Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Periscope and a Talking Robot

The boys have really been into doing creative craft projects lately. They'll get an idea in their head from watching a show or something and immediately hit the craft supplies. The other day, they watched an episode of Curious George where George made a periscope. I came downstairs and LilKat1 had a couple of pieces of rolled up paper cut and taped together in an 'L' shape. He wanted me to help him figure out how to turn it into a periscope. I told him that the rolled up papers were a good idea, but we needed something a little sturdier, so we used a box. We also needed some mirrors, which we didn't have, so we used cut up pieces of cardboard covered with aluminum foil. Here's what we came up with:


Now, the aluminum foil really doesn't make a great mirror, but if you look in the bottom and you wave your hand in the top, you can definitely see something blurry moving.

The next night, LilKat1 wanted to build a robot. So we got out a box and made a 'talking' robot. Here's what he looks like:


Here's how the 'talking' part works. First, you ask the robot a question. The robot comes with a set of cards that have different questions on them. You pick out the card with the question that you want to ask. For example, if you want to ask the robot 'Do you like playing?' you'd pick out this card:


Then you insert the card into the robot, and the answer comes out of the robot's mouth like this:

Yes! The robot does in fact like playing!

Here is a picture of the back of the Talking robot. He has a card holder in the back that holds all of the question cards:

And at the end, we added on a flashing star light on top of his head:

This Talking Robot project was great for a number of reasons. First of all, LilKat1 loved it. I cut out the box, and he made the face, hands, and feet. Then we worked on the question cards. Oh, he had a great time with those. We made it after dinner and he was so busy making question cards that he wasn't even interested at all in his desert. He just wanted to keep making cards. I made the first several cards for him. Here's where I got a little sneaky. I thought of some questions and answers that had words that he could read. So when he wanted to know what the card said, I made him read it to me. And when he wanted to know the answer, I made him read that to me as well. Normally, he doesn't read for us (in his Kindergarten class, he's in the top reading group. But we would never know this because he never wants to read for us. Our neighbor volunteers in class now and then and she was telling us how great a job LilKat1 is doing with his reading. We had no idea. He'll read for other people, just not us. So now I have to trick him into reading things if I want him to read for me). But he was having a great time reading his cards. Then he started writing his own cards. So now we're getting reading AND writing 'homework' done from this craft project. I got greedy and threw in some math cards, like 'Robot what is 3+5?' So we got reading, writing, and math all in one cool project. And not only did we get some learning in, but we both had a great time putting it together.

A Note for Dad

Every other Thursday, I have a Bible study group that I go to in the morning. I leave before the kids wake up, and I come home after they leave. I don't like missing them in the morning (one of my favorite parts of the morning is walking LilKat1 to the bus stop. Although, I think he kind of likes being able to go to the bus stop all by himself on those days), so I write them little notes before I go and leave them on the kitchen table for them to see when they eat breakfast. The notes will usually say something like 'Have a good day at school. I love you very much.' And I'll draw a little picture on them. From what Mrs. BigKat says, the boys really like getting these cards in the morning.

Well, last week, I was about to leave for basketball (I play at the church on Monday nights). And LilKat1 stopped me.

'Wait a second, Daddy!'

He ran into the kitchen and grabbed a small card and a marker and started writing. When he was done, he proudly gave me this:

Can you read it? It says:

Have a good (gud) day (da) at basketball (bascitbal)

I think that I like getting notes too.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I miss my friend

A couple of years ago, one of my Sunday School kids was killed in a car accident. The month after that was pretty hard for me, emotionally. Last night, I had a dream that I saw her again. I was so happy to see her. As soon as I recognized her, I went over to talk to her. But right as I approached her, I woke up. I could barely sleep the rest of the night. I couldn't stop thinking about her. I wanted to go back to sleep and be able to talk with her again. But I couldn't.

This morning, I've been trying to think of why I get so sad thinking about her. I know she's in Heaven, and I know that I'll get to see her again. I know that she's with the Lord which is better than any place that I could imagine. Yet, I still get sad thinking about her. The week before the accident, she was in my Sunday School class. After class, I was walking down the stairs at church and saw her talking with one of her friends. I called out her name to say something silly to her, but she didn't hear me. I thought to myself, 'it's fine, I'll just see her next week'. I never got that chance.

One of the things that I think about is the fact that I never got to say goodbye to her. It was all so sudden. I still remember when our friend from church called me to tell me about the accident. It was like someone snuck up from behind me and hit me with a hammer. It was just so unexpected and devastating. I was telling Mrs. BigKat that I don't even like it when I don't get to say goodbye to LilKat1 before he gets on the school bus. I think it's one of the main reasons why I get so sad thinking about her 2 years later (I think the other reason is just knowing how hard it is for her parents).

I praise God that my friend is with Him. I praise God that I'll get to see her again someday. But right now, I miss her.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What's It To Ya - Video

Mike Petty, the guy that wrote What's It To Ya, made a video that talks a bit about his game. In the video, he asks people to rate the following items from most important to least important:


The Internet


Leisure Time



Kind of fun to see how different people prioritize things in their lives. And it gives you a good idea of what the game is like. It's a pretty simple concept, but provides for a fun time and an opportunity to get to know things about people that you may not have known. Go check it out!

I thought I'd give my personal rankings for the items from the video as well. Think you can guess them? Ok, go grab a piece of paper and write down how you think I'd rate the items. Then scroll down and find out my actual rankings. GO!















Here's my list:

1) Truth - To me, truth is about what's real. It's about describing the ways in which all things in creation actually work. Without truth and the knowledge of things that are true, it becomes difficult to live our lives in meaningful ways.

2) Generosity - Being really generous begins with a component of selflessness, which is a key part of being a follower of Christ.

3) Leisure Time - I really enjoy the last few hours of the day, after the kids have gone to bed. Mrs. BigKat and I will play games or watch movies or make desserts or something. But mainly we'll just talk. Without that time, things would be pretty tough.

4) The Internet - Well, without the Internet, I wouldn't be able to work from home and I'd have to shop at mall (which I hate) rather than buy stuff online. It's nice being able to have a question about something, and then be able to just walk over to your computer and find the answer quickly. But it's a convenience and not a necessity.

5) Music - This probably would've been different several years ago. I just really don't listen to much music anymore. I remember when I was little and couldn't understand why old people didn't know any of the songs that I was listening to or even recognize the names of the popular singers at the time. Now I'm one of those old people. I suppose it might be different if I actually found some music that I liked. I like rap music, but really don't like the words in the music that's being put out right now that I've heard. So I end up not even looking around. And at church, the songs that we do are fine, but I always like it more when we sings some of the older hymns.


Anyhow, as a bonus, I thought I'd grab my What's It To Ya game and grab 5 random cards from it and rank those as well. Here we go:

(Ok, it wasn't totally random. One of the cards was The Internet, but since we just did that one, I switched it for another card.)





Toilet Paper


Ok, go grab your piece of paper again and see if you can guess my rankings. Scroll down when you're ready. GO!




















My rankings:

1) Food - Well, there's the obvious reason that we need food to live. But besides that, I just really enjoy preparing food. I'm interested in pretty much anything cooking related. Even if it's cooking something that I would not want to eat, I enjoy learning about it. The science of cooking fascinates me. I also like learning about the history of different foods. I just really like food. It's really one of my top interests. Food, boardgames, and basketball. If I had to pick an order for those 3, it would be pretty hard.

2) Toilet Paper - I know I put this above Mathematics and without Mathematics, there wouldn't be this important thing or that important thing. But you know what? Running out of toilet paper can really ruin your day.

3) Mathematics - Not a very interesting one. Kind of important in the same way that concrete is important.

4) Television - I used to watch more TV, so it might've been more important to me at one point. But I don't watch it so much anymore. Although, my kids do. And it does make things easier at times when I can put on a show that they like while I do something in the kitchen. Hmmm...maybe I should've put this at 3...

5) Psychology - Just not something that's very important to me.


So, did you get them all right?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Clearance Day

About a week ago, I went to Target to pick something up for Mrs. BigKat. While I was there, I took a walk through the toy section and saw a ton of stuff on clearance. So I did some shopping. Here are some of the good things that I got on Clearance Day:


1) Marvel Heroscape: $6. Original price $25. A little while ago, I had bought this at Target for My Friend Who Lies (MFWL) (it was part of his  birthday present). But I had bought it for a lot more than $6. I bought one and then returned it for my original purchase price. I also bought an extra one for LilKat1's upcoming birthday, since he's been bugging me to get him his own Heroscape set. Savings: $38

2) Hot Wheels Sizzlers: LilKat2 bought this for me (with the help of Mrs. BigKat's credit card). It's a figure 8 track with a Hot Wheels 'Sizzler' car. This is a toy that came out way back in the early 70's. It's a Hot Wheel with a rechargeable battery in it. You plug it in, charge it up, and then it zips around the track. It's a fun toy, but it only comes with one car. I went to buy some more cars for it, but they were about $10 each. Too much. But when I went on Clearance Day, the cars were only $2.50 each. So I grabbed 4 of them. I also saw the track itself for $7. I knew Mrs. BigKat probably paid a lot more for it, so I picked it up. She can return it and save herself some money. Savings: $52

3) Crossbows and Catapults: When I was little, one of my favorite games was Crossbows and Catapults. You basically got these little rubberband powered 'weapons' that would fling little plastic discs across your kitchen  floor (or any other non-bumpy flat surface). You and your friend would build little castles out of these big fake Lego blocks and take turns trying to knock the other guy's structure down. It was great fun. Well, they re-released the game recently, and I really wanted to get it. But I realized that I shouldn't buy it because 1) it was expensive ($35 for the base set, $10-$20 for the expansion sets) and 2) I would never play it (no one to play with and even if there was, I have many other games I would probably rather play). Well, on Clearance Day, they had the expansions for $2.50 each. So I grabbed a bunch of them. I got the Knight Trebuchet, the Orc Mortar, the Twin Crossbow, and the Gatling Gun. I think I also gotten the Triple Catapult and Battering Ram. I got a bunch for myself as well as some as a nice gift for MFWL (who also liked this game as a boy). So I may not have the game. But I have all of the fun toys and will be able to Trebuchet 2 blue discs into Mrs. BigKat's mashed potatoes at dinner if I so desired. Price paid for 5 sets: $12.50. Savings: $37.50

4) Kapla blocks: I saw 2 sets of these, and I couldn't believe it. If you don't know what these are, they're sets of small wooden planks that you can use to build things. They're built really well. All of the blocks are exactly the same size. I mean EXACTLY the same size. And the edges are all at a precise 90 degrees. What this means is that you can build very tall structures with them and they are incredibly stable. So they're basically kind of like Lincoln Logs, but without the limitation of where you have to join them. You can build all kinds of great things with them. Unfortunately, they're quite expensive, roughly 40 to 50 cents per block. I had never thought of buying these for my kids before, just because of the price. So when I saw a set of 40 green planks for $6, I was amazed! There was also a set of 100 plain planks for $11. I snagged both of them. If there were any more of them, I would've gotten those as well. Savings: $51.

5) Mad Scientist Egg Drop Kit: This is a kit that provides you with some basic components that you use to create a structure that will keep an egg safe when you drop it. It comes with drinking straws and connectors, materials to make a parachute, and and egg holder contraption. The original price was $10, way too much. On Clearance Day, it was only $2.50. Much better. I got one for myself, but then I thought that my boys might like to try it out as well. So I picked up another set. Then I thought about it some more and thought that it might be a fun thing for my Sunday School kids. I ended up buying a total of 12 of them. I tell ya, it's easy to go overboard on Clearance Day. Savings: $90.

6) I also got some stuff for LilKat1's birthday. There were some little toy skateboard items that I was considering getting him for Christmas, but decided not to because of the price. But on Clearance Day, they were all 75% off. When his birthday comes, he'll have more little skateboard toys than he'll know what to do with. Price paid: $10. Savings: $30.

That's the bulk of what I bought that day. I think I ended up paying $90 for roughly $360 worth of toys. And you know what the funny thing is? You know that thing that Mrs. BigKat wanted me to get in the first place? Turns out that she didn't need it, so I didn't buy it. Instead, I just came home with a big pile of toys.

Christmas: Epilogue

1) Mrs. BigKat picked up a fake Christmas tree on clearance at Target for $25. We're going to put this upstairs in the bonus room next year. We'll be opening all the presents up there in order to keep the downstairs less messy on Christmas Day.

2) I went back to Fred Meyers. They didn't want my money for the corn syrup.

3) We gave LilKat1's teacher a bunch of our homemade candy. She loved it. But apparently her husband ate a bunch of it, so we gave her some more when we made another batch.

4) I always forget to bring our checkbook to church. We like to tithe, so I end up having to make a large offering at the end of the year. This happens all the time. This year, I wrote a check and it took out most of our available money. Then we got the bill for Mrs. BigKat's MRI. It was about $1100. That's after the insurance portion, so it's all money that we need to pay. I'm thinking, wow, where are we going to get $1100? Well, right after that, I got a bonus check from work. Keep in mind that my boss is very tight with money and doesn't really do stuff like that. Anyhow, after taxes, it was about $100 more than enough to pay for the MRI. Amazing, huh?

5) Right now, I'm working on our end of the year movie. Last year, I was almost done with the 2006 movie, when my computer decided to eat it. It was incredibly frustrating. As a result, I haven't touched the 2006 movie since then. But I'm over it now (mostly), so this year's movie will include 2006 and 2007.

Christmas Part 8: The Day

Seems strange writing about Christmas when Christmas was over 2 weeks ago. But better late than never, right?

I had Christmas Eve off from work, which was nice. A little after noon, I went around the neighborhood and delivered Christmas candy and cards to our friends. I thought that the boys might want to come with me, but they didn't. It didn't take too long and pretty much everyone was home. It was nice to be able to talk for a bit and find out what everyone's plans were. I was even able to see some friends that we hadn't seen for probably over a year.

I had to get back quickly though because Christmas Eve service started at 4pm. LilKat1 decided that he wanted to sit in the main service with us, rather than go to his class. We got a good seat right in the front, so that when the pastor or worship leader would tell everyone to stand, he'd still be able to see. I also got him some paper and markers so that he'd have something to entertain himself with in case it started to get boring.

The service was quite nice. We sang a lot of great Christmas songs, and saw a couple of drama skits. One of the skits was funny because it was about 2 ladies who were arguing with each other, and LilKat1 didn't know that they were just pretending. He thought they were really mad at each other. The pastor gave a very theologically Reformed gospel message, which I appreciated.

For dinner, Mrs. BigKat made a pot of chili. We had decided that we were going to make our Christmas and Christmas Eve meals as easy as possible. In the past, we've tried making some fancier food, which tasted good, but took away from some of our family time during the day. The pot of chili worked out well because it was easy to make ahead of time and we could have the leftovers for Christmas lunch.

That evening, we opened some more presents in keeping with 'The Plan'. And the boys, even though they were excited about Christmas, were able to go to sleep quite easily. The Plan worked!

Christmas day started out a bit strange, mainly due to the whole cinnamon roll business. Mrs. BigKat slept in for a while while the rest of us had breakfast and watched Christmas shows on TV. After everyone was awake, LilKat1 brought out the Bible and we read the story of Jesus' birth. As I said in a previous post, it was a really nice change from last year, when he got mad that we were reading the story because he wanted to open up our gifts.

At that point, stockings were dumped out, presents were unwrapped, and cinnamon rolls were baked and eaten. And then, a little while later, we noticed that it was snowing. A white Christmas! Enough snow came down that the boys were able to go outside, make snow castles, and pelt our house with snowballs. While the boys were outside, Mrs. BigKat and I opened our presents to each other. I got her an espresso machine and some other coffee related items. She got me some great board games, some Lego sets that I could build with the boys, and a set of Heely's (my new Sunday School teacher shoes).

That evening, my mom came over and we had a nice dinner. Nothing too fancy, just a ham and some sides. But it was all very good. And we also had a nice birthday cake for Jesus.

In the end, I think we accomplished our goals for this Christmas. Lately, I've been seeing Christmas as a big struggle against materialism. Our goal is to have a day that celebrates the birth of our Lord, but the focus just tends to shift towards presents and busywork. This year, I think we did pretty well. It took some planning on our part, as well as a willingness to break from tradition. We also made a conscious effort to simplify our meal plans and maximize our family time. I don't know how well this would work in other households, but it sure worked well for ours.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Part 7: The Song

LilKat1 and I got up early on Christmas morning. I wanted to get started on my cinnamon rolls, so I put a Christmas show on for him. At the end of the show, this song came on:


It's a song about Willy the Whale, who walks on the water and woams down to Weno, Nevada. LilKat1 loved the song. When LilKat2 came down, he heard the song and he really liked it too. But the one who could not get enough of it was PrincessKat. She wanted to hear it over and over and over. I think we listened to Willy the Whale a good 30 times on Christmas.

Now you'd think I'd get tired of hearing this song so many times in one day wouldn't you? Well, with a catchy tune and clever lyrics like:


"Willy, why you wanna wive-a

a-woamin' the desert,

When Willy, the fact is

you're a whale, not a cactus"




"Willy, why you wanna waste away

in Weno, Nevada

When all you underwater friends

are wondering where you're at-a"


it makes it not so bad.


Next, Christmas Part 8: The Day

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas Part 6: The Cinnamon Rolls

Mmmmm...cinnamon rolls...Who doesn't love cinnamon rolls? Mrs. BigKat likes to have something special to eat on Christmas mornings, and in the past we've had cinnamon rolls. You know, the kind that come in the big tube from the grocery store, which are fine. I mean, they're nice and hot and covered in icing.

Well, this year, Mrs. BigKat decided that she would like to have some homemade cinnamon rolls. She has a bread book that has a cinnamon roll recipe in it that she's been wanting to try out. We also saw Alton Brown do cinnamon rolls on one of his shows. Mrs. BigKat decided that, since I love working with bread dough so much, that I should be the one that got to make them.

Now I have to back up a second. Remember in Christmas Part 3 when I mentioned that I used to be afraid of candy making? Well, the same thing also applied to bread making. Anything you could say about the candy thermometer, you could also say about yeast. There were too many crazy concepts in bread making that I didn't understand: blooming, proofing, kneading. It just made me very uncomfortable. I could try to follow all of the steps, but if it didn't work out, I would have no idea what went wrong. It would be like if the recipe said to put flour in a bowl, jump up and down 3 times, and then moo like a cow. I could do that, but if it didn't work, how would I be able to fix it? I could try jumping 4 times, or maybe jumping faster, or maybe try making duck sounds instead. But it would all be just guessing.

But again, Alton Brown helped me out a lot here. He did a show on bread making as well as a pizza show that helped me understand what happens when you make bread. And now that I have an understanding of the science behind it, I really enjoy the whole process. It took a little practice to get the hang of it. But I really got into making pizzas which provided me with a lot of good dough making experience. Now, I love it. If there is an interesting looking bread recipe lying around, I want to make it. I actually now prefer making bread to cooking barbecue! That doesn't mean that I'd rather eat bread than eat barbecue. But I just find the whole idea of taking flour, water, yeast, and salt and creating a delicious loaf of bread out of them to be amazing. Anyhow, back to my story...

Ok, so it's Christmas Eve and I have to start the cinnamon rolls. I didn't get started until around 10pm because I had some gifts to wrap after the children went to bed. But this was fine. The dough needed a couple of hours to rise after it was made, which meant that I could get everything ready and in the refrigerator by a little after midnight. That wasn't too bad. I could handle that. I decided to use Alton Brown's recipe since we still had the show on Tivo. And everything went very smoothly. When I took the dough out of the mixer, it looked exactly like Alton's dough on TV. Great! I put the dough in a bowl, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it sit.
Now, here's where one of my favorite parts about bread making happens. The yeast starts to do it's thing and fill the dough with gas. So when you start out, you have this compact little blob. But after a while, it turns into this big, puffy blob. Every time I see my puffy blob that's way bigger than when it started out, it just makes me happy. Kind of like the first time you saw your sea monkeys start swimming around or when the celery you left in a cup of food coloring started turning blue. Just a nice feeling of wonder and accomplishment. Very much different from the feeling of defeat and disappointment that comes when the dough is the same size as when it started.

Guess which one I was feeling when I came back at midnight to check on the dough...

Yes, the dough was still a little compact blog. Didn't rise at all. And I quickly realized that I had used the wrong yeast. I used Active Dry instead of Rapid Rise. I knew something was wrong when I didn't have to bloom the yeast. But I was sure that that's what Alton was using. I mean, he took it from a packet and not a jar. And he actually said something about how he preferred it to Rapid Rise. So I just trusted that it would turn out ok. Well, it didn't. And now I was left with a choice. Do I just call it a day and go to bed? Or do I try and start a new batch of cinnamon rolls at 12:30 AM? Easy choice, right? Of course it was an easy choice! I cleaned up my mess and got started on a new batch of cinnamon rolls...

I finished the dough at around 1pm and went to bed. I set my alarm for 3:30. That would give the dough a couple of hours to rise. Then I could go downstairs, roll out the dough, and get it into the refrigerator to let it sit.
Well, the next thing I knew, LilKat1 was waking me up at 6AM. I don't know what happened to my alarm. I must've just shut it off, but I don't even remember it making any noise or even waking up at all. We went downstairs and I turned a Christmas show on for LilKat1 while I got started on my cinnamon rolls.


It was pretty fun rolling out the dough. Here's what it looked like as a big log:

And here's what it looked like after I cut them up into little rolls:

I know, they're not all the same size. That's ok, the people in our house aren't the same size, so it works out fine.

I put them in the refrigerator to let them sit overnight. The only problem was, overnight had just finished. So I just let them sit until 11AM. It was only about 4 1/2 hours, but it would have to do.
The next step was proofing. I put them in the oven with a big pan of boiling water under them and ended up with this:

Then I cooked them:

And then applied the icing. Which left me with these:

Now here's the big question. Was it worth it? Was it worth all the effort, the frustration, the lack of sleep? I was actually pretty nervous as I took my first bite. If these were bad or just even ok, I was going to be VERY disappointed. I cut off a nice sized bite with a good bit of frosting and gave it a try. And do you know what?

It was DEFINITELY worth it...

Next, Christmas Part 7: The Song