Saturday, July 30, 2011

Engineering

Every since our trip to Adventure Park Connor has been obsessed with building. So we went to the $0.99 Store and I encouraged him to get his own box of tools. Then he went to Papa's house where he was able to acquire more tools. Then Daddy showed him where the scrap wood pile was . . . . . Let's just say every morning since then Lainy Ann has been outside with a clipboard and pencil, sketching the plans and being bossy, while Connor saws, hammers and builds. I have no idea what is being built. And they are all doing a good job cleaning up at the end of the day. The tools are being taken care of and after one firm punishment hammers are no longer being used as weapons.

Shortly after all the proper tools had been assembled Connor and Lainy Ann and Papa built there first project. It was a doll swing for Lainy Ann. Papa taught the kids how to use a power saw - complete with safety instructions. They made a simple swing and even painted it. I love seeing Papa pass on his knowledge to my kids.

Yesterday he continued his building at the beach. This time the medium was sand. Google had hired professional sand castle builders to entertain and teach the party-goers. So Connor set off to learn how to build a sand castle. He was with them for over an hour. At one point I asked him how things were going. He replied, "I am waiting for further instructions.". He is such a big man in such a little body.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

5 years ago

It has been a rough day. I could enumerate all the reasons why; road work, almost lost cell phone, children without naps. But the details don't really matter.  At the end of the day I was recalling the struggles and how William had been more difficult than normal.  And I was sad that his last day as a four year old was going to be a bad one. I attributed it to too much fun.  Then I remembered. Five years ago on July 28 at 8 am I went into the hospital to be induced. William was stubborn, just like he is now. He has always marched to his own drum and that stinky baby wasn't born until 1 pm on July 29th.

So that's when I realized that I was having another 'labor' day. William full of his stubborn self and with his own drummer. It was kind of fitting that today was like that. I just hope that tomorrow is as wonderful was it was 5 years ago when William Caskey joined our family. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Adventure Park

Have you ever had one of those days when there is no tantrum? No crying or whining? No shouts of "he is looking at me"? Today is that day for me, well, at least a few hours. Today, with the help of 2 other families we had an adventure at Adventure Park located at Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach. My husband came across this event a few years ago and I have been waiting and waiting until all the kids were 5 years old or until I had childcare for the non-5 year olds. The recommended age is 5-12 years old and boy do they mean it.

We jumped in the Monster Van with 6 kids ages 5+, 2 moms and a breastfeeding Ellie. The littlest ones were left at home for an under-5 year old playdate. It included a nap which was a plus for me . . . no crankies at bedtime. We drove the 60 miles (just over an hour with no traffic all the way down to Huntington Beach. It took a bit of searching to find the location of Adventure Park since Huntington Central Park spans several blocks and includes a library, sports complex, equestrian area, and disc golf (with grass). We finally gave up and called the phone number and the operator gave us perfect directions . . . park at the library and follow the signs that say "Youth Center".

When you first arrive you get a lesson in safety. All the usual apply; no throwing, no running, listen to the staff members. Then they started talking about the building. Half of the park is dedicated to building. Children are issued a hammer and 3 nails. They are allowed access to a huge scrap-wood pile and they can just have at it. They can build their own contraptions or affix pieces of wood to the 4 'treehouses' (platforms 4-8 feet off the ground). Children ages 8 and older are allowed to use a saw. All children must have supervision.

I couldn't imagine the kids would spend much time building. After all, what can you make with only 3 nails. Well, clearly I have no imagination. First off, you can trade in 2 old nails for 1 new nail. And so they set off digging through the scrap wood and learning to take nails out of wood. We learned about leverage and working together. Then they all set off to find a treehouse to claim as their own. The only one completely free (and in the shade) was listing . . . a lot. There were no safety rails to keep children from falling off the angled structure. After spending so many years at places like Disneyland that take safety to the nth degree and signing permission slips and liability forms for team sports I was amazed that this place was so lax in their rules. Don't read this wrong. I did not feel my children were unsafe. I was just surprised to see such a deviation from societal norms. The kids spent the majority of their time building, moving wood, looking for nails. This was perfectly fine with me as I sat in a nearby table visiting with my friend and nursing the baby, enjoying 75* with a breeze (read: supervising).

Other activities at the park included rafting, which was a favorite among some of the boys in our group. The rafts were 4x4 and the kids each got 8 foot long poles to use for pushing themselves along, akin to Huck Finn. Rafters could ride alone or with a partner. The water was only thigh-deep . . . on William, so not sure how deep that really is. William would jump on and off his raft and run to the sandy shore, then he would run through the water again and hop onto the raft. All I could think was "Thank goodness I have a towel and a *complete* change of clothes".

Also in the pond area was the rope bridge. It spanned the pond and the slightest misstep meant a muddy bath. But William and Lainy Ann still conquered it several times. The only thing that my kids refused to try was the mudslide. To be honest I don't think I would have tried it either. Essentially it was a black tarp laid on top of a hillside. A staff member stood at the top with a hose so it was slippery. The end of the slide was a waist deep puddle of cold muddy water.

It was really a terrific little park. It was small enough to see all areas, well staffed, tons of shade, and inexpensive. There were plenty of picnic tables, a sand box and a few climbing apparatuses. But the main draw was the 'boys-will-be-boys' activities. They were so into the building, figuring out how to climb a ladder with nails and a hammer in their hand, planning, etc that there was no time for crying, whining or petty arguing. They were fully engaged physically and mentally. And I got to sit in the shade with a breeze and good company.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Knock Knock, Mother******



A while back The Blogess posted a story about picking your battles and towels and whimsical chickens named Beyonce. It had me rolling for days. I immediately forwarded the link to all my closest female friends and then I went on a hunt for a chicken. One of my friends even proclaimed her allegiance to me and said, "I will help you carry your chicken".

So in that vein I gifted a tire to my best buddy. You see, my buddy loves everything free - she is also my friend who helped me steal roses. Caskey and I were driving down the street when we saw some free furniture.


We told my friend about the furniture because she can't pass up a good deal and she was thrilled. Except her husband was out of town with the truck. My husband told her he should ask me to help anyway, so long as she didn't tell me he said it was okay. Her response was that she didn't have enough room but that the tire would make a great planter... just a bit of soil.

In a grand gesture we decided she needed the tire. All the kids were loaded in the car waaaaay past bedtime. We shushed them and turned off the headlights as we creeped up her street. The hubby unloaded the 50 pound tire and rolled it down her driveway amid giggles (mine) and shushing (his). Honestly, I don't know how she didn't hear us. The finale was a cell phone pic (above) of the tire propped against her front door attached to an email. Subject line: Knock Knock, Mother******

Do you think the tire has as much whimsy as the chicken?


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trouble

This little boy will be the death of me. Since we recently went camping we had all sorts of marshmallows in the house, a treat for sure. I came into the kitchen to find him with a handful of something he was hiding. I asked him what he had and he reluctantly showed me the marshmallows. I was going to reward his honesty and let him have them. So I told him, "You need to remember to ask mommy first before getting your own food". So he quickly shoved all the marshmallows in his mouth and said "Can I have marfmallows?" Then he smiled that smile that makes me smile and makes my heart melt.

That child is going to be trouble

More Please

This is going to sound dumb to most of the people in the world, but I feel like we don't have enough kids. Yes, I know. We have 5 living child and another 2 in heaven. That means each time we go to a hotel we need 2 rooms and most restaurants charge us a mandatory gratuity. But even so I would have like one or two more.

So I am just thrilled to death when I get to babysit one or two more kids for a few hours. I absolutely love it! Recently I got to have Miss Eva hang out with us for a few hours. I was thrilled to death. I know her parents felt bad for putting me out, but it really was a piece of cake. First off, I had already sent the older three kids off to summer camp. Connor and his belt loops were at Cub Scout camp and Lainy Ann and William were learning that "God is wild about us" at Vacation Bible School. That meant only 2 at home and with our guest for the day, that's only 3 kids. Heck. I was still ahead of the game with 2 less kids than normal!

Miss Eva has really gotten to know me over the last few months so she was perfectly happy to play with Alexander and Eleanor, take a nap in the play pen and share her PB&J sandwich with Ellie. With the three kids in the house that meant I had 3 kids under 3 years old. . . so close to the 4 kids under 3 years old I was supposed to have.

So I will continue to beg and plead for a chance to babysit and borrow our friends kids and they will feel guilty about it. But I just love having more kids in the house . . . . the more the merrier.

Getty Center: 9 years and up

Happy Birthday, Grandma Lou!

For Grandma's 60th birthday we went to the Getty Center for a tour and lunch at the Getty Restaurant. It was a large get together with about 25 people including my 5 little ones. I was apprehensive about walking around a more grown-up place, especially with a 2 and 4 year old in tow. But I would do anything for my mom.

They Getty has some really nifty group deals. We ended up scheduling a free 45-minute architectural tour for our party. Then we went to the restaurant for a lovely sit down meal. Since the Getty has no admission fee, we were able to spend the rest of the day touring the grounds. The architectural/garden tour was primarily outside so it was easy enough to distract the little ones off to the side while to docent spoke about the sweeping views, the trabertine and acreage. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what she talked about since I was busy keeping the kids out of ear shot. But my mother says she had a wonderful time.

Lunch was surprisingly good. I'm not an adventurous eater and we had a set menu since we were part of a group. I enjoyed the cobb salad and iced tea (any surprise about my order). The other options were chicken, fish and risotto. The children had homemade macaroni and cheese which they did not like - being children, they only like the blue box. The waiters were very accommodating to our large party and to the children. The bread was yummy and the kids enjoyed dipping their rolls into red pepper roasted potato soup.

After lunch we walked through the gardens and the zig zag path. After the tram ride to the museum this was the highlight of the day for the kids. They were able to run free through the path and roll down the hillside. The gardens were well manicured with a variety of plants.

The kids were getting pretty tired so we set off to find the Family Room. I envisioned a large room with tons of hands-on activities to make art accessible to children and to let parents take a load off. I am used to places like La Brea Tar Pits or Kidspace Museum. I was sorely disappointed. It was a smallish room with 5 highlighted pieces of art, then a little cubby to explore that artwork. One cubby was a bunch of mirrors (to imitate a collage), another was a bed to lay on, another was foam tubing to imitate rod iron sculpture, and another had blank paper masks that children could color. After 20 minutes we had exhausted the usefulness of the room and it was meltdown time. However, if you are visiting the Getty with your kids go to the Family Room first and pick up the two booklets that have facts and things to find in the gardens and sculptures. It helped keep the kids interested as we wandered around the outside. A scavenger hunt type booklet for each exhibit would be a wonderful way to include children in all of the exhibits.

Honestly, our visit went as well as it could have gone. We really only saw the outdoor spaces, 2 rooms in the East Pavillion and the family room (and 3 bathrooms), approximately 20% of the entire complex. We are definitely not the target audience. I expect our next visit will be years down the road even though the only expense is parking ($15 per car).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tarantula

The key word this summer is CHEAP! With 7 people and one toilet . . . . well, every extra dollar is going to saving for a house. We have made some drastic changes in the last few months from cutting off our cable and cutting back on our spending. My credit card expenditures have been cut in half. I am really proud of the changes we have made.

Saving money means staying home all summer. We have canceled all of our summer vacations, opted out of summer camp and summer lessons. I have been on the hunt for free or cheap outings and I am getting together with other moms to keep the kids cheaply entertained. The library has made that really easy this summer. They have a series of programs from chess club, to board games, a summer reading program and weekly shows. This week Mr. Valentine's Nature Show came to the library. I was a bit apprehensive, but with temps near 95* and a few hours to kill we all loaded into the car and were prepared to be entertained.

Mr. Valentine started off with gusto. "Ignore everything your parents ever told you about animals. They were wrong." Followed by "don't ever be afraid of animals, you can not like them, but don't be afraid of them.". Then when he said that each child was going to get an animal and a chance to walk it around the room . . . well, that just seemed to be foolish and cruel to the animals.

Sure enough, Mrs. Valentine let the wallaby out of the cage and it began hopping around the room, unharnessed. Everyone was instructed to be still and ignore it and it would be just fine. Then a 7 year old girl held a cracker in her mouth while the wallaby took it out with his own lips. Weird. Then Mr. Valentine started handing out lizards in every color, blue, yellow, green, . . . Children were instructed on proper handling and then carried them around the room so everyone could pet the animal. And on it went with frogs, big and small, insects, tarantulas, and snakes. He even let a ginormous lizard (not sure of the kind) wander around the room. The lizard was about 5 feet long and just ambled around.

It was a fantastic show once you got over Mr. Valentines gruff exterior. He really knew what he was talking about. None of the animals were harmed and all of the children (and adults) got a little braver. I even held the tarantula for a bit. Something I thought I would never do.

But this morning poor Connor-man woke up with a rash. I have been racking my brain to figure out what could have caused it. Then I remembered what all the other nature shows said, "we won't be letting you touch the tarantulas because some people are allergic to the oils in its hairs. You won't know if you are that person until you break out in a rash." Out of 6 of us in the family apparently Connor is the only one allergic to tarantulas.

So this post serves to validate all the people Connor may meet in his lifetime. No, Connor is not scared of tarantulas. He was very brave as he held a tarantula, lizard and other creepy crawlies. But today he has been miserable with a red itchy rash. So I don't believe he will ever be holding a tarantula again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Park a Day

July is National Parks month. The LAist is highlighting one park a day. Some of them seem really nifty for my young family. But they are also located in the high desert where it is triple digits in the summer. I am going to list some of my favorites here so I can check back when the temperatures drop a bit.


Apollo Park, Lancaster
4555 West Avenue G
Lancaster, CA 93534

This large park has fishing, hiking, bike paths and multiple playgrounds for children.



Polliwog Park, Manhattan Beach

Wildlife, nifty shaded playground for kids.


Add your favorite park in the comments below.

[in progress]

Camping

Camping. What can I say? Well, its outdoors, in the heat, cold and dust. No running water. Oh and since I live in California our tent was not flat. Going to the bathroom was a 100 foot hike down the hill, which was fine, but going back to the tent meant hiking up the hill. Let's just say my glutts are feeling it.

We arrived later than we wanted due to 4th of July traffic. It was nearing dusk so we had to hustle to get camp set up. Have I mentioned that I have never done this before? So after spending all week long loading the stuff into the car (while hubby was on vaca . . . um, I mean, a work trip) I got to spend over an hour hauling the same crap up a small dusty hill. Fun times.

Then the camp ranger came and scared us all into keeping our food locked securely in our car because of bears. She told a great story of a boy who left a granola bar in his pocket and a bear came to his tent, ripped it open and scratched up the boy. She told this story to all the children; including my 4 year old who is afraid of the characters at Disneyland. When night fell he sat on his daddy's lap and cried hysterically begging us to take him home. It took a lot questions and hugs to calm him down. Even still he spent most of the night in tears and having nightmares. When dawn broke at 5 am he jumped out of his sleeping bag and announced, "It's morning, that means all the bears are sleeping."

Sleeping went so much better than I thought it would be. Thanks to some great sleeping bags, air mattress and over packing we were plenty warm. Even Miss Ellie Bellie was pretty warm. I didn't sleep much that first night. Of course, Eleanor and Alexander ended up with plugged noses all night long and William with his nightmares. If I had a clock I would have seen that I was likely up every 45 minutes or so. The saving grace was only one child woke at a time and that child didn't wake the others.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early and we were out of our tent by 7 am. While the other families in our scout pack made eggs, bacon and pancakes on their portable stoves I busted out the giant Costco muffins and some frozen yogurt. The kids were thrilled to death to run around the campsite while eating and I was able to tidy up the tent and get the younger kids dressed. It was truly best of both worlds. I had the pleasure of smelling every one else's yummy breakfast without having to buy and bring extra equipment, cook, clean and beg my kids to eat it. Win-Win

In their play William caught a frisbee with his lip. Caskey and I spent the next hour debating whether or not an ER visit was warranted. First aid in the wilderness is a whole new skill that I have now mastered. We didn't have the luxuries of extra clothes, ice or a sink. But we made due and within an hour William was back to jumping off of rocks and kicking up dust.

It was really nifty camping with our scout pack. There was such a large group of children close in age running around, making up games and playing together. With so many extra moms around Eleanor was thoroughly loved and entertained. I am so glad we brought her highchair along. We would just set her up in the shade and give an adult some graham crackers and she would sit for an hour or more between naps. Alexander, well, we all know he thinks he is big. So he just followed around the big kids. Occasionally he would get stuck on an extra tall rock, but he managed to keep up with this big kids just fine.

Then the scouts gathered in their respective dens to work on a an elective. Caskey lead the wolves in a knot tying activity. They practiced a series of knots for about 45 minutes. Then worked on their evening skit - which Caskey also wrote. The wolves then spent the next several hours using their 12 inches of ropes, tying it together to make one longer string of rope and tying it between two trees and inventing a game.

It seemed to be going pretty well so far.

We took a nice drive around the lake so the kids could nap. It was over 100* in our tent, so a/c was the only way to get them to rest. I hadn't realized quite how large Big Bear Lake is. It was quite a nice drive looking at the log cabins, tourists on the lake, yard sales and antique shops. The kids took a too-short nap.

Then I saw it! My chairs. My kitchen table chairs. Those ugly, poorly constructed, caked with food chairs. There were 2 matching ones sitting in a parking lot for sale. Caskey whipped a u-turn on a 2 way highway and we got a closer look. The chairs were in poor condition, but they will still in better condition than our chairs. And the price was right, 2 chairs for $3. The only question was where to put them. We were packed to the hilt on the drive up the moutain, how were we going to add 2 chairs for the drive down the mountain? We did it anyway. We managed to squeeze in 2 non-folding kitchen chairs.

Back to the campsite we went. As we were unpacking the kids from the car we realized what Eleanor has been up to on our drive around the lake . . . pooping . . . all.over. No bathtub was available so my woodland princess took a dip in a chip bowl and ice cold mountain spring water. I soaped her up head to toe and rinsed her 3 times. She never once screamed or cried. She smiled and laughed the whole time even though her goosebumps had goosebumps. Poor little girl.

We had a very unhappy discovery in the afternoon. It seems that Connor was not taking the buddy system seriously. As Lainy Ann, Connor and Alexander tromped through the woods to the flushing toilets Connor decided to hide from his siblings while Lainy Ann was in the bathroom. That left Alexander literally alone in the woods. He wandered towards the nearest tents which thankfully belonged to other pack-members. They recognized Alexander and brought him back to us. Once Caskey and I discovered what had happened Connor received a punishment akin to the rock punishment Lainy Ann received in 2008 (?). He was to stay within arms reach of one of us, he apologized to both the cubmaster and person who found Alexander and wrote notes to them as well. He will also be regaining our trust this summer and showing us he does know the buddy system. The last time I was that angry at one of my own children for hurting another one of my children was . . . . well, the rock incident.

That evening went great with hot dogs over the fire and s'more and skits put on by the scouts. But I had had enough. Punishing Connor while camping wasn't going great. Thunderstorms were expected the following afternoon and I was just done, mentally. Loosing my child in the forest was scary and I wasn't going to be able to follow him around the rest of the trip. So we packed up a day early and headed home.

I learned a lot on our camping trip. My packing list is more finely honed. We will definitely go again, but I am thinking we will find someone to keep the littler kids for our trip. I surely can't imagine taking a toddling Eleanor along next time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Camping: At the beginning

I have fond memories as a child of playing in the back of our station wagon. We would drag all of our dolls, clothes, blankets and accessories down to the car and play "playpen" while being drug around to garage sales by our mother. Playing in the car with my sis and our dolls made chores seem so much more fun. We loved getting a chance to play in the car.

As I schlep back and forth from the house to the monster van with all of our 'can't live without' belongings for a 4-day and 3-night summer camping trip in the mountains I can see my youngest 2 boys playing in the car. They are challenging themselves to climb over the seats of the car while intermittently helping carry lighter things. They are so happy to play in the car and ignore all the stress and to-do's. What a simple and joyful life they lead.

As I dread this weekend; being so far from my bed, electricity and running water, I wonder what their perspective of the trip will be. Will they remember playing in the car? Maybe the s'mores will be the biggest hit? So I am going to swallow my grumbles and drinking an extra pepsi to cope. After all, the whole point of this trip is to make fun memories for the kids. This is certainly not my idea of a dream vacation. LOL