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.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fifteen Photos of Fifteen Chickens

The human population of our home is now so well outnumbered as to leave no doubt about who/what is in charge, with the long-anticipated arrival of Will's chicks. You might recall that this is Will's own project--she proposed the idea and received permission, picked out exactly which breeds of which sexes from which hatchery she wanted to order (I am not personally comfortable with ordering chicks by mail, but I am not my child, alas), and is the final authority on their care (I wanted to start letting the chicks outside in our small coop, for instance, but was overruled--"The care sheet says four weeks," she decided). She has a lot of help, of course, especially in these early days, but there's plenty of time later to negotiate our roles and benefits as primary investors when her egg business gets going.

For now, however, we have thirteen (you may remember that we ordered fifteen chicks--our order was shorted by one, and one died the day after they arrived. This was super sad, but also a relief to the adult human population, as we needed seventeen chickens even less than we need fifteen chickens) beautiful, sweet, funny babies to adore.

Knowing us as you do, you will not be surprised to learn that we have spent the past week doing "chick portraits" every day. I have a truly shocking number of photographs of our chicks, and I am going to insist on showing you every single photo, on account of I am besotted by these babies, but in order to not stretch your patience too far, I'll confine myself to fifteen photos per post, in honor of our total flock number (can't forget our Fluffball and Arrow, now can we?). I'll also try to give you their names, although to be honest, only the kids can really tell them all apart, and I'm pretty sure that sometimes they're just making that up:
I'd like you to meet Featherbutt. 

This is Hermione. 

Here is Dan Quayle.

And this is Marshmallow.

I believe that this is Spot.

And here is Sun.

That's a few of our chicks. There are many more to come.

Why, you might ask, did I permit my child to buy thirteen more chickens, when there are only four people in our family? That is a fair question, Friends. Matt and I don't want fifteen chickens. Frankly, if these thirteen are as friendly and tame as the first two, I don't know how we're going to manage so much as walking unmolested in our yard, much less backing out of the driveway (I already have to station a kid outside the garage when I back out, to keep clueless chickens and carefree cats from wandering behind my wheels).

Seriously, fair questions all. And yet, the answer is also an easy one.

Why, you might ask? This is why:

The look on that kid's face? That kid who usually finds it such a struggle to get outside her own head, to let her tender heart show? That look is worth a lot more than just fifteen chickens.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Barbie Fashion Photography

One of Syd's grandmas gave her new Barbie dolls and clothes for her birthday--just take a moment and visualize my child's glee at that gift. Now multiply it by a power of ten, and you've got it about right.

Syd loves dressing up her Barbies, loves making clothes for them, loves having fashion shows for them in all their outfits, so I suggested fashion photography as something else that she might like. Would she like to try it?

She would.

We only did a couple of photos, because I wanted to look at them on the computer and see what I needed to change about the set-up before I let her loose to do all that she wanted, but here's what she shot:

Yeah, I think this activity is a winner.

I'll share a tute another time, when I set it up again for Syd to use, but the basic set-up is a big sheet of paper for the backdrop, something unobtrusive for the Barbie to lean against, and a REALLY low tripod already set up so that the kid doesn't have to do a lot of camera fiddling to get her perfect shot. I actually don't have a tripod that goes so low, so I used a couple of cinder blocks, which wasn't totally ideal since it wouldn't hold the camera at an angle, but it clearly worked. 

Next time, I can also guide Syd into thinking about poses, and the difference that it makes when your subject is looking at you vs. looking away. It'll be a nice little hands-on photography unit, don't you think?

And maybe I'll do this one, myself!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Secret Bookmarks: A World of Girls Take Action Project

One of my favorite things about Girl Scout badges is that the badge books always encourage the girls to use what they've learned to perform service. They're asked to think about how they can use their new skills and knowledge to do something for younger scouts, their schools, their communities, or the larger world. I love that emphasis on helping others with your own unique talents and skill set, love how it's integrated into everything that the children achieve.

It's an elegant and effective way to raise good, strong women.

Some of these service projects can be quite large--my two built a bookshelf and held a book drive for a local food pantry last year, and my troop has some big plans for a big moviemaking project with our local animal shelter later this year--but not all of them have to be epic. The badge books emphasize that even small acts of service count.

Syd's small act of service for her recently-completed World of Girls Journey was the creation of "secret bookmarks;" she handmade several bookmarks and sneaked them into library books. Here they are:

Syd's reasoning for this Take Action Project was that 1) children would really like to discover special, homemade bookmarks in books that they were reading; 2) having bookmarks of their own would encourage children to read more; and 3) having bookmarks of their own would encourage children to use them, thus keeping the library books in better repair.

For what it's worth, I think she's right on the money on all counts.

This project was also a great opportunity to have a brief discussion about archivally-safe materials and techniques--I'm finally getting some use out of my Master's of Library Science degree! When you're shopping for your own archivally-safe materials, look for the terms "acid-free" or "archival quality;" that will ensure that if a bookmark does happen to stay in the same spot in a book for, say, twenty years, it won't stain or pit the pages that it touches.

Syd didn't create many bookmarks, but the ones that she did create were thoughtfully designed and painstakingly drawn:
That one on the middle right is a zombie. To my knowledge, my child has never been exposed to any media containing a zombie. I *may* often speak about zombies, however...
I love the positive messages that she put in some of her bookmarks! I also need to reinforce "you're" vs. "your," clearly. 
... and capitalization at the beginning of a sentence. I'm impressed that she spelled "piece" correctly, however!
The book reads, "Once upon a time ther was a child who read a book whith these words "Once upon a time ther was a child."
After the kids get back from camp, we'll be having a bit of a "badge boot camp" instead of school for a few days, as at the beginning of the year they had picked out some specific badges that they had the goal of earning before they both Bridge to the next level, AND I bought those badges for them. Our Bridging Ceremony is early next month, but when your mother spends money on you as part of your goal, then you WILL reach that goal!


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