Art Class

January 31st, 2012

I have a favorite new website that I found: Art Projects for Kids. With step-by-step instructions from an elementary school art teacher, my kitchen walls are now quite delightful.

Spy made most of these although I included his brother in the ‘Falling’ art project. We couldn’t get all of Q’s hands and feet on the paper I had, but I rather like the effect.


“Rainbow Turkey”

“Kitty” How can you not love this one?

Any Spy’s grandmother’s favorite: “Snakes”.  Spy wanted to create a yellow snake, then decided to also create it’s inverse. Note the rainbow tail.

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October 17th, 2011

Teaching Spy and Q vocabulary words can be… interesting.

Take today’s example. One of Spy’s vocabulary words this week is: antenna. The instructions were simple: circle the word that does not belong. Here, you try it:

claw     antenna     machine     eye

Easy you say?

Are you certain? We spent a good 5 minutes arguing discussing which of the four words to choose.

Spy chose to circle ‘ claw ‘.

Spy’s argument went like this: An antenna receives signals. An animal’s antenna transmits signals about touch. A radio antenna transmits signals – radio signals perhaps. An eye transmits signals: light which conveys visual information. And a machine can also transmit signals.

Therefore a claw, which is used to grab onto things, is the odd one out. (I was interested in moving on to another activity and didn’t dare touch on proprioception.)

In the end, I had to explain that the workbook was probably thinking ‘body parts’ and that since a machine was man made, it was likely the odd one out. Spy thought that since ‘antenna’ was a vocabulary word, we should take into account both definitions that the workbook provided.

In the end, we agreed to disagree.

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In Which Spymom Visits The Department of Health

September 29th, 2011

It was the last week of summer. Spymom believes all boys require copious outside time. Whining, Spy and Q were dragged into the yard. “Play,” I commanded. More whining ensued.

At last, I managed to get Q to play a game of catch with me. Spy, meanwhile, was poking around the yard.

Spy catches things. Bugs mostly. Toads and frogs sometimes. Once he spent a half hour chatting to a worm as the two of them played with the hose. This day, he caught something a little more… exciting.

The scene:

“I’ve caught something! Come see,” Spy yelled.

“Be nice,” I yelled back and tossed the ball to Q. Q rolled his eyes.

“OOW! It bit me!”

Okay? Now Spy had my attention. There was nothing in that front yard that he’s caught before that has teeth.

The victim:

Spy had snagged a vole. Which was now running quickly for cover. A key question ran through my mind: Are voles nocturnal?

Once upon a time, Spy’s aunt – age 8 – was bitten by a bat in broad daylight. It flew away. And she suffered through a series of very painful rabies shots because the animal could not be analyzed.

With this in mind, I grabbed the watering can and started smacking at the vole, shoving it back toward the driveway, preventing its escape. “Go grab some Tupperware. We need to trap the vole.” I yelled at Q. “What’s Tupperware?” he yelled back, running nonetheless for the kitchen. He knew what I wanted, however, and returned with a drinking glass.

While Q crouched, holding the poor rodent captive, I dragged a shell-shocked Spy to the kitchen sink.

Yes indeed, the vole’s teeth had broken skin.



Too many band-aids.

I called Spydad. How convenient to have a pathologist in the family just now.

I explained the situation. “The internet is still out, thank you Tropical Storm Irene. Can you check and see if voles carry rabies?”

The answer? “Theoretically. But probably not.”

Of course, probably is not a good enough answer for a mom.

“Let your ER know, we’re coming in. And we’re bringing the vole.”

I grabbed the recently abandoned hamster Habitrail from the dining room floor (more on that later) and went back outside to wide-eyed Q. Together, we stuffed the vole into the cage and slammed the lid. Into the trunk went the cage. Within minutes, Spy and Q were buckled up.

“Am I going to have to get shots?” Spy worried from the back seat.

“Maybe,” I replied, unwilling to spare his feelings. Sometimes a little deep emotion can help impress upon a kid the severity of the situation. Thus followed a lecture about touching wild animals (specifically mammals) and the rabies virus.

We arrived in the pathology department with this in tow:

Expectant and amused faces met us at every turn. Co-workers couldn’t help but burst into laughter to see their boss carrying the multi-colored cage followed by a parade of wide-eyed boys. Spy’s adventure was today’s excitement.

Turned out we didn’t need to go to the ER. The infectious disease doctor stopped in Spydad’s office to hand over a prescription for Augmentin. He was amused. And impressed that Spy had managed to snag a wild rodent. The concern for rabies was almost zero.

That’s one thing about scientist types. You’ll never get us to commit to anything 100%.

The lab techs found this both interesting and amusing. “Let’s send it in. We never get to do this.”

Out came the forms. “Uh Oh. It says we have to send the specimen in dead. And on ice.”

“Oh,” I replied, dragging a cold pack from the snack bag I’d hastily thrown together. “Here. Use this.” ER waits can be long.

“We have to kill it,” she repeated, not looking pleased with the idea.

“Not a problem,” I replied. “Six years of mouse research has me thoroughly qualified to do the job.” I was led to a hood where I gloved up and pulled the vole from the cage. The poor thing was nearly dead of fright already. This is one of the (many) reasons wild rodents cannot be made into pets. They will die of fright. Literally.

Moments later, the vole was packaged on ice and I was being given directions to the Department of Health. We didn’t warrant a courier.

I left Spy and Q playing video games under their dad’s desk and departed. Nobody even blinked at the Dept. of Health.

Over the next 24 hours, Spy worriedly inquired about the test results. He worried so much that we covered the basics of viral and bacterial disease and what was being done to keep him safe and healthy. As such, the nasty liquid antibiotic was consumed readily, treated by Spy like a magic elixir.

A day later, the results were in: the vole was rabies free. Spy jumped up with a cheer and did a happy dance.

Spymom has since noted the family hamster has been treated with more respect.

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Border Crossing

August 3rd, 2011

It took one and a half hours to cross the border back into the United States. People were wandering about, chatting and walking to the Duty Free store as cars crept one car length at a time towards the border.

When at last we arrived, we’d all but finished answering the officer’s questions when Spy struck up a conversation with said officer through his window and made his own declaration. Part of it went like this:

“We have bears. But we didn’t buy them in Canada. We got them at the Teddy Bear Factory. My bear’s name is Cupcake because he’s courageous.”

Spydad and Spymom drove away snorting. Isn’t courageous the first thing that comes to mind when you see a white cupcake with pink frosting?

Then again, Spymom had promised to sew Cupcake a rainbow superhero cape when we returned home.

Here’s Cupcake wearing his Colorful Courageous Cape:

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August 2nd, 2011

Stage 2 of Spy and Q’s vacation had us presenting passports and crossing into Canada…

where Spy and Q were forced to learn a touch of French. Arrete was the first word to be assimilated. Followed by: Bonjour, Merci, and Mouche.

Spy delighted in pointing out: Every. Single. Mouche.

And much to the amazement of Spy and Q (and the amusement of the residents of Montreal and Quebec), Spymom and Spydad exercised their dusty high school French. We expertly managed signs, menus, greetings and questions about the time (Freshman French). But from there, it was downhill.

Spy and Q were frustrated by the hotel televisions. Darn it, only the “baby” shows (think PBS) were in English. Did that deter them? Not at all. Which begs the question of the value of cartoons… (Er, Spy and Q have now found their favorite cartoons at home converted to Spanish. I have it on good authority that this will promote language fluency…. *cue the evil laugh*)

In Montreal, we visited the Montreal Science Centre and their debut of the Indiana Jones exhibit. Awesome exhibit. Catch it if you get the chance. They even had a digital ‘find-the-missing-pieces-of-your-artifact’ game that kept Spy and Q engaged, interested and busy.

We ran the Labyrinth or Labyrinthe du Hangar 16.  Very cool. Being impatient people, we opted to go with the first group available.

In French.


So we started the maze not knowing anything and not being able to communicate well (if at all) with our fellow lab rats.

In the dark, we made our way through shredded tarps, bungee cords and bars. Up ladders and down tube slides. From up high, water guns were turned on us…

Spy was worried, tho’ eventually, 45 minutes later, we reached the end.

We also rode the Saute Moutons, a ride on a jet boat to play in the rapids of the St. Lawrence River. The website photos and video well-represent my experience. Water. Lots and lots of water crashing over us. Again and again and again.

Almost everyone enjoyed the trip.

Spy hates water in his face and so we helped him strap on goggles that we’d dragged along on our trip specifically for this part of the vacation (much to the amusement of the family in front of us).  After the first splash, Spy’s enthusiasm for this boat ride took a dive and, when a wave removed said goggles, he screamed to the captain, “Go back NOW!”

Alas, his screams were to no avail. Spy quickly learned to keep his mouth shut and clutch the bar tightly. Nothing was dry by the time we returned to shore.

Spy now considers that he has bragging rights. “We almost drowned on that awful boat ride!”

The next day we headed to Quebec City where we put Q in jail. But when the guide turned off the light, he bolted.

Solitary confinement for 30 days was a frequent punishment (followed by the pillory and a branding). It was also here that they held serial murderers. However, for children under the age of 14, no matter the crime, there was no jail time. Just punishment. For example, ages 7-14 could spend time in the pillory for crimes.

The rest of our time was spent wandering and touring Upper Quebec, Vieux Quebec, and Lower Quebec. Spy grumbled loudly and continuously every time he was forced to climb yet another hill. Overall, ’twas the battlements that most impressed Spy and Q.

Well, no. That would be a lie. What most impressed Spy and Q was the hotel pool. That and the fact that in Canada, you only had to be 7 to go in the hot tub.

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How It’s Made

August 1st, 2011

The beginning of this year’s family vacation was all about factory tours in Vermont.

Stop 1: The Granite Factory

Rock of Ages

Spy and Q sandblasted their very own granite samples (a puppy and a wolf respectively). Then, we toured the enormous granite factory. You’re seeing about half the place here. It was very loud. What were they working on? Mostly gravestones.

Stop 2: Ben and Jerry’s

That’s right, we waited for 1.5 hours to take a 10 minute tour. Sigh.  Spymom and Spydad knew there was no getting out of this one. Pictures? Sorry. We weren’t allowed.

BUT Spy did run up to this booth and ask a question.

Spymom envisioned the encounter going something like this:

Spy: “Can I ask a question?”

B&J Guy: “Sure, kid. That’ll be $2.75.”

Stop 3: The Chocolate Factory

Lake Champlain Chocolates

Spy and Q paid rapt attention. Particularly when they were handing out free samples.

This is the ‘Enrober’.

Which begs the question, can you disrobe chocolate? If so, there was a lot of disrobing going on in the factory store and outside in the parking lot…

Stop 4: The Teddy Bear Factory

Vermont Teddy Bear Company

By the time we reached this building, I was in complete sympathy with this bear:

But this place cracked me up. The tour was amazing, even if we could barely bear the bear puns.

We met Franken Bear who kindly demonstrated the inner workings of a Teddy Bear.

Unfortunately, they did not sell this bear in the gift shop.


How perfect he would have been for a certain Halloween party…

Spy asked the tour lady a question, “Did the stuffing machine ever go crazy and shoot stuffing all over the place and…”

“Why, yes!” she replied, and lifted a giant, over-sized stuffed bear arm from a pile of fluff. “This is an example of what can go wrong. We place them in this bin (of stuffing) to give them time to shrink back down to size.”

Spy grew quiet, considering whether to believe her or not.

*Snort* Spy obviously hadn’t been the first to ask.

And then there was the bear in the hospital. Aside from his ankle, he was suffering from low blood sugar. Hence the honey drip.

Stop 5: The Beer Factory

Magic Hat Brewing Company

The coolest of them all in terms of machinery. The Licker Sticker malfunctioned while we were there, and Spy and Q were thrilled to watch them get everything running again.

And even better? The free samples at the end. By this time, we’d had it. Even Spy was ready for a refreshing drink. He kept the bartender hopping. ***

*** A lady witnessed this moment and I heard her gasp, “That kid, is he really…”

“Water,” Spymom replied. “It’s just water.”

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July 6th, 2011

Recently, we were in NYC and stumbled upon a street fair, Spy and Q’s first. It was early – not crowed and comfortably shaded – and so we began to wander down the street. Much attracted the boys’ interest, mostly as curiosities, not as anything they hoped to own.

Then Spy’s attention focused with laser-like intensity on one particular stand. They were selling real, formerly live, still glowing-in-the-dark, moon sea jellyfish embedded in glass. Month five of Spy’s deep sea creature obsession.

They were cool, no mistaking that, and Spymom and Spydad made a half-hearted promise to stop on the way back, perhaps to purchase.


Time passed, streets were crossed and stands were examined. Then Spy stopped mid-street staring toward Central Park (still several blocks away). “It’s going to take forever!” he declared.

“Oh, Spy, we’re not going to walk all the way to the end,” I reassured him, thinking his feet might be tiring or that he grew bored as the stands began to repeat their displays.

He looked up at me with sad, distressed eyes. “But we’re already FOUR blocks away! It’s going to take forever to get back.”

Spy had been counting the number of streets we’d crossed since the jellyfish stand.

Yes, we now own our very own glow-in-the-dark ***, real, formerly-live, moon sea jellyfish. Spy carefully selected one, then ascertained that a parent was indeed carrying his precious find after every sit-down stop in NYC that day. It now rests in a place of honor for all to admire.

*** Technically it fluoresces under UV light – it’s a GFP-expressing jellyfish. Those scientists who first developed the use of Green Fluorescent Protein in biological research won a Nobel prize. And Spymom spent several years making use of GFP herself and so was easily swayed to argue on Spy’s behalf.

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Spy Learns to Read

June 24th, 2011

I’ve been asked about how I taught Spy to read so many times that I’ll post it all here. I’m not looking to start a fight of phonics vs. whole language vs. whatever. Plenty has been written and posted about that elsewhere. This is just a travelogue of what worked for me and for one kid (n=1).


Back in December, it became quite clear that Spy’s ‘reading’ was more ‘memorization of particular books’ or ‘sight words’. And he wasn’t even doing that particularly well. Halfway through first grade and he was only at a Kindergarten reading level (DRA 4). Not good.

We’d been doing the ’10 minutes of reading’ at home and were getting the sinking feeling that something wasn’t right. His school teacher confirmed this. Spymom started researching.

After coming across this article at (or just Google ‘Don Potter Lippincott’), Spymom was struck with inspiration. I’d been taught using this wildly successful phonics reading program: Lippincott Basic Reading. Running over to and other used online bookstores, I searched and hunted and found those old books. I’d’ve known those dotted covers anywhere.

I started by ordering the accompanying text’s workbooks. They’re still in publication, but I’m gathering from the lack of photos on, that they may be following in the path of their textbooks. I ordered all three (A=K, B=1st grade, C=2nd grade) and dragged Spy back to the very beginning.

We rocketed through Workbook A. After each new phonics sound, a list of words is introduced followed by a series of worksheets to practice the sound. Finally, you arrive at an eight-page booklet with a short story using those new (and all the old) sounds. Spy loved hitting the booklets.

Worried that he might not be getting enough reinforcement/reading practice from the workbooks alone, I ordered the old (1970s) Lippincott Basic Readers that I learned from:

AND the newer incarnation (1985) which introduced new, updated stories:

Why the books? They have stories in them that track with the introduction of phonemes in the workbooks. Basically, I’d introduce the sound with Spy, read the accompanying words, work through the worksheets, read the booklet…. then we’d go to the text and review all the words for that sound (the book contains a corresponding word list) and then read the stories in the book further reinforcing the phonics lesson. Yes, we read both the ‘dot’ book and the more modern book.

I was a lucky teacher. Spy flew through Workbook A (and accompanying texts) in three weeks. It snowed a lot here, which gave me lots of time to work with Spy. When the school re-tested his DRA levels at the end of January, he was at a DRA level 14 – dead smack on the mean for his classroom.

Workbook B and texts took a month and a half. Spy was sounding out words like ‘oxygen’ and ‘auditorium’. He started reading everything spontaneously. Water bottles. Menus. Museum signs. Spy was super proud of himself.

Workbook C and texts were done in just under two months. Very few words now escaped Spy’s decoding skills.

In just over four months, Spy was reading.

I don’t have an official DRA level, but SpyAunt is a teacher and has helped me determine that he’s reading on a level 28/30, the expected level for a child completing second grade.

For his summer reading practice Spy has opted to read from the ‘Harry Potter’ series (well above his ‘level’ at a DRA of 44-50). Most level 28/30 books were rejected as ‘boring’. (Sigh. I have a few we’ll work on later, but he’s on a Harry Potter kick right now and I’m going to run with it.) By no means is he reading the Harry Potter series on his own for enjoyment. It’s work and we stop to discuss vocabulary at least once a page. But Spy constantly surprises me by sounding out incredibly complicated words I am almost certain he hasn’t encountered before.

All in all, a resounding success.

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Squid Cake

June 11th, 2011

Spy has been on a ‘deep sea creatures’ kick this spring. We’ve read about them, watched documentaries, visited aquariums. I keep waiting for his interest to fade, but here we are at three months and it’s still going strong. So when it came time to plan his birthday party, it was no surprise when he chose ‘Deep Sea Creatures’ as his theme.

I received instructions:

  • We needed blue and green streamers to simulate sea weed and water.
  • Sea creature coloring pages were printed from the internet, colored, cut out and hung behind the ‘giant kelp’.
  • Of the four helium balloons ultimately selected, one was purple and one was blue. The purple one had to be positioned below the blue one to illustrate how the level of light decreased in the sea as you go deeper.
  • A jellyfish movie was played on the room’s computer in a loop. (Originally, Spy intended to have the other kids sit and watch some of these documentaries so they could discuss them. Spymom convinced him that might be a bit much.)
  • And, when asked what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday party this year, he answered, “A squid cake. A colossal squid cake.”

Now, for those of you who haven’t been dragged through 20+ documentaries on deep sea creatures, Spy would like you to be aware that there is a HUGE difference between the giant squid and the colossal squid. The most key instruction I received was that the suckers had to be made from chocolate chips – NOT cheerios. This is because colossal squids have rotating hooks instead of the classic suction suckers found on other squid, a fact he finds fascinating.

(If you’re interested, view this documentary about 3-4 times like we did.)

And it was a good thing I consulted Spy on the eyeball placement. I almost messed up and placed them too far on the end of the cake.

And now, for the image you’ve been waiting for:

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June 9th, 2011

Spy and I stopped by the library to pick up some books. One book I had ordered (to learn how to read maps) caught his fancy. He latched onto it as soon as the librarian checked it out, had to be marched to the car with the book open and quickly buckled up to study this book. At home, Spy barely made it in the door before sinking to the kitchen floor with his book.

Fifteen minutes later, I found him like this:

So, I highly recommend this book for teaching map reading skills:

The Once Upon A Time Map Book

Spy is looking forward to today’s ‘geography’ lesson.

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June 7th, 2011

Spy and Q were overheard a few days ago discussing the ‘dirty’ state of the family cat. Darwin has been spending much time on the screen porch monitoring chipmunks, squirrels and birds. In the process, he has become coated with pollen, dust and spider webs.

Conversation turned to the idea that perhaps they should “clean up” the cat by means of a bath.

Spymom is of a mind to lean back and watch that attempt.

We do, after all, have plenty of band aids and Neosporin.

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Radioactive Spiders

June 1st, 2011

In a creative moment, Spy spun a story along with his drawing. You must be careful approaching our house now, especially if you’re a “bad guy”. There are multiple radioactive spiders guarding our house now. They will shoot poison into your wounds which will eat away at your blood until you begin to mutate horribly. Should you not possess a wound, they will bite and provide one for you.

Accordingly, a sign has been posted.

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Satellites Solved The Problem

May 15th, 2011

Spy and Q were drawing with chalk on the driveway. Each had his own plans. These plans conflicted with the other’s. Turf wars erupted and despite ongoing hostilities, nothing was solved that evening.

The next day, while Q was away, Spy resolved the issue by encroaching upon Q’s property. Spy then set up satellites to prevent Q from retaliating.

Careful, they’ll shoot your chalk helicopters right out of the sky.

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May 10th, 2011

Spy was given one in an attempt to ease his cough.

Not wanting to deal with a flood, we admonished him, “Do NOT touch the controls.”

We’d aimed the vents at his bed, the better to help him breathe. All was well the first night. But the second, spymom set the controls on high to start… but forgot to turn them back down.

Later that night, ’round about 10pm, we arrived to find this:

For once, Spy did not disobey. But his sheets were getting wet and so he solved the problem… with tissues.

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Raining Inside

April 30th, 2011

Spy sat at the kitchen island yesterday with a glass of ice water in his hand. He’d been gulping down water all day, the first nice day of spring.

He glanced up at the high ceiling and commented, “Should be raining in here soon.”

“What?” I turn to look at him. He grins.

“I’ve been so thirsty all day. I must be evaporating. Clouds will be forming soon.”

And therefore, it would be raining in the kitchen.

He’d just finished watching Bill Nye the Science Guy: Water Cycle.

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Audience Participation

February 14th, 2011

Yesterday, we took Spy and Q to see The Flying Karamazov Brothers in NYC.

Given the show’s name was 4Play, Spydad and Spymom previewed this YouTube video and a couple of reviews just to be certain it was kid friendly.

It was. Extremely.

Take a moment and go catch glimpse of these four men in kilts. I’ll wait.

It’s worth your time. Promise.

We had second row seats in a small theater down near NYU. Fortunately for Spy (and for whomever was supposed to sit there), the two seats in front of him were empty.

The show opened as the Brothers Karamozov (Pavel, Alexei, Zossima and Nikita) rhythmically drummed upon and then rhythmically destroyed a number of cardboard boxes. Spy was bouncing in his seat, laughing. As they walked from the stage, one wearing his box over his head, Spy turned to us with glee in his eyes. It was his kind of show.

Particularly since the performers encourage audience participation.

Spy doesn’t need much encouragement. He participated. Repeatedly.

E.g. #1:

As one brother juggles raw eggs a mere four feet away, Spy yells, “Throw it on the floor!”

“Not my job, kid,” Zossima replies, not missing a beat.

The crowd cracked up.

E.g. #2

Pavel is lining up items of ‘extreme danger’ to be juggled for the finale. He holds up a torch and announces, “Item number…”

And in this pause for effect Spy yells, “TWO!”

“No, kid! Number FIVE,” Pavel says, walking away, rolling his eyes.

E.g. #3

This was Q’s moment. The brothers ask to juggle improv items from the audience. Q tosses up his mohawk hat to join 9 other items. It’s not chosen. Instead, the brothers fling it back and forth wearing it as a crown, banging the stage with a hockey stick (another improv item) as they take turns playing Roman emperor.

What items were juggled? An apple pie, a stuffed cloth chicken and the hockey stick.

E.g. #4

At one point, Spy is so excited, and getting so loud and so far out of his seat, that Spydad clamps his hand over Spy’s mouth and tries to haul him back into his chair (and off the kind lady to his right). The Brothers catch this and, in the middle of improv, all move as one to mock Spydad.

Three of them suddenly point to the lights, hopping up and down on stage and yelling.

One brother clamps his hand over another’s mouth, dragging him backward across the stage.

Nikita stopped hopping to look at Spydad, “Glad to see censorship is alive and well in America, dad.”

E.g. #5

We, the audience, were warned that the next part was improv juggling and that pins would be dropped. If, we were instructed, they landed in the audience, we were to leave them where they lay. The Brothers, tossed, spun around and did all kinds of impressive tricks. And, yes, a few were dropped. One pin skittered off the stage and landed on the floor in the front row. The Brothers then began to argue with each other, insisting that they should get the pin back. An eleven year old boy in the front row near Spy was exhorted to return the pin. That kid refused to move.

Spy, in complete affinity with the Brothers, drops to the floor and, before Spydad could catch him, army crawls under the chair in front of him, retrieves the pin and pops up with it, waving it in the air.

“Oh, there it is! The chatty kid in the second row’s got it.”

“Oh, good.”

“Throw it here kid!”

With no hesitation, Spy wings it back on stage.

“Thanks!” they all yell.

Spy is bouncing with glee.

Spymom and Spydad are relieved no one was injured.

At the end of the show, the people behind us tell us how much fun it was to have Spy in front of them, and the lady who sat next to Spy waves an amused goodbye. Spy is still bouncing with excitement after 90 minutes of juggling and improv comedy.

On the way out, we meet one of the brothers at the door as they said goodbye to their audience.

“He was the one in second row?” Alexei Karamazov asks.

I nod.

Smiling down at Spy, Alexei says, “He was great. We loved him.”

Gleeful, Spy hops over to meet the other brothers where Spydad announces, “It’s Q and Spymom’s birthday today.”

One of the brothers yanks Q’s hat from his hand, pops it back on his head and begins to sing. And so our theater experience ended with a three-part “Happy Birthday” serenade.

We’d laughed so hard for 90 minutes our faces hurt.

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Q Engineers a Dragon

December 3rd, 2010

Q gets much less page time here, mostly because he doesn’t get up to so much trouble. Er. Anymore.

Q is, however, a master Lego builder and occasionally astounds us in what he will build from the metric ton of exploded Lego scattered across their playroom floor (Spymom prefers not to go up there too often…).

‘How To Train Your Dragon’ arrived recently in our house. Spy has viewed the movie 7 times. Q complains. But after that seventh viewing (which Spy arranged because Spymom and Spydad hadn’t yet seen it), Q zipped up to the playroom and, from the random pieces of long-since demised Lego kits, produced this foot-long model of Toothless in less than half an hour.

All its parts are moveable.

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November 29th, 2010

Spy loves insects. Worms too. And when a spider is trapped in our house, we call him to execute catch and release.

So it seemed natural to let him have the ant farm he so desperately craved: AntWorks. Space age gel? Well, that’s because NASA wanted to study ant tunneling in space and they needed a substrate that wouldn’t collapse the tunnels during lift off. AND the gel contains all the food and water the ants need.

Spy insisted that we order the harvester ants immediately. He stood by my elbow and monitored the online ordering process to be certain it was complete before heading to the bus stop. His first question that afternoon as he got off the bus, “Are they here yet?”

Patiently, he waited two whole days. Then they came in a plastic test tube, all 25 of them.

But the next morning, one made an escape. The lid wasn’t perfectly flat. Easily solved with two pieces of scotch tape. Unfortunately, we lost two and one was mushed in his attempt – forever entombed between the lid and the bottom to serve as a grisly reminder to his cohort.

So we spent the next few weeks watching them build tunnels. Fascinating.

And then they were shuffled to the side until this past Saturday when Spy moved them to the middle of the kitchen table as he worked on an art project. Hours passed. Spy moved to a computer game. Spymom, Spydad and Q were in another room when it grew eerily quiet in the kitchen.

All of you know I should have investigated. But I was tired and so I waited.

When at last I pried myself off the couch, Spy headed me off at the doorway. He shoved a finger in my face. One dead mushed ant.

“He got out!” Smiles. “But I fixed it.”

Indeed he had – and using materials easily at hand: Glitter Glue.

“Now they can’t get out,” Spy stated proudly. Then he explained the extra gold glitter glue on the lid. “And at night, they’ll think they see stars.”

Spymom wonders if this will affect oxygen levels, but chose to stay silent…

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Spy & Q Play Hooky

November 26th, 2010

Can we all agree field trips were the best days of elementary school?


Then you can understand why Spymom took Spy, Q and Spygrandma to the Old Sturbridge Village home school day which had the theme of the ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.

In two hands-on classes, Spy and Q learned first how to make old-fashioned toys and, second, how to sew a book binding, stamp pictures and create a marbled cover.

Then we explored the village. Q was on a quest to answer all the questions about the Sleepy Hollow characters ‘living’ in Sturbridge. Along the way we visited the blacksmith to watch him make a ‘fleshing fork’, saw a housewife cook over the hearth, chased chickens and then quizzed the potter.

Then, it was time for school. So, was it really hooky?

And they did attempt recess activities.

At the village green, Spy and Q joined the infantry and were put through numerous drills.

And then we were off to visit the other houses, including the tin shop. There, Spy made the rude comment, “This is boring.” The tinner interrupted my reprimand by dragging Spy behind the fence and ‘forcing’ him to help make an “apology for your long-suffering mother.”

“Stand here.” Spy wanders. “Oh, I didn’t use the magic word. Stand here now!” Together the tinner and Spy had the audience in stitches. And I ended up with a cookie cutter apology.

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Spy & Q’s Favorite Aquarium Fish

November 26th, 2010

And mine too, really. This here is dedication to cleaning out your home.

(Click the link below. Anyone who knows how to embed their own video (not YouTube) contact me!)


(No, that’s not us talking in the background. It’s a fish, not a snake.)

On the whole, Spy and Q loved Mystic Aquarium.

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Spy “Helps”

November 26th, 2010

About a month ago, we sat down with Spy and Q and developed a work chart for allowance. One ‘task’ for Spy was: stay in your bed and go to sleep. Spymom forks over $0.25 per night. Completing homework & piano practice without whining is worth $0.10 each. But the biggest money maker? Wash the dog = $0.50.

One day not too long after the chart was taped to the fridge (It’s stainless and non-magnetic. Poor Spy at age 4 upon move-in sadly stood in front of it trying to get his magnetic letters to stick only to watch them slide to the ground. But I digress…) Spy heard spymom comment to spydad, “The dog really stinks. What has she been rolling in?” It was a busy morning, 15 minutes until bus time. Spy, who was ready to go, coaxed the dog up the stairs and into his bathroom. Spy and Nira play often in the morning, so I thought nothing of it.

10 minutes later, the dog returns with white stuff on her back. Spy proudly proclaims, “I washed the dog!”

Well, he tried. It’s just that toothpaste on a hairbrush doesn’t work all that well.

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October 31st, 2010

This year, Spy insisted on being the Grim Reaper. But not just any grim reaper. Check out the cool material he picked out.

On a related topic (okay, it’s a bit of a tangent, but follow me here) we had a number of mice invade our living room. Following instinct, our cat, Darwin, proceeded to play with his food. Twice we rescued the mouse from Darwin’s paws and set the stunned mouse free. Once, the mouse ran up a curtain and sat quivering on the window until spymom trapped him in a drinking glass… then set him free.

But the fourth time? Well, Darwin hadn’t quite gotten to his meal. Spy gave “Mousey” a proper burial, granite headstone (bodystone?) and all.

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The Tooth Fairy

September 28th, 2010

Spy has a theory.

“The tooth fairy has an invisible magic camera under the pillow of every kid. If you try to touch it, you can’t feel it and your hand goes right through it. She watches the inside of every kid’s mouth on a bunch of screens that show under the pillow. She sits somewhere and watches the screens to see when a tooth is there. She’s invisible and has a lot of power. She can disappear from one state and just appear in another state.”

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School Missions

September 24th, 2010

So I’ve finally met Spy’s teacher. I think I shall call her ‘M’. Here’s why.

Spy started out the year a touch nutsy, so M gave Spy his first mission. She handed him a STOP sign and assigned him the duty of making certain that the first graders did not run to the bus at dismissal time. Spy loves giving orders and loved it even more when they all came to a respectful yet screeching halt. Yes, M confirmed, Spy stood out in the hallway and announced/reminded the entire first grade that: “We have to walk or we might fall and get boo boos.” M informs me that Spy drags a chair into the hall every day and takes up his post. The job is his as long as he wants it.

And when Spy stirred up trouble in the cafeteria the first week? M gave him the task of watching the clock. When the big hand on the clock hits the ‘2’, he reminds his table that  it is time to buy ice cream and when the hand hits the ‘3’, he instructs them all to begin cleaning up. No trouble with Spy in the cafeteria anymore. He’s too busy running things.

And his ‘teacher’s helper’ tasks have expanded. He is now in charge of teaching all his classmates how to get the mail from the office for M. And when a classmate is injured, he gently places his arm around their shoulders, reassures them it will be okay and escorts them to the school nurse.

M has given Spy so many missions, he has no time to misbehave.

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September 12th, 2010

Spy crawled into our bed this morning and started telling us about the kids that sit at his table in school – two girls and a boy. As he talked about the boy, he started to laugh.

“The teacher keeps calling him Harry.” Snort. “I don’t think that’s his original name.” More laughter.

Spy figures no one would voluntarily name their kid “Hairy” and (after two weeks) Spy is still trying to figure out  this boy’s “real” name.

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September 9th, 2010

Spy is a first-grader now. It boggles the mind.

And there’s this new kid in his class who keeps ‘bugging’ him. Poking at him in line, yanking on his backpack, and generally making a pest of himself. Spy has been ‘telling’ on this kid a lot. Probably WAY more than the teacher wants to hear about the ‘situation’. But what she might not yet realize is that Spy has been summoning all his reserves to not clobber the kid.

And yesterday, Spy announced that he needed a play date with him.


“I’m going to ‘vite him over and in the middle of our play date I’m going to teach him not to bother me and then we’ll finish playing.”

No, Spy was not going to bring out the brass knuckles (so far as I know, he hasn’t any). Spy intended to sit the kid down and lecture him on good behavior in the classroom.

This might be the pot calling the kettle black – I’ll know more in a month at parent-teacher conferences – but we commend Spy nightly for his restraint.

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Tie Dye

August 27th, 2010

Whaddayado when your Spy gets bored?

Tie Dye.

Spy and Q started with a package of five T-shirts each, some of which are here:

Then they moved on to packages of socks:

While Spymom tie-dyed their pillowcases and sheets:

We were having so much fun, that we even tie-dyed Spy’s two white long-sleeved T-shirts. His favorite? The “Rainbow Shirt“, of course.

For the past two weeks, Spy and Q have worn little else but these shirts. Then Spy came down yesterday morning in something else.

“No tie dye shirt today?” I’d just washed all of them so I knew the drawer was full.

“I’m saving them for school. One for each day.”

And this is good for the teacher, you see, because when Spy sneaks off, he’ll be all that easier to locate.

There’s a reason I encourage Spy’s penchant for bright colors.

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Robotics Take Two

August 26th, 2010

While Q continued to refine the original robot, Spy boldly pressed forward to create:

Still not walking, this robot has two new features. As before, two servos allow the arms to move up and down – these arms come with flashlight and propeller capabilities (complete the circuit, and the propeller spins as the arm goes up and down). Spygrandpa pulled out more servos for Spy and Q to improve their robots, but Q was too slow or too busy with other projects. Spy grabbed the extra two.

With the addition of a third servo, Soda Bottle Robot can now turn his head (all the better for the red LED eyes to see you, my dear).

(Why yes, that is my old ear bud holder.)

(Flashlight and propeller on above.)

And the fourth servo enabled Spy’s robot to wag his tail. You know, “so you can tell if he’s happy with you or not”.

Did I not warn you all last year that remote control cars were just the beginning? Mark my words, next year there will be wheels.

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Random Quote

August 24th, 2010

Today, while walking down a windy corridor.

Spy: “Have you noticed there’s air all around us?”

Spydad: “Good thing. Or we’d be surrounded by water or embedded in rock.”

Spy: “The air is even inside my lungs.”

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August 21st, 2010

Once again Spy and Q are in their underground engineering lab working on their fledgling skills to take over the world using robots.

This time, they’ve actually managed to animate their creation. Spy did the design work and and Q provided the labor.

Up from the cellar come Spy and Q (safety glasses shoved onto their foreheads) with this joint creation:

With all the appropriate mechanical creaky sounds, his arms MOVE!

The arm on the right sports a toothpaste gun.

Inside beats a red light indicating a connection to the remote control which Q uses to control each arm’s movement separately.

And those glowing green eyes? Here’s a view from the top.

Next time, plans are to make the robot walk.

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