Friday, May 30, 2008

Prairie Dogs

No pictures -- we forgot the camera phones -- but we had a great time today watching and feeding the prairie dogs along the bike path in the foothills. There were lots of prairie dogs -- adults, nursing mamas, babies. They all came close enough to watch, some even ate from the kids' hands! We got there early afternoon, tho, and it was too hot (high around 90) for most of the little ones. Next time we go, we'll choose either early or late, when it's cool enough that we're not interrupting siesta time.

We learned about what the prairie dogs like to eat, and that they get water from the grasses they eat, but in a true drought, they will eat cactus to get water! We read about the relocation program done by Prairie Dog Pals, an outfit that also feeds the prairie dogs.

We arrived early, and Andy insisted we walk the half-mile to the pedestrian walkway over Tramway Rd. Did I mention it was hot today? At the other end of the walkway we found a cute little park with a playground. The boys wanted to stay right then, but our friends were meeting us at the prairie dog park, so we walked back, getting there just as our friends arrived.

Afterwards, we drove over to the little park, spent about half an hour then headed home. We drove by the house I grew up in here -- it's so different, and ugly, with a big upper level that looks like an airport observation building. And it's unfinished. I'll be the neighbors are just crazy about what's been done to the house by the current owners.

It's all so different in that neighborhood from when I was a kid. Tramway Road was 4-lane packed dirt until 1983, and there were no strip malls or pedestrian bridges. In the 70's that part of town really was the edge of creation for us. Now it's city all the way to the mountain. Still hard to wrap my head around.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to build the impossible

This past Friday we spent the afternoon at Explora Museum. The kids had a good time, played at the water table, spent loads of time at the sounds exhibit, exploring different musical instruments, and time in the building blocks area. I only got one picture to share.

Actually, Andy took this picture with his cell phone and I managed to transfer it here.

He built this with Kapla blocks, having watched a museum volunteer build a similar one.

Andy started with two arches, each made from two vertical blocks with a horizontal span. Each additional layer of horizontal blocks is placed just slightly interior, until they almost meet in the middle. Add several layers of blocks to bridge the space, and the outer vertical blocks as columns to counter-balance the center stack. Once that's all in place, the outside columns can be carefully removed, leaving this impossible-looking archway.

The two blocks on top, leaning to center are Andy's design flair, and not structurally necessary.

Another great birthday party -- with pix!

Last Friday Dan's best friend, Scotty, turned 8. Scotty's Dad, Chris, turned 38 the same day. Happy Birthday guys!

We spent Sunday afternoon at another great party at Ironwood Farm to celebrate. The steam engine was fired up and used to lower the kids into the 'mine shaft' (about 8' deep) and raise them to the frame (about 12' up) in a miner's bucket. Very cool and lots of fun for the kids. Everyone had a turn, and Gary even helped out on the bell during Andy's turn.

That's Chris firing up the engine.

Dan in the miner's bucket. He shared the ride with Scotty.
From this angle, tho, all you can see of Scotty is the 'extra hand' below Dan's arm.

Andy being raised in the miner's bucket, with Gary in the background.
It took me forever to get these pix up, since the process from Andy's cell phone was hard for me to figure out. Now that I have that all figured out -- if I can remember how I did it -- I'll get more pix up. Still eager to replace the digital camera, tho.

more math

It's fast and easy for me to just dash them off here -- and since the stories here live in cyber-space, they won't get lost in the next computer crash.

We were in the car yesterday -- maybe we should call what we do car-schooling -- when Andy asked, 'what's 95 plus 65?' I answered 160, without thinking about it. I know Andy can do math, so I figured he was keeping other facts in his head and probably just checking his answer with me. He was playing Pokemon on his DS when he asked.

A few seconds later, Dan said "I know how to figure that out. 95 plus 5 is 100, then plus the 60 from 65, and you get 160." Very cool! He knew the easy method for that problem was to make two groups of ten-units and add them up. Andy then quizzed Dan for several math problems, a favorite activity for Andy, who seems convinced that Dan should know as much he does. Dan was very close in his answers. He's good at figuring out a system to do the math reliably. It also gave Andy a chance to show he could do the math, correcting Dan's answers.

It's great that they really enjoy playing with numbers and doing math. Really, tho, my favorite part in all this is watching their relationship -- they're good friends and companions despite their differences in age and personality.

And they laugh so much every day!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pokemon and Honesty

Lately, it seems that video games are being seen as negative, addictive, bad for kids, filled with violence and totally without redeeming value. We have a different story around here to share.

The boys each have a Nintendo DS. We don't have a game system for the house, tho we hope to pick up a Nintendo Wi sometime soon. Andy usually owns only one game, because his allowance money goes to other things most months. He plays Pokemon, each new game he gets, all the way thru. We've had more games with gemstone names than I can remember. When he's finished with a game, he trades it up (with some cash required) at Gamestop. Dan currently has 4 games, and rotates them pretty regularly. My story today is about Andy, but I didn't want to leave Dan out.

For the record, we've not seen any signs of 'addiction.' Neither boy plays Nintendo to the exclusion of all things. Dan often forgets to bring his to the car, and seldom remembers to charge it. His DS has even gone missing for a day or two at a time, with no distress. They were both without Nintendo after the break-in, for more than 2 months, and life went on. Andy plays his more often, but will happily set it aside to play with Dan, take a phone call from his grandparents, help out around the house, or read a book.

Andy's current Pokemon game is Explorers of Darkness. In this game, players don't choose a pokemon to play. Instead, the game presents a personality profile quiz, then based on the answers given by the player, a pokemon is assigned. Andy has been frustrated by this process. He answers all the questions honestly, and it gives him a Tododile, which he does not want to play. He tried this several times -- the questions change in each taking of the quiz. Always a Tododile.

He explained this all to me. What he really wanted was to be able to choose his own Pokemon to play. I asked if he'd tried answering the questions in the opposite to his genuine feelings. He said that he had once answered all the questions with A, trying to change the outcome. The game gave him a Piplup. I said that was good, didn't he want to play a Piplup? Andy replied, "Yes, I like Piplup, but I can't play him -- I got him by lying. It just wouldn't be right." OH, now I see the problem! Andy is incapable of lying. Really. He's not only the most inept liar I've ever seen (even worse at lying than Gary!) but he will confess to things he has already gotten away with! Andy truly does not have a dishonest bone in his body. Which begs the question, "how did I get this kid?" but that's another topic.

I explained to Andy that it seemed to me that the Pokemon game was designed to profile his personality based on the quiz, and give him a Pokemon he'd enjoy. They were trying to be clever and helpful. They just guessed wrong with him -- his preferences don't fit their profile expectation. They've put him in the wrong box is all. I shared that he does have a few options -- he can answer honestly and accept that the pokemon he's given is the one he's MEANT to play (my friend Susan is of this opinion); he can answer oppositely as a strategy, just as a way to cope with the skewed system in place; he can have fun with the quiz, answering the questions in silly ways and see what comes up until he gets one he'd like to play.

He tried the quiz several more times this way. He'd answer the questions -- I don't know whether his answers were genuine, contrary or silly -- hit the right button, and wait with his eyes closed for me to read to him the answer. Lots of Tododiles, so I guess he wanted to be able to have both honesty and a cool Pokemon. Every so often, the answer would be Piplup, or Charmander, or something else. After a while, he stopped asking me to read the answers. (he can read, just wanted me to tell him in his suspense)

Somehow, he got a Pikachu and he's happy with that, so he's playing the game. At one point, I heard Dan ask "so the Pikachu will evolve into a Raichu?" Andy replied that he's not going to evolve this Pikachu, since he likes it better than a Raichu. I don't know enough about Pokemon to know how that will affect play, or if he can just set that Pikachu aside and pursue another Pokemon he's willing to evolve. I don't know how he got the Pikachu -- did he manipulate the quiz, or did the game finally reward his honesty?

It was interesting to me that, even in games, Andy's not comfortable with inauthenticity. He has to live the life that's most true for him. At the same time,

Maybe it was helpful to him to see that sometimes the system does required selective disclosure and a little finesse.

Or maybe the universe just rewarded him for his honesty!