Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Walking the planets

Today we did the solar system walk. Here's the thing. All those pictures and models and so on of the solar system give the impression that all the planets are right next to each other and about the same size other than Jupiter. They all line up nicely, too.

So last week Douwe's class did The Solar System and it was clear that he does think that. So, okay, the Solar system walk. It reduces the Solar System to scale, and it is really fun. It also keeps your kids busy and entertained on a vacation day which is more to the point.

The scale is 100,000 miles to 1 inch, as you can find out by googling "solar system walk". On this scale, the Sun is a soccer ball and the Earth is a peppercorn and Mercury is a pinhead. So I googled the thing, got a pedometer to measure, and I was done.

Oh, no. See, this scale involves inches, feet, and yards. And the nation of Holland (and more to the point, my pedometer) reads in centimeters. Also, the Solar System walk was invented back in the day when there were nine planets.* So I had to convert to metric and then I had to add in the two other dwarf planets. Here is how that went:

Scribble, scribble. So Ceres is this many meters further on from Mars and scribble, scribble Eris is....where? No way. Try again. Scribble scribble, it's....that's got to be wrong. Try again. Scribble, blot. Well, god damn it, that's three kilometers from Pluto. Which is almost exactly one kilometer from the Sun. I am not walking three extra kilometers with five boys aged two to nine (we did this with one of Douwe's buds from school and his brothers) to stick a pin in the ground and say "That's Eris", scientific integrity be damned.

Dwarf planets are a dumb idea. And much too far away.

So we set the soccer ball down and established that this was the Sun. Then we went ten meters on to Mercury which is a pin head, which we stuck through a bit of yellow paper into the ground. Then we went on to Venus and so on. The big boys ran on ahead counting the distance to the next planet, dodging through the woods and the meteor showers, I mean pine cones thrown up in the air. The asteroid belt turned into pelting one another with mulch and so on. We stopped now and again to turn around and look for the very tiny sun back there. By Pluto they were all truly awed by the distances involved and agreed unanimously that Eris is Very Far Away and let's not do that.

The we turned around and I talked to them about celestial navigation and suggested we needed to find the planets on the way back. Piece of cake they said; you just go back the way you came.

Of the eight planets we found exactly three on the way back. Happily I used planets which could be left. I had a feeling.

So then they decided that the planets had rotated to somewhere else and we lacked the navigational instruments to calculate their respective orbits.

Then we played soccer with the sun for a while and went home.

*In case you do not have a child who visits the NASA site and the Hubble site on a weekly basis: there are eight planets and three dwarf planets -- Ceres, Pluto, and Eris. Ceres is located between Mars and Jupiter, in the asteroid belt which is why we didn't see it for so long. Eris is located three times again as far from Pluto as Pluto is from the Sun. This becomes important in a moment

Last week

It has been a bit hectic around here. The first week of May the kids were off spring break, then they went to school last week, then they have this week off. Evidently I was not the only one annoyed, there is a note in last week's school newsletter promising that this schedule will not happen next year.

Last week was the 4 day march, which we did again. This year we walked the 5 kilometer per day route. Nel did it for three days and took the fourth day off to go to the theater with Ernest. But she did finish all three days. And Douwe walked/ran about 7 kilometers every day as he spent most of the time playing tag with his buddies. And Daan toughed it out and finished all four days and was pleased as punch with his medal. Though he still has trouble remaining on task, he wants to stop every four seconds and look at the ants or something:

On the last day, you may recall, half the town that is not walking turns out and lines the streets to cheer the finish. It is also usual for the Omas to bring flowers and give them to the kids as they finish -- they have special 4 day kid bouquets with toys and flags and candies tucked in.

So as we were approaching town, I could see my elder child doing a little thinking. Oma, he knew, was off with Ernest. Omas bring flowers. Therefore, he was.....not getting any flowers. So his face went from happy to partly cloudy to threats of thunderstorm and tornadoes as we approached town and he started to complain of being too tired to finish and so on. Unhappily for him, his mother has zero tolerance for this kind of entitlement issue so I serenely pointed out that he would be getting a medal which was quite enough(everybody who finishes all four days gets a medal if they sign up for it).

This led to more pouting and carrying on. Which I firmly ignored. Pointedly ignored. And just as he was peaking in poutiness, we encountered the nice lady with whom I had arranged to bring their flowers. And the world was good again:

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spring Break

We went sailing, but you knew that. The problem with an extended sailing trip has been that the boat is a large boat and therefore has a tall mast. On both sides of us there are low bridges. So to get out of a fairly small area, we have to lower the mast, an operation which involves sort of tilting it backwards with a block and tackle apparatus.

Well, the setup on this boat is not really made to lower the mast very often. To wit, it involves feeding extra line into the main support cable for the mast by way of a pulley arrangement which is not actually fixed to anything. You have to hold it with your arms. Er. Dearly Beloved has to hold it with his arms, are you kidding? And Dearly Beloved had never done it before so was not keen on trying it for the first time as we passed under a low bridge in the middle of a shipping lane.

So originally we were going to stick close to home and just go into the woods with the boat. By Wednesday this was not working out all that well, as the boat is very deep and the woods are not. So there are only two places we can get close enough to shore to actually get on land. (Well, except by beaching the boat which has its own drawbacks.) And we don't have a little bitty boat, which is how everybody else seems to solve this problem.

So Wednesday while moored in the woods we decided to try the mast and it went okay. So Thursday off we went to go under the bridge. On the way under the first time all went well except for one small thing: a commercial boat passed us in just the right way as to cause a Very Large Swell which placed us in grave danger of clipping off the top part of the mast. I was in the back of the boat steering and it looked to me as though we were certainly going to clip the bridge. Dearly Beloved was looking on from the bow (holding onto the mast) and he says we were just barely not under the bridge when the wave hit, so the mast actually may have gone higher than the bridge and then dipped under on the downslope of the wave.

It made quite an impression on Eldest, who was next to me: he was whooping and hollering and that evening when he filled out the ship's log he drew a picture of a Ginormous commercial boat and our boat very tiny next to it and then many huge waves.

Youngest remained below for the trip under the bridge, reasoning that if the mast came off he would rather be inside when it did. He was quite certain the mast would either break off or fall down.

And then we went to Willemstad, a fairly small town which is mined, I mean mined with fortifications of various kinds dating from, oh, maybe 16th century to WWII. So the kids got to sit on the cannons:

And put thieves in the dock:

They also played for many hours in the underground bunkers which overlook the harbors. No pictures of that I am afraid, it's dark down there.

More and more footie

Well, the soccer season is over for the fellas. There was actually one more practice last Wednesday but they missed it because we went sailing instead. What will happen next year is anybody's guess, though almost certainly Douwe will go on to a bigger kids' team and Daan will stay on the same team.

They had a friendly match with another team within the same soccer club last week, so they even got to play a game. Our guys' team don't even all have uniforms yet, after all they have only been playing together for five weeks.

The uniform issue led to an Incident with Youngest. You see, my kids don't have uniforms yet. So knowing tht the team colors are blue and white, I put Eldest in a blue t shirt and Youngest in a white one (also, Youngest does not have a blue t-shirt that does not feature Mickey Mouse). Only it turned out this game was the Blues (or team) against the Whites (the other team). Daan persisted in playing with the Whites no matter how many times anybody told him he was on the Blue team. So finally they just let him play for the other team.

Daan doing penalty kicks
This is most of the team; there are abotu three kids missing, wandering around somewhere no doubt.

There are more (and better) pics on the team blog I sent you the link to, and also some other pictures of various other stuff the team has done.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I gather it was fun

I have gotten very little out of Douwe about camp other than that it was fun, that he was happy the whole time, that he ate spaghetti for dinner, that the best part was going into the woods and there wasn't any worst part. So he had a good time.

He came home filthy -- I mean, scrub that grime off your ankles and knees with a brush, turn the bath water an indeterminate shade of brown filthy -- and exhausted so the forensic evidence lines up with the testimony.

Tomorrow the kids who went to camp start school at 10:30, to let them sleep in (ha! Ha! I say. Kid'll be up at 7 am with the birds, he always is). So this plan means that I get to go to school at 8:30 to drop Daan off, go home, go back to school to drop Douwe off at 10:30, go home, then go back to school at 12: 30 to pick them up.

Or...I think I forgot about that Very Important Appointment tomorrow morning. I have to get groceries so I think the Very Important Appointment will be over by 10:30. Ahem.

It's midnight in Holland

And I have not had a telephone call from the camp. So evidently Eldest is having a good time. Or at least is not having a nervous breakdown. (If you do not know what I am talking about, scroll down three posts. It's there.)

I would make fun of myself except that all of the moms on the playground with first graders thought exactly the same thing: their kids would never make it through the night.

Moms. Jesus.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Testing, testing

Here we go again. The last "top to bottom" testing of Eldest was done when he was 6 and he will be turning 8 in October of course. The tests are good for two years at this age I gather. So in the Fall he will get to be tested again.

Possibly we will get something useful out of it this time because he can now, after all, actually answer the questions. And way back when, when we started this oddyessey of testing, the neuropsych in Atlanta told me that there was no point in even trying until he was 8 or 9 years old. Well, not exactly, what she said was more like that no diagnosis could be considered anything but tentative until then.

I have located a person nearby here who works at a teaching hospital whose specialty appears to be (ready?) literacy and language acquisition in bilingual children with language and communication disorders. Where the heck was he five years ago I would like to know? (Okay, probably in the same place. But you know what I mean). So I just fired him off an email to see if he could do the testing for us. Maybe he'll have something more illuminating to say than "My, what an interesting problem".

Still, I am not holding my breath.

Just in case you wanted to come see us

Go here and hit "get directions". Then type atlanta GA in the "from" box and our city in the "to" box.

Look out for step 21, it's a doozy.

Nel's new birthday

Nel has decided that her birthday is now April 14, as this was the day she was operated on last year. So we had a big party for her first birthday and she got lots of presents like teething rings and so on. It was fun. We booked a party at a restaurant near the Biesbos which is a nature preserve nearby so we had food and then a tour on a pony cart and another tour on an electric boat which makes no noise to visit the swamp. Okay, they don't call it a swamp. But you tell me:

Here is Nel with two of her sisters and her brother (and the ponies):

Obligatory kid pictures:

Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh

The kids in first, second, and third grade are off to camp today. Camp is not a summer event here; it's something organized by the school and takes place during school. For these little guys, it's one overnight -- they left today and we pick them up from school tomorrow at the end of the day.

Here is the campground they are going to.

We were a bit worried about Douwe, he refused to talk about it for about ten days and said he wasn't going. However, all the parents of the first graders were worried so I figured we would see what happened. Over the weekend we packed his bag together and looked at pictures of the campground. And this morning he leapt out of bed singing, "I'm going to the country, I'm going to the country, Lalala..." and so on. He sang all the way to school. He ran into the van to take him to the place and then stuck his head back out and said "Oh, yeah, I'll miss you, mom" and then pulled his head back in. Like, to comfort me or something. Thanks, kid.

I have no idea what will happen tonight; Douwe has always preferred to stay in his own bed and have his own food and so on. He has solved this handily in the States by deciding that his beds at various houses there are his own bed also. So that's not sleeping over in his mind. But every time I have asked if he wanted to sleep over a friend's house, he says "All you do at night is sleep, what's the big deal?" I assume in the case of disaster they will call us to pick him up; but both his own teachers are going so I don't expect a problem. Also, Douwe has recently been adopted by a little girl in the third grade so I expect if there are problems then she will look after him.

But speaking of looking after, I was watching through the window in his class this morning and one of the boys was obviously having his own doubts and was fighting tears. Ultimately the tears won out adn he started to cry. And I watched Douwe go over to him, pout his arm around him, lead him to a chair in an empty corner of the room, sit him down and (I assume) tell him that it was going to be all right, really. Or something similar. It was very sweet.

Actually, looking after somebody else would indeed make it easier for Douwe not to be nervous himself, now that I think about it.

Daan alternates between being wildly jealous and being terrified that we will make him go, too. We have had at least one very dramatic episode of Daan weeping that he doesn't want to go. When I told him he could not go because only kids in first grade could go, he insisted indignantly that he was big enough to go. With the tears still in his eyes from the formerly mentioned bout of weeping at the thought. *sigh*. That's Daan, all over. He doesn't want to until you tell him he can't. Then he has to.

Easter pictures

Easter was faily low key; we had baskets of course and then an egg hunt here in the house and then we went to the local petting zoo for their easter event. Which involved yet more easter egg hunting, a pony ride with a cart, and a scavenger hunt. And sweet bread of course.

One big surprise was that someone has taught Douwe to play chess, and we don't know who it was. Or at least, someone has taught him the moves for the pieces. We found this out because at the petting zoo they had a big chess board set up and he immediately began telling Daan how to play:

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ask me about mung dal

Go on, I dare you. It appears that the ayurvedic spa agreed with our Nel. It agreed with her so well that she wants to try out the ayurvedic diet.

Okay, I'll back up the truck. Ayurveda is a system of, er, looking at life, the universe and everything and also a way of approaching medical problems, with its origins in India. Here's a website which sort of sets it all out. But in this instance we are talking about a way of eating mostly, as Nel has to take care of all the other stuff herself. So here's what Nel is supposed to eat.

So the idea is, there are three types of, er, energies and in each person one or two are usually dominant. Which type you are determines what you are and are not supposed to eat and so on. For the curious, here's a dosha quiz so you can play along at home.

Good thing I did that vegetarian thing when I was with Bob, eh? No, seriously, the things we do for men. I have actually cooked in a way similar to this before so it isn't entirely alien. Still and all, I must say, it took me a couple years to figure out how to cook "south of holland" style and now I get to scrap much of it and start figuring out how to cook ayurvedic of all things. From smashing up endive in mashed potatoes with cheese to cooking rice and lentils in clarified butter is a bit of a stretch. But I feel certain I can do it, after all, I suppose that really dumb people all over India manage it every day.

I suppose doing it for your mother in law is more noble in some way than doing it for some guy. On the other hand, doing it for your mother in law means you don't get flowers, jewelry, or even regular sex out of it so that's a downside. *

No, the kids have not been converted or anything. Though it's only been a week or so, give them time and they'll be sucking down the rice and lentils with the best of them. And Dearly Beloved has no plans to become vegetarian so I expect chops will remain on offer.
Anyway, 'scuse me guys, I gotta go make some ghee.

* Oh. Right. That's why it's noble. Got it.