Friday, September 5, 2014

Guest Blog By Pops: Winging It!

Because I have gone back to work full time and have not yet figured out how to manage my time, and because someone should be writing on this blog, my dad has stepped in to guest blog today! Fear not, he's a great writer and you will enjoy it. And now, without further ado, take it away, Pops!

World’s greatest paper airplane!

(According to an 8 year-old grandaughter-engineer)

OK, daughter Emily has work, to prep for schoolyear; her husband, Eddy, is traveling, so we have granddaughter day duty. That’s pretty good, when they like to cook, fish, go to the square in Denton, etc. with Pops and Cici.

All very cool, casual, and low impact, till 8 year-old granddaughter says, “Hey let’s make a paper airplane.”No need to ask an old flight instructor, twice.

We quickly liberate a stack of printer paper and we are off. Little did I know my co-designer was a four-foot tall aerospace engineer.

I start with the simple and true design of my youth, while she is practicing origami, in search of something that might aviate. Her advanced design looks way cooler than mine, but that’s not the point is it? She regards my basic 50’s era effort with amused affection and has started her next model,while I admire my time-tested work. I know right then, this will be more process than play, more science than fluff, and it will challenge dinnertime, now hours away.

Ultimately, we come up with 8 different designs. From brutally simple, to a YouTube construction that seems to involve hundreds of arcane folds. Pretty sure I finished it in about the man-hours taken for development of the Wright Flyer. How to evaluate the best design? Enter the 8 year-old test engineer.

She has been busy drawing matrices on sheets of paper that I discover are “test-cards, just like flight test engineers use to evaluate real airplanes. Huh?

She proceeds to lay out 5 separate flight test scenarios—flight through a target doorway, flight down a straight hallway, height drops from second floor balcony, flight through a room, and flight over an obstacle. Each airplane will receive a rating from1 to 10, based on performance on each test. Results are recorded on the matrix sheets for each model and test. All 40 tests! Final empirical totals are tabulated and recorded, before she forwards the results to NASA, I assume. Holy crap!

When I was an 8 year-old, we sat on the floor either staring at baseball cards or trying to figure out how to steal wooden matches from some Mom’s kitchen, so we could burn stuff.

The paper airplanes are not the issue. Predictably, some flew with the grace and aplomb of a falcon on the wing, while others flew like corny dog thrown across a room. One of my designs had the distinction of getting zeros across the board, from the child. She even laughed as it tumbled drunkenly on its 2.5-foot plummet to oblivion. At least it didn’t burst into flames, I said. That counts for something. “Zero,” said the flight test engineer.

When the exhaustive evaluation was complete, and all records recorded, I was amazed at thethoroughness and precision of the process. Want to see what scientists and engineers look like as 8 year-olds? Watch this kid. She not only saw the entire process through to completion, but her methodology and process control was meticulous. Detail piled upon detail. All with serious intent.

Pops was, lets just say, impressed, familial relationship notwithstanding. Next, I think she wants to see if the Uranium-235 isotope can be isolatedfrom Vienna sausages, in the microwave. Or maybe determine the probabilities of future canine diabetes by counting tail wags, during dog sleep. I don’t know.

I do know the time was great fun.

And she is beautiful. And she breaks my heart.

And God is good for giving an old man times like this, with a heartbreaker. Thanks to her and Him.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Game On!

If the summer slump has got you down, you can always try to entertain your kids by yourself. Like the mom I saw at Wal-Mart today. She had given her fourish-year-old son a frying pan and he was swinging it like a baseball bat. In the light bulb aisle.

Or, you can do what we like to do and let your children entertain you. Dance monkey dance. No, just kidding. It really is entertaining when they come up with their own games for everyone to play. The youngest is particularly adept at this skill. It’s a cool thing. Her father’s company should go ahead and get her under contract now. She’s pretty much the best games designer I know. His company does have a decent track record with games so I think it would be a win-win.

I mean, I have no Clue if they will get upset about her copyright infringement with the name of her most recent game. I am sure she would say she was Sorry about it. I guess they do kind of have a Monopoly on the games market, what with them Connecting 4 of the biggest game companies together and forming one big company. I think she wouldn’t have to Scrabble around too much and wrack her Cranium to come up with a new name, so that’s probably a moot point anyway.

So, I am finished with my super-excellent-company-name-disguising now. I am NOT a name-dropper!

The child in question is eight. If you followed my blog way back in yesteryear when I actually wrote semi-routinely, you would have seen some of her earlier work with full-scale whole-house candyland (lower case to show how different it is from the commercially-sold game).

This time she was even more inventive. She dove into the craft room with paper and scissors and glue galore. Snippets of paper were flying everywhere, cats were camped out under the table to bat at each new piece.

Later in the afternoon, she began taping letters to the breakfast nook blinds. Where we tape our hastily scrawled “Happy Birthday (your name here)” banners before the birthday person makes it down to breakfast. We are such planners.

The letters looked like this:

Yes, she does semi-copyright her game on the sign, despite its incredible likeness to two different and previously copyrighted games. 


Kahoot is a website and app that will let the user create a quiz and then allow others to “join” the quiz with the use of a specific password. The quiz is viewed on a main device and participants have to log their answers on their personal devices. In this application, she used a laptop as the main quiz device and we all logged in with tablets or phones.  The kicker is that the full answers appear only on the main device, with a corresponding shape that shows up on your personal device. You have to be able to view the main device.  Tricky!

I think that most of the free world and 96.8% of the people in undeveloped nations know how to play traditional Candyland. I will not describe it here.

The child has mad skills. She knew we were having friends over to eat dinner and, therefore, she gained a captive audience. They knew something was up, because this was greeting them when they first came in the house:

“Is the panda reeeeeally necessary???” asked one of her super-supportive older sisters.

“Yes. The panda is necessary because pandas are awesome.”

Um, duh!?

Since there was a plethora of adolescents in our party, there were plenty of devices. After dinner, she said nonchalantly, “Does anybody want to play a game?”

She was sweetly using her status as the youngest.


“Awesome, I’ll be right back!”

She sprinted to the craft room to retrieve the game board, cones, and many baggies. She also had various construction-paper shapes that were our game pieces.

“You can all choose what you want to be. You can be a stick, a pyramid, a beach, the grasslands, a monster, the sky or a Rocky Mountain.”

She returned and directed us all to log into the Kahoot quiz she had created. Actually, it was the first of three quizzes. We would answer the questions on Kahoot via our devices. Whoever answered each question correctly would get to draw from the “forward” cone. Small, colored paper squares with numbers on them filled the cone. Whichever square you drew determined how many spaces you moved on the board.

“So, that is really the funnel of fun,” asked one of the teens.

“It is the forward cone… If you get it wrong you draw from the backward cone.”

“So, the cone of shame?”

Really the teenagers were quite merciless to the sweet little one. Her revenge was swift.

“Okay, get ready. Here is the first question.”

What is 100,245 minus 25,107?

I kid you not. She designed the quiz herself and wrote all of the questions. And you have only a few seconds to answer. And your point value drops the longer you take. Luckily we weren’t playing traditional Kahoot. This was Kahoot Candyland. Points didn’t count.

The game progressed forward (with a few having to dip into the cone of shame) and we completed the five questions in the math quiz. Up next was the animals portion.

Witch animal has 12 kinds of it's kinds?

*Spelling has not been changed to support the authenticity of Kahoot Candyland.

We moved through the board, people uttering phrases like, “can you please move the stick up three oranges?” and “I need the monster to move one blue.”

We finally reached the end (after a whirlwind "summer" quiz) and a winner was announced. Hooray!!!!

And then we had to play for 2nd-7th places. Hooray…

When we finished, she disappeared for a short time and we could smell a Sharpie in use.

“I have to add something now that I know who won,” she yelled to us.

When she returned, she handed out a baggie with a certificate that read:

“First place? Congrats! Way to go! You must know a lot about math, animals, and summer.”

And the baggie contained a rubber-band bracelet and a certificate for:

“3 free sissy time and breakfast in bed.”

She tailored the prizes to the winners after she saw who won. So customized!

Second place? I'm no slouch myself! I mean, I’m not 10 like the winner, but…

“Just barely way to go.”


“3 free mommy and Sammy time.”

Yep. That’s what my certificates said.

Third place got a certificate that was elegant in its simplicity. It read: “Almost.”

But it did include a bracelet.

Fourth place elicited a “good try” and a “Three free sissy time” certificate.

Fifth place, “nice try” and a bracelet.

Sixth place said “You’ll get ‘em next time.” and seventh got lost before I could write down what it said. I know they both included bracelets. Seventh probably had a platitude like, “Wow! You’ve got a pulse,” or, “Who’d have ever thought you would have known the names of the colors on the board? Kudos!”

In all, we had a great time. The game was well planned and executed, personal and detailed. And fun. Success!

Are you taking notes, company that doesn’t make Barbies?????

Monday, April 21, 2014

This Post is Long…But You Won't Dye if You Read it All!

Hi-Ho, Emily-The-Mom here!

A nod to the great Kermit the Frog. I like him, even if my youngest refuses to see his newest flick.

“I don’t want to see it! It’s just a creepy version of the Muppets!”

“That’s the point, though…a bad guy is impersonating Kermit and they have this huge case of mistaken identity, and the last Muppet movie just had a bunch of creepy Muppet-wannabes in a band that were trying to dethrone the real Muppets and you never complained about that movie and…oh, sorry, you quit listening.”

So instead, we forced the three darlings to watch Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Ha! Take that, defiant kid!

Sorry, HUGE left turn from where my blog was planning to go today. I really wanted to share the fun pre-Easter-dying-party we held at our casa this week.

The kidlets had two days off of school and we burned one going to see the Texas Rangers play a day game. They won. The Rangers and the kids. I am shocked by how much ice cream, cotton candy and hot chocolate they can put away in such a short time. That's right-ice cream and hot chocolate. Texas weather!

So, on the second day off of school we held our dying party with some friends, while the dads went to golf. 

I know! Golf instead of tie-dying shirts and dip-dying eggs? Ludicrous!

On the docket for the day was also Peeps-Jousting. Please see this for the breakdown of this lesser-known, non-UIL-sanctioned sport. Bad luck that our microwave broke and we the new one isn't in until next week. No microwave, no Peeps-Jousting. A travesty!

I told the kids we'll Peeps-Joust next week. Trust me, I may have helped the Peeps peeps (see what I did there) make their yearly quota. We have plenty of Peeps!

On another in a seemingly never-ending stream of side notes, here is a great article I found that really delves deep into the world of the Peep. Enjoy!

The basic ingredients of our dying party are as follows: one day off of school, three moms, seven kids, pizza, eggs, dye, shirts.

I will not get into the minutiae of the tie-dying process today. If you click this link, you can go to a more detailed tie-dying post. What is important is that the kids and moms enjoyed being together, we may be replacing our carpet so there was a certain lackadaisical approach to reigning in the dye…

The younger kids scampered upstairs to rainbow-loom their fingers off as soon as they finished eating because the older kids had fully locked down the X-Box. Wasn't the X-Box one of the earlier-mentioned ingredients? No?

We, the stalwart mothers, cleaned up the food and started soaking t-shirts in soda-ash. 42 eggs boiled merrily on the sink as we soaked the shirts and contemplated life.

After the requisite 10 minutes had elapsed, we called the older kids to come do their shirts. They were very eager. We noticed that their color choices have started trending toward their sports team affiliations.

Example shirts to show styles and colors-cuz Lisa is da bomb!
My oldest child decided to go with Seattle Seahawks colors while dripping some extra black around the shirt just because “It will probably look cooler this way.”

They made quick work of their shirts, precisely pointing and shooting dye (you’d think they had done this before) and we figured out that they had yet another dye-free agenda. This time they wanted to go shoot baskets at the school. Aghast! Leave the dying-party to go have fun playing sports with your friends on a beautiful day???

Obviously we said yes. We aren’t monsters. Caveat: they had to take their siblings. Wha-wahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

The younger set came downstairs and gloved up. They were mostly fascinated with the link between doctors and rubber gloves.  And how if you were a doctor you would be rich enough to buy so many rubber gloves that you wouldn’t have to reuse them as we were reusing them. And how if you were a doctor someone else would put the gloves on for you.

The youngest child and one of the boys decided to fill a glove with water and freeze it to see what would happen. The odds were seriously in favor of them ending up with a hand-shaped icicle, but the “experiment” proceeded anyway.

We were prepared for the probability that the younger kids would need a lot of help. We were wrong. Except for their exuberant attempts to start dying before paper towels were put down, they pretty much had a handle on the process. They quickly dyed their way through the shirts and immediately asked when they could rinse them out and see the patterns.

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“Tomorrow afternoon? Awwwww, man! That’s so far away.”


And, dyed and bagged, the shirts went off to mellow and the kids went off to shoot baskets and run amok. Ahhhhh, how refreshing to be able to send them out as a herd and not to have to go too! Freedom!

The eggs had finished by this point and only seven had cracked. Seriously! Seven cracked! What a beating! What a crisis! What a first-world problem!

We dyed them anyway.

We, the moms, readied the egg dying. I bought mini egg cartons on a cute little website called Shop Sweet Lulu. Adorable! Each kid could have their own. (I am not being paid by these people, I just like their site).

When they returned all sweaty from the trek, we got them settled for egg dying. This took more time than the t-shirt dying. Seriously. A few of the kids were not that concerned with the way their eggs looked. A few kids became Monet in an instant. Or egg-Nazis. Woe to the one who touched their eggs in the bowls. One child, who shall remain nameless (but not photo-less) glittered her egg completely.

After the 42 eggs were summarily dyed, collected and boxed, the party had to come to an end. Parting is such sweet sorrow. All good things must come to an end. Any other cliches?

We had a great time, got stained fingers and ended up with a lot of masterpieces. And next year, Peeps Jousting!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring Break Project: Suet Seed Balls for Frozen Feathered and Furry Friends

I sort of feel like Anna in Frozen. After the glorious experience of finally being released into the freedom of the great, sunny, warm outdoors, she is relegated to shivering in the bitter cold and ice as her world is plunged below freezing.

Last week we were treated to temps up to 80 degrees. Shorts! Short-sleeves! Bare feet! Fabulous vitamin D for everyone (which is nice considering a drop in vitamin D is yet another in a stellar list of “getting older” replacement pills. Seriously???)!

“The Window is open, so’s that door.
I didn’t know they did that anymore…”

We were in the yard, the kids rode bikes and played basketball outside. The car got washed, plants were planted. Not tomatoes though. Nice try tomatoes. Not this time.

I knew everyone felt that irresistible pull outside, to open up the house and feel the spring-like air. Unfortunately the kittens, too, felt the pull outside and we couldn’t leave doors open.

Behind it all, though was the uneasiness that came from the forecast. The cold was “coming”. Foreboding and serious they spoke of arctic chills and a rapid cold front reminiscent of the polar vortex. A plunge from 81 degrees to 17 degrees in 24 hours.

So, even though the veggies we had in the ground were winter ones, 17 degrees with a wind chill below zero wasn’t doing them any favors. Time to cocoon the farm. 

Or residential lot…whatever!

The raised garden was covered with a double layer of plastic sheeting, stretched over low hoops made of PVC pipe. The onions were covered with wooden crates and then wrapped in burlap.

The blueberries would have been fine in the ground where the heat from the earth would have protected them, but in containers the roots were too close to the freezing air. Layers of burlap and towels went around the pots.

Our new apple trees went into the garage. I decided not to risk it. With good reason, we got our sleet and snow and sub-zero wind chills. Our school garden was a 100% loss, despite the double-burlap cover.

We have done this yo-yo weather dance for weeks now and we're over it. The oldest child and a friend camped out in the backyard this weekend in short sleeves but the next morning a near-freezing drizzle fell for a few hours!

A great project/craft we whip up occasionally to help our furry and feathered friends make it until spring is Peanut Butter Suet Balls.

Nuke 1 C. peanut butter and 1C. shortening in a microwave-safe bowl until soft enough to blend thoroughly together.

Stir in 1 C. sugar, 1 C. cornmeal, I C. birdseed and 1 C. oats. Add raisins if you feel like it.

Stir until blended or ditch the spoon and mix well with your hands.

Roll 1-2” balls and set on a plate.

Take them outside and put on a feeder, on the forks of trees, on fences. Wherever your cold little friends will find them and high enough that they won’t get eaten while trying.

These provide a lot of fat, protein and nutrients the birds lose in the winter. Some people render suet but the vegetable shortening will work. We have made them a few times over the winter. Every time the weather turns icy.

Because spring break is this week and the eldest is on a mission trip (yea, kids! being the hands and feet of God this week!) we decided to whip up a batch of these before our next freeze.

Here's how this went with the younger two:

"These are like irresistible peanut butter cookies for birds."

"Tell Daddy we're making peanut butter cookies. Hee hee, hee hee!"

"Let's guesstimate, shall we."

"Oooh, this shortening looks like ice cream. Eat some!"

"What's shortening."

I then had to delve into the nuances of rendering lard, replacing animal fats with vegetable ones and frying chicken....maybe not the best example since we were making treats to help birds...

And, for the melting of the peanut butter and shortening, a song.

"We're nuking it, we're nuking it, we're nuking it in the microwave!"

"It looks like white whipped peanut butter."

After adding in the yummy "stir-ins" they were a little surprised. I guess they missed the sugar when we made these before.

"Wait we're sugaring the birds up?"

I told them the sugar is added to winter suet to help the birds stay nice and fat and active until spring, but we don't add it in spring-fall suet balls.

"I've always wanted to see birds on a sugar high!"

Me too.

I used a cookie dough/ice cream scoop to give them the right potions to roll up in their hot little hands. 

"The birdies are going to love these."

"And the squirrels!"


"They feel really gritty from the cornmeal and sugar."

Wait for it...

"Oh! When were done we can rub this all over our hands for a sugar scrub!"

You knew the middle child would work a beauty treatment in here somewhere!

"Making all of these balls reminds me of our seed balls we made with the clay."

I told them we could go toss a few of those around over spring break. Help the world wake up a little prettier once the freezes were over. We may even lapse back into an older project and whip up a few blessing rocks to leave around. Nothing brightens a dreary day like a sweet heart painted on a random stone!

Hopefully these treats help. We have a family of woodpeckers nesting in a branch of our oak. The poor tree is in it's final days but we cant bear to pull the trigger yet.

Once we soak the last tiny bit of warmth from the next few days, we are resigned to another  cold imprisonment inside.

At least we have each other, firewood and yummy  (fattening) winter food to keep us cozy. And the birds do too...well, not the firewood.

I guess Olaf said it best:

“Winter’s a good time to sit close and cuddle…”

He was right!

More Hijinks...