Monday, July 31, 2006

First Day of School

Yep, I know it's still July, but today was the first day of school for the kids.

They got up nicely (as usual for the first day of school). They had a special treat of some chocolate croissant with breakfast, along with sausage and plum. While they ate I packed M's lunch (A chose school lunch today). I got the last supplies ready for their backpacks.

So, we're all ready to go...just grab the camera... wait, where's the camera. Look, look, hunt, try to remember. No luck. M says, my camera is in my old backpack. Right. Grab it and some fresh rechargables. Off we head to the bus stop. Oops. Batteries in the camera are dead (not surprising, I charged them a month ago). Spare batteries are dead - not good, I charged them last week. So, I didn't get pictures this morning. I did get some pictures this afternoon with M's camera and fresh batteries, but I'm not sure how great they are. I don't have an easy way to get pictures from M's camera to the computer I'm on and D is busy on the other one, so I'll put up the pictures tomorrow. (and try to get a picture tomorrow morning also).

Both kids declared that the first day was ok/fine. At least if you *have* to go back to school.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

An Italian Evening

We had a nice evening at church - an Italian dinner (4 different lasagnas to choose from, all home-made) and a play set in Italy. The son of one of the church members is an actor. He has a theater group which puts on plays. They put this on partly as a fund-raiser for the church organ fund. The food was good, the play was funny, we had a good time. The kids even enjoyed the dinner, though the bread sticks did double duty as light sabers. After dinner, the kids went down to a Sunday School classroom and watched a movie while we saw the play.

In other news, my mom is on her way home from a month in Russia. Actually she made it back to New York today. Tomorrow morning she'll be flying in to Atlanta and we'll pick her up. We're all looking forward to seeing her and hearing about her trip.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Open House

We went to Open House this morning. Of course, this meant that first we had to check on the school supplies (way too many to cart to school on the bus Monday morning). So, first I dumped out A's bag and inventoried it. I'd misplaced his pencil box somewhere. I could have sworn it was in the living room. I know I saw it last week. It still had his scissors in it also. Sigh. So, we have to put out a search party for the pencil box before Monday.

Then on to check M's supplies. I couldn't find his list (why wasn't it with A's list??). But, I knew the lists were on the school's website, so I pulled that up and M and I checked off supplies. I had to retrieve a 1" binder from the box of supplies as well as the fine point markers (I brought them up with the pencil box - they must be hiding out somewhere together). Then I realized that he needs a zippered binder this year. Oops, forgot about that one. Guess we'll be going shopping this weekend, or else I have to swipe the binder I'd promised A for Challenge and take him to buy a new one. Either way I need 2 zippered binders and I only have one.

Finally I had everything reasonably assembled (and a list of what is still needed) and we're ready to go. Then as I go into the garage, I notice a drip. Oh %(&^%#. I guess I wasn't catching the drips from the toilet as well as I thought. I probably should have dealt more with it then, but I didn't. I went on to Open House, planning to talk to the teachers (but bring home all the paperwork to fill out).

When we got to the school, A and I went to his class, while M took his supplies and dropped them off in his classroom. A's teacher is very nice. A found the classroom right away. A has 2 classmates from 1st grade in his class this year and several other boys whom he knows and is excited to have in his class. A's teacher, Mrs. B, said lots of nice, pleasing things about him. She was duly impressed with his CRCT scores, which were in his welcome packet. It seems he aced the tests - didn't miss a single question. I knew he would do well - he's bright and he'd done well on his practice tests in the spring (no, I didn't give him practice tests, the school did - to see which areas they needed to help kids with). Mrs. B noticed that A tends to lose himself in a book - she asked him a question and he didn't respond. She seemed to take it in a good manner, "I see he really gets involved in a book".

Then it was on to M's classroom, with a stop along the way to see a former teacher. M actually stopped to see several of his former teachers while I was in A's classroom. This was very nice to hear - in the past, M wanted to see the teachers, but wasn't willing to go by himself - he wanted me to visit them. M's teacher, Mrs. M, is also very nice - she won teacher of the year last year. M was pleased to have another boy from Challenge in his class, though he is sad that he's never had one particular friend in his class. He (and I) were really hoping that they were going to group for math this year - in the past they had for 5th grade - so that he would have more friends in that one class and that the class would be "less boring". Mrs. M says that she will be doing a lot of "differentiation" in math within the classroom and a lot of word problems with more thinking skills and problem solving (and less just rote "do the problem"), so we'll see how things go. M was actually pleased to discover that Mrs. M was going to give out a homework packet at the beginning of the week, all to be done by Friday. He says he is going to do all his homework on Monday. We'll see. If it works like that, I'll be surprised, but pleased.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see the bus schedule. School is starting 15 minutes earlier this year, so I was a bit worried about morning bus times (although the county promised that pickup times should be no more than 5 min earlier than last year). Well, it seems that pick-up is actually 4 minutes LATER than last year! Woo-hoo. I hope that holds! 6:54 is still ridiculously early, but I'm just grateful that it isn't even earlier.

After we finished up with all that, we came home to find the plumber/painter all worried about the drip - it seems they'd tried to break in to the house to deal with it (to no avail). I know these guys so it wouldn't really have bothered me if they had gotten in and dealt with the toilet, but they couldn't. As soon as I got home, they got into the bathroom and tightened up the bolts. They laughed at my Tygon tubing and bucket arrangement, but found it ingenious. They did say that I should have turned off the water and flushed the toilet so that it wouldn't keep dripping. Sensible in hindsight, I know.

Then I had the lovely 45 minutes (at least) of filling out paperwork and making each kid sign his name FIVE times - oh the horror. I had to sign my name countless times and fill out all known phone numbers at least 4 times per kid (and 4 more times per kid for the Challenge program (held at another school)). I'm not used to filling out that much paperwork all at once - I suppose I should be grateful for that.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Open House - no; Pool Party - yes

The kids school has open house scheduled tonight and tomorrow morning. We were initially going to go tonight as they were excited to meet the teacher and see who was in their classes. Plus, if we went tonight, D could help fill out paperwork or at least shepherd kids around and meet the teachers.

But, we had a pool party scheduled with the Scouts tonight. So, instead we planned to do that and I'll take the kids to Open House in the morning. In the meantime, though, the school said they would have the class lists posted on the front doors of the school, so we stopped by on our way to the pool to check out the lists. They weren't up yet - 10 minutes before open house was to start. Frustrating. I had checked with the school earlier in the week and they had assured me that the lists would be up this afternoon. Maybe they were waiting to the last minute to annoy people? There was already a group of 20-30 people waiting to get in for Open House.

When we saw the lists weren't up, we headed on over to the pool. But, once we got there, it turns out the kids had forgotten their goggles. I didn't want to go back and get them - both kids swam goggle-less for years, but no, M, in particular didn't want to swim without them. I told them that I didn't forget them and it would cost me a gallon of gas to get home and back again. If they wanted them badly enough, they could pay for the gas. They decided that they did. We trooped back home, where they had trouble locating the goggles. Sigh. M found an old pair fairly quickly, but all A could find was a old pair where both ends of the straps had broken. Double sigh. Didn't seem worth it to me, but I'm not them. We went back to the pool. I managed to fix A's goggles temporarily, but every time he tried to adjust them on his face, the strap came loose. I wish I could just buy a new strap - I may have to see what I can come up with.

We did have fun at the party. The kids played and D and I got a chance to talk with the other adults. We did a little planning for the early part of the year of Scouting and caught up with some people.

Plumbing 101

This morning I called our semi-permanent (at least it seems that way lately) handymen and told them that the toilet had become a crisis. They had adjusted it back in June, which temporarily fixed it. Then when we came back from vacation, they adjusted it again, which fixed it again, temporarily. In the meantime, it got worse. They had looked at it and tried out one part, which didn't fit. In the meantime we turned the water off to the toilet and just turned it on briefly to flush. Yesterday, though, when I turned the water back on to flush it, the water wasn't filling in the tank AT ALL. So, to flush the toilet, I had to fill a bucket at the tub and force-flush by dumping water in the bowl. Not fun. So, I told the guys to fix the toilet pronto - much more important than staining the house today. Well, they drove around town evidently looking for the piece to fix the toilet - evidently they don't make this design anymore. They finally arrived around 11, fiddled with the toilet for a while and declared it fixed. Then they said it "looked like rain" (um, its summer here, the forecast is almost always scattered afternoon thundershowers), so they went to get more supplies for finishing up the staining. They were gone by noon. I don't know how they get anything done with these sorts of hours. Every day its a different reason why they get here late or leave early. It must be nice to have that flexibility, but its hard to get things done.

When I went in to clean up/check on the bathroom, I found some water on the floor. OK, they said it dripped some - to be expected when the had to remove the tank. I wiped up the water and then heard the drip. Oh, dear. About one drip per second. I put a container under the drip and went on with my day. When I checked back 2 hours later, the drip had filled a 24 oz cottage cheese container. Oops. Can't leave it that way overnight. I scrounged around and found some Tygon tubing and rigged it up to drain into a big bucket (bucket won't fit directly under the drip). Then I called the guys back and told them they would need to deal with this in the morning - they think its just that the bolt isn't tight enough, but that you have to be careful with porcelain - so, I'm not getting in there with a wrench. I'm beginning to think I should add their number to my speed dial!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

When you're out of books...

...its time to head to the library. Especially since today was the last summer library program and the end of the summer reading program party. I find it a little sad that A misses out on a lot of the things M did at the same age, but then again, A does other, different, interesting things M didn't get to do. Today was the only library program we made it to all summer. It wasn't the best program, but A was interested. M, though, wanted to go GET BOOKS, after about 15 minutes of "how long does this last?" When M was 7, we made it to almost all of the library programs and I was delighted that we were past worrying that it would interfere with naptime and that both kids were a good age to really enjoy the programs.

Anyway we listened to 15 minutes or so of a guy describing instruments, getting kids to help him play them, being silly with music. And then we headed upstairs to get some new books. We got a bag full, then it was time for the "party". Now this was supposed to be a ice cream party, but it turned out to be popsicles instead. Not as exciting for the kids, but still cold and sweet. They also had a table of books and beanie babies that the kids could choose one of. Turns out the books were all the same Animorphs. No thanks, says M. He got a 4H beanie, which is quite appropriate as his science should be taught by 4H this year. A initially picked a Get Well bear, but upon noticing that, and the flowers it was holding, traded it in on a curly bear. They're cute, but goodness knows we don't NEED any more stuffed animals around here!

Then M said he wanted to go back into the library and get more books. Well, we're here, so why not? Up we went. This time we ended up with 3 more stacks of books. M got MANY books about dragons. All fiction. I think he put "dragon" into the search bar on the card catalogue and started picking up any books with dragon in the title. He's already finished 2 books.

Then it was time for lunch. I had told the kids I would take them out to lunch - anywhere they got free coupons from the summer reading program. They had 3 choices - Sonic, Schlotzsky's or Chick-fil-A. They chose Sonic, so off we went. We even shared an Oreo Sonic Blast. Yum. They wanted one each, but I knew that would be way too much ice cream, especially right after lunch. Sharing one was just right for us all.

Then of course, it was time to come home and start reading some of those new books. At least for M. I think A took one to bed with him and I'm heading off to start mine now.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Five Little Monkeys

...running all over the house. Oh, wait, those weren't monkeys, they were just little boys - acting like monkeys (or some other LOUD animal). At one point this afternoon I had 5 boys here, ages 6,7,8,9, and 10. They were pretty rambunctious while they were all playing together. Fairly soon, though, they separated out and then over the course of the afternoon they mixed in different combinations and singles. We all survived - even the house survived, but it reminds me why I don't have 5 kids.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back to School preparations

D goes back to work tomorrow. Its the beginning of the end of summer. Time to start getting the kids back into school routines. They were in bed by 9 tonight, with lights out by 9:30. My goal is to get them in bed by 8:15-8:30, with lights out before 9, so we'll keep working towards that - we have a week.

At dinner tonight we had a homework discussion. Every year I get frustrated by the homework routine. The routine seems to become, I tells kids to do homework. M starts homework (for 5 min maybe) then drifts to the computer or picks up his book. A starts homework, but needs my attention. A should need less intervention this year (1st grade had several parts of homework that required my interaction - a brainstorming type session and giving a practice spelling test). Because of the way that M drifted off task, it often took ALL afternoon to do his homework.

One of M's friend's mom told me that she has "homework hour", where the kids work on homework until its done - and if they are done before the hour is up, they read. All the kids are supposed to read at least 20 min per night. We are going to try this. M thinks he will DIE if he has to concentrate on homework for a WHOLE HOUR. If we have to, I could break this up into 2 half-hour blocks, but I think that will just prolong the agony of pulling kids away from computer/book/movie/toys by having to do it twice.

I know there will be moaning and groaning at first, but if this works, I think it will be a more pleasant afternoon for all of us. So, I'm going to go into this with the attitude that it will work.

We also brainstormed about good school morning breakfasts. M, particularly, gets tired of cheese toast, which tends to be my fallback breakfast. A likes more food, so he has more choices. In particular, he really likes instant oatmeal - he likes regular oatmeal as well, but school mornings are rushed, so any breakfast options need to be fast.

Skating with the Scouts

A little background... The Cub Scouts have a special pin that you can earn for participating in 3 events with your pack or den. A really wants to earn this, so I decided that I would organize some summer activities. In early June both kids went to Scout day camp. Then at the end of June, we went geocaching. So we only needed one more activity. Add in the fact that the kids earned a free pass to the skating rink as part of the summer reading program and voila - a good Scout activity.

I called our pack leader and informed her (and in the meantime planned yet another activity - a pool party later this week). Then I called the other den leaders and D and I called the parents in our dens. Sounds like I covered the bases, right. Well, except that my phone message got lost to one leader. When I hadn't heard back from him by Friday, I called again and he said he would call all the kids in his den that night. Guess what - no one from his den showed up on Sat. So tonight D called another parent/assistant leader in that den and asked him to call the kids about the pool party. I feel bad that a group of kids missed out on an event, but really I don't think I should. I asked someone to help call, he agreed, but he dropped the ball.

Anyway, we went skating. There were 5 other kids there from our pack. So, now A has his 3 activities (M already had 3 as he went to Webelos camp). A good time was had by all, as you will see:

M decided he would spring for rollerblades.

I paid for the basic skate rental as this was an organized activity, but the rollerblades were an upgrade, a "want", not a need, so M paid (after a discussion about why he gets the size allowance he does).

A is ready to go:

But once he finally gets going a bit, its a bit tougher to maintain balance.

A spent some time in the practice lane and I walked him 3/4 around the rink as he tried to find his balance. He was getting it much better by the time we left.

M said that the rollerblades hurt his ankles more than the regular skates - and that maybe he wants some regular skates for Christmas. Have to remember that...

After a while first M, then A decided that they wanted to play in the play area. I told them that that would be on them. Again, this was a skating outing - if they wanted to do the play area, that was what their allowance was for. They each decided that it was worth $1, so we bought the arm bands and in they went. M was technically too tall (way too tall), but they let him in because it was very uncrowded and no toddlers around.

M wanted me to take a picture of him on the zip line.

M's favorite way to come down the slide into the ball pit - backwards!

M nearly covered in balls.

A decided that frontwards worked better on the slide:

Luckily he didn't qutie run into M

More work on the house

This time, its time to work on the outside of the house, but since the house is 3 stories at the driveway, its not something we'll be tackling ourselves. Our handy-dandy do-it-all handymen came on Thursday and pressure washed the house, then started staining on Friday. They ran through the first 5 gallons of stain fairly quickly - they say the house is drinking up the stain. Well, that is a large very exposed surface. Here you can see the difference in colors:

The brown in the middle is the original color of the house and the redder color is the new color we chose.

We had thought they were going to work some more this weekend, but evidently not. I hope we'll be seeing them early tomorrow morning.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Six Flags

Wow. What a day. We went to Six Flags for the day today. The kids had free tickets from a Six Flags promotion - reading 6 hours. We almost ran out of summer before we got a chance to go, but we finally had a day without any appointments. In the last week, we've had 2 apts at the eye dr (D and I) and one at the orthodontist (M).

Anyway, we got our tickets at Publix the day before (actually a better deal than the Coke cans we were planning to use) and saved us waiting in line once we got there. They actually opened the gates early - we were in and heading for Goliath by 9:45 am.

M has decided that roller coasters are good now. He wavered on Goliath, the newest coaster, but finally decided that he would go on it. He now has a love/hate relationship with coasters. After each one, he would declare "I hated it. I want to do it again." He ended up riding 4 major coasters. He says he likes "hang time" better than the G-force feeling.

Coasters he rode:
Goliath - newest coaster
Scream Machine - old wooden coaster
Mind Bender - has 2.5 loops
Cyclone - wooden coaster, bent in on itself

When we got to the park, first we went to Goliath because D and I wanted to ride it and we had heard that it formed big lines fairly quickly. Then we headed over to Thunder River, a big raft water ride. The 4 of us were the only ones in line when we got there, so we got a 10 person boat to ourselves. We made the unfortunate decision to all sit together, so the raft was heavier on that side and we ended up soaked. Well, at the end of that ride, they asked if we wanted to stay on - the kids did - so we did it again. We shifted around a bit and 2 other people joined our boat. Well, we all got soaked again, but this time I really got completely soaked. I got stuck under a waterfall and the force of the water was strong enough that it knocked off my sunglasses - luckily then fell into the boat and not into the "river".

Then since we were already wet, we went to ride another water ride. M wanted to ride in the front so he could get even wetter. A, however, was not tall enough to ride in the front (and D and I felt wet enough already), so we rode in the back. M managed to lose his hat on this ride. Luckily the kid behind him caught it. That kid also lost his hat which his mom, sitting behing him, caught. D and I held on to our hats.

Then we headed to one of our perpetual favorites, the bumper cars. They tend to get very busy later in the day, but as it was only around 11 am by this point, we got on right away. In fact, we waited for them to fill up some more cars. A and I rode together, as last year he had been tall enough to ride, but not really tall enough to drive effectively. This year, he has grown enough, that I only had to help out a bit at the beginning and then he had it. After the ride, we all ran around to ride again. This time, A rode on his own. Then we ran around again and again - 4 times in a row! We all agreed that was enough.

Next the kids wanted to go to Skull Island, sort of a mini water park within Six Flags. We had intially said that we weren't going to do that this year - last year it was horribly overcrowded and impossible to keep up with the kids. This year, though, it was remarkably uncrowded. D and I managed to find seats, so we said that yes, the kids could go on the water slides, not just run around on the ground level. They went on 4 water slides, coming back to check in with us periodically. Meanwhile, I took off my sopping shoes and socks to try to dry them out a bit (only mildly successful) and to un-prune my feet (reasonably successful). It wasn't so fun to put back on damp shoes and socks.

Then we went to the Scream Machine. Both kids rode it last year and said it was ok, but they didn't want to ride it again then. This year, M wanted to ride it, but A decided not to. In fact, M and D rode it twice. Then we went back and rode the bumper cars once more - they were slightly more crowded by now, but in fact we only waited through one ride cycle before we got to ride. In fact, by this point we'd been in the park for about 2.5 hours and there were no crowds to speak of. Amazing. We wondered whether high gas prices were keeping people away???

Next it was on to the Ninja. M decided that he didn't want to do upside down loops. I rather like the Ninja - it doesn't have much hang time, which I no longer really enjoy. D and I rode while the kids waited with our stuff. A got several chances during the day to hold our stuff and watch. He was very good natured about waiting in line for rides he wasn't interested in and holding 3 hats, a couple pairs of glasses and a water bottle.

We all watched M ride the Wheelie.

Then it was on to the Looney Tunes coaster. This is actually a rather tame coaster, minumim height only 36", so there were a bunch of little kids in line. It is unfortunately a very slow moving line, partially because it takes a lot longer to load and unload little kids. It was probably the longest line we stood in all day - it might have been 30 minutes, but felt like forever, as we were all getting hungry by this point.

After that ride was over, we looked for food. Unfortunately, on our way to that ride, we noticed that our normal pizza place had been taken over by Papa John's, with a large price increase. We were near a sit down Papa John's with the same prices, so we thought we might as well get AC with our pizza. Well, this place actually had a better deal. We got a medium pizza (that came with LARGE fries) for less than 4 individual slices. It was still highway robbery, but at least we were full, got to rest in the AC and were able to refill our water bottle with ice water (oh and watch Road Runner cartoons while we ate).

At one point in the day, we passed a show in progress. The kids didn't want to stop, but I wanted to watch for a moment, and very quickly they became entranced. It was a wild west shoot-em-up show, with lots of bad jokes and puns. It was fun. Then after lunch when we saw that there was a show going on in the old dolphin theater, they wanted to see it also. It was cute, pirates threatening each other, with severeal of them ending up in the water. I enjoyed the show and the chance to sit for a few minutes. It reminded me that when i was young, we used to go watch the dolphin show there and once I got picked to go up and feed/pet the dolphin. It was a highlight of that trip for me.

M wanted to ride the flying swings. A was delighted to discover that this year he was tall enough to ride them also. It's a fairly tame ride, giving you a nice view of the park. We rode them before and after Mind Bender. M wasn't sure, but managed to be convinced that if he didn't mind going upside down in Wheelie, that he probably wouldn't mind going upside down in Mind Bender so much. Well, he did like it. Enough that he wanted to go again. Unfortunately quite a line had developed while we were riding it, so we just rode the swings agin.

By this point, we were all getting a bit tires, but there was still more people wanted to see. We went on the final water ride, the log flume. It looked like a long line, but really was only about 15 minutes. Then M and D rode the Cyclone - no lines there. It was actually the least crowded I have seen Six Flags in years. I realize that we didn't ride some of the newer/fancier coasters, but we did hit 5 of the big coasters, with no real line for any of them. Goliath did have a line by the time we finished ridiing it and M didn't get to ride Mind Bender the second time because of the line. But really, it was a good day linewise. We saw/rode more than last year.

All in all, we all enjoyed the day. We decided it was good "practice" for our trip to Disney in October. It definitely made me realize that we will need to pace ourselves there. We can't go all day, for 4 days in row. We were already planning to spend a day in the middle just hanging out. I hope that Disney is equally uncrowded so we can see/do all we want.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Countdown til School

As we're into less than 2 weeks til school starts, there are all those things that we meant to do, but haven't gotten around to yet. The kids have a list of things they still want to do:

6 Flags - planned for Thur
bowling - possibly next week once D goes back, but may not happen
roller skating - going on Sat with the Scouts

I'm sure there are others, but those are the big ones and somehow, the calendar seems to get rather crowded right before school starts. We've also got planned a pool party with Scouts (trying to get 3 summer activities so kids can get a special pin). Then there's the Open House for school and finishing up the supply list. M had an ortho appointment today - got the top jaw expander removed - finally! He still has the braces on top and bottom front 4 teeth - not sure for how much longer. He has another appointment in 2 weeks to get a "permanent" (ie non-removable) retainer to help hold the spaces for his canine teeth.

Then there's the issue that M wants his own room. Seems reasonable, but we can't seem to get the playroom, aka other bedroom cleaned up long enough to move furniture. The playroom is carpeted with Legos and Magnetix. All very fun to play with, but makes it hard to move around. I guess the real issue is that *I* don't care that much about moving bedrooms and therefore don't push them hard enough/often enough to get/keep the room clean long enough for the move to take place.

It doesn't help that it is very hot and sticky here. We get the humidity but not the rain. We've had so little rain that the lawn hasn't been mowed in about a month (and it doesn't look long). I'm really glad we put down the pre-emergent stuff this year, or we'd be mowing weeds at least.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Back to School shopping

Yes, its that time already here. School starts 2 weeks from today - the last day in JULY. It's hard to believe for those of us who grew up with longer summers. To the kids, though, this is all they've ever known. They think 2 months is a lot of summer vacation. In reality it is - just not as long as it used to be. In return, we get extra time off during the school year. This year, during our October break we're planning a trip to Disney World. They say that October is low season, so we hope it will be less crowded (and maybe only hot, not scorching).

Anyway, I saw an article in our local parenting magazine stating that the average amount parents spend on back-to-school shopping is $483 PER child. Wow! Not around my house. I did a bunch of back to school shopping yesterday and I spent around $40. It's hard to judge exactly how much that is for this year as I have some supplies in stock from last year and some of the supplies will be for donating at church. I've learned to buy extra for the back to school drive at church that usually occurs in Sept, after all the sales are done. As well as for the inevitable note home after the first of the year asking for extra paper, pencils, etc.

I do still have to buy a few things off the supply list - primarily paper towels, Kleenex and disinfecting wipes. Oh and at least one pair of headphones (must remember to call school and see if 5th grade needs headphones also). That will run $10-15. M will need a new backpack this year (he can almost stick his arm through the one he used the last 2 years). That will likely be the single biggest expense I have.

On clothes, M needs new jeans. Target didn't seem to have their jeans out, so I guess we will wait til they put them out and on sale. He won't need them for a couple of months anyway. He has several pairs of pants that should still fit and I will look for more at the consignment sale this fall. If I had to budget, I would guess $30 (maybe a bit more if he's shot through the ones I got in the spring or the consignment sale doesn't have anything to fit) would probably outfit him til spring. A has close to a dozen pairs of pants to go through. They won't all fit, but enough should that he probably won't need new pants. I will, of course, look at the consignment sale for future pants for him too. Both kids have more short sleeve shirts than they need (A can't fit them all in the drawer as it is - and I took out all the school spirit shirts for the summer). All they will get in the shirt dept is one new school spirit shirt ($10 each - helps support the school).

So, hmm, that adds up to around $100, plus a backpack (could be up to $60 if I go with the Land's End one - I hear great things about them). Anyway, nowhere near $483 x2. Now maybe the people figuring those numbers include all that stuff that I have to pay at school? The arts fee and the agenda and the PTA dues and the yearbook. It seems like there's some other piddly stuff too - it all adds up, but not that much. Maybe $50 all combined.

I'm sure there will be other expenses along the way, but the way the figure was, it made it sound like this was just the before/right at the beginning of school shopping, not the stuff you find you need 2 months into school. I do realize that the kids will need some long sleeve stuff (they're hard on the elbows), but I couldn't buy that now if I wanted - no one is carrying long sleeve stuff. For good reason - its in the 90's out - its hard to even think of cold weather at the moment.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Webelos camp experience

M has been gone at Webelos camp for the past 3 days. While he was gone, the house was a bit quiter -well, except for last night when A had a friend over for a sleepover. They giggled and wiggled for quite a while before finally going to sleep. We also took the opportunity to have some 'food M doesn't like'. We enjoyed it - we had a very interesting Indian dish. It was supposed to be mango/pomegranate sauce. It was very good, but I'm not sure it tasted very fruity.

M came home this morning. I don't have any photos as neither D nor I went. D went last year, but we thought that M needed the experience of going off to camp without a parent this year. By all accounts (his and a leader who went), M had a good time. He enjoyed his "Scouting Skills" class, where he got to build a fire, tie some knots and presumably some other Scout stuff. He's not big on telling us everything that goes on.

I thought it was odd that he said that he never wore his uniform. I had specifically sewn various patches on his uniform as the info said they would be required to be in uniform every night for dinner. Well, evidently not. Oh well, at least the sewing is done and he will be ready for Scout recruiting nights (which will be sometime next month once school has started).

Evidently some (many) of the kids were rather homesick. The leader said that each night he had at least 2 boys crying for Mommy. I wouldn't have expected it out of rising 4th and 5th graders. I wasn't worried (hadn't really thought to worry) that M would cry, but did think that he needed to handle himself without a parent to lean on. Evidently there were only 2 boys (out of 9) that were there without a parent who didn't break down at some point. I guess maybe we all need to work on having the boys go off without a parent more often. I'm thinking maybe I will try to arrange a one night camp-out for the Wolves (A's group) with just leaders sometime this year.

Anyway, M was happy to be back home, though when I went to pick him up at the leaders house, he wanted to stay and play video games.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


We had some wonderful food on our trip (along with various fast food that was tolerable). In Niagara, we had perfectly decent pizza for dinner at someplace D had found online. But breakfast, oh my. We went to a nondescript diner, Basell's, in a non-touristy section to eat breakfast. It was great. Very reasonably priced and large portions. M, the voracious bacon lover, was overwhelmed by the amount of bacon he got. M and A split an order of french toast - I think it was 3 largish slices of bread and about 10 pieces of bacon. Oh my. Luckily the waitress had warned us when M wanted to order an extra side of bacon. I had an equally large amount of bacon with my eggs. We ended up taking some of the bacon back to our cooler and the kids snacked on it later in the day.

Our breakfast in Pittsburgh was also wonderful. We went to a diner, Cherries, where A had a wonderful cherry stuffed pancake. M had pancakes - "I didn't think they'd be THAT big", he said, when he got 2 dinner plate size pancakes. Only a fairly normal 3 slices of bacon, but those pancakes overwhelmed! It was a bit cool in the morning, so I decided to have a hot chocolate - and was impressed with it too - about 12 oz of hot cocoa, for the same price as a smaller cup of coffee.

Then after all day at the Science Museum, we went hunting a German restaurant we'd read of. D and I both thought that this was going to be the same German restaurant that we went to years ago, pre-kids, but it didn't "feel" the same. It was just as good, though. I had hassen-pfeffer - very tasty, but a tad bit messy, trying to eat around the bones. D enjoyed his saurbrauten and A tried a fish sandwich. (possible/probable misspellings there, but spell check doesn't know German food!) M stuck with a tried but true grilled cheese - he requested no pickle, and A piped up that he wanted the extra pickle, so that's how they served it.

We got lucky in finding a good Mexican restaurant in SC on our way back home. I asked the hotel clerk for a suggestion since they listed 3 or 4 Mexican restaurants. We were quite happy with his choice - as I told the kids, if you find an ethnic restaurant that that nationality enjoys, its likely to be good. And this one was. There were 4 or 5 Spanish language newspapers in the lobby and many Hispanics in the restaurant and the food was very good - and more authentic than many Mexican restaurants.

Then as we were heading home the last morning, we saw this:

The giant peach in South Carolina.

And we knew that the peach stands were coming up. Whenever we go though SC in the summer, we buy a bag of peaches. They weren't ripe when we bought them on Mon, but we had some on Wed. They weren't the best ever, but still good. We've had several now and have a few ripening on the counter and the rest in the fridge waiting their turn.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Carnegie Science Museum

We planned a stop in Pittsburgh particularly to see the Carnegie Science Center, per M's request. Actually he had initially requested the Toronto Science Museum, but we vetoed that when we found out that the Toronto Grand Prix was the same day. So D looked up interactive science museums that might be along our path home. Pittsburgh was the best fit. And it was wonderful. Lived up to everyone's expectations, including the kids. Silly me, I had wondered what else we might do that day. Not a problem as we were at the museum from 10:30 am til 6:45 pm. We were there all but 45 min that the museum was open that day. And we still didn't get to see everything.

Interestingly, we didn't know that the All Star Fan Fest was going on in Pittsburgh that weekend. Maybe that was why the museum wasn't that crowded - or maybe because there is so much to do, that it never seems crowded. Whatever, but it was very nice. Equally nice was the fact that we got in free due to a reciprocal agreement with Fernbank Science Center (where we have a membership through the end of this month thanks to my mom).

They had a lot of really cool interactive exhibits. D says that it is much cooler than when he went as a kid (and the staff agrees - they say they have added a lot in the last 30 years).

They had a really cool exhibit with a restaurant booth where you could experience an earthquake. It was amazing. All I can say is, I'm glad I don't live with earthquakes. There was a whole lot of shakin' going on!

Here M is trying to build a earthquake proof structure.

Building one that is one story is fairy easy, but a 2 story structure that will withstand the earthshake quaking is much more difficult.

And here the kids are trying to make the volcano erupt. We never really managed it - I don't know if we needed to keep pumping longer, or if the exhibit wasn't working right.

We participated in the Bridge Builder's Challenge. It was a lot of fun. We did it as 2 teams - M and D were one team and A and I were the other. Our bridges looked pretty cool and did well compared to the ones that had been done last weekend, but later in the day others made even better bridges.

We also visited the Sports Museum. It is a separate building, but part of the same museum. They had really cool stuff like a rock climbing wall (M, A and I all tried it out - M did it 3 or 4 times). Rock climbing takes some different muscles than I normally use. I made it to the top of the medium wall, but the last bit was a challenge, as the rock jutted out up above me.

Unfortunately I have no pictures from the Sports Museum. I had my camera and extra batteries. So, when the camera quit, I changed out the batteries, but it still wouldn't work. So, I tried D's spare batteries -still no good. I was worried that the camera had had a serious malfunction. The next day I tried some new batteries straight from a new pack and all was good. That was really strange, though, that my (I thought) fully charged recylables and D's (he thought) new regular batteries were both dead. It's too bad, as there were some great picture opportunities.

Maid of the Mist, etc

There's the Maid of the Mist boat sailing towards the Canadian falls.

Here A (and everyone else) is suited up and ready to go onto the boat.

After we got onto the boat, again, I put away the digital camera and got out the waterproof one. The maid of the mist is not quite as drenching as the Journey behind the falls, but it was still wetter than I wanted to expose the camera to.

As we got on the boat, we saw all this foam. The kids were very curious as to what it was. We think it is dirt and froth from the falls. It is interesting to see it, because from it you can tell that near the edges of the river, the water is sometimes swirling back up river.

Here's A with the American falls behind him.

Niagara Falls Illuminated

We went down towards the falls the evening we were there, trying to see the illumination. Well, the lady at the hotel front desk told us to go down one street, but it had a very poor view - too far away and too many trees in the way. I never could get a picture. What they do, though, is light up the falls in different colors, sort of like this:

This was fountains outside some hotel.

The next day, when we went to the Maid of the Mist, we saw where we should have watched the illumination from: we got beautiful views of the falls like these:

The American Falls

The Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Here are some photos I found online of the illumination:

the American falls

and the Canadian falls

These are really cool pictures and I'm really disappointed that we didn't get steered to the right spot to see all illuminated falls from a good vantage point. If I ever go back, I'll know where to go. I am really glad that we went over to the Canadian side - the views are much better from there. Plus it was cool to be able to say that we've been to Canada. D was the only one who had been before (yet the kids and I are the ones with some Canadian ancestry - my grandfather was Canadian). A was pleased to be able to say he's been out of the country - and they were both happy to realize that they've been to Canada at a much younger age than I have.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Journey Behind the Falls

First stop when we got to Niagara Falls was the Journey Behind the Falls. It is on the American side of the border. When you buy your ticket, they give you a raincoat and sandals/water shoes. The kids got sandals and the adults got water shoes. We had all worn our sport sandals, but they said we needed to wear theirs (or you couldn't go all the way along the path). So we changed shoes.

When we got to the bottom of the gorge and onto the walkway, one of the first things we noticed was the number of birds. It turns out that there is a bird sanctuary there also. Some of the birds are very used to people - we got quite close to this bird.

Then as we walked a little way down the boardwalk path, I saw a rainbow in the water. I wasn't at all sure it would come out in the picture. We actually saw several rainbows around the falls.

Here you can see the lines of people heading closer to the falls.

Just after this point I put away the digital camera and got out the waterproof camera we had brought for the trip. It was definitely a good thing to have! As we got closer and closer, we got wetter and wetter! Even with the raincoat they provided, we got soaked from almost the waist down.
The Hurricane Deck was M's favorite part. It is the closest to the falls. They say that it is hurricane force conditions on that deck. Having been on the outskirts of a hurricane, I can believe it. I couldn't see anything up there. I got worried because I had lost track of A. He was up there, but because of the water and wind, I couldn't see him. D found him fairly readily (or maybe A found D).
The whole attraction was amazing. They take down the boardwalk every fall and reassemble it every spring. They say it wouldn't withstand the tons of ice that would accumulate on it otherwise.
I'll try to update this with pictures from the other camera once I get them developed (but that may take a while).

work around the farm

On Wed, it was time for us to help out around the farm. Especially since not much had gotten done on the 4th. M and A helped Gramma pick snapdragons. Of course they had to "snap" some that were not saleable.
Gramma has a whole bucket of snaps here.

Then M and I took down all the plastic that had been protecting the tomatoes in the field. After we had spread it all out in the greenhouse, M and I went out to help Gramma pick more flowers. She showed us how to strip off the lower leaves.

This is only some of the flowers we picked that morning. They certainly are beautiful!

One favorite picture of mine is the kids on the tractor each year.

A didn't want the stardard tractor picture. He wanted to clown around.


D's Aunt L came over for the 4th. We had a good time visiting with her. We were going to take her geocaching in a local park, but it was raining, so we hung out at the house.

It did stop raining later on and we invited any and all to join us for the fireworks, but no one else was up for it. So the 4 of us headed off to see the show. I had fun playing with the camera - its times like these that I really love a digital camera. I took about 80 pictures of the fireworks - probably a good quarter of them were very faint to nothing and about half were so-so, but I got some really nice ones too.
Here's a good shot that M took.

This one is one of my favorites.

Here is leading up to the finale.

And its finale time. Sometimes you're not quite sure if that is the end of the show or not. Well, there was NO mistake this year. It was boom, boom, boomditty, boom, etc. Quite clear, loud and final.

Games at the Grandparents

We just got back from a 10 day, roughly 2000 mile vacation, so I have a lot of catching up to do. I'm going to be posting this in a bunch of posts (to keep the computer from crashing) and to help me segment it.

First off, we went to visit the grandparents in Ohio. One of the first things A said was, "where's the hammock?" So he and Grampa went off to set it up.
D enjoys the hammock.

The next day, D's brother and his wife (Uncle D and Aunt K) showed up. We convinced Uncle D to join us on a geocaching expedition. We did some slipping around on some hills, but did manage to find the caches. We deposited our trailbug into the first cache we located.
M and Uncle D examine the cache.

The kids were quite interested to each find a foreign bill in a cache. Grampa says that they are Nepalese currency.

Later that afternoon we played a game of (very non-regulation) croquet. We had the farm version - there were dips and divots, crabgrass and clover. It made for a very interesting game.
M is ready for his shot.

A is quite disgusted at how his shot turned out.

The balls sometimes rolled very differently than you expected - sometimes WAY past your next wicket, other times barely an inch.

Uncle D had brought Risk (the Lord of the Rings version). He and D introduced M and A to Risk. They declared both kids to be fairly good tactical game players, but veeerrrry slow.

Uncle D has a lot to do with the kids being good game players as he gives them each a cool new game every year for Christmas. We all enjoy playing his games. We took Shadows over Camelot with us and played it twice. M finally got his desire to play it with a "traitor". And he even ended up as the traitor. It's a good thing we hadn't played it that way before as I don't think it would work well with only 4 total people.