Monday, August 29, 2011

Back To School

We are homeschooling again this year.  Officially, only Jonah is in school.  Hello, first grade!  But, Sam and Cate need some learnin' too.  Sam is pre-kindergarten, and Cate is pre-pre-kindergarten.  We keep each other busy.

Three students ready for the first day of school.  Two of them are even happy about it.

Her very first letter.  Ever!  Don't worry.  She went right back to writing like a two year old and has not written anything legible since. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What I Did This Summer -- Part 5: Oods and Ends

We are in our second week of school, so for us, summer is as good as over.  Except for swim lessons, and the heat.  But, while the days are still a little longer than not, I thought I would share with you some of the smaller bits of our summer.

You must remember, that as a homeschool mom, it is my vacation, too.  So don't judge me too harshly when I tell you, I watched seventy-two episodes of Doctor Who, and played a hundred seventy-two hours of Angry Birds.  Both of which I had never done before this summer.  (Well, okay, I had seen some of the old Doctor Who from back in the seventies, but I saw it in the eighties, late Saturday nights on PBS.  This tells you loads about my social life in the eighties as well.)

Jonah took a cupcake decorating class, in which he was the youngest student and the only boy.  Or, "a good place to find a wife," as he described it.  Combine his cupcakes with my summer(waste of)time activities, and you have this...

An Ood cupcake.  You can see the Ood inspiration here

Other monsters.  These are Sam's.

And, in other news...

We picked up souvenirs, or pictures thereof.

When passing through Weed, California, you do not need to buy one of these at the local gas station, but you can take a picture of one with your phone, while pretending to use their bathroom.  (Which you know I would never do.  See Part 2.)

We played in the water...

We helped Uncle Jim launch some homemade rockets.

It is never too early to teach a little girl about things that go boom.

Once the missile is launched (too fast to be photographed by me), someone must go get it.  Have fun, Uncle Jim.

And, someone must bring it back.  But Catie will make the walk seem shorter by chatting your ear off.


Catherine caused us some concern.

I am posting this, so that when I tell you she is trouble, you know just what kind of trouble I am talking about.  Daddy's little girl  trouble.  Do-I-look-like-I-would-cause-trouble? trouble.  Gunna-break-your-heart-and-steal-your-truck trouble.
It's all fun and games until someone becomes a stripper.

And, we rested.

His sister gave him her bubba, which was really sweet.  Maybe she's worth the trouble.

The End

I hope to be back soon with some Fall adventures, but until then, if you missed any episode of What I Did This Summer you can catch up here...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What I Did This Summer -- Part 4: Ghosts and Posers

Since our first child was born almost seven years ago, Hubband and I have driven from our home in northern California to his parents home in northern Washington many times.  The drive has never been anything but a miserable slog,  up to twenty hours over two days (if we were lucky enough to stop) with one, two, or three screaming children, depending on the year.  This year was a little better.  All of those years of experience paying off?  Perhaps.  Or, maybe it was because we packed cupcakes, borrowed Nintendo DSes from a friend to keep the boys busy, and stopped in Salem, Oregon at a place called The Enchanted Forest.

This place is great.  It's like a story book village, with rides.  It was the perfect way to break up a long drive.  And inexpensive.  For a family of five, we spent under $100, including lunch!  (You can't even get mouse pancakes for that at some other places.)

One of the main attractions for Jonah, was the haunted house.  He wanted to go in there so badly.  And, so did I.  So, we bought our tickets and went.  Just Mommy and Jonah.  Is this an excited boy, or what?

After we waited in no line what-so-ever, we gave the delightful girl our ticket.  When she saw Jonah, she told us that if it we got too scared, we could just come back out the way we came.  As soon as the door closed behind us, it was pitch black.  I felt Jonah tense up beside me.

"It's okay, Jonah," I said.  "We don't have to stay if it is too scary."

"Are  you scared, Mom?"

"No," I said.

"I think maybe you are.  You should hold my hand just in case."

We came around the first bend, and my eyes were still adjusting.  A witch, at a table with a crystal ball, lit up and cackled at us from the left.  Jonah jumped and pulled me away from her.  I backed into a wall and tried to convince Jonah to just look at the lady for a minute, so that he could see she was not real.

"Are you sacred, Mom?  I think you are."

"No, honey.  I'm fine.  But we can go if you want."

At this point, something in the wall behind me moaned and rattled. I am not a scared-y cat, but I am tightly wound.  I jumped and shrieked.

Jonah yanked on my hand, and said, "That's it!  You're scared.  We need to leave!"  And, so we did.

If anyone asks, I am afraid of the haunted house at Enchanted Forest in Salem, Oregon.  My brave son rescued me.

I brought my camera on this trip, but never once took it out.  This is all I managed to capture on my phone.  (There is a disciplinary hearing in September.  My mommy-blogger credentials may be yanked.) 

Jonah and Abraham Lincoln

There were ghost and guns everywhere.

Forget Daddy-on-the-porch-with-a-shotgun.  I got this covered.
 And, I'll trow this one in, just because they are cute.

If you missed any episode of What I Did This Summer you can catch up here...

School started for us this week, but there are a few more bits and pieces of summer to show you, before I start writing about that.  I hope to be back soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I Did This Summer -- Part 3: No One Slept Here

One of the joys of traveling with your children is not sharing a hotel room.  I am used to sleeping close to my children.  We have a small house.  None of them sleep more than thirty feet from me.  I sleep with my door open.  I can hear Sam breathing.  I know what my children sleep like.  But, if we are in a hotel room, each of them, in turn, will sit bolt upright in bed and scream.  Scream, like their hair is on fire.  Then, flop back on the pillow, and resume sleep.  I, thanks to the rapid rise in blood pressure, will be awake for at least the next hour.  This is not good sleep.

During our trip to Nevada this summer, to visit my father and grandmother, we were blessed with a two bedroom, two bathroom suite.  (Thank you, Daddy!)  It was bigger than our first apartment.  There was one room with two beds for the kids, and one room with a huge bed for us.  We were so excited.  But sleep was not to be had.

For reasons that are boring and so shall be skipped, Hubband put the kids to bed that night, while I was out.  (Again, the details aren't important.  Don't be so nosy.) 

When I returned to the room at 10:30, I was met at the door by a wonderful husband, but a frazzled father.  "Cate won't stay in the bed," were the first words out of his mouth.  "I just can't keep her in the bed."  It was true.  She was running around like a crazy person.  Or, an over-tired two year old.  Same thing, really.

"Okay, well.  We'll have to put her in our bed until she's asleep.  Then we can put her back in with Jonah."  My plan sounded reasonable.

"Well, no," he said.  "I have to sleep in with Jonah.  He is having bad dreams."

"I told you not to let him watch When Gators Attack on the swap people channel."  It is so easy to be the superior parent when you are out all night.

"Oh, he was fine with the alligators.  It was the live-action  Scooby Doo  movie that scared him."

We paused to take in the absurdity of the situation.  Ferrel two year-old.  Six year-year old afraid of a crime-solving dog.  Four year-old presumed sleeping.  Got it.  I quickly developed a new plan.

"Okay, so you sleep in the bed with Jonah until he falls asleep.  I will get Cate to sleep in our bed.  Then you and she can swap." 

"Well, maybe."  He sounded doubtful.  There were other issues.  "Sam fell asleep crying because you weren't here to sleep with him."  When we travel, Sam and I usually share a bed, so that the kids are split up.  This has become, second only to make-your-own-waffles, his favorite part of traveling.  It added a wrinkle to my plan, but Sam was asleep, and if he stayed that way, it might just work.

Hubband and Jonah were quickly asleep in one of the beds in the kids room.  Sam was asleep in the other.  That left me in the master bedroom with my demon possessed daughter.

I finally got Cate to sleep, but could not do the same for myself.  Perhaps it was the human pinwheel with whom I was sharing the bed.  After about three hours of jostling, kicking, rolling, and two screaming sit-ups, I left.  I went into the living room.  Yes, there was a living room.  I hung out there for awhile, reading.  When I finally went back in, Cate, all three feet of her, was taking up the entire king size bed.  I know, it sounds impossible, but I saw it with my own eyes.  There must be some sort of pre-school physics that allows her to do this.

I was about to scoop Cate up and move her onto her reasonable share on the bed, trying not to wake her of course, when Sam came in.  "Mommy," he whimpered.  "I want you to sleep with me."

It was three in the morning.  I had not slept.  I had no fight left in me.  I went into the double room and got in bed with Sam.  I did not sleep well, but I slept.  A little.

That is how a two year-old girl got an entire master suite all to herself, while the rest of us were billeted as usual -- four to a room, two to a bed.  And, though the boys had us up by six, Princess Catherine slept until 9:30. 

When we went to Washington, later in the summer, we had our usual accommodations -- the in-laws' attic.  It is a nice attic.  Large and nicely finished, two windows at each end, plenty of beds and room to play.  The kids even have shelves of toys.  A short adult can only stand up in the middle of the room, but other than that it is quite cozy.

On one of our last night's there, Cate was suffering from a fever.  She sat up every fifteen minutes or so, moaning.  A sort of rhythmic chant of discomfort, until one of us went over, laid her back down, and told her it was going to be okay.  I don't think she was every really awake, but we certainly were.  Every fifteen minutes.  I know because I looked at the clock.  Hubband and I took unofficial shifts.  He would get up with her for an hour or so, then I would.  But neither of us slept, even when "off duty."  It went on like this until four in the morning.

Then it got worse.

Cate started screaming.  Like I have never heard.  I thought she must be hurt.  I lept out of bed and went to her as quickly as I could with no head clearance.  Then I saw it.  Well, not it, but its shadow, cast by the glow of the night light.  It was a bat.  I'm sure it was a small bat, but its shadow looked like that of an albatross.  Have I mentioned that I am deathly afraid of bats?  Deathly.  Afraid.

I let out my own primal scream.  At which point Hubband ordered me to quit screaming.  He was trying to find out what was going on, and I was not helping.  So, I quit screaming.  I fell to the floor at the foot of our bed, cowering under a bit of quilt.

"It's a bat.  There's a bat in here," I whimpered.  My heart still races at the memory.

Cate continued screaming, "Flies.  Flies."  She had not learned the word "bat" yet, but she would.

Finally, Hubband managed to pass her to me, staying as low as possible.  She and I escaped to a lower floor.  Hubband stayed behind to conquer the bat, enlisting the help of his father, a broom, and a fishing net.  The flying rodent was returned to the wild, unharmed, but with an abiding fear of screaming women.  As it should be.

No sleep was had, by anyone.  Except my boys, who managed to sleep through the entire thing.  I remember when I could sleep through anything.  It was 2004 b.c.  Before Children.

Stay tuned for Part 4, Ghosts and Posers.  More pictures, fewer words.  I promise.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What I Did This Summer -- Part 2: Toilet Tourism

The Gaches Mansion, LaConner, Washington, 1891

Nothing says "Happy Birthday, America!" like the smell of gunpowder and grilled meat.  I know this, because my Fourth of July contained neither.  No fireworks.  No barbecue.  Just a three day weekend full of fast-food play areas and public toilets.  Well, okay.  There were some breathtaking giant redwoods, a visit with family, gorgeous beaches, an indoor pool, and waffles for breakfast every morning.  But talking about the good stuff is easy.  And, quite frankly, a little boring.  It's been done to death, hasn't it.  So, instead, I offer you this.  Not just the Fourth of July weekend, but my entire summer vacation in potty stops.  Toilet tourism, if you will.

Yelp, the website that allows real people to write real reviews about all kinds of services -- restaurants, shops, even radio stations -- does not have a category for public toilets.  They really should.  Travelers could use this information.  Especially travelers with children, or other disabilities.  Since I have no website designing-launching-marketing experience I am going to 1) give away (yet another) million dollar idea and 2) tell you about a few places you should avoid and/or go out of you way to visit, if you happen to be in the area.

I will start with the bad.

Any chemical port-a-loo should be avoided.  Especially if you have a child with you.  Open sewage.  No running water.   Unless you are at Burning Man or Glastonbury where they are part of the charm.

I hate gas station bathrooms.  If you have to ask for a key (ew, gross) and go "round back," the room will not be sanitary.  No exceptions.  In the winter, it will be freezing.  In the summer, it will be sweltering.  And you will get more germs washing your hands than not.  I know you are "already there for gas...why make two stops...the rest of the place looks clean...yada yada."  Do not ask for that key, thinking that this place is an exception.  It is not.  It. is. not.

Some gas stations have bathrooms that are not "round back," but even then you are better off going to a fast-food restaurant.  So, after you pay for your gas, get back in your car, and drive across the street to the McDonald's or Taco Bell or whatever.  But not Arby's and Dairy Queens.  For some reason, they are seldom what one would hope.  And, don't feel guilty about using their facilities without buying anything.  They don't mind.  Really.  While you are using their toilet, they are imprinting their logo and brand onto the minds of your children.  Everyone is happy.

There is a town -- yes, an entire town -- called Willits, that should be avoided.  It is named for the rare infectious disease you can get from using their facilities.  Sorry, Willits, it's true and you know it.  (And, no, I'm not just cranky because you have put three stop lights in the middle of an interstate highway, just so we can all sit in soul-sucking traffic and crawl through your dismal town.)

Now, for the good.

In Ferndale, California, if your husband refuses stop and you drive past the old churches and restored Victorian homes, past the sidewalk cafes and quaint tourist shops all the way through town, you come to a park.  It is lovely.  Wide open spaces, hemmed in by blackberry bramble and bocce ball courts.  And the nicest park bathroom I have ever seen.  Ever.  It was clean.  It was well lit and ventilated with windows.  There was real toilet paper.  Warm water.  Soap.  Paper towels.  I talked about it all day.  Seriously.  Hubband thought I was crazy, but he can go in the woods.  He has no idea the toilets I've seen.  Uff da!

Burlington, Washington.  Cascade Mall.  Macy's.  First floor behind housewares.  The best bathroom in the (parts of the) WORLD (I have been to).  Toilet, clean.  Sink, clean.  Floor, clean.  You could eat off that floor.  Warm water, scented soap, soft paper towels.  There was a changing table, also clean, that did not creak, or bow, or threaten to rip from the wall while my child was on it.  This was a five star bathroom.

There are also a few honorable mentions.

Most Adventurous   The Woods, Arcata, California.

I won't say where exactly, for reasons that will soon be obvious.  We were in Arcata visiting my cousin Jake and his family.  On a "hike" in the woods, Samuel announced to the world, "I gotta poop!"  Not happy news, as this meant a "hike" back to the parking lot and the aforementioned, to-be-avoided-with-children chemical toilet.  Cousin Jake to the rescue.  With his patience and expertise, Sam pooped in the woods, in a hole Jake dug with his shoe.  Jake even cleaned him up.  I don't know how, and I don't want to.  Port-o-potty averted!  Of course, Samuel thought that was the most exciting thing in all his four years on this earth.  We weren't even out of the woods when he needed to "go again."  So, we have set a few boundaries.  Pooping outside is to be a "with Cousin Jake only" activity.  This should work, since we only see Jake about twice a year.  I have to warn my mom before we meet at her house for Christmas.

Most Inspirational   703 South 2nd Street, LaConner, Washington.

If you have a smart phone, you have used it in the bathroom.  You know you have.  You have read the paper or checked your e-mail or played Angry Birds while pretending to use the bathroom just to get a few moments of peace.  (I won't tell your boss if you won't tell mine.)  If you haven't, you should, and I am going to tell you why.  On July 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm, I sent the following message to my sister, with whom I have swapped many texts while in the bathroom (don't judge me):  "I am in the bathroom at the LaConner Quilt Museum, housed in the old Gaches Mansion, built in 1891.  I am going to start toilet texting from exotic locales."

Again, don't judge me.  Join me.  402-317-5229.  That is my text number.  It is not a cell phone, just a free text service.  Go ahead.  Save it in your phone.  Right now.  Don't wait.  Save it in your phone and use it for all your toilet tourism.  Are you at the Eiffel Tower toilet?  I want to hear about it.  Have you found a restaurant with heated seats?  Let me know.  Just want to gripe about the condition of the john at your local Wal-mart?  I'm listening.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What I Did This Summer -- Part 1: Strange Amish Waffles

This summer, we have been traveling.  Like crazy.  If you have ever traveled with children, you know what an exhausting, soul-sucking, memory-of-a-lifetime adventure this can be.  If you haven't, I am here to tell you a few things.  We have found a two day driving strategy that works, with or without cupcakes.  But, one six hour trip took us ten, and we aren't even sure why.  I am developing a website where people can rate public toilets and fast-food playlands.  Jonah learned that vegetarians don't eat bacon or sausage.  Jonah is developing a website to raise money to buy bacon and sausage for poor vegetarians.  Samuel learned to poop in the woods, in a hole dug with a shoe, and he can't wait until Thanksgiving so that he can do it again.  More bedrooms don't actually make for less crowded sleeping.  How many ninety-year-old women are too many?  A house so haunted we had to leave.  So many stories.  So little time to write them all down.  Where to begin...

BEWARE BREAKFAST:  Medium-Rare Waffles with Amish Strangers

Samuel's favorite part of any trip, is the Free Hot Breakfast offered by most mid-priced hotels.  These are usually a make-your-own waffle set up, but all Samuel has to do js place an order with one of his parents, and keep repeating, "I want a waffle, I want a waffle, I want a waffle, I want a waffle," until one appears on the plate in front of him.  As one of his parents, I can tell you it would be easier to pay for waffles at the Denny's across the road.

When people hear that make-your-own waffles come free with the room, they are going to make their own waffles, dammit, even it means pulling at the frayed edges of polite society.  You'd think that we as a people would have evolved past the primal urge to pounce, cheetah like, on the nearest warm food.  But no.  It is still a jungle out there.

This particular jungle story happened over Fourth of July weekend when we went to see the California Redwoods.

The first thing I had to do was jockey for position with my fellow hotel guests, most of whom were just hovering around waiting for their waffles to finish.  There is a timer on those things, people.  It takes three minutes.  You have two minutes and twenty-seven seconds left.  Go stand somewhere else, would ya.  No one is going to steal your waffle.  I promise.  Because if they tried, the whole crowd would turn on them.  It is the Law of the Free Hot Breakfast.

Once a waffle iron opened up, I had to push forward, reach across the blazing hot contraption, and get the batter.  This required I do five things simultaneously:  1) hold a sloppy plastic cup under a waffle-batter glopping machine with one hand, 2) pull a lever on said glopping machine with the other hand, 3) monitor the fill level of the sloppy cup, 4) hold off the encroaching horde of waffle-zombies with my backside, and 5) not sear my left breast.

With glop in hand, I lifted up the heavy top of the waffle iron, and began to pour batter onto the beeping, steaming, hissing mess.  I had about half of the glop in there when the top of the waffle iron slammed down, barely missing my hand.  No.  That it is not true.  It did not miss my hand.  It tried to burn my hand clean off.  And it would have too, but for my lightening-fast reflexes.  I yanked my hand away, just in time.  Disaster averted.  Except that I flung half a cup of glop behind me.  Amazingly, none of the waffle-zombies were hit.  And, none of them saw what happened.  Fifteen people, all focused on two waffle irons, and not a single one of them saw the thing try to bite me.  They looked at me as if I were a mental patient having some kind of episode.  But they all managed to look away as I cleaned up the mess.  Even the man who stepped over me to steal my turn at the waffle iron.

When I finally shoved my way back to the front of the non-line, and successfully applied glop to iron, I returned to sit with Sam while I waited the three minutes.  Like civilized people should.  It was then that Sam looked slowly around the room and loudly announced, "Mom, these people are all strangers."

"Yes, Sam," I replied quietly.  "They are."

"I'm not going to talk to them because they might take me," he said and glanced around suspiciously.

This did not endear me to the other diners, who, I could tell, were wondering why such an adorable child would be left in the care of an obviously deranged woman who had hallucinations involving kitchen appliances.

Ten minutes later, Sam tucked into his pink waffles without a care in the world.  Did I mention that the waffles were pink?  Well, the glop was pink.  Strawberry they called it, but I recognize waffle batter made with artificially-flavored strawberry milk when I see it.  The waffles were some kind of hybrid; brown on the outside, pink of the inside.  Like a well cooked steak.  I found it troubling.

Among the strangers was a large group of Amish.  (They avoided the waffles.)  This is a very rare sight in California.  Sam had a million questions.  (Luckily, he kept his voice down this time.)  And, to be honest with you, it was just as hard explaining to him why the Amish dress the way they do, as it was explaining to him why a lady in our sub-urban supermarket was wearing a burqa.  Sometimes, having kids makes my brain hurt.

In the end, and after breakfast, the trees were nice.  Big.  Really big.  And, old.  Thousands of years, I am told.  Big, old, and not nearly as boring as I thought they might be.  (Don't tell Hubband I said that.)

Now...which story should I tell next?