Meet the Elements

Posted on 8/31/2010 11:14:00 PM In:
Dormouse: "What is an element?"

Caterpillar: "An element is... is... isssss.... an element!"

Genius, that one.

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Periodic Insanity

Posted on 8/31/2010 08:25:00 AM In:
I've learned a few things about being involved with Parent-Teacher Organizations in the past several months. Never let your pissed-offed-ness about not being informed of something important get the better of you. Because what that means is you might allow yourself to raise your hand when they say, "If you serve as an officer on this PTO you'll know about things before everyone else does and we really need volunteers to..." Beware! It's a carrot! A carrot at the end of the stick! And at the other end of that stick is a bomb waiting to blow and destroy all your free time and faith in humanity.

But if you, like me, are too stupid to follow the above advice, here are some helpful hints for serving on a PTO board: Never agree to be on the board of a PTO before you've even been involved in the program. Never let them bump you up to Vice President of that PTO because someone else would rather serve at the Secretary level. And never, ever, post your home email address on the listserv of that PTO in an attempt to get volunteers for a project, because the entire listserv will write it down and then email you random questions, kvetches, and comments about which you have not clue one for answering. (Fortunately, I've been smart enough not to share my home phone number... yet.) These things should have been obvious to me and truth be told, they ARE obvious to me. At least they would have been before I had kids. But once children enter your life, a great deal of your perspective is destroyed.

I'm often really hard on parents who seem to be pushing their kids to learn and perform above their age level and ability. And I have to say that in the community of parents I'm now a part of, it's often well-deserved. Like the educational version of a certain genre of TV shows I won't allow on my television machine. Last year, I was talking to one parent who volunteered to the conversation, - out of the blue and completely apropos of nothing - "My second grader and I have kind of a fun little project going in my basement. We're building a working satellite which we will then launch into space next Spring." In this group, that translates to "I am so much a better parent than any of you will ever be, you should just all give up right now." Which is really just the grown-up version of saying, "My kid is smarter than yours, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah."

So here's where I confess my own sins to the interweb: sometimes, just sometimes, stuff happens to make you look like the parent of a precocious kid and it's totally not your doing whatsoever.

Case in point, this is what The Dormouse and I have been working on all summer:


Yes, that's the Periodic table of the elements.

If I were you and you were me, I'd look at me/you and roll my/your eyes too. This is way over a six year old's head, I'd say. There is no way this activity is a child-directed activity. This is a simple case of a pushy parent. And those are just the things I'd say out loud. What I'd be thinking is much worse. I admit it, I'm a judgmental biotch.

But somewhere in the middle of the summer, when I was doing a pretty crappy job administrating Camp Sweatshop and letting them watch way too much TV, The Dormouse wandered off somewhere in house and found the board I'd never gotten rid of when we made made this activity for Daddy's birthday.

"Momma, look what I found! You're not using this anymore, are you? Can we use this chart and learn about a different element each day and I'll write the element in the box?"

"Wow, honey," I said, "that sounds like a really.... bad idea."

"But if we do this then I will know more about science and I really want to learn more about science. Can we? Huh? Can we? Can we? I want to know more about science. Can we? Pleeeeeze???"


And then, partly because I was feeling guilty for not having worked harder to stimulate her mind this summer, partly because somewhere in the back of my head, my college training in Montessori methods reared up and said, "Follow the child, dumass!" and partly because Elmo chose that exact moment to go on TV and sing, " Jacket jacket jacket, jacket jacket jacket, jacket jacket jacket jacket jaaac-keeeeeeet... ♪," (my thoughts on Elmo are clear). I told her, sure, we could do that.

The inherent problem should be obvious here: how to discuss the Periodic Table of the Elements on a six-year old level. I scoured the web for lesson plans that might help me figure out how to present this to her in a way that she could understand. Not surprisingly, there aren't any second grade level lesson plans about the Periodic Table because in most thoughtful circles, people realize it isn't a second grade topic. The closest thing I found was aimed at 8th graders. I decided to wing it and have just a very (VERY) light overview of the elements, stressing the idea that molecules can combine to form other "things." They Might Be Giants were a big help. We started with easy things like Oxygen, Gold, Silver, Sodium... things that we have around the house and I could show her. That was exciting, until we got to things for which she (and I) have no reference. Seaborgium, for example, is one of those things that I surprisingly don't have in plentiful supply in my kitchen. The gasseous elements - argon and radon, for example - are also a little difficult to approach because you can't exactly Google up a picture of what xenon looks like. Krypton comes with a completely different frame of reference.

We still haven't gotten through the entire table and I really didn't push it once we got past the simpler ones that were easy to explain, mainly because I'm pretty lazy. When she thinks about it, she'll pull the chart out and we'll do one or two more so she can write them in. I'm quite confident that a) I've learned more about the elements this summer than she has, and b) none of this will be useful to her until at least middle school, by which point in time she will have forgotten everything. (Which is probably OK because I'm not sure how accurate my information is. I'm a therapist, not a chemist.)

I didn't really even think about how it came off outside our house until she started coming home from school last week telling me how she was telling her teacher that her necklace was silver and silver was an element, and that element is metal and it's symbol is Ag, and one of her interests she presented in the "getting to know me week" was how she liked science and was learning about the elements. It was then that I started thinking how this little "project" probably looks from the point of the teacher. As in, "My stars in heaven, this child can't even spell multiplication, maybe her mother should hold off on the comprehensive study of the Periodic Table until we have a few more of the basics in place."

I guess what I'm trying to say here, is maybe that parent who's building a satellite in their basement deserves a little more slack.

Our model of a water molecule.

Building blocks of... OK, at this point, I think they are just playing with Legos

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Too Much About Me

Posted on 8/30/2010 06:32:00 PM
The Dormouse started her second week of school today and brought home all the papers she worked on last week. Apparently they spent a lot of time getting to know one another. Thought you would enjoy a look at some of the things she shared with the class. The printed questions are in bold. Italics are her entries.

I'm glad to be back in school because: School rocks!
(Excellent, baby. Brown nose early; it sets the stage for later on.)

This year I want to learn: divisoin, and multapacation.
(Perhaps she should lern sum spelin'.)


The last time I went to the library was: June 13th, 2010
(She must have checked her date book because darn if that's not specific.
)

How many students do you think are in our class? 29

How many students do you think are in our school? 53

Name the classroom rules:

Raise your hand and don't shout out because if you shout out the teacher will shout over you and lose her voice.

Respect others because if you don't they will be mean to you.

My Top 10 Favorite Things are:
Food: ice cream
Sport: vollyball
School subject: sience
Holiday: Christmas
Pet: cat and dog
Friend: Mitchell
Season: summer or winter
TV Show: Sweet Life on Deck (I don't know where she's seen this, but it sure ain't at my house)
Pizza Topping: extra cheese
Toy: smelly pony

I often think about all the things my children's teachers will learn about my children and my family over the years... and it scares me.

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By Night

Posted on 8/29/2010 09:32:00 AM In:
Part of the entertainment planned in New York City: stalking celebrities.

Is that a person looking out the penthouse window with a phone in his hand, calling the police?

Word to the wise: If you carry one of those smarty phones around with you, and you're as proficient in the art of Google-stalking as Monica is, you can pretty much figure out where anyone lives.

This is your view when you travel with us to the big and bustling city:


Holland Tunnel

Somewhere near Madison Square Garden


It may not be fancy, but at least we know enough to get the best seat on the bus.

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Kissing In

Posted on 8/28/2010 07:11:00 AM In:

Back when we were in New York, (Like how I constantly refer to the one interesting thing that's happened to me over the past three months? Like how it seems we were in New York for weeks when in actually, it was only a little over forty-eight hours? One of the rules to traveling with Monica and I is that it doesn't matter how tired you are or how much sleep you missed out on by taking the 4:00 am bus we scheduled to get four more hours out of the outing, you must be willing to squeeze as much entertainment as you possibly can into every single minute you are there. You must not stop moving. You must not complain. You will walk from the Upper East Side to Lower Manhattan and you will like it because it's better to walk around exploring than take a cab. You will also make no mention of the fact that we've stopped and eaten at seven different restaurants since breakfast and it's only 2:00 pm. You will just enjoy the chance to sit down for a minute and eat your third fifth seventh cupcake of the day. Also: Like how I drag these posts about New York out to make it seem like I have a waaaay more interesting life than I really do? That's because it beats the hey Interweb, I picked up my kids' dirty underwear off the floor again today kinds of posts and that's pretty much all I have once you take away the couple of you-are-not-a-mother-today days I get each year. And one more thing: Like how this entire paragraph is parenthetical, pretty much one, undeveloped thought and now you can't even remember the sentence I started way back up there at the beginning of this post? Me too.)

Anyway, back when we were in New York, we stumbled across the Times Square Kiss-In, held to commemorate V-J day and this photo, taken in Times Square in 1945.

On the anniversary of the end of World War II, the Times Square Alliance invited couples from all generations and of all types to celebrate again in Times Square, in honor of the US Armed Forces and in celebration of the universal ideals of peace, love and hope.

A special invitation was extended to couples whose kisses bridge boundaries, be they religious, political, racial, national or otherwise, as well as veterans of WWII, returning veterans from the Iraq War, and couples in costumes commemorating the original 1945 kiss.

I'm not a big fan of the Times Square area. There are so many interesting, unusual, un-experienced restaurants and business in New York, why would you want to travel all the way there and then eat at Applebee's, look at an ad for Coke, and then go shop for sporting goods at Modell's? I want to do something I can't do in, oh, EVERY OTHER CITY IN AMERICA. (Although we did stop by the new Pop-Tart store and the 50th anniversary Hello Kitty store. Those don't exist in D.C... and they were pretty unimpressive.)

Times Square is, however, on the way to Broadway... and I am a big fan of Broadway. So it wasn't too far out of our way to stop by the Kiss-In and see what was up.


Unconditional Surrender, by John Seward Johnson

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For Fast Relief

Posted on 8/26/2010 08:24:00 AM In:

The Bromo Seltzer Tower has stood sentry over downtown Baltimore since 1911 when it was the tallest structure in Baltimore. It was designed by Joseph Evans Sperry and was constructed by "Captain" Isaac E. Emerson, the inventor of the headache remedy Bromo Seltzer (which was basically just aspirin in fizzy water). He loved the city of Baltimore and it's said he tried to "advance the city to push Baltimore to the front," whatever that means. Your guess as to the front of what is as good as mine.

Originally, the tower was topped with a fifty-one-foot revolving replica of the blue bromo-seltzer bottle, illuminated with five hundred and ninety-six lights. I've read it could be seen twenty miles away. Unfortunately, the bottle was removed in 1936 due to structural concerns and was never replaced. This saddens me to no end.

The building's most famous feature is the still-functioning tower clock, with the four clock faces on the North, South, East and West sides. The clock faces are adorned with the letters B-R-O-M-O S-E-L-T-Z-E-R, (I wonder if they planned the company name with twelve letters on purpose?) while the Roman numeral numbers are less prominent. So even in the 1930s, they were dealing with their own version of big business naming prominent landmarks as a marketing gimmick.

When I first moved to this area, the two hundred and eighty-eight foot tower was pretty much abandoned. More recently, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts has renovated it into artists' studios and the original factory at the ground level is now a firehouse, where, when you stop by to take a picture, the fireman stare at you like you're an idiot.

It also invites the heavens to smile down upon it occasionally.


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Sweet Tooth

Posted on 8/25/2010 09:08:00 AM In: ,
One of the last Camp Sweatshop activities the weekend before school started began as something completely different. I'll get to that in another post. But we ended up taking the girls on a cruise of the Baltimore Inner Harbor. This is my favorite landmark on the harbor, the Domino Sugar factory at Locust Point. If you get there at the right time of day and the wind is blowing in the right direction, the whole harbor smells like brown sugar, which makes the filthy water seem a lot more appetizing.


There's actually something wrong with this photo. Can anyone figure it out?

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Triregno

Posted on 8/24/2010 07:27:00 AM
Know why it's awesome to have kids?

Because when they stick a toilet ring on their head, walk into the living room in front of company and announce:

"I'm a Pope!"

you get to take a picture and put it on the internet to save the story for when they're older and will be appropriately embarrassed by it all.


Until then, you're left to wonder just how it is they know who the Pope is and what he wears on his head anyway.

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Commuting

Posted on 8/24/2010 06:20:00 AM In:
I've posted pictures of Grand Central Station before, but after my expedition to The Chrysler Building it was only 8:00 and I still wasn't ready to go back to the hotel and wake up Monica. So I made a return trip with a better camera and grabbed a few more shots.


Funny story: a reproduction of this clock used to be part of the set of Saturday Night Live and I never really realized that it came from anywhere but Saturday Night Live until the first time I visited Grand Central a couple of years ago. Color me a woman of the world.

The day we become so security conscious that an armed guard can't shirk his duty in order to check his personal email on his iPhone is the day the terrorists win.


Does your subway station come complete with chandeliers? I thought not.

Ghosts of commuters

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Egg Bouquet

Posted on 8/23/2010 06:38:00 PM In:
School started today and I'm officially declaring an end to Camp Sweatshop.

Huzzah.


The return of school doesn't really make me dance through the streets like it does some parents, because what it means for me is that I have a much tighter schedule to deal with, two different places to make sure the children get to each day instead of one, and the risk of traffic causing me to not make in home in time to meet the bus makes the threat of neighbors calling CPS once again very real. On the other hand, I don't have to entertain them nearly as much and the hours the Large One is out of the house are covered by taxes I'm already required to pay, so my checking account will no longer look like
monster truck drove over it for the entertainment of thousands. I'm calling it a wash.

Here's one of our last Camp Sweatshop activities. Yes, I resorted to an egg carton craft from my childhood. What can I say? I had all the stuff on hand. I'm gonna call this an environmental education lesson in recycling. I don't think I need to explain at all how to do it. We'll just let the photos speak for themselves.


Now, apply paint and markers liberally to both flowers and children.

The only problem with activities like these is this is what now decorates your kitchen table and you won't ever, ever be able to throw it out because if you happen to even try to toss one or two things, you'll be met with four sad eyes and a lot of awwwww-ing. Then you'll be guilt-ed into keeping it along with the metric ton of other projects that are floating around the house and eventually you will suffocate under a pile of children's crafts. And then one day your friends will nominate you to be on an episode of Hoarders.

But at least your hoarded crap will be cute kids' projects and not cats.


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Empire

Posted on 8/22/2010 10:27:00 AM In:
Though I could never love it like I love the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building is no slouch itself in the New York City Building scene.


Especially when they light it up at night and it looks appropriately creepy.


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It's a Little Known Historical Fact That...

Posted on 8/21/2010 11:11:00 AM
KingofHearts: "I just finished reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

Me: "How was it? Any good?"

KoH: "It was okay. You probably wouldn't like it. Well, you'd like the historical aspect of it, I guess."

Me: "Um... you're aware that that book isn't non-fiction, right?"

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Deco

Posted on 8/21/2010 07:37:00 AM In:
Much like bird watchers have their life lists, I have a life list of buildings. Many of these buildings, I've seen, but in my weird little OCD world, I don't get to check them off until I photograph them for definitive proof. The Chrysler Building in New York is one of those buildings that I've seen several times, but never been with a decent camera when I was near it.

I love Art Deco style and this building is such a perfect example of it, that you just can't go wrong. It's also one of the most mistreated buildings in New York. When The Chrysler Building was first completed, it stood as the tallest building in New York City... for eleven months... until the Empire State Building was finished. (Unlike the Empire State Building, however, no one had to die to complete it.) Then it was demoted to the second tallest building. It held it's ranking there for about forty years until the World Trade Center was completed and bumped it down to number three. We all know how that ended. So in 2001, the Chrysler Building regained it's second place status, under circumstances I'm sure it never would have wanted. It stayed there for a mere six years, when the spire on the Bank of America Tower was raised and the little building that could was moved back to third place. That same year, the New York Times Building was completed at exactly the same height, causing Chrysler to now share it's place at third. Poor little dumped on Chrysler. One day it's going to just up and move to another city like Topeka, where it will be appreciated, declaring "You won't have the Chrysler Building to kick around anymore."

Because the rules for traveling with Monica are simple, when I woke up earlier than most humans should one morning while we were in New York last week and couldn't go back to sleep, I grabbed my camera and sneaked off to let her sleep. I realized we were near the Turtle Bay area so I wandered off to find the Chrysler Building by myself. This also served to keep from boring my traveling companion with my habit of incessantly wandering around a block multiple times to capture every possible angle of a single building that simply is not going to change when I get back to the front. But that seventy-fifth photo? That might just be THE ONE. So you better take a few more.

Because I could never choose just one, here are my favorite few photos of one of my favorite buildings.


The iconic view.


The front entrance.

I waited forever for that damn bus to move, but apparently, the driver was taking a nap.

From down the street.


Looking up.

I think it's so interesting how skyscrapers look like completely different buildings when you're standing next to them.

Corner detail.

Am a big fan of not putting anachronistic gargoyles on modern buildings.

Looming above.


Reflected.


My architect historian friend Mr. Google just informed me that you can actually tour the Chrysler Building. Now I have to go back.

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Living Large in the Big Apple

Posted on 8/20/2010 11:23:00 AM In:
I may not have a lot of friends, but those I do manage to keep around are pretty awesome. And not just because they manage to procure cool stuff that I get to participate in, though that's definitely a plus.

Case in point.

This is the first of the two hotel rooms we stayed in when we went to New York for the Fringe Festival last weekend. This was was the one on 5th Avenue, near Bryant Park.


The shower was so complicated I couldn't even figure out how to use it. Maybe part of the problem was that I it was so big I had to walk back and forth between the walls to turn on different fixtures and if you walked into the shower and stood on the side without the fixtures, you could remain completely clothed because you wouldn't get wet.

This was our free "amenity" from our concierge, Jefoneeff. No seriously, his name was Jef. But I'm pretty confident that that was just a shortened nickname-version of his name. We chose to refer to him by his full given name, Jefoneeff. He gave us his card, his mobile phone, his phone, and his text number, should we need anything, anytime of the day or night. I had to open my own door a couple of times going into the hotel, but I'm gonna let that slide, I guess because Jefoneeff was adorably cute.


I realize it's a pretty sucky "amenity," but consider this, there were two more plums and a tiny, ping pong-sized apple in there before I thought to take a picture. That's pretty awesome, right? OK, maybe not, but the free Diet Cokes, spring water in Vodka-bottle-shaped-plastic-bottles and candy bars in the minibar made up for it partly.

The awesome bed covered the other part. You can see Monica enjoying it here.


That was the first hotel we stayed in. Pretty nice. But nothing compared to the hotel we stayed in in lower Manhattan over the second night. Please let me take you on a tour through the home I wish I had.

The great room.


Other side of the great room, complete with big screen TV #1 equipped with visual ambiance choices. This was the Hubble telescope program.


The bathroom:


This glass wash basin would probably be a huge pain to keep looking clean, but it was my favorite part of the bathroom.


The gigantic shower/tub area with no shower curtain or bathroom door to shield your nakedness from others in the room at the time. I guess people who would normally stay in this room would be beautiful enough to not care a whit if others saw them bending over shaving their legs.


The giant square bathtub made up for the doorless bathroom because you could almost kneel in the full tub and still be up to your chest in water.


The Dressing Area.


TV #2. The back of TV #2 is a mirror and makeup vanity/desk. The box in the center of the room where the robe (complimentary robes and slippers provided) is hanging is the closet/complimentary mini bar.



The Sitting Area.


The Bedroom.


Another Awesome bed. I don't know what they make these beds out of but I'm pretty sure it involves magical elves and cocaine dust. They were so comfortable.

My second favorite thing: coolest way to display a room number I've ever seen.


Oh and let's not forget The Views.

Yes, I said "viewS."

Both cityscape,


and waterfront.


OK, those of you from the wide open spaces may not be all that impressed with the views, but I've stayed in a few hotels in New York and let me just assure you that if you have any window looking out over anything other than a view of another building with some naked guy's butt occasionally strolling by one of the windows or a view of the garbage in the alley with rats and coke whores milling around, THAT'S a pretty awesome view.

Of course that's not to say the view of people sleeping on the streets wasn't an option here too. If you like that sort of thing.


Plus, on the third side view of our room (THIRD SIDE!!) was this:



Who doesn't love a view of the person's apartment across the street who's using his/her window sills for bookshelves and decorates with mannequin arms? No one, that's who!

Total cost for this weekend of luxury accommodations thanks to Monica's superior planning, manipulation and scamming powers: $0.

$0.00

Zero dollars and zero cents.

Food and entertainment was another story, but we weren't planning on cheaping out for this trip. (Other trips to New York have cost us less than $20 a person including transportation, food, lodging and entertainment, I kid you not, so we felt justified in splurging on this one and spent much of our time in plays and famous chef's restaurants.) I personally could have stay in the hotel rooms the entire three days and still have been as entertained.

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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