Wednesday, November 28, 2012

mathy fun for the season

i was certain sure i'd mentioned vi hart before, but in doing a quick scan of my prior mathy posts, i found i had only referenced her videos on mathy food for thanksgiving.

she's an awesome mathemusician and diana and i love to watch her videos. she's quirky and funny and loves sharpies and lined paper and snakes and food and patterns and explaining what she notices.

so, i was checking out her channel on youtube and came across the gauss christmath special.  it won't turn us away from singing "the twelve days of christmas" in our usual manner, which is often ridiculous and full of laughter, but it is amazing to learn so many mathy things in just one song!

as an aside, her doodle music is quite mesmerizing to watch and listen to, too.

the second thing i found was an interesting twist on an advent calendar (or count-up calendar, as we tend to refer to it; it's not count-down because the numbers are getting larger, not smaller, as one would do before blasting off a rocket, for example) coming from let's play math.

and since diana really does love to do math worksheets that are themed for the holidays, i'm going to offer some of the christmas ones available at

don't forget to check out my post about getting our frost on where i mention the sites about snowflakes.  mathematics is the study of patterns, or so i have been told, and there's a lot of cool patterns going on in snowflakes.

yay math!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

getting our frost on

it doesn't snow where we currently live in california.  the last time the kids saw snow was probably well over three years ago.  diana vaguely remembers it; ander, not at all.

we hope to travel a little way toward tahoe at the beginning of next year to have a snow day, but until then, we have to be a little more creative.

diana made snow for ander last night, chopping up ice cubes into increasingly smaller crystals.  it was sufficient for him to stick his fingers in.  she donned gloves to make a little snowball, part of her work using different media to create her quark characters.

there's the drawing of snowmen...and snowwomen, and snowbrothers and snowsisters, and snowgoats and snowcows and snowdogs and snowcats (you get a sense of a theme emerging from ander, here?)

there's the singing of holiday carols like "winter wonderland," which contains lyrics about winter underwear.  at least our version does.

there's the creation of paper snowflakes.  online versions called make-a-flake and snowdays appeal to those of us who are not as dexterous with scissors as we'd like to be.  this site offers an interesting rotational perspective.

bonus: if you want to know more about snowflakes, there's plenty to learn at snowcrystals - they have lots and lots of photos, information, and loads of links!

there's the making of crystal ornaments, like we've done before using borax and pipe cleaners.

and there's SCIENCE!  we just came across frostbite theater from jefferson lab, which has a treasure trove of videos about liquid nitrogen.  we don't happen to keep a supply of LN2 around here, so this definitely fills that unacceptable gap in materials around here.

yep, i'm feeling a bit of chill in the air!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

winter holiday viewing

so, after we've started the winter holiday playlist and brought out the winter holiday reading, it's time to tell you what we're watching these days.

george balanchine's the nutcracker - by far the kids' favorite, this version has marie, the land of the sweets, and the sugar plum fairy

mikhail baryshnikov's the nutcraker - ander is really getting into this one, watching baryshnikjov's amazing talent; this one has clara and the nutcracker prince is her love interest

the muppet christmas carol - this is our family's all-time-favorite to watch, which means it's hard to put it away each year but very necessary to do so or we'd wear out the tape.  this is the version on vhs, not the dvd, which made changes that are quite sacreligious to us, like removing the song "the love is gone."  good luck trying to find the original.  we will simply fall apart when our tape does.

national geographic animal holiday - we especially like watching this karaoke-style with the words on the screen to sing along to.  ander memorized the animal version of "the twelve days of christmas" in about 12 seconds last year, so it's in stiff competition with the muppets' version.

and especially for me:

dr. seuss' how the grinch stole christmas

a charlie brown christmas

it's a wonderful life - going to have to find my own personal black-and-white original, rather than the colorized versions

what does your family like to watch during the winter holidays?

Friday, November 23, 2012

winter holiday reading

i knew i was doing the right thing when i brought in the first box of holiday items for the kids - our books!  they fit right alongside our winter holiday playlist.

i don't typically put books out of reach any time of year.  but we knew last year that we'd be moving, and we have much less space here in the apartment for books, so i had to make a decision.  the kids practically jumped into the pile i made on the floor, each finding selections that appealed to them.

here's what we have acquired over the years through gifts and library & book sale finds:

for readers who love illustrations in particular:

the twelve days of christmas by laurel long

the polar express by chris van allsburg

a christmas carol by charles dickens, illustrated by p.j. lynch

the mitten by jan brett

the hat by jan brett

for nutcracker fans:

george balanchine's the nutcracker photographed and told by joel meyerowitz

pacific northwest ballet presents nutcracker

the nutcracker: a young reader's edition of the holiday classic adapted by daniel walden, illustrated by don daily

the story of the nutcracker ballet by deborah hautzig

for the youngest readers (or readers-along):

the snowman (lift the flaps) by raymond briggs

the snowman (step into reading) by raymond briggs

a silly snowy day by michael coleman

snow day by barbara joosse

hallmark story book: stories of santa

hallmark story book: the snow must go on! a way, way off-broadway adventure

the magic of christmas: a treasury of holiday stories (sandy creek press)

fisher-price little people christmas is here! (lift the flaps)

the night before christmas by clement moore, illustrated by ted rand

the night before christmas by clement moore, illustrated by wendy watson

folk tales:

baboushka and the three kings by ruth robbins

the mitten retold by alvin tresselt

christmas tapestry by patricia polacco

other delightful and entertaining selections for a variety of ages:

the story of holly and ivy by rumer godden

winter poems selected by barbara rogasky

bear mouse by berneice freschet

christmas at stony creek by stephanie greene

tim burton's the nightmare before christmas

usborne young reading: a christmas carol adapted by lesley sims

hallmark books: the joy of a peanuts christmas: 50 years of holiday comics by charles schultz

herschel and the hanukkah goblins by eric kimmel

i've just been on our library website to look up some chanukah titles to try out, and we are waiting to pick up some more about st. nicholas.  now my challenge is to find books for my favorite: winter solstice.

what stories are must-read traditions for your family for this holiday season?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

welcoming nature in

while others were busy rushing and driving and shopping and stressing yesterday, we needed a quieter, less structured activity.

explorit has extended hours during the holiday, probably to accommodate the kids who are out of school, but it was relatively empty when we went in the afternoon.  there's a new exhibit on agriculture with all sorts of things to try out plus our standard favorites: microscopes, forced air tubes, rotational surface, and discovery den full of hands-on materials.

we brought baskets with us for a nature collection walk.  a stop at the playground for swinging, climbing, and sand play was a must.

we'd watched schlessinger media's "holidays for children: thanksgiving" video and were inspired by a mobile craft.  we looked all over to find materials for our work - there was an abundance to see above ground and to take from what had already fallen.


ander created his minimalist, simple mobile to stay in nature - he found a place to fasten it in a nook of a tree.  diana and i brought our materials home and worked on our own.  it's amazing to see what we what come up with when we have no instructions - just our imaginations and personal sense of what is beautiful.

though steve is not able to be home for this thanksgiving, i am still happyer at home and thankful that i have the time and opportunity to find these quiet moments to discover and explore and create and enjoy with my children.

Monday, November 19, 2012

winter holiday playlist

despite my pleas for holding off on winter holiday music until after thanksgiving, we are diving in, full steam ahead.  diana has started to practice her christmas piano selections, and we've been watching and singing along with the soundtrack of the muppet christmas carol for over a week now.  tchaikovsky's nutcracker is also running, in its entirety, through our minds.

for the past couple of years we have assembled some of our favorite winter holiday musical selections into cds.  i've listed below what we've enjoyed hearing and singing along to.

i saw three ships (instrumental) - lorie line and her pop chamber orchestra

christmas is coming - john denver and the muppets

it came upon a midnight clear - mercy me

little town - amy grant

christmastime is here - vince guaraldi trio

gloria - mercy me

coventry carol - the all-saints ensemble

for unto us a child is born - handel

the friendly beasts (instrumental) - lorie line and her pop chamber orchestra

white is in the winter night - enya

it feels like christmas - the muppet christmas carol

soul cake - sting

thankful heart  - the muppet christmas carol

trains and winter rains - enya

o tannenbaum - vince guaraldi trio

have yourself a merry little christmas  - john denver and the muppets
sleigh ride - amy ride

walking in a winter wonderland

the holly and the ivy

deck the halls - nat king cole

here we come a wassailing - king's singers

the twelve days of christmas - john denver and the muppets


i think that i'll need to add "walking in the air" from the snowman to that list.  i sang it as part of the woodland chamber singers' holiday concert last year and really liked it.  after hearing it performed by chloe agnew (celtic woman), i was mesmerized.

ander also likes "good king wenceslas" played by a brass band.

we're also very, very fond of the maccabeats' videos for hanukkah - "candlelight" and "miracle" were played over and over and over (and over) again at our house last year.


what music do you like to play for the winter holidays (including but not limited to: hanukkah, winter solstice, and christmas )?  we love suggestions!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

thoughts for thanksgiving

we have the good fortune to have good friends who cook good food and actually seem to enjoy our company enough that they have invited us to thanksgiving dinner.

hooray for us!  hosting a holiday meal is a big deal and has usually stressed me out.  this time, i can relax and enjoy myself, secure in the knowledge that someone else is handling the turkey while i can make what i do best, which is sweet potatoes (no, not the candied canned ones with marshmallows, but real sweet potatoes steamed and mashed with obscene amounts of butter), pumpkin biscuits, and green bean casserole (hey, i'm from the midwest, and we always eat this, though i am now a convert to the trader joe's way of making it which involves real fried onions that are to die for).

this also means that the kids and i are freed up to investigate thanksgiving history and traditions.

we explored the you are the historian interactive last year and will likely repeat it.  i think this year that ander may enjoy it, too.

from the same source, plimoth plantation, there are some interesting-looking videos.

i need to dig out our copy of eating the plates: a pilgrim book of food and manners by lucille penner.

i get inspiration and ideas for arts and crafts from the crafty crow and spoonful (which i think was formerly family fun and i liked it better then but am trying to get used to the new site), always love the printables from the toymaker, and have been perusing activity village for coloring pages.

i added a new book to our home library: look what i did with a leaf! by morteza sohi (this was a book i fell in love with at the book garden, just like i did with the tree book for kids and their grown-ups by gina ingoglia, and gave to diana for her 9 3/4 birthday).  it is still fall, after all, and though the kids are determined to start singing winter holiday songs prior to the beginning of december, for goodness' sake, i'm trying to retain the rhythm of the seasons and not rush through them.

i'd love to hear what you do/have done to learn about the history of thanksgiving and what traditions your family holds dear.  you know, the really cool stuff, like watching this or this or this or this from mathemusician vi hart.  wait, you didn't know that everything has to do with math? ;)

made it back to the book garden and found two new books about the pilgrims for diana - n.c. wyeth's pilgrims with text by robert sans souci and and the adventurous life of myles standish and the amazing-but-true survival story of plymouth colony by cheryl harness.  and has some great, quick videos about thanksgiving history.

louisa may alcott's an old-fashioned thanksgiving is just delightful, too, especially for those readers fond of laura ingalls wilder.  and the illustrations by brinton turkle in over the river and through the wood by lydia child just drip delightful nostalgia.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

getting ahead of myself: st. nicholas day

i've noticed that a lot of my posts regarding holidays or remembrance or recognition of some kind are written long enough after the event to make my suggestions potentially amusing or interesting to read but not really useful until the recurrence of that special day or event, by which time everyone, including me, has forgotten them.

i also realize that living in the present does require some preparation on my part so that i may enjoy it in a timely fashion.

and, because the kids are anxious to start decorating for, and celebrating the not-imminent-enough arrival of our winter holiday season, i've begun the time-honored process of locating and pulling out materials for said holidays.

among the first things i found were my materials about st nicholas day.  (coincidentally, i saw a notice from st. nicholas center on facebook earlier today).

so, whether you already celebrate st. nicholas day, or never heard of it, or have heard of it and want to know more, here is our list from the past (to which i hope to be adding this year): - "discovering the truth about santa claus"- this has so much good information that it's a one-stop-shop for all things st. nicholas-y

- make miters out of red napkins for the holiday table
- leave wooden shoes out at night in the hopes of seeing them filled the next morning with sweet treats
- read the baker's dozen: a saint nicholas tale retold by aaron shephard
- read the legend of saint nicholas by demi

what can you add to this list?

Friday, November 16, 2012

election day extravaganza

i thought that diana would be the only one of my children interested in election day activities.  boy, was i wrong!

i had started her off beforehand with some preparation, outlined here.  (i did, in fact, renew brainpop, so we had lots more to explore there.)

we also watched the schlessinger media video from the library - "election day" - which is in their holidays for kids series.

that kinda got ander's attention.   so did the signs right across the street from our house, proclaiming "vote here."  (when we moved earlier this year, our voting precinct changed.  how lucky for us we could just walk!)

he spent the day outside with his model rockets, watching people coming in and out.  individuals, couples, younger, older, parents with kids.  he decided that he did want to go vote, after all!

just as we had at our former voting precinct, there was an identical booth, lowered to accommodate their shorter stature, for kids to vote alongside their parents.  we had paper ballots and black markers; the kids had fun colored highlighter pens.

diana stood with ander, patiently reading the ballot items to him and indicating that he needed to choose one response per item.  they were quiet, attentive to each other, almost somber in their concentration on making decisions.  then, ander drew a rocket in the blank area.  perhaps he wanted to write in his own initiative regarding space travel?

they were pleased as punch to insert their ballots into the same secure box that i did.  and, of course, they got stickers!

after dinner, though, started the fun of watching the presidential election returns.  i had printed diana a blank map and asked her fill in the electoral votes for each state (and d.c.).  she also used a loose leaf sheet of paper to make two columns; one for barack obama and one for mitt romney.  the task ahead for her was to tally the electoral votes for each state for each candidate and color the states in according to the winner.

this is the part where ander really shone.  he loves the united states, all 50 of them.  he's known their names and locations since the tender age of two, and has recently learned all the capitals, too.  so when i pulled up three different news websites to look at their election result maps (msn, fox & cnn), ander was beside himself using the mouse to highlight each state and bring up the results.

he'd yell out the name of a state and who it was called for (red for romney, blue for barack) and diana would scramble to locate the state on her map (often with ander's assistance), identify the number of electoral votes, and keep a running count of electoral votes.  ander would keep his eyes glued to the maps, attentively waiting for the next state to change from blank (white) to a color, and diana would calculate the number of electoral votes needed for each candidate to win that magic number of 270.

she was amazed how quickly a trend could go from leaning heavily for one candidate towards tipping the other direction to go for the opponent, just in a matter of a state or two.  also, how the size of a state (in terms of area) was not necessarily reflected by the number of electoral votes; just comparing the amount of color on her map did not indicate the winner of the presidential race.  she started to see how important "battleground" states were and why.

we were lucky to be in the pacific time zone so that it wasn't terribly late at night for us when all the states but florida were called and we had identified the winner.  then it was time for cheering and getting ready for bed while listening to jim weiss' thomas jefferson's america and abraham lincoln and the heart of america.

all in all, it was a great election day!

a footnote: ander woke up early the next morning asking if florida had been called yet. :)  it hadn't.  :)

a resource to look to for anyone with statistical knowledge or interest: nate silver's fivethirtyeight blog.  (stats RULE!)

and, in response to diana's question about the president's cabinet, we found a resource: the president's cabinet and how it grew by nancy parker.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

take on history

columbus day (in the united states) is recognized on october 12, though the federal holiday was observed on the 8th this year, as it has been fixed to the second monday in october.

our study of christopher columbus last year started on that day and continued for a few weeks, as diana and i read nancy smiler levinson's christopher columbus: voyager to the unknown.  it appealed to us because of its non-textbooky nature; though it was long and detailed, it was in a storytelling style.  diana's art projects involved recreating a map of columbus' voyages as depicted by this author.

this year, we read through a new book together, discovering christopher columbus: how history is invented by kathy pelta.  again, i read aloud to diana, and we learned even more about columbus than we had before.  she was stunned to learn about all the ways in which columbus has been honored and memorialized in the u.s., especially in having so many things named after him.

in keeping with that, she decided to name her newly-acquired skull "columbo" and her toy spider "irving" after washington irving, who wrote biographies of columbus (along with two other stories she likes: "rip van winkle" and "the legend of sleepy hollow") .

besides learning even more about this historical figure, i was interested in how the author educated us about how history is created, or as she described it, "invented."  using columbus as an example, she explained what historians do, and how they argue and disagree and debate with each other and look for evidence to support their theories/refute others and build upon each others' work.  for a long time, i have employed the critical (not criticizing) attitude of "what's the angle?" when reading many, many things, but it wasn't until now that i really considered approaching history like i approach science.  it's not like i took everything i read about history as "truth" regardless of the source; of course, every author has a particular spin.  and i deliberately studied history in college through the women's studies department so that i could gain a different perspective than what i had been presented with in my education until then.

but this revelation that i could broaden and deepen my exposure to and understanding of history by viewing it the way a scientist would (remember, i was trained by and with the goal of joining the ranks of scientists) has sparked in me a curiosity that until now has either been dormant or nonexistent.

wow.  the power of exploring connections and inspiration from a book.  you never do know where it might lead.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

the sweetness of sugarloaf

family camping adventure number two: sugarloaf ridge

we were there primarily to take advantage of access to the rfo, but there were other attractions, too:

the planetwalk - we had planned on doing this, but opted for a different hike instead.  still, a very cool idea, and at least we got to see some of the inner planets.



hanging out and being silly:

keeping our eyes open for wildlife (we didn't actually see any ourselves, but a fellow camper was certain she heard them):

it occurred to me that i would love to have this sign and change the word "rattlesnakes" to "children"

enjoying the forests and the trees:

and climbing to the highest heights:

when we were at half moon bay, the kids congregated in the big climbing tree.  here, the rocks next to the campsite beckoned to them; even the littlest campers of all had little fear (unlike me, who got just a little woozy when looking over the edge).

speaking of heights: a little hiking party assembled and agreed to head towards the summit of bald mountain, from which we were expecting to have an amazing view at over 2700 feet.  soon after we started, i began questioning the wisdom of such an adventure but kept it to myself.  our party quickly got separated into several groups; it could have been anticipated better that the different ages and levels of endurance and enthusiasm in our kids would have us splitting up to tend to individual needs.  ander had started ahead of everyone and took the left fork; the rest of the party took the right.  he and i stayed behind to sort out our plans, and steve caught up with diana and some of the other older kids.

although we did not catch sight of steve again until he and diana and another friend were making their way back down, ander was determined to find his dad.  and so we hiked up the mountain.

i was not in any kind of physical shape for this.  i was also dressed for cooler weather, as was ander.  but i was prepared with a backpack full of water bottles and snacks; steve and diana were similarly outfitted.  and we all had sun hats and sturdy shoes.

"slow and steady" became my unspoken mantra.  i kept my voice and words as optimistic and cheerful as i could, wanting to support ander's flagging energy and spirits.  his intense desire to be reunited with his father who had come home especially to spend time with us fueled me.  i let him set the pace, encouraging frequent rests under the infrequently-located shady spots.

we met other hikers along the way, and bikers, too.  many of the paths we took were paved, which were terribly rough on my joints, but provided the surface required for those enthusiasts who slowly made their way up to the top, then came whizzing back down at breakneck speed.

and then we heard familiar voices and saw the faces we most wanted to kiss!  steve, diana, and another friend had made it to within 30 yards of the summit.  diana was feeling the efforts of her exertions, and decided (wisely, i think) to forgo the joy of continuing a bit longer in favor of ensuring sufficient energy to make it back down again.  what a relief-filled reunion it was!

i was stunningly proud of both of my children. they surpassed my expectations of what they could do when they put their minds to it.  the walk back down replenished them; they were so full of energy by the time they hit the forested base of the mountain that they practically ran through the fields so they could start climbing the big rocks again.

the camping kids never got bored.  they played board games and battle games.  they climbed and collected around the campfire.  there were plenty of smores and screams of delight and terror.  i don't recall a moment where i saw diana sitting and reading a book - she was always in motion or with someone else doing something.  kinda like newton's cradle here:

and to top it all off, on the way home, driving through the wine country areas of sonoma and napa valley, we visited yet another pumpkin farm - stanly lane!

this was, by far, the most cheerful and varied patch we had been to.  there were plenty of sunflowers peeking out in between stalks of corn, the hay bale maze was intricate and interesting, the hay pyramid was an awesome sight to behold (in fact, it was seeing this on the trip up to sugarloaf that made me think of stopping on the way back).  snacks, shade, and so many gorgeous kinds of pumpkins to choose from.

this slide was inside the pyramid!

mmm...pumpkin bread.  seriously yummy.