Saturday, August 16, 2014

Infinite Zero

I am trying to clean up my Inbox (you know, the whole "zero emails" goal). As I'm working on it, I've come across an old e-mail where I recorded my conversation with M. This took place a few days before his 7th birthday (hence the wintry picture up top). So I'm transferring it here for record-keeping.

He said: "I'm drawing an infinite zero". I asked him to explain. 

Him: See, this is a big zero (draws). Inside of it I am drawing smaller and smaller zeros, so infinitely many. So that's infinity zero. Like our eyes and heads are infinity zeros because like eyes are round and then there are circles inside like zeros and then pupils are made of atoms. And there are like so many of them. Also, if we look for zeros around us in the universe, there are infinite many of them - planets and galaxies and atoms. Squares are also infinite but it's harder to find them 'cause like we don't have square heads or eyes or anything square in us.

Me (worried that he doesn't understand what zero really is): Ok, but you know, a square is a shape. Is zero a shape? 

Him: No, it's not. It looks like circle, but zero is when there's nothing 

Me (relieved): ok, so what's now?

Him: you see this wooden block? It's square and we can cut it into many squares (shows how to cut into thin squares with same area as the original wooden block)

Me: so how many squares would you get that way?

Him: a lot, depends how thin you can cut it. Can be a hundred, a thousand or more.

Me: and if we use a laser that cuts very-very thin slices?

Him: yes, can be many-many squares. 

Me: what if we want infinite number of square slices? How thick would they have to be?

Him: very-very thin

Me: will they be zero thin?

Him: no, not zero. They will only get zero thin when we run out of wood. But they will be super thin almost zero and there will be infinite many of slices. So that's infinite zero.

Then he goes of to draw lots and lots of nested circles, nested squares, nested ovals, saying how all are infinite. Then he says, looking at all those nested shapes:

Him: You know, + and - always work the same in infinite circles and in infinite squares or anything else infinite.

Then he mentioned something that was "zero infinity", so I asked him to explain. Here was his explanation:

"Imagine you are on an island. It's infinitely big. But you don't see anything at all"

Me: why can't I see anything?

Him: because there isn't anything on this island. Because it's a zero infinity island.

Me: ok, my mind is officially blown, I gotta write it down.

The end.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Awesome Time Travel Camp - Blackbeard's Last Fight

That was the boys' choice for the second "cozy camp" (that's what I'm calling it 'cause it's just the two of them). Both boys were very well prepared after their other pirate camp in Bath, NC earlier this summer. Both have read the Treasure Island, watched Pirates of the Caribbean, read lots of books about pirates and all that. Additionally, M got to go to the Tall Ships at Cape Charles festival a few weeks ago, participated in their pirate parade and school, won a medal and was overall a very experienced pirate.

This time around we started with another great book, Blackbeard's Last Fight. It is very well written, lots of interesting details and a spooky ending (sure, we all knew how it would end, the title kinda gave it away, but there were a couple of small details that were unexpected).

After the story the kids got to put their knowledge to the test. I played a "silly professor" who was going to read a lecture about Blackbeard's life and adventures. But the silly professor makes a lot of mistakes and some of them are easy to catch and others - not so much.

Next both boys had a lesson in the proper terminology for the many parts of tall ships. We had a couple of 3-mast models with sufficient details. So each boy had a model ship and as the captain gave orders, they were to show which part of the ship they had to climb on, which sail to take in, and such.

Then it was time time for sword-fighting, of course! Even though we reminded them the safety rules, we had to stop this part after about 10 minutes as it was getting way out of hand. Instead, I suggested to turn it into a game M loves to play at his fencing practice. It's basically the good old "red light - green light" game, but with a twist. Here's how it's played:

Kids line up at the start line. An adult is at the finish line facing the kids. Kids can move using proper fencing moves. Kids can move only when the adult is not looking at them. As soon as the adult looks their way they have to freeze. If the adult notices a kid moving, the kid is sent back to the start line. Everyone took turns being "the adult" in this game. It was way fun except we were all getting hungry.

So we hurried back into the house for some lunch at a seaside tavern. A simple fair of bacon and eggs with some crusty bread and a mug full of grog (orange juice with water) all tasted delicious. Now it was time to search for treasure on a LEGO island. First, we replayed the last battle with the two model ships we used earlier and with some LEGO mini-figs. We did change the gruesome end a bit though. According to our story, Robert Maynard found Blackbeard's treasure chest, but there, instead of treasure was a note with some coordinates. Using these coordinates, kids had to find the island on the map, sail to it in their ships, walk through a labyrinth solving a few puzzles along the way and find the treasure.

This was going to be the final activity, but they didn't look ready to wrap things up. So I suggested they would make their own treasure maps of their own treasure islands. We cut up a brown grocery bag and the kids set to work drawing and labeling. Among the notable place names were "Davy Jones's Tooth", "Skeleton Cave", "Bloody Lake", "Tall Grass Flats" and a few others. This was exciting and it got even better once they started working on aging their maps - crumbling, stomping on them, burning the edges, burning holes through the middle with the magnifying glass, pouring candle wax and rubbing raspberries (blood) on them. Pretty soon the maps looked very old and just about impossible to read. Happiness galore!

Next trip, it was decided, was going to be to Apollo 11's historic Moon landing.

Awesome Time Travel Camp - Samurai School

A friend came up with a great idea to run a series of playdates that are all about travelling back in time and exploring different countries and historic events. Well, his original idea of "everything will be made out of and role-played with LEGOs" had to be substantially reworked because the kids didn't care for it much. So M and I suggested limiting or even eliminating LEGOs from these playdates and doing lots more hands-on stuff like crafts and battles and food.

For our first adventure both M and his friend chose to go to medieval Japan, to the time of the samurai. With this in mind, we got together at our house a couple of weeks ago for a morning of samurai school. First, we read the You Wouldn't Want to Be a Samurai book and chatted a bit about samurai training.

Then the kids learned some Kanji (I was amazed that M actually remembered most of the symbols from that one little exercise a few months ago when he wanted to learn some Chinese). The idea was for them to pick a symbol or two to paint on their banners. Both ended up with "Volcano" and drew almost identical banners to take into battle with them.

We then read a legend of Susanoo and the 7-headed serpent and the kids drew their own illustrations - lots of blood and snake guts. It was interesting that both M and his friend were so busy drawing the battle itself, that neither of them bothered to draw the right number of heads on the monster. M came up with a creative explanation that he drew the remaining heads after Susanoo already chopped some off.

It was time for some origami next and we made paper cranes. This is a very challenging origami even for adults, not to mention antsy 7-year olds. But they persevered through the difficulties and got nice looking cranes as rewards.

But after this they were DONE sitting down. They demanded to go out to the backyard and run around. Fortunately, the second half of the samurai school involved some archery practice (supervised) and sword fighting with foam swords. So this was great fun until, after about half an hour of non-stop sword fighting and jumping around in the heat both were tired and cranky and fighting over something. Blood was shed as M's friend hit M right in the mouth with a stick, bad enough that the somewhat-loose tooth got really loose and there was a cut on M's gums.

After everyone was calmed down and ice administered, the kids once again made friends and, realizing that they were starving, asked to make sushi. The day before this camp, we went out to a Thai restaurant, M asked for sushi and got to watch the chef make the rolls. Our sushi didn't turn out nearly as pretty, but the kids didn't seem to mind.

Afterwards, they wanted to jump around and sword-fight some more. But I wasn't all that eager, so instead I offered to try their hands at making zen gardens with rocks and sand. M had a good idea of what a rock garden is because we went to the one in the Raulston Arboretum. It also helped that he understood the ideas of meditative space (thanks to yoga) and wabi-sabi (thanks to an awesome book titled Wabi Sabi). M's garden also had a house on the sea shore (wavy lines on the sand) and was guarded by a twisty wavy sea serpent made out of rocks.

So that was it for the 4-hour camp. The kids decided that next week they wanted to visit pirates, specifically, Blackbeard, on the day of his last battle.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Almost a Year?!

Has it really been almost a year since my last post? Wow, time sure flies when you keep promising yourself to "post tomorrow evening". No sense it trying to play catch-up now - too many things happened, too many pictures were taken and all that. Let's just say we are all a year older now. And are totally into pirates.

And I got a new camera. It's not fancy, but a big improvement over my old one (RIP, little SONY point-and-shoot). Except this camera has too many options and the only way to figure them out is to download this huge and terribly confusing manual. Which I've done. But now I have to read it and, well, it's another case of "I'll just do it tomorrow". So for now there's no noticeable improvement in picture quality. So I try to go someplace really scenic to make up for this. Fortunately, Virginia is only a couple of hours away although since Chris's been back we don't travel there every weekend.

Ok, won't be dragging this out. After all this is meant as a short post to get me back to the blog. Hopefully next one will be dated July 2014, not July 2015.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Exploring Virginia - Virginia Kids Museum, First Landing and the Crater

Hey, what d'ya know, I'm almost caught up on the pictures! These ones are very recent, from last weekend when we decided to drive an hour and a half to Portsmouth to check out Virginia Kids Museum. Thanks to our awesome membership at the local Life and Science Museum, we get free admission, so why not go.

We were glad we went. It is a very nice museum, very hands-on. Unfortunately, M wasn't old enough to try the Crime Investigation Lab. It's better suited for kids 8 and older. But maybe next year... We did check it out and at first he was quite interested. But there was just too much other stuff going on, things like giant soap bubbles...
and here's M and I working on getting a bubble wall around us.
And a giant and surprisingly comfy giant chair...
And a chance to captain a boat, put out a (fake) fire, drive a bus...
... ride on a police motorcycle with flashing lights...
... play a slapophone aka a pipe organ...
BTW, Chris got some job-related training operating a gantry crane. M was curious about it and spent quite some time moving 40-foot containers from ship to shore and back.

And then there's the entire second floor! Which was a bit quieter and a lot more fascinating. It was almost entire taken over by an exhibit about energy and ways it can be transferred. Yeah, I tried it too and got all nostalgic about port operations.

There were simple machines, of course, and you could try to lift an elephant (with a long lever) or hoist yourself up using a pulley system (which made me feel like I was only a little bit lighter than an elephant)...
And you could launch an air rocket and a hot air balloon. Or see sound waves. Or pretend you were having an epic battle between Darth Sidious and Yoda, controlling the Force with your bare hands.
And you could watch iron filings dance to the music...

Aside from the energy exhibit, there is also a sizable art lab on the second floor. The best part was playing with this wall, making prints in it. This is our family portrait. But we also left butt prints there too (ok, those were quickly erased, but boy was it fun to watch them appear!) M made countless impressions of himself playing the "carbonite freeze" scene.
He then tried his hand at building with architectural blocks. At first, he felt inspired by the Parthenon.
But once that was done (sort of done, actually, 'cause there weren't enough blocks), he built a hasty carbonite freeze chamber
The afternoon was going great and we decided to drive 30 min more to the First Landing park. Good choice. Sure, it wasn't the ocean. And sure there were lots of people there. But it was very family friendly; the water was calm and stayed shallow for a while; the sand was soft; and there were some treasures to be found (a pottery shard, a sun-bleached bird bone, a couple of mermaids' purses, some flotsam).
Turns out, there is a nice camp ground there and some cabins for rent, lots of hiking trails around, bike rental, lots of ranger-led activities pretty much each day. What a nice place!
But it was getting late and we were starving. So we drove another 30 min or so to a pizza place in Virginia Beach. And then walked over to a Ben and Jerry's. What kind of a perfect summer outing would it be without ice-cream?!
Only then did we realize that it was well past 8pm and we had about 2.5 hrs to drive back to the hotel. Oops! We definitely needed to spend the next day doing something low-key. In fact, I just stayed in bed for most of the next day. And Chris and M stayed around the hotel, playing Frisbee, remote-controlled cars, going to a pool and whatever else they did. Then late in the afternoon we all went on a little tour of the Petersburg Battlefield. This time we got a map even though we knew our destination, the Crater.
 So we explored as much of it as we were allowed (you can't climb into the Crater or on the earthwork on the battlefield). We talked about digging a narrow, low tunnel in utmost secrecy, narrowly avoiding hitting the enemy mines, staying quiet as a mouse, hauling dirt out and spreading it around to avoid detection. We also talked about what an explosion must've felt like (without the gory details given M's age).
M seemed to be particularly interested in the cannons and how they worked and how they were sighted and how they were moved from place to place. Which reminds me, maybe we should try building a potato cannon? Anyway, we go to the battlefield pretty much every weekend we're in VA since it's right outside Chris's hotel. And it's nice to be able to explore it bit by bit.