Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Big Trip

We're back! We had a fantastic time in New Orleans!

We stayed with our friend Fr. Mark. He had mentioned that southern architecture was more... elegant than we were used to. Well, yes. This first picture is the seminary where he lives (and we stayed).

We toured the entire city! This is the Cathedral in Jackson Square (the first place I prayed for the Emperor!). It's dedicated to St. Louis, one of my favorite saints.
And we had begneits at the Cafe Du Monde!

We also saw some of the more rural areas. Really remarkably beautiful. Best of all was this tree.

You can take the home schooler away from home, but... Here is Chalmette Battlefield - the site of the Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812! There really is nothing like touring historical places with your own private historian. Fr. Mark's doctorate is in Church History, but most of his other degrees are in secular history. For one thing, we knew to take the picture with this cannon instead of the other anachronistic Civil War cannons. Also, when talking cannons with a priest historian, the opportunities for puns are fantastic! (He's lucky he wasn't a canon lawyer).

Back at the ranch...
The kids had a wonderful time with Mumpy and Angel. Best of all, Tio came and recruited them to play soccer for Spain!

And the Zoomlians loved the masks we found for them in the French Quarter!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Did I Mention?

That the reason my mom is coming for a visit is that she is watching ALL SIX KIDS for us while we go off to New Orleans for days and days and days and da (that's 3 1/2 days) to celebrate our anniversary?

Well she is! Love you, Mom! You're worth mopping for!

(and thank you, Angel, for riding shotgun!)

My Inner Mopper

I went on a mopping spree today. My mom is coming to visit.

Now, my mom is not actually critical of my housekeeping and I do actually mop the main floor most weeks, but there's something about a visit from mom that brings out my inner mopper.

I'm not sure that you visited Zoom Times exclusively to read about mopping, so I'll limit myself to two observations:

1. My inner mopper is a purist. I mop with a "string" mop and my electric kettle. I start with a dry mop and a 2 liters of boiling water. I pour the water on the floor a bit at a time and wipe it up with the mop. That's it. Dries fast, cheap and gets off practically anything. I can always add a bit of bleach if absolutely needed (do I need to explain that we are still potty training?). I start at the clothes hamper in the kitchen and, by the time I'm done, I've worked my way around to the same spot. I pull the (now gross) head off the mop and dump it in the clothes hamper. I put on a new mop head and I have a feeling of grand accomplishment.

2. My inner mopper sings. Thank you Sandra Boynton. Every single time I ever mop, I sing to a jaunty nautical air (at least in my head):

Swab me hearties, swab!
It's a massive deck,
but what the heck,
it's part of a sailor's job!

So grab your bucket and grab your mop
And do what you must do.
Grab your pail and grab your mop
and swab it until you're through!

You can get the whole song ("The Crabby Song") here.

And that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about my inner mopper.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

We were both 20 at our wedding...
and that was 20 years ago!!! Half our lives!

I've been thinking about what I would tell those kids, if I could reach back two decades.

To the kid in white, I would say, "You picked the right guy: treasure him!"

To the kid in gray: "You are amazing! And you are going to be far more amazing than you can imagine right now."

I think a lot of our friends and relatives at the wedding were more nervous than we were. How could we know when we were so young?

Sometimes you just know. I didn't believe in love at first sight before I met the Emperor. I think God thinks that's funny. People say that something "rocked their world." Ha! After meeting him, I could never be the same. It took quite a bit of time before I could believe that he (obviously the most eligible person on the planet) could possibly feel that way about me!

Today he is wearing the shirt he wore when we met. That makes me doubly blessed: a husband who cares enough to remember and save the shirt and a husband who still fits in shirts he wore when he was 18!

In some ways being young when we married made things easier - it's not the path for everyone, to be sure, but it was our path. We grew together when we were young and flexible. We formed each other. We were blissfully ignorant of all the things that could (and some that would) go wrong. When thing did go wrong, we helped each other through. We put down spiritual roots together.

Twenty years later, he's still my best friend, still keeping me up too late talking, still surprising me, still supporting me, still fascinating me. Thank you God!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Hereafter

One thing we've noticed about getting older is that we spend much more time contemplating the Great Hereafter.

At least once a day, we walk into a room, pause and ask ourselves, "What am I here after?"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hobbit Birthday!

I like to celebrate my "big" birthdays as Hobbit Birthdays. A Hobbit Birthday is when you celebrate by giving your friends presents and a party (like Bilbo in The Hobbit).

I turned forty some time last week (we know not to put our birth date on the web to prevent identity theft, right?) and I managed to give my friends a surprise party! I happened to be hosting a co-op parents' meeting a few days before my birthday... Surprise! It's also a birthday party!

I had planned a very elegant (by my standards) party - my grandmother's teacup collection was involved. I made a fancy flourless chocolate cake.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time in the store, matching the tablecloth, napkins, and plates.

The day of the party, I was going to take down all the dinosaur decorations from Oob's party and put up something more that would match the Dutch Masters themed napkins. Then it hit me... dinosaurs... I'm turning 40... It's perfect! I suspect dinosaurs plus Dutch Masters matches me more somehow...

The party was a lot of fun. I had bought teacups for the guests and written on each tag some of the reasons I was glad that person was my friend. It's hard to believe that 8 years ago I knew no one in this area and I was praying that God would send me at least one Catholic homeschooling friend. I had 9 of them show up at the party!

I also had a smaller dinner party for my extended family on the actual day (Bill and Tracy, you knew you counted as extended family, right?). Also lovely.

This has been the happiest birthday I can remember. I think it's because I've really been able to focus on all the things (and people!) I am so thankful to have known in my life. Forty makes me think: What has God given me? What has He tried to teach me? What have I learned?

Extra bonus points if you can find the dinosaur in the picture!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Oh Say Did You See

Fort McHenry, birthplace of The Star Spangled Banner?

We are rolling along in our US History and have just finished up the War of 1812 in USKids History: Book of the New American Nation and USKids History: Book of the New American Nation. The best of all possible recaps was to go visit Fort McHenry. The three oldest kids were born within ten miles of the Fort, and it's still only 40 minutes away, so this was an easy trip for us.

Despite the fact that it was crowded with school groups, it was a great visit. If you've never been there, Fort McHenry is a star shaped fort made of brick and earth works. It's a remarkably beautiful design, although the reason for the shape has more to do with defensibility than elegance!

One of the best things about touring the fort is that you really get to explore. There are all kinds of underground powder magazines and bomb shelters. The Zoomlians loved it!

I enjoyed locking them in the jail for a while. But I missed them...

We went up on the battlements and had fun with the cannons. Really, what's not to like about playing with cannons?

It was also a splendid view of the harbor.

And a very nice time was had by all!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday: Field Trip Advice

This has been a huge year for field trips. Partly, it's the first year we've had no tiny ones that need naps. Partly, this was the year of the Adventurers, where we did a field trip a week for the oldest kids in the co-op. It adds up to a lot of field trip experience. This is what I want to remember:

1. Be willing to leave when it stops being fun. Two hours is almost always the right amount of time. If you go for longer, the little ones tend to get overstimulated and cranky. Actually, I think all the kids (and maybe the adults) get overstimulated and cranky. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns there and it's so nice to leave happy.

2. Do the math for memberships. We just did free stuff with the Adventurers, but I bought 4 museum memberships this past year. It's better to go more often, but only for 2 hours, and, of course, at our family size, family memberships are cheaper than going twice. We actually tend to go 4 times a year to places where we buy the membership. As a bonus, it turns out those memberships tend to be tax deductible!

3. The more you go the easier it is. Going frequently down town has made me (finally!) comfortable driving in DC. I now know where to park cheaply and easily without having to parallel park Blue Streak. Now it's not a big deal to hop downtown for a half day field trip. Bonus: the parking meters are for two hours!

4. Give the kids a mission. Having kids draw three things is the best way to get them to look closely at things and get more out of the trip. Second best is telling them up front that I'm going to ask them to describe three things on the car ride back.

5. Pick the target carefully. Neither the Adventurers nor the Zoomlians seem to do well with art museums (unless I could be available to help them connect with the art). This can probably be trained into them in advance, but I couldn't do it with Choclo and Oob along. Also, art museums with large rooms that small children are not allowed to run in are very high maintenance. Also, small children make the security guards nervous. Also, some art museums (I won't name the National Gallery here), have lots of difficult rules about kids, some of which make sense (no backpacks, especially no carrying babies in backpacks), and some of which don't (you have to be thirteen to push even an empty stroller, which means your older kids can't help you wrangle the younger). Bottom line: I'm skipping the art museums for a while.

6. It's worth doing the touristy stuff. I've now lived just outside of of DC for nearly 10 years, but I never made the effort to go down and tour the monuments. It seemed like it was such a hassle to get in, find parking and what not, so I never got around to it. Now that I've done it, I realize that the touristy stuff is what we show tourists because it's the most worth seeing. I don't mean shell out an arm and a leg for a tour bus, but going to see the local sights is worthwhile. A surprise benefit has been seeing the tourists. A few weeks ago we were touring the Lincoln Memorial (OK, my Shotgun Buddy was touring the memorial with the Adventurers while I sat in the shade with a Choclo and Oob who had HAD ENOUGH, if you know what I mean). A tour bus pulled up and out poured a large group of WWII and Korean War veterans from Colorado. I ended up sitting and chatting a bit with one and another gave me a band aid for Oob's skinned knee (thus giving me a peaceful rest of the trip, may they be rewarded a hundred fold!). They enjoyed watching Choclo and Oob pretend to be ducks and I enjoyed the memorials from the point of view of those who sacrificed so much to defend them.

7. Go online before you go. The Smithsonian and National Park service have websites with pages titled "Plan Your Visit" and "What to Know Before You Go." It was really helpful to know that you can't bring bottled water into the Capitol Building, for example, so we had the kids leave their lunches in the car.

Bonus DC parking tips:
  • Go mid week.
  • Get there as close to 10 AM as you can.
  • Check the far side of the Mall (the far side of Air and Space and the Castle).
  • Get rolls of quarters!
Bonus Field Trip Advice:

Most museums have hours designed to make you eat lunch at the museum (unless you do the afternoon when parking is difficult).  We get around this by having the kids eat half their lunch in the car on the way there, and half on the way back.  Yes, the van gets messy, but we can put a lot of quarters into the big vacuum for the amount we save in lunches!
More with Jen!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

When Jokes Collide

Oob: Knock knock.
Me: Who's there?
Oob: Owl.
Me: Owl who?
Oob: Waiter, there's an owl in my soup!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. We went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival! Unfortunately, it was near 90 degrees and the youngest kids started to wilt early. We got to see plenty of sheep and some sheepdog demonstrations, but we missed the spinning and weaving. I had hoped to get some raw wool and a drop spindle so we could try our hands at spinning, but it was the better part of valor to head out when we did. On the whole, it was the cause of more wild and wooly puns than ewe want rammed down your throat, so it was a good thing we took it on the lamb before the authorities herd us and shepherded us sheepishly away.

2. Zorg is not a morning person. One day this week, after groggily stumbling out of bed, he announced, "My mind feels like... a trap... caught in a mouse..."

3. On Tuesday we spent a singularly perfect morning down at the Bay collecting shark's teeth. Within the first 15 minutes, the kids had collected more teeth than they ever have before. They then stopped looking for teeth and collected sea weed instead (which is now drying all over the front porch). We looked at the rock strata in the cliffs and found some recent cliff falls where we collected these interesting trace fossils. I like going down by the cliffs because you can really see how rocks are formed. They are made of a sort of compressed mud: not quite rock yet, but certainly not mud or sand. The best part, however, was not seeing (or feeling) any jellyfish until, on the way out, we saw two small ones from a reasonable distance. Jellyfish are the scorpions of the Chesapeake Bay.

4. Did I mention that my glass cooktop shattered last week? I had it for about 5 years and I replaced the glass surface once and a major switch once. I had sunk $400 into repairs and this would be another $200 - $400. I had asked the repairman why it was breaking so often and he told me it was because I was using it too much. I was floored. He said they just didn't make stoves and cooktops to be used every day anymore, let alone the twice a day I was using it. I gave up and bought and old fashioned coil stove. Way cheaper and more dependable.

5. Did I mention that my lawnmower broke last week? Klenda was mowing her patch (she and Mxyl each have a part of the lawn they mow) and she stopped and told me it had a funny smell. I said, "Just stop, I'll be there in a minute." Then she added, "And smoke is coming out of the handle." That hurried me up! At least it was under warranty.

6. I have discovered that it is inevitable that lawnmowers break at the most inconvenient times: they break (or you notice) only when they are being used, and you only are using them because the lawn needs to be mowed... Add a week for repairs... Not looking so good. It's like a man growing a mustache. There is the point where he is clean shaven and the point where he definitely has a mustache. In between you get, "You've got something on your... oh, nevermind." Our lawn is now uncomfortably equidistant between "well-groomed" and "prairie." I am fervently hoping to get the lawnmower back and "well-groomed" restored before the big co-op meeting at my house tomorrow night.

7. The roses are blooming! Irises, too.

More Quick Takes at Conversion Diary!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Oob!

Our marvelous Oob is 3!!!

He had a dinosaur themed birthday. I will admit, the cake was pretty simple (it's a 9 x 13 sheet cake with the corners cut off), but covering it with jelly bean "spots" more than made up for it!

Three great things Oob can do:
1 He makes a really accurate fire engine sound.
2 He couldn't care less about learning his colors until we figured out that each of Bob the Builder's machines was a different color. Within 5 minutes, he knew them cold.
3 He will contentedly hammer with anything on anything for a longer time than you would believe. If that doesn't sound great, I have two words: attention span.

Three sweet things about Oob:
1 He puts off going to bed by asking, "One more kiss?"
2 When you pick him up, he leans his head on your shoulder with a contented sigh.
3 He loves to sing Amazing Grace with you.

Three silly things about Oob:
1 He loves to pretend he is a puppy. On his birthday, we visited a pet store and bought a (plastic) doggy bone which is now a very favorite toy (along with the hammering bench).
2 He loves to give you tickley kisses on your neck.
3 He is firmly convinced that you can't see him if he covers his eyes.