Wednesday, November 30, 2011

LEGO Creator Creating

After only three years of life with LEGO, we've amassed an impressive collection. The boys now have sets from about six different themes, plus a bunch of miscellaneous bricks to work from. I'm rather impressed at some of the stuff I've seen them build. Oscar, who is only four, built both of these this past week:

 This one is a police station, complete with jail cell and storage rack. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good angle on it, but it looked pretty good in person.

This one is an airplane with twin engines.

Wyatt has started to not only stare at all the pictures in the latest LEGO catalog, but to attempt to build some of the things he sees there. As a result, I picked up a copy of The LEGO Ideas Book for his birthday this month. It's supposed to be over 200 pages of LEGO creations, split into themes throughout the book. Considering how much they love the catalogs, I imagine it will get a lot of look value, but I'm also hoping it will inspire more building. (I just may get down there and come up with a few myself.)

I think out of all the sets we've tried out, Creator is my favorite. We only have two of them at the moment, a Log Cabin and 3-in-1 helicopter/boat, but they are both getting another set each for Christmas. The best part about Creator sets is that they use mostly standard bricks, with only the occasional special brick. That means they are more adaptable, and gives us more play value overall.

Trying to find something new to do yesterday with Oscar, I thought about this and wondered if we could use the directions you can find on the LEGO site for one of the Creator sets and build it ourselves. So, we went to the site and looked through the instruction list. We built a mini-dump truck together (unfortunately, I forgot to get a pic of it, but here is the original if you are curious what it looks like). Oliver helped us come up with a solution to the fender piece we don't seem to have, and we had to use some other colors, but it came out looking pretty good.

When Wyatt got home, he wanted to get in on it, so he picked out a set to try. I tried to steer him to the mini-models, but he wanted something more impressive. I wasn't sure he'd get all that far with it because it was so involved, but Oliver sat down with him and managed to crank it out with a few modifications. It was a riot of colors, so I sat down with it this morning and substituted pieces until it looks mostly red and black. Here's our end result:

 The wheels fold up inside the plane, which is kind of awesome.

Here's the link to the original set to compare. It took a few hours to piece out and build, and I'm really surprised we had so many of the right type of pieces. Clearly, the five pounds of miscellaneous LEGO I bought off Ebay a few years ago has worked in our favor (we also raided some of their sets - I got some of the red stuff from their Lego City Fire Boat).

Yeah, Lego wins at our house, more than any toy by far.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Visitor from the Great Outdoors

We had a visitor recently. The four legged variety. I opened the door to go outside one evening to find him clinging to the outer door at about eye level. I called the boys over so they could get a good look at him.

Yep, we had a frog on our door. It was about the size of my thumb. Our outer door is a little warped and doesn't close securely, so it was easy enough for him to get inside. Whether he'd find his way back out, however, was a question, so I nudged him to the outside of the door so he would hopefully find his way back home.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunny Saturday

Okay, this post is a little behind. This actually happened last Sunday, but I have only now convinced myself to sit down and write this post.

Anyway, now that I have that out of the way! One of the rather cool things about living here is that sometimes we get to see the helicopters carry torpedoes overhead. They pick them up in the water after visiting submarines fire them on the range. It's a rather fun thing to see, and I've wanted to a get a picture of it. For the life me, though, I haven't succeeded. Every time, I've either not had my camera or it's been inaccessible - like the time we had just gotten back from a trip to the States and got off the bus just in time to see a helicopter land with one on the helicopter pad right behind us (I just could not get it out of my bag fast enough, grrr).

That all changed last Sunday, however. I saw a chopper take off with an empty basket while letting the boys jump around on rocks outside the dining hall where we'd just gotten done with breakfast. I rushed them home, then convinced them to go to the playground because I knew it would have to fly overhead on the return trip.

We were there for quite some time, longer than I thought we'd have to be, and I'd gotten up to tell them it was time to go when I finally saw it coming in, torpedo dangling below. I took a series of pics, and this is one of my favorites:

Oh, and just to be clear that living here, we've learned to make our own fun, I feel the need to share the following:

This is what the boys did while I was waiting for the chopper to pass overhead. There is a small skatepark to the side of the playground. I have yet to see a single person use it for its intended purpose, but the kids here have found all sorts of ways to amuse themselves on it. My boys like to bring a handful of their Hot Wheels cars with us whenever we go. They race them up and down it, and will send them shooting off the back end. Here, Oscar is climbing up the side to retrieve on that didn't make it down.

I am most impressed, however, with what some of the older kids came up with later that afternoon. They wet it down with a hose, slicked it up with shampoo, and turned it into a waterslide. (You can't really see in this picture, but there is a higher ramp right next to this one.) The place was swarming with kids for several hours, Wyatt included. It was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Letter "B"

We did the letter "B" today. The craft was one I found online, a bear bag puppet. I was absolutely sure I had some bags a friend had sent from Japan a few months ago. We don't have any real need of lunch bags here, so I stowed them somewhere with the idea that we could use them for crafting or some other future need.

However, for the life of me, I can't find them anymore. I'd already told Oscar we were going to do this, so I really needed to produce something. I decided against going to the store to look for a pack of lunch bags, partly because I didn't want to spend money on it, but also because the chances of actually finding some were rather slim.

Enter innovation! We get a lot of brown paper here. Amazon seems to pack most things in boxes with wads of brown paper in them. Since we frequent them more than most due to their FPO shipping policies, we are regularly swimming in the stuff. I decided to just make a paper bag.

I'm not going to post up a big tutorial because, well, I really don't have much to share. I just cut out something, trimmed it, folded it, and taped it up. It more or less looked like a paper bag, and it satisfied my youngest.

Here's our paper bag bear:

I folded it down like a lunch bag, so it opens at the mouth. I didn't make the top big enough, so it's kind of squished in the face, but, hey, it's a bear!

I told Oscar he could color the body if he wanted, so he asked me to draw a shirt and an "orange badge like a post office guy". I drew this, not really knowing what he wanted, and he told me it looked like a police officer badge.

Oh, well. Bags, I can whip up. Drawings? Not so much.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Waffles For Lunch

I once had a waffle maker. It was a pretty standard, non-stick, electric affair and worked fine. Then, a pin came out of one of the hinges. I couldn't see a way to fix it, so I just kept using it like that. When we moved overseas, we had to do some pretty heavy triage, and anything broken beyond repair that wasn't used much didn't make the cut. That included the waffle maker.

The thing is, though, my kids love waffles. I'm not industrious enough to indulge their love of them very often, but it was nice to be able to make them, especially since I detest the frozen kind and refuse to buy them. Since we moved here two years ago, the only waffles we've had are at the chow hall, where the quality is on par with the ones you can get at a free breakfast in a hotel (something we've had extensive experience with, heh - the best one was the place we stayed where they had watered down the waffle batter so much it that when it cooked, it turned into strings of cooked batter - it kind of looked like spaghetti when it was done).

So, I've trolled the internet occasionally looking for one I could like. I was hoping to find one that allowed you to pull the plates out to wash (the biggest reason I rarely used our waffle iron before), and had this one in my Amazon cart for months. It's pricey, though, so I hadn't been able to talk myself into buying it.

And, there's the issue of the non-stick stuff. I'm not sure whether it's killing us all or not, as some people claim, but I hate the stuff because it doesn't last. I've gotten rid of all the pans I once had, and use a combination of stainless, glass, and cast iron. I ran across something not long ago that mentioned a cast iron waffle maker, something I didn't even realize existed.

A couple weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought a Rome waffle maker. In all honestly, I could have probably found a better made one on Ebay (old stuff is always made better!), but when I couldn't really find anything as cheap as the one I got, once I factored in the shipping costs, I just decided to get it new. I'd maybe do it differently next time, but since I don't expect this one to ever break down on me, that may never happen.

Anyway, after a not-so-enjoyable cleaning (unseasoned cast iron is shipped with a wax coating that has to come off first - it's a pain to do) and seasoning (I did it twice to be sure), we had waffles for lunch today. I had made a hasty promise to the boys that we would do so, then I looked in my Bittman cookbook and realized the yeast waffles I wanted to try needed to sit overnight. Yeah, this was at about 1000 today...

Wyatt got indignant when I tried to push it off, so I caved and used a baking powder version from the same book. Here are our results:
I'd read that sticking on the batch is common, but apparently I'd done a good enough job seasoning it beforehand because I didn't have any problems. I did brush it with butter between waffles, though, just to be sure. I didn't want it to flow out the sides because there was nowhere for it to go but underneath the burner, so I put very little batter on the pan at first. This is actually my last waffle, and the closest it got to filling the iron. Surprisingly, you can put a lot more batter on these than it looks like. The waffles are also a lot fluffier than I thought they would be considering the thickness of the iron. I sort of thought we'd end up making pancakes with depressions in them, but that was totally not the case.

I think we found a winner. Cast iron takes a little more work to take care of (and you must preheat or you are doomed!), but the results are awesome. I've heard good waffles described as "crispy, with a creaminess inside", yet this was the first time I realized what the heck that meant. And my boys? They went through the first three waffles before they let me eat one. (They are also quite excited that we can take this camping with us; for some reason, waffles on a camping trip sounds like a seriously awesome thing to them.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Letter "S"

Today we did the letter "S". I'd originally planned on moving through the alphabet in order, but I'm teaching Oscar to read using the Bob books. The first book focuses on the short "A" sound, and "S" is one of the consonants used. Oscar can read that one confidently, so we moved on to book number two today.

I had planned on a starfish craft, but right after I told him what we were going to learn today, he asked if we were going to do a submarine project. (Clearly, submarines have a solid place in our lives.) So, I sat him down with the starfish, a fairly easy gluing project, while I rushed to find something we could related to submarines.

This is what we ended up with:

I traced a submarine onto some construction paper, had him color it in, then cut it out (that trailing piece of paper is because he had drawn a diver and got mad when I cut it off, so I reattached it). I then cut some portholes and taped tissue paper to the back to allow light to come through them. It's kind of tough to tell because of our filthy window. I tried to clean it a bit before we hung his project up, but to do it for real requires removing the screen and standing on a ladder outside because our trailer is up on blocks. Yeah, since we have less than a year left, I'm pretty unmotivated to go to all that trouble. Clearly, the previous occupant felt the same way.

Wyatt came home and immediately wanted to do one, too, so now we have two of them hanging up.

*You can find better instructions here, at an awesome blog I can tell I will be mining for further ideas as we go.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Doing School At Home

We've finally decided once and for all that Wyatt will be homeschooled next year. Oscar isn't technically old enough to start next year, but since he's already beginning to read, I think we may just consider next year his kindergarten year.

My plan as of now is to use K12, assuming we get stationed in a state that provides it for free. That means that while I'll be doing most of the teaching, the books and planning will be handed to me. It does, however, follow the school year, which is a bit of a complication. Apparently, it takes at least a month to get registered, and you have to live in the state before you can do that. Since we are not sure when we are leaving here (could easily be as late as October), and I'm determined not to break up the family any earlier than necessary, it leaves us with a bit of a problem when it comes to school. We can start school the next semester, in January, but that runs the risk of having Wyatt fall behind.

So, I've had to start to seriously consider other options. (Something I really have to do, anyway, because we might not end up moving to a state that supports K12, and I'm not prepared to pay 5 grand per kid to do it.) I am really not the most dedicated, on top of things sort of person. I'm great with a schedule that has been imposed on me (I actually loved filling up my calendar in college with all my deadlines and tests - it was a big game to work my way through it all), but not so good at imposing one on myself. Clearly, that has to change if we are going to homeschool.

I decided that this year, when nothing is so intense or important, is probably the best way to start. Oscar walks up to me every day after Wyatt goes to school and asks, "What are we going to do today while Wyatt is gone?" That has typically meant I then sit down with him and build LEGO or or do a few puzzles.

This past weekend, however, I spent some time putting together some ideas. I've decided to turn our days into letter themed days. Oscar already knows most of his letters and their sounds from listening to us teach his brother, but I'd like to reinforce them and find out which ones he isn't so good at. Also, focusing on a letter has helped a lot in keeping things together.

Monday and Tuesday were "A" days. We made an ant eater and an ant hill complete with painted on ants:

I was a little surprised that he spent almost a half hour carefully coloring in the ant eater parts. Wyatt really didn't like coloring in anything when he was the same age, so I had thought he'd just breeze through it with a few scribbles. (In case you are curious where I got the template, you can find it here, along with plenty of other fun ideas for teaching letters.)

We also did a little handwriting, which I hadn't planned on introducing, but after I told him we were going to learn about the letter "A", he immediately started asking me how it goes as he attempted to draw it on a nearby piece of paper. I figured we'd go with it as long as he was interested, so I printed out some letter tracing pages and did that the second day.

The best thing about this is that Oscar is so very proud to show his dad and brother what he did at "school" while they were gone. Watching that, I am kicking myself for not doing this earlier. He told me today that he
"does school at home, right Mommy?" I answered, "Yes, you do.", already envisioning how things would go when both of them are home.

I'm getting excited about this. I've always loved teaching, but it's even more rewarding when it's your own kids doing the learning. This homeschooling thing seems like it just may end up being a good fit for our lifestyle in more ways than one.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Final Halloween in the Bahamas

Well, this was our last Halloween here. This year found us experiencing some of the cloud bursts common to life here. Halfway through our trick or treating, Oliver had to run home for an umbrella when it started to rain on us. It wasn't a huge deal because it wasn't more than a shower and the night was warm, but it was still nice to have the umbrella. By the time we got home, the rain was gone and we were all feeling a little soggy.

Still, it was great fun as usual. Here are the boys sporting their costumes:

And no, this is not the best picture. The camera kept fogging up on me because of all the moisture in the, so I couldn't give it enough time to get a good focus. I just wiped and snapped and hoped for the best.
I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty darn proud of Wyatt's costume. He had asked to be an Army guy about a month ago, but when I went online to see what a costume would cost me, I couldn't find anything decent for much less than fifty bucks. It sure changes things when you can't go to a store and search for stuff.

So, in light of that problem, and because there was no freaking way I was going to spend fifty bucks on a costume for him, I convinced him that it would be pretty cool if he went as a submariner. The utilities were replaced by the cammies a year or so ago, so I knew it would be no big deal if I cut one down and used all the patches.

I really haven't sewn much more than patches and small mending jobs for, um, twenty years now? So, I was a little scared I wouldn't be able to pull it off. However, my mother did a good job teaching me when I was a teenager how to sew, and much of it stuck with me. I liked sewing, but not the rules of patterns, and remember always asking her at every step (especially ironing -for some reason, I really hated ironing seams) if I could just skip that. Unsurprisingly, I only  managed one full project, a sun dress I wore once because I outgrew it right after as it had taken me so long to finish it. I did make a lot of doll clothes, however, and made my own patterns so I had some experience that helped a bit here.

Since real clothing is different, however, I found a few tutorials online that showed me how to make patterns for both shirt and pants (since there isn't a fabric store to buy a pattern, either). I also looked at a blog that had clear instructions on how to cut down a man's shirt into a boy's. So, that spared me buttonholes and hemming on the bottom, but I had to figure out the collar since I wanted one that looked like the original and that isn't what she had done with hers. I had to do it twice, including cutting a second one, and it still isn't completely right, but it was close enough. I also made sure to iron all those seams, and, yes, it really is important to do that.

I learned a lot along the way, including how to use self-fabric as interfacing as I couldn't, once again, run to the store for that. I recycled buttons, belt loops, and some elastic I pulled out of an old pair of pants that were too worn out to pass on to anyone else. The only real cost in all of this was some thread.

I used all the old patches (the name one is blacked out in this pic, in case you are wondering why it looks a little weird), and we finished the costume out with Oliver's old command cap, some collar devices (wouldn't be worn normally, but it helped keep it down and made it look more military), one of Oliver's uniform belts, and a dog tag. The Navy guys we ran into during trick or treating all recognized it right off, which made it all the better.

As for Oscar, his was kind of a remake from one Wyatt wore back in Washington. He really wanted to be a firefighter, so we pulled out the rain gear I'd bought for Wyatt in WA (it's a fleece lined coat, so way too warm to wear here - we mostly just get wet when it rains and it's no big deal), used the pieces of a firefighter set we'd bought for Wyatt for that Halloween and they still play with, and then Oliver got creative and fashioned a fire extinguisher out of cardboard, the top of a spray bottle, tinfoil, and some printed off pictures to put on the side. He carried that instead of his pumpkin this year for treats. Sadly, this picture doesn't do it justice.

(I found it completely hilarious that after the kids kept calling it a "fire hydrant", we ran into an adult who immediately proclaimed it the same thing.)

While I don't know if I'll get get so involved in costume making again, I know we'll keep on creating costumes. It was so much more fun than just picking something and ordering it, which is what I did last year (although Oliver did build a train out of cardboard and our wagon for Oscar's get up).