Friday, December 17, 2010

Most Merry Memorable

A funny thing about shopping thrifty, it's so affordable, going overboard is a little too easy! Shhh... won't this family of horses be happy when they join the birthday horses Ruth gave M~A~R~I~A?

I don't know why we bother spelling things any more. Obviously the boys understand perfectly well, and Maria knows enough to pay extra-close attention when grown-ups are spelling!

Long white gloves, embroidered with white flowers. A handmade hand bag. I could not resist.

Our city visit is coming soon. The one where we dress up, and go to the Sniffphony! Do you know what Alex and Max made... a list of all the words and phrases of Maria's, the funny ones we love so much. That is how I was able to remember that she loves the music and splendor of the Sniffphony!

It feels like Christmas has already begun, now that my mommy is here. Delia arrived from Oregon, and we have already had one full day of merriment. She took me to a S~P~A! Oh, my goodness. I had a facial, and it was indescribably good. In all fairness, it was enough for me to be in a candlelit room, laying down, with my eyes closed. If that was all, it would have been bliss. But the woman that soothed and pampered me, worked tender, loving magic on me... she found my face, under two years of neglect! I wish for everyone reading this post to be pampered in this fashion, and if you cannot get a facial, at least find one hour to spend in a dark, quiet room, with maybe some candles flickering, and lovely music playing softly. Be sure to have comfy blankets around.<------I think those are called naps: Get one. They are amazing.

Max and Maria helped me with gift wrapping. They love gift wrapping, and they take it so seriously. They both wrapped, and Maria signed tags. Max insisted on arranging the gifts beneath our very small, artificial tree beneath the giant projection screen they built. Yes, the outdoor screen that was made for summer movies. The one we cannot part with because we love our home theater! Pretty presents are lovingly displayed beneath our dear indoor screen.

Company is coming! We will be seeing Becky and Dan, Grandma Eunice, maybe Julie, Rebekah? Also, my brother, Hans, and my sister(in-law) Gretchen. Mom and I are still deciding on menus, for a big breakfast, and for a dinner. We do have the oven limitation to work around, so this may call for mostly stove-top recipes.

Max just informed Geoff: "There are seven more days." You can tell by the undercurrent of delight in his voice, what he is talking about!

Max and Maria are home from school. Yippee! I love, and need, and love this time with my children.

Maria wants to put stickers on her gifts.

There are more treasures to wrap.

We are waiting for rain.

I hung Christmas lights on our fence. I am so proud. (We sort fail in this area, but hopefully my small gesture will suggest to the neighbors we are not Grinchy.)

William rode around town with me and his grandma. It was such a nice treat having the company of my dear son.

Geoff informed me: "We have to have a house warming party. I told people at work we would, and I think they are starting to wonder about it." No kidding. It has been a year since we moved here. I don't know if this is a "merry memory," but it does make me smile. So, add "housewarming party" to my list of things to do. I think this may have to wait until next year!

Are your holidays rolling? Are you making merry memories?

Thursday, December 16, 2010


This is a tidy corner in my life. Eclectic, sure, but tidy. The top shelf is the manicure shelf, with supplies for nail beauty... supplies I used in September of this year, and May, 2003 Twice. Both times for weddings. My mommy is the one that supplied me, so if not for her I am not sure I would ever have pink nails.

The second shelf has childhood toys. Little collections of pottery and figures from Mexico and Guatemala. How many tamales and tacos did I prepare in those? I love the tiny iron.

It feels good opening this cabinet and seeing these things displayed, waiting for me. Maybe I take too much satisfaction in just seeing them... I should insist on actually playing with them too... more than twice a decade!

When I was unpacking the boxes these came from, I also came across little pictures Maria drew in a small notepad. I think she was four when she created these fancy ladies, the bride and groom. I could have put them in a box, to keep forever and ever... but probably not see but every ten years. Instead I taped them in my cabinet... above the beauty shelf.

I love that they are hanging there to greet me, to entice me with their bows and flowers, their flowy dresses.

I love her pillbox hat, and Snow White sleeves. She's holding flowers, or maybe flowery purses, and I think she must be wearing lipstick. Maria notices when I am wearing lipstick. She smiles, and nods approvingly. She asks for her chapstick, and applies it with care, pursing her lips with lady-like expertise.

Bow tie. Top hat. Veil, and those lashes and lips! This must be the groom and bride. She is dazzling in her pearls and floral bloomers. He looks handsome in his buttoned coat.

Maria still looks hurt when she remembers that we did not have her at our wedding. How could we host such a glorious event, with floral arrangements, and a tiered cake, and not think to invite her? She wonders aloud. Indeed. Honestly, I would love a second wedding... another chance to wear pretty dresses,and gather lots of family, to dance and play, and cover everything with flowers! When I think of how many weddings some people have, I think, why not us too?... same wonderful groom, but this time with our children there too.

Play. Memories, and tidy corners. I love this reflective time of year, closer to home and family, and with so many opportunities to play. I think I am going to play today...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Almost Time For a Celebration!

The festive bunting is up!
The blue sky... well, the blue sky is gone, but this colder weather that has returned is actually ideal for what we have in mind: Baking! Baking! Baking! A celebration of baking!

I know. It's just what you'd expect for this time of year, right?

But our oven has been a bust since October, when the power company caused an outage, which fried (roasted?!)the circuit board of our pretty, (useless?!), ginormous, fancy, double oven. We have been getting by with a very narrow side oven. It cannot handle a cookie sheet, or a Thanksgiving turkey... our dear neighbors roasted our turkey for our shared feast.

Fortunately, there is room in the side oven for our small cake rounds. Otherwise, how could Alex and William have baked a cake for Maria's birthday party? Didn't it come out beautifully? Maria added the snow flake sprinkles. It was Alex's idea to thin the frosting and let it pour down the sides.

But, besides small, tiered, scrumptious cakes, and narrow trays of muffins, we have been aching to bake! Big! Big baking, and roasting, and then more big baking!

How long has it been since we pretend to wake up in Avignon, France, with the heavenly aroma of fresh baked croissants? Answer: Too long.

Wouldn't some biscuits be delicious? This cold weather + a stew and biscuits would = warming comfort.

I miss pizza nights! I will never forget our first pizza night, but I cannot remember our last one. Pizza night does not happen without a big, hot oven.

This morning I shared happy news with Maria and her brothers: The oven is being repaired! Our fabulous repairman will arrive today with parts for the oven and our dishwasher (another sorry tale). Jamie really, truly is a fabulous repairman, and so I have super confidence that by this evening we can start the Oven Celebration! In fact when he called to confirm our appointment time, I was doing a little Blogosphere baking research... my, oh, my!

Big Oven Celebration Options:
Pioneer Woman's Chex Mix. It's the only kind I have ever made, and it makes me think of Grandma Nancy, and snow, and I like snacking something yummy and homemade. Who doesn't like yummy and homemade, and thinking fondly of Grandmothers?

From Anna Maria Horner, something comforting and sweet, like her beautiful quilts, only edible: Loukoumades! We had these at a Greek festival, and the delicacy of them, the honey... oh, I have been dreaming of them. I wasn't even sure what they were called, but this morning my heart raced, and my tummy murmured, when I saw Anna Maria's link.

Okay. If we actually get around to baking half of the recipes I have in mind, we might have to rent a jump-jump. It will keep us fit so we can keep baking and eating!

We haven't done any Christmas baking yet, and I have seen a baker's dozen of holiday recipes I would like to try... for example, Serena's "Woodsy Cake. It looks like such a fun decorating project. Maybe even simple enough for me to attempt. Or, better yet, hand this job over to the masters! Serena sweetly wrote back to me about where to find Chocorooms! If you get there first, save some for me!

Sorry to post and dash, but I gotta get ready!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Instructions :: How to Get In a Parade :: Longest Post Ever

So here it is... a gratifying moment, the night of the parade, when the labor, hours, planning, designing, painting, building, and hoping of the weeks before, all paid off. It began simply enough, with a request from 2102 Team Paradox for a space where they could build a robot for the Holiday Parade. And it finished beautifully, but, as usual, it's the process that I really admire and appreciate. I can't help but share highlights of how Lavender came to life, and make special mention of the talented and dedicated students who participated.

Warning: Robot Construction Ahead.
Don't run off! You may be surprised to see how creative and inspiring robotics is, and sometimes there are fun diversions, like bunnies, and there is always glitter and glue! Also, robotics includes sewing Parrot-Ox dresses, which is totally entertaining stuff. Oh, and let's not forget food! Any robotics activity is bound to include delicious snacks, healthful dinners, even hot apple cider, or at least an In-n-Out run! So, before you close this page, give us a chance to win your hearts and feedback. Channel your inner Geek, and give this absurdly long appropriately lengthed, slightly zealous, totally smitten robotics-float build-post a moment to fill your heart with holiday cheer, and abiding pride in the skills of our nation's youth! Amen.

Okay. And if you are here because you actually are hardcore, then you should begin from the beginning, Monday, November 22, 2010, and please, feel free to ask questions.

Tuesday, November 23. Lauren, Izzie, Erika, Suki

During Thanksgiving break, big progress was made, both on the decorating and the build side. And a really great part was how both marketing and build were working side by side, and cross-contributing! All for the good of the float, builders were decorating and helping make robot costumes, and marketing members were pitching in, using power tools, and helping get the robot, and more elaborate decorative features constructed.

Alex, Kyle

It was really exciting to see everyone arriving, and to see them excited for what was in store. At this time the robot arm was more concept than actual arm. But with designs and a clear vision in mind, new arrivals were soon brought up to speed. To make the arm light, it was constructed of foam, and to make it strong, the foam was wrapped in very thin plywood. The next phase was to get parts bolted together, and aligned.


While some team members have been busy with the float, other team members have been focusing on the upcoming FRC kick-off, and games. The great thing about having a large, active robotics club is that there are plenty of projects and activities to go around. Andrew came with a laptop, where he has been using SolidWorks to design concepts for the 2011 FRC season, and he was able to set himself up in our ever improving Geek Laboratory!

Andrew, Kyle, Corey

More build members arrive, and so there is more help for assembling parts.

Andrew, Alex, Corey, Elias, Kyle

Sharing ideas is always a key, and fun, component of building with a team.

Eli, Corey

Corey can fit under the turn table to help Eli attach the arm to the lazy Susan base.

Andrew checks the pre-drilled holes for the giant washers... they were used for the elbow hinges.

Elias, Kyle, Corey, Alex

Attaching the washer to the "elbow" of the robot arm.

Maria, turkey hat, and Erika

Not seen: Me, and Stacy, who covered my shift when I had to get Max and Maria from school. Stacy also made a few supply runs for robot costumes and float decor. Cheers for mentors, super moms, finders of stuff!

Naturally we provided moving boxes. I thought: At last! We will be rid of moving boxes forever! Not. I think we have enough boxes leftover for ten more parades!

Erika, attaching an antenna. Like so many on the marketing team, Erika would show up, and do good work. Awesome.

Also an industrious contributor, Maria. Here she is on a muffin break. Mmmmmm muffins.

Making things from scratch can take a lot of ingenuity, improvisation, and innovations. Parts are not always at the local hardware store. Sometimes this was a problem, and altered the design, and sometimes the solution was a matter of modifying things... like cutting bolts down to size!

Annie, Sammay, Izzie, Alex

A lot was accomplished this day, most notably in the float decorations and robot costumes.

Suki, Geoff, Corey, Annie, Kyle, Alex

With so many around to help, the team decided to add more to the decor, including a very large gear. Or the impression of a large gear, by making half of an over-sized gear that would rise up out of the trailer bed. Here they are discussing the style of the gear, and how big it should appear.

Once the basic form was sketched on the foam, Suki and Annie went over a few more details, and Annie geared up to try her hand at foam cutting.

Annie and the jigsaw, a team cut out for gearing up! <-----I pun, therefore I am.

As a mentor, I would like to offer an exemplary image of team work, and safety. Ta-da! Because the foam throws up a lot of dust and fibers when it is being cut, we made sure Annie had a mask, and Alex came over with the shop vac to minimize the mess. The cleaner surface helped Annie follow the lines, and let everyone breath easier. Go robotics! <----- I am totally in the habit of saying that whenever anything awesome is going on.
Corey, Kyle, Izzie, Cassidy, Erika, Annie, Lauren, Suki, Eli, Alex, Andrew (Sammay arrived three minutes after the picture was taken)

Big day. Great progress. The float is coming along!

Yay robotics!

Yay clean-up crew!!
Corey, Sammay, Suki, Alex, Eli, and Maria

Thursday, November 26. Arm skeleton

After Thanksgiving, still on break, Alex and William were eager to continue making progress on assembling the arm. The black pipes were for lateral structural integrity, and the all thread rods would cinch the two arm faces together.

Now you can see the two faces of the forearm coming together, and Alex is lining up the all thread rods through the holes. William and I helped shift the top layer around, while Alex checked and adjusted each rod.

Just under the top layer you can see some of the smaller large washers that William cut to fit the black pipes... ABS.

Alex, William
This was such a great moment... when the forearm was ready to be fit in to the base... more and more progress, and happy results. Things were looking good! And a really cool thing: Andrea came over and got to see the robot progress!

William, Alex, Geoff

It fits!

Armed with his handy mallet, Alex matches up the holes for the steel rod. The arm isn't heavy, but William and Geoff had to keep it balanced in place.

Home from school, Andrea came by to see the float. Now the arm is secured, and we have time to take some pictures! Andrea was the 2102 Team Paradox president of marketing for 2009-2010. Now she's taking her sweet skills and lovely spirited self to UCI!

A little lesson in marketing with Maria, or just some fun coloring time!

This is dear to me. I like being a mentor, a team parent, because I want these students to feel supported and encouraged. If I can teach something, or offer ideas that is fine, but mostly I want to facilitate the opportunity for them to use the skills they already posses, and for them to be able to challenge themselves to do more, better. Sometimes the best contribution I can make is my time and attention, and I feel good when I can do this.

So, when Andrea sat with Maria, talking and coloring, and listening... I thought This is dear. My own daughter has a mentor now. A friend, who takes time and gives attention, so that Maria can recognize and use her own skills, and feel encouraged to challenge herself.

Mentoring is a nice opportunity to share what I have, but I can see the rewards to me can be even better! Maria looks up to 2102 Team Paradox. She wants to be on the team. She is inspired, not just in coloring and dancing, cheering, but also in learning about robotics, and design, and believing that she is capable of working with a team to achieve great things. And she has amazing mentors to support her beliefs and dreams... Suki and Andrea, Lonnie, Erika, Alex, William, Eli and James, Kyle, Grant, Andrew D., and Sam, Sammay, Corey, Maile, Emma, Lauren, Annie... all of 2102 Team Paradox is giving Maria inspiration in engineering and team spirit! It's like a triple rainbow of goodness!

Sunday, November 28, 2010. Suki, William, Eli, Alex

The last Sunday before the parade, and the first day of painting.

The thing about doing something for the first time is that everything is new. Including: "How much does it cost to build a robot arm for a holiday parade?"
The budget is spent, but the ideas are not, so the team re-doubles it effort to be creative and economical, and creative.

What color should we paint the robot? was answered, with What do we have on hand? And this is how the robot came to be painted with leftover house paints. Navajo White.

Suki, William, Alex, and Eli continued painting the robot through the week, including the photo-reactive paint that would glow in the black light. More parts were cut and assembled. William did a lot to prepare for the last night and day before the main event.

Friday, December 3, 2010. The night before the parade.

This was another time when a lot of people came to help with the float, even more new faces, and a couple of mentors too. We'd had pizzas, and barbecue sandwiches, burritos, and pizzas... tonight I made hot dogs, veggies, baked beans, and pop-corn. Lots of pop corn. This was also a good night for hot chocolate, because it was cold out there!

Lauren, Lonnie, Izzie, Sam, Emma, Maile

The box shop... robots made to order!

Already named "Lavender," Suki demonstrates the awesome power of Lavender's Robot arm. Her name comes from one of the house paint options... they chose white, but liked the name "Lavender."

With James' approval, Alex proceeds on wiring for Lavender's controls.

Sam, Suki, Maile, Emma

Did I mention it was cold?! It helped to have so much work left to do... moving around kept us warm.

Weather was still a concern, since there was a light chance of rain in the forecast. But everyone pushed through, undeterred by fog and chill.

By now it was getting down to specifics, details, testing. CJ's robot suit was wired for lights and given a parrot beak. Elias tested it out.

Other details included affixing the warning label William and I made, and procuring more photo-reactive, glow in the dark blue paint.

Then something wonderful happened. Lavender moved! The claw opened and shut... as designed.

Fog rolling in, the hour growing late, and work continuing.

William, giddy with success, has fun with the controller.

CJ, Alex R., James, and EL wire

Electroluminescent wire (often abbreviated to EL wire) is a thin copper wire coated in a phosphor which glows when an alternating current is applied to it, which is, you know, totally cool.

Totally cool... right, CJ?

Yes, the same CJ who came to Las Vegas in his homemade robot suit!

And now, about the arm... it is designed to move. Time to install the large cylinder that will raise the arm.

Wiring parts, and the orange pendant... that will control the three cylinders.

Cylinder One: Turns the arm.
Cylinder Two: Raises the arm.
Cylinder Three: Opens the claw.

Good morning. It is Saturday, December 4, Parade Day!

Left to do:
Find and purchase last bottle of blue, glowing paint.
Get Lavender on trailer bed, secure her.
Secure Dr. Breen, the small compressor.
Secure the generator.
Finish wiring and connecting controls.
Loading robot costumes and float decorations.
Create and wire eyes to light up and flash with the music.
Try, try, try to find parts that will make it possible to turn the base with a fourth cylinder.
Get to the registration booth before four PM.
Get float in line before four forty-five PM.
Keep children safe, fed, and in sight.

Alex is attaching another bolt. Everyone was aware of safety, and wanting to assure that moving the robot, and the robot itself moving, was not going to shake things apart. No one wanted to see parts flying off in the parade! So, there was a lot of discussion about reinforcing pieces, and the effect of mass with motion.

William, Alex

With only hours left before the parade, it was becoming apparent that the turntable might not get completed in time, which was disappointing. It was built of course, but finding the right size bolts to attach a cylinder of sufficient strength was proving to be a challenge.

I found blue glow in the dark paint! Success at last. On my way home from the hinterlands, I called back to float central and took a lunch order. I think I got most people's requests right... I made an executive decision on drinks and got everyone chocolate shakes.

Meet our latest recruit: Rick!

He is Eli's dad, and was here from out of town. Naturally, we put him right to work. And after he and Eli constructed and wired light-up eyes for the robot, we informed him that working for five hours on a robot automatically makes you a full board member of the league of extraordinary mentors. And Myron confirmed the validity of our declaration.

Myron, Eli, Chris, Andrew

More help! Thank goodness. Though they had kept a diligent pace, there were still things that would have to wait until the last... like lifting the robot arm on to Wayne's trailer, attaching it, and getting the controllers in place. This was a good time for more build skills and support.

Suki, Maria, Myron

Maria's favorite contribution has been to match people to their favorite Winnie the Pooh character, which she serves to them in a cookie shape. Costco jumbo cookie bucket. She knows I won't let her have any, or many, but she is just as happy sharing them as eating them

It works!
Maybe a bit reckless testing Lonnie's fog machine at the last moment, but there were no disappointments, and Suki had the brilliant idea to send the fog up through a wide tube, which looked great.


After moving her, and making more attachments, they ran more tests. Imagining something, then designing it, then finding and building parts, and bringing all of it together is a long process, challenging... seeing it work... it's wonderful! There is tremendous satisfaction in seeing Lavender move, as planned.

James tests Lavender's temperament and strength.

She is very strong, and also gentle.

William, Geoff, Andrew, Chris

Even as one group is loading, everyone else is still throwing stuff together.

Suki, happy that more blue paint was found. In black light the blue glows, and gives Lavender her particular luminous shade. Suki glows in any light.

Ever notice, in good circumstances, the right person shows up, or the right part becomes available? Like Rick helping with wiring, and Andrew helping secure Lavender to the trailer. We really needed them, and they came through. Geoff was under the trailer, and Andrew was above, and together they were bolting the robot to the trailer, and all around the carport, everyone was in motion to bring everything together, and in place.

Wow... so much like the last twenty-fours of FRC build when everything is getting tense, and everyone is working hard, and the minutes are ticking away!

I got caught up in the excitement and threw together a mini-float for Maria.

Wayne, Rick, Eli

Wayne arrives to hook up his trailer to his truck. He also has the sound system that Eli will connect with his laptop. Rick and Eli are discussing logistics. We have to get people, costumes, and the float downtown before all the streets are closed. Which reminds me: Suki what time do you have to register?! With minutes to spare, Suki, Maria, Izzie, and I get downtown to register, hold our place, and meet up with arriving team members.

Is anyone here?
I'm done.
You made it through the longest Chciekenblog Chickenblog post ever!
You are automatically a full board member of the league of extraordinary Paradox supporters!

The parade is about to start.

Thank you. Your support and enthusiasm generates amazing, bottomless oodles of energy, which inspires math, science, engineering, art, music, tinkering, play, learning, and joy!