Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lego Robotics and the Circle of Life, or Something

Zack, looking as unenthusiastic as possible
The second Saturday in December my boys participated in the 2013 Idaho Falls Lego Robotics Competition. This is where elementary to middle-school aged kids use Legos to build robots that are programmed to complete specific tasks. Points are acquired by the number and type of tasks completed during two-and-a-half minute time intervals.

First of all, this program is hard-core geek training which, in and of itself, rocks.

Second, it’s a fun and educational activity designed to teach kids teamwork, time management, and critical thinking skills. They race robots, create solutions to a proposed problem, give presentations, and engage in a teamwork exercise, all of which are judged by a panel of intimidating grown-ups.

I’d like to say I wasn’t surprised by the brilliance exhibited by my boys, who competed against each other on different teams. But I kinda was.

I watched as they planned and strategized to get their robots to launch an airplane across the board, activate a tsunami, move an ambulance to a “safe zone,” and relocate little Lego people—and their pets—to a secure location. And with little to no adult supervision.

Kaleb and his team with their trophy
This accomplished by the same boys that sporadically flush the toilet, claim that washing a sink full of dishes is an insurmountable task, and look at the vacuum cleaner like I’ve asked them to perform an alien autopsy.

I would like to know if Bill Gates gave his mother such grief.

But being surprised by our children isn’t a new experience for me. The truth is, our kids are getting older, and there are times when I look at them and wonder if left home alone for 48 hours they might gnaw their own limbs off. And then there are times when I’m blindsided by their maturity, convinced that with the combined force of their brilliance and compassion they could change the face of the planet for the better.

Or the worse.  It could swing either way, really.

At least that’s how it feels right now, with four of our kids in the teen zone, making choices that can simultaneously amaze and terrify us. Like the child who, in just one day, took on a pack of girls bullying a stranger and then, later that night, was identified as the kingpin of Booger Gate, otherwise known as the crystalized patch of snoot behind the basement couch.

Is that a future activist or a career gamer I have on my hands? Time will only tell.

Either way, for now those boys are going to state to race their robots, and I’m giddy with pride.

I’m also wondering how many vending machines might be at the event as that could distract my youngest participant to incapacity. 

Or motivate him to secure the state title.

It could swing either way, really.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Our Thanksgiving Turkey, the Partial Nudist

My Thanksgiving column:

As I write this I still have a turkey to cook, potatoes to mash, and pies to bake.  In fact, aforementioned turkey is still frozen, waiting to be brined—whatever that is.  But by the time you read this, it’ll all be over, and Thanksgiving 2013 will be one more tryptophan-induced coma of the past.

However, as long as y’all are still eating turkey leftovers, I think Thanksgiving is fair game, column-wise. So here goes…

I have big Thanksgiving plans, all secured via Pinterest—the one place women willingly go to feel dwarfed by the domestic goddesses of the Internet.  Okay, so maybe that’s just me.

I’m no Betty Crocker, and if you’ve read this column, say, twice, you already know that.  I simply aspire to keep my home out of the biohazard zone, so expectations are low around here, even for Thanksgiving.  Still, I make my cranberry sauce from scratch and follow Pioneer Woman’s pie recipes like instructions for bomb diffusion.  Because if there’s a margin for error, I’ll find it and work it like a rock star.

Our fully dressed turkey
So it may not surprise you that with my stack full of Thanksgiving recipes, I’m most excited about putting a tinfoil bikini on the turkey so, upon serving, she’ll flash a summer tan line that’ll make everyone laugh.  And that just may be enough to compensate for dry and tasteless turkey meat.  Maybe.

Unfortunately I shared my genius plan with the one child who is least aware of appropriate topics for public consumption. He told his Sunday School teachers.

Apparently when asked what truly remarkable thing was being planned for the holidays, he said he only knew about the cross-dressing turkey his mom was prepping.  Now imagine how that sounds coming from a 9-year old mouth.  Yes, we’re on CPS watch until Thanksgiving has passed.

About the same time I heard of my child’s turkey-bikini confession, another church leader asked me how in the world my daughter knew the word “nudist.”

“Whaaaa?”  was my articulate response.   

The woman explained, “After one child explained that a turkey must be plucked and cooked naked, your daughter was quick to say, ‘Then the turkey’s a nudist!’”  

Tanned turkey with an unfortunate
(or fortunate, depending on how you look at it)
placement of the timer.
She paused, and may have even sighed.  “Your kids are just so full of personality!”  Which I believe is code for, “What kind of ship are you Belyoaks running over there?”

Just so we’re clear, our turkey will be both clothed and naked at our festivities, which may mean that our main dish is a stripper, technically speaking.  But I don’t really want to think about that right now.   There are too many other things to worry about over here.

Important stuff like will a 20-pound turkey feed 12 people, can you stream the Macy’s Day Parade over the Internet, and how DID my daughter know the word ‘nudist’? 

P.S. If we’re friends on FaceBook, you know I totally smoked out my kitchen with one Pioneer-Woman pecan pie.  Because I rocked that margin of error, that’s why.