Thursday, April 28, 2011

Weeds and Seeds (part 2)

After school today, I asked the kids if they knew how those prickers stuck to their socks yesterday.  They had a couple of ideas, like "they're sharp, like a needle" and "maybe they are sticky."

So, when we got home, I put out the prickers, stickers and burrs that I had collected yesterday.  I set them on white paper, with a couple of magnifying loupes, a microscope, a flashlight and a pair of socks.  I invited the boys to examine.

They were amazed by what they saw.  Ruben's first comment was, "Diego's socks are made out of strings!"  But then, they noticed the hooks:

And the barbs:

And they got lost in this tiny world.

And then, there was the answer.  Look at how they grab onto our socks!

(click on photos to view larger)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Weeds and Seeds

I thought it would be fun to stop in an overgrown vacant lot to look at grass seeds.

Our whole city is blooming and making seeds these days, in response to an unusual abundance of winter rain.

I brought along some egg cartons, thinking that the kids would like to collect and sort the seeds.

Instead, they gamboled off like little billy goats.

When they stopped to pull prickers from their socks, I mentioned that this was how grasses spread.  I decided to gather some seeds myself, in case they wanted to look at them when we got home.

There was a beautiful variety, even some wheat!

I think I'll put the seeds out after school with some magnifying glasses and pairs of socks.  Maybe the kids can figure out how they stick!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sometimes What You Need is What Happens

I needed to sit in the sun and have a quiet cup of tea all by myself.

It happened.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fill Light

I thought that you might enjoy this little photo trick from behind the scenes yesterday, when I was taking pictures of the can lids for my memory game post.

Here was my first attempt at photographing the stack of can lids:

It was on the floor in front of a big window, and I liked the backlight on the stack and the floor, but the front of the stack was too dark and I wanted you to see more details so that you could tell what it was.  It needed some fill light, which just means light that brightens up the shadows without changing the main lighting.

An easy way to make fill light is to use some sort of reflector.  I often just hold a plain white piece of paper for fill on something small like this, but in this case, I grabbed a book that was sitting nearby and propped it open to use the white pages inside for my reflector.

Now you can see a white highlight on the side of the stack, which gives it more detail and definition:

Using a reflector for fill light is a simple trick, but it can be very useful when you're using back or side lighting, or have too much contrast on your subject.

I hope you found this illuminating!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tin Can Memory Game

Do you remember when I mentioned that we got a can opener that removes the lids without leaving sharp edges?  Of course, I've been saving all of our lids for future projects, and now we have a lot of them.

So, we used stickers to turn them into a Memory Game.

We made several matching pairs, and we play the game like this: 

Turn over all of the lids,

Take turns turning over two at a time and trying to find the matching pairs.  If you find a pair, put it on your stack and go again.  If you don't find a match, it is the next person's turn.

There is something extra fun about playing a game that you have made, so we've been using this one a lot.  These metal lids are really nice to handle and stack, and the boys have found all sorts of other creative uses for them.  They've also made some fun sticker combinations that are waiting for more lids, and they get very excited about expanding the game each time we cook something from another matching can.

Some Tips and Tricks:

If you're playing with someone under five, you can make it easier for them by making one big stack of the pairs that all of the players find, or you can let them turn over three lids on each turn instead of two.

I think this game would be so fun (and a great gift for a 1-6 year old) if you made it with your own photo stickers using pictures of the faces of friends and family.  I will definitely try this some day!

Use matching cans that don't have a rubbery coating on the inside.

Do not make this game with can lids if you don't have a special can opener!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I made this mobile last weekend for one of my little friends for her first birthday:

It was more fun and challenging than I expected, but I am so happy with how it turned out.  It was not easy to make each piece spin freely without ever crashing into the others, so it took a lot of careful adjusting.

I added some nature treasures that I had gathered and enjoyed over the years, and it was so gratifying to see them in this new way.  I spent a lot of time thinking about the textures and weights and how to make them balance both physically and aesthetically.  This is one of my favorite parts:

The crow feather is so light that it catches every small puff of wind, and it spins more easily than the other elements.  I put a small metal weight on the tip in order to make it hang horizontally.  Here's a closer look:

I've had the abalone shell for many years, and have always loved how rough and dark it is on one side and pearly iridescent on the other.

I wanted some other shiny elements to catch her little eye, so I wrapped some sections of the apple branches with pieces of wire that used to belong to my grandmother.

The smooth, dark branches were gleaned from our favorite apple ranch, and the others are fallen sycamore branches from trees in our neighborhood.

Now I want to make another.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Grasshopper Eggs

Please come back tomorrow if you don't enjoy close-ups of insect life!

Okay, if you're still here, check out this amazing thing that we saw on our front lawn this afternoon:

Her abdomen was stuck into the ground because she was right in the middle of laying her eggs!  We watched her doing it for a couple of minutes, and when she left, this tiny pile of pink foam was all that we could see:

The foam is the plug to an egg case that she buried about an inch under ground.

I can't believe that we got to see this today, having just finished  On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in which there are incredible descriptions of grasshoppers and their eggs.  After that dramatic story, I had to reassure the boys that there will not be a grasshopper plague in Los Angeles when this egg case hatches!