Planetary telescopes

March 28, 2011

Construction paper, pins, tape, hole punch, stickersToday we’re going to teach Little Bear’s classroom about space!  The kids are 3 and 4, so we’re going to keep it hands-on and light. . . literally!

We’re going to help each kid make a “telescope” out of construction paper and point it at pictures of the planets, to see how they’re different.  After we talk about the planets a while, we’ll tape a piece of black paper with pinholes to the end of the telescope and look through it at a light — to see “the stars.”  It’s an easy craft to make, and I hope it will be a fun way to introduce these little ones to the planets and put the stars within their reach.  (Even if they’re not allowed to stay up late enough to see the real ones!)

I can post instructions and a debrief afterwards — but now, I’ve got to run — Widget and I have a date to teach Bear’s class about the planets and the stars, and I am SO HAPPY.

The idea for this craft came from Marissa, at Our Daylight Adventures, who did the toilet paper telescope craft with her son for Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair last April.  The Virtual Science Fair was such an amazing gift — I read through all the projects again last week, and I still can’t believe it.  I wanted to go through and leave comments everywhere, since I was too sick to do it April 7 after my surgery (though I read and loved them all!), but who checks comments on year-old posts?

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Giveaway: Blue Man Group

March 19, 2011

Blue Man GroupHave you heard?  Blue Man Group is coming to the Warner Theatre in D.C.! 

Five years ago now, when my oldest child reached toddlerhood, I bought him length after length of PVC pipe* and connectors and let him bang away to his heart’s conent.  We connected them together to make all kinds of shapes out in the yard, rolled marbles through them, and draped fabric over them to make a tent.  He giggled uncontrollably, and so did I. 

We had a fabulous time.  When my friend Marty heard about our fun, she kidded that Widget would grow up to join the Blue Man Group one day — not exactly my vision as I was standing in Ace Hardware buying random hinges, connectors, dowels, and pipe for him to play with.  But once I clicked on their site on the web, I was blown away.  Awesome.

It’s five years later, and I’ve still never been to a show.  Have you? 

Would you like to go?  I’ll pick a random winner from the comments here on Monday at noon EDT, so leave me a comment if you’re interested and available Wednesday night, March 23, for a show at the Warner theater in D.C.  Blue Man will be playing here until Saturday, April 2, and you can get $5 off with the discount code BLISSFUL on shows Wednesday, March 23rd, Thursday, March 24th, and Sunday, March 27th.  Call 800-551-7328 for tickets. 

* I’ve since become aware that PVC pipe is not a good plaything for toddlers because of all the chemicals.  But Boomwhackers are an awesome substitute — and they make REAL MUSIC!  Thanks, Marty for the tip and that long-ago gift — ours have been well-loved!

** Ticket giveaway provided by Blue Man Group.  I have not been compensated for this post in any way; it just sounded like fun.  For additional chances to win, enter the contests at Tech Savvy Mama, I’m Not the Nanny, and Suzie Reviews. 


Moments of Joy

December 14, 2010

On the wall in our family room there is a saying: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  Now, I’m not one to fall for sappy sentiments (really!), but this one is special to me, and it’s kind of become my motto.  A challenge, if you will, to stuff the goodness of living into every day, to make it a habit, which is actually a pretty cool way to walk through life.

Every day we have the opportunity to make a memory, with our children, with our spouse, and with our friends.  Every day, there is beauty, if only we stop to look for it.

TV with the boys

There is beauty in children – and friends’ children – doing the most mundane activities together, like setting up battles with playmobil castles or watching a little Super Why while their mamas rest.  (Look at that little hand!  Instant friends, I tell you!)

There is beauty in teaching children about caring for pets, even if their pets are only guppies that swim to and fro in their tank, among the plants and their own little castle or Eiffel Tower.  When my three-year-old woke me up yesterday with the news that his blue guppy was sick, the concern in his voice melted my heart, and we went to check him out (okay, after just ten more minutes.  It was still dark outside, people!).  As it turned out, the fish wasn’t sick, but injured, and that prompted a trip to the fish store after preschool, our first venture outside in a week, and the purchase of four more girl guppies so the boys wouldn’t fight over the girls so much.  (That will totally be an object lesson when they’re older.)

Meeting @Stimey's mouseThere is beauty in introducing little ones to new ideas, new activities, and new creatures – in seizing opportunities as they arise.  I was blessed to be able to do this last week, when @Canape visited me and we went over to @Stimey’s for a little while, to see friends and to play Wii.  Baby Colin and I were admiring the mice, and Stimey asked if we wanted to hold one.  Did we ever!  And from that moment, a memory was born, of brave Baby Colin reaching out to pet his first little bitty creature (check out the concentration on his face, and the determination in that little bitty pointer finger!), of a friend encouraging us in exploration, and of me holding Canape’s baby boy, introducing him to something new in his world.  Oh, the memory that we made that day is precious indeed.

And one more memory that I treasure today – the friends who have come by to visit me during my illness, grabbing an easy chair and sharing their latest, talking and quietly keeping me company, which is quickly becoming a highlight of my week.  How often do we get to sit and talk – really talk – with a friend for a half hour?  Not nearly often enough.  The friends who have come to visit me while I’m down are friends indeed, and as I move forward through this battle and the rest of my life (link goes to a survivor story I liked today), I will keep those memories in my heart, and remember how friends gave of their time, their precious, oversubscribed mommy time, to help a friend who was ill and tired of being alone in the house.


The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!

June 27, 2010

I just like to say the words in the title of the new PBS kids show, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!

A few of us bloggers were invited to a celebration of the series launch last night downtown at the Newseum.  I don’t attend many of these launches, premieres, and sponsored events, as I don’t talk about products on this blog.  But I *do* talk about educational experiences, and I’m becoming convinced that this show might just be one. 

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Remember The Cat in the Hat?

Of course you do!  But do you know the NEW Cat in The Hat?  The one who guides children through remarkable science adventures through the natural world in the new books in the Cat in the Hat Learning Library?  We were delighted to discover these books when my oldest was a toddler, and we fell in love.  As he grew, we added more books, and we eventually had a full shelf of these entertaining nonfiction books complementing the original Dr. Seuss books and their flights of fancy.

There’s a book about trees.  There’s one about bees.  There’s one about mammals and camels, and one about miles and miles of reptiles.  We’ve been collecting these as our science museum souveniers, actually, since we love to browse in museum gift shops but don’t want to collect little stuffed animals with t-shirts or pencils and such.  At the Baltimore Aquarium, we bought Wish for a Fish.  We found Oh Say, Can You Say, What’s the Weather Today? at the Maryland Science Center.  As we left SeaWorld after a big day with our cousins last year, we bought A Whale of a Tale.  And at Goddard Space Flight Center, we found There’s No Place Like Space (and yes, they released a second edition when Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet). 

So the books are awesome.

And now, there’s a tv show coming out that brings our beloved Dr. Seuss characters — The Cat, the Fish, Sally, and her new best friend Nick, who lives next door (and strongly resembles her brother Dick, with a darker complexion) — to life!  Yes, yes, I had reservations too, but all of that dissapated the moment the room darkened and the Cat in the Hat spoke.  And it was the Cat!  A grown-up’s voice droned about how happy they were to get Martin Short to voice the role, but all I could hear was The Cat, brought to life just like he is in the books.  The Cat, the Fish, Sally — they’re all there, and they all sound just right.

We were told three guiding principles that the team is following for this new series:  1. The animation must look exactly like the books. 2. The Cat must be a trusted guide, not just a creator of mayhem (like in the first books, as entertaining as they are!).   Interestingly, the Cat isn’t an expert in the books and series.  The Cat in the Hat is still learning — exploring along with the kids. It is an unapologetically educational show, with entertaining characters.  (Point 3. Martin Short.)  The speakers emphasized that the show is not just for science kids.  It’s for ALL kids, and the creators wanted to show regular kids getting excited about science and looking to find the answers. 

I twittered the event last night, as I believe I was the only blogger present, and it was great to receive so many responses to my livetweets, from other moms and dads who grew up with and love the Cat as well.  I think it was a risk for Random House to lisence the characters for animation, but in the end, I’m glad that they did, and that they chose PBS kids as a partner. 

I trust PBS kids.  I trust Random House.  And I trust the legacy of Dr. Seuss, managed so well for so many years by his wife Audery Geisel.  We were told last night that she holds the legacy so dear that she would not allow anyone other than PBS to create animation, and she is quoted as saying, “It pleases me to no end to see our incomparable Cat lead this new millennium of children on a rollicking field trip to learn about the vast wonders of nature. All aboard the Thinga-ma-jigger!”

All aboard the Thinga-ma-jigger indeed!

Before I end, I have to tell you a story I learned last night.  Here’s how I jotted it down, in tweets:

Before his death, Theodore Geisel wanted to use early childhood literature to turn kids on to science.  He even went to NASA to suggest a partnership to bring The Cat’s investigative skills to the world of science — and he got approval!  According to Random House Children’s Books Chip Gibson, there was actualy a plan for joint outreach, with an upcoming NASA probe to Mars to have The Cat in the Hat on the nosecone!  All was in place until … (wait for it) … Dr. Seuss lost his battle with cancer.  All the NASA workers in the project were fired.  The End.

After his death, Audrey Geisel agreed to have the characters continue in the Learning Library series, and I am so glad she did. 

I have a several copies of a new paperback book released with the tv show to giveaway today to my readers.  If you’d like a copy of the book about nocturnal animals, called I Love the Nightlife, or one of the recent hardcover books about reptiles or the weather, leave me a comment and I’ll pick a couple of you at random.  Well, not exactly at random.  If random.org picks your number and I don’t know you from previous comments or events, I’ll pick again.  Disclaimer:  Random House and PBS kids hosted my husband and me at a reception, gave us fruity drinks called Thing One and Thing Two, and sent us each home with a totebag with two new books.  Books make me happy.


Visiting Kennedy Space Center

October 30, 2009

My husband and I have always wanted to go to Kennedy Space Center together.

We wanted to go when we were in college.  We wanted to go when we were in graduate school (but by the time we were married and ready to travel, we were writing our dissertations). We wanted to go when we worked for NASA (but we worked for NASA, and were way too busy to vacation. Yes, I know (now) that that’s sad). We wanted to go when we had children (but we had children, and were way too busy still). We wanted to go when a mission I’d worked on launched (but, but, but … and we never went).

A couple of weeks ago, we just went.

Spurred by a question from Ellen, I’m writing up the highlights of our trip, here and on related (linked) posts.

The highlights of our trip to Cocoa Beach in October were many, although not all that varied. We’re space geeks. Period. We love space. And nature. And space again. This trip was a dream come true for us.

The first stop on the Space Coast was the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. The visitor center is actually run by a professional visitor center company, Delaware Parks & Resorts, and it shows. From the highly organized ticket-buying experience to the metal detectors to the visitor center food, it’s definitely done by someone who knows what they’re doing, and who can manage crowds.

Not that there were crowds when we were there. It was October in Florida, after all, which I can tell you is a great time to go. The crowds are thin, the people were relaxed, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. (Although the ocean was cold. Not that we spent much time on the beach.)

We enjoyed the KSC Visitor’s Center immensely, running from the Robotic Exploration exhibit to the Constellation movie to the Rocket Garden, with a stop at the giant playspace full of tunnels, bridges, and slides for the younger set. We took a tour (included with visitor’s admission), filed in to a shuttle mockup for a trip to space (kids under 48″ have to watch from a gallery — but even that was exciting), walked on the gantry that the Apollo astronauts walked, explored a full-size shuttle, and stood solemnly at the Astronaut Memorial. We also touched a celestial sphere with the constellations engraved on it, and marveled as it effortlessly spun in the water base at the gentle push of a toddler’s hand.

One of the best parts of the trip was the KSC Then and Now Space History Tour, a three hour tour (not that kind of three hour tour) that took us onto Kennedy Space Center proper and over to Cape Canaveral, where all the Mercury and Gemini rockets were launched back in the 60’s and the unmanned rockets are still launched today. Highlights for us were a visit to an actual bunkhouse, where we got to see and touch the ancient computers that filled the rooms, sit at a control desk, and stand behind the 12-layered glass where Werner Von Braun once stood. We also went to the Apollo 1 launch pad, and solemnly put our hands on the launch structure where the capsule caught fire, burning Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee alive. This was followed by a quiet ride back to KSC, and a stop at the Saturn V center, where one of the last remaining Saturn V rockets is on display.

Included in our trip to KSC was a stop at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, next to the old Space Camp dorms. The Hall of Fame had quite a few other attractions, including hands-on activities and simulators for the kids (that used to belong to Space Camp). This was a fun stop, and although not a whole day’s destination, it was the perfect way to top off Day #2 at KSC. (KSC offers a second day free at the Visitor Center and/or the Astronaut Hall of Fame simply by validating your ticket on exit.)

After the Hall of Fame, we were starving, and dropped by Kelsey’s for pizza. Yum.

Before we left Florida, we happened on another great place to go, this time in Titusville. The U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum is for the true history buff and/or space-crazy child or teen. This unassuming little museum is packed tight with real pieces of history, like the charred I-beam used to advocate for necessary funding increases for the space program back in the 1980’s. The ragged door from a Mercury capsule that was lost before the manned program began. Lights, switches, and memorabilia given to retiring astronauts, engineers, and launch directors. Handprints from dozens of astronauts, that you can lay your hands in for the asking. An amazing room-sized model of the shuttle launch pad, gantry, and crawler. Rooms for Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. A room set up like the bunkhouse that we’d just seen on the tour, but even more child friendly. Scrapbooks of photos kept by men who made the space program what it is today.

We were led through the museum by retired shuttle launch director (whose name I’ve misplaced), who worked his way up through the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and shuttle missions, growing right along with the space program, and it was amazing to hear his stories firsthand. This museum is free, and well worth any time you spend there. Go, shake the hands of the men who made it happen.

The Space Walk of Fame itself is a block or two away, by a beautiful stretch of water, and it is a must-visit. Scattered over the two block area of Space View Park are monuments to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo engineers, mechanics, flight directors, and all the people who made it happen. Not just the astronauts. Not the astronauts at all, actually, and that was a refreshing change from the astronaut-worship apparent at the KSC Visitor Center. The Space Walk of Fame celebrates hard work. Impossible work, really, and that was a lovely place for us to end our trip.

After a trip to Scoops, for freshly churned ice cream and milkshakes, we played in a nearby park and returned home, tired but happy, our trip complete.

Had we had more time, we would definitely have visited the Brevard Community College Planetarium, which hosts a rooftop observatory with 12 and 24 inch reflectors, a 6 inch refractor, a planetarium with a dual projection system, a 3 story high screened movie theater, and a space museum. The star show is showing Ring World, a favorite of friends of ours … and each show is just $6. We just ran out of time. We’d also like to see the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which friends of ours have loved on their trips there. The Refuge is near the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center, and we’ll definitely make time for that on our next trip.

We can’t wait to go again!

Disclosure: None of the institutions mentioned or NASA paid for any part of this trip in any way at all, nor are they aware of this post. I used to work for NASA, and my husband still does, but I think you knew that already.


Springtime joy

May 25, 2009

Lazy hours in the backyard hammock, and climbing up the strings like ropes on a pirate ship;
Batting balls around the tennis courts, with breaks of exploration in the woods to find the ones that soared;
Strawberry picking, and the shortcake that Mama makes afterwards;
(Very) minor league baseball, complete with soft pretzel, cheese fries, and good friends;
Sharing the backseat of a minivan, and giggling all the way;
Birthday parties, sandboxes, and even a pinata;
Clambering up the playset’s rock wall, carefully, so carefully;
Squirting Daddy with the tiny hose of an outdoor fire truck;
Paddling along on the scooter on the sidewalk, daydreaming;
Chalking the sidewalk with the neighbor kids;
Digging in the garden to find “baby wormies;”
Pretending that the backyard fort is … oh, so many, many things; and
Cuddling with Mama at bedtime, reading story after story as the sun goes down.

These are the things that my children may remember from this spring, oh, so different than the last.


Happy Mother’s Day

May 11, 2009

For weeks, they’ve giggled together, huddled in conference and whispered ideas that suddenly stop when I enter the room.  They’ve planned, they’ve plotted, and today it paid off in spades.

My preschooler (oh! soon they will both be preschoolers!) popped out from behind the door this morning and said, “Happy Mother’s Day!” at the top of his lungs.  They got dressed quickly while I took a leisurely shower (Happy Mother’s Day indeed!) and took me out for breakfast at my favorite breakfast place.  You know, the one where you take visiting company and don’t think about it “just for us.”  Yum.

We came home to homemade cards and beautiful flowers, one bouquet picked out by each child.  Just what I always wanted.

But then we changed clothes, went over to the park and hit the ball around a while.  Tennis with a two-year-old, my favorite.  WD and I were able to get in a few volleys, and the kids went traipsing through the woods with me to snag the ball I hit high, so high, over the fence.

After tennis but before the playground, we went and checked out the grassy baseball field nearby.  I told Widget about baseball, taught him the terms, pretended he hit a homer, and we ran the bases together, laughing in the fresh air, delighted that we could breathe freely again as the muggy, wet days finally lifted.

Bear joined us, with WD, and we jumped in the mud puddle in the infield, although the game was soon called on account of butterfly.

While the kids napped, we drove a ways to the home of a nearby minor (very minor!) league baseball team.  For $21, the four of us soon went sailing through the turnstiles, perching our tushs on aluminum bleachers and sitting close (so close!) to the players on the field.  I taught Widget all about the game, and we thrilled to the old fashioned organ sound, clapping the rhythms, and cheering “Charge!” with the fans around us.

We sat like that in the sunshine for quite some time, excited and comfortable, and happy all at once.

The kids played on the playground, and Mama got to lie on the hill and watch the game from the grassy part of the stadium, as if it were a stadium of her youth.  Daddy cheered the players and ate greasy chili cheese fries from a helmet.

And guess who went home with a game ball?  You guessed it.  Widget and Little Bear.

Game Ball

Hey, Bear, what do you have? Game ball.

Apparently, when you go to a minor (very minor) league game, it’s considered good form to give foul balls to the nearest little kid.  In fact, everyone watches you until you do.  So we saw, over and over, grade schoolers delight in catching foul balls, and preschoolers’ faces shine with gratitude when the college kids nearby handed over the loot.  (Although I totally would have caught ours if that man hadn’t reached in front of me to snag it.)

By the time the game was over, we were deliriously happy and very tired.

As I put Widget to bed, I whispered, “Thank you for the best Mother’s Day ever,” and he whispered back, “Thank you for enjoying it.”

Oh, my child, how could I not?