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The Science Behind Pixar exhibit encourages child curiosity in STEAM

A few weeks ago, my kids were off from school so I took them to check out The Science Behind Pixar at the Franklin Institute. It was the perfect activity to do on a non-school day. We were curious to learn how the Pixar wizards use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to create their films.

The exhibition consists of eight sections to give both children and adults a “behind the scenes” look into the production pipeline used at Pixar daily. You get the chance to create your own short animations, light a scene starring Dory and learn how Disney characters are built from wireframes to finished animation.

What I found most fascinating was the opportunity to learn about the jobs filmmakers do every day and how they tackle problems. It was an enlightening demonstration of how creativity and imagination is involved in the STEAM concepts essential to the filmmaking process.

A few sections of the exhibit:

Modeling: Artists create sketches and clay sculptures called maquettes to design each character. A digital modeler creates a virtual 3D model of the character, sometimes digitally scanning the maquette. The created model is a virtual digital wireframe of points and edges that connect them.

Rigging: Riggers create rigs for models. Rigs specify the relationships between body parts so that bending a knee will raise the foot, but not move the hands. We learned that a rig defines a sequence of reactions. For example, when a hand clenches, muscles in the arm flex and the skin draws tight.

My kids enjoyed selecting a rig to define arm motion and using a rig to create expressions.

Sets and cameras: The setting of each scene and the way each image is framed convey the context, story, and emotion. Set designers build virtual environments from the ground up. Camera artists use virtual cameras to shape what is on screen. They select the composition, camera movement, and lens type to support the film.

We explored how cameras frame a scene. We selected a camera (focus distance and field of view) and used the cameras to tell a story. The order of a camera selection affects the feel of a scene.

Lighting: Light enhances the emotional feel of each scene. Pixar’s lighting designers define virtual lights in the computer. The color, position, and intensity of each light needs to be programmed to achieve the desired artistic effect.

We had fun adjusting virtual lights to change the feel of a scene.

My kids enjoyed coming face-to-face with re-creations of Pixar film characters like Buzz Lightyear, Dory, Mike and Sulley, and WALL-E. Before leaving the exhibit, don’t forget to take a selfie with Buzz Lightyear or Wall-E (#ScienceOfPixar).

If you would like to purchase tickets to The Science Behind Pixar, use discount promo code MBPIXAR* to receive $5.00 off up to 4 adult, daytime tickets to The Science Behind Pixar. #partner

Disclaimer “*$5 off Daytime Adult Admission tickets to The Science Behind Pixar. Limit 4 tickets per person. Includes General Admission to The Franklin Institute. Cannot be combined with any other offer or discount. Upgrades available on-site for IMAX and 3D Theater. Redeemable online or over the phone. Processing fees apply when ordering tickets in advance. Excludes holidays. Valid through 8/28/16”

Kids will love The Lost Egypt exhibit at the Franklin Institute

A few weeks ago, it was my daughter’s eighth birthday party. Family was here that weekend from out of town—it was the perfect time for us to all check out the new exhibit Lost Egypt at the Franklin Institute.

I was excited to have the opportunity to review this exhibit as my second grader loves science as a subject and both of my kids had been to the Franklin on summer camp trips and remembered the visits.

We walked into the exhibit and the kids immediately ran over to the replica of a life-size camel (see photo below) and climbed into the camel’s saddle for a photo.

From there we moved on to an interactive pottery puzzle, where my Kindergartner enjoyed piecing together the pottery, similar to how archaeologists reconstruct an object from broken pieces.

We learned that Egyptians worshipped a large number of gods and goddesses, and that each one was connected to an element of nature or human activity. Most of what we know about Egyptians comes from their tombs and burials. They believed that life continued after death, so they placed food, drink, clothing and other items in their tombs, where they were preserved for thousands of years. Fascinating!

My youngest was interested in learning about the different ceramic types—pot stand, bowl, etc. On a computer, my second grader explored items to pack for an archaeological dig. Fun!

Entering the dig area was pretty cool. Modeled after an archaeological field site in Egypt, this area explores the tools, techniques and technologies used at the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders site on the Giza Plateau. Stories from the archaeologists focus on life in the field, discoveries, and artifacts. Visitors are encouraged to find a site, identify material remains, and engage in scientific inquiry about the lives of the Pyramid Builders.

We learned that over 100 pyramids were built in Egypt; the biggest ones could take more than 20 years to complete. We enjoyed reviewing the steps to build a pyramid, with diagrams.

Most fascinating perhaps was viewing “Annie” the anonymous mummy and learning the history. A teenage girl’s body was found floating in the Nile; more than 2,000 years later, a researcher examined the mummy, discovering clues about her life and death. “Annie” was presented in an atmosphere of respect, and the kids were curious about her story from a scientific perspective.

The Lost Egypt runs through August 28th, so plan your visit today! https://www.fi.edu/lost-egypt

Gearing Up for Kindergarten

It was bittersweet to watch my five-year-old complete her homework packet for Kindergarten. She’s the baby and will remain so. Is she ready? You betcha! I’m preparing for the transition as well.

As we speed into August, I’m looking ahead to the school year for my two: marking teacher conferences on the calendar, reviewing what we need for the meetings and of course – uniform and school supply shopping.

It’s nice to be at this point (the kids will be at the same school in September) but it’s also a realization that our baby is growing up.

When my oldest started Kindergarten two years ago, it felt like such an accomplishment for her and myself. I’ll feel the same way when I drop the youngest off in September.

Do you have a child headed for Kindergarten? If the child is your “baby” or only child, it will be even more poignant. Just look back at how far you’ve come. You are past breast feeding, diapers, potty training—the early stages of life.

And it gets easier. What a transformation it is from five to seven years old! They learn to bathe themselves, take extra care in picking out outfits, clean up more around the house and can even make a small meal when hungry.

You’ll have to prepare your child for heading off to school—is their homework packet complete by the due date and have you reviewed sight words with them? You also may have to prepare yourself mentally for the “baby” or only child leaving for school.

This might not affect your situation but many moms will have more time during the day once they have a child in grammar school. It’s a good time to review your career stage and ponder: Should I return to work full time? Or work part time and line up after school activities for the kids? Continue the current business or start a new one?

What is best for your family’s financial situation, your career as well as your child’s growth? Talk it over with a spouse if you need to. You’re in this together, after all.

Remember to take lots of pictures and a video capturing their first day. It only happens once. Don’t forget to bring tissues because you may likely shed some tears. I know I will.

The Fight for a Higher Minimum Wage

The New York Times recently published a powerful opinion, Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly? by Mark Bittman. He pointed out “how deficient our values are when it comes to the treatment of the lowest paid workers in our economy, the largest portion of whom are employed in the food chain.”

I take my kids for lunch at local fast food restaurants, on occasion – like many parents do. I’ve met or spoken with some parents who work in the industry, like you probably have. Mothers or fathers who work hard to support their families.

The Fight for $15 has become a successful labor movement in the country. Last month, the Los Angeles City Council set itself up to raise its minimum wage from its current level of $9 per hour to $15 per hour in 2020. While the bill faces a final vote, it’s expected to pass. This will be a major win for labor unions and liberal organizations.

Los Angeles followed Seattle and San Francisco in setting its minimum wage at $15 per hour. And last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would establish a “Wage Board” that allows him to determine whether workers in a set industry in New York deserve a higher minimum wage.

“Through the Wage Board, New York can set fast-food workers on a path out of poverty, ease the burden on taxpayers and create a new national standard,” Cuomo wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Many restaurant owners are accumulating wealth at the expense of their employees. Unfortunately, many employees nationwide–especially immigrants–accept horrendous working conditions in restaurants for fear of losing their jobs. So they are paid less than the minimum wage, work overtime without additional compensation and forfeit a portion of their tips to chefs and owners.

Let’s hope other cities follow suit and workers continue the Fight for $15.

As Bittman wisely noted, “But if you run a business that’s dependent on labor at the poverty level or worse, and that business doesn’t work if you pay workers something approaching a living wage, it isn’t a viable business, from either the moral or practical point of view.”

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pay It Forward

On Thursday, I took my daughters to Stations of the Cross at a church in the Italian market area. My first grader is in CCD, and her teacher encouraged the kids to attend the Stations of the Cross service, so I took the kids.

Walking home after the service, I decided to treat them to dinner at an Italian restaurant near my daughter’s elementary school for an early pizza dinner. I ordered waters, a small pizza and mozzarella sticks since I had a salad made at home.

Our server brought out coloring books and the kids had fun coloring on the pages. I checked my phone for new emails. I took my youngest to the restroom, and then my older daughter soon followed. When we returned, I asked for the check and the waitress told me, “It’s taken care of. A man paid for it, one of our regular customers.”

I was surprised by this random act of kindness. I posted this on my Facebook page, and a friend commented “Pay it forward.”

It makes you think. As parents, we often race through our days. We focus on making sure our kids’ needs are met and they are doing well in school. We may have work pressure, long hours and face burnout or exhaustion.

A small gesture of kindness can really go a long way. It can lift someone’s spirits if they are feeling stressed. It’s important to ask ourselves, “How can I help my neighbor or fellow parent who I see struggling?”

“Pay it forward” has wide interpretations. If you are a successful businessman, it could be creating a scholarship at your alma mater. If you in an executive position, it could be creating jobs for your community. If you own a restaurant, you could invite your neighborhood out for a complimentary meal. Think big.

Think of your unique situation and how you can best “pay it forward” to help someone else or others out.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Raising The Federal Minimum Wage Key for Struggling Families

This holiday season, many Moms across the country find it hard to be festive when they are struggling to put meals on the table for their children or pay their utility bills.

A single mother of five may work long hours in a restaurant for meager pay and need assistance from a local food bank to help feed her kids. This is just one example of a low-wage worker who has not – like many other Americans – seen the “economic recovery” reported in the news media.

Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of the income gains have gone to the top one percent of earners. The majority of new jobs created have paid low wages, and many middle-income jobs have been eliminated. Middle-class families saw about 30 percent of their wealth disappear over the past decade, while the cost of goods and services they rely on steadily increase.

In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

Raising the minimum wage nationwide would increase earnings for millions of workers, and boost businesses’ bottom lines nationwide. In fact, 25 million Americans would get a modest raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour—where it’s been held since 2007—to $10.10.

New research on the working poor in the US released by Oxfam America and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that despite the stereotype that low-wage workers are teenagers, 88 percent are not. The report shows that more than 35 percent of low-wage workers, or nine million of them, are parents. These six million mothers and three million father care for 15 million children, and these workers are the primary breadwinners in families that include spouses, aging parents, siblings, and other relatives.

Restaurants across the Philadelphia area continue to violate employee wage and tip laws – even following a multi-million dollar settlement by Chickie’s & Pete’s, the sports bar franchise.

In February, Chickie’s & Pete’s agreed to pay out about $8.5 million to compensate employees for failing to pay them minimum wage and improperly taking a portion of their tips, federal officials and the company announced.

Many restaurant owners think they can get away with stiffing their workers, and they often do. The industry-wide practice of not paying employees the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, not paying overtime for working more than 40 hours per week or taking a portion of their tips and distributing among owners or chefs is a violation of state and federal laws. It just stinks.

Perhaps the Chickie’s & Pete’s settlement will make restaurant owners reevaluate their employee compensation plans. It’s time for hard working Americans to be paid a higher minimum wage.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Encouraging Mom Friends

Sometimes an encouraging text or note can make someone else’s day.

Two weeks ago, a friend sent me a “You are doing a great job…” text and it brightened my day. It was especially nice to get that note over a weekend swamped with kid activities.

For many families, the weekends become a whirlwind of activities for their children: lessons, birthday parties, carnivals, festivals, etc. If you are a working parent, free time for yourself may be scarce or nonexistent. You may focus on your children’s interests and neglect your own hobbies or needs.

When was the last time you send a mom friend an uplifting note? It only takes a few minutes to send a text or email, and your pal will surely appreciate it.

Next time you find yourself spinning your wheels or tearing your hair out, take a moment to send a Mom friend complimenting her non-stop energy, well-mannered kids, or another aspect you’ve noticed about her.

Motherhood is a demanding job, regardless of if you are working full time, part time or stay-at-home.

Moms, support your fellow mom friends! Remember there are others out there who are facing the same challenges you are.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Sweetest Words

Back to school for my two girls. It has been a hectic week of drop-offs, pick-ups, client work, grocery shopping, homework review, and so forth. My first-grader started CCD yesterday after school. I am happy she is starting this program. It’s another activity to add to the schedule.

At a mailbox store yesterday, I joked with my four-year-old: “When I am older, you can help me out.”

She said the sweetest words to me an hour or so later: “Mom, I will love you when you are old.” This comment made me stop for a moment. It really touched me.

How often do you cruise through your day, rushing the kids out the door in the morning and racing to get them after school? Do you really listen to what they have to say or are you focused on getting them there and back on time?

Young kids can say profound statements. They will thank you for taking care of them. Try to slow down and listen to what they are trying to get across.

Life has its challenges such as job loss, a spouse’s illness, declining health of a parent… But when your child praises you for taking care of them, it lifts your spirit and carries you forward.

You want them to succeed, so you have to stay strong.

Stop comparing yourself to what your peers are doing on Facebook. It may appear as if your Facebook friends have perfect lives when you see photos of birthday parties, dinners out, lavish trips, etc.

One of my resolutions for the Fall? Spend less time on Facebook. Focus on my client projects and caring for my family.

What comments have your children said to you lately that have touched your heart? Later on in life when you are older, you’ll want to remember these small expressions of love from them.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Adjusting Kids to the Summer Schedule

Recently, I attended a blogger event in the city where I had the chance to catch up with some other Moms. One successful businesswoman and mother of three confided that it was often a challenge to get her kids out the door in the morning on time and without issues.

This seems to be a common work/life issue for Moms who drop their kids off to preschool or summer camp. The summertime can be especially challenging because kids are out of their routine of regular homework and earlier start times. Even if you are not having problems with getting the kids ready in the morning and out the door, it’s good to assess your situation.

Here are some ways you could save extra time:

  • Get them on the same bath schedule. I usually bathe my two at the same time. With the summer heat, one may want more baths than usual to cool down after a hot day. Try to get two in the tub at once.
  • Prepare lunch and snack schedules on Sunday. This is the perfect day to write out what you will need for the week. Many schools and camps offer pizza on certain days but the other days you have to pack lunches. What will you need each week for lunches, drinks and snacks? Mini store runs can eat up your time—try to do a bulk store run once a week.
  • Put them to bed at a reasonable time. During the summer, many kids want to stay up later and play outside if the weather is nice or watch TV. If the kids end up going to sleep too late, they will be overtired in the morning and you may have a tough time waking them up.
  • Know their schedule and what they need each day. Summertime means water play. How many of you have realized at 7pm that your kids need clean swimsuits and towels in the morning, so you had to do laundry immediately? Think ahead.

Everyone falls into their own routine as a parent. The above suggestions may help alleviate some bickering between siblings and your own stress over running late in the AM. Happy summer and stay cool!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Class Trips and School Involvement

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of accompanying my six-year-old on her class trip to the Philadelphia Zoo. I was excited to go – not to see the animals – but to spend time with her before her Kindergarten year comes to a close.

It’s important to be an involved parent as your child progresses through the elementary school years. I want to be there for my kids when they experience life’s ups and downs, wins and defeats.

As we walked through the zoo yesterday, I took pictures of my daughter and her friends and few shots of the animals.

If you can take time off from work, go on the class trips. You will get a chance to get to know the other parents better, and see your child interacting with his or her classmates. Capture the moments on camera – when your child is older, he or she can look back through the photos and remember their experience at the time.

Are you part of your child’s school advisory committee or board? Support and involvement with the school is important, but the timing should be right.

Evaluate what you can take on by asking yourself some questions:

  • Can I allot the amount of time needed for this volunteer role? If you have kids in difference schools, it might make more sense to wait until the kids are at the same grade school and there is less shuttling around.
  • Will my job allow me flexibility to take on this role? If you are under pressure to find a job or new clients, you may want to hold off on a volunteer role and wait until your work situation is more secure.
  • What is your spouse or partner’s schedule like? If he or she is working late every night or travels long distance frequently, now may not be a good time to take on a new volunteer role.
  • Do you have family in the area who can babysit or an adequate support system? If you have immediate family in the area who can help with drop-offs, pick-ups or after school care, count your blessings.

If you find yourself taking on too many school responsibilities, you will end up feeling exhausted and stressed. It’s better to hold off on volunteering your time than to join a board or committee and then have to back out from lack of time or stress.

Enjoy class trips with your child or children – time is fleeting and you’ll want your kids to remember you as being involved.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net