Monday, November 12, 2012

The Magic of Snow

Yesterday, just as I was picking the kids up from school, the rain turned into tiny floating snowflakes, to the great delight of Misha and Sebby. Their joy was even greater this morning, when the first thing they did was run to the window to see the white world. "It snowed, Sebby! Woo hoo! Mom, the trees look like Christmas!" Misha cheered. When the words finally made their way through Sebby's sleepy head, his eyes snapped open and he too jumped up onto the couch to peer out the window. "Oh! Oh! Oh! It snowed!" he gasped over and over. Then he chimed excitedly, "I wanna make a SNOWBALL!" 

The next several minutes were spent trying to get the kids dressed and fed with a little bit of cocoa, while all the while they were dashing around to each window in the house to see the view. Five minutes later, Sebby announced, as if it was a new discovery, "Misha, it SNOWED! Santa is gonna COME!" We bundled up with coats, hats, boots, and minutes and headed outside. It snowed once in October, but this is the first snow that lasted, outlining treebranches in fuzzy whiteness and accumulating on the ground. The boys immediately made a few snowballs to toss.

Then came the fun of trying to get the kids to school, which took forever even though it's only a five minute walk away. They dawdled, poking the snow and scooping it to form snowballs despite my urges to hurry up. Misha flicked branches to make the powdery snow shower down around him. Sebby brushed off fences and ran around until he fell over in a slushy puddle. By the time we got to school, they were both covered in snow. As we took off Sebby's wet hat, mittens, coat, and boots, he announced to his teacher, "Sniek!!!" (Snow!) 

All the snow outside makes our apartment feel warm and cozy. I think the cats feel the same way.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Projects Galore

Misha has always loved doing projects. When he was in Head Start preschool in Brookings, and every kid made an "About Me" book, he filled in the 'favorite activity' blank with the word "projects." That includes everything from painting a picture to creating holiday crafts like snowflakes and Christmas countdown calendars to playing with play-do to making a comic book or designing a board game. For as long as I can remember, we have done projects together. When Sebby came along, he jumped right in - drawing pictures with us as soon as he could hold a crayon, sculpting play-do as soon as he was big enough not to eat it. He is now so fond of painting that he often starts watercoloring by himself. A year ago, he was proud to paint an entire sheet of paper with one solid color, and then, before it had even had a chance to dry, he'd flip it over and paint the other side the same color. Now, he has come to appreciate the possibility of using different colors within the same masterpiece, and he paints in the lines, or in the "seredinka" as he likes to quote his teacher. He often requests that I draw him a picture, and then he'll paint it.

We've been doing a number of projects lately, and I know we'll need to think of a whole lot more as the  weather cools and we spend more time indoors. 

The Castle

In August, Misha and I decided to make a cardboard castle. If you look closely, you can see several features that real castles have, including the curtain (or wall) towers, arrowslits, the keep, the moat, a working drawbridge, an opening-and-closing gate, and murder holes (those are gaps in the passage above the gate from which rocks or boiling water can be dropped on intruders - and they are actually called that). We then made several knights and guards, plus the royal family and a catapult.

The Pirate Ship

After the castle, we decided to make a pirate ship, roughly based on this photo of a remote-control toy ship. I made the hull from cardboard, and Misha colored it nicely. Then we added the sails using plastic sticks that are meant for holding balloons. The anchor, a bit of rigging, and the pirate flags were the finishing touches.

Tub Letters

I ran across some colored foam sheets in a school-supply store, which turned out to be perfect for bathtub alphabet fun for Sebby (an idea I found online, since I haven't seen ready-made bathtub cling-ons here at all). I simply cut the foam into ABCs, and I made corresponding pictures for several of the letters, like a cut-out ice cream cone for I, an apple for A, a snail for S, etc. I also made a set of numbers. They stick to the tub walls as soon as they are wet. Perfect!

Sebby is quite good at identifying a handful of letters, especially J, T, M, and S. He knows which letter goes with each person in our family. When we were out on a walk, he shouted with excitement at a graffiti M on a pipe, saying "M! Misha!" He then pointed to a P and said "Puh Puh Puh!" (In Russian, the P is actually an R sound, but we haven't gotten into that yet!) He also loves to trace letters on our little white board. We write letters or words using tiny dots, and he dutifully traces them all before asking for another set. When we read Where the Wild Things Are, he loves to point out the word "Max" on the boat and say, "And if I am inside this boat, this will say Sebby!"

Misha often gives Sebby lessons in reading or math. Recently I overheard him telling Sebby, "When you grow up to first grade, you have to know this stuff." Marker in hand, Misha pointed at the white board, which was covered in his addition problems and Russian letters. Sebby perched obediently on a chair, nodding seriously and watching carefully, doing his best to keep up.

With some of the extra foam, we made a small water-proof pirate ship by stitching it together.


These are a few of Misha's latest water color paintings. He's an artist!

Below is a collection of some of Sebby's abstract work. On the bottom right, you can see how he painted in the lines of a swirly pattern I drew.

Ready to paint again! Before getting started, he delights in watching how two colors mixed together make a nice shade of sea green. (He is getting so much better at not mixing ALL of the colors together, resulting in an entire tray of brown paints.)

Papier Mache

Then came the dawn of papier mache. Having done papier mache before only with balloons, I decided we should try something more advanced, like a dinosaur. Perhaps it wasn't the best thing to start with, but in the end it turned out pretty well. First we made a "skeleton" from cardboard. Then we stuffed it with crumpled paper and got ready for the fun part by ripping up newspaper and making a water-and-flour paste.

 We had to reinforce the legs with popsicle sticks so it wouldn't collapse under the weight of soggy newspaper. Once the whole T-rex was covered, we let it dry. Then we added a second layer of newspaper, let it dry again, and finally added a final layer of toilet paper (imagine the fun of that flimsy paper sticking to your gluey hands), making the whole creation white and thereby easier to paint later.

Meanwhile, we had to start a second papier mache project for Sebby, which was, in keeping with the theme, a dinosaur egg. We blew up a balloon, mixed up our paste, and ... 

... before we had even one strip of newspaper on the balloon, we had a major sticky mess all down Sebby's front side. I had stepped out of the kitchen for just a second, and came back just in time to see Sebby examining the new design on his shirt. "What happened!?" I asked. "We haven't even started yet!" Since things were just going to get messier, I didn't bother having him change into different clothes. We got to work. Luckily, Misha came and joined us to speed the process up.

Once it was covered in newspaper, we added squares of white toilet paper for the final layer. It dried white and round and beautiful just like we were hoping it would.

And then they painted. 

These little containers of paint (called "gwash") are quite nice because they wash out of clothing.

The artist blends yellow into orange like a pro.

Misha creates a unique pattern for the T-rex's belly.

Hard at work.

Adding spots to the dino.

And spots for the egg.

Coffee break.

Done! Who knows, maybe the T-rex really did look like this.

The finished dinosaur egg. Life sized?

Posing fiercely with the Rex.

As you can see, our dinosaur papier mache was a success. They are already excited to do more projects with papier mache ....

Treasure Hunts

Last but not least, Misha has gotten hooked on treasure hunts. I have made him small hunts in the past, to help him practice his reading, but this was the first time he made one for me. You can see the three clues I collected on my trek. 

The first says: "Kloos or --> $100. You need to look undr the dininge room andr the table." (The "Clues or $100" is a take-off of the book series 39 Clues, in which the heirs to a rich grandmother can choose to inherit a million dollars OR one small clue which may lead them to the treasure of a lifetime. We haven't read the book, but we previewed it on Amazon.) The second clue says: "Go in mie room and look on the kawch." The third clue: "I love you Mom. Doo you like mie kloos. And look in the wite blankit." It's true that his spelling has errors, but the words are not spelled randomly; they are spelled with patterns that make those same sounds in other circumstances (take the words "kloos," "kawch," and "mie," for example). 

Before I began my hunt, he had asked me for a chocolate bar, to which I snapped, "No! You already brushed your teeth!" Only later did I realize that he had actually meant to give it to me for my treasure. Oops. But he made me something cute and small out of paper instead. :)

He has since made several more treasure hunts for me and for Daddy. For one of his Christmas presents this year, I will definitely have to make him a treasure hunt.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Concerts, Mushrooms, and Pumpkins

My little mushroom

Misha dances with his class.

To celebrate Fall and the end of the first quarter, all of the schools had their fall concerts. Misha had been busy learning songs and dances and memorizing a Russian poem and an English poem. Sebby also had a Russian poem to memorize, so both boys practiced their lines with admirable dedication. 

Sebby's poem was full of various names of trees, so I learned some new vocab from the experience too. Sebby learned his four lines so well that one day while swinging outside our house, he suddenly belted out his poem in full volume, attracting surprised glances and smiles from the people around us. He also learned many songs, which he often sings while walking home from school. Last week, he picked up two huge Oak leaves and started showing me his "leaf dance," waving the leaves high in the air to the right, to the left, then spinning in a circle, right in the middle of the sidewalk. Everyone walking by thought he was adorable.

Finally, last week we got to see the result of all their efforts - the concerts. Misha's first-grade class combined with the second-grade class to perform on Oct. 31, and the parents of all the children squeezed into the back of the room to watch. I always knew I had a bias toward my own children, but it became really obvious whenever the second-graders came on stage. When watching a bunch of random children, the costumes seem gaudy, the singing is painful, their mistakes are wearying, the choreography is cheesy.... However, when watching YOUR child, everything is completely different. The costumes are adorable, the singing is inspiring, the mistakes are endearing, and the choreography is clever. 

Misha, of course, did a great job. In one scene, he was a tomato, acting as a mediator between Miss Carrot and Miss Cabbage, who were arguing about who was more beautiful.

Misha the Tomato

The children also performed a demo of what they've been learning in their Ushu classes so far. Misha proudly performed in the front row.

Misha's class photo.

Shortly after Misha's concert, Sebby got to have his first real performance for an audience of parents. He was very excited about his costume, provided by the school, which was ...

A mushroom! Can you tell from the red cap with white spots? He was so thrilled about his costume that he would tell me every time he got to put it on for practice. When he marched proudly on stage with all the other children, hands on hips, he was so cute it almost brought tears to my eyes. Josh and I ended up in the back watching the show, but Misha was given a seat up front since he was a child. That gave Sebby someone to look at when performing, and he LOVED having Misha watch him. When he first noticed Misha, Sebby started talking to him ("You're watching me, yeah, Mish?") and smiling at him constantly throughout the concert.

Most of the kids, being only 3, were nervous about saying their poems. Sebby, who had so boldly announced it on the playground, reverted to a barely audible voice, but it didn't really matter. All the kids danced and sang in all their cuteness.

The leaf dance that he had showed me on the street.

In this little video, you see Sebby's class circling and singing. (But if you choose not to watch it, I will understand.) Eventually I zoom in on Sebby (on the right) so you can see him doing the actions with great flare - sleeping, playing a flute, and banging a drum.

And here's Misha's Ushu demo (Misha's on the left):

I took several videos of both of the boys' concerts, and now every day after school, Sebby runs to the computer saying, "I want to watch my prazdnik!" (party). He loves being able to watch himself. :)


Although Halloween is not really celebrated here, we celebrated it ourselves by carving pumpkins. First, Misha drew the design he wanted with a pencil, and then I set to work carving it. The pumpkin rinds are so thick here that it was a challenge for me, let alone for Misha! Nevertheless, our jack-o-lanterns turned out quite well. I carved a second one, which became "Sebby's." He liked the fact that it was scary. 

Glowing pumpkins for Halloween night. :)