Thursday, May 21, 2015

Plugging Along

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE:  Lookie what we've spied growing in a big pot in our back 'yard.' A sunflower! Actually, we have half a dozen of them, already, still struggling to shake their shells!  It seems like it was only a week or so ago Annabelle pushed the seeds into the potting soil.  

It's hard to believe this sprout will be six feet tall before long. We planted it from a seed harvested from last year's sunflower forest.

DOWNWARD DRAGON:  Don't know what you were doing at 4:37 this morning, but we were standing on our deck, watching and waiting for an International Space Station flyover.  

Normally, we view ISS flyovers during more sleeper friendly hours, but today's flyover was special.  We knew that a little after 4 a.m. our time, the SpaceX Dragon capsule was going to be released from the ISS.  We were hoping to see Dragon trailing the ISS during the flyover.

When I awoke, I was happy to see clear skies, but worried about how bright it was already. Dragon is so small (compared to the ISS), I was afraid we wouldn't be able to see it (we being just Christian and me - I wanted to let the kids sleep since they had testing this morning).

When the ISS appeared overhead, I thought I could see a faint dot off its port side.  Christian saw it, too. At other times, it almost looked like an extra bump on the ISS.  Mission accomplished, we spied the Dragon!

Just a few hours later, the capsule splashed down, in the Pacific Ocean, about 150 miles southwest of Los Angeles. 
On board is over 3,100 pounds of scientific materials, including research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect the aging process and bone health.

Dragon also brought samples for the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. The investigation is important to help determine how to mitigate the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, the most common cells in bone, during long-duration space missions. 

At the present, Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. That makes it a rather valuable asset to the U.S. space program, doesn't it?

SHOTS FIRED: We continued our 'shot of confidence' tradition today in preparation for the hours-long test the kids had to take.

This morning's poison? Er, I mean, inspiration? Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast.
CJ, whose head had clearly not seen a brush yet, drank it right down.
Annabelle drank it, too, with a tad less enthusiasm.  "It's ... awful," she declared.  The thumbs up is for having finished it, not a product endorsement. 
Their "Smarter Balanced" state test today was on reading.  Tomorrow is the final test - another math go-round.  

We'll sure be glad when this week's over. This going-to-school-every-day-stuff is cramping our style. ;)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Try a Papaya

PRETTY PRODUCE:  Our march of the new (to us) produce month continues. Recently, we cut into a papaya for the first time. Tangerine and pink - so beautiful!

We're getting a bit better at trying out new fruit. For instance, this go round, we thought to read online what a ripe papaya looks like. Turns out, the one we bought a week-plus ago was absolutely not ripe.

So, we put it in a brown paper bag for a couple of days and waited. The dark green turned more golden, and it developed what looked like bruises in a couple spots (which is actually a sign of ripening).

Annabelle read instructions about how to cut it aloud. First, you slice off the top. 
 Next, you cut it lengthwise.
Boy were we surprised when we found these inside! They looked like little eggs. They're papaya seeds, of course.  We read up on whether or not they're edible. They are - but they are bitter, tasting almost like pepper. Some save them, dry them, and ground them up.

One source said you're supposed to eat a couple of them for good luck, so we did.
"Instant regret!!!" shouted CJ, running for the sink. (I didn't think they were that bad at all.)

We cut the rest of the skin off it, sliced it into spears, and ate some. More of it went in our smoothies this morning. It had a very mild taste - almost like a melon meets a peach.

CHECKMATE:  After multiple fits and starts on what should have been a simple project, I'm calling it (our custom Seahawks chess table) done. 

It started as a wood-toned freebie table from a neighbor. We sanded and sanded it, painted it Seattle gray, gridded it out, painted the Seahawks' blue and green for squares, and found enough cards to stage a Seahawks v. Packers match up. The hardest part ended up what should have been the easiest part - just putting a coat of clear acrylic on the top. For whatever reason, the first two times I did that with two different products it was a DISASTER, and back to the drawing board. Ugh. 
Now, we're going to donate it to a local school to be auctioned off for a fund raiser.
I hope the school makes a little money from it. 

TESTING, PART DEW:  Today was the second of four days of state mandated academic testing. The kids each had a reading test today that involved them writing a passage with several paragraphs.

I was rather surprised (and not in the good way) when Annabelle came shooting out of the testing HQ after just about 45 minutes.  I asked her how many paragraphs she wrote, and she said four. In that amount of time, given the other questions and all the reading she had to do, let me just say I can guarantee you it wasn't her best work. That, and the instructions had said to write SEVERAL paragraphs. That's not just a couple. In fact, it's more than a few.  And she had at least four adults in the know (including me, her dad, her teacher, her brother the teacher and another teacher), tell her this weekend that several usually means around seven. It's definitely not four short ones.  So, let's hope this morning's lackluster effort is eclipsed by her three other tests.  Here was today's token pre-test motivation - a little shot of "Baja Blast."  
Maybe tomorrow she gets more. Or less. 

MORNING LAUNCH:  A little after 8 this morning, we watched (via the United Launch Alliance Web site), the launch of an Atlas V rocket. It was carrying a number of noteworthy items, including the Air Force Space Command 5 (AFSPC-5) satellite, some Cubesats, and the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (or mini space shuttle, which flies top secret, robotic-driven missions for the military).  

Also on Board: The Planetary Society's LightSail-A.  LightSail™ is a citizen-funded project.  The small spacecraft has a large, reflective sail measuring 32 square meters (344 square feet). This test flight is in preparation for a second, full-fledged solar sailing demonstration in 2016.

LightSail's sail uses the sun’s energy as a method of propulsion—flight by light.  As the Planetary Society Web site explains, "Light is made of packets of energy called photons. While photons have no mass, a photon traveling as a packet of light has energy and momentum."  There is lots more to be learned on The Planetary Society's site:

After its sail is deployed, you can try to track LightSail in the sky (dawn and dusk are the best times) via this Web site:

COMING HOME:  Early this morning (at 4:04 a.m., Seattle time), the SpaceX Dragon capsule will depart the International Space Station, headed for a splash down in the Pacific Ocean, and the end of a successful mission.  Dragon will be carrying some 3,100 pounds of research samples and equipment.  This capsule is the one Christian watched launch live, in person from Cape Canaveral, so you know we'll be watching its return to Earth, as well.

    Photo: NASA/ISS - ISS043E193779 (05/14/2015)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


TIP TOP: Blue skies made for a sparkling Space Needle this afternoon.  We headed to Pacific Science Center to see the traveling "Pompeii" exhibit, on its last U.S. stop before the artifacts are returned home to Italy.

It's a timed entrance event, so while we were waiting for our turn to enter, the kids rolled around a 4,000 pound ball of granite, all by themselves.
At 3 p.m. we entered the exhibit. This gentleman - or gentlemen, as it turns out - was one of the first to greet us.
Interestingly enough, when you looked closely at the statue, a work in marble believed to have been made between 27 B.C. and 68 A.D., you see that the head was an add on. So apparently the original body lost its head and some early Roman emperor lost his body. Overall, it's a beautiful sculpture nonetheless. 

Nearby was another gorgeous marble head. This one body-less.
We saw furniture, garden statuary, jewelry, housewares, ancient frescoes ... all unearthed in the years after Pompeii was rediscovered by explorers in 1748. 

As Pompeii was excavated, it turned out, ironically, that the volcanic ash had acted as a preservative. Much of the city appeared almost exactly as it had on that fateful day 2,000 years before. Buildings were intact, everyday objects were plentiful, right down to food in the cupboards in some cases.
Annabelle and I decided these gladiator shin guards would not be so great for a modern day soccer player.
I quickly quit taking pictures so I could just wander and look at the collection. 

I did take a couple more at the very end, however, when the casts of humans frozen forever in time by the of the mammoth volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D., that smothered and buried the busy seaport in more than 12 feet of material. 
Pompeii:  An entire city, gone, in an afternoon, with no warning and no way to escape.  

Not exactly an uplifting experience today, but it was certainly interesting and educational.

ROCKIN': While driving to and from Winco in Kent this morning, we listened to all the Week 3 lectures in our geology class, The Dynamic Earth: A Course for Educators.  Lots of plate tectonics in today's talks.  Afterward, we aced this week's test. The kids need to get busy on their research papers for the class, though. They're due this weekend. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

To the Test

A SHOT OF CONFIDENCE:  It's going to be a weird week for us. We have to be, gasp, CONFORMISTS. The kids are taking the state mandated reading and math tests in order to be in compliance with The Law.  We're normally non conformists, but I'm OK with being normal at least one week out of the year. ;)

We did what we could to get ready. We took the practice tests online, more than once. We reviewed test taking skills and talked about what The People are seeking out of test takers. 

Right before today's tests, I had the kids each take a shot of confidence (in the form of Mountain Dew). 
Post test, they both reported feeling confident about their experiences today. CJ said he thought three things helped him:  The practice, the two shots of Dew Shine and his lucky shirt. When pressed further, he said he thought practice helped him most. :)

CONSTRUCT: This weekend had fits and bursts of decent weather. During one of those fits, I suggested the kids take a Nanoblock kit they've had forever up to the rooftop deck and work it out.

And so, they did.  Isn't it lovely?

CAN YOU DIG IT?  We're continuing our exploring-produce month. This weekend's introductions included turnip.  Gorgeous, isn't it?
I made a pot roast in the crockpot with lots o' remnants of our experiments this month. Funny, when all was said and done, I couldn't taste the difference between turnip, parsnip, and daikon. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Future Friday

TIME TO START PACKING?: Today, Elon Musk's SpaceX made a trio of retro-riffic styled travel-to-Mars posters available.  

We love their look, not to mention their message.  The one above features the highest peak (three times higher than Everest) in our solar system. 

And how nice of the SpaceX folks to replease them under a Creative Commons  license so people (like me) can share them!

Another poster features Mars' moons. 
Many, including Buzz Aldrin, think Phobos would be a good spot to colonize before actually settling on the Red Planet. 

The third poster features the canyon running along Mars' middle. Three miles deep, it was likely created by water which coursed over Mars' surface eons ago.
The posters remind me of a series of space-y posters on display at Kennedy Space Center, including these two I photographed during my visit there for the Mars Science Laboratory launch.

RED & GREEN:  Our new-to-us produce of the day was going to be a red banana. We bought a couple last night, and this afternoon the kids did the Google to find out how to eat them. Articles they read said they could be peeled and eaten just like a yellow banana, and that they were ripe when they're dark red.

We *thought* our bananas were red enough, but maybe we were comparing them to yellow bananas. ...
But ... I think we were wrong.
Very wrong.

The kids couldn't even peel them, and so they cut them open with knives. When they finally extracted a bite, it was Bitter Banana Face time. Oops.

So, green red bananas are not our new favorite produce.

TESTING, CONTINUED:  We're still plugging away at the available practice tests for the standardized, state mandated tests the kids have to take next week. Today, the test they took was another reading-writing related endeavor.

I'll let you have a look at one of CJ's questions and his answer. 
(Sorry the examples above and below are so small. The test wouldn't let us copy and paste text, so it was a print screen process and this was the best we could do.  If you click on the text/image, it will open larger, in another window.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Adventures and Answers

WAYBACK MACHINE:  Five years ago today, we were on the Causeway in Cape Canaveral, watching space shuttle Atlantis blast off for a resupply mission to the International Space Station. 

It was our first and last shuttle launch, as only three more missions flew after the one we saw.  So glad we got to see it when we did. It was a picture perfect launch, taking off right on time, lucky us. 

ADVENTURE TIME:  We're still working away on our May-ke a change campaign, which includes embracing new produce daily.

Yesterday, baby artichokes entered the picture. The sunglasses are for scale. 
Annabelle found me a (Martha Stewart-endorsed) recipe, and we cooked 'em up. 

It wasn't bad, but it turns out they are NOT our new favorite food. A lot of work for little reward, really. That, and I think our babies were a bit past prime. That probably didn't help.

Today's experiment was plantains. Truth be told, the kids have had these before, deep fried from a food truck. Those tostones were delicious, of course. But we'd never bought and prepared plantains ourselves, so we figured it counted as new-to-us.

I didn't fee like heating up a bunch of oil, so we found an oven baked alternative
They cooked up OK (except for a minor smoke alarm incident), but they looked so dry and starchy, so I whipped up a dipping paste of all natural peanut butter, honey and some no sugar apricot spread. That made things better!
MORE PRACTICE:  Our (pretty much last minute) effort to (kinda sorta) be ready for the state's mandatory annual standardized test continues. Today, the kids took the "ELA" test. I don't even know what "ELA" stands for - presumably something 'language arts.'

It wasn't the worst test I've ever seen, but it sure wasn't the best. The scoring is interesting (you miss any part of a multi-part question and the whole thing is worth ZERO),  and some of the 'right' answers were DEFINITELY up for debate, IMHO. 

Oh well. It was, in fact, good practice at test taking - figuring out what the author of the test is looking for, which, in some cases, is not what seems like the real world right answer. ... 

Here's a link to the test Annabelle (grade 4) took, if you're interested:

And here's what CJ endured:

INQUIRING MINDS:  So, we went to the Mariners' game last night. Yes, again. (We're taking full advantage of those $1 Kids Club tickets, I tell you!)
It was our third game in four days, and we'd already seen them win twice this week. The third time wasn't a charm, but it was still lots of fun. And we were part of solving a 'mystery' at the ballpark.

We didn't go to our ticketed seats. Instead, we sat at a picnic table on a landing in right center.  We noticed that behind us, under the right center bleachers, definitely off the beaten path, there was some steel-frame construction going on.  We'd noticed it a couple of times before this week, and it seemed to be taking shape fast, but we had no idea what was being built. The obvious answers seemed like another beer stand, or a team merchandise stand, but it was in a low-traffic area, so that also seemed a little odd.

At one point, one of the Safeco 'teal coats' (seat attendants, traffic directors, etc.), came up and sat at the picnic table next to us.  We couldn't help but bother him during his break to ask him what was being built behind us.  He looked at it, pulled out his stadium guide, apparently flipping to the 'what's new at the park' part, and said he hadn't a clue, but that he was now very curious himself and that he'd find out.

The gentleman went back down to his work station (by the Dave Niehaus statue), and from our perch over it, you could see the thing escalate. He asked nearby coworkers, who apparently hadn't any idea.  Then reinforcements were called in. They didn't know either. He called up to us on the landing to let us know he was still working it. About a half hour later, a NON teal coat (this guy's coat was kind of cranberry) arrived on the scene, and there was a briefing. 

Then Cranberry Coat came up to the landing.  Christian was making a concession stand run, so it was just me and the kids. The man said to me, "So, are you with the National Enquirer? Inquiring minds want to know?"  

I told him we are just curious people and were wondering if another Coors Light stand was about to grace Safeco Field (ha ha).  The manager reported that, in fact, it was something quite different - a state of the art golf-related feature.

About that time another gentleman showed up to the landing to answer my question.  Turns out he is Safeco Field's head engineer(!).  He went into great detail about what would be there:  An immersive, high tech gold experience with a rounded screen and software that allows visitors to play the 18th hole at Augusta or you-name-it legendary courses.  The station will feature Nike merchandise, and people will even be able to be expertly fitted for clubs there. The feature is being fast-tracked, and is expected to open in early June, just ahead of the US Open tournament south of town. 

So there you have it.  

The best part of this story is that the Teal Coat who was on the landing with us and who was like a dog with a bone getting us the answer is 84 years old. He started working at Safeco last year, as an 83-year old rookie!  The manager told us he was voted MVP last year. How awesome is that?

Of course, we made it a point to stop and thank him for his efforts our way out. 

And Mr. Cranberry Coat (gosh, I wish I'd gotten his name) actually thanked us for asking, because now he and his team had that information. 

THAT, my friends, is good customer service. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


A PECK OF PEPPERS:  Our gardening efforts continue. Our kitchen counter top is currently home to four different kinds of peppers. We're happy to report, our ghost chiles and Carolina Reapers have finally sprouted. They join some colorful bell peppers and the coveted Trinidad Moruga Scorpions in our little forest. 

PRACTICE:  This morning, we started off with some practice math tests for the standardized "Smarter Balanced" test the kids will have to take for FOUR days next week. 

CJ took the grade 6 "Math Practice Test," while Annabelle did the grade 4 version. Here are links to the questions and answers, if you're curious about the content:
Grade 4:
Grade 6:

They also worked their way through the "Math Performance Task" test
Annabelle's was just one, multi-part problem (here, if you care to look:

And the sixth grade level one is here:

It's a good thing we practiced. CJ has a habit of doing most of his math in his head, which is great as it's a time saver on straightforward problems. However, if you're working a multi-faceted problem with multiple problems to solve and you don't write down graphs and steps-along-the-way solutions, things can go really sideways.  So that was a good lesson, and I hope he'll put lessons learned into practice when he takes the actual test.

GOD LIKE:  We continue to work our way through "The Rise of Superheroes and their Impact on Pop Culture," and edX course from the Smithsonian.  

Today's lectures and reading involved the topic of comic book superheroes' links to long ago mythology. For instance, today's Flash was the Roman god Mercury of long ago, and Aquaman has roots in Poseidon.

For the class' final project, we will have to create our own super hero.  To that end, we were pointed to two resources for inspiration. One is a list of mythologies on Wikipedia.  (Boy is that long and extensive.)  We were also introduced to this really cool Web site,  The site's mythology encyclopedia features nearly four thousand "weird and wonderful Gods, Supreme Beings, Demons, Spirits and Fabulous Beasts from all over the world."

The kids are I decided we were interested in creating a superhero who is somewhat science based, so we searched for anything having to do with science. That produced a list of five gods for us to consider. They were St. Albert the Great, a Christian saint who is the patron saint of scientists (including chemists and physicists); Jehovah, a Middle-Eastern deity; Oannes, Greek, a sea god of art and science; Thoth, an Egyptian god of art, science, astronomy and literature, and Bagadjimbiri, Aboriginal Australian deity.

Reading elsewhere that Bagadjimbir (twins, actually) are mad scientists and genetic engineers, we have tentatively decided to go with them as inspiration for our superhero. 

As part of this week's homework, we were supposed to find an image of our superhero's inspiration. Oddly, there aren't any ones that seem legit that we could find in a half hour or so of poking around. The best we could do was settle on a cool old painting of a pair of dingoes. (Bagadjimbir first came to Earth as a pair of dingoes, so the story goes.)
Dingo" - Louis Agassiz Fuertes

National Geographic, P.202, March 1919

Now, we have to devise an alter ego and backstory for our superhero. We need to choose what super powers the posses and consider how they reflect conflicts in today's world. Naturally, we need a foil or villain, as well.  Sounds like some super fun homework, no?

TUESDAY NIGHT LIGHTS:  Yesterday afternoon, for no compelling reason, I started semi-obsessing about going to the Mariners game.  The Ms didn't have their ace on the mound, there was no special bobblehead or other giveaway, the weather wasn't great, the opponent was not a real rival (the Padres, not even in the American League) ... but still, something was saying, "Go!"  

So, we took advantage of $1 tickets for the kids thanks to the Mariners' Kids Club, and Christian and I each scored cheap seats, allowing the four of us in for just under $25.
It was a sparse crowd (under 16,000), and that made it really easy to roam the concourse and check out places we don't usually get to during a 'normal' visit.
As it turned out, we were there on a history-making (well, at least tying), night.  The Mariners combined for six home runs and they pretty much decimated the Padres' pitching staff. Big fun! 

So much so, in fact, that we're going again tonight. ... For under $20 total ticket price.