Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Skiing at Massanutten

I am not a skiier. Turns out my son is, though. So throw another log on the fireplace, because it's time for our ski week at Massanutten, VA.

Benny is seven and his favorite Playstation game is SSX3. The SSX stands for "Completely Insane Death-Defying Snowboarding Game That Thumbs Its Nose at Physics." It is, I have to say, a really great game. But it gives the child a false sense of power over gravity, knee joints, and mountains. When we got a chance to go to Massanutten VA for a week, we knew that Benny would be eager to hit the slopes. We just weren't sure the reality would measure up to the fantasy, as he was determined to be sliding down rails, spinning 360s, flipping, ripping, and raging down the hill on his first day.

He was not, however, at all disappointed.

On the first day, Dan and Benny skiied for six hours. Benny took a couple of little classes, and then he and Dan just went up and down the beginner slope. He fell, and fell, and fell. And by the end of the day, he could stop, and kind of navigate around a little bit. It was absolutely fantastic to watch him persevering without complaint through all that hard work, all that trial and error. He never asked for a break, wouldn't eat, wouldn't rest, just wanted to ski, ski, ski. He did drink a Powerade. What's a hovering mother to do?

Here's a video of his first day:

Then it got really warm and they couldn't ski for a couple days, so we went to the waterpark and the caverns and whatnot -- more on that in another post. They got back to the slopes at the end of the week. Benny couldn't wait. They skiied like maniacs and had a great time. Here's a video of him at the end of his final day, when he was able to turn:

Was I completely panicked the entire time he had skiis strapped to his feet? Absolutely. I had all kinds of paranoid scenarios running around in my head. He would crash into a tree. A giant snowboarding teenager would smack into him and annhilate him. He'd be decapitated by the lift. He'd fall off the lift and roll down the mountain. Etc. I wasn't raised around skiing -- I kind of viewed it as an extreme activity engaged in by Olympic athletes and rich people with a death wish. I can see now that skiing is a skill that kids need, like riding a horse or swimming or playing chess.

Here's the first thing I saw when I arrived at the slopes after dropping them off and going swimming with the baby:

Yes, there are Benny and Dan, floating along on the chair lift, miles above the ground, with no seatbelt, no lap bar, nothing between them and certain snowy death. It did rather take my breath away. However, watching the total rapture and joy on his bright little face made all the panic manageable.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Egg Drop Contest at the Virginia Air and Space Center

Eggs drop. Contraptions smashed. Yolks splattered. And at the end of the day there was a small pile of eggs that survived the fall. Amazing!

The concept of an egg drop is simple. Create a contraption that will stop an egg from cracking when dropped from a balcony onto a target. The lightest contraption that hits closest to the target and protects the egg wins. Yesterday we all participated in an egg drop at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton. Benny won his category -- it was very exciting! And Dan and I even got in on the action.

It started over a month ago, when Benny's first contraption idea was to wrap the egg in a bunch of layers of scotch tape. I was determined to stay out of his creative/scientific process, so I quietly let him work away on his tape egg, then we hurled it off our second floor porch, and it smashed on the sidewalk. From these drippy, yolky, messy beginnings came the journey that would lead him to a successful drop on the day of the contest. I'm happy to say I resisted the urge to make his project for him. It was a strong urge, but I let him struggle on, through five designs that failed miserably, to the one that worked. We provided the materials, asked that he write down his plan for each design and also his results, and let him do the rest.

Here's one of his design plans:

Here's one of his test runs:

Here are a couple of videos that map the process a bit:

Finally a successful design. And egg drop day arrived. When we got to VASC we realized there were bazillions of homeschoolers there. This was awesome. We watched the parachute category, and as each kid was announced as a homeschooler, Benny cheered rambunctiously. When a kid from an elementary school was introduced, Benny would shake his head and say something sorrowful, like, "Oh, brace yourselves. Another schooled child." At first I thought I should correct this behavior... but then I thought, no. Kids in school are encouraged to have "school spirit" so why shouldn't homeschoolers have "unschool spirit"? As long as he wasn't being unkind or obnoxious, I decided to let him root for his homeschool team. Anyway, he has lots of friends who go to school and he doesn't recoil from them as if they're lepers or anything. As long as I don't see him crossing the street to avoid a kid from school, I think he'll be alright.

As it turned out, Benny won the two-egg category. His was the only contraption that kept both his eggs safe. Here's a video of the drop itself, and the award ceremony:

Here are a few pictures from the event:

Here's Benny (holding my egg-dropping contraption) with another child and her mother. They called their contraption Chicken Little and had thematic outfits -- we love it!

Here's Benny with Dr. Byles from VASC, and Tom Finley, one of the adult winners. Benny has two medals because he also won for the most creative design in his category.

The egg drop contest was a lot of fun. I really appreciate the people who set it up, made it happen, and cleaned up all those smashed eggs.

I have many more pictures of the event in my Flickr set from the egg drop. I highly encourage anyone with a gadget-minded child to seek out an egg drop and get to dropping. It was an excellent learning experience for Benny, and a good time for the whole family.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Swim and Gym at the YMCA

What a deal. A tumbling class and a swimming class, back to back, for three and four year olds at the YMCA. Tuck, straddle, tuck, straddle. Pictures inside.

First they do gymnastics upstairs. For 45 minutes they jump, tumble, hang, somersault, pop around, and laugh.

Then they get their shoes on, pack up their things, and trundle downstairs.

Then they go down to the locker room, change into their swimming suits, pack their clothes into their backpack and put the backpacks in the basket, and then they swim! They get a 45 minute swimming lesson with two teachers, and they have a great time.

Happy girl. And for older siblings up to age 9, the YMCA has Kid Gym going on at the same time. Great morning for all the kids, while the moms go sweat on the machines! What a deal.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Benny on the Radio

Benny called in to the Tony Macrini show this morning to share his martial arts experiences.

Benny's karate teacher, Mr. Odom, of the Norfolk Karate Academy, was a guest on the morning show over at WNIS this morning.

I am an avid listener to talk radio when I'm in the car and the kids will allow me to change over from "They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABCs" which is currently in our DVD player. (Benny is committed to getting Sadie educated on those ABCs, and I'm just letting him do it!) I even enjoy listening to the right wing bozos that come on in the afternoon. I get a kick out of hearing their ridiculous analogies and bizarre applications of "logic" and then ranting and raving about them to whoever will listen to me for the rest of the day.

Uh oh, here I go. Just one example, because I cannot help myself: The other day, in response to someone referencing all the military people who have died in Iraq, Rush Limbaugh pooh-poohed the distress over the deaths by saying that Iraq was safer than Philadelphia. Why? Because 400 people were killed in Philadelphia in a city of 1.5 million, whereas only 3000 people were killed in Iraq, in a country of over 25 million. Okay, I know, I know, you're jumping in your seat and raising your hand to say, "Wait! Wait! In order for that to work you would have to count the *Iraqi deaths too* you belligerently idiotic asshat! Let's do a recount with those numbers added in, since they are, in fact, people too, and do count when they are murdered or blown up, and then we'll see if Baghdad is still a lot safer than Philadelphia!" Of course, no one pointed this out to the Great One, who brags that he has half his brain tied behind his back, just to make it fair. Which half, Rush? The half that had a grasp of basic math?


I actually like listening to Tony Macrini, and used to listen often when I had Benny in preschool and was doing the trek over to Rosemont. Tony Macrini would never try to pass off some silly garbage like the "Iraq is Safe!" theory. So, this morning we switched on the radio on the way to the YMCA and there was Mr. Odom, our favorite karate dude, getting interviewed by Mr. Macrini himself. It was a good thing!

Benny wanted to call in and offer his insight into martial arts, so after waiting through a news break or two, he got on the air. Here's what he said, as far as I can remember:

"Hey, there. How's everybody doing today!? Well, we have lots of great stuff at the Norfolk Karate Academy. We have self defense techniques, well, for example, there's bear hug from behind, and headlock on the ground, and hip lift defense..." and then he kept on enthusiastically listing as many self defense techniques as he could think of, until he got cut off. It was pretty funny. I didn't get to hear it on the radio, because of the seven second delay thingy. But, Benny *really* enjoyed himself.

Another day, another entertaining moment in the lives of my children. It is never, ever dull.