Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Eve

PREPPERS: Part of today's activity involved getting ready for tomorrow - Halloween!

This is annually a Really Big Deal in our house, with many hours (and more than a few dollars) spent on costumes. 

This year, we're getting off easy.

A week or so ago, I was cleaning out an upstairs closet and we re-discovered a costume we've had for a couple of years but have never used - Gumby! 

We bought it at "Binwill" - the Goodwill clearance outlet where clothing is so cheap, it's sold by a per pound price. As lightweight as the Gumby costume is, I think it set us back $2 max, and it's great!  I didn't like how droopy/not clearly shaped the head was, though, so today we constructed a form to fit on top of CJ's head and keep Gumby's head nice and angular. 

Annabelle has decided to be an "OC" or 'original character' as the kids these days say. She is going to be a My Little Pony character she's designed called Midnight Magic. So, it's a pony that's a witch. Easy! We just needed to round up a hat and boots, make a tail, ears, and horn (it's a unicorn pony). Here's Annabelle fashioning a tail out of a skein of yarn.

NEW DETAILS:  More information about the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s rocket 'mishap' from Tuesday continue to filter in. Today, we learned the powers that be actually purposely blew the rocket up shortly after takeoff because they knew it was headed off course.  (All launches in the U.S. are equipped with a kill switch to prevent loss of human life and property in the event of an anomaly. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere, for instance, in China, in 1996, their Intelsat 708 mission killed hundreds of civilians). For details on that decision and how it played out, check out National Geographic's "Why NASA Blew Up a Rocket Just After Launch" here:  

It's a fascinating read. The two safety officers with their fingers on the 'kill switch' have lives and millions of dollars to consider, and split seconds to make decisions. 

What's super wild is that with all the tech involved in a launch, when it comes down to an emergency abort, it's pretty darn old school. Per Brad Scriber of National Geographic
In the early seconds of a launch, when the rocket is near the ground, there is too much interference from trees and nearby structures for radar and other monitoring systems to be accurate. So spotters watch the launch through wooden viewing frames fitted with guide wires. If the rocket crosses behind a wire, they know it's veering off track and they send up an alarm telling the safety officers to abort. Then they seek shelter.
In case you missed it, here's the 'mishap' (the word NASA was using initially, though CATASTROPHIC FAILURE seemed more apt) can be seen here:
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One other detail which may or may not have anything to do with what happened yesterday involves the (refurbished to some degree) engines used on the rockets' first stage. They're actually modified (to some degree) 40-year-old Russian engines. To quote from a National Geographic article "40-Year-Old Russian Engine at Heart of Rocket Investigation," "The first-to-fire "first stage" of the rocket used two NK-33 rocket engines originally built more than 40 years ago to power a planned attempt by the Soviet Union to land cosmonauts on the moon. That effort ended with four failures of the Soviets' gigantic N-1 rocket, one of them a colossal blast that ranks among the largest non-nuclear explosions in history."

Oh. Interesting. :/

I remember (Orbital Sciences' rival) Elon Musk of SpaceX pointing to the old engines as potential trouble months ago. Some thought it a rival's sour grapes. Maybe ol' Elon was on to something. ... Time will tell. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


           Photo: Reid Wiseman, NASA

REFLECTING:  Yesterday was a dramatically explosive one in spaceflight, with the U.S. having a rocket explode shortly after take off for the first time in decades. The good news is, that happens so infrequently that when it does, it's big news. 

Hours after Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft bound for the International Space Station exploded shortly after lift off, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted the image of a sunrise he shot while living on the ISS (photo above).  Along with it he wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. #sunrise." 

In other words, spaceflight goes on. In fact, just hours after the Antares disaster, Russia successfully launched a cargo mission bound for the ISS, and this morning, United Launch Alliance sent an Atlas V rocket into orbit to deploy a satellite for the Air Force.
That said, there's still lots of talk today about the anomaly from yesterday, and not a lot of answers yet. NASA did release this photo of what the launch pad at Wallops looks like post explosion. 

                  Image Credit: 
NASA/Terry Zaperach

UP NORTH:  We spent a good part of our day in Shoreline, at art, science and 'detective' class. From there, we too, our Very Full Car north to Mukilteo, to unload some stuff of G&Gs at their new place. 

It was lovely out weather wise, warm and mild, so we headed down the hill to the waterfront afterward. 

We strolled the shoreline right next to the Mukilteo ferry dock.
 We watched crabbers hauling in their limits and fishermen and women on the pier.

We loved the fact that all over there were signs about the city's history.  We learned that the founding fathers of the city were gentlemen named Morris Frost and Jacob Fowler. They started a store, hotel and saloon.  

There is more than one theory about how Mukilteo got its name. One explanation often put forth is that Mukilteo means “good camping ground” in a native dialect.  However, in the Snohomish dialect of Lushootseed, Muk-wil-teo means “to swallow” or “narrow passage,” the latter fits some of the topography in the area. 

We learned there's a NOAA research station in Mukilteo. Per the NOAA Web site, the work at the Mukilteo location focuses on "understanding the life cycle of marine species and the impacts of ecosystem stressors on anadromous and marine fish and invertebrates. In this salt-water facility, scientists rear marine and anadromous fish for a range of studies, conduct studies on the effects of impaired water quality and habitats on the health and survival of fish, serve as a base for field studies of Pacific salmon, and hold outreach events for students and public groups on NMFS research in the region. Unique features of the Mukilteo facility include a high-quality seawater system for fish rearing and marine species studies; an algae and zooplankton culture laboratory; a deep water pier and central Puget Sound location with convenient access to field research locations; and specialized laboratories and equipment for studies on the fate and effects of toxic substances."

Cool! Sounds like good (and important) science! Wonder if they allow tour groups?!

I'm sure there are many more visits to the Mukilteo waterfront in our future!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


                Photo: NASA TV
ROCKET FIRE: Yesterday, we waited eagerly for Orbital Science Corp.'s launch of Cygnus 3 on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. In the last moments, the launch was scrubbed, due to a wayward sailboat wandering into the safe zone off the coast of Virginia. Stupid boat.

Today, Orbital was geared up and ready to go, and we were watching again. As the clock ticked down I told the kids how much I loved hearing "t-minus" anything, and we waited and watched.

Right at the appointed time, the Antares rocket ignited.

At the very first sign of rocket fire, I immediately said aloud to the kids, "Oh no ... something looks wrong."  I wasn't sure. It was something about the fall of the tower, the look of the fire, the speed (or lack thereof) ... ? However, the rocket climbed and cleared the tower and I shrugged and said, "Guess I was wrong."

A couple of seconds later: DISASTER. The rocket catastrophically exploded. 

"I've never seen a rocket explode before," Annabelle said, dumbstruck. Even though we knew no one was on board, it was really rather horrific to watch. 

Understandably, NASA and Orbital aren't posting footage right now, but other people are.

Here's film from the press pool. ... 

And here's video a private pilot took over the area ...

We watched the postmortem press conference tonight. Not surprisingly, no real insight regarding the cause of the anomaly was shared tonight. (The press conference is available here: I can't help but wonder if the anomaly is related to the quick turn around time to gear up again after the stupid sailboat-related scrub. Time will tell, I'm sure. 

GOING BATTY: I thought it time to do a little Halloween-y related craft project today. I recalled past positive experiences with tutorials from cartoonist Bruce Blitz. Before, we'd used his ActivityTV tutorials, but today, we found his YouTube channel:

There, I found a tutorial about drawing a bat. (Bonus, it actually had a little educational info at the beginning.)  As a bonus, there was a little educational info about bats at the begninning of the video.

The kids enjoyed following his directions, which are always easy to understand. 

Here's Bee's Bruce Blitz-inspired bat ...
And here is CJ's interesting variation. ...
While searching for Bruce Blitz tutorials, we discovered an artist named Shoo Rayner who also had a bat-drawing tutorial on YouTube. Rayner is an award winning British children's author and illustrator. (His Web site, is worth checking out, by the way.)  And so, the kids followed Shoo's advice. ...

Here's Annabelle Rayner-inspired bat in progress. ... 
I was interested to read on Rayner's Web site that he's interested in particle physics, and especially string theory. To that end, he's working on a project called Shoowaii, "creating a mirror to the world we know." This alternative universe has its own Web site, of course:
But I digress. ... 

OTHER PROJECTS: As Annabelle was working on her book project, I asked CJ to write a story about one of the bats he'd drawn. Here's what he came up with about his two-tone bat.

Once, there was a bat. This bat wore a mask sterotypically worn by comic superheroes. His name was Bat-Bat, a rather uncreative name given to him by his creator. He wasn't technically a real bat, because he was just a drawing made by his creator, the only things that ever truly happened to him were things that his creator decided to do with him. Here's the story of how he got to the way he looks now, half-colored.
One day, a drawing of Bat-Bat was placed near some pastels. Bat-Bat looked at the pastels, when suddenly, the box was spilled over. This inspired the creator to color some of Bat-Bat, deciding to make half of him blue. This made Bat-Bat very happy, even happy enough to sprout out of the paper he was drawn on and fly around Seattle.
In Seattle, Bat-Bat flew around, discovering Seattle Center. In Seattle Center, Bat-Bat saw the Space Needle, and flew to the pinnacle of it. Many people saw the two-tone bat, and most of those people got very curious about it.
When Bat-Bat finally came down, so many people were amazed by the sight of the unusually colored bat. People asked Bat-Bat to stand on their shoulders so they could take a once-in-a-lifetime picture with him (though many, if not most pictures of people with Bat-Bat on their shoulders that circulated on the internet following that event just had Bat-Bat photoshopped in from other people's pictures). After that, Bat-Bat flew inside Center School and greeted many students there.
At his home, Bat-Bat's creator was shocked at how much internet publicity that his own creation, Bat-Bat, received, but his problem was that no one would believe him when he tried to tell them that he drew Bat-Bat originally, so following that, he posted a disclaimer on a social networking site saying that he created Bat-Bat, and his evidence was a photograph he took of his drawing of Bat-Bat when he was just a drawing on paper.
In the end, it's safe to say that Bat-Bat became very popular among Seattlites.

Monday, October 27, 2014

On the Move

HARVESTERS: Today, CJ and Annabelle picked apple's off CJ's tree. We call it 'CJ's tree' because he started an apple tree from a seed from an apple he ate many, many years ago, and this is the first time that tree has produced apples of notable size. He was quite proud of his bounty, to be sure. 

We also made yet another batch of salsa verde today - this one featuring the Trinidad moruga scorpion peppers we grew in our garden (from pepper plants CJ started). He's turning in to quite the farmer!

PACKERS: We had a busy weekend, which included a trip down to Vancouver, USA to help G&G pack up and move out!
Efficient packing is a lot like solving a puzzle, what with all the fitting things together to maximize capacity.  We filled a POD and a U-Haul. The kids liked riding in the truck back up to Seattle. 

It wasn't all work, though. We managed to watch football, go out to dinner, and the kids enjoyed playing pool at a neighbors' home on Saturday night. 
CJ looks like he was taking it pretty seriously in this photo!

BOAT = 1, ROCKET = 0:  This afternoon we were all set to watch Orbital Sciences Corporation launch their Antares rocket with a Cygnus spacecraft atop it from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, on the coast in Virginia.
                                                                 PHOTO: NASA

Everything was nominal, and the rocket was ready to go but ... a sailboat entered the "mariner avoidance area," so the launch was scrubbed. (Obviously someone didn't get the memo ... and it's hard to believe they couldn't hail the boat of have a Coast Guard or some other chopper go tell them to get the heck out!

The new launch day and time is Oct. 28, at 6:22 p.m. EDT (3:22 Seattle time).  Live coverage on Ustream begins at 11 a.m. at NASA TV coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT.For the latest updates, go here:  

This will be Orbital's third contracted cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station. The Cygnus is carrying over 5,000 pounds of supplies.

TWO-FER: Today's weather was so nice, we took TWO walks!

This morning, we went for a long stroll, starting on the south side of the canal between Lake Union and the locks/Puget Sound.

We could see they have made progress on painting the Fremont Bridge, but none of us are thrilled with the Denver Broncos' color scheme.
 The trees are putting on their fall show. Gorgeous!
 We walked under the sky-high Aurora Bridge. 
Its network of steel support structures is impressive.
We saw a number of geese and ducks, including some pretty mallards.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hot Stuff

SUN IN OUR EYES: We've known for weeks/months now that a partial solar eclipse - with the moon blocking part of the sun - would potentially be visible to us this afternoon! 

Imagine how thrilled we were when we woke to torrential rains. ...
However ... we live in Seattle, where you can get 9 months of weather in a half hour. Hope springs eternal and around 11 a.m. we had blue skies! (Surrounded by ominous gray clouds.) But hey, it was a fighting chance to see the event that was set to start around 1:30.

By early afternoon, clouds were moving in big time, but there were still breaks. And that's all we needed. Hooray!! We got to see the eclipse!

But honestly, the best part of it wasn't just we here at MPA getting to see it. The best part was getting to share it with neighbors and strangers on the street!

Instead of just standing on our porch or deck or looking out the window, each time we noticed the sun getting especially bright, we took our viewers up to the street and engaged passersby with the filters' magical powers. :)

The first time we went up, a neighbor was walking her dog. She saw Annabelle and me holding the visors up and, thankfully, she didn't think we were freaks. She asked about the eclipse and we handed a screen off to her and loved hearing her exhalations at what she could see. I asked her if her young daughter was at home, and she said that she was heading to school to pick her up. At that, I gave her one of our viewers and told her to share it with the kids if the clouds held at bay.  

During another sun break soon after, we went back up to our sidewalk. There, we found a mother, her back to the sun, explaining to her two young sons, about ages 4 and 3.  She was telling them that if they had a pinhole viewer, they could see a shadow of the eclipse. Imagine her surprise when we approached her, direct solar viewers in hand, offering a way to stare at the sun straight on!  

To say she was ELATED would be an understatement. "I've never seen this in my life!" she exclaimed excitedly, passing a viewer to one of her sons. They were rapt. She handed the viewer back to us, but I insisted they use it again and keep it ... explaining we had multiples and that she'd want it for the TOTAL eclipse coming up in 2015.

Somehow, blindly sticking my camera up to a filter and randomly aiming, I managed to get a photo of the partial eclipse shortly after 2 p.m. our time.  
All in all, a WONDERFUL experience! 

BURNING LOVE:  I'm not gonna lie, We haven't exactly been dawdling in the garden the last week or so, what with the wedding, birthdays, torrential rains and such.

However, on Sunday, as we were seeing a wedding guest off, we did wander over to the garden and we were shocked by what we found.
See that little wrinkly green thing, not even the size of a quarter? Beware!!!! It's a Trinidad moruga scorpion - for a long time crowned 'hottest pepper in the world' (with 1.2 million Scoville heat units, as compared to, say, a green 'bell' pepper, with a zero ranking).

CJ had a phase where he was HEAVILY into researching the Scoville scale, used for measuring a pepper's heat, and we ordered him a hot pepper growing kit for Christmas. We planted the seeds in late spring. They produced three small plants, which we kept indoors until about June. 

We've watched them ALL summer for signs of peppers, but all we ever saw was a couple of tiny blossoms. Until this weekend!

So now that we've got these peppers, what to do with them? I was afraid to even pick them without some kind of protective gear, to tell you the truth!

In case you're wondering, in December of 2013, The Trinidad moruga scorpion lost its title of 'world's hottest pepper' to the 'Carolina Reaper' per Guinness World Records. 

FYI: There are lots of spots with more info about the Scoville scale, including this site, which has an interactive table:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wet Wednesday

IT MUST BE WEDNESDAY: When my inbox has selfies from the kids in a library, that means it's our day in Shoreline, at the kids' up north classes (science and detectives for the two of them, and art for Annabelle). 

NUTTY:  A few walks ago, we gleaned some "horse" chestnuts. Since they're not edible, we thought we'd make some art with them.

The kids dug around in our art/junque drawer to get the items they'd need to give the chestnuts some personality. And the glue gun was put to good use.
CJ came up with a squatty creation, which he named George. Annabelle's two chestnut friends were a tad taller, thanks to their cork torsos. 

OUT AND ABOUT:  Yesterday, we went walking along Viewmont, a street in the Magnolia neighborhood famous as a Halloween night destination. Unfortunately, we didn't see any decorations to write home about (maybe they're putting them up this weekend?) but we did see lots of autumal colored leaves, and a pretty grape vine. 
We also found a new-to-us Little Free Library.  We took a book and will have to bring another one  back soon.

ZOMBIES!:  Finally getting around to sharing that on Monday we played the seasonally-appropriate Zombie Fluxx game. Such frustration! And fun! 

At one point, I had zombies in front of me (not a good thing). The game went on, and on, and on. As in nearly 90 minutes long. We've played other Fluxx versions, and none had been as complicated and long as this one.

Miraculously, there was a significant reversal of fortunate not too much after my zombie invasion, I won the game.  At that point, I think we were all just happy it was finally over!

OLDIES:  Around 4 p.m. I flipped on the TV for some pre-World Series coverage. As I flipped through the channel listings, CJ spied a title called "Merrily We Live."   "It's from 1938!" CJ excitedly proclaimed, asking to watch it. Sigh. I suppose a breakdown of the Royals v. Giants could wait. 

And so, we began watching the black and white movie. Loosely, its plot is about a society matron (Emily Kilbourne) who has a knack for hiring ex-cons and vagrants as her house help.  Without even looking at the screen, I recognized the voice of the woman playing the matron. I told the kids not to look, either, and said, "Who is that? You know that voice!"

Without hesitation, Annabelle replied, "Glinda!"

Sure 'nough, Billie Burke was in the role (for which she earned a best actress in a supporting role Oscar nomination, by the way). That same year, she was selected to play Glinda.

The movie wasn't engrossing. In fact, the kids found it mildly entertaining, at best. But it was probably more interesting than the World Series pre game show, at least from a cultural standpoint.

Reading up online, we learned that Burke was born into a showbiz family. Her father, Billy Burke, was a singer and clown with the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Billie toured with her dad as a child. Here's a shot of her as a young woman, from the Library of Congress' collection
Burke's husband was Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., of the famous Ziegfeld Follies family.

WILD WEATHER: I'll bet it has rained more in the last two days than it did in the two months previous. So. Darn. Wet. And gray. Welcome to the next 7 months, I suppose ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Great Pumpkins

PATCHY: Since moving up here several years ago, we've made it a point to visit a different pumpkin patch in the greater Seattle area each October. This year's destination was Bailey Vegetables, a bit south and east of Everett.

The farm (also known as Bailand Farms) has been in operation a hundred years, per their Web site. That's a long darn time!
Monday's skies were a patchwork of gray, white and blue ... but mostly gray, so we were taking our chances, but we didn't know when we'd fit the visit in if we didn't do it yesterday, so out we went!

We decided to tackle their corn maze first. Here's an aerial shot ... you can see it's in the shape of the U.S. of A.
We started in the Pacific Northwest, and you know what that means ...
That's right, some Seahawks' football!

There was a mini football field carved into the corn. CJ did his best "Beast Mode" impression ...
Annabelle attempted a Steven Hauschka-like field goal. 
We headed south from Seattle, down a bucolic Interstate 5. If only it were really this peaceful.
Before long, we were in California, where the kids panned for 'gold.'
They each found (and left) a nugget!
Heading further southbound, we ran into Mexico. Apparently they grow corn there, too.
CJ and Annabelle headed north and east, and eventually, we arrived in St. Louis, Missouri. They stood under the famous arch, of course.
And since St. Louis is home to last year's World Series winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, there was a baseball field carved into the cornfield. Sweet!

Watching the kids play baseball next to a cornfield reminded me of one of my favorite movies, "Field of Dreams."

Here, CJ delivers a hanging breaking ball. ...
And Annabelle served up a few curve balls in the cornfield!
Good thing neither one of them hit a home run ... we'd never find the ball!
We wandered around some more, and ended up at Native Americans' encampment in the Great Plains.
And after awhile, we found ourselves at the Alamo!
We were all disappointed there was no basement at the Alamo, so we couldn't find Pee Wee Herman's bike. 

Heading eastward, the kids had to climb the Appalachian Mountains at one point.
We finally made our way down to Florida, and out of the maze, having crossed all of America. :)
While at the farm, we admired a few critters, including weeks-old piglets Pumpkin and Midnight. 
A friendly farmhand told us they'd weigh 500 pounds or so within 9 months!

We also saw a large flock of snow geese. The farm lady said they had taken up residence a couple of weeks ago, and were eating in the winter wheat field.
Maze complete, it was time to turn our attention to finding the Perfect Pumpkins.
We urged the kids not to choose the first orange orb they spotted. Rather, they should explore and find the one that spoke to them (so to speak, ha ha).

Annabelle found her match in the Aladdin pumpkin patch.
CJ's gourd was across the way ...
in the Captain Jack patch.
Whilst among the pumpkins, CJ wondered aloud what the top pumpkin producing state was. We didn't have an on-the-spot answer for him, but I was happy today to see that one of the short articles the "Time for Kids" issue (Oct. 10) they read listed the top 5. 

Care to take a guess before I tell you the answer?  I'll post the answer (per Time for Kids) at the bottom of the blog. ...

Pumpkins picked, it was time to give them a bath before putting them in the car.
The pumpkins seemed to enjoy it. ;)
In addition to pumpkins, the farm sells vegetables and flowers.
It's picturesque from the moment you enter ...

And as we exited, I couldn't help but smile at the lone pumpkin - a sentinel gourd, guarding the road. Who dare defy the mighty orange orb?!

CODING: The kids got some current events and language arts work in this afternoon thanks to a couple of issues of Time for Kids. The Oct. 10 issue had a cover story called "Learn to Code," which was primarily about teaching elementary aged students to write computer code. 

From the article we learned about, a nonprofit with a lofty goal of every student in every school having the opportunity to learn computer programming. 

The story also mentioned coding programs for kids, including Tynker, Hopscotch, Codeacademy and Scratch (the latter of which CJ and Annabelle have both dabbled in). 

After reading the article, we viewed a related video

JUST LIKE JACQUES:  The kids read another Time for Kids issue (Sept. 26), which introduced them to Aquarius, an underwater science lab. One of the scientists on board is Fabien Cousteau, grandson of world famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

This summer, Fabien completed 31 days of dwelling on the ocean floor in the Atlantic, off of Florida. 

We viewed a short video about the mission on

TOP FIVE: The United States' top 5 pumpkin producing states are, in order,  Illinois (547 million pounds per year), with California a distant second (195 million pounds a year). The remainder of the top 3 are Ohio (100 million), Michigan (98 million) and New York (96 million).