Vacations

PC240599Whew! What a Christmas! It’s taken me a whole week just to recover from our vacation. We went to The Motherland (Utah), where several relatives on both sides met us. We spent the entire time going from family to family with tiny interludes of seeing old friends. Relaxing, it was not. Not even close. But it was still a good vacation because we got to spend so much time with the people we love the most. I always have this crazy notion that vacations are meant for relaxation and if that doesn’t happen then I feel gypped and angry. And of course when I feel angry I like to take it out on Mister and vice versa, so there were a lot of fun moments where we sent daggers from our eyes to each other.

I may or may not have also taken my lack of sleep and stress about the holidays out on my mother-in-law.  We had a little “incident” over a lemon pie (formerly Lemon Truffle Pie but hereafter known as The Pie That Ruined Christmas) that ended with me being unpleasant and my mother-in-law sobbing at the kitchen table. If you want to know how to make my husband madder than he’s ever been, try being mean to his mom. On second thought, don’t.

But, like I said, it was a good trip because we got to spend time with our relatives; all of whom we adore. These are all the cousins who were in Utah from Mister’s side. A whole bunch are missing but hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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The kids also got to go skiing. It was the first time Ada and Jasper had seen snow since they were babies. Nothing beats that Utah snow. I, of course, did not go skiing because I don’t go outside when it’s that cold unless the house is on fire. There’s not enough hot chocolate in the world to make outdoor sports worth it.

On the second day of skiing Arabella and India ended up stranded at the top of a “terrifying ski run” (from the way they made it sound it was a black diamond, but turned out to only be a green. But they’re newbies, OK?). The Ski Patrol tried to lead them down but they preferred to sit at the top of the mountain and cry for over an hour. Finally one of their grown-up cousins tracked them down and coaxed them down the hill, reassuring them the entire time that they weren’t about to die.

Skiing at Park City

We flew to/from Utah on Southwest Airlines. This was necessary because of the two free bags that are allowed for each person. When Christmas presents and winter clothes are involved, you need all the baggage you can get. The trip north was fine (only nine suitcases!) but the trip home was a little iffier. We ended up with two additional suitcases and a box of beautiful wreaths that I bought the day after Christmas (yay for sales! And yay for Tai Pan Trading!).*

We required our own shuttle out to the airport parking lot when we got back to Austin, we had so much stuff and people. Mister had actually come to Utah on a later flight than the rest of us so he brought the near-empty minivan to the airport when he left. He had the brilliant idea to throw the rooftop luggage rack in the car at the last minute since he knew we’d be short on space.

Only it turns out the luggage rack doesn’t fit our car. It was for our old minivan. He swore up and down that we’ve used it on Betsy, my current minivan. But evidence proved otherwise and there we were with not only a million bags but a giant roof rack that didn’t come close to fitting on the top of my car. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and with the help of a luggage strap and some yarn from a knitting project, we strapped that roof rack on the top of my car. It jiggled and rocked precariously the whole way home and I expected it to go flying off onto the car behind us at any moment. But we drove 45 mph on the freeway the whole way home. It took us an extra 15 minutes but nobody behind us was decapitated. Success!

We did manage to get all the bags in the car but everyone had to sit Indian style so we could put bags under the kids’ feet. And then we all had to pile suitcases in our laps.  You should probably know that by this point I was screaming, “shut up!” anytime someone tried to speak. Never has anyone been so glad to pull into their driveway. I made a quick dinner, took a sleeping pill and was in bed with earplugs by 8:30. And I slept until 8:00 the next morning.  The perfect way to end any vacation.

I’m quite sure we won’t be taking our show on the road for Christmas again. Although it was lovely to spend the holidays with our relatives, the stress and trouble are simply too much. Unless our relatives want to spend Christmas in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure we could make that work.

*I’m going to overdo it on decorating next year. I have to make up for this year; Although I decorated my house, I didn’t put up the Christmas tree. We wouldn’t be home for Christmas! Can you blame me?  The sad thing is that I bought a new star and a new tree skirt and didn’t even try them out. I’m so lame sometimes that I shock myself.

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Our car trip around the South continued on from western North Carolina to the eastern part of the state–to the farm of our friends, the Browns. Heather and Craig Brown (and especially their kids) were good friends of ours when we all lived in Utah.

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They have since moved to North Carolina and traded their subdivision split-level for a gorgeous, sprawling farm. Way back when I was first getting the itch for livestock, I convinced Heather to get some baby chicks from the local farm store with me. We each got three. Now Heather has over a hundred and I have none. The kids spent hours playing with the chickens and I think it might be time to sneak some into our neighborhood.

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Heather was a lovely hostess and insisted I just chill out while we visited. So nice, considering all the cooking and stuff I’m normally swamped with. In addition to all their chickens, the Browns also have a dairy calf, three goats, a dozen yaks, six dogs and a horse. Quite the menagerie. In case you’re wondering about the yaks, yak meat is the healthiest meat there is; even more Omega acids than salmon. They’re not terribly friendly but that’s ok. The goats make up for it.

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The Browns had a rooster that had escaped the most recent round of chicken slaughter. One of their children had taken pity on him and set him free at the last minute. The rooster was a terrible bully and crowed his head off all the cotton-pickin’ day long, so my boys volunteered to butcher him. None of us have ever killed anything (except an assortment of goldfish), but we are eager learners in regards to all things homesteadish.

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The boys flipped a coin and York won the opportunity to slit the rooster’s throat. Here’s an interesting tidbit: if you plan on killing a chicken (usually it’s roosters, they have more meat and are pretty much worthless; the hens being the ones who lay the eggs) you have to keep it from eating for twelve hours before its death, otherwise there will be food all over in its digestive tract–meaning lots of yuck. So the boys caught the wiley rooster and put it in a cage. Unfortunatly the cage was right outside my bedroom window. I did not realize this until 4:45 the next morning when that rotten monster started crowing. Since roosters keep going all morning, I knew something must be done. The Browns are late sleepers, despite being farmers, and their bedrooms were on the other side of the house anyway. They couldn’t hear it.

So I threw on my shoes, went outside amidst all the dogs, excited to see somebody up so early, and grabbed the huge unwieldy cage. I thought of ripping the rooster’s head off out of spite, but the boys would have been disappointed. Where could I put this dreadful thing where I wouldn’t hear it anymore??? I came up with the perfect solution: into my minivan he went, cage and all.  I went back to bed in blissful peace for three more hours. When I woke up, I took the rooster out of my car and put his cage back in the yard. Perfect. And guess who wasn’t the slightest bit sad to see that rooster meet his maker later that afternoon?

The rooster death later that day was not at all as bloody and gory as I anticipated. It was quite civilized, although I left the gross parts to York and Finn. Craig and Lillie were excellent chicken-killing teachers.

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The best way to kill a chicken is to put it upside-down in a cone so that its head hangs out of the bottom. Chickens become completely mellow when they’re hung upside-down so you don’t have to worry about the whole “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” scenario. Then you slit its throat and let the blood drain into a bucket underneath. The cone we used was improvised out of a box and nailed to a tree. Very hillbilly-esque.

The head of the chicken is finally cut off and the bird gets swirled in some boiling hot water for a minute or two. This loosens the feathers. Plucking the chicken is slightly creepy and odd. Plus wet feathers stick to everything. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do but I wasn’t about to act all squeamish and sissified.

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The boys finished taking out the rooster’s entrails and all that weird stuff. They loved it.

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The only thing I got to do was to scrape its lungs out with my fingernails, which was as fun as it sounds. Jasper spent the rest of the day playing with the rooster’s feet. In other words, more time than he spent playing with his birthday presents.

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We all had so much fun with the Browns, although it was quite a shock living in the Country. There wasn’t so much as a convenience store within 15 minutes. And church was 40 minutes each way. But when you look out on the rolling green hills, dotted with animals; the lovely little pond and lightning bugs flying all over the place at dusk, it’s hard not to mind being in Nowheresville.

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Our Big Tour of the South started out on July 3. The dates we could be gone were strictly dictated by a fancy choir that India is in this summer. She was allowed to miss no more than three rehearsals or she would be sacked. So we had to be very selective about where we went and what we saw. Starting out on this trip, I wanted to make sure we saw as many states as possible; my kids have seen very little of this country due to the fact that we go to the same places again and again, as dictated by where our extended family lives (Utah, Arizona and Oregon. Rinse and repeat).

Our first destination was North Carolina. We zipped through Arkansas and Tennesee on the way. Arkansas was flat and looked pretty much like Texas. (The town of Texarkana is pretty scuzzy, by the way. In case you wanted to form a mental picture.)

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My kids had to endure me singing “The Arkansas Traveler” about a hundred times. In particular every time we’d pass by a broken down shack. (You may think you don’t know this song but I promise you’ve hear the tune before; just click to listen.)

Arkansas Traveler

My grandparents lived in an adorable, quaint little town called Tryon. It is in the very hilly part of western North Carolina that skirts the border of South Carolina. Growing up it was my happy place. My grandparents loved antiques and had a couple of shops that I would spend as much time in as possible. They were filled to the rafters of interesting odds and ends. Even as a little child I used to wonder how many hands had opened the same dresser drawers that I was now opening.  Their house was almost as fun, being filled not only with interesting antiques, but closets bursting with old dresses and fur coats, drawers stacked with black and white pictures, perfume bottles and dainty white gloves. The musty rich smell of old things still makes me feel happiness and serenity.

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The strangest thing is that their town is not the same. Everything looks very much the same; even the sweet little hardware store downtown has stayed put. There is still a giant toy horse in the middle of downtown (it’s the town mascot). There are new coffee shops and boutiques in the old buildings where ladies clothing stores used to be, but for the most part it’s eerily similar to the way I remember it. But it just doesn’t feel the same. You know what I mean? It’s like listening to music that you haven’t heard in twenty years. The music might be the same but your life is completely different and that changes everything. My grandparents are gone and so is my reason for being there. They were quite old when they died and their friends have all passed on. I doubt anyone remembers them. Their antique shops are now other stores. We drove past their old houses which now seem impossibly small. It was nice to be there but I felt a melancholy and homesickness for a place in the past that is impossible to travel to.

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Tryon is still outlandishly lush and green, and is parked on the side of the poetically named Hogback Mountain. This is the street where my grandparents lived the longest. My kids all swear they want to live in North Carolina when they grow up.

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We showed up on the Fourth of July. Not only was everything closed up tight, including the pizza joint where I had planned on eating dinner, it was raining crazy cats and dogs (much worse than regular cats and dogs). My plan before I left Texas was to buy some flowers and visit my grandparents’ graves, have some dinner in town and find a local firework show. When we actually arrived in Tryon I forgot which church their ashes were at (Methodist? Presbyterian?), there are only local mom and pop stores and nobody selling flowers was open on a holiday, and all the fireworks were rained out.

I haven’t been to Tryon since my grandmother’s funeral over a decade ago and I don’t anticipate I’ll get back there in a very long time, so I was determined to show the kids their grandparents graves (they were cremated so their graves are quite small and consist mostly of a small metal plaque in a church garden).  We drove for twenty minutes until we found a grocery store that was open and I could buy some flowers, then we drove 20 minutes back to town. We spent the next hour searching for the right church (it was the fourth one on my list of possibilities). The rain let up when we got there, however the kids were stir crazy and acted like spazoids and generally it was nothing like the scenario I had imagined.

At this point let’s address the obvious: travelling nonstop in a car full of six children can be a bit . . . trying. I’m naturally a very patient person, but this pushed me to the limits. In some ways being without a husband can be nice–having a husband is sometimes like having another child (“what, you’re going to start complaining too???”), but on a car trip another adult is really nice to deflect the quarelling and squabbles. After twenty hours of being trapped with each other we were all rather testy. I completely lost it in The Pizza Hut parking lot (yes, Pizza Hut was the only restaurant we could find that was open) and uttered several choice words that may or may not have included the phrase “can’t you all just shut up for five minutes before I go insane?”. The guy in the car next to us with his window rolled down was probably a little worried for us, but he looked pretty redneck and I’m sure he’s seen worse things that that at the trailer park.

The next morning, we set out to to hike up the waterfall we used to visit when I was a child and my grandparents had gotten sick of us. We hadn’t brought any crappy shoes that I felt OK about ruining so we stopped and bought everyone a new pair at Dollar General ($6 each! Bargain!). In case you’ve never been to a small town, Dollar General is the closest you’ll get to one-stop shopping. It’s like a tiny WalMart, but grosser–if you can imagine such a thing.

Because the rain had been so bad the waterfall was closed. I was determined to show my kids how beautiful Pearson’s Falls is, and I found a spot where the barbed wire wasn’t attached to a pole. Wouldn’t you know it, my kids all refused to sneak in. Even after I explained that we totally had the right to go inside because how can anyone even own a waterfall, much less tell other people when they can and can’t see it? It’s nature, man!  But my kids were being all prissy and refused. I told them they were lame and that sneaking through barbed wire is exhilarating.

So we piled back in Betsy and headed off to Chimney Rock instead. Have you ever seen Last of the Mohicans? Chimney Rock is where the little sister throws herself off of at the very end. They even have one of Daniel Day-Lewis’ costumes from the movie on display. It’s a stunning place. I remember going there as a little girl and all I recall is one thing: fright. I have always been deathly afraid of heights. But as I am a grown-up now, things would be different.

The road was windy and I had to give several kids dramamine, but it didn’t take us much more than an hour to get there. Chimney rock is right in the middle of a very touristy little village. The kids wanted to stop and buy tacky crap as they always do, but I wanted to get started before it either 1) started raining again–or heaven forbid– 2) got sunny and hot.

So here’s how Chimney Rock works: you drive through the  little village of Chimney Rock to the entrance of the park. Then you drive up a super curvy little road for a couple of miles til you get to the ticket window. You buy your tickets, drive even higher on the road until you get to a parking lot. Then you park and have this view right in front of you. That lake down below is Lake Lure, where they filmed Dirty Dancing. Not a huge fan of Dirty Dancing, but maybe you are and might care.

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After you oooh and aaah, you walk into a cave and take an elevator 27 stories up through the middle of pure rock. Then you come out of the elevator into a gift shop and snack bar. You exit the snack bar onto a deck and immediately have a coronary because OHMYGOSH-it’s-so-high-up-and-what-was-I-thinking-I’m-still-totally-scared-of-heights. I almost fainted as my kids skipped off to hang over the railing completely unaware that the railing would most likely break at any second and they would plunge to their deaths. I was pretty much paralyzed with fright. Seriously, what was I thinking? There’s a rickety wooden bridge where you can climb up to this thing:

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The kids all climbed it but I stayed put. Lame. I was completely lame. But even the thought of going near the edge made my pulse speed up, my face sweat and my head start spinning. I just sat there praying that my kids wouldn’t die. Nobody died and then we went to wait in line for the elevator back down. Of course the elevator broke just as it was our turn. But don’t worry because there are stairs down to the bottom! Stairs barely clinging to the sheer rock face. My passel of mountain goats skipped happily down all 27 flights while I slowly trudged down, holding onto the railing with a death grip, never looking anywhere but at my feet. The strangest thing about being in a situation where I’m up high is the worry (mostly unreasonable, but you never know) that I will suddenly go insane and fling myself over the edge. This is so preposterous, but it runs though my mind the entire time.

Besides almost having a heart attack from fright, the worst thing about having to march down a thousand steps is that my calf muscles hurt so badly over the next three days that I could barely walk. Apparently I need to walk backwards on the stair-stepper at the gym sometimes too.

I’m back from our Grand Tour of the South. First things first: I managed to kill my laptop while I was travelling. So I am wearing black in mourning from destroying yet another computer. I’m beginning to thing I am made of magnets. How else to explain the destruction I bring upon all computers I touch? Mister tried all his tricks and my laptop (which I just got six months ago) is DEAD. I’m just praying that I didn’t kill the hard drive of my computer because you know I didn’t back up anything.  Who backs up stuff on a new computer that is working perfectly? Anyway, I’m back to using the kids’ computer. What a drag.

It’s going to take me a while to give you the details of our trip, but in a nutshell it was excellent. We spent two weeks travelling around in Betsy–my trusty Honda Odyssey who behaved perfectly–and seeing most of the South. We covered over 4000 miles. Because I like to kind of plan as I go and because I didn’t have access to a real computer most of the time, we didn’t see as much as I would have liked to. Planning a trip on an iphone is not the easiest thing to do. I’m sure some of you are pooh-poohing and thinking how if I’d planned everything meticulously before I went then I wouldn’t have been up a creek. But I do hate how planning excessively makes me feel very trapped and incredibly frustrated when the plans change. When there are six kids involved, plans most certainly do change.

But we hit all the high points. And saw lots of stuff.
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We ended up travelling through Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. I wish we could have spent several days in each place but, alas, our budget conspired against us. Plus we had to work around various kid activities so our scheduled departure and arrival times were completely inflexible.

As we drove across the Mississippi River (the first time) I realized that except for a couple of trips to DisneyWorld my kids had never been to the Eastern U.S. We have become Westerners. I was happy that I finally had the opportunity to show them this wonderful (and might I say it, best) part of America. (OK, slight correction: we took India to North Carolina when she was a baby to visit my Grandmother.)

Here are the most important things that I realized driving around on the trip:

1. I totally love to drive. Seriously love it. Except for a couple of hours when I turned the wheel over to India, I did all the driving. I love to look out the window, listen to music, eat junk food and hang out with my kids. This is the perfect marriage of all four things. I like the quickness of airplanes, but my heart belongs in a car. (That’s what happens when you’re born in Detroit, I guess.)

2. I really, really miss hills and trees. I’ve spent many years living in places that either don’t have a ton of greenery or are very flat (Utah has obnoxious mountains but most of it is flat as can be. I’m more of a rolling hill kind of person). I had forgotten how beautiful greenery can be. I was constantly trying to take pictures from my moving car because I simply could not get over how gorgeous the scenery was. Especially in North Carolina and Virginia. I won’t lie, I was looking at Zillow a lot.

3. Books on CD are worth their weight in gold. We got through four Harry Potter books on our drive. We might have killed each other if not for JK Rowling and Jim Dale.

4, Being a single parent is a drag. With six kids I can’t exactly say I was lonely, but I missed having someone to discuss everything with. Also, someone to take the reins when I was done. Instead I lost my temper a few times. But there are pros to be a single parent too; namely one less opinion to consider. We were all pretty thrilled to see Mister when we got back to Texas.

 

I’ll have more details to give you later, but I wanted to check in and say hi first. Hi!

 

P.S. Mister just came in and told me that the hard drive on my computer is fried. Crap! crap, crap, crap.

 

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Since our car trip to Arizona in March was such a roaring success (meaning nobody killed anyone else and I only had to scream at the kids to shut up a dozen times), I decided that we shall take another car trip. Mister will hold down the fort while I travel with all six children in a shoebox minivan all over the South. My hatred of planning things in advance is fighting madly with my fear of getting lost, and I have developed only the loosest skeleton of a plan for the next two weeks.

First off let me say that I love the South. It’s my favorite. There’s a constant debate over whether Texas is the South (I think that Austin technically isn’t–it’s got way more of a Western vibe–but people say “yes, ma’am” so it’s close enough.)  If I had piles of money I would spend the entire rest of the summer exploring the nooks and crannies around that South. But I don’t. So instead I will go and freeload on all my friends in that part of the country.

We’ll stay with some old friends of ours who used to live near us in Utah but now have a farm in North Carolina with a dozen yaks and a hundred chickens. I know. I’m so excited. Visiting someone else’s farm is even better than having your own.

At some point we’ll also stop by Tryon, the town in North Carolina where my grandparents lived. It’s probably my favorite place on earth. I haven’t been back there in 14 years since my grandma died and I’m sure lots has changed and it will make me horribly sad. The bad thing about Tryon is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere. Seriously. But I won’t have a husband telling me what a waste of gas every little detour will be.

I’m purposely not telling him our agenda and he’s purposely not asking. Also, I don’t actually know what our agenda is.

I do know that we will be stopping in Washington DC, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia (I need to spend some time with my BFF Tiffany), Alabama, Mississisppi, and Louisiana.  I feel like I need to paint a confederate flag onto my car à la the Dukes of Hazzard.

I’m pretty excited. There is such a sense of history that you just don’t get anywhere else in our country. Well, there sort of is in New England, but the South is just  . . . what’s the word? Better.

 

This is one of my most popular posts and I like to repost it every year in case you’ve got a houseful of bored (hence, annoying) kids and need to know how to keep them occupied without relying on TVs/vieogames/ipads to babysit them. This is a great way to keep everyone in the house quiet and entertained. It’s really the best thing that’s happened to our summers! We’ve added a few changes to the system as our kids have gotten older. I’ll mention those at the end of the post.

My kids started driving me crazy the day after school got out. There was the constant squabbling, playfighting, and watching each other play video games for hours on end ( I loathe that, but it’s just so peaceful while they do it, that it’s hard to crack down and turn it off). Some people go cold turkey and turn off all screens during the summer, but I think it should still be a fun time of year (especially since we really limit TV and video games during the school year). I just needed to figure out some sort of system.

My friend Amy and I escaped for lunch a few weeks ago. She told me about the system she uses in her house and a giant light bulb went off over my head. I took her idea and ran with it, expanding on it to fit our family’s needs.

This is how it works:

–Our house is divided into six stations (Art, Reading, Computer, Puzzles, Academics, and TV).

–Each station is in a different part of the house (or in separate parts of the same room) so there is very little annoying and teasing of siblings going on.

–Stations last for 45 minutes each (sometimes if we have other plans for the day we’ll only do stations for 20-30 minutes a piece). Then the kids rotate to the next station. Each child goes to all of the six stations every day, Monday through Friday. We usually begin in the late morning after everyone has done their chores. Since we live in Texas which is HOT in the summer, we usually spend the mornings playing outside (after chores!) and don’t waste precious cool time indoors.

–Everyone gets a chance to choose which station they would like to start with. Yes, they will all have a chance at every station, but you know how much siblings like to compete with each other. Currently we are picking popsicle sticks labelled with the kids’ names. I draw one and that child picks where they’d like to begin.

–It’s helpful to have a list of activities available at Academics and art. We have things listed like “work on handwriting”. The kids all tell me they want to improve their handwriting but they forget. Their are workbooks for the littles but the older kids can do it on their own; they just need a reminder. Some of the art things we have are kept in my craft closet and the kids tend to forget about them. Having all the choices on a list makes a good reminder.

Here are the details:

Art (at the kitchen table):
Everyone has a sketch book, so there are minimal amounts of loose paper floating around. All coloring and watercolor go on sketchbook pages. We also have Shrinky Dinks, pipe cleaners, Sculpey clay (for the older kids), Play-Doh (for the younger ones), and brand new sets of watercolors, crayons and markers. I stocked up on the fabulous coloring books that Dover Publishing carries. We also have an assortment of drawing “how-to” books and creativity-building exercises.

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Puzzles (on a card table set up in the Mudroom): I bought ten new puzzles of all different skill levels. I also got one of those roll-up puzzle savers so the older kids can work on the same puzzle day after day. We also have Sudoko, crossword, and word-search books of different skill levels. My friend Amy and I will be swapping puzzles after a while to keep things fresh.

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Academics (on the coffee table in the family room):
There is a real variety here since Jasper barely knows his letters and India is taking AP classes. Probably our favorite item is the Flashmaster. It’s a fantastic gizmo that quizzes kids on their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. They can be timed or not timed, and the computer remembers which problems they got wrong. It’s been wonderful since my younger kids have never been required to learn their math facts very well. You can get Flashmaster on Amazon for $50.

We also have a Geography Globe from Oregon Scientific, the Phonics Firefly (perfect for helping the younger kids learn their letters and sounds), and some educational Leap Pad sets.

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In this category we also have workbooks (the great kind sold at Costco that are full of worksheets), handwriting practice sheets and spelling word quizzes. I try to get items that the kids can do on their own so I don’t have to sit there all day. The older kids are working on assignments they were given at school to complete over the summer.

 


Reading
(in the Living Room which is where our bookcases are):
This is read-alone time. Every few days I rotate the supply of kids’ books so they always have something new to look at. Library books stay in here too. The older kids usually have a novel they’re reading. This is a perfect time for teens to work on their summer reading assignments for school.


Computer
(playroom):
The kids can play whatever they want without someone claiming that “she took my turn!”; I don’t really care what it is, whether it’s Webkinz or something educational (Finn has been doing a teach-yourself-German program). This is their entire computer time for the day. This would probably include Nintendo DS time, if you have those at your house.

TV (in the playroom where our only TV is):
This includes video games and DVDs. Whatever takes place on a TV, this is the time to do it. The best part of this system is that you don’t have children sitting around watching their siblings play games (one of my major pet peeves). Occasionally we’ll watch a movie as a family in the evening, but for the most part this is their entire allotment of video games and shows.

You could tailor the stations to suit your family better. If you all play instruments, you could do music time, for example. Or you could do an outdoor station. With our blazing summer temps, though, the kids stay indoors most of the day but we spend evenings playing outside or swimming. This system would work with a smaller family, too. For the last week India and York have been visiting their grandparents in Oregon and we’ve been rotating four kids around the six stations. It’s been fine.

We have been doing Stations for a couple of weeks now and it has been phenomenal! The kids never complain about being bored and they bug each other so much less. My house is actually quiet during the day! It’s a miracle!

Jasper doing summer stations

UPDATE: now that our kids are getting older, we’ve made a few changes. We’ve combined academics with spiritual stuff. The kids all have goal programs that they’ve been working on at church and this is a great time to accomplish the tasks they’ve set for themselves. We’ve also made a reading plan to for the scriptures this summer and having time during a station for this works a lot better than expecting tired kids to read at night.

We are accumulating a lot of instruments around our house, my new harp being the most popular. So now along with puzzles, we have the option to play an instrument during that station. Not all of the kids are interested in this, though, which is why I didn’t just add another station. My children are finally old enough to use the instruments unsupervised. I would never have done this when I had preschoolers. It would have caused way too much trouble.

Today’s my birthday. I’m not a huge fan of spending my birthday at home because then I just end up cooking and cleaning and doing all the normal mom things I do every single day. I like to spend my birthday being spoiled and doing nothing more difficult than decided what to order at a restaurant. So when Mister announced that he had to go to New Orleans this week for business and asked if I wanted to come along and be there for my birthday, I only had to think about it for about three seconds. I had never been to New Orleans and was super excited to go.

Since Mister had to bring a ton of his video equipment it made more sense to drive. It’s only eight hours from Austin which is not a huge deal. I love to research stuff online so I found us a great Bed & Breakfast. It is so cute and the hosts couldn’t be sweeter. And the chef who makes breakfast is phenomenal. The name of the place is Maison de Macarty and while it’s a bit far from the French Quarter, that’s not a problem if you have a car. We stayed in the former coach house out back and it was delightful.

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I have heard almost universally about how gross and dirty New Orleans is, and how nobody really likes it. I have no idea what these people are talking about because I love this place. The architecture is delightful and it makes me want a brightly painted house with shutters in the worst way.

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There is such a sense of pride and history in New Orleans. If you think Texans love where they live, you’ve never met a New Orleanian. They’re crazy about their city. I’ve already been on two walking tours that were both fascinating (Tastebud Tours features a great eating tour, and I really loved the historical tour by Bill at Monde Creole.)  Culturally, not many cities in America can compare. I mean, Jazz was invented here! If you’re a history buff New Orleans is the best. The Presbytery Museum (on the right side of St. Louis Cathedral) has really fascinating exhibits about Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras. The Cabildo Museum (on the left side of the cathedral) features the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. Lately Ada and I have been reading the American Girl books about Marie-Grace and Cécile who lived in New Orleans in the 1850′s and those stories actually got me kind of primed for a visit.

I’ll admit that there are a lot of tacky bars and souvenir shops in the French Quarter but there are also endless rows of lovely houses, quaint courtyards and cute little museums tucked away. Bourbon street gets packed with drunk people every night and the it and urine are hosed down each morning. We stayed away from The Quarter after dark so we never saw the debauchery. We have spent our evenings at nice restaurants located in the more charming neighborhoods of New Orleans. Last night we ate a place called Coquette and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.

Mister had to work the first two days that we were here so I wandered around by myself and not once did I feel unsafe. The humidity has made my hair look hideous but that’s about the worst that I can say about this place. If you have a chance to visit New Orleans you should certainly jump at the chance.

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My youngest four kids have all outgrown their bathing suits so I had to do some suimsuit shopping before we left for Spring Break. Being in Texas I take swimwear very seriously; in the Summertime the kids practically live in it. If the kids want to play outside when the heat gets oppressive (round about May-September), the only way it’s going to work is if there’s water involved.

You probably disagree with me but I find little girls in bikinis completely appalling (hey, pedophiles, check out my sexy 5-year-old!). A naked jaybird frolicking in the waves somehow seems less sexual than a child wearing a bikini. Don’t ask me why I feel this way, I just do. Especially for the older girls. I like a nice one-piece for my daughters (or a modest tankini) and lucky me I get to dress them however I like.

I’m seriously in the minority when it comes to preferring one-pieces so that means I have to get most of the girls’ swimwear online (one-pieces are like the red-headed stepchild of the swimsuit world). Unlike the rest of the year when I wait for deals, when it comes to swimwear I just bite the bullet and pay full price. Especially this year since we needed them at the beginning of March. Swimsuits sell out fast and with all the wear and tear they get, I feel like we get our money’s worth.

In the past we’ve been let down by the quality of swimsuits from the Gap. They have never made it a whole season without losing their stretch so I avoid them if possible.  Target bathing suits aren’t the best in quality but they’re cheap and pretty much available year-round so we always end up with at least one. They also do quite a lot of one-pieces. Arabella settled on a stripey Target bathing suit and a flowery one from Land’s End. Land’s End really makes the best quality suits. They’ll easily give you two years of wear, although it’s rare to have kids that will stay the same size that long. This year they dropped the ball and of all the suits Arabella liked, none were available at the beginning of March. She really had her heart set this flowery one so we ordered it just recently.

We did pretty well at Mini Boden this year. They always have plenty of one-pieces. Ada loves red and she fell in love with this suit:

 

Ada also went gaga over this suit from Children’s Place. It has a cute matching rash guard too. I love rash guards because kids with sunburns are the biggest babies of all time. If it’s between 11-3:00 my kids have got to have a rashguard on. Of course they’re slathered with sunscreen too, but rashguards keep sun exposure from getting out of hand.

 

And then there are the swimsuits for teenage girls. Good grief. India is pretty cool about wearing a modest bathing suit. She is not they type who: 1) cares about wearing the same exact thing as everyone else, and 2)doesn’t have that insecure teen-girl need to wear as little clothing as possible (I swear they’re thinking, “If I dress like a hooker maybe boys will like me more!”) The good news is that every year it seems like there are more and more tankinis in the Juniors department. I’m hoping this means that not every teenage girl wants to look like a skeeze. We wound up with a couple of cute tankinis from Kohl’s. Easy Peasy.

(Obviously modesty and good posture do not go hand in hand.)

As for me, I’ve been sporting the same bathing suits for the last four years. The thought of swimsuit shopping is enough to send me reaching for the Valium. I can barely handle trying on pants these days. My weight loss isn’t coming along as well as I’d hoped; I’m thinking of moving on to more drastic measures. Which do you think would work better: a tapeworm or tuberculosis?

Happy almost-swimsuit season!

 

 

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We finally made it to Arizona. I love this place. Even though the weather is similar to Texas (they are the same temperature at this exact moment), Arizona–especially where my in-laws are–looks so different. People here take great pains to make it look all lush and gorgeous: palm trees and flowers everywhere and grass that is so obnoxiously green. In Texas we treat winter like it’s winter. Nobody overseeds their lawns because that would mean watering and mowing all winter long. Flowers are relegated to the spring when wildflower season starts (in a week or two. It’s so gorgeous!)

The drive was actually pretty great. Even though I had seven kids with me there was pretty much no fighting. When I was young my parents would give us five or ten dollars at the start of every drive. Each time we fought or sassed my parents we’d get 25¢ taken away. We sure tried to stay in line, although I’d usually lose half of my money. I told my kids we’d be doing this and they moaned and groaned. But I only ended up taking a quarter from three of them. So now I have to pay $70 for nothing. York told me yesterday that I didn’t need to pay him anything because he already has enough money. What a sweetheart!  (In case you didn’t know, raising kids when money is tight and letting them know that money is tight is actually very beneficial. They are so grateful for anything they are given and are completely missing that spoiled sense of entitlement that many of their friends have.)

In case you’re wondering there are about five gas stations in all of west Texas. It took me a while to learn the law of the frontier: if you see a gas station, fill up! I’m glad I brought lots of snacks because restaurants were even fewer and far betweener. We stopped at a Taco Bell at one point that was closed on a Saturday night because they ran out of food. Yikes! Especially because you know what that means: McDonalds. Now that the kids aren’t in extra-curricular activities we rarely eat on the go. I can’t say that I have missed eating there.

But we didn’t starve to death or run out of gas. We made it OK, despite a two hour traffic jam in El Paso. I spent most of the day yesterday shopping and settling in. So today is my first genuinely lazy day. Here it is 9:30 am and I’ve only gotten out of bed once (and that was just to turn on the pool heater and get a yogurt).  And, gloriously enough, there is cable TV. I’ve watched about a jillion episodes of Pawn Stars and Duck Dynasty. It’s been pretty fantastic.

I don’t know why I wasn’t born as a 18th century aristocrat. This kind of do-nothing life really suits me.

 

Our Spring Break is officially underway! York is at track practice and India’s taking the SAT but soon all the kids will be FREE! For the first time ever we will actually be going somewhere over Spring Break. Just to Grandma and Grandpa’s vacation house in Arizona, so it’s not terribly fancy. The grandparents won’t be there so it’s just us. Well, Mister can’t get away from work so by “us” I mean “the kids and I”. And India’s friend, Summer. She only has one sibling so her head might just explode after spending the week amidst our noisy chaos. (Mister’s brother and his wife will be showing up at some point too, with a bunch of their friends.)

Oh yeah, I should also mention that we will be driving. We never drive anywhere. We do little day trips all the time but as for driving more than three hours in a row? Hasn’t happened since we moved to Texas, lo these many years ago. I’m a little nervous but I think we have enough ipads and electronic gadgets to make sure that there is as little interpersonal involvement as possible.

The temperatures look great next week so my days will consist of sleeping in, lying by the pool (in the shade! Don’t want to lose that vampirish pallor), taking naps and watching lots of TV (There is cable! Such a luxury for us!). I might cook some food. Or we might just eat quite a lot of cereal.

Right now I’m hollering at the kids to keep cleaning out the car. One is Windexing the inside of the windows, one is vaccuming, and one is on petrified-chicken-nugget patrol. I suppose I should think about packing. What am I talking about? I’ve got two new pairs of yoga pants and my bathing suit. I’m totally set!

Snacks for the drive are already parceled out. Yes, I do this myself rather than buying prepackaged snack-sized stuff; What do you think I am, made of money? Pretty much everything is totally sugar-y. I’m quite a mastermind and have decided to pump the kids full of sugar while keeping them confined to an incredibly small space in close proximity to the people they fight with the most in the entire world. Brilliant plan, no? Wish us all well!