Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Family Adventures

It has been a good year for exploration.

In the extreme cold at the beginning of the year, we wandered around the neighborhood to enjoy the rare occasion of winter wonderland at North Texas. At the height of the hottest summer on record, we discovered Oak Point Park and Nature Reserve for a comfortable bike ride and a  wonderful picnic. We also discovered Hagerman Wildlife Refuge for birding and hiking. We had many fun time with friends - Spring Break at Lake Ouachita, Arkansas for four days with a friend's family: hiking in the woods, paddling in the lake, strolling on the beach, and skipping stones along the shoreline. Even cooking and eating was fun during those days!! It was a blast for all. We went to Berry Picking with five other families. We also went to Lake Ray Roberts (for the nth time!) with many families of Nick’s soccer teammates for an Easter outing, and stayed there for a one night camping.

The 8 day trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks of Canada was the highlight of the year. In Banff and Jasper, everything is close to each other - glaciers, waterfalls, canyons, mountain peaks, glacier lakes, all packed along trans Canada highway 1 and highway 93. We felt we were immersed in the beautiful and elegant environment full of wild life. It was so easy to access trails to mountain peaks, we hiked more than 55 km in the mountains, and gained 2500m in elevation.

2011 has also been a year of exploration in literary and intellectual world.

From how seedless watermelon is grown to how to draw a circle; Form golden snub nosed monkey in China, to the world of butterfly, Nick also explored nature through reading.

From Feynman to UARS and Nutrinos, From Asher Lev to Tiger Mother, we learned modern physics a bit more, we expanded our social perspectives via other culture, other people's experience.

From Triangles to Circles, Nick learned some geometry; From Triangles to Infinite number series, I dug into elementary math along the way. From gravitation in a toy to impact dynamics in washing machine, I utilized my professional expertise to understand the mechanics of objects we use daily.

Be healthy, enjoy nature physically and literarily - that summarizes our 2011 family adventures.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Longest Word - by Nick


Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is the longest word in the dictionary I have found so far. I first heard of it when some of the students in my grade at Tong Xin after-school pronounced it really fast in front of me when I was reading, and I found it really, really annoying. I eventually learned that it is some form of a lung disease caused by breathing in fine dust. I have now learned how to say it too! It has exactly 45 letters, can you believe that?! (go to page 1109 in Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language it is the 23rd entry on the left column).

Technically I found a word online that is 189,819 letters long which is something like methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl……………………………………That is the chemical name of titin the largest known protein. It is gigantic. There is also another word that is 1909 letters long. It’s the longest published word. Even so, I think pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is a really cool word because it is the only one among these 3 words that actually in the dictionary. You should learn how to say it fast, just for fun!
P.S. It is pronounced noo-moh-noh-uhl-truh-mi-kruh-skop-ik-sil-i-koh-vol-cae-noh-koh-nee-oh-sis

Note: when I asked Nick what he was writing about for his journal on Sunday, he pronounced this word - I had no idea what he was saying, I thought he was playing a prank on me. When I checked on his journal, I thought that it was interesting that he chose to write about it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tiger Mother - I finally read it

- by Lily

While I was reading my friend's blog on kids education, an idea came to my mind that maybe we should write a book to counter the views of "Tiger Mother". Of course I'm talking about Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", a book on her view of why Chinese way of education is so much superior. At that time I had not read the book, but had heard a lot about it, mainly how extreme her methods of education are and how offensive it is to many Chinese parents.

I figured if we want to counter her view, I'd better read her book first. So I picked up a copy from the library. Much to my surprise, I found the book much more enjoyable than I had imagined. Maybe because I've heard too much, I didn't feel offended by her book, to me the book is more about Amy Chua herself, her views of child education, and her path of educating her daughters. Amy Chua is hot tempered, strong willed, dedicated, determined, and unapologetic for the ideals she champions. It doesn't matter whether her method works (for her older daughter) or not (the younger rebel), she charges on despite disapproval from family members. She is brutally honest about herself, right or wrong she brags them all. She is neurotically competitive, it is rather hilarious to see her charge on everything and boss around everywhere, and even her dog has to be the smartest and the best. I just can't stop laughing at that passage.

To her credit, at the beginning of her book she did emphasize that she's using "Chinese parents" and "westerners" on loose terms; although later in the book she abused the words, even her family members told her to stop labeling everything either "Chinese" or "western". I have to say that she did capture some of the characteristics of the "Chinese" way of education; actually I wouldn't call it "Chinese" way, I've seen many parents of various ethnicities who care about kids education using similar "techniques". I know parents who sign up all sorts of classes for their kids without the consent from the kids. I've heard parents comparing their kids to each other and to other people's kids. A lot of us have "bullied" our kids one way or another out of anger or shouted out empty "threats" when we are out of wits. The only difference is that Amy Chua pushed everything to the extreme and persevered with a vengeance.

I do think she's right about one thing, setting higher goals for the kids does help them achieve more, and pointing out their shortcomings does help them improve faster. There are many ways to do this though, be it strict rules or gentle persuasion. As parents we want to bring the best out of our kids and I think we have the right to demand them to do their best in every way they can. Kids are just kids, immature in many ways, sometimes they need a reminder to do better, and that’s part of our job.

However, the dreams we have for our kids have to be realistic, the goals we set need to match their talents and interests. What Amy Chua didn't give enough credit is her daughters' natural talents. Being able to read alphabet is not something an ordinary 18-month old can do. Both girls' music teachers recognized their unusual talent right away. It is because of her kids' inborn talents that her method yielded quick and early success, which only fueled her engine of determination. I can imagine her method will fail miserably when applied to many other kids, in fact, it didn't even work well for her younger daughter. Another important element that's missing from Amy Chua's "drill" method is to instill a love of learning in kids. She was too busy competing; too busy being number 1 on everything. What is the long term result? Take her as an example, she grew up being the best student in high school, graduated from Harvard, but went to Harvard Law only because she didn't want to go to medical school. She even made it to Harvard Law review, but found herself had no interest in litigation, no interest in any legal issues, those are her own words from the book, although she did find her niche eventually.

All being said, there is no fixed model for kids education. As the famous story goes, Confucius answered the same question from two of his students differently according to their personalities and helped both of them. This is why education is such a hard task, we as parents need to really know about our kids rather than trying to fit them into a mold. It is a lifelong learning experience for all of us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Movie Night @ Home

We don't watch movies in theaters very often in recent years. But Lily did start a new tradition for our family - movie night at home Friday or Saturday night from time to time. In these nights, we might watch a new DVD movie we bought for the boys, or a borrowed DVD movie from local library. Lily would make popcorn on the night when the movie is for the whole family - sometimes popcorn is the incentive for the boys to move away from video games or online chatting.

When we go to local library, we just check what DVDs are available. We will borrow a DVD if a title of interest to us is available right then; either it is a highly acclaimed "new" movie, an Oscar winner years ago, or seems interesting per back-cover description. It is not uncommon that movie we borrowed turned out to be boring, when this is the case we will just quit watching, doing something else instead.

We have watched so many movies at movie nights, I lost count of what we have watched. I do vividly remember several good movies we enjoyed since this summer.

Popcorn Nights

We usually take the boys to movie theater to watch a few movies during summer vacation time. It was so hot this summer we did not go to movies at all, we watched quite a few movies together, however, at home.

We were thrilled by "Angles and Demons" despite the fact that we knew the end of the story already since we listened the novel on audio before; we learned a bit semi-history in the process. "Mrs. Doubtfire" was so funny and educational at the same time; we laughed so hard, and appreciated the value of a nucleus family more at the same time. There are many forms of family, a nucleus family with father, mother and children is the best for children.

"King's Speech" was a funny, yet serious movie - an interesting story line with profanity-laden language from the king, along with superb acting of the main actor revealing the frustration, self doubt and anguish at himself for stuttering, made us laugh and think. It also showed the ultimate unfairness of monarchic system - that person is placed to a position based on who his parents are, and the order of the birth, not the capability and capacity. It was also a movie of profound educational value to us since public speaking is our weakness.

"2012" was the most recent movie the whole family watched together with popcorn. It is a movie about the end of the world as we know it - so it felt scary and chilling. Two story lines carried the movie. One is related to the discovery of abnormal earth temperature by government geophysicists indicating imminent catastrophe. The other is about a divorced California father taking his two children to vacation at Yellowstone. In the end it showed how they escape the catastrophe, in the process discovering government's secret plan to let few privileged to escape the catastrophe through several secretly built Noah's Arks.

Those are wonderful nights. We enjoyed the popcorn and the movies together, shared our thoughts, likes/dislikes in the process via a brief comment or a sigh, or an exclamation....on a scene, an incident, an action. It is a good vehicle for parents to influence their children's moral standard naturally.

Old Movies

Of course not all movies are appropriate for the whole family to watch together, e.g. R rated movies are not good for the boys yet. Some old movies have too slow a pace, and with a background too far away from the boys' reality so the children don't like them. That is when Lily and I will have our couple time to watch the movie.

We watched two, very old, Oscar winning movies recently - " A Wonderful Life" and "Roman Holiday". The story in the movies develops slowly to the climax at the end. The characters' feelings, emotions are revealed to us gradually .

"A Wonderful Life" has a hilarious start, sometimes seems to be ridiculous. But the turn of the events in the story made me feel heavy at heart midway through. In the end, I could not stop the swell of my tears!

"Roman Holiday" is a movie I knew about before; I either watched it or watched clips or trailers of it. Last week I picked up the movie and recommended it to Lily. Audrey Hepburn was the young princess visiting Italy, and Gregory Pecker was a journalist trying to interview the princess. It is light hearted, delicate, touching and lovely. We enjoyed it on Friday night last week.


The documentaries we borrowed are mostly not watched in the end, be it about travel, or about nature, or about science and technology. "Einstein Revealed" is the last documentary Lily borrowed for the kids to watch.

I started watching the two set DVDs during a week day evening while cooking dinner. I was quickly attracted by the history of the development of relativity. It was entertaining to see the real Einstein in life; it was enlightening to go through his mental tests, "running at the speed of light" related to special relativity, "observing lightening strikes a pole on a moving train" related to time-space relation, or general relativity; it was satisfying that I could understand the solar eclipse validation of general relativity and explain it to the rest of the family in my own words.

My enthusiasm led Lily to make Justin and Nick watch the DVD during a dinner time! An exception in our house.

Movie night at home is a good family activity.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hazards In the Yard

Trimming the two small trees in my front yard the last time this season, I used a hedge trimmer and a ladder in order to trim the tree tops. I was mindful of accidentally cutting the long extension cord during the work. I was really careful: every time I moved the ladder, I made sure I pulled the cord behind me. As I was making a finishing touch trim, I had to raise the trimmer above my head when I was near the top of the ladder, I did not check the cord and as I turned on the trimmer, it went off instantly! The cord was cut - somehow the cord moved to the front of the guard during the process of laying down the trimmer to move the ladder.

This must be the third or fourth time I cut the cord accidentally since I bought the hedge trimmer. Per cord manufactures' warning, I threw away the cord the previous times. This time I was thinking about reconnecting the cut wires and the cord. As Lily and I were about to tie the wires together and use duct tapes to insulate the wires, she noticed that the cord was still plugged to the power outlet! I sweated. She unplugged it, and went on to repair the cord.

There are plenty of hazards in yard work.

Finger Cut

The biggest accident I had in the yard involved the hedge trimmer as well, three years ago. I was working in the yard one Sunday trimming front yard bushes. As I was trimming the overgrown bush branches on the ground, I saw that the trimmer was really close to soak hose. I turned off the trimmer, and my left hand reached for the soak hose to move it away. I reached out too fast unfortunately. The cruising saw on the trimmer cut the flesh side of my ring finger tip - the cut was deep - two thirds of the finger thickness.

It was so quick, I did not feel any pain at all. There was no blood coming out either. The wounded area actually turned pale first. After 10 to 20 seconds, blood started to swell out! I called out to Lily - she used bandage to stop the bleeding and we rushed to emergency room ......

Six stitches, ~ $1000 out of pocket medical expense, three weeks of inconvenience in taking shower ....... lessons learned - wearing gloves, waiting for moving parts stop moving before work around it.

Poison Mists

The chemicals used in the yard for fertilization, weed control is definitely hazardous. We hire professional lawn service to to do fertilization and weed control for us. But I have to spray pesticide from time to time due to the roses in the front yard. Because the beautiful rose is an incubator for a plant disease called rose black. Rose black can cause rose and surrounding plants and trees to wither due to rose black infection.

When spraying pesticide, there will be vapor or pesticide mist in the air, which the worker may inhale. To minimize this hazard, I always wear face mask when spraying pesticide.

Fall and Falling/Flying objects

The only heavy lifting yard work I do is to thin the big trees in my yard.

The number one hazard in this work is fall from high places, either the top of a ladder or middle of the tree when I climb onto a tree to cut branches near the top of the the tree. The number two hazard is the falling tree branches.

Mindful of the falling big tree branches, I have not cut a few big branches I would like to cut. I had a few near misses in this type of work - from falling to hit by tree branches. A friend, who thinned tree during a weekend, hurt himself big time ..... one week stay in the hospital!

Yard Work Safety

Work efficiently is good but safety should be the top priority; slow down for safety

1. Don't rush when using any power tools; when moving up and down ladders.

2. Always wear gloves when work in the yard, especially the hand that does not hold a tool

3. Wear safety glasses when trimming trees and buses to prevent flying objects from damaging eyes

4. Wear face mask when applying fertilizers, spraying pesticide.

5. When checking/repairing electricity powered tools/gadgets/appliances...., turn off power, unplug power cords, and turn off main switch if necessary before proceeding