Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stanford Splash! Fall 2014

This past weekend, we went to Palo Alto so that R and his friend and classmate D could participate in the Stanford Splash! program. Our little D is too young to participate this year, so we planned some other activities to keep him occupied. It was nice to borrow a daughter for the weekend!

The program is open to 7th through 12th graders, offering 14 class slots for kiddos to select a wide range of classes. R took everything from An Introduction to Neuroprosthetics to An Introduction to the Elvish Language. D was scheduled for a class about justice and one about religion. They both took a class about geology and one about earthquake engineering.

On the parent side of things, the registration process was arduous. Completely frustrating and ridiculously time-consuming due to crashing servers. But with a little bit of perseverance (read 'sheer stubbornness to triumph over the system') it  can be done.

The kids were understandably nervous. So we did several tech checks, making sure that all of our numbers were entered in all of the phones.

We practiced map reading and had them find their classrooms and come back to us. It's a good thing we arrived so early! They were still nervous and asked us to come find them at lunchtime. But when we showed up, they were happily munching on their pizza and burritos. They barely looked up from their plates and we definitely weren't needed.

At the end of the day, I picked up R and we still had an hour before D was done, so we hit the Stanford bookstore. He selected a Stanford hat. And though I wanted to shout 'Go, Bears!' at every corner of the campus, I happily paid for his 'Nerd Nation' Stanford hat. So proud of these kids and grateful for the opportunity to have them stretch their academic wings a bit.

I'll have another post about Day 2. There were a few more of their classmates in attendance. And I'll recap some of the things that D and R reported about the experience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Halloween Pets of the Girl in the Bat-Hat

Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting her 4th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest. As I rarely write anything whimsical, I decided it was a good challenge. It may not be brilliant, but it's done and I feel good about stretching out of my comfort zone a little bit.

The rules: "Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak."

Mine is 88 words.

The Halloween Pets of the Girl in the Bat-Hat
by Camilla M. Mann

Pumpkin, Broomstick, and Creak
Were the pets of one Halloween freak.
 “I love Halloween!” screeched the girl in a hat.
She always wore a witch’s hat emblazoned with a single bat.
Pumpkin, her bearded dragon, liked to hiss
Unless you stroked his head and gave him a kiss.
Brookstick is an insect – a walking stick
Who stood still long enough to get a lick
From Creak the dog
Who seemed to think he was a frog.
“Ribbit,” Creak said
As the girl in the bat-hat patted his head.

Monday, October 27, 2014

PiBoIdMo 2014 - I'm in!

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that though I love writing - and get paid to write! - and I am a parent, I don't often write for kids. Ever. Really.

I write notes to my kids, but I don't think of kids as a target audience for things that interest me: food sustainability, environmental issues, beer and coffee. Yes...believe it or not I just spent a month researching and writing an article about coffee. My kids listen to me ramble on about why we need to eat one way and not another, why I choose to buy chickens from one farm and not another. And I cart them along with me on research trips to visit beekeepers and learn how to roast coffee. But I don't usually think that other people's kids would enjoy these topics.

However, inspired by a good friend and her pledge to join the PiBoIdMo: Picture Book Idea Month - November 2014, hosted by Tara Lazar, I decided to take the plunge and see if I can complete the 30-day writing challenge and come up with daily ideas about how to write books for kids about important things such as eating fruits and vegetables. We'll see...stay tuned.

Thanks for the nudge P...like I need anything else on my plate this month!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mayan Creation Play

Mayan Creation Play
by D.

Today we drove to San Juan Bautista with our friends and we watched a play, the Mayan version of creation. They had instruments that were from Mexico - a maraca, a box filled with beans, and a drum - and they had traditional clothing from the Mayan culture. They spoke the languages that Mayan people spoke.

What happened in the play: the people did a dance with all different colored people. (I'm not sure what it meant.)

Then the Mother and the Father wanted a world with people who worshipped them, so they created the animals. But the animals didn't talk, so the God of the Sky brought over a plumed serpent who talked.

They talked about what to do. Then the God of the Sky created the mud people. They didn't have a brain and they didn't have a heart. The mud people kept bumping into each other and dying. They couldn't survive, so she cast them away. During the part with the mud people, they played really neat Mayan music.

Then the Mayan people made a planet with mountains, trees, rivers, and plants. They called out the Grandmother and Grandfather.Together made the Wood People witch were violent - they weren't nice to the animals. A great flood was created to kill all the Wood People. One macaw survived. He branched off and made all of the other animals.

The animals told the Gods that the White Corn and the Yellow Corn were their food supplies. The gods brought over the corn and told them that they will watch over the animals.

The first humans had big golden masks on and they learned to worship the gods and created a good habitat for all the animals.

In the background of the stage they had some pretty cool Mayan paintings. In the play they spoke Spanish and English. I really enjoyed the play.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

D's Spice Box, Part I

We are working on a project in my class that explains 'our culture.'

What I have done so far: I've researched what my parents' cultures are. Then me and my mom brainstormed a couple of ideas and I decided that I wanted to make a box with spices from all of the countries that my ancestors came from. I searched all of the main spices of each country's cuisine.

  • The Philippines has tamarind, ginger, sili.
  • People in Spain use coriander, bay leaves, saffron, and paprika.
  • Portugal has cinnamon, celery salt, paprika, and bay leaves.
  • In Germany, they use caraway, bay leaves, juniper berries, and white pepper.
  • Ireland they cook with thyme, rosemary, and sage.
  • In Sweden, they use cardamom, saffron, all spice, ginger, and dill.

After we made our list, we shopped for all of the spices at Whole Foods. When we got home, I made the box for all of the spices out of a recycled shoe box.

Next: I need to fill the box with all of the spices and write my essay about my culture. I have to go to bed now.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wood Gasifier Stove for #makercamp2014

I made a wood gas stove this summer for Maker Camp, #makercamp2014. 
Wood Gasifier Stove
by R, Grade 7
Story of Inspiration
I have seen the name wood gas stove or wood gasifier stove around a few times but I didn’t know what it was. Then I read about it in Makezine number 27 on page 136.

How it Works
This stove is basically an efficient wood chip burner. The smoke and gas that comes out of the wood chips when they are burned is still flammable. In a regular fire some of that gas is not burned. 

Wood chips are put in the middle can with the grate and are lit on fire. The holes at the bottom of the whole stove and the grate allow the fire to be fed with plenty of oxygen. The wood chips start to put out their smoky gas. This gas rises up through the wood and lights on fire. Gas also escapes through the holes at the bottom of the middle can and rises. This gas goes through the holes at the top of the middle can and it also lights on fire. Those are the secondary burners. The wood chips will burn and you will have to keep adding wood chips. Then just use it as a stove.

What We Did With It
My brother and I used the wood gasifier stove a lot during our family's 10-day camping trip. I used it to heat water and we made tea and hot chocolate. One night we even cooked dinner - sausages! - on it so my mom didn't have to cook over the fire. And, after dinner one evening, my brother and I roasted marshmallows in the stove.

It's neat to make something that isn't just a creation, but it's a useful creation. I'm pretty sure that my mom would agree with that.

Makey Makey for #makercamp2014

We received a complimentary Makey Makey for participating in #makercamp2014, but you can purchase directly from Makey Makey: here.

Makey Makey
by D, Grade 5

What: The Makey Makey is a simple machine that sends an electrical pulse through a wire that is connected to your hand. It runs through your body and connects to another wire. That wire connect to the Makey Makey and completes the circuit. You're the button!

When you tap an object that's connected to a certain section of the Makey Makey, it sends a command to the Makey Makey. The Makey Makey transforms the signal to something the computer can read.

How I used it: I used the Makey Makey to type, to play the piano, and make a drum out of oranges.

To make the drum out of oranges, I connected the wires to the Makey Makey and connected another wire to my foot, attached to aluminum foil. It sent a signal from my foot through my hand. When I tapped the orange, the signal went back to the Makey Makey to tell it to make a noise. It was easy! And fun!

Looking Forward: I can't wait to make a guitar out of it. That's my next project with the Makey Makey.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Meet Jumpy! {by R}

For my birthday my dad got me an RC airplane, a type of glider called the Zagi 5C. Unlike the Jettiger, that we tried last year, this plane is easy to fly. My first airplane, the Jettiger, only got one flight before it was demolished in a crash. 

We got to build more on the Zagi 5C.

  I even got to design the colors myself. I used my favorite color for the main part: yellow!

A few days after I got the plane, me and my dad started building the Zagi 5C. We started by getting some materials like the 3M77 spray adhesive. Then we set up the GoPro for a time lapse. We then glued the two airfoils together and glued in the carbon fiber spars. That glue was extra strong.   

We took it out for its maiden voyage this week. My dad is still working on the video. Stay tuned! I can't wait to get more time with Jumpy. You'll see why I named it Jumpy soon.


Monday, June 16, 2014

The Best Camp Ever {by D}

When we picked D up from his day at Ventana Wildlife Society's Condor Camp last week, he was ecstatic and gushed, "Mommy, that was the best camp eveeeeeeeeeeeeeer!" Awesome. So, naturally, I had him write about it.

June 12, 2014 -
Today I went to the best camp ever, Condor Camp!

First we went to Laguna Grande Park to meet everyone and get in the van. But, while we were waiting, we played aquarium tag, which is pretty much Snakes and Minnows except you have to think of an animal and one of its adaptations. When the person who is It calls on your adaptation, you run to the other side.

After the game we introduced ourselves and told what our favorite animal was. Mine is a wombat!

Then we got into the van and drove all the way to Big Sur. We passed Bixby Bridge and went all the way to the Ventana Wildlife Society's Visitor Center and learned about animals. Here are a few facts I learned during that presentation...

Mountain lions lick their babies' butts to keep them clean. California condors live in the Grand Canyon, too. They can get killed by electrical poles. Baby condors eat plastic and get poisoned by the DDT, but sometimes they have surgery to remove the poisoned plastic from their stomachs. I also learned that condors can change the color of their skin, depending on how they are feeling. Finally, I learned that the California condor population was down to 22 in 1970.

Then we climbed into the vans and drove to Seal Cove because seal is one of condors favorite foods. So, we set off. When we reached Seal Cove, we didn't find any seals or any condors. We did find a bunch of ants and a turkey vulture was flying overhead in the sky.

Then we drove to private property in Pfeiffer where the condors usually hang out and we heard beep! Beep! BEEP! from the  tracking device. It was Condor #204. He flew through the trees and down the cove. We got out the telescope to see if there were any more condors. We did this for about ten minutes. Finally we packed up, ate lunch, and went swimming.

Best. Camp. Ever.

Condor Camp {by R}

My brother and I went to Condor Camp last week with Ventana Wildlife Society.

We started off the day playing a game of adaptations. I was a cone shell snail. Then we introduced ourselves and shared what we wanted to get out of condor camp in a group circle. I wanted to learn more about thermal gliding and I also wanted to see a condor. 

Then my brother and I climbed into the 'Great White Shark' which was actually a large van that could hold 15 people. The other van was called the 'Lone Gray Wolf.' The adults drove us all to Big Sur.

We stopped at a visitor center on condors. And, even though it was closed, we got to look around it. Then we got a quick presentation on condors. 

I learned that lead poisoning is the biggest threat to California condors today.When a hunter shoots an animal with a lead bullet, lead scatters all around the flesh. If the kill is not found by the hunter, a condor could eat it and it only takes a miniscule amount of lead to kill a condor. And I definitely did not know that the condors get electrocuted on power lines because they are so big that they easily touch two wires, completing a circuit. 

We got to see how the condor tracker operates. Almost all the condors are tagged with radio transmitters. If you see a condor without a radio transmitter, it means that they were likely raised in the wild.

As you can tell, I learned a lot from Condor Camp!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Camp: Learning About Condors

Summer camps are expensive, typcially. No doubt about that. But they also provide great enrichment. So, we pick and choose camps for the boys carefully. Last year, they did kayak camp and were out on the bay for several hours a day for a week. It was a fantastic experience. And they gained so much confidence on and in the water.

Today, they're off on a one day condor adventure with Ventana Wildlife Society. Click to read more about their work with condors. And, in the range of summer camps, this one is a good deal.

The boys carefully followed the packing list, making sure they had swim trunks, sunblock, and the other items; I loaded up their lunchboxes with carrot and celery sticks, lychee, cheese, granola bars, and wraps with turkey meatballs.

D was up at 5 o'clock. "It's time for condor camp, Mommy! Condoooooooooooor camp! Mommy, get up."

Not yet. Go back to bed, please. Jake pulled the blanket over his head and groaned, "Why is he awake at five?!" He's really excited.

Stay tuned, they'll report back tonight about what they learned!

Have fun, boys! Learn lots.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Time to Build {by R}

I woke up this morning ready to build. After we all ate breakfast I thought up a design for a robotic plant. It was going to have solenoids to grow when the robot was placed in water and then it would face and follow the sun with photovoltaic panels.

Later, the Nonni picked up my brother and me. At their house I drew the schematics and the design for the robotic plant on paper. I also had to clean up my room in the Nonni’s house. The problem was that it was full of my inventions. I had to throw a lot of stuff away. Then we planned for the summer. Soon it was lunch time.

After lunch my dad picked us up and took us home. I decided to build an ROV. My 5th grade teacher gave me enough parts to build one. I would have to build the control box first. I drilled three holes in a small plastic box to insert the three switches. This would allow the ROV go up and down, back and forth, and turn right and left. It was hard to figure out how I would wire the whole thing correctly. Then I drilled holes for the connection wire and the power wire. The connection wire would connect to the ROV. I took wire connectors and I started working on the circuit.

Finally it was late and time to clean up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Avoiding the Summer Slide

Our family's philosophy has always been: work hard, play hard. And summer vacation is no different. We have lots of fun planned. Lots. But we also want to avoid the summer slide. You know, when kids do no academics for more than 2 months and go back to school with some rusty skills.

While I am not a parent who is score obsessed - far from it, actually - I cringe when I see the boys losing basic arithmetic skills because they are unused for a summer.

So, the boys will do some writing (think fun blogposts about their adventures), reading (never a struggle for us), science (think mad-scientist adventures with Daddy), typing (D loves the free BBC typing program we used last year) and - for the first time - I didn't buy math workbooks for them. We're giving TenMarks Education a try. It was recommended by R's 6th grade teacher. And so far, I like it.

The boys did the assessments last week and D spent about 20 minutes last night on the first lesson. I liked that it was only 10 questions. He went through it once. Then he was able to go back through on the ones he missed. And if he still didn't get it, the website had an easy-to-understand explanation of the correct answer. So, it wasn't just about getting the right answer, it wanted him to understand how to get to the right answer.

R tried his first lesson this morning, but I had already left for work. Not sure how it went, but I'll get feedback tonight.

Do you make your kids do summer work? If so, what kind? If not, why not? Would love to hear. Comment below. Or email me at constantmotioncamills[at]gmail[dot]com.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Crabby Manns

The boys' first day of summer vacation was spent on a boat with Captain Dan, pulling up crab pots. Such an awesome experience for them. And, of course, I got crabs out of the deal. Sweet!

We all tell our stories a different way. For me, I head to the kitchen. In case you need to know, click: how to cook fresh crabs.

Here is the video Jake put together...

Here's what R had to say: "One Crabby Day."

And here's D's post: "Going Crabbing."

What a great way to start off the summer! 
Thanks, Dan.

Going Crabbing {by D}

Friday, 6 June 2014

Today I woke up to the smell of bacon. I got out of bed and went downstairs. My dad said we were going crabbing. I've never done that before. My expectation was that we were going to catch all shapes and sizes of crab. But when you're crabbing, it is illegal to catch more than ten per person. And it is, also, illegal to catch crab that is smaller than 7".

My second expectation was that we were going to ride in a big sail boat with a big crane that pulled up the boxes. But, instead, we were in Captain Dan's speed boat. And we had to pull the cages up by hand.

My third expectation was about the crab cages. I thought: this is going to be like the Blue Lake crayfish cages - just bigger. And I was correct!

After I finished my predictions we went out to the Wharf and met Dan at the docks. We found him on the road, pulling a cart full of fishing supplies. We headed down to the boat. Riley got to drive and I honked to the Coast Guard to show that we were ready to go out. Riley was already almost out to sea when a bunch of sea lions started barking at us. We had to steer around them.

When we reached the open ocean, Captain Dan started going really fast. The boat started to hydroplane.

We located the buoys and started pulling the cages up. While we were pulling little sand krill started jumping onto our boat. We caught 4 crabs in the first trap, 8 in the second, and 14 in the third. Then we stuffed all 26 crabs into our two coolers.

On the way back, we tried to fish for rockfish, but we didn't catch any. Then we headed back to the docks, unloaded all our gear, and went to the Wood's house where we ate lunch. Captain Dan calculated that we had caught $400 worth of crab! It was a fun day of crabbing.

One Crabby Day {by R}

Friday, 6 June, 2014

Today was the first day of summer vacation. I woke up tired and my brother had a summer sleep-in. Then we had a yummy breakfast made by my mom. My dad announced that we were going crabbing with Captain Dan. We packed up all of our stuff. I packed a few jackets, a book on boomerangs, and my new Kindle Paperwhite. Dad packed our lunch in a cooler.

We drove out to the Wharf to meet up with Dan. We loaded up and headed out to sea. I got to steer the boat out of the docks and D got to blow the horn he brought. We hydroplaned five miles out! As we headed to the first buoy, I had the crab hook and hooked the rope underneath the buoy. Dad and Dan pulled up the crab trap. It had four crabs in it. 

Dan took out his crab measurer and checked to make sure the crabs were legal size. The two smaller crabs were illegal and we tossed them out while the larger one - and giant one - were keepers! We checked two other crab cages and they were full.

When we had our limit, we fished for a little bit before heading back to the docks. We got a lot of crab. We helped unload and went back to the Wood's house. Dan gave us a cooler-full of crab. My mom cooked them. I can't wait to eat what she makes!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Piano Mann

D has two pianos at my mom and dad's house - one in the living room and one in his bedroom. He plays them all the time...happily.

Last week was his Spring recital and he performed two complicated pieces. And he played them well.

Since he practices mostly at my parents' house, I don't really hear him very often. I know he's my kid, so I'm not really objective, but he's dynamic. I'm not easily impressed. Really. But I was impressed.

Nonna finally has her piano player. I took piano lessons for a year, fought with my mom everyday, cried, stomped my feet, and finally jumped ship to play the flute. Thank goodness for the next generation. They can pick up the threads of expectation and run with them.

Tech Challenge: It's Not About Winning

Our mantra, leading up to The Tech Challenge (click to read more about The Tech Challenge 2014), was: It's NOT about winning. It's about what you learned, how you failed, how you adapted and revised, and how you worked as a team. 

But I have to say, with over 500 teams waiting for the announcements, tension was palpable. Almost stifling. Kids were biting fingernails; parents were holding their breath. The room was practically vibrating with excitement.

There were prizes for Best Costumes, Best Journals, Best Device Performance and even Most Spectacular Fail. When it came to Best Engineering Design Process awards, I was floored to hear R's team announced: The Test Tubes. 2nd Place. Best Engineering Design Process. Wow.

Okay, it's not about winning. But it sure was nice to have that recognition of all their hours or hard work. D was so happy for his brother...

Jake was so relieved to be done...

And, me? Well, I'm all about creating food memories to commemorate special events. So, I treated R to his favorite treat: Sparky's Root Beer and Penny Ice Cream. It's still not about winning, it's about the entire endeavor. The award was just icing on the cake.

The Tech Challenge: Harnessing the Wind Video

It's taken me almost two months to be able to think about this challenge (click to read more about The Tech Challenge 2014) without cringing. It's not that it was awful. It wasn't. But this required project for all the 6th graders at our sons' school was all-consuming since my husband was one of the team advisors. They worked one day after school and one full day on the weekends for many, many weeks. It was grueling.

Now that it's summer vacation, I'll actually write a few posts about this experience. It was frustrating on multiple levels. But, as you can see from this video, put together by The Tech Museum, what the kids walked away with was astounding. I'm really impressed with this entire endeavor. And, now that it's not required, the kids and some of the parents are looking ahead at next year's challenge. We might be in!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Reading: Challenge Accepted - Finally Slaying that Whale

photo by Shannon
As this is a blog to chronicle our innovations, creations, and challenges, I figured this was as good a venue as any to share my journey through a Summer Reading challenge.

Here's the back story of why, more than two decades out of high school, a handful of us are committing to reading this thick tome...

Years ago one of our teachers in high school assigned Moby Dick by Herman Melville. And I was one of those students who always did what was assigned. Always. I was kind of a dork. Still am, I suppose.

photo by Denise
In any case, I couldn't do it. I could not bring myself to slog through those pages and, along with one of my best friends who is also a rule-follower, we decided to skip it and buy the CliffNotes version. Gasp! It was a first - and last - for me. But I figured: if I split the cost of the CliffNotes with her, I was only being half as naughty. Right?

Mired in guilt, I actually did read the book at some point during that school year. But I came to find out very recently that she never did...and neither did a few of our other friends. So, though we're sprinkled all over the country - from Maine to California - we're (re)doing it this year. Moby Dick for summer reading. Woohoo. Dr. Littlefield would be proud.

J found it in Kindle-format for free in English and French. Okay, my French is a little too rusty for that. I picked up a copy as did a few other people we know. Stay tuned! I'm finally slaying this whale.