Monday, January 24, 2011

Science fair links

This year, 'Shroom and Lolli will be participating in their school's annual science fair competition for the first time. Last week, we picked up their display boards and we're combing through some websites to find project ideas.

I thought I would post a few links here in case some of you are in the midst of doing your kids--er, helping your kids--with their science projects. =)

1) Super Science Fair Support Center - this is a great all-inclusive site that calls itself "the ultimate science fair resource"; you can purchase project downloads or complete kits; it has over 1,000 science project ideas

2) Fun Science Gallery - this site is great if you're interested in building your own scientific equipment (telescopes, batteries, microscopes)

3) All Science Fair Projects - this site is helpful as you can choose if you want to search among the 500 ideas, browse by topic (elementary, middle or high school projects), or jump to a link

4) Science Fair Project Ideas - this site provides ideas based on your child's grade level and also lets you choose topic categories to help whittle down your options

5) Science Buddies - this site was recommended by the kids' school; it has project ideas, separate teacher, parent and student support resources, and even an "Ask An Expert" section

Anyway, there are tons of resources out there and I'm sure your local school district has online resources as well. In the meantime, I'm beginning to realize that science fair projects are very much a family event. Air Boss and I are going to try our best to be as hands-off as possible (while still being available to help and guide) but helping the kids select a topic and introducing the scientific method to them is already a whole lot of involvement! The process and end result will be something interesting to see . . .

Lolli and 'Shroom with their school mascot

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My 2011 reading lists

I have a special call-out on this post to friends who have recommended some great books for me to read during this 2011 year. Thank you: Alice, Angela, Erika, Ernie, Jennifer, Karen, Marie-Claire, Prashant, and Stephanie! Part of the reason why it's taken me so long to get both fiction and non-fiction reading lists together is that I went through each and every recommendation and read the synopses on Amazon. I totally appreciate the recommendations because without them, I would be missing out on some great books my friends (and cousins) have already read and enjoyed.

12. The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

2011 Fiction
Unlike my non-fiction reading list, I don't have a set number of fiction books I would like to read as part of my 2011 goals. Most likely, I'll have a running list of books I've read this year and post it here on my blog. For now, here are some books I know I would like to read this year if I can land my hands on a copy . . .

1. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
2. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
5. The Known World by Edward Jones
6. Unaccustomed World by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
9. The 13th Tale by Diane Setterfield
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
11. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan*
12. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan*

*I've committed to reading these first two books of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with 'Shroom and Lolli. We are almost done with the first book The Lightening Thief and we love it, love it, love it!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Need help helping your child with math?

Just found out that Amazon's Kindle store is offering the book "Math for Moms and Dads: A dictionary of terms and concepts...just for parents" for free. I'm sure this offer is just for a limited time but if you have an iPhone, iTouch, iPad, or smart phone, you can download it for free here.

Even with a teaching credential in math, I was floundering trying to teach my first grader how to add and subtract double-digit numbers using "borrowing." I was so dating myself. I found out quickly that the term "borrowing" is no longer used and "regrouping" is the term today's elementary students are using.
I haven't yet read or opened the book yet but let me know if it's useful to you (and your kids)!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Our GPS Conundrum

About a month ago, Air Boss and I--along with the kids--were coming home from somewhere. Can't remember where but when we were using our GPS (coincidentally named Garmin), it started wigging out. Like, "where the heck am I?" wigging out. Not good if one is relying on the GPS to get out of some sketchy neighborhood.
Luckily we knew where north was and could figure out the general direction. We got home safely. But the whole point of this is that while Garmin kept "recalculating" as we made turns and tried to manuever our way home, Air Boss and I noticed that Garmin was consistently "off." We found one of the freeways and jumped on it but Garmin showed our location on some non-existent street east of the freeway (we're guessing about 0.1 miles off). Weird. Garmin never recovered and we put him away and said, "He served us well for the 3.5 years we've had him."

We didn't think anything about it until tonight when we were driving home from Aliso Viejo. Since Garmin has been retired, Air Boss and I have been using our smart phones to guide us around unfamiliar territory (both phones got us up to and around San Jose on a recent trip). Here's the weirdness of it all

The same exact thing happened to Air Boss' GPS on his phone. Same exact displacement.

The phone GPS (powered by Google Maps) was consistently off and having us further east (again, about 0.1 mile off) than we really were. Just like Garmin's problem. We turned off the phone, rebooted it, took it off the car power supply, etc. We turned on my phone and my GPS was accurate. What are the odds that two different GPS's (okay, one GPS and one smart phone) would have the same displacement issue?

[Twilight Zone music fades in . . . ]

On the drive back (luckily Air Boss was with me or else I would be cluelessly lost without some navigation system), we thought of reasons ranging from: 1) there is something in the car engine blocking satellite transmission to 2) the world is coming to an end. This latter reason is a direct feed from all the birds and fish dying recently.

Anyway, we're still scratching our heads as to why we just can't seem to keep an accurately working GPS. One thing we'll have to try to rule out reason #1 is to take both Garmin and Air Boss' smart phone into our Blackhawk and see if both devices work properly. If so, maybe the problem is our Blackbird.

Garmin Update (Sat. 1/15/11)
Air Boss took Garmin for spin in the Blackhawk and has reported that Garmin is "back on track" and functioning fine. Thank goodness but it still doesn't solve the problem as to why it had wigged out more than a month ago.

Air Boss also tested his smart phone (this time again in the Blackbird) and the navigation system is function fine as well. Glad to hear that both devices are working accurately but the curious part of me is wondering how this happened to two separate devices in two different months with the same inaccuracy.

Anyway, I'm not going to lose sleep over it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I heart books

Since I've been soliciting book recommendations for my 2011 reading list, I thought I would share some of the more memorable books I've read in 2010.

I've kept the summaries extremely brief yet I've hopefully provided enough info to whet your appetite to want to read them (or at least the summaries on Amazon)! This was tough for me as I have an unusual talent of summarizing a two hour movie in three hours and writing a book synopsis that's about 20 pages shorter than the book itself. Okay - enough words. Here are my 2010 memorables:

Fiction for pure entertainment value
1) Deception Point (Brown, Dan) – NASA, a Presidential campaign, large meteorite discovered, an even larger cover-up
This was my first Dan Brown (of The Da Vinci Code variety) and the first book both Air Boss and I read together from cover to cover. We loved the book and we discovered how fun it was to read a book together. This book involved a lot of fast action, surprise twists, and lots of rotor and wing details to keep Air Boss enthralled.

2) Tick Tock (Koontz, Dean) – unexpected rag doll at front door, Vietnamese American writer, creepy rag doll comes to life, 3D's: deadline, dawn, and death
If you're not used to reading thrillers, I wouldn't read this alone at night.

3) The Hour I First Believed (Lamb, Wally) – shooting at Columbine High, school nurse barely survives, marriage unravels, lives changed forever, sanity and survival become relative
This book is somewhat borderline with the next category of fiction below.

4) She's Come Undone (Lamb, Wally) – 257 pound Dolores, self-image, divorce, rape, guilt, trials and tribulations, transformation

5) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Larrson, Stieg) – Swedish setting, journalist, tattooed superhacker, familial mystery and corruption, sexual violence
I've read the trilogy (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) all within the same month. Lots of action, lots of killings, and lots of deception, violence and sex. Not the most wholesome reading material.

6) The Bluest Eye (Morrison, Toni) – 11 year old black Pecola, poverty, ridicule, rape, hardships, unfairness, sadness and horror, hope
A tough read but a poignant story.

Fiction that left a lasting impression
7) Safely Home (Alcorn, Randy) – American businessman, Chinese Christian, former college roommates, two worlds colliding, underground church, persecution, humility, faith exemplified
This is the first Kindle book I read and had I realized the book is over 400 pages long, I would not have chosen to have read it entirely on my smart phone but it was so good, I couldn't put it down. While this is a work of fiction, this story depicts the martyrdom that exists in China.

8) The Tortilla Curtain (Boyle, T.C.) - California/Mexico border, poverty vs. affluence, fear, clashing cultures, breakdown of community, illegal border crossings, car accident
If I were to start a book club, I would start it with this book. This book is so rich with nuances and starting-off points for long in-depth conversations and reflections. You can read my full book report here.

9) The Kite Runner (Hosseini, Khaled) – Afghanistan, inseparable friends, innocence, privileged, servant, unspeakable event change, guilt, utter sadness, search for redemption, war-torn Kabul, life in America
I have my friend Lisa to thank for her recommendation of both Hosseini's books. Both books have been unforgettably amazing. Months after reading these books, I'm still thinking about them.

10) A Thousand Splendid Suns (Hosseini, Khaled) – Afghani women, political turmoil, power of rejection, power of love, sacrifice, tragedy, horrific abuse, Taliban cruelty, an unforgettable journey
Wow. I was told to have tissues on hand and while I didn't need them (the back of my hand worked just fine), I was left unbelievably moved and affected. I still lay awake at night sometimes thinking about this story.

11) The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver, Barbara) - Christian missions in Congo, family with four girls, difficulties, fitting in, changes and challenges
This was a long (thick) book that I brought along with me to read on my trip to Boston. This story does not portray missions work in a good light (you'll need to read it to find out why) but the struggles of fitting in culturally I think are quite real and raw. It's a long book so if you're looking for reading material on an international flight, this may be it!

12) The Girl Who Owned a City (Nelson, O.T.) - deadly virus, no adults alive, orphaned children, struggle, survival, gangs, re-establishment of civilization, government
I found this book in the summer reading section for fourth or fifth graders. It's an easy read, but wow – a powerful story about a young girl and her incredible gumption to survive and thrive.

13) We Need to Talk About Kevin (Shriver, Lionel) – high school killings, angry boy, mother's guilt, letters of reflection, unconditional love
This is not a feel-good book nor a light summer read. It's a tough book to stomach but it evoked a lot of introspection on my role as a mom. The dad is estranged in this book but is "present" throughout the book. Totally do not need to be a mom to be deeply affected by Kevin's story and his family's struggle.

14) Life of Pi (Yann, Martel) - big tiger, 15-yr old boy, 26-foot life boat, water all around, very hungry, struggle for survival and power
I'm so glad I'm not out on a boat in the middle of nowhere and I'm more motivated to eat my veggies and avoid terrible constipation.

15) Late, Lost and Unprepared (Cooper-Khan and Dietzel) - Subtitle: "A parent's guide to helping children with executive functioning"
This book was the recommendation of 'Shroom's occupational therapist. Boy did it open my eyes to the world of executive DYSfunctioning. A must read if you (or your kids) really struggle with remembering things, organizing thoughts, following directions, and keeping a general order to life.

16) So Long, Status Quo (Flory, Susy) - Subtitle: "What I've learned from women who've changed the world"
My friend Katie introduced this book to me. I was so amazed by the nine women featured in this book (Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth I, Harriet Tubman to name a few). Flory's writing style is so engaging. I read it again with my friend Laurie as a book study and a challenge to live more like these women.

17) Don't Try This at Home (Friedman and Witherspoon) – The subtitle on this hilarious collection of short stories is “Culinary catastrophes from the world's greatest chefs.”
Yes, even a cooking buffoon like me can laugh at 5 star Michelin chefs.

18) Blink (Gladwell, Malcom) - Subtitle: "The power of thinking without thinking"

19) The Tipping Point (Gladwell, Malcom) - Subtitle: "How little things can make a big difference"

20) Into Thin Air (Krakauer, Jon) - Subtitle: "A personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster"

21) The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Maxwell, John C.) - Subtitle: “Follow them and people will follow you.”

22) Teacher Man (McCourt, Frank) - a memoir of English teacher Frank McCourt, high school in NY, Irish immigrants, creative writing, funny stories, unconventional teaching

23) The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook (Piven and Borgenicht) - some example scenarios include jumping from building to building and surviving a plane ride with someone's screaming baby

24) The Glass Castle (Wells, Jeannette) - a memoir: eccentric and nomadic parents, children raising themselves and caring for parents, extreme extreme poverty, unbelievable neglect and odds for making in the world, unbelievable tenacity and accomplishments
You can read my full book report here.

As you may have already guessed, I lost a bit of steam towards the end. Stay tuned for my 2011 book list!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Goals (not to be confused with resolutions)

Perhaps this is the first time in about five years that I'm actually being deliberate about noting what I want to happen in my 2011. The five year abstinence from creating a list has been my fear of "yet another year of failed resolutions."

Well, I'm "fixing" that problem by naming my list of endeavors as [drum roll, please...] My 2011 Goals. How's that for being totally new and innovative?!

Anyway, I'll be compiling my list in these next few days but I've already started by thinking of categories in which to clump my goals. Another attempt to compartmentalize/organize/list-ize my life.

I'm hoping to have no more than 5 (but at least 3 to keep things somewhat even and balanced) goals in each category but we'll see what I actually come up with. I've even thought up abbreviations to keep things simple and coded - and yes, I have heard the term "anal retentive" before.

1. Personal Enrichment (PE) - this would include all things fun and not-so-fun; things included in this category would be my reading list(s), fitness goals, maybe even a total "non-me" thing to do in 2011

2. Family Life - Children (FL-C) - this category would list things I would strive to do with my kids; the "C" is there so as not to confuse it with...

3. Family Life - Marriage (FL-M) - I'm sure Air Boss would like to chime in a few suggestions for my 2011 goals in this area but this is MY list

4. Ministry & Relationships (MR) - I've heard countless times that the most important thing in life is one's relationships; well, I'm horrible at keeping in touch with friends and family so here's a category specifically for developing my relationships and learning to show lots of love to others

5. Professional Development (PD) - since I don't have a career or job as of date, everything in this category is essentially free-for-all; maybe the first goal would be to "discover myself as a professional"

6. Finance & Household (FH) - perhaps the one easily-identifiable goal in this arena would be "try to spend less than what I make" - that would put a halt to my spending for sure!

Anyway, stay tuned as I'll be posting my goals in each of these categories. Nothing like having the world wide web hold me accountable.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A new year . . . a new living room

There was nothing wrong with our "old" living room other than the fact that the walls were bare and stark white. However, Air Boss felt that there was more that we could do to our living room to make it warmer and more inviting (true) and that a fireplace would solve that problem (okay, true again).

I'll have to admit that I'm the cheapskate in our family and a fireplace--fake as it was--wasn't that high on my priority list of things on which to spend money. But then again, other than food, clothing, utilities and other necessities, there aren't too many items that make it on my priority list for spending--but I digress . . . Now that I see the "before" picture with the bare walls, which is further accented by the kids' colorful artwork,

Color Palette
I can't help but enjoy the warmth and the new ambiance the fireplace creates in our living room. When my East Coast mom saw this photo, her response was that it looked like a New England setting. Well, that cemented it for me. It was a worthwhile upgrade to make our living room feel a bit more like . . . well, home.

Fireplace project