Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where I Drove This Weekend

Yes, another weekend spent driving around the area.  Also, much sitting on uncomfortable seats.

Saturday morning I took Thalia to the Muny Teen auditions.  She'd never auditioned for the Muny before, and wanted to see what it's like.  They run a pretty nice audition -- keep things relatively on schedule, try to be upbeat about the kids' efforts. She expected to be rejected, which was okay because our Sunday schedule was pretty packed and I didn't want to have to mess around with callbacks Sunday morning (I mean, you want your kid to do well, but it's easier if you can just skip some of this stuff, you know? Plus I'd already spent 2 hours on a metal folding chair while waiting for her to get through this, and was really DONE with hanging around Orthwein.).  But, much to our surprise, she got a callback.  They hand them out right there at the end of the audition.

Anyway, we zipped out of there, stopped by the house, she changed, grabbed a sandwich to eat in the car, then off to ballet.  We took Annabeth along so that after ballet (and the really awful bench you sit on for an hour THERE) we could drop her off in Maryland Heights for a rehearsal of Annie.  Which we didn't have to stick around for, thankfully (the chairs in that place are really horrible).

So, after picking her back up a couple of hours later, we all crashed and spent the evening watching Dr. Who episodes.

Although I then woke up in the night and recalled that we'd meant to find out Thalia's blood type by the meeting Sunday (we were supposed to fill it out on the paperwork for the trip she's taking over spring break, and Sunday was the final meeting, so it seemed likely we'd be asked).  Also, sudden visions of relatives wanting to come to visit if Thalia made it into a Muny show because they'd want to see her perform on the big stage.  Ack.

Anyway, up early, and a crash course in how to use an Eldoncard.  By the time we left for the callback we'd bloodied up her finger and she'd burned her tongue on hot tea.  Yay, us!  Then zipped off back to the Muny, although this time we knew precisely where we were going (if you ever do this, they have it all marked with big yellow signs).

Much hanging around, this time sitting on the floor.  Many kids totally pumped up on adrenaline, much really LOUD laughter and giddiness.  About 2 hours later Thalia was dismissed, having not made it through the next round (also, if you ever do this, they did the callback like they do for the adult chorus -- first you dance, then if they like you they have you dance something else or else sing, and gradually winnow it down that way -- Thalia's singing had brought her that far, so she wasn't really surprised to be dismissed).  Various kids were breaking into tears at that point -- good lord, this was so much more low key than, say,  Oireachtas, that it didn't seem like worth getting upset about.  Thalia just said she probably needed more dance lessons.  I was just relieved it was all over  (other people were stuck there for HOURS) so we could hop back in the car and zoom to church -- we'd missed all the services, but got there in time for the meeting about the mission trip, which was a required meeting.

(Other Oireachtas vs. audition notes:  You audition in front of 3 judges who are seated behind a table.  And you have a number pinned on your front during the audition.  Thalia was peeved that she couldn't figure out how to pin the number on her outfit with the safety pin INSIDE the clothing, since Miss Mary would've been horrified to see that pin hanging out there for all the world to see.  Anyway, same old routine as Irish Dance, to a great extent.)

Anyway, we went to the  meeting (best chairs of the weekend), then back home to eat lunch and change.  Back to church for Thalia's choir rehearsal, stopping to get gas, having gone through about 3/4 a tank thus far in the past 2 days.  Take  Annabeth to her choir rehearsal next, picking up Thalia early so she could come home and work on Physics.  Pick up Annabeth.  Decide that ice cream would make an appropriate supper.  Run various other errands, like returning overdue library material we'd forgotten about in all the mayhem of the past couple of days.

And now back to regular life.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Finished Object Friday

A couple of things recently finished around here:

February Lace Scarf in one skein of Lorna's Laces Shepherd's Sport.  I think the color is Cranberry.

I bought 3 skeins of the yarn years ago to make socks for the kids, which I never got around to doing.  And since I wanted a red scarf, I decided to use it for this.  It was a fairly quick, easy knit; it was hanging around on the needle, awaiting a bind off, for about a month.  I finally got around to it this week, gave the scarf a quick block, and will now probably put it away until next December, which is when I have my red scarf yearnings.

Vogue 8731 in a cotton knit I'd purchased in 1994 to make a maternity dress while pregnant with Thalia.
That's a gold light switch behind my shoulder, if you wondered.

I made a lot of maternity clothes, but the dress never materialized.  Oh well.  I bought the pattern on sale for $3.99, and at this point I'm counting the fabric as "free".  I also made the pants from a Sandra Betzina pattern, but they're just sort of generic knit pants that are a bit too long since I was trying out the pattern for the first time.

We're also working on a pile of aprons for Annie.  But, of course, that's actually a work in progress.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Co-op Science Week 21

Inquiry in Action chapter 4 -- Dissolving Solids and Liquids (we'll get to gases next week)

Activity 1 is to simply dissolve sugar and food coloring in water and in vegetable oil.  I did this as a class demo -- had some of the kids do it while everyone watched.  Then we discussed how we define dissolving.

Rick thought I should also talk about emulsions by mixing oil and water together.  I thought this might be confusing (I mean, there's a reason the ACS didn't include it in this chapter, right?) but then I decided what the heck -- I dumped some water plus food coloring in a bottle, followed by some vegetable oil.  Shook the whole thing up while talking about it, babbling away about emulsifiers, how lecithin in egg yolk acts as an emulsifier and hence we can make mayonnaise, blah blah blah .  The kids were FASCINATED.  They acted like they'd never seen this sort of thing before.  I kept asking, "Haven't you ever made salad dressing?"  They demanded we pass around the bottle so they could look at it.  I put in a couple of drops of Dawn dish detergent to show how it would change our mixture -- again, they acted like they'd never seen anything like this before.  All in all, a very eye-opening experience for me.

Next we made colored sugar.  I had them pair up, and handed out ziplocks with pre-measured tablespoons of sugar.  The adults went around the class and put a drop of food coloring in the bag, which the kids then shook up (I had tried this at home to make sure it worked).  Bonus math lesson -- how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?  Three!  Each pair then got 3 plastic cups already labelled for oil, water, and alcohol, plus popsicle sticks (purchased at the Dollar Store, by the way).  Adults measured out the liquids, and we also helped them measure the teaspoonfuls of colored sugar into each cup.  The latter was done mostly to speed things up since we didn't have enough teaspoons for every pair to have their own.

Next we skipped ahead to activity 4, dissolving liquids in water.  Again the kids worked in pairs, and were handed 3 plastic cups which had already been marked for oil, alcohol, and corn syrup.  The kids filled the cups partway with water (we have access to pitchers which we can fill at sinks).  Adults handed out small Dixie cups with the required alcohol, oil, and corn syrup (note: when measuring out the corn syrup it helps if you put a bit of oil on the tablespoon first).

The kids were amazingly intrigued by this activity.  One boy who typically has very little attention span was excited by the way the alcohol dissolved in the water -- "It looks like veins!"  Last week we had combined drops of alcohol and water, then discussed that the refraction rates caused the jiggly effect, so it was interesting that he was so excited about this.  The BIG news, though, was what happens when you put a tablespoon of oil in a cup of water.  It sinks to the bottom, then bounces back up ... then coalesced into a giant blob of oil on the top ... which you could sort of blop around by squeezing the cup.  It was as though no one had ever sat around playing with oil and water before (when my kids were little I put oil and colored water in old plastic water bottles and let them play with it -- either these kids never did that, or they were so bored by not having much to look at in the classroom that they really paid attention for the first time).

I had taken coffee filters, washable markers, and Sharpies for a follow-up activity, planning to show how you can make designs depending on whether you use water or alcohol to dissolve the markers (you can also do faux tie-dye with Sharpies and alcohol on cotton tshirts).  But we ran out of time, so I just mentioned it as a possible follow up at home.

Overall, I thought this was a sort of blah lesson.  But the kids worked well together on it, so it was good from that standpoint.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weekend Type Things No One Cares About

Every once in a while I wander across an old blog post and think, "Wow, I'd forgotten all about that!" Hence posts like this that are just filled with bullet points of stuff we've been up to, which probably no one much cares about but me and maybe some family members.

In various past weekends:

Thalia helped out at Winter Jam 2012 as a volunteer.  Winter Jam is a Christian rock concert.  Tickets are only $10, but they're not sold in advance, so people line up hours ahead of time at the venue.  As a volunteer Thalia got in for free; more importantly, since she was guaranteed to get in she didn't have to show up at 2pm and hang around in the cold for several hours.  She had fun, saw a lot of people do a lot of stupid things (although theoretically less so than at a non-Christian concert, although people were still trying to steal things from the booths), got a free tshirt (not stolen), met one of the bands, and got home really really late.  And also managed to avoid making any really nasty comments about Joy 99FM, even when presented with the opportunity.

The next morning we had to be at church extra early so she could sing in 2 choirs at 3 services.

Thalia also went to SLUH's Sno Ball at Windows of Washington.  And got home really late, followed by having to get up early to sing at 2 services at church.

Last weekend her choir was supposed to sing, but it got cancelled.  Which made sense, since she wasn't out late anywhere, so, you know, why bother getting up early and singing.

My main occupation for several weekends seems to have been driving all over the county -- eg, pick up kid from overnight stay in the Eureka area, then go to Ballpark Hilton downtown (who has more bling and crazy costumes -- Irish dancers or mardi gras parade attendees?  Looked like an even match to me), stop by Ballwin, then over to U. City.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

We meant to go to Pattonville's winter musical (Music Man) but pretty much ran out of steam.

We did make it to SLUH's winter musical, Where's Charley.  Believe it or not, I remember seeing the play  years and years and YEARS ago, although the only thing I remembered about it was the bit about "Brazil ... where the nuts are from."  For the most part, it was awesome.  Joseph Schulte nailed it when he picked out this musical for these kids. It helps that he had a talented group as his core, although I'm sure he's brought out the best in them by developing them over the years. Since SLUH is all male they import females for roles, and the girl playing Kitty was also very talented. There were parts I would've left on the cutting room floor, so to speak (a vocal solo that was ear numbingly long and grating, a dance number that was  low energy), and there were casting decisions that made us say, "Hmmm...??" But overall, a fun time.

We've also been hooking the laptop into the television so we can watch shows off of Amazon prime and Hulu -- Star Trek, Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  A wealth of hokey-ness.  A tribute to the STEM aspirations of our culture back in the 60s and 70s (what happened to that, by the way?).

Okay, that's all I remember doing.  But that doesn't mean that's all that happened.  Who knows.  The rest is already lost in my memory.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day From the Gang

Annabeth's Girl Scout troop had a Secret Sis Valentine's swap.  They were to send anonymous cards/notes to their Secret Sis, and then present them with a small gift (under $5) at the Valentine's party.  Annabeth opted to make a Yoda from the set of Lucy Ravenscar's amigurumi patterns we have.  The recipient is quite the Star Wars fan, and has been taking photos of Yoda in various scenes.  He's shown here at our house propped against salt and pepper shakers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Some of the books I've read over the past few weeks:

Stay 40  by Richard Lippman. I read this on the Kindle, which costs the same as the ebook.  Maybe it would've seemed less jumbled if I'd read it in paper -- that way I could've flipped the pages back and forth to see whether he was being as inconsistent as I supposed.  I could've gotten the BIG picture, so to speak.  As it was, I found myself pondering that the author was bragging about his sharp mind while displaying obvious need for an editor to get his rambling writing under control.  Please, if you want to impress me with your intelligence, stop babbling.

Actually, the guy did have some really good points.  After reading the book I started taking some supplements, and I do feel more energetic and more focussed.  I think my skin's improved, too.  But he has some ideas I disagreed with, things that left me rolling my eyes.  His fascination with hormones reminded me of the adage "he that is good with a hammer thinks everything is a nail".

As far as figuring out which supplements to take, it was a matter of sorting through his various recommendations.  At one point he would strongly recommend X, Y, and Z; at another point he would find A, B, and C as the most important.  Gah.

Your Skin, Younger by Alan Logan, et al.  I had started reading this about a year ago, and wandered off in boredom.  After finishing Stay 40, though, I picked it back up.  Hey, it talks about pretty much the exact same supplements!  Which makes sense, since things that help you be healthier as you age will help your skin look better as it, too, becomes healthier. The tone of the book is a lot more gee-whilikers than Stay 40 -- it seems more targeted to those who like to read books about beauty (well, duh, they've targeted a particular audience).  Enough science info to assure you that they're not making this stuff up as they go along.  And, blessedly, the authors don't go on and on about the wonders of taking hormones.

My Life As a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland.  I'm not big on zombie lit, but who could resist a title like that?  And it turned out to be plenty of zombie fun.  The author claims that there are no defined zombie traits in literature, unlike, say, vampires (which are NOT sparkly creatures, thankyouverymuch).  I've no clue.  Perhaps this would offend some zombie-sensabilities.  The language will offend those who don't care to read white-trash-speak.

It appears to be the beginning of a series, but works well as a stand alone.

Wool by Hugh Howey.  Okay, that link is to the initial short story entitled Wool.  There are currently 5 stories/books.  I got the Omnibus of all 5 as a free checkout on Kindle for Amazon Prime.

The initial short story is ... amazing.  So is the second story, but in a different way.  And so on and so forth.  The final, fifth, novel-length story is a bit more along the lines of a movie or television show -- I wasn't so surprised by the structure of it.

Let me tell you what's REALLY amazing -- this guy is self-publishing these.  And they absolutely do NOT read like typical self-published books.  I read a decent amount of freebies and cheapy ebooks and Kindle books that are self-published, and usually you can tell that they didn't pass through the hands of an editor, let alone a copy editor.  At best, they read a bit like really good fanfic -- the story hangs together well, but the characters are somehow flat.  Often you can really "see" the author behind the story -- the personality of the author (and his/her conceits) overshadows the personality of his/her characters.  For the most part, I read them, then pretty much instantly forget them.  They're not worth holding in memory.  A lot like fanfic, which I also read piles of.

But Wool is different.  It's going to be a phenomenon.  If you read it NOW, you'll be in on the ground floor.  And when every one's talking about it some time in the future, you'll just nod knowingly, since you first read it soon after it came out.  You'll be THAT COOL.

If you only read one book on this list, make it Wool.  It's that good.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Co-op Science Week 20

Continuing Chapter 3 of Inquiry in Action

This week we tried Using Color to See How Liquids Combine, and Using the Combining Test to Identify Unknown Liquids.  I thought theses were pretty fun experiments when I did them at home beforehand.

To combine the liquids in an orderly fashion, I printed out the templates provided onto cardstock.  The directions suggest laminating them or putting them in a plastic bag.  I don't own a laminator, but was fairly certain the plastic bag concept would drive me nuts because the plastic would slip around the cardstock.  I considered using wide clear packing tape, which I'm pretty sure would work well to stick over the parts of the template that need to be waterproof.  But I found some Xyron Glossy Laminate Sheets  (which are sort of like 9 inch by 12 inch sheets of transparent Contact paper) at JoAnn, and used my 40-percent-off coupon on that.  You can also laminate at a place like FedEx/Kinko's, although that would've cost more than what I spent on my Xyron sheets.

After that, it was a matter of mixing up the appropriate batches of detergent water, salt water, isopropyl alcohol, and plain water with some food coloring.  I put these in my little Solo condiment containers (purchased last week at Walmart), and used my eyedroppers from last week.

The idea of the experiment is that you eyedropper blue-colored water onto one circle on the template, then eyedropper yellow liquid onto the other circle nearby.  A toothpick is used to "herd" the one drop towards the other.  Once they touch, you observe what happens.

And let me tell you, I found what happened amazingly cool.  Okay, the water and detergent water weren't all that amazing -- I could picture what was going to happen.  But the  yellow salt water plus  blue water?  They suddenly smacked together like neodymium magnets, forming a green droplet ... but that droplet had a funky striated appearance when you looked from the side.  So I used the eyedropper to gently suck the top off the drop ... and SUCKED THE BLUE RIGHT OFF THE DROP!  Yes, the plain water stays on top, and doesn't actually mix with the salt water (Rick, Mr. ChemE, found this an exciting proof of the strength of the bond between NaCL and H2O; I just thought it was a cool thing to mess with, like a magic trick).

Then the blue water plus the yellow alcohol met ... and started to shimmer and shake like green jello.  Very cool.  That has to do with the refraction of the light passing through the air vs. water vs. alcohol, a concept we covered last semester during our physics portion of class.

So, to do this in a co-op class, here are some tips:

First of all, it really really helps to have an adult (or older student) per group of kids.  This is tricky business -- they're having to eyedropper liquids onto circles (and keep paper towels nearby so if they mess up they can just wipe off the laminated cards and start over) and then gently move the drops together without actually using the toothpicks to stir the 2 liquids (which sometimes happened by accident).  Also, not to be sexist, but a lot of time girls this age have steadier fine motor skills than boys, so it's nice to have mixed groups.

I transported all of my liquids to the class via old plastic water bottles, which I labelled with Sharpie.  You'll need enough for knowns and unknowns.  We just capped up the condiment containers and threw them in the trash when we were done.  I wonder if I should've taken them home to wash out -- we might need more of them for later experiments.

We instructed the kids to lay their eyedroppers on paper towels when not in use.  For the most part they managed to do this, which cut down on some of the spills.

And, yes, you'll need 9 eyedroppers or pipettes per group do conduct these 2 experiments.

Some of the kids caught on to the value of replicating experiments -- it was really cool to see them working these things out.  They're learning a lot about how science is "done" by working through this curriculum.  Overall, some of the kids are absolutely loving this, and others don't seem to be terribly engaged; I'm pretty sure this is normal.

The 2 experiments took about 45 to 50 minutes of our hour long class.  The groups work at amazingly different rates, with varying amounts of arguing about how they should proceed and who gets to do what.  In the future I'm going to have some other related demos or activities to fill in the rest of the time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Co-op Science Week 19

Chapter 3 of Inquiry in Action

We started class by taking a look at the polarity of water.  I had them tell me the chemical formula (H2O) so we could continue to review the names of atoms.  I drew a picture of the molecule on the board, then had everyone gather in a tight group in the middle of the room (a couple of kids weren't comfortable with being in a big group like this, so they simply watched).  I explained that everyone's right hand was positive and everyone's left hand was negative; all of our right hands wanted to touch everyone else's left hands, and vice versa.  That was my simple explanation of surface tension -- the water all wants to stay together that way (homeschool kids often don't get a chance to do group things like this, having to rely on imagination).  Now, if we all moved over to the wall and decided we all wanted our hands to touch the wall as much as we wanted them to touch each other, that would be like water soaking into paper.  And if someone gave us a bunch of red and blue balls, and we all wanted a red ball in our left hand and a blue ball in our right hand, that would be like dissolving NaCl in water (plus, bonus, we would be so involved with the red and blue balls that if we were next to the wall we wouldn't be quite so interested in touching it with our hands).

Then we started the Look-Alike Liquids activities.  We divided the class into 3 groups -- 4 students, 4 students, and 5 students (1 girl was home sick).  I had an extra adult helper, so that was really handy.  We passed out the labelled eyedroppers.  Each group needed a total of 5 eyedroppers for the day's experiments.  WHERE TO FIND THAT MANY EYEDROPPERS:  Our co-op had 10 eyedroppers already.  Discount School Supply has them fairly cheap online, although you'll have to pay shipping.  Dick Blick also has a decent price, but again, you'll have to pay shipping (annoyingly enough, the local brick-and-mortar store doesn't stock them).   You can also get pipettes from and use Prime shipping, if you have that (I haven't tried these pipettes yet, but I have a dozen for next week).  Also, Walmart has 2-packs for $1.37 in the pharmacy department, although the Walmart I went to only had one package.

Also, the Inquiry in Action suggested using little disposable condiment containers to put the liquids in.  I found Diamond brand "Multi-purpose mini cups", 50 cups plus lids,  in the plastic cup aisle of Walmart near the Dixie cups. These are essentially the same thing; this saved me having to go to some sort of fast food place and taking a boatload of their condiment containers.  It occurred to me that little foil petit four papers (like you'd use for mini-cupcakes or somesuch) might work.

The Inquiry in Action directions suggested taping these to the table to prevent spills.  I didn't do this.  Wow, TAKE TOWELS ALONG!  Really, we had spills all over the place!  And it wasn't just a matter of knocking over the containers -- some of the kids really weren't that great with how to drop liquid a single drop at a time out of an eyedropper, and therefore were squirting an entire dropper full onto the paper and all over the table.  I had wondered about that, especially with some of the younger boys -- it's something that's worked on in the Montessori classroom at a much younger age, but I had a suspicion that some of these kids had never had the experience.  Even the ones with coordination seemed fairly clueless about how much liquid they needed to suck up in the dropper ("I need more alcohol!", "No you don't -- you only need 1 drop, and you have about 1/4 teaspoon in that cup, which is gobs-a-plenty").  There was also a tendency to set the eyedropper in the cup, leaning it against the side, often flipping the entire thing over.

So, anyway, I'd been mentally (and physically) prepared for the chaos of having liquids go all over.  And I was therefor able to stay pretty calm when the chaos developed.  Also, let me say it again -- having 3 adults to help with 3 groups of students was SO GOOD.  High school age students would also make great helpers.

A bonus was that by having more adults working with the kids we were able to direct the kids to write more on their lab sheets, and have more small group discussion with them.

I had only prepared to do 2 of the activities within the hour-long class -- Look-alike Liquids, and Developing Tests.  By the time we cleaned up everything we had about 10 minutes left of class, so we headed outside to take advantage of the gorgeous weather (60F in January!).  Next week we'll try combining liquids during the 3rd and 4th activities.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some Goings On

In Shepherd's Life Science they've reached the botany unit.  Hence, the ever popular experiment where you put a white flower in colored water, and wait for it to turn a different color.

Annabeth's flower is just starting to show the first couple of streaks of the new color.

Cadette Girl Scouts are having their Valentine's Day party this week.  I bought a little kit for making Valentine's from Target, and also some conversation hearts, and asked Annabeth which she'd rather give out.  She opted to combine them.  She had a lot of fun with the kit, which was mostly craft foam.

And I'm working on Butterick 5559, the Maggy London dress that everyone's either purchased as a knockoff at Dress Barn or else sewn their own version.  It's been pretty fun so far.  I still need to make the tucks at the waist, then sew up the sides and put in the sleeves.  Right now it reminds me of Cardassians, but that's probably because we've been watching a lot of Star Trek reruns lately.

Mostly we've been enjoying the weather -- opening windows, doing yard work, even firing up the grill.