!


Then, we timed it just right so that we were able to pop into a lesson in the SciencePort. These are always fun, but on this day, the theme was the water cycle, and the scientist had us play probably the funnest water cycle game that's ever been played (Incredible Journey, here). I especially loved this game because it dug into more than just the basics of the water cycle, covering how water is lodged in glaciers, in plants, in animals, in aquifers, etc.

The kids especially loved this game because it involved beads!

Okay, I especially loved this part, too, as you can tell when you see my own water cycle bracelet there at the bottom of the image. Every station had a different color of bead, and a die. You collected the bead for your station, then rolled the die to see where your water went next. At the end of the game, then, you had a record of everywhere your water had been. The die were loaded so that your water naturally went more often to the places where water more often is, so it was a surprisingly sophisticated model of the water cycle.

And yes, we did eventually get around to doing our actual volunteering:

By yet another happy coincidence, Dinosphere was the gallery of choice for After School Night, and we took over the perfect table for us, that of demonstrating and practicing with real paleontology tools. Well... the tools weren't *exactly* real, as you can't give small children clam shuckers and machetes and x-acto knives and Paleobond, but the experience was surprisingly close, and we were able to tell the children lots of additional details that we know from our experience at the dino dig. My favorite trick was to say, "Raise your hand if you've ever glued yourself to a fossil!" Will, Syd, and I would raise our hands, and all the children at our table would go "Wow!" and "Cool!" and "Awesome!" and such.

It was fun.

I always forget how stressful this month is until it sneaks up on me and smacks me on the head, so I'm always worried that the rigorous education that I try to stuff into my kids' brains suffers during this month, as I have more of my attention on the intricacies of Girl Scout cookie booth scheduling and Syd's Trashion/Refashion Show garment than on our weekly work plans. Days like this, however, reassure me. We didn't do math or grammar or review Greek and Roman deities, but we did listen to two hours of Al Capone Shines My Shoes, do some reading, review the water cycle, practice our pedagogy and people skills, and perform some service.

And I was home in time that night to rearrange cookie booth schedules, run the percentages for a Cookie Cupboard order, prepare a bank deposit to our troop account, and fall into bed with pizza, wine, a movie, and a heartburn pill.

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