An Adventure in Chicago

Last week my husband was bear hunting in Alaska.

So I took the girls to Chicago for a girls’ road trip/ultimate field trip extravaganza.

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I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, so I’m not unfamiliar with big cities, but I had never been to Chicago. It’s been a long time since I lived in a large metropolitan area, and I was kind of nervous to take the girls by myself to a huge city I’m unfamiliar with, but I did it anyway. I planned the trip so that we would not have to drive much downtown, crossed my fingers that it would work the way I planned, and went for it.

It was perfect (if I do say so myself).

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The main Chicago attraction I wanted to be sure to visit was the Shedd Aquarium. We were reading and talking about sea animals in school, and I knew my girls would just love an opportunity to see so many of them in person, so I pretty much planned the trip around that goal. I found a hotel that I thought would be within walking distance of the aquarium and that also had two-room suites for a reasonable price (because I wanted to be able to put my kids to bed and still have my own place to be awake; the lumpy pull-out was worth it). We drove down Wednesday after Miss finished school, battled the ridiculous traffic, pulled into the hotel’s valet parking garage (because driving and parking downtown was the biggest thing I was NOT willing to do), and began our adventure.

Our hotel was right across the street from Grant Park, and the girls loved the big statue we passed right away in the morning while walking to the aquarium.

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I think they would have been happy just to play on and around it all morning, but we eventually did press on, and the Shedd was so worth the trip.

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I could go on and on about all the things we saw, but I will just note that I just loved hearing things like, “WOW! Mom look!” and “This is so cool!” and “I think he likes me!” (while face to face with some creature through the glass of a tank), and all the giggling while looking at strange animals.

The highlights of the day, the things the girls begged to go back and do again, were seeing the sharks and touching the stingrays. We also really enjoyed the 4D Sea Monsters show, though it was kind of scary for them too. The aquatic show was a big dud. The girls kept asking when it was going to be over. I think because the aquarium folks spent a lot of time talking about how they train the animals rather than just allowing us to watch the animals in action. Meh.

When we left the aquarium, we were exhausted, but also wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather. We stopped a few times on our walk back to the hotel for the girls to get out of the stroller and run around.

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Then it was back to the hotel for a little break, some sea animal DVDs on my computer, and some room service dinner.

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They took turns checking for stinky feet after our long day of walking and running around.

After dinner, we went out for another walk. I think one of the highlights of the while trip was for the girls to see the various statues in and around Grant Park. We didn’t really walk very far, because they asked to get out and play on/around every statue and fountain we came across. I wanted to explore by walking and looking. They wanted to explore by touching and playing and imagining. We did some of both, but they were off the stroller and playing much more than they were on and being walked around. As it should be.

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I had planned to take the girls to the Field Museum on Friday, but then one of my friends (who lived in Chicago years ago) suggested we check out the Lincoln Park Zoo instead. I debated a bit whether to change my original plan and take them to the zoo, but then a few different things lined up to make the decision easy for me. The hotel people told me I could only keep my car in their parking garage until noon after check out that day, the weather turned out to be beautiful, and the girls said they wanted to go to the zoo.

So to the zoo we went.

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It was a little bit crazy in the morning because there were tons of school groups there and it was extremely crowded. But as the day went on it cleared out a bit. The girls were really tired, but we still had a great time.

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It was a successful and extremely fun trip. We learned a lot and made many wonderful memories. I will definitely be taking them back again, and I’m already thinking about other fun road trips to take them on. A Little House on the Prairie trip comes to mind or maybe some cool museums in Minneapolis?

Homeschooling is Going Quite Well, Thanks for Asking

Many people have asked me about how our first few weeks of homeschooling have been going. The answer is they have been going mostly very well. We’ve already taken several field trips, and Five in a Row has been the perfect curriculum for us to start with. We’ve covered “The Storm in the Night,” “The Story About Ping,” “Lentil,” and “Madeline” so far.

When we were reading “The Story About Ping” (which is about a duck in China) we took a field trip to a Chinese restaurant to try a new type of food and also to experiment with eating with chopsticks (yes, going out to lunch can be called a field trip when you homeschool).

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The next day we learned about how ducks keep their wings dry, doing an experiment with oil and water.

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And then we took another field trip.

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When we read “Lentil” we learned about different tastes (in the story there is a character who makes everyone pucker by sucking loudly on a lemon).

DSC_0011Sweet brown sugar, bitter cocoa powder, salty uh, salt, and sour lemons.

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Of course, then we made lemonade,

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which also counted toward gym time, they were working so hard.

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This week with Madeline we didn’t do much photo-worthy stuff. Other than ice-painting French flags.

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We’re taking another field trip tomorrow to a local farm. It has nothing to do with our book this week, but it’s a place with pony-riding and cow-milking and chicken-chasing, and I want to go before the regular school kids start taking their field trips. And as much as I sometimes want it to, not every thing we do is always going to fit with our book or our theme of the week. I’m cool with that. And field trips are my favorite.

The girls are also (mostly) enjoying our reading curriculum, All About Reading. It’s a good fit for us, because we’re pretty much all about reading around here these days.

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The jury is still out on our math curriculum, Math U See. It’s fine, but I don’t love it, and neither does Miss. I’ve been eyeing some Life of Fred books, but I’m not quite willing to bail on our current plan. Yet.

I have bailed out on some other things that I bought out of early excitement and over-eagerness to get all the things and start teaching my kids with Catholic Stuff! I bought a bunch of workbooks from Seton Home Study School, and they just aren’t a good fit for us. Other than the handwriting book, I’m not using any of them right now.

Art, science, and social studies are mostly rolled into our FIAR work. I’m winging it on religion, knowing that Miss is getting some back up teaching in her regular school time. Right now we’re memorizing the Ten Commandments (I don’t know them by heart myself), and we celebrate various feast days, read about saints, and talk about the Mass. There is also a Bible component of FIAR that we do, which includes verses and stories that are relevant to our book for the week. I think were doing pretty good there.

I try to have Miss do a little bit of computer time here and there using PBS Kids Play or ABC Mouse. She gets music class at her regular school and she takes piano lessons. Gym is not systematic at all at this point. It’s running around the couch and playing outside and going to soccer once a week. And foreign language has not made it into the line up at all yet. I have a Spanish program for them, but I haven’t used it.

We still have some tweaking to do, but I’m very happy with how our homeschool is coming together so far.

Next week we’re reading “A Pair of Red Clogs.” It’s set in Japan. I see a field trip to the hibachi restaurant in our very near future.

7 Quick Takes – Evidence of Summer Fun and a Couple of Other Random Thoughts

Linking up with Jen.

1. I have been a little off the past few weeks. I’ve wanted to write more, but nothing I’ve come up with has been right. I’m starting to feel like getting back in the swing, so I thought I’d start by sharing that, though I have had some rough days, we’ve still been having a fun summer. Presenting, five Quick Takes with photographic evidence of summer fun:

2. Last week we went raspberry picking.

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Miss was all about getting as many raspberries as possible so we could make fresh raspberry smoothies for breakfast the following morning (which were awful, by the way). The other two were not super motivated, but I think they still had fun. Either way, they got a special treat afterwards.

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I let them have just ice cream for lunch. They were thrilled and thought I was the best mom ever. I didn’t have to make them anything to eat. Win, win.

3. We went shopping for soccer shoes over the weekend. I realized how infrequently (i.e. never) I take the girls to a mall. They were ooh-ing and aah-ing over everything they saw, from kiosks with funky paper light fixtures to the mannequin displays in all of the store front windows. They even had a lot of fun with some president statues outside the mall entrance.

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It might have been a tad over the top, how proud I was that they could identify George Washington and Abraham Lincoln by themselves.

4. We’ve had a few cookouts with friends. I already mentioned our first one on the 4th of July. We had another with homemade grilled pizza, s’mores, and movie night (and some trampolining in pajamas):

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^^ The chef with his delicious pizzas ^^

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and another time with my husband’s grilled ribs, baked beans, and fritters (all homemade), an airshow overhead, homemade ice cream (my sole contribution), and a movie night:

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^^ We set the kids’ tables in the yard so they could see the Thunderbirds overhead ^^

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My husband loves to grill, especially for company. I love to let him. Win, win.

5. We had a picnic in the downtown square. We listened to live music and danced in the grass.

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We played in the fountain.

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Summer fun, right there ^^

6. This week we are at the Farm. Always a lot of summer fun to be had here. Yesterday my husband caught a bunch of shad and let the girls play with some on the beach. They were entertained for hours. It was sort of odd and quite fun to watch.

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7. And in news not related to summer shenanigans, I finally updated my “About Me” page. I am not entirely sure that it’s finished, but it has been changed quite a bit and I like it so far. What do you think?

For more Quick Takes, see Conversion Diary.

I’m in a Blogging Slump, BUT – Iowa State Fair!

Oh, the Iowa State Fair. I have such a love for something that is only mine through marriage. I grew up in Michigan and never once went to the state fair. The only thing I even knew about the Michigan State Fair was that there was a Hog-Calling Contest there, and only that because my cousin won it at least once.

And as much as I love living in Wisconsin, I wasn’t terribly impressed by our fair, which I went to only once, the first year we lived there (I say “there,” because I’m currently typing in Missouri). I had no real understanding of the wonders of the state fair until the summer of 2009, when I went to the Iowa State Fair for the first time when Miss was about six months old.

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Even then, I didn’t quite grasp the Fair fabulousness until taking my kids when they got a little older. We’ve gone for the past three years now, and I so love walking the streets of the fairgrounds, taking in all the sights and smells, and hearing all the stories from my husband and in-laws of fairs gone by. It makes me feel like I have a bit of claim to such a wonderful tradition, even though I’m a true city girl who has always been quite in awe of the fact that people grow vegetables and animals in order to show them and be judged on them at the Fair. It’s bizarre. And I love it.

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So, this year was much the same as always. We have a few Fair things that are must-sees and must-dos and must-eats. By the time we get done with those, we’re about ready to be done for the day. This year was no exception. As usual, we started in the baby animals barn.

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^^ No, we weren’t at the Creepy Perv Fair. The sign on the cage got cut off when I snapped this pic. The top line said, “For My Health, Don’t”

The girls got to see newborn piglets nursing from their momma, and some cute baby ostriches, and a calf being born on the overhead screens. This is always one of our favorite parts of the Fair.

Naturally, the next thing we did was to eat something yummy on a stick.

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And then find something homegrown and absurdly large to pose with for a photo

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^^ That’s an 1,131 pound pumpkin.

We went to the Avenue of Breeds barn and saw the Big Boar, along with lots of other types of animals.

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^^ NOT the Big Boar, but for some reason I only have photos of medium-sized pigs from that barn.

The city girl in me was so tickled to see this guy:

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It’s not every day you turn around to see a big pink pig sauntering toward you like he hasn’t a care in the world. There is something funny to me about the way pigs walk too. I kind of wanted to take him home.

After the Avenue of Breeds we walked over to the cattle barn to see the the Big Bull.

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His name is “Big Daddy” and he weighs over 3000 pounds.

After an unmemorable-but-belly-filling-without-long-lines lunch, we finally made it to the Big Yellow Slide, which Miss in particular had been begging to go on all morning. The older girls went down the slide with their aunt, and Sis went down with my husband. They loved it, and each went twice.

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At least they said they loved it after they got to the bottom. Their faces during the sliding sort of suggested otherwise:

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^^ That last picture makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Somehow, I have yet to see the famous butter cow sculpture in person (not sure how I always miss this), but this year I did see, um, extra large American Gothic:

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One of the coolest parts of the day came after the slide. We walked over to the antique tractors, where my Father-in-law located a model just like the one he had driven as a boy on the farm where he grew up. He was not much older than Miss when he started working in the fields driving that tractor.

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I’ve heard about him driving a tractor as a little boy, but somehow seeing that tractor close up, the same kind that he rode on back then, and seeing my small-but-not-much-smaller-than-he-was-then daughters standing next to it made it so much more amazing to me.

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My favorite part of the day, as it has been every year, was taking the girls to the Department of Natural Resources building. They run around and look at the fish in the tanks, guess at which animals the various pelts belong to, and check out many other cool (and educational) exhibits.

DSC_0343 DSC_0344^^ I asked Lass (my animal lover) about the birds in that display case ^^ She said, in a bored voice, “It’s a peregrine falcon. I already know that.” I had to check the card on the glass to make sure, but she was right!

Behind the DNR building, there is a pond with turtles and ducks and geese and swans. We always spend a lot of time there, searching under the surface of the water to spot the turtles, laughing at the antics of the ducks, and admiring the swans.

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This year, we got startled by one of the swans who climbed out of the pond, stretched her wings up and flapped around frantically for a few seconds, right in front of us.

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Perhaps I’m a big dork, bit this shady little pond, and the excitement my girls displayed over seeing turtles trying to climb onto rocks and swans flapping their wings, was the highlight of my day.

It was also fun that afterwards we enjoyed another dessert on a stick, deep-fried this time, as the perfect ending to a lovely day.

Five Things I Learned About Myself at the Edel Conference. And Then Some.

1. I am really and truly and introvert.

Sometimes I have wondered about this. Before this weekend, if you had asked me whether I am an introvert or an extrovert, I would have been uncertain how to answer. I love to get out of the house, I love to be with other people, I enjoy going to my husband’s work parties and evenings out with friends. Public speaking has never been a problem for me. I can get up in front of a room full of people and sing karaoke with only minimal anxiety.

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But now I know, for real and for certain and forevermore, I am an introvert. I do not do mingling in a large group of strangers well. I am terrible at small talk. In such a situation, I am much more likely to stand in a corner and hope someone will come and introduce herself to me than to walk up to someone I don’t know and start up a conversation. I was so glad Super Friend was with me this weekend.

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Yay! Super Friend!

There were many times I did introduce myself to someone new, but every time I felt awkward and scared and shy and stupid about it. I asked and answered the same questions over and over again. “Where are you from?” “How many kids do you have?”

I did have some wonderful conversations, mostly because the people I was talking to were much better at generating an interesting discussion than I am, and once it gets started I can roll with it.

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Jen Fulwiler is good at conversation. And she’s tall!

I had a blast at Edel, but it really brought out the introvert in me. And I’ve realized, by looking at tweets and blog posts about the weekend, that lots of other women there were experiencing the same anxieties and discomfort I was (a great example here). There were a lot of introverts in that huge room full of mamas!

2. I am not good at Twitter.

There was a streaming Twitter feed up all day Saturday. I’m always sort of amazed and befuddled by Twitter. I don’t really understand it, and have never before felt much of a desire to figure it out, but as I was watching all the tweets on Saturday (some with photos even!!) I couldn’t help but think, “I really need to learn how to do that!” I’m so Twitter-impaired that when I wrote my “Anticipating Edel” post last Thursday, I used the wrong Twitter hashtag for #edel14 (I used #edelgathering, duh). Anyone have some Twitter tips to offer?

3. As much as I loathe taking selfies, there are some events that just cry out for the selfie, and I am not immune to that cry.

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4. Speaking of “cry,” I am apparently quite prone to getting all teary and choked up when listening to wonderful speakers say beautiful things about motherhood, and Catholicism, and friendship.

Oh my goodness, there were four people who spoke on Saturday. Every single one of them had me blinking rapidly and rolling my eyes to the ceiling, in an attempt to keep the welled-up tears from spilling over and making a mess of my mascara. Hallie and Marion and Haley and Jen made such amazing, funny, uplifting, and inspiring speeches. They really made me think about faith and motherhood and community in some new ways. I feel like I should expound upon this more, but right now I’m still processing it myself, so I’ll just say it. was. awesome.

5. I am sentimental.

Okay, I didn’t really just learn this over the weekend. But I did experience a great example of it.

Each Edel attendee got a card at the dinner table on Saturday night. It was a letter written by a Dominican Sister, Sister Elizabeth Ann, and it was just, well, indescribable really (see below for a bit I quoted from it to give you an idea). It (also) brought me to tears, and was so lovely, I really wanted to be sure to bring it home to keep it and read it again and put it in my box of cards to save.

But I forgot it in the Ballroom when I went to bed (kind of early because I had to get up at 4:30am to make our flight home). I got all ready to go to sleep and climbed into bed, only to remember that I had left the card on the table. I was really bummed, and thought about going down to get it. Then I thought that would be silly. It was 11:00. And I could just get one from someone in the morning or copy Super Friend’s. But I wasn’t sure if Super had remembered to grab hers, and she was already asleep so I couldn’t ask her, and we had to leave before anyone else would be up that I could ask for another copy, and I really wanted to have one! And what if Super Friend did forget hers and she wanted one too?? I had to go get it.

So. In order to enable myself to go to sleep and stop thinking about it, I got out of bed, put on clothing (sort of) suitable for appearing in public, and went back down to the Ballroom, where most of the moms were still dancing and whooping it up like mad (I was kind of jealous). I grabbed my card from my table, explained to the few people who stopped to chat why I was wearing PJs, watched for just a minute, and then I went back to bed. Mission completed. Here is just a portion of the letter from Sister Elizabeth Ann, so you can see why I wanted to be sure to have it:

Thank you for the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute gift of self you offer to your husbands, children, and all your loved ones.

Thank you especially for the gift of self you give that no one sees, no one appreciates, no one recognizes, and no one seems to care about. Thank you for making the effort. Thank you for trying. . . .

God sees. God Knows. God cares. He does. He really does! . . .

For those women bearing the heavy cross of infertility, I want to especially take a moment to recognize and offer encouragement to you. In our Catholic culture that embraces motherhood and big families, you may feel especially isolated and alone in your struggles and fears. Don’t lose hope. I want you to know that God sees and knows and cares about you too. . . .

Obviously, I needed to bring it home. I kind of wished I could have brought Sister Elizabeth Ann home too!

And now for a few other things about the weekend.

If you’re wondering about the shoes my girls created for me:

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We did not win a prize. The shoe competition was fierce!! And as I told my girls, of course, the shoes they made were just “too beautiful.”

Overall, Edel was such an amazing experience. Several times during the weekend, Super Friend and I looked at each other and marveled at the women around us.

“Look at all these people,” we’d say. “Can you believe all of these women are faithful Catholic moms? This is so cool. These ladies are so diverse!”

And it was. And they were. They were diverse and wonderful. And kind of crazy.

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I have never seen so many moms dancing and singing and partying hard. Pregnant moms, moms with babies in carriers, young moms, older moms. So. many. fabulous. moms.

And that pretty much sums it up.

It was good that we were there.

 

Dirty and Weird and We Wouldn’t Miss It

I’m not doing 7 Quick Takes today. I really can’t gather my thoughts enough to write seven different things. BUT, I can share some photos with you from our trip to the Dirty Weird Zoo yesterday. The place is still so odd, but definitely a summer tradition I wouldn’t want to miss.

Sis had her first experience with feeding bread to the animals. She was fearless.

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A donkey even nibbled her fingers a little bit. She just yanked her hand back and went on feeding it.

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The big kids were racing all over the place, screaming with delight about all the animals to see.

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No one even freaked out about the inevitable goat attack. Except maybe me and Super Friend.

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Miss and Lass even said the goats were their favorite, because “they were everywhere.”

Miss found a peacock feather, which she insisted on carrying around the whole morning. I know I’m not the only one who has a slightly neurotic terror of bird feathers. They are so dirty. Am I right? Ew. Ew. Ew. Happily she didn’t put up too much of a fuss when I told her she couldn’t bring the feather home.

After depleting at least 10 bags of bread and buns by generously feeding lots of animals, we had our own picnic lunch. I think it was a successful outing.

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I hope you have a lovely weekend.

Five Favorites – Little Moments

My five favorite little moments of this week.

1. Watching the girls play in this tall grass:

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I took the next picture thinking I was going to capture a total “Little House on the Prairie” moment as they were running, slightly downhill, through the grass. Laura and Mary for sure:

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2. Our “Secret, Special Snack” up on the platform of the swing set. They thought this was pretty awesome, and kept talking about all the animals that wouldn’t be able to “get us” or take our snack because we were up so high. My arm wasn’t long enough to get a selfie of all four of us:

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3. My eldest in a nice display of sisterly love and helpfulness.

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4. The other night after I put the girls to bed, I saw several deer right near the house drinking from the pond.

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I could hear that Miss was still awake, so I ran downstairs to get her so she could see them. The first thing she said, when I told her there were deer right by the house and I wanted her to see them was, “I can’t believe I’m up so late!!!!” She giggled like she was getting away with something and ran back up the stairs with me. She said the same thing over and over. “I can’t believe I’m up so late!”

Clearly it was much more exciting to be up out of bed five minutes after I had tucked her in than to see four deer up close.

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5. The fishing tournament weigh-in.

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My husband and our brother-in-law won the tournament.

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The girls kept grabbing his plaque and telling their cousins, “My Dad won this.” The pride in their voices was priceless.

Happy Father’s Day to my BFF.

For more favorites check out Five Favorites at Moxie Wife.

New-and-Improved Summer Fun – A Family Tradition

I’ve been working on our Summer Fun List again for this year (see last year’s list here). My kids loved doing it last year and they enjoyed the Fall and Winter List too, so we’re going for it again. I guess we’re making it a tradition.

I have the list pretty much done, but I haven’t yet put it on our big poster for checking off each thing.  Through discussing it with them, I’ve discovered that doesn’t seem to matter much to my kids that most of what’s on the list is the exact same as what we did last year. Things like Go to the Iowa State Fair, Go to the Zoo, Ride a Horse, and Go to the Beach are the same and probably always will be.

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We got rid of some things that didn’t work last year. Get Ice Cream from an Ice Cream Truck never worked because I never saw a truck on our street all summer. Not gonna try to do that again. I got rid of the bubble activities from the list, because the “special” bubble solutions and contraptions we made were pretty underwhelming. My kids blow very nice, perfectly fine bubbles all summer long with the cheap concoctions and bubble wands we can get from the store, thank you very much.

I got rid of the glitter firework art that I had on there last year. After having lots of Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day projects planned for winter, I determined it’s not awesome to put holiday-specific crafts on the list. Sometimes other holiday plans get in the way or things just don’t work out as planned and you end up making snowflake Christmas ornaments in February as “winter art.” Ahem.

I’m trying to plan ahead, and realizing that we may not be able to make it to a fireworks display for the 4th of July this year, so that’s out, but I did add in Play with Sparklers. I also remember last summer how disappointed Miss was that we didn’t really complete the item “Sleep in a Tent,” since the girls decided to come in and get in their beds at around 10pm. So this year the list just says, “Camp.” No sleeping or overnight shenanigans required. They “went to bed” and spent several hours in a tent with their Dad when we visited my parents last week. I’m calling it “Done,” though Miss wants to try again to stay out all night.

DSC_0194I just love having and doing the list, though a few months ago, I briefly questioned my use of The List for our must-do seasonal activities. I read a post called “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.” It’s a great piece, though a little heavy-handed on the “when we were kids” references. I agree with a lot of what the author wrote and with her opinion that parents nowadays can sometimes go overboard trying to make every moment magical for their kids. I’m all about just letting my kids play without needing to make a big experience out of everything.

The author of the post really poo-pooed all the Pinterest-y lists of summer things, and winter things, and birthday themes, and crafts that start with Q, and so on. And since my word for the year is “Open,” I usually try to think about it, at least briefly, when I come across ideas that might seem to contradict something I’m doing or the way I’m thinking about something (my list in this case).

So I thought about it. For about five minutes. I reflected on our list and whether I was going overboard. I asked myself if I was micromanaging all of my kids’ activities or hijacking their free time with my own agenda. I thought about whether I was just stressing myself out trying to do all of these activities because of perceived pressure to do all things Pinterest.

I decided nope. I’m not. My kids spend the vast majority of their play time doing their own thing. Even when we do an activity from our list, sometimes the outcome isn’t what I planned, because they do it their own way, and that’s okay too. And I don’t’ feel any pressure at all to do certain activities with my kids. I actually like doing crafts with them and going on outings that we might not do if I didn’t have that list staring me in the face saying, “DO IT!”

See, I’m sort of a homebody. If left to my own devices, I often tend toward thinking, “That might be fun, but I’m so comfy here at home, and this is so nice and easy, and I’d just like to stay right here.” And so I sometimes avoid outings or adventures, even though when I get off my butt and go do them, I love them and so do my kids. The actual activity or outing is never as stressful or difficult as I sometimes make it out to be in my head while contemplating it.

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So having our fun list is actually good for me. It actually doesn’t stress me out at all. Even when I think that we might not get all the things done (I was pretty unsure about whether we’d make it on that skiing trip on the winter list!), it isn’t a source of worry or distress. I did 50 out of 51 things on last summer’s list with a four, two, and one-year old and it was great. There’s nothing on the list that I am forcing myself to do when I really don’t want to (except maybe the glitter craft projects). My kids love it and seeing how excited they get about making the list, doing the activities on it, and checking off the items as we complete them, is totally worth it. So it’s on.

Anyway, back to our list. We already started to complete several of this year’s items while visiting my parents. I mentioned the “camping” above, and you can guess from the photos that we already rode horses, went to the beach, swam in a lake, and built a sand castle. We also went to a park (at the beach), planted our garden, and played barefoot in puddles (a new item this year inspired by the ridiculous amount of water in our front yard this week).

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But the best activity we have completed? By far it was the one thing that we did not manage to do at all last year.

DSC_0148DSC_0151The girls absolutely loved catching fireflies. We went out at dusk and waited for what seemed like a really long time. But once those little guys were finally lighting it up, the girls started squealing and screaming and running and laughing like it was the best thing ever. We caught plenty of the glowing bugs. Miss even caught a few by herself. The girls were simultaneously terrified and ecstatic when the bugs got caught in their hair or when one danced on Miss’s nose for several seconds. Though we’ve barely begun, I know this will be one of the best memories of the season.

Summer is so short for us and so glorious. We have to wring every last bit of goodness out of it before the looong cold months arrive again. I’m so excited to do the list again.

DSC_0243 In case you’re curious, here’s what’s on the list this year.

Copied from last summer’s list:

  • Catch lightning bugs – DONE
  • Camp – DONE
  • Go fishing
  • Ride a horse – DONE
  • Go to the Iowa State Fair
  • Make Ice Cream
  • Make popsicles
  • Hunt for bugs
  • Go to the beach – DONE
  • Pick wildflowers
  • Roast marshmallows and eat s’mores
  • Raise caterpillars into butterflies
  • Go to the zoo
  • Go on a treasure hunt
  • Swim in a lake or pond – DONE
  • Go to a splash pad
  • Run through a sprinkler
  • Visit a butterfly garden
  • Put our sprinkler under the trampoline
  • Play hopscotch
  • Play with water balloons
  • Catch tadpoles
  • Go to the Dirty Weird Zoo
  • Have a picnic lunch in the yard
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Read books outside
  • Have an outdoor scavenger hunt
  • Go for a boat ride
  • Go to the farmer’s market
  • Go to the park – DONE
  • Go to an outdoor concert
  • Visit a farm
  • Have a cookout and movie night with friends
  • Plant a garden – DONE
  • Make lemonade
  • Pick berries
  • Go to some yard sales
  • Complete the Summer Reading Program
  • Make a fairy house
  • Have a dance party in the yard
  • Make an art project with outdoor found treasures

New this year:

  • Go to a walk-up ice cream stand (the alternative to the truck)
  • Play with sparklers (an alternative to watching fireworks)
  • Play with moon sand
  • Paint with ice paint
  • Make a worm habitat
  • Make sun catchers
  • Make tin-can lanterns
  • Play barefoot in puddles – DONE
  • Paint with flower-dyed paint

What will you be up to this summer?

Skiing, Valentine-ing, and Birthday Prep

I promise I’m not going to make this another post about how sick we have all been. Everyone is really feeling better now.

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But, I would like to update in order to amend Friday’s post. The one in which I said we were most definitely going on our ski trip because no one had been puking all day and nothing was stopping us. I think I said, “We’re. going.” Note the extra period in there for emphasis.

Well. Ha. Ha. I remember as I typed that thinking, “I’m totally jinxing myself.” And then thinking, “No. No way. How could anything else possibly prevent us from going??”

So, when my husband got home from work on Friday, everything was packed. We were ready to go. He was about to start loading stuff into the car, but then he looked at Miss, who was lying on the floor, uncharacteristically sluggish, wrapped in a blanket. She had taken a nap that day, which was unusual for her, and woke up still saying, “I’m so tired.” She had come downstairs after her nap and barely moved from her spot on the floor.

Hubby said, “Did you take her temperature?” I said, “No” as I was walking over to put my hand on her forehead. The moment I did, I knew. She had a fever. I knew it, but I went to get the thermometer anyway. 101.7. I turned to my husband and silently mouthed some choice words before tending to her and then sending a text to Super Friend (who was already on her way to the skiing place with her family) that we weren’t coming.

But, amazingly and happily, Miss started to perk up almost right away. So much so that when I called to cancel our reservation, I only cancelled Friday night. By the time she went to bed, her temp was already below 100. I texted Super again, “There’s hope!” Saturday morning Miss woke with no fever, no other symptoms, happy as can be. I said, “Quick throw everything in the car and let’s go before something else happens to stop us!”

Okay, I didn’t really say that, but we did get on the road first thing Saturday and made it to our little condo in time for lunch and afternoon skiing and hot chocolate with Super Kids.

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The girls went to Wee Ski school in the afternoon. My husband wanted to teach them himself, but knew he couldn’t take both of them at the same time, so we thought that would be the best option. I was able to watch them from Super Friend’s condo, which was right across the street from the area where they were having their lessons. They were so darn cute all bundled up and wobbly on skis. I wanted to give them a few minutes to get comfortable before going over and watching and taking some photos. But they were only out for a very short time before going back inside to play in the little daycare area. So much for skiing.

They did say that they had fun, and they loved going tubing that night. The dads took the four older kids tubing while Super and I took the three little ones and went into town to get pizza and ice cream and beer. We had the best pizza ever, delicious treats for after the kids went to bed (we did let them have some ice cream too), and wonderful company. So, even though the trip was short and the skiing was minimal, we had a great time.

And yesterday we had our little Valentine’s Day make up. Red heart-shaped pancakes, flower arranging, tea party, and more. It was lovely.

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DSC_0652 DSC_0658 DSC_0654Today we have a birthday. Our big girl is five today. Five!

Miss and Belle

I’m having a little bit of a hard time with five. Five is so grow up. Five is school-age! Even though I won’t be sending her off to kindergarten in a few months, still, I could be! I just got a bunch of paperwork from the elementary school she would be attending if she went to public school, so I called them to say she won’t be attending. It felt so strange to do that. Five is so big.

Anyway, I have been party planning for this Merida party we’ve got happening tonight. A little preview:

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The party will be here at our house, so the guest list is small, small. But Miss is so excited and I can’t wait for her to enjoy her day. Details to follow.

Disney Trip Take 2 – Success!

Disney Take Two (1)

Last year we went to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom for the first time with the girls. I remembered going as a kid and just doing it, with no major advanced planning or strategizing. I vaguely noted that lots of people nowadays seem to devote a lot of time and energy to mapping out every moment of their visit, but I didn’t think too much about it. I pinned a few things and scheduled a princess lunch for Miss’s birthday. I got a few suggestions from Super Friend who had been there a few months before we were to go. I figured it would be no big deal.

What I didn’t know is that we were going to Disney during one of the busiest weeks of the year. I had no idea that the third week in February is a peak time because some places have their spring break at then (in February people??). So, I got a great big smack in the face of Disney reality last year.

Last year we went on only four rides, Prince Charming’s Carousel, Tea Cups, It’s a Small World, and Dumbo (we only managed this one because some kind people gave us their Fast Passes as I was wandering aimlessly trying to figure out where we could get our own).

I had really wanted to take the girls on the Peter Pan ride, but I couldn’t find it. Seriously. Super Friend had told me to ride it first thing in the morning, because it gets busy fast. She also said that we could go straight there if we went left after walking through Cinderella’s castle. Good tip. I could do that. I was on a mission. As soon as we got to the park, we walked quickly through Main Street, cruised past Cinderella’s castle, and then I confused my right and left and we went the wrong way. Of course we couldn’t find it and but the time we did the wait was ridiculous, so no Peter Pan ride last year.

This year I redeemed myself. This year we went on all the rides we did last year

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Tea cups

It's a Small World 2

It's a Small World

Lass Dumbo ride Miss Dumbo ride

and we made it on so many more. We even did a few of them twice. The first day alone, even though we didn’t even get there until about 2pm, we made it on all the above rides plus Ariel’s Under the Sea thing and the Winnie the Pooh ride.

The girls loved meeting the princesses last year during the lunch I reserved, so I made sure to schedule lots of princess meet and greets for them this year too. I learned last year that Fast Passes are key. This year Disney has a new system so, since I bought my tickets in advance online, I was able to schedule three Fast Passes for each day ahead of time. I highly recommend doing this.

Unfortunately with the new system you can only get three Fast Passes per day period (I think it used to be unlimited, but you had to find them in the park), but scheduling them in advance at least allows you to pick the best times and make sure you get the ones you want. For the first day, I scheduled Ariel’s Under the Sea ride (which the girls loved so much we went on it again the second day), meeting Ariel in her grotto, and meeting Rapunzel and Snow White. The second day I scheduled the Peter Pan ride (I was not going to miss it again this year!), meeting Cinderella and Aurora, and Enchanted Tales with Belle. I’m so glad I scheduled this last one, because it’s fairly new and very fun and the lines for it were loooong.

The girls really enjoyed meeting the princesses, especially Miss. I thought it was funny that she got so excited, because as we were walking in on day one and I was talking about them being able to meet the Disney ladies, Miss said, “Yeah Mom, but they aren’t really the princesses, they’re just people dressed up like the princesses.” You wouldn’t have known she thought this from her expressions when getting to meet these “people dressed up.”

The girls’ favorite princess was Ariel. They insisted on standing in line to see her a second time on day two, and didn’t even seem to notice that the second Ariel was a different woman.

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^^ Ariel #1

Girls and Ariel 2

^^ Ariel #2

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Not all the princesses were equal in their rapport with the girls. The Ariels were fine, but my favorite (and my husband’s) was Merida, for the time she took and attention she paid to the girls.

All girls and Merida

She especially took some time with Miss who told her about her plans to have a Brave-themed birthday party. I was very glad that I took the few minutes to find out where and when to meet Merida (you can’t schedule a Fast Pass to meet her). We went to her area (which is around the back right side of Cinderella’s castle, she starts meeting and greeting at 9:15 am) first thing on day two and only stood in line for a few minutes. It was so worth it.

Miss and Merida Miss hugs Merida

My second favorite princess for her ability to connect with the girls was Rapunzel.

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The Belle experience was fun.

Lass and Sis and Belle Miss and Belle Miss hugs Belle

I thought it was funny that Sis would have nothing to do with Cinderella (we couldn’t even get her in a picture)

Big girls and Cinderella

but she loved this Aurora:

Sis hugs Aurora Sis gets Aurora's Necklace Girls and Aurora

This Snow White was my least favorite. She didn’t even get down on the level with the girls, and barely even smiled. Maybe she was just having an off day.

Snow White hugs

On day two during nap time my husband and I took Miss back to the park by herself while her sisters slept and my in-laws stayed with them. This was such a fun experience. She really wanted to go on the magic carpet ride. So we made our first journey into Adventureland, and on our way to that ride we went up in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, which my husband and I both have fond memories of. She thought it was fantastic to go up so high in what she initially thought was a “real tree.”

Overall, this trip was so much better than last year. It helped that I was able to plan more things in advance and that I figured out where and when to do specific things, like meeting Merida beforehand. The biggest thing in making it better was probably the fact that we went during a slow week. Plus it was cold and rainy, so the crowds were much smaller than last year.

We aren’t planning to go back to Disney again for several years. But I’m so glad we had a great experience this year. I know my girls had fun and made some memories. I did too.

P.S. I am trying out using Pic Monkey and Drop Box for my photos. For some reason some of them have been disappearing even after I’ve saved them in the post, so if they aren’t showing up, sorry, I’m trying to fix it (and probably won’t use this system again).