Monday, January 31, 2011

The Mouse

On Saturday, we played tourist and went to Disney World. It'd been a couple of years since we last did this; Hobie had never been and Coral had no memory of the last time we went. Of course since we have four young kids, the Magic Kingdom was the only park to go with. The night prior, I packed a diaper bag, a snack bag, a camera bag, a we'll-stuff-jackets-in-here-after-it-warms-up bag, the Ergo carrier, and the stroller for our big trip the next morning. Since we rarely get to go, we were determined to get our fill and stay there from opening until closing. I'm not sure what we were thinking.

After lots of hemming and hawing, I decided to do cloth diapers at Disney. The only real difference in convenience was that I'd have to pack home the dirty diapers instead of tossing them, but some scented baggies would do the trick there. I envisioned Hobie used to his fat, plushy butt, being subjected to a stiff, scratchy disposable diaper all day long and I just couldn't do it to him. I wanted him to be happy and comfortable. Well, as happy as he could be at a place like Disney.

The drive over was uneventful - we're only about twenty miles from The Happiest Place on Earth. We were thinking Saturday at 7:30am would make for a speedy entry - wrong! I believe we encountered every bit of traffic and every red light between our house and Disney. We finally met my sister, twenty minutes behind schedule, and made our way to the Magic Kingdom lot. Everyone was happy and smiling, ready to start the day. The car was unloaded, I was preparing to pull Hobie from his carseat and plop him in the Ergo, and that's when it hit me. I thought that Thursday was the day for Hobie to surprise me - apparently Saturday is a contender. He had pooped on the ride over, and it was a new personal best for him. Even his carefully-chosen outfit was a loss. There he was, naked in the front seat, a flurry of baby wipes, diapers, and poop, as the rest of the family and my sister's gang stood around wondering what was going on. Flustered, I dropped the load on the front floorboard to enjoy a good bake in the sun. Nothing like a pleasant ride home!

Baby refreshed and hopefully thoroughly emptied out, we hopped aboard the tram, and after a few minutes' wait, our monorail arrived to cart us off to Disney. Coral was so excited! Her face was glowing when she spied the castle. A great day was imminent.

Main Street, the obligatory photos in front of Cinderella's Castle, and the excitement of entering Disney World. Even when you live here, it's magical. You can't help yourself.

Coral's cousin knew of Coral's obsession, so we first headed to the Pooh Bear ride. At this point the park was quiet - we made it through the line in minutes. Coral was giddy over Pooh Bear's house!

Next were the Tomorrowland race cars. Hobie and I took photos as the kids prepared to steer (thank goodness for that rail down the middle of the race track!)

Then everyone hopped aboard Astro Orbiter, a flying rocket ride set atop a building. Well, everyone except myself and the baby. I consider three feet to be high in the air; you could not have paid me to go on that ride! I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the ground, readying snacks for the kids and taking photos of Hobie, thank you very much.

The Carousel of Progress, the People Movers, and the Buzz Lightyear ride later, we were more than ready for lunch. By this time the crowd had picked up as the weather settled on a gorgeous eighty degrees with blue skies. Hobie decided to take a nap on my chest and the kids wolfed down their food. Coral begged and pleaded and we agreed to move on to Snow White's Scary Adventure after lunch.

Then, it was inevitable - it's a small world beckoned (and it's a small world really, truly is written in all lowercase letters). Alexei wanted to be anywhere else, but we braved the long line and made it all the way down to the boats, when the ride broke down. Twenty minutes and a hike back up the line later, we were handed Fast Passes good for any ride in the park - this was the golden ticket. We could choose any ride in Disney and go directly up and get on, no waiting. The Haunted Mansion was practically next door, and we wasted no time. The line was all the way out and around the building, but not for us! We were escorted through the exit, and immediately led onto the ride. Even better, the ride attendants didn't take our Fast Passes. Golden tickets!

However, a ghost on the ride snatched one of Hobie's shoes. It was there when we got on, and not there when we got off. I guess you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Still blessed with the golden tickets, everyone made a beeline for Big Thunder Railway. I stayed off with Hobie but I hear Coral loved her first real roller coaster ride. I still can't believe she was tall enough to go on - my baby's getting so big! Sniff sniff. Alas, the Big Thunder attendants took care of our golden tickets. No more line freebies.

We took a break for the ever-necessary Mickey ice cream bars. Six-and-a-half years later, Coral was finished with hers and it was time for Pirates of the Caribbean. Followed by the Jungle Cruise. Followed by Peter Pan. Followed by another, much more successful attempt at it's a small world.

Pizza for dinner, and then it was time for the Main Street Electrical Parade. By this time the crowd was quite apparent. Hobie was bored, tired, and teething. After the parade ended we were headed in front of the castle to find a spot for the fireworks, when the lights suddenly turned off and the castle lit up for a new Disney show called Memories. Very cool, but not so cool when you realized that you were surrounded by thousands of people and suddenly found yourself unable to move. There was simply nowhere to go. It was wall-to-wall people, and no one could budge. We were stuck there through the fireworks, and then it was a solid mass between us and the exits. And Coral had to pee.

Much pushing, shoving, and rudeness later, and we made it across the traffic and into Tomorrowland. No point in trying to leave the park with the thousands of others who would want to use the same monorail and tram as us. So we did what any good tourist would do - we went shopping. Ibis chose a Tinkerbell toy, Coral a pink princess Minnie Mouse. Alexei went with a Star Wars action figure, and after much debating and a dash over to the Pooh store before the 9pm closing, Hobie got a super-soft stuffed Eeyore to commemorate his first Disney trip.

Fast forward an hour, a screaming baby, a sleeping Coral, a decision to try for the ferry after seeing the line for the monorail, an endless wait for the ferry, more baby screaming, a ferry ride, a tram ride, and a walk across the parking lot later, and we made it back to the car. The car that had been baking its toxic contents all day long.

It was a memorable ride home.

Friday, January 28, 2011

a dream state

Last night, I had a really strange dream. Actually between bouts of Hobie screaming in my ear, I had lots of strange dreams. I could only hang on to the one, which was the first in the series. I can only presume they got stranger as the night waned. Kind of like Alexei without a mop of hair.

In the dream, we were living in a mobile home on horse property. I don't recall the kids being around, but hubby was there. Somehow we were given four pet rats. I loved the rats and spent lots of time playing with them, but they kept biting me. A rat would be cuddling up to my cheek and suddenly grab on, and then hang on for dear life, pinching me with its teeth but not breaking skin. The final straw was the rat that bit my neck and had to be pried off.

The best course of action seemed to be setting the rats loose in the yard in the hopes that they would scurry off and leave us alone. Initially they scattered, but soon they were clawing at the front door, desperate to come back in. I wound up using my old BB gun from childhood to shoot the rats. I made it through three of them before rat number four.....err, I mean Hobie woke me up from the dream.

I'm really not seeing the symbolism here.

Just because we jokingly refer to our children as rats really has nothing to do with it.

I think it's because we're getting ready to spend the day at Disney World.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Daddy's boy

He's a mama's boy. There's really no convincing him otherwise.

Unless you have a bowl of chocolate ice cream. Then all bets are off.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

striking gold (or green!)

You can teach kids long division, and you can drill them in handwriting. You can ask them to write a description, learn to spell, or even read a science chapter about animals. Chances are none of that will be too exciting for them, and if any of it sticks around you should consider yourself lucky. Do you remember half of the stuff you learned in school?

I've found a curriculum for teaching my oldest (age ten, grade four) that is engaging, hands-on, of interest to him personally, and ripe with social activities and tangible rewards. I used to label it as "just extracurricular" until I realized it already contains practically every skill my kids will need in life and it comes in a form that they want to embrace. This is the good stuff, and it's called 4-H.

Don't brush off 4-H as "just about raising animals," or "only for farm kids." 4-H offers a tremendous range of project areas including photography, bicycles, art and drama, sewing, baking, model rocketry, small engines, ecology, all sorts of sciences, and of course animals. You can go here to check out all of the projects for ages 8-18 (there is also a level for ages 5-7 with a smaller but very relevant and fun curriculum).

This is our second year in the program. Kids get to select whatever project area(s) interests them, and with an adult's help, they complete project book activities throughout the year. They also maintain financial records for their project books to keep track of how much is being spent, and they must write a project story at the end of the year. At 4-H meetings the kids get a chance to demonstrate their projects in front of the group, learn leadership, and also to perform acts of community service.

In our county, we have a 4-H show at the county fair every February. This of course involves live animal shows, but it goes so far above and beyond that. For example, my son is showing his rabbit but he will also be judged on baking, drawing, photography, woodworking, model building, and a tabletop display (think science fair project board). He has the opportunity to earn a white, red, or blue ribbon and premium for each of his entries based solely on the amount of work he puts into them. Then, any entry that earns a blue ribbon goes on to be judged against the other kids' entries for a potential Best in Show. This gives every kid a chance to do well based on their own abilities.

For one of his entries this year, he chose to create a tabletop that tied into one of his project books : rabbits. Several weeks ago he made a 3-D, touchable display from a photograph of his rabbit and some fake fur. He then took this to the 4-H club meeting and demonstrated the finer points of showing a rabbit, and shared his display.

He knew he wanted to add this to his tabletop for the fair. He knew he wanted to also add a rabbit parts chart and a 3-D water bottle and crock, but he wasn't certain what else should go on the board, or how it would be arranged. Last year was his first year in 4-H and he made a tabletop exhibit on bicycles and received a white award; this year he was determined to put a lot more effort into his board and hopefully win a blue award. It amazes me to see him so engaged.

That brings me to today (you knew I'd get here eventually, right?) Today, we were working on his tabletop exhibit. Together we measured the tabletop, and wrote down the dimensions. We talked about what he wanted to cover on his board. He wanted to include basic information about owning a rabbit, personal information about his own rabbit, and information on showing a rabbit. He decided which part of the tri-fold board would hold which topic, and we discussed how it would fit. In just a few minutes of sketching on scratch paper, he had to measure, multiply, divide, estimate, and add. Rockin' the math skills.

First, he tackled the rabbit parts chart. Using the 4-H project book as a guide, I helped him sketch a copy of the rabbit's outline, after which he went over with a pencil to add the details. He then was able to use a ruler and write out all of the rabbit's parts, using the research we had already accumulated in his project book. Finally, after double-checking his spelling, he traced over the rabbit and the words with markers. In just that simple chart, he utilized skills in spelling, handwriting, art, science, and research.

Next, he wanted to create a list of items needed to own a rabbit. I asked him how we could add to a basic list to make it more interesting; I was thinking photographs. He surprised me by suggesting we add the approximate prices of items needed and include a total amount, so someone looking at his tabletop at the fair could view his list and know how much it would cost to start their own rabbit project. He went through his project book and selected basic items needed (a pedigreed rabbit, a cage, a feeder and water bottle, and rabbit food) and wrote a mock-up of the list and how to arrange the photos and words. I then helped him mark out measurements on his final list, and he added all of the written list points and went over them with marker. (He would have added the photos today, but the poor printer cartridge ran dry. That's what having a recently coupon-crazy mom does for you.) In creating this list, he embraced dynamic thinking, writing, spelling, handwriting, research, measurement, division, computer skills, and design.

Tomorrow, he will continue adding to his project board, with the kind of excitement he never brings to "regular" homeschool. I am grateful for the learning opportunities 4-H provides us, and the chance to work with my son to strengthen his interests.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

winter wonderland

In Florida in January, we wrestle gators. Then we go home and sit in front of the tv as the rain pounds down, and watch the weather man go giddy with excitement as the screen lights up with hours of tornado warnings.

And we do laundry, because recycled tires may make for great playground shock absorbency, but they also make for filthy children. I'd have more to show you on this subject but I was too busy chasing down said children. The end.

Monday, January 24, 2011

pot luck??

Tonight, I potluck. That is to say, the baby and I are hitchhiking with a friend to a mid-year planning meeting and potluck hosted by our local homeschool group.

Why's it called a potluck, anyway? Pot luck? Apparently because you'll be eating whatever the luck of the pot brings your way. I made cinnamon rolls. I would have made baked spaghetti, but have you ever had my baked spaghetti? Me neither.

As the minutes crawled ever closer to this evening and the baby decided to take a long nap, Ibis and I headed outside so she could capture the perfect photo for her upcoming fair entry. She took eighty pictures, half of which featured my rear end walking around the yard, at which she laughed maniacally as she scrolled through on the computer and reenacted my jiggly walk from behind. Typical eight-year-old humor.

She also paused to snag some dandelions growing at the edge of the yard, and had a field day blowing them into the wind. Almost as much fun as she had taking 45 photos of my butt.

What else are daughters for?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

a very green post

The morning started with yard sales. Hubby and Alexei moseyed off to a neighboring sale while I supervised the girls' choosing of fifty cent baby dolls from a very girly offering. Because we so needed two more baby dolls in this house. I casually asked the lady how much she wanted for the little blue Cozy Coupe police car sitting at the end of her driveway. She responded, "Five dollars." I stood for a moment, pondering. "Three dollars?" she asked. Sold. Because we so needed another ride-on toy in our lives.

That's Officer Hobie to you.

"Slow down!"

Believe it or not, we've managed to make it through four kids without ever owning one of these. I have to say, we missed out! The little guys tried it outside first, and then I did the only sensible thing one can do with giant plastic toys, and brought it indoors. Tile floors rock.

Coral and Hobie were taking turns, but it was soon apparent that what we *really* needed was another Cozy Coupe. A few minutes on craigslist, and we had located another one five minutes and five dollars down the road.

And then there were two Cozy Coupes.

Hey, when did Coral get one?

Hey, this is pretty neat.

Forget the police car, I want this one!


Eight dollars well spent.

Friday, January 21, 2011

when you hear hooves...

I was sitting here tonight feeling rather lackluster; a long, rain-filled day left me with no energy and even fewer photos. Bored, I picked up my camera and took a picture of my hand. That's me : crooked pinky finger lady. I get that from my dad's side of the family, and I've passed it on to half my brood. If you look online there are lots of theories. Seems like those similarly blessed associate it with being geniuses. Others suppose it's passed down from a certain Native American line. Personally I like the genius theory.

Okay, so I don't know if anyone has ever actually said crooked pinkies = big brains. But I had you there for a minute!

While I was snapping away, Hobie moseyed into the room, fussing. That's his typical M.O. He walks around and screams like most of us walk around and breathe. Which is not to say that we let him cry much, but that there are a few minutes in a twenty-four hour period that aren't 100% dedicated to Hobie.

He spends a lot of time in my lap.

Tonight he found a toy to amuse himself, and moseyed back out into the living room with his conquest. Walking around with things in your hands is a big deal when you're thirteen months old. Makes you feel manly.

Then I was looking at my camera display at photos of Hobie, and caught sight of our new rug.

It was seven dollars. I think we got the raw end of the deal.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

finishing up those handmade chaps

I posted the big how-to for this project here; if you like sewing and creating and being crafty, that's wonderful! I'm about as crafty as a toad and I'm not much of a seamstress, but I do enjoy making cute, different things for my kids and not spending a fortune doing it. This project cost me less than $10. Today I finished up the little pink synthetic leather chaps I made for my younger daughter. Just a few little touches made them extra cute!

I had a little bit of microsuede in a darker pink, and I decided to add some flower accents with some type of eye-catching sparkle. Searching around online produced a simple flower pattern that I printed out (at 120% for the larger flower, 70% for the smaller flower, and 40% for the very small flowers on the chap yoke) and then cut out. I traced the shapes onto the back of my fabric and got my 2 large microsuede flowers, and then used scraps from the chap material for the smaller, contrasting flowers. I happened to have a bag of silver barrel beads sitting in my craft box for who knows how many years now, and decided to sew those on to the flower centers.

Barrel beads to little flower, little flower to big flower, big flower to chaps. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The look of the flowers was sweet, but I wanted a little more. So I looked around at chap photos online, specifically at chap yokes. That's the scalloped piece of tooled leather sometimes added at the top of the chaps. I decided on a simple pattern, draped the chaps over a piece of paper and traced around to get the outside edge of my yoke, and then made a basic bottom edge. I cut the yoke pattern out, traced it onto my microsuede, and then repeated in reverse for the other leg. I also sewed on a small flower made from leftover material and a few beads for added sparkle.

And that's it! My model was highly uncooperative, in the spirit of typical three-almost-four-year-olds.

I hear she gets this look from me.

I'd contest that, but it's probably true.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Public School for a Day Day

Today, my kids headed off to public school. Well, sort of. I've been hearing a lot of complaints lately from the peanut gallery of how "exhausting" and "hard" our daily lessons can be, and since many of the kids' friends are in public school, they love to compare notes. Except they really can't compare notes because none of them has ever been in their counterparts' shoes. So today, I had the grand idea to let my kids experience public school - we followed our local school's hours, and recess and lunch times, and dress code as much as we could. They even ate packed lunches. It made for quite the experiment.

We were all up at 7:30, got dressed, ate breakfast, and packed our bags.

Some of us took longer to dine than others, and threatened to make us late for school.

The kids boarded the "bus" and took a ten-minute trip to school, where they sat at their desks to begin their school day.

They even had to wear shoes and socks. You don't know what a hardship this was for my son. When a homeschooled kid grows up in Florida, shoes with laces are an abstract idea.

We tackled an hour of math - Alexei completed his long lesson of long division in the nick of time, and avoided having homework. Ibis got through two second grade math lessons.

We got through their next state on the map, lucky number thirteen : Rhode Island.

Ibis then plowed through six reading workbook pages (an entire week's worth), her big textbook story, and an art assignment tying in to her story. She even volunteered to do a Show and Tell and had time to read a story from the book closet...err, I mean "library." This from the kid I typically have to sit on to finish a half a page of spelling. Apparently Mrs. Mattson is more persuasive than plain old mommy.

Alexei finished up his reading and somewhere in there we took a fifteen minute recess out on the swingset. Too many kids + not enough hands = no photos of recess.

By the time lunch rolled around at 12:00, I was fresh out of ideas for things for Ibis to complete. The kids ate their bagged lunches in the "cafeteria" and had to remain seated at the table for twenty-five minutes while I brainstormed extra work.

Meals finished, we returned and I assigned writing prompts for both kids. After completing them, they got to read their works out loud to the class. Ibis went on to complete the next day's science lesson, and read another book, and finally spent forty-five minutes playing educational computer games. I dismissed her a half-hour early for free time since I had nothing else prepared for her to do.

Alexei had an extra hour and a half on his hands as well, so he completed his drawing for the fair, we finished a project from his 4-H rabbit book, and he spent a half hour practicing his times tables on

At 2:15 (because Wednesday is early release day in Florida - kids get out of school an hour early, it's Florida's crazy way of allotting for hurricanes) they boarded the "bus" and headed home to snacks, flip-flops, and freedom.

The school janitor was then free to perform his duties.