Monday, April 22, 2019

Our Mini Bookshelf from The PVC Pipe Book

Check out this quick and easy project that I made on one of the first shirtsleeves weather days this spring:

It's the Mini Bookshelf from The PVC Pipe Book (which I received for free from a publicist), and it came together in the time that I should have been spending cooking a decent, nourishing dinner for my family:

I'm pretty sure that we had sandwiches for dinner that night, but whatever. I built a little bookshelf from scratch, AND I painted it!

It's meant to be the latest foray in my neverending quest to make the big table that we use as the kids' school table during the school week (and which they're SUPPOSED to clean up so that we can use it for family stuff each weekend but they never do and I'm perennially too lazy to add it to my list of things to nag them about), but I think I might like it even better in its current set-up:

We're deep into a stretch of shirtsleeves weather days--yay!--that make school outside the perfect thing to get the kids a little more enthused about book work until that stops working and I have to think of something else. We are also on high alert, as yesterday, our whole family was sitting on the couch admiring the children's Easter baskets when we heard a chicken start fussing outside. I ran to the open deck door (because shirtsleeves weather!), saw something orange tumbling with one of our Brahma hens, took another step forward and saw that it was a genuine, BBC documentary real-live FOX trying manfully to snap my sweet baby's neck while she squawked and struggled and tossed feathers everywhere.

I, too, began hollering, ran out across the deck, slipped and almost broke my dang neck, bent down to grab Syd's Crocs (that she was supposed to have brought in last night, sigh...) so that I could start throwing stuff--my second choice was going to be my cell phone--but by the time I stood back up and readied my throwing arm the fox had completely disappeared and Brahma Hen #3 was booking it back to the flock where she was supposed to be in the first place. Will, who was part of the also-hollering idiot mob who ran out behind me with no idea of what was going on but clearly ready to do some brawling, claims that she saw a streak of orange disappear back into our woods.

Brahma Hen #3 is fine, thank goodness. She's so big and fluffy that it looks like the fox didn't even break the skin, although the amount of feathers she had flying at the time had me sure that the fox was something like four chickens deep by the time I ran out there. I'd say that I hoped the whole flock learned a lesson from her experience, but I'm sitting by an open door right this second and can clearly see our little blonde and brown hen, much less fluffy and definitely much smaller, just bopping around all by herself miles from the flock but painfully near lots of great hiding places for foxes. I swear, they cause me as much worry as the kids do sometimes!

So that's how we spent the less fun part of our Easter Sunday strengthening the chicken coop, researching foxes (Matt looked up from the computer at one point and said, "This website claims that the fox has probably been watching us for days and knows our routine!" so now we've got not just regular life but a high-key stalker to think about), and trotting Luna out to "keep watch" and "guard the chickens" for us. I have no idea if she's actually capable of these tasks, since the last time a chicken died on our property SHE was the reason I had to euthanize it, but still. She's bigger than a fox, at least.

And now we can spend our school days outside, not just enjoying the lovely weather and getting some fresh air, but keeping a weather eye on the goings-on of the backyard and the fool hens who are SUPPOSED to be staying with that rooster who I tolerate even though I have to take a stick every time I walk around my own property and turn around suddenly every few feet as I walk to catch him acting like he wasn't just about to jump me from behind BECAUSE HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE PROTECTING MY SWEET BABIES FROM FOXES.

How is YOUR week going?

P.S. If you've got the PVC to make this mini bookshelf, you should also have your kids make this PVC pipe bow and arrow set and PVC pipe sword. It'll help them in their battles against the foxes, don't you know?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Homeschool Science: The Chicken Egg Osmosis Experiment

When Syd and I played with gummy bear osmosis, I wanted her to observe water passing into the gummy bear and causing it to expand.

It did. It was cool!

With this chicken egg osmosis experiment, I wanted the kids to understand that osmosis can go both ways through a semi-permeable membrane. If the more concentrated solution is inside the cell, water goes there. But if the more concentrated solution is outside the cell, then that's where the water goes.

Bring on the naked egg!

You can dissolve the shell from an egg as a simple, hands-on demonstration with little ones, as an early elementary human biology lesson (and demonstration of why we brush our teeth!), and as one of the projects in an acids/bases unit of a chemistry study--we've done all of these, so it's old news but still always fun.

And if you have sensory-seeking kids, there's nothing like the feel of a chicken egg with its shell dissolved away:

And speaking of sensory-seeking kids...

I promise that, current evidence to the contrary, she is very intelligent. Just don't try this at home, okay?


So as you've gathered, before we violated every lab safety standard and Licked the Science, we soaked the eggs in vinegar for long enough to get them nice and bloated, as osmosis equalized the water inside the egg with the water outside it. The kids' challenge was to find a solution to soak the eggs in that would cause water to migrate FROM the egg TO that solution, thus shrinking the egg and lowering its mass.

The kids weighed their eggs in grams, labeled jars and put the eggs in--

Guess whose jar belongs to Syd?
--and then went in search of a solution with the proper characteristics. Will chose canola oil (spoiler alert: it worked); although I encouraged Syd to use her notes from the gummy bear osmosis experiment to inform her choice, her first idea was baking soda dissolved into water and dyed blue. This had the opposite of the desired effect, as you can see from the fact that her egg is now blue:

It looks really cool, though! It would perhaps be a fun continuation of this project, when done with small children, to dye the water a rainbow of colors.

I stopped photographing the eggs at this point because they were soooo gross (and Will did NOT lick one again), but you'll be pleased to learn that for Syd's second try, she chose dish soap. Success!

If you've got even more time to play, you can do this similar but more academically rigorous osmosis experiment with potatoes, instead. You can also watch this neat little animated model of a cell membrane in action.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Trashion/Refashion Show 2019: Gibbon Girl

It's fun to see how Syd has grown in the nine years that she's participated in our town's Trashion/Refashion Show:

2011: Fairy Princess

2012: Rainbow Fairy

2013: Rose Dress

2014: Upside-Down Orange

2015: The Awesomes (with WILL!!!)

2016: The Phoenix (which I sewed while sick with the flu)

2017: Supergirl of the Night (the last design that I helped Syd sew)

2018: Medieval Maiden (the first garment that Syd constructed completely independently)
And that brings us to 2019: The Year of the Gibbon!

These are Syd's application pictures, and every year they suck, because February is rarely well-lit. Oh, well. You can still see that Syd's vision is a caped black tunic and leggings (upcycled from a few black tops and sweaters that we thrifted). The highlight of the garment is a pair of sleeves that Syd can make look ruched, but can also make look like this:

She used a pair of pants for those sleeves, and later altered it so that she could have a secret pass-through for her hands when they're in their super-long formation.

Syd really, really liked the idea of sleeves that drape like a bridal train, but she also intended from the beginning that they could be fully weaponized, like so:

I love seeing her have so much fun with her design. From the very beginning, Syd's garments have always been playful, and most of them embrace big, powerful movement.

Her garments are never something that you simply wear; they're something that you DO:

 Our town's Trashion/Refashion Show is happily well-situated within our busy spring every year--it's generally about a month after cookie season, and about a month before Syd's birthday party. It's nice, because as soon as we finish planning for one thing, we can move right into the next!

The day of the fashion show is the hair/makeup call, then the stage rehearsal, then cooling our heels in the house while the other acts rehearse--

--then the pizza party--

--then the fun time of squeezing into a few square inches in the overcrowded dressing rooms backstage--

--and then I go sit in the audience with the rest of the extended family, and Syd?

She shines.

Here are some cheater pics that I took during the dress rehearsal:

And here's the real show:

This year's official show photographer has been taking photos for four years now, and he also created the slideshow that played between the acts. Check out this awesome tribute that he made for all of the Trashion Kids--he made a whole slide for each kid that he'd seen come back every year, and here's Syd's!

Look at how she's grown. Syd actually HATES it when people tell her how much she's grown (it's Nutcracker-related trauma on account of they cast by height and they're always looking for the shortest kids and it sucks), but look at the kid in those photos. She has grown! Syd has always been an artist, but she's become such an able DIYer, too, confidently constructing her vision garment from top to bottom, shoes to hairstyle. Those leggings? She sewed them from a stretchy black sweater, sure, but she also did it WITHOUT A PATTERN. No template. She didn't even trace another pair of leggings! She just... started cutting, sewed them up, and boom. Perfect leggings.

Perfect leggings. Smoky eye shadow that she applied herself. A garment with sleeves fit for royalty and suitable as long-range weapons.

I absolutely can't wait to see what this kids does next.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Homeschool Science: The Gummy Bear Osmosis Experiment

Osmosis is such an important concept to understand when you're learning cell biology (see also: diffusion and active and passive transport!). Nothing about cells is going to make sense if you don't completely understand the ways that cells can communicate and exchange, you know?

The other day, looking for something--ANYTHING!!!--to engage Syd, who has been on more-or-less of a homeschool strike for a while now (middle school, amiright?!?), I hit on the idea of reviewing cell transport while playing with Syd's absolute most favorite thing in the world:

Gummy bears.

Friends, this project was a Big. Hit. Hallefreakinlujah!

So here's the scenario for gummy bear osmosis: the lipid bilayer of a cell membrane is semipermeable, so small molecules, like water, can pass through, but large molecules, and the cell's organelles, cannot. In the process of making a gummy bear, collagen is heated and then cooled, which causes it to form strong chains that act similarly to that cell membrane.

Osmosis is the process that describes the way that water wants to make solutions on both sides of a semipermeable membrane equally diluted. It's an easy way to make one of the processes of cell transport visible to the naked eye, which is why osmosis is what we mostly play with.

To demonstrate and measure osmosis in gummy bears, you need lots of gummy bears, a way to way and measure them, clean containers, and some different solutions to test. The idea is that you weigh and measure a gummy bear, put it in an interesting solution for a while, then way and measure it again to determine how much water it took in via osmosis.

The fun part is that you get to play with whatever solutions you think would be a good idea!

And Syd had plenty of good ideas!

She admitted that she knew what would happen with this one...

...and she was correct. Blech!

Syd also tested tap water--

--canola oil--

--dish soap--

--and several others, including vinegar, salt water, and water with baking soda dissolved in it:

Yeah, those are dirty dishes in the background. No, we don't wash them. I could be snotty and tell you that we do stuff like this instead, but actually we're just lazy and we'd rather read than clean. 
I did not require Syd to write her process as a formal lab procedure (we've done that before so that they know what it is, but this experiment is "just for fun," which is the lie that I told to get Syd to do science with me at all), but I did require her to write everything down, because, as I tell the kids all the time, writing everything down is what makes it into science!

However, if you want to have your kid write a formal lab procedure, or at least read one, here is a stellar write-up of a gummy bear osmosis experiment.

Syd weighed every single gummy bear by grams first, then weighed each one again after 2, 4, 6, 12, 24, and 48 hours. She also played with them, of course, because their textures get VERY interesting:

I won't tell you any of her results, because it's more fun if YOU do the project yourself, but here are some of the pretty photos that I took of her squishy gummy bear experimental subjects:

This one is my favorite. Its little face!

Yummy, right?

I won't go into it here, but Syd conducted this experiment as a prerequisite to an engineering challenge in which we dissolved the eggshells off of a couple of eggs, and then I challenged the kids to find a solution that served to remove the water FROM an egg via osmosis.

I'll show you the pics later, but it's harder than you think! Good thing that Syd took good notes about the results of her gummy bear osmosis experiment.

Or DID she?

If you're looking for a cell transport experiment with less of a time (and countertop space!) commitment, a few years ago we did this diffusion into gelatin experiment, and it was SUPER cool.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

March Favorites: Dragons and Dollhouses and What My High School Sex Ed Class Didn't Teach Me

Our February favorites are here.

Syd doesn't want to share her March reading list, but Will and I LOOOOOOOOVE to talk about what we've been reading, so it's just us two blathering on about our books this month.

Somehow our Will managed to read 35 books in 31 days. I don't even know. Once again, she was Jane Yolen's biggest fangirl. Two of Yolen's books count in her favorites:

Our girl loves herself some dragons. Here's another of her March favorites, also dragon-themed:

Will is much more likely to recommend books to me these days than I am to recommend books to her, but I'm especially pleased when I see that she's read and loved something that I, too, have read and loved. I think I was in graduate school when I first started the His Dark Materials series, and I remember it gutting me. Will is only one book in so far, but she reports that it's one of her favorite March books, so I'm sure the rest are coming:

Oh, and she read this pre-Harry Potter boy wizard book! I LOVE this one!

Will says that I should read some reviews before I read this book, however, because it is, in her words, "surprisingly dark":

Here are the rest of Will's favorite books of March:

And here's some of the rest of what she read:

Not all of these were winners, of course; I'm cracking up that Will included her AP Euro textbook in her March reading log, although to be fair, she DID finish it! She also reports that Dress Codes for Small Towns "had no discernible plot, and when I finished it I didn't even know what had happened in it." Will hasn't ever really picked up the trick of dropping a book when she doesn't like it...

And that Dog Magic book Will read basically as a joke, although a few minutes ago I was laughingly reading one of the negative Amazon reviews for it to the girls, the one that criticized the book for teaching witches how to "enslave" animals as their familiars, and when Syd said, "Ooh, I'm going to go try that on Luna," Will immediately shouted, "NO! She's MY dog!"

It's never really boring around here...

I read a lot more in March than I usually do, likely because I was so happy and relaxed and relieved when I finally got done with cookie season! I read these two books that Will recommended to me--

--and oh, my goodness, I LOVED them. LOVED THEM! The kid was spot-on with what she thought I would like. I don't want to tell you too much because I don't want to spoil the books for you, but I'll just tell you that at the beginning of the first book you're going to hate the main character. Ugh, he's horrible! And you're going to hate him for a while, but by the end of the book you are not going to be able to love him more. He remains flawed, but... okay, no. I cannot tell you more. Read it yourself. Seriously. And then come talk to me about it, because I SUPER want to talk to you about it!

I noticed that Will had one of Karen Walker Thompson's books in her March log, and funnily enough, I had another one of hers in mine!

I really enjoyed this one; it was compelling, even as much of its plot revolves around waiting and ennui and futility and such--reading it, it's like you're always anticipating the next terrible thing that you're always building up to. It was so good that I didn't even really mind that the plot just sort of piddles out in the end. It was realistic that way, I guess, as realistic as a sci-fi novel about a localized pandemic can be. I mean, it's not like we had a big, climactic ending to ebola, you know?

I did read Dragon Teeth, although unlike Syd, I didn't super love it. It got me on a Michael Crichton kick, however, and I managed to read THREE of his books in March!

I first read Sphere way back before they made a movie of it, and I think the movie ruined the book for me big-time, because I had completely forgotten how good the book actually is. If you've seen the movie, try to forget it, because the book is actually good! Like, sci-fi thriller good, if you like that sort of thing. I had never read A Case of Need, and it's even better. Like, legitimately good, not just sci-fi thriller good. I really liked the voice in this one, and the matter of fact way that the main character goes about some pretty extraordinary business. It's historically interesting, too, and politically charged, especially these days.

So this book comes from an NPR story that the kids and I listened to while out and about one day. Syd immediately put her headphones on and zoned out, but Will and I were charmed and fascinated by the experts interviewed, and as soon as I got home I put Emily Nagoski's book on hold for me at the library:

You guys, it's SO GOOD! The subtitle is disingenuous, in my opinion, as I don't need to have my sex life transformed, and yet it had me riveted. Think of it more as what your sex ed class should have been like. Y'all, I thought that my sex ed class was great and super informative, and yet apparently there was SO MUCH that I never knew about my own body, just, like, biologically.

Seriously. Am I the only person who didn't already know that the HYMEN IS A LIE?!?

And the psychological stuff that she talks about would have been so helpful to know for, geez, the first half of my sexual history, at least? You can skip the self-help stuff and still get so much from this book. I'm passing it on to Will next.

Here are a couple of other random books that I read in March. I promise there's nothing else overtly sexually charged on the list!

Okay, you know I can't let you get away without telling you about our random YouTube favorites of the month. We don't have antenna or cable TV, or Netflix or Hulu, so when we sit around and watch a screen together, it's a DVD or it's YouTube.

This art restoration guy is my main obsession these days. I am absolutely fascinated at his process and all the little details involved in his work, and at the end, when he does his before/after comparison, I want to stand up and cheer. But I don't, because his other major awesome quality is that the kids think that they like his videos, too, but they nearly always put them to sleep.

Shh, don't tell them!

When it's Syd's turn to choose a video for us to watch, this woman is nearly always her go-to. It's another detailed process tutorial, so I think we have a family theme going on here:

Syd also introduced us to this guy, and we've now watched a ton of his tutorials. He's very silly, but his work is astounding--creative and unusual and very, very professional-looking:

Syd is really our YouTube expert; she knows all the best tutorial videos. She and Matt watch a lot of these digital art tutorials; she's really invested in improving her digital art lately, and even I, who barely know what I'm supposed to be looking at in the best of circumstances, can tell how much more detailed and realistic her work is looking lately:

Okay, this next one is all me and Matt. Did you know that there are a ton of YouTube videos consisting of people building weensy little dollhouses and modifying them and decorating them?


Oh, my gosh, here's another one of Syd's finds. I swear that she does more than just scroll YouTube! This series is often what she and I watch when I ask her if she wants to hang out and watch TV with me:

Let me know if there's something YOU read or watch that we should be reading or watching, too!


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