Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Young Chefs

Remember those corny "Happiness Is...." cards and posters from the 1980's? Well, I think happiness might just be a kid who is starting to enjoy cooking. Mackenzie wanted to make his own cornbread to go with the chili I was making for dinner. I wrote out a recipe card for him that was much more legible than my regular handwritten one. He has always been very sensitive to sensations and sounds, so a few years back we replaced all of our wood-handled spoons and rubber scrapers with plastic-handled ones that don't bother his sense of touch. Likewise, I bought some plastic measuring spoons because the tinny metal spoons scraping together drove him nuts. He told me that he used some rubber gloves when he cracked the eggs, just so no egg slime got onto his hands, too. I remember all of these kinds of things being a roadblock to me when I was learning to cook. My mom never quite understood why the sound of a knife on a wood chopping block just set my teeth on edge, or the feel of the wooden stirring spoons really bugged me. Luckily these days there are alternatives available so he can enjoy cooking much more!

He had a few mishaps with flour and other ingredients, but in the end he turned out a very nice tasting cornbread. And of course, to ensure his little sister would want to eat it, he dyed it green (her favorite color). Yummm!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Kids and Politics

When I was 11 years old, President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated into office and I remember being very interested and excited about the whole process for the first time. I wrote him a letter about recycling and Oregon's bottle bill (wow, some things haven't changed, I was an environmentalist even at that young age!) Now my son is 11 years old and we have one of the most exciting presidential races in history going on, and he is becoming very interested in politics as well. He really wanted to go hear Barack Obama talk on Friday night when he came to town, so at 2:30 we headed out to stand in line with our friends. 9,000 people packed into the basketball arena at the U of O, with 3,000 more outside that didn't make it in (ever see a line that's literally a mile long? We have now!) Obama's talk has been the fodder for our mealtime conversations in the last couple of days, and it's wonderful to have kids who are interested in what is happening in our country.

There were times during the 7-hour wait to see Obama that I questioned whether or not this was going to be a worthwhile thing. After all, that much waiting in line is about like taking a trans-atlantic flight with the kids. They did have friends there though and could run around a bit until we got inside. At 6:30 though, we were seated in the bleachers and still had 2 1/2 hours to go. They held up admirably though, Mackenzie put in earplugs and often had his hands over his ears (especially after Obama started speaking and the crowd went wild at times), and Asa almost fell asleep by the end (around 10:15), but walking out to our car in the dark Mackenzie exclaimed "Obama really rocks! His speech was amazing!" and I couldn't really put it any better.

More photos from the Obama Rally are here on my other blog.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

15 Minutes of Fame

Every day that goes by with this robotics team, I see what an amazing experience it is for our kids. It has been opening up whole new vistas lately. This week, the team was invited to give their research project presentation to the supervisors and managers meeting of our local utility company. There were about 75 people there, and they were wonderfully supportive and interested in what these kids had to say. A local TV station showed up and filmed and interviewed the team members, and they put a spot on the evening news. The kids were all very impressively self-composed, though we all talked about how nervous we were afterwards. They did great, and came across with their usual enthusiasm.

A man from the utility company is helping the kids with adding a cost/benefit analysis to their research project, and I think he will be a wonderful contact to have as the team goes forward. He came to our practice last week and gave the kids some great feedback on their project. As the next year's theme is also energy-related (global warming), I feel that we've forged some connections that will be really helpful to the team in our next season as well!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Up For the Challenge

We had our first robotics team meeting yesterday, looking forward to the World Festival next month. The kids were raring to go! Not content to rest on their laurels, they want to tackle even more of the mission challenges, and add in a cost/benefit analysis for their research project. A man from our local utility company's education and outreach program visited our team meeting yesterday. He's willing to help the kids with the cost/benefit analysis, and the team will also be doing a presentation at the utility company next week! They are also going to be one of our major sponsors.

So far, we've raised about half of the money that we need to get to the World Festival, with three sponsors of $500 or more, and a bunch of people contributing smaller amounts. It's wonderful to see the kind of support that can come out of your own community for an opportunity like this for the kids. We've also heard from many business owners, friends, and family about their own interests in the fields of engineering and sustainable energy. This opportunity to go to the World Festival is expanding the kids' world in many ways - allowing them to do further community outreach than we ever had planned for the team initially. Also, at the world festival, they will have an additional "Alliance" mission challenge, where they will be paired with several other teams from different places in the country or world. What an incredible opportunity for them to get to know team members from different places! I'm sure you can tell from my overabundant use of exclamation marks that I am very excited for our kids and for the team over these amazing possibilities that have been opening up before us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Warm Sleeves and Impenetrable Hair

One of the funnest things in parenthood is the way the whole world becomes revealed to you through the eyes of your kids. You get to examine everything in new ways, think about things from different perspectives, when you really listen to what they say, to the questions they ask and the observations they make. Even to the words they use. I remember when Mackenzie was very young, he would ask me to "unpeel" a banana for him. It makes perfect sense - you get "undressed" when you take your clothes off, why then wouldn't "unpeeling" a banana mean removing the peel? He would also turn "upside-up" after being "upside-down".

Both of the kids are older now, the cute phrases of toddler hood are mostly far behind us, but they still occasionally surprise me with funny sayings that make me smile. This week I overheard one of them telling the other that it was cold outside and they needed to find a "warm-sleeved shirt". Mackenzie still says "orderwise" instead of "otherwise" some of the time. And he exclaimed in dismay that his hair was an "impenetrable fortress" when trying to shampoo it (I tend to agree - this kid has the thickest hair in existance. He can dunk himself completely underwater and it's still dry five layers down, like some kind of retriever dog bred for cold waters).

I know when the last of childhood's insightful and engaging speech patterns is gone, I'll be just a bit sad. I still can recall the day that Asa first called Mackenzie by his real name. Prior to that (and to all of our befuddlement) she had chosen to call him "Geegaw". I think a tear slipped out of my eye when her toddler voice first said the name "Mackenzie". Then again, I still call my sister by my childhood knickname for her, so maybe there's some hope for a few remnants, at least for awhile.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bits and Bots

It's been a very busy last few days, trying to get everything booked and registered for this robotics tournament in Atlanta next month (not to mention trying to fundraise the $$$$ to get us there!). Still, we've managed to squeeze in some other fun stuff this week.

We spent yesterday at the Irish Cultural festival. Asa and I took our fiddles and went to a fiddle workshop, and then Mackenzie and I took our new bodhran (pronounced something like BOW-rahn) to a workshop given by this very interesting guy (and terrific drummer). He was very engaging, weaving history and personal experience with technique. While we didn't come away knowing a whole lot more than when we started, we at least got an idea of how to hold the drum and the tipper (stick) and to play a few simple rhythms. While we were doing that, Wayne took Asa to a step-dancing workshop. When Mackenzie and I got there, Wayne was up there dancing with Asa and the rest of the group. It's fun to try new things (and he's definitely a few better candidate to do any kind of dancing than I am, he's got rhythm and I've got two left feet!).

As a family, we've been enjoying some retro TV nights watching old Simpson's episodes, or DVDs of 3rd Rock From the Sun. We all love good physical comedy, and John Lithgow is in his finest form in this show (other favorites along these lines are the Pink Panther series with the incomparable Peter Sellers, and Fawlty Towers with the superb John Cleese, as well as old silent movies with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the like.

The weather is getting good, so we took our first family tandem bike ride of the yea, running some errands and then ending up at a park down by the river. The kids look so huge on the playground equipment, especially compared to all of the smaller kids. It's strange sometimes to look at these big independent creatures and think how small they once were.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Amazing News

If you've been reading this blog, you've seen the journey that we've taken this year with the FLL Robotics team that the kids are on (and that I've been coaching), the Solar Dragons. Well, we just found out this weekend that we have been selected to go to the WORLD Robotics Festival!!!!!! We will be one of 84 teams from the 10,000 around the world competing for 3 days in Atlanta, Georgia (I think in the Georgia Dome). I think one of the most exciting things about this nomination is how they were nominated. FLL has a set of “Core Values” that they promote among the kids participating in their robotics program. The values include working as a team, sharing their experiences with others, exhibiting “Gracious Professionalism” at all times, and honoring the spirit of friendly competition. There is a special process by which teams who exhibit exemplary core values can become nominated for a chance to compete at the FIRST World Festival. The Solar Dragons received just such a nomination, one of 12 given out in the world. Wow!!!! These kids are truly amazing.

Now, we just need some very very good thoughts and prayers that we can fundraise the money needed to get the whole team there and register them for the championships. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and if you know any individuals or corporations that might be willing to sponsor our team, let me know (the back of our team t-shirts is definitely up for some sponsors!)