Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fast Forward

BUSY BUSY BUSY: This is not a normal week.  Saturday, son Kennedy is getting married, which means lots of special projects (movies, slide show, signs, and several dozen cupcakes).
And it means lots of errands to run. And lots of company coming to town. 

So far, we're managing to keep our heads above water. But tomorrow and the next day will be doozies.

We managed to get some schoolin' in today, in the form of math assignments (fun with protractors and angles!), science homework (studying for a skeleton test), and we continued our observation of Earth Sciences Education Week. Today, we put up a poster about Earth's evolution.  

The kids read out the history of life on our planet, and then hopped online to check out a Web site the poster pointed them to:

EarthViewer is actually an app (available on Google Play, the Apple App Store, and Amazon Apps. The app lets users explore the science of Earth's history, including atmospheric composition, biodiversity, day length and solar luminosity over time.  

While we didn't download the app yet, the kids were able to access a wealth of information via the Web site, as well. For instance, Annabelle watched videos about how newts' limbs can regenerate, and how lionfish can rapidly regrow body parts, including even part of their heart!  It looks like we could spend days/weeks/months using this site - a great discovery!

FACE OFF:  Here are a couple of captures from CJ's playing around with the Photobooth program on a computer in the Shoreline school library on Wednesday.

Hey CJ, why the long face?
And in this one, he looks like I feel ... tense in the middle and like my head's about to explode!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gem of a Day

THE BENDS:  Last Thursday, the kids started a science experiment as part of a unit we're in the midst of about skeletons/bones. The experiment involved partially submerging two wishbones in vinegar to see what happened. We checked those soaking bones for the first time today.

The kids weren't too surprised to find that the bones had softened, since they were in liquid and they know vinegar is an acid. However, they were surprised by just how flexible they had become.
Obviously, you couldn't normally do this with a wishbone!

PRECIOUS:  We continued our observance of National Earth Science Week by learning about gems today, using (wonderful!) resources the fine folks at NASA mailed us.

The kids read all the info on a big poster from the Gem Institute of America. It included info about gems' durability (the Mohs scale), rarity, beauty, gems' origins, finding gems, how they're processed, and more.

The poster referred readers to a Web site, .  Links there included working with gems, a word of the day, classroom activities, gem-related careers, the story of a gem, a gem explorer, a jewelry explorer and time machine, and a glossary. I'll let CJ and Annabelle tell you more about the site, by the Gemological Institute of America Inc. CJ's up first. ...

Today, I learned about many gems on a site called On GemKids, they have a feature known as the Jewlery Time Machine, which shows the history of gems from prehistoric seashell neckwear found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa to even some space gems found on Mars by the Spirit rover, which proceed to get made into jewelery by jewelers on Earth.
Another feature the site has is a gallery of many different gems of all different cuts and colors, from the usually-clear diamonds, most of which actually formed over one billion years ago(!), to Alexandrite, which can change color depending on the environment it is in.*
The last feature on the site I will talk about is a section of the site called The Story of a Gem: How Stones Became Rock Stars, which details many interesting facts about gems, like how most rough gems are crystals, and how almost every gem is a mineral, but a very small portion of minerals are gems.
Overall, I learned a lot about gems by reading from GemKids, and I found the site very interesting.
My personal favorite was one labeled the "Fancy Color Diamond", which is a term that refers to a diamond that is not transparent, but is in fact, naturally a certain color, such as white. These, according to GemKids, are the most valuable gems of all.
And here's what Annabelle has to share ...
Today I went to a site called, where you can learn a lot about gems, minerals, and their history. The site has a nice, user-friendly interface. I'll tell you some things I learned on the site.
From the Time Portal section I learned things like emerald gems are said to be Cleopatra's favorite gem. In fact, since Egypt had so many emerald mines, they became known as the "Cleopatra mines" during her reign! Another fact: Louis XIV was known as "The Sun King" because he glittered everywhere he went! His clothes had so many diamonds on them he bent over under their weight!
They also have a interactive called "Gem Explorer" where you can look at gems. It includes facts like the colors of gems, such as sapphire being any color except red, history of some gems, like hundreds of thousands of years ago, stone age people made tools out of jade, famous gems (ancient jade burial suits were used for Han Dynasty royalty in China), and gem beliefs and lore. Some people even connected pearls to the moon because of their shape. They also represented modesty, chastity, and purity in Europe, and people thought they protected them from fire and fire-breathing dragons in China!
This site taught me a lot about gems. I really liked the site. It's fun to look at all the history and facts!
The GIA has a school and laboratory in Carlsbad, California. Their library is said to be the largest gem and jewelry library in the world, with over 38,000 books on gems and jewelry. The oldest book in the collection dates back to 1496. The GIA collects and preserves mineral specimens, jewelry, gem art, and gemological equipment. Sounds like it would be a fascinating stop if we ever find ourselves in Carlsbad! 

A rock-loving friend of mine happened to post a link on Facebook to a story "The Cave of Crystals" by the Discovery Channel. We looked at the link and marveled at the photos of mammoth crystals were discovered in in 2000,when explorers checked out a former mining chamber that had been drained of its water in 1975.  Discovery has also produced a documentary about the cavern. You can find Naica: Secrets of the Crystal Cave on YouTube.

STACKED: We stopped by the library today, and came home with some picture books - something we haven't done in a long while. 

We picked up "Help! We Need a Title," a wacky book by Herve Tullet. The plot is that there isn't a plot ... the book's characters are caught off guard that the reader picked up the book and is thumbing through its pages. You can see the author reading it thanks to a YouTube video posted by Walker Books:

We also checked out "The Day the Crayons Quit," a super cute (and popular) book by Drew Daywalt, with adorable pictures by Oliver Jeffers. The book's pages are a series of short letters to a child from various colored crayons, most of them expressing displeasure about this or that (being used too much, too little, incorrectly ...). Very clever!  The publisher has a handy educators guide in PDF form here:

A third book we selected was "Young Frank Architect." It's a tale of two Franks, both architects, one young, one old. They live in New York and have very different ideas about what architects do. A trip to the Museum of Modern Art helps them have a meeting of the minds. (MoMA, in fact, is the book's publisher.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Magnolia Weekend

WILD WALK:  Naturally, we were out and about a fair amount this weekend. A 'nice,' long walk on Saturday included a hike up the hill to a Magnolia resident's home who has an ridiculously amazing pumpkin patch in his front yard every year. 

We've been visiting his place since the '00s, and apparently this year was a banner year for the gourds. Sorry there's nothing in the photo above to really give you scale, but let's just say most of the specimens were MUCH bigger than CJ and Annabelle - combined!

On our way home, our gray day turned into a crazy squall. We got DUMPED on by rain the likes of which we haven't seen in months and months. It was a downright deluge. Imagine my surprise when we got home and I checked the Internet to find the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for west central Pierce County on Saturday (just to our south). A waterspout was spotted out over the sound. Fortunately, it never made landfall. 

GEOLOGICAL WEEK: About a month ago a big ol' packet of posters, worksheets, lesson plans, and other educational resources showed up like a present in our mailbox, a gift from NASA, to help us celebrate Earth Sciences Week, Oct. 13-17. Sweet!

We dove into the big pile today, and I pulled out a colorful poster. Once side was a graphic/timeline of the different geologic ages.  
The other side has info about fossils and the Paleontology Society. It even included chords to a song called "Ages of Rock" by a group called Ratfish Wranglers. Naturally, we were compelled to track the song down online. I remembered the University of Washington had a great site called "Sing About Science" and hoped we'd find it there. We did!  That site provided us a link to the Ratfish Wranglers' MySpace (throwback!) presence. There, we found their "Cruisin the Fossil Freeway" CD, including the cut the poster mentioned, "Ages of Rock."  

After listening to it a couple of times, the kids were ready to play along, and so science class turned into music class today. Nice!

BIRD BRAINED:  We always enjoy trips to our favorite local hardware store, Ace. They have free popcorn for customers, and several cages full of pretty birds in the back (all hardware stores have that, right?). They also have a large assortment of cupcake liners, if you can believe that, so we're there a lot. 

We stopped a couple of days ago and noticed a new cage, separate from the rest. Guess Buddy has been up to no good ... 
Apparently he is sorry ... 

Come Sunday, we went for a nice long walk on the waterfront before the Seahawks' (horrible) game. 
We walked all the way to Belltown, and the haunting statue "Echo", a 46-foot sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist Jaume Plens.
Her nuances stand out better when it's not so sunny out.  Love this art.

Today in our travels, we spotted the Husky football bus. The Huskies had a *much* better weekend than the Seahawks. ...

ON THIS DAY: Apollo 7 launched on Oct. 7, 1968. On this day in history, they transmitted the first live broadcast television from aboard an American crewed spacecraft. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Orion on the Horizon

CLIMB ON BOARD: I get a dozen or two emails from various NASA departments each day, and increasingly the content is about Orion, a spacecraft built to take humans farther  from home than ever before. 

One of NASA's emails to me this week was a reminder to Earthlings to get their name on board Orion's maiden test flight, scheduled for December 4. 

The test flight is scheduled to be a 4.5 hour mission, two orbits, 3,600 miles above Earth. Then your name and Orion will return to Earth at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and temperatures of nearly 4,000 degrees Farenheit before a dramatic splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

But wait ... there's more. Your name will also be included on future NASA flights, including a mission to Mars. Talk about a chance to rack up major frequent flyer miles!
The deadline for being part of history is October 31. We're in, of course. Care to join us?  Go here to get on board:
Today, NASA released a video featuring none other than Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura of Star Trek fame. Nichols is a long time NASA advocate for the space agency, and has been particularly active in encouraging women and minorities to get involved in space-related education and occupations.

Nichols says she's on board with Orion. You can see it for yourself here:

NASA has a whole campaign built around "I'm On Board," and it even includes a neat-o coloring sheet for kids ... 
There's a link to the PDF for it here:

And if you want a sneak preview of what Orion's test flight will be like, check out "Trial by Fire," a video about the spacecraft’s test and the critical systems engineers will evaluate during the Dec. 4 flight.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bones 'n' Stuff

FUN WITH SCIENCE:  In their weekly science class in Shoreline, the kids are in the midst of a unit about bones. 

Part of their homework this week involved taking a couple of clean poultry bones and soaking them in vinegar for days. We happened to have a couple of old turkey wishbones, so that was perfect. They're now in a vinegar bath and we will keep an eye out for changes.

In class yesterday, a fun activity yesterday helped them appreciate just how wonderful it is to have joints. 

The kids had to use pencils taped to their fingers to keep their index and middle fingers immobilized and stiff, and then perform tasks like making a paperclip chain, using scissors, rolling up a newspaper ... all super simple stuff - when you have fingers that bend. 
The kids managed to get the tasks done, but it wasn't easy!

After school, we went over to Central District to check out Ken's wedding venue. While there, we stopped at one of our favorite places, Chuck's, and played a neat-o and new-to-us game, 30 Second Mysteries. 
We played in teams of two, each team trying to guess a different aspect of the same case. 

You have to be careful, as you can be tricked badly. For instance, this card trolled all of us!
We all wrongly assumed it was about the Kennedy assassination, and that the right answer for the state the VP represented was Texas, for LBJ. However, the clue was actually about the 1860s, not the 1960s! Just goes to show you, making assumptions is dangerous!

BOOKENDS:  A couple of days ago, we took a walk down to the kayak launch in Magnolia, and along the way saw tons o' construction for the western terminus of a 'combined sewer overflow' improvement project.  Today, we took another walk down to the waterfront, this time Terminal 91, which is where the eastern end of the project is underway. 

More heavy machinery ... more digging ... 
... and another sign about the project.
The good news is, when this east end of the project is done, there will be a nice big new park atop it!

In addition to heavy equipment, we also saw a big ol' harbor seal in the bay, and trees turning pretty fall colors. 
HISTORIANS: Today, the kids and I concluded our History of Rock 'n' Roll Part II class with Professor John Covach from the University of Rochester, via Coursera. It's the third class we've taken from Dr. Covach, and though we've never met him, we are going to miss him terribly! 

The last few lectures were about the '80s and '90s, which included the rise of rap and hip hop. As you can see from Annabelle's class notes/drawings, there were strains between rockers and rappers initially.
 However, the two styles are now often combined or done collaboratively. 
And women are in on the act, too!
We were thrilled we each scored 100 percent on our 40-question final. And Annabelle and CJ didn't have to wait long to put their new knowledge to use. At yoga class today, their instructor, out of nowhere, told them she went to a show last night and the DJs played music from Afrika Bambaataa's collection. She said she'd never heard of him before and asked Annabelle and CJ if they had. Bet she was a little surprised when the spouted off about him being a pioneering DJ from the Bronx and a vanguard of hip hop. :) 

COMPETITION:  When we were in Ballard today, by the library, we noticed a wee little lending library outside the candy shop adjacent to Ballard Commons Park. 
You can never have too many libraries, right?!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fish, Hawks and Floating

SOMETHING FISHY:  This weekend we attended an event that has become a yearly tradition for us - the Fisherman's Fall Festival down at Fishermen's Terminal, which is walking distance for us, at the foot of our hill to the northeast.  The terminal is home to many working boats when they're not up fishing off Alaska or other points north, west, and south.

I'll let the kids tell you about it, Annabelle first. 
On October 4th, 2014, my family and I went to the 26th Annual Fisherman's Fall Festival. It was very fun. We did some things at the festival, and I will tell you about them.

First we did some Spin Art and made our own Frisbees. My Frisbee's base was pink and my brother CJ's base was blue. The cool thing about Spin Art is that after it's done spinning, everything you put in the middle looks like it's exploding to the edges.
Next we built wooden boats. Pretty straightforward.
 Someone else at the wooden boat station made a cool ghost-looking boat by using glow-in-the-dark string and what seemed to be torn apart cotton balls.
The last thing we did was catch Rainbow Trout to eat later. I caught mine on the first try!

CJ, however, had an assistant who put the bait on too loose, and the fish kept getting the bait without the hook.

The Fisherman's Festival was really fun! CJ and I even got a balloon hot dog and bee respectively.
I'm looking forward to going next year! 

And here's CJ's report
On Saturday, October 4th, I went to go to the 26th Annual Fisherman's Fall Festival, which we go to every year, at the Seattle Fisherman's Terminal. At the terminal, one of the first things we did was design a Frisbee at a stand called "Spin Art". At Spin Art, we would place a Frisbee in a cage and we would squeeze bottles of paint over certain areas of the Frisbee (there were holes at the top of the cage), to give the Frisbee a unique design.
After that, the Frisbee would need to dry for a bit, and after that, one of the men running the station would put my name and the year on the Frisbee.
After that (while we were waiting for the Frisbee to dry), we went to a stand where we could make a toy wooden boat out of some materials that were at the stand. As a base, everybody is given a boat-shaped (minus the mast or any details, really) piece of wood to decorate. There were also pre-shaped sticks made to look like masts, and triangular pieces of paper to look like the sail. To get certain parts in (like a mast or a bottle cap), we would nail them into the base piece.
Last, but not least, we went to an area of the terminal where we could catch fish. What would happen is you would grab a fishing pole and an attendant there would put some bait on the hook, so you would use the rod in the pool and you might catch a fish, with the attendant there to help you get it using a small net.
After that, you could choose to put the fish back in the water, or take it home to eat. I chose to take the fish's corpse home and eat it. (Guess what dad and Annabelle had for lunch that day!)

Overall, I had a good time at the 26th Annual Fisherman's Fall Festival.

A couple things the kids left out:  We saw many of the working boats that make Fishermen's Terminal unique. 
We also saw an interesting demonstration of a survival suit. A gentleman was in a tub of ice water (which the kids added ice to). The water was around 32 degrees, but he was toasty warm in his suit. Interestingly, part of the suit was a tube which he breathed into, and it helped circulate warm air around the suit.  The guy running the booth said a suit like the one we saw could keep someone alive for 24 hours in frigid water.
It's hard to believe that the kids forgot to write about the halibut fish cookies they decorated.

Maybe they forgot, because they ate them the second they were done with them!

MONDAY NIGHT FESTIVITIES:  We had fun Monday prepping for a party - Rick's birthday and the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.

The kids decorated the carrot cake cupcakes I made. 
 Here's CJ's masterpiece. Guess who ate it at the party? :)
They also helped with present wrapping. It wasn't easy for them. They'll get better.

RUCKUS: We wanted to get some walking in today. I thought a stroll down the quiet roadway to the kayak launch in Magnolia would be nice.

However, just a few dozen feet down the road, we realized we were entering a heavy construction zone. Crashing, banging, clanging ... the sound of heavy machinery echoed in the ravine.
As we walked by this set up, I told the kids it reminded me of one of the wash plants on that "Gold Rush" show we've watched in the past. 

Turns out basically the whole area down to the launch, which is next to a wastewater pump station, is involved in a sewer system upgrade. Fortunately, along the way to the shoreline, we found a big sign telling us about the project. 
Once we reached the shoreline, we were surprised to find Elliott Bay was so socked in, we couldn't even see West Seattle!

A big cargo ship out on the water looked like a ghost ship! We couldn't make out its name, unfortunately.
The kids threw a few rocks in the water, and we headed back up the noisy stretch.

FLOATING:  CJ and Annabelle enjoyed breakfast with a couple of astronauts this morning - definitely long distance! NASA's Reid Wiseman and ESA's Alexander Gerst were in the midst of a 6-plus hour spacewalk when the kids were enjoying bananas and yogurt this a.m. 

They were working to relocate a pump module that failed in December from a bracket on the truss to External Stowage Platform-2 on the International Space Station, and to install an electrical relay system that will provide backup power to the Mobile Transporter and Canadarm2.

Speaking of Canadarm, as we watched the astronauts work, we couldn't help but notice how often that part of the ISS was in view, and it made us recall something Neil deGrasse Tyson said when we heard him speak a few weeks ago. He marveled at what a great job the Canadians had done 'branding' that thing with the word CANADA on it, noting in so many ISS photos it's CANADA CANADA CANADA!  Well played, neighbors to the north!

Here's Gerst riding Canadarm2 during the spacewalk.  (Image credit: NASA TV)