The Children’s Museum Gets Even Better

The Portland Children’s Museum recently added a large outdoor area. With a sand pit, and a huge meandering maze-like house made of entwined sticks. And fountains. We love that place anyway, but this has pushed it right back to the top of my boys’ “Can we please go there?” list.

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I just need to add towels to my list of supplies…

Just Some Pictures

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Room For Fire

Recently while Dave and I were working in the backyard, doing a little of the ever-present cleanup, the idea of an outside fire pit came up. We both liked the idea; it would be fairly simple, we thought, and although we probably wouldn’t use it often, the onset of fall made it sound like an enjoyable addition. We even had a good gravel area near the back patio to use for it.

I was picturing something simple, just a gentle scoop out of the earth lined with stones. But Dave, the one doing the digging, had slightly different ideas. It would be a bit deeper, with fairly vertical walls. And most importantly, he chose to run a pipe (actually a long tube designed for dryer vents) from nearby and feed it under the bottom of the pit, covering the end loosely with a stone. This would allow air to flow (or if we chose, be pumped) to the base of the fire.

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He did a beautiful job, and it’s true that being able to blow air into the tube using our shop vac does a remarkable job of stoking that fire up. Within a few days of floating the idea we set it to use roasting marshmallows. The top is also narrow enough that we can set a grate over it to conveniently cook hot dogs.

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However, it does turn out that this is only version 1 of the fire pit. Dave was a bit worried that the stones we had might not be suitable for high temperatures, and his fears turned out to be well founded. Under the heat of fire, they tend to break, sending off small splinters. If he turns the shop vac on, the cracking can become truly impressive, with shards of hot stone occasionally flying out of the pit. While that’s certainly exciting, we think it would be a neat feature if our fire pit didn’t spit hot bits of rock out.

An Apple Year

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Last year when we went up for apple cider making, we spent about two hours at the job and all agreed afterwards that, except for the sheer joy of the experience, it was questionable whether it had been worth the effort. There was so little fruit that we came away with only about twelve gallons of juice to split between us, and most of the job was the setup and clean up.

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This year was the opposite. This year the trees seemed to be sneakily generating new apples while our backs were turned. Even with the help of neighbors, and the compliance of a baby who spent the majority of her time either sleeping or watching calmly from her car seat, the job took over six solid hours of work. We came out with fifty-eight gallons of juice, a new family record.

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Mica might not be much of a helper yet, but the boys continue to astonish me with their capability. They helped hold the sheet while apples were shaken down; they helped crank the press; Nathan proved himself adept with our long-handled picker; and they were, naturally, excellent juice tasters. What impressed me most was that they both climbed into one of the trees and picked a few apples there, and then spent a long time hanging out. Ryan at one point came to find me and told me that he’d fallen out but not gotten hurt. He looked sad about it, but ten minutes later asked for my help in getting back up into the branches.

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Disassembly

One of the great things about thrift stores is being able to buy things solely for the purpose of taking them apart.

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This project also gave me the opportunity to explain the kids the concept of a “film” camera. I’m not sure they get it.

Shooting Bottles

Dave came home one day a while ago with a bag from the hardware store. He pulled out an item and showed it to me. “Know what this is?” he asked, with a smile of anticipation. When I admitted that I had no idea, his smile got wider. “It’s a detonator,” he said.

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I’ll admit that I experienced a brief moment of trepidation. This is the man who, as a young boy, liked to test exploding things, and the fact that he had the forethought to bury his experiments before detonating them, while reassuring, still wasn’t enough to make me excited about him exploding things here. A few months ago he used a spray bottle of alcohol and a blowtorch to demonstrate to the kids the necessity of mixing air with fuel in order to get it to burn, and I wound up having to make soothing explanations to a neighbor.

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But it turned out that he had something more controlled in mind than what I was picturing. He’d seen a video about making a simple tool that could shoot bottles into the air, and set about creating his own.

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And this, of course, was great fun. It required experimenting with kinds and amounts of alcohol for fuel, and ways of refreshing the air in the bottle so he could shoot it again (he ended up building a simple pump). And of course, it necessitated multiple family trips down to the park to shoot off bottles and let the kids run after them. The neighbor kids liked the process too; one of them, on finding that Dave had built the contraption himself, told him with awe that he was a genius.

Soldiering

When we bought Nathan his Iron Man costume, we also got something for Ryan: a set of soldier items made of plastic, including a vest, mask, walkie-talkie, etc. And it was horrible. I mean, seriously — we knew it was cheap, but it was so poorly designed that it was ridiculous. The vest in particular was stiff plastic held on by elastic, and rode up to the poor guy’s chin.

Since soldiers are at least as enduring an interest in Ryan as Iron Man is in Nathan, I resolved to do better. I would make him a vest, a real one out of camouflage fabric and with two kinds of pockets.

This was a much, much better solution. It could stand to be a size bigger, but otherwise I am very happy with it. And more importantly, so is he.

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