Objects of Wonder

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I highly recommend the Objects of Wonder exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.

One of the wonderful but maddening things about the Smithsonian is that its museums are so expansive — one could wander through any one section for hours and still feel overwhelmed. I tend to prefer smaller museums, like the Baltimore Museum of Art, to peruse without pressure and savor a well-curated selection.

“Objects of Wonder” relieves itself of the onus of a topical thesis and just presents a few rooms of random cool stuff. Ostensibly celebrating collectors and the obsession of collecting, it really doesn’t have much rhyme or reason. There’s a wall of “blue things” catty corner from a taxidermically preserved lion that Teddy Roosevelt shot on safari. There’s a mural display that will tell you the story of a Tsimshian tribal legend and another display that will compare analogous bones of a hummingbird and a dinosaur. It’s just wow after wow after wow.

I’m sometimes frustrated that my 9-year-old has a compulsion for trivia, but I’m sometimes able to see it as a superpower — and this exhibit bathed him in the sun of that strength.

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I Really Should Pledge a Membership

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E2: Look at my Batman.

Me: Oh yeah, that really does look like the Batman logo.

E2: Or a seagull or an eagle…

Me: Seagull-Man.

E1: (Singing the “All Things Considered” theme) Da-da-da-dum-da-da-da! This is Robert Siegel, and I’m fighting crime with the news!

Baby Steps: No Means No

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Here I state the obvious: Having a daughter is different than having a son. Example: at some point, maybe around two years ago, I realized I had to be careful how I tickled her.

Tickling is a Dad’s best weapon. It’s physical, it’s aggressive, it’s playful. It says, simultaneously, “Dad is fun” and “Don’t mess with Dad.” It’s horseplay at its most intimate, the most delighted roughhousing. It is usually completely pure and simple in its feeling.

But.

With E1 I could drive him to the point of pain, back off, and go at it again, without any compunction.

With E2, my baby girl, I had to think twice about what expectations it would set for other intimate interactions down the line. If I kept tickling mercilessly, would it seed a little self-doubt about whether her protestations could — and should — be honored?

I decided not to risk it. She still yelps in mock-terror when I show my tickle-claws, but she knows that when she says, “STOP,” I will immediately back off. And her older brother knows it, too. In this world of fraught sexual politics and complicated gender dynamics, one has to apply some forethought.

It’s not yes means yes, but we’re getting there.

Burst-itis

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Turns out one of the pleasures of middle age is having things like shoulder bursitis. Every unthinking twist and reach is now sending me into paroxysms of pain.

E1 is the one who suggested I ask my dad, an acupuncturist, to treat me. I honestly hadn’t thought of it before, mostly because I’m pretty skeptical of alternative medicines. In fact, Mike Pesca had Maria Konnikova do an “Is This Bullsh*t” segment on it for The Gist podcast, and she pretty much confirmed my suspicions — acupuncture isn’t demonstrably better than the placebo effect.

Still, what’s the harm? My dad was delighted to get a chance to treat me right when I asked — he apparently carried around a pocket acupuncture kit.

My son was very curious. “Why aren’t you sticking needles into his shoulders?” When given the explanation of how acupuncture frees up chi-energy flows, he was basically like, “So… it’s not science. Right?”

Still, I can’t deny I felt a heck of a lot better after my dad quivered me with his needles. Much better than 600 mg pills of ibuprofen. And I got a lot more mobility back. Things have slowly returned back to misery after that one session, but 15 minutes with my dad made a big difference for a while.

I dunno… it’s one heck of a placebo.

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And I can’t get any more of these treatments for a while… because my dad had a stroke last Wednesday. He said that as he was falling down, he felt bad for me … that he was probably passing down a genetic condition to me.

I’ve never thought of my dad as a huckster. He always wanted to help people, even as a personal cost to himself. One early client of his paid him in ice cream, which he would stockpile to give to us in bulk whenever we visited. But I guess I always thought he was a bit of a naif — too ready to jump on a bandwagon, too quick to be zealous, too willing to believe.

I look in the mirror while shaving, though, and I catch more glimpses of him in me. His face, one half still vivid and expressive, the eye flitting and prodding, and the right half eerily still. I feel myself skirting the electric fence of my physical limitations … and I peek into my metaphysical ones.

Coming Next Week

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9/15-9/24 The Great Frederick Fair

Cost: Adults $8, children under 11 free.
http://www.thegreatfrederickfair.com/

Blending amusement park hype with agriculture, this Maryland fest, which runs from September 15 to 23, is a can’t-miss. While the Frederick Fair has all the quintessential fair elements—the rides, the yummy treats, the performances and the livestock—kids can also expect to see farm and garden demos, a pedal pull (where children can see what a tractor pull is like), as well as harness racing. For animal lovers, there are horse and pony shows, horseshoeing demonstrations, dairy cattle shows and rabbit juggling.

9/18 The World’s Most Stunning Shells at the National Museum of Natural History 6:30pm-8pm

Q?rius Theater, Ground Floor

This fall we offer opportunities to look more closely at some of the objects in our acclaimed Objects of Wonder exhibition. In this program, we’ll focus on the array of cowrie shells featured in the gallery.

Marine biologist Chris Meyer will take you on a 30 year journey pursuing cowrie shells all over the world. Throughout human history, people have collected cowrie shells because of their exquisite beauty. The polished shells’ diversity and intricate patterns make them truly objects of wonder. The shells have been used in ceremony and fortune telling, as ornamentation, currency, and status symbols, and as a model group for scientific study. Come see these shells and learn why they are so spectacularly colored, what they can teach us about biodiversity, rarity and value, and participate in testing your own perception of beauty. We will address the impacts, benefits and ethics of collecting animals from the wild, for study, collections, and appreciation of our natural world. Learn how they have inspired Chris’s research and appreciation for the natural world and help us answer the question: “Why do we collect things?”

This program is part of the Beyond the Exhibition series, which features the content, curators, and conversations inspiring new and developing exhibitions at the National Museum of Natural History.

Visit the Objects of Wonder exhibition on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History to view stunning cowrie shells. Open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.

9/20 UpCycle Tinker Time 3:30pm-5pm at the Durant Arts Center

All ages (an adult must accompany children ages 12 and younger)
$5/person or $15 max for a family (Annual Members tinker for free)
http://www.upcyclecrc.org/

Tinker with us on Wednesdays from 3:30 – 5p and Saturdays from 10:30a – 12:30p.

Explore our unique collection of materials in our studio space and create your own thing. There will be wire, glue, tape – you name it – to hold your work together, and we’ll have a nice selection of mark making supplies available as well.

Thursday Alexandria Homeschoolers Park Day at Collingwood Park weekly

9/21 Family Night at Old Country Buffet 4pm-9pm

http://www.oldcountrybuffet.com/activities

Not only do kid’s 4-11 eat for only $1.99 from 4:00 p.m. to close, but they also get to enjoy treats like cotton candy, soft serve ice cream and all the desserts Mom can handle.

9/21 Back to the Future screening at National Harbor 7pm

9/22 The Princess Bride Quote-Along 7pm at the Old Firehouse (1440 Chain Bridge Rd)

Admission and popcorn are free.“B.Y.O.N.A.B” (Bring Your Own Non-Alcoholic Beverage).
Prop bags are $5 each. Supplies are limited and advance purchase is recommended.
http://mcleancenter.org/alden-theatre/performance/icalrepeat.detail/2017/09/22/6803/-/the-princess-bride-pg-quote-along-movie

“The Princess Bride” as a quote-along? As you wish! You already know the movie by heart, so join your friends for a night of nostalgia and interactive fun at this screening of the 1987 beloved adventure movie. Look out for Rodents of Unusual Size, six-fingered men and the Dread Pirate Roberts. Inconceivable!

9/23 Museum Day Live

Cost: Free, but ticket must be downloaded from the site.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/museum-day-live-2017/

Museum Day Live! falls on September 23 this year. For those not familiar, it’s an annual event across the country, hosted by Smithsonian magazine, where one free Museum Day Live! ticket provides free admission for two people at participating museums. In our neck of the woods, Newseum, Smithsonian Art Gallery, and the Renwick Art Gallery at the Smithsonian Art Gallery will all be participating. Starting August 25, the free tickets can be downloaded from the site.

9/23 Fall Festival 10am-3pm at Beatley Library

Join Beatley Central Library as we celebrate our 5th annual Fall Festival and Open House. This year we will be featuring food trucks, children’s activities, glitter tattoos, photo booth, Steel Pan Jam, cat adoption, Games in the Garden, a How-To Fair and more.

9/23 Aida 5pm-9pm at Nationals Ballpark

https://www.kennedy-center.org/wno/simulcast

Celebrate the tenth season of free live opera simulcasts by joining Washington National Opera at Nationals Park for Aida on Saturday, September 23 at 7 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m. for pre-opera activities.

Beast Academy

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Beast Academy has been a pretty good fit for E1 as a math curriculum. He only tackles a chapter of reading or two pages of problems per day. Most of the general problems are on-level for him to do independently, and the one- and two-star stretch problems are ideal for us to tackle and think through together. (I avoid looking at their provided answers so that he can see me tackle the problem honestly out loud with him).

I’ve gravitated toward the Beast Academy curriculum because of the math team background of the development team:

Beast Academy is published by the Art of Problem Solving® team, who have developed resources for outstanding students since 1993.
The AoPS Textbooks and Online School have been an integral part of the math education of tens of thousands of middle and high school students as they prepare for prestigious colleges and internationally-competitive careers.
For over a decade, most of the winners of MATHCOUNTS and the USA Mathematical Olympiad have used AoPS materials as a core component of their training.
(from the website)

Not only is it an impressive cachet, but the problem-solving and lateral-thinking approach to math appeals to me, having participated in math teams myself throughout junior high and high school. The curriculum has enough practice problems to develop some fluency over time, but not so much to create a drill-and-kill vibe. Different approaches to solving problems are presented and encouraged. E3 still breezes through comic-book style presentation of concepts without fully digesting the material, but I think he is probably getting more out of it than the traditional eye-glazing format of a regular math textbook.

I don’t think Beast Academy is for everybody, but it’s certainly worth a look-through. They currently have materials for grades 2-5, and are working on books for first grade. Browse the website.

They’re currently working on an online course with “adaptive practice, interactive challenges, detailed progress reporting, and a digital edition of the Guide books.” Could be of interest if the homeschooling parent is math-phobic. They also have in-person learning centers in the DC metropolitan area, San Diego, and Morrisville, NC.

B-b-baby baby

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Bobby McFerrin’s “Baby” started playing in the car the other day, and I almost cried.

It’s a masterful and moving work of playful jazz vocalization that takes the listener on a gradual journey from love and lust (“Baby, baby”) to committed relationship to parenthood to human legacy.

The music video for a shorter edited-for-commercial-play version is fun, but it doesn’t do the full long version justice. It’s worth it to get the complete Vocabularies album.