Friday, December 28, 2007

Just declare it a disaster area...

...our whole house, that is! My house is ABSOLUTELY trashed! And I have no one to blame but myself, although I guess the 25 people we had here Christmas day probably contributed a little bit. But I could have had all of that cleaned up by now if one thing hadn't led to another. We are rearranging the house. Let me back up to find the first event that occurred to spark this move:

Actually, it was two events, one ongoing and one actual event. The ongoing event is that for the past year Alex has been calling the guest room her room. I suppose since it was her room it was actually no longer a "Guest Room"; however, when we had guests, she would get kicked out to sleep wherever but only after much, much, much (did I say "much" already?) prodding to clean it up because she's quite the slob (I can call her that because I was just like that growing up, plus I'm her mother!). It was a battle and one we grew weary of.

Then there was the boys' bunk bed. They have roughhoused on it so much that several of the slats on the top were broken and Jacob was constantly reminding us to do something about it so Michael wouldn't come crashing through on top of him. While my handy husband could have fixed the slats, why bother when my rough boys will just continue to break them? So in the interest of the safety of our youngest son, we took the beds apart. As we were taking them apart, I had a brilliant idea (not looking quite so brilliant at the moment as I sit here with piles of stuff precariously balanced on my desk). I suppose there is a third contributing factor to my brilliance. Up until this point, the playroom has doubled as our schoolroom. While I love the space, I hate the mess.

So here's what we're doing: the boys are going to move into the playroom, Alex is moving into the boys' room, and our guest room will once again be a guest room. As for our schoolroom, well, I'm sending the kids to school.

Just kidding.

We're going to do what every other homeschooling family does: school at the kitchen table. The guest room will double as my school "stuff" storage room (neatly, of course, which is my motto). Now I'll be able to school and make lunch at the same time. Or watch the cookies in the oven while we school. Or clean up breakfast while we school. Or just school but feel much less like I'm trapped in a pig sty.

As for my guest room? I don't have to change the sheets everyday as we juggle guests (and we do have a lot of people drop in). We don't have to come up with a place for Alex to sleep. I don't have to go behind her idea of clean at the last minute to actually clean it up. I don't have to contend with dried toothpaste in the guest sink. Or spit on the mirror. Or Pollys laying in a puddle of who knows what on the bathroom floor. Or wet towels that have been on the floor for a week. Or dried shampoo rings in the shower.

This is quite a process, however. I'm questioning my brilliance at the moment, but I'm sure once everyone is settled, we'll love it. In retrospect, I'm thinking it may have been even more brilliant to put away the Christmas stuff BEFORE we started this massive project, but once I get an idea in my head, I have to see it come to fruition immediately so there you go. I am getting a little antsy to have the entire mess cleaned up, though. You see, I'm one of those psychotic people who can't sleep as well if the house is a mess. And I can count on one hand the number of times the bed has gone unmade in the last 5 years. See? Psycho.

But it will get done. It must get done because we have another guest coming tomorrow to stay for a few days. And sometime next week an entire family is dropping in. So it must get done. Quickly.

If I could capture the enormity of the mess in one photo, I would, but it's too spread out, so picture any one disaster area and you've got a visual on our house.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Scotch Tape

I should have bought some 3M stock about a week ago because we're blazing through the Scotch Tape like nobody's business. I thought I would let the kids indulge in some good ol' fashioned anticipation, so I wrapped all the gifts last night (not to say that they shouldn't have been bought and wrapped weeks ago, but due to the family vacation so close to Christmas...well, that's whole other story) and set them under the tree. This morning you'd have thought it was actually December 25th as excited as they were to discover the piles of pretty boxes. The older three, being the mature children they are, are of course content just to hold each box, weigh it, shake it, feel it, and try to guess its contents (and beg just a little: "Can't we just open one? Pleeeeaaaase?"). The Princess, however...well, she thinks we are subjecting her to some sort of cruel and unusual punishment.

When her Daddy informed her she could not open them until Christmas, she burst into a torrent of her best dramatic tears. And her beligerent colors came shining through this morning when I halted her getaway with the biggest present. I told her she was not allowed to take it upstairs and should put it back under the tree. "Mo! Mo! Mo!" she responded, which in Audreyese means "No! No! No!" I have to be watchful for her quiet moments because if I'm not guarding her, she is in the living room tearing little pieces of wrapping paper little by little off of each package. Each of the presents now looks like it's been through World War II with a succeeding visit to the infirmary whereupon it was pitifully bandaged up. I'm not sure what the gifts will look like 4 days from now, but thankfully at that point we can allow the Princess to rip into them as she wishes. Torture over.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Birthday Precedents

I think we set a dangerous birthday precedent back in May, one which dictates that each child should be thrown multiple parties over a general period of time near to the date on which we celebrate said child's actual date of birth. These various parties have been dubbed "fake birthdays" and "real birthdays." The idea behind the multiple parties is that the child be able to enjoy a fun birthday party with friends and celebrate a quiet birthday with family. The eldest son is already campaigning for his series of parties, and the other day when he began a sentence with "For my fake birthday, I want to..." we cut him off short with an explanation that he may well get only one REAL birthday party in 2008.

There is one gal, however, who really deserves nothing less than a few fake birthday parties on top of the flimsy real birthday party she had. This is the sweet eight-year-old who spent 12 hours of her birthday in the car sitting next to a pukey little sister. Alex was a great sport about everything...the long drive, the pukey sister, the simple ice cream cake the next day. And no presents to boot because she already opened those at the fake birthday and Christmas gift-opening ceremony in Florida. But she's always sharing her birthday with Christmas, so we're planning another little Fake Birthday shin-dig for the first of the year. Hopefully, this will make her 8th year memorable rather than going down in the books as "That year I didn't really have a birthday."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cruise Commentary

Kruisin' with Kids: It happens to me anytime I go to the grocery store with the kids: at least two different people will stand and watch our little group for a couple of minutes. Then the person will catch my eye and ask, "Are they all yours?" "Yes, they're all mine." "Wow! You have your hands full!" It's always the same comment. The comments didn't vary a whole lot on the ship; however, most followed their comments up with, "How did you get them out of school?" I think we were the only homeschool family on the ship. I got some strange looks when I said we homeschool. For one couple, the conversation went like this: "How did you get them out of school?" "I homeschool so we set our own schedule." Person 1 says to his wife (as if I'm not there), "They homeschool?" The wife: "Yeah, you know--like Amanda." Then to me, "Amanda is a friend of ours. She homeschools, but I don't think she teaches them anything. Her 13-year-old doesn't even know how to read." I wanted to say, "Yeah, that's kind of the norm. We don't care if they learn anything; we just want them home so we can go on cruises whenever we want."

Anyway, it was really an enjoyable vacation, though I have to honestly say that I, on more than one occasion, said to Mark, "Can you imagine how relaxing this would be if it was just the two of us?" I'm glad the kids went, though; I had seen half the world by their age, so I want them to have the opportunity to enjoy as many experiences as I can provide for them. Despite the few homeschool comments, I had untold numbers of people tell me that our kids "are just so cute and well-behaved." I'm thinking maybe these were sympathy compliments??!

Clean Hands: Do you remember those news reports a couple of years ago about the people who were getting sick on cruise ships? I think they may have gone a little overboard in addressing those events--you have to sanitize your hands at literally every turn on the ship! We sanitized at least three times in the embarkation process. Then they have sanitizing dispensers at the entrance of every restaurant, along with a crew member supervising and making sure you clean your hands. That's well and good, but it can get a little annoying when, for example, you have to walk through the Garden Cafe to get to the Great Outdoors and therefore have to sanitize twice! What was nice (and took some getting used to) is that they serve you EVERYTHING in the buffet. There is a crew member at a station with silverware--you can't grab your own; you have to let the crew member hand it to you! And you don't serve yourself your salad, for example. You instruct the crew member exactly what you want on it. Anyway, I suppose clean is better than not, so no serious complaints here.

Weight Watchers: What I need to do now!! Seriously, you can eat ALL day whatever you want on a cruise. It gets a little ridiculous, although I didn't think it so ridiculous at the time. I ate my share of just about everything, and I think I gained at least 20 pounds. Time to watch my weight now!

Service: It was impeccable. All of the crew members were so friendly and accommodating. They need whoever trains cruise crew members to come train all of the customer service people here in the States.

Cruise Itinerary

Sunday (12/9) - We were told we wouldn't be able to begin embarkation until 1:00, but we read online in several reviews that if you arrived early, you could usually at least begin the process. We also read warnings of long lines and waits. So I bought giant lollipops for each child, and we headed to the port around 9:30, arriving at 10:30. By the time we got parked and to the entrance of our embarkation site, it was about 10:45. They began letting people in at 11:00, and it was a totally painless process. We were ushered into a waiting room where we sat for maybe a half hour tops. Alex and I passed the time playing a card game, and the boys enjoyed their video games. By the time we got onboard, we were all hungry and the restaurant that would become our favorite--the Garden Cafe--was open. Because we were ahead of the embarkation game, the restaurant was not crowded, and we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch.

After finishing our lunch, we explored for a bit and by that time, it was 1:30 and our rooms were open. We checked them out and found them to be cozy but very adequate for us. We had two adjoining rooms for the 6 of us--the kids in one room and the two of us in the other. The kids' room was two single beds with a bunk that folded down over one single bed, and a trundle that pulled out from under the other single bed. Every morning, our cabin stewards tucked the extra beds away, and every night, they pulled them out, turned them down, and left mints on our pillows. On some nights, they left little towel animals for the kids. So the rooms worked out perfectly. We spent most of the afternoon exploring the ship and then once again enjoyed the Garden Cafe. I'm not much of one for buffets, but this really was exceptional with a made-to-order pasta bar, wonderful salad bar, and other fantastic offerings...from hamburgers and fries to Indian food.

Monday (12/10) - What more could you ask for than breakfast right on water? The whole aft side of one  floor of the ship was an outdoor restaurant aptly called the Great Outdoors. We had many meals here, but this breakfast was our first. After breakfast, we dropped Alex and Michael off at the Kids' Club where they were dying to play. The younger two, of course, wanted little to do with it. So we took our babies and explored the ship and visited the gift shop. Lunch was at the Garden Cafe again after which we made our first visit to the pool. I have mentioned in previous posts that they supposedly don't allow diapers of any kind in the pool, so we were thinking we would just have to forego all swimming (being the rule followers we are), but we saw so many children in the pool with swim diapers on that we decided to follow the crowd and break the rules. The kids loved the pool. Even Jacob got into the giant waterslide. Audrey had a little room of her own with a mini-pool and mini-slide. She enjoyed going down the big slide with Daddy as well. We swam until the "Men's Sexy Legs Contest" began. At that point, it was just about time for the Kids' Club family event anyway. We had a little "Amazing Race" game that led us throughout the ship, following clues, solving puzzles, and completing tasks. I had a lot of fun with it as I usually do with any type of competition. We didn't win, but I think we could have if it hadn't been for our little Princess-size handicap.

Dinner was at the Blue Lagoon which was a regular restaurant where you order and are waited on. It wasn't as good as the Garden Cafe, but it was a nice change. After dinner, we enjoyed a relaxing walk along one of the deck walkways. These walkways were generally not at all crowded, and not only could we enjoy the lovely ocean, but there were other activities along the way like the sports court and the giant chess game board.

Tuesday (12/11) - Tuesday began with another breakfast at the Great Outdoors. We had by this time docked in Cozumel and shortly after breakfast we went ashore to do some shopping. Although I would have enjoyed seeing much more of Cozumel, the kids were not quite as enthusiastic about the shopping or siteseeing, so we headed back on board and to the pool. Since the rest of the guests were on shore, we had the pool and the waterslide to ourselves. As the pool area began to fill, we left and headed back out to the Great Outdoors where we munched on a snack and played card games as we sailed away from Mexico. Dinner was at Mambo's, a Mexican restaurant--another "regular" restaurant but again the food was not as good as the Garden Cafe. By evening, we had begun to enter some stormy waters, so the wind really picked up. Surprisingly, it seemed that every night the pool area completely cleared out, so after dinner, the kids had a blast running like wild around the pool area. They raced around, fighting the wind, and making up little games.

Wednesday (12/12) - Breakfast at our favorite spot. As we pulled into the waters of the Cayman Islands, it began to rain a bit. Grand Cayman does not have a regular port, so the ships anchor off-shore, and a "tender" takes people, a couple hundred at a time, to shore. We had signed up for a tour, so we met in the theater at 11:00 with the rest of our tour. We boarded our tender and were taken to the island. From there, we got a bus to the island's Butterfly Farm. The kids got a detailed and interesting lecture on caterpillars, metamorphosis, and butterflies. Afterwards, we spent some time roaming the farm and capturing some of the winged beauties on film. From there, we boarded our bus again and were taken to the famous Seven Mile Beach. It was pretty, though not as pretty as I remember Cancun. It may have had something to do with the fact that our weather was not cooperating 100%. We had a few sprinkles here and there and a few sunny moments as well. The kids really enjoyed the ocean and the beach, though. After we were taken back by bus to the embarkation area, we did some shopping and then caught a tender back to our ship.

We had reservations at the ship's Italian restaurant, La Cucina, and we all got dressed up for a nice dinner. After dinner, we found some seats in the Stardust Theater where we enjoyed a show. I wasn't sure the kids would like "The Garden of the Geisha," but it was fairly short, the costumes were colorful, and there were some good stunts. Alex especially enjoyed it, giving huge rounds of applause after every act. The boat was rocking quite a bit with the storm brewing outside; I was surprised they performed so well in spite of it. Audrey took a hit from the motion, however--she was trying to move from my lap to Mark's and fell, splitting her lip on a seat. After getting her calmed down, she promptly fell asleep on my lap; thankfully, we had had the forethought to bring her blankie along!

Thursday (12/13) - OK so we had breakfast in the same place everyday. After breakfast, I took Alex up to the rock climbing wall where she almost made it to the top! Then we headed out to the pool for one last time. Unfortunately, Jacob got his split lip--he was running from the bottom of the slide to the stairs going up. We had lunch again at the Garden Cafe, although we could have done without lunch because in the afternoon we took part in a pizza making party with the Kids' Club. So, as we did the whole cruise, we ate way too much! After dinner at the Garden Cafe, we headed to the Stardust Theater again. This time, we made sure to get there 45 minutes early to get a good seat for a magic show. We brought the boys' video games and a card game to pass our waiting time. We all thoroughly enjoyed the magic show: Richard Burr and Josette. After the show, we bought the kids their own magic kit--we'll see what happens with that! And then headed back to the Garden Cafe for dessert crepes. As the kids were getting ready for bed, Jacob lost his tooth! I told him how excited the Tooth Fairy would be to get to go on a cruise. Unfortunately (for the Tooth Fairy), she had no change, so the lucky toothless boy made off with $5.00. I suppose the Tooth Fairy thought it was worth the extra cash to get a chance to cruise.

Friday (12/14) - Happy Birthday, Alex! (Not much of a birthday for her, so we've done some celebrating today.) We had different options for disembarkation. We could have let the crew have our luggage the previous night so we didn't have to worry about our suitcases until we got to customs, but that would have meant we could only disembark at a specific time. With a 12-hour drive ahead of us, we wanted to be on our own schedule, so we opted to keep our suitcases and just disembark at our leisure. We ordered room service for breakfast and were out of our room by 8:15. I think it was about 8:30 when we got to our car--a very simple disembarkation and trip through customs!

Mark's plan was to take the Florida Turnpike up to the Orlando area, but it was stopped dead for what appeared to be miles, so we took a slight detour across Alligator Alley. That actually ended up being very enjoyable. Alex and I were spotting alligators every mile or so as well as some very unique birds, so I'm glad it worked out that way. We had quite a long trip back as far as stops go, but it actually seemed to be a shorter trip than we expected. We had to stop quite a few times for potty breaks, plus Audrey developed a really bad cough. She has a horrible gag reflex, so even simple coughing often turns into vomiting, and, yep, we got to deal with her vomiting in the car. Only a couple times, though, and both times I caught it with a towel and then a pillowcase, so it wasn't too much of a mess thankfully. We made it home by 10:30, and everyone was asking to get in bed.

So now we're home--trying to keep our balance on our sea legs when, at times, the whole house seems to be gently rocking. It's good to be home, but it is a little sad that our adventure came to an end. I guess it's on to the next one!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

One Season

Half-naked baby (waiting on the laundry).

Sitting out on the balcony.

Soakin' up the Florida sunshine.

In the middle of December.

It doesn't get much better than this!

Every time I'm in Florida, half of me regrets not moving down here when we had the opportunity. I love it here: the foliage (so much like Africa!), the weather, the way a pop-up thunderstorm comes rushing in and rolls out just as quickly. Of course, sometimes it doesn' during hurricane season. If I remember correctly, it was Hurricane Season '04 coupled with the expensive housing market that kept us from flying south. But still...whenever we're here together our conversation inevitably comes around to the possibility--no matter how faint it might be--of us living here one day.

This evening, we are staying in a lovely, charming town called Weston, and I've already informed the mister that this is where we should live. Of course I know if I delved into the idea a little further it would dawn on me that we were the youngest family in the restaurant tonight. And I'd also accept as truth my husband's comment about there likely being no replacement here for our church. Plus the fact that our friends and family are back "home". But it really is lovely...the trees, the water, the storm this afternoon, the weather. It's perfect!

I hear a lot of people say they would never live in Florida because they would miss the changing seasons. My uptopia has one season: hot! And Florida fits the bill.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Chaos on the Green

No shuttle launch today. We made up for our disappointment by going miniature golfing. Miniature golfing with my family is quite a unique experience as we create a rather discordant melody of chaos out on each of the 18 miniature greens. I have one child who thinks she's a baseball player on the course; one boy is a scoocher--you know, the one who kind of scoots the ball along with the club until it reaches its target; the other boy is a hit and runner--he gives the ball a tiny tap, runs to it, taps, runs, taps, runs, taps; then there is the miniest of the golfers, and she frankly has no idea what's going on. She stands in the middle of each green and dodges the ball that's lobbed by the baseball player and then tries to avoid being knocked over by the scoocher and the hit and runner who come charging down the green after their balls like tiny hockey players. Her fascination mounts as she notes the ensuing collision of balls and little golfers, although this collision is surely what saves the baseball player's ball from skipping the green and landing in a fake rainforest or a miniature rapids. In the midst of all this chaos, however, we have a great time.

Today there were some added elements to our adventure: live alligators and a scavenger hunt. The alligators were intriguing for a moment, although they were so still the kids weren't quite convinced we were telling the truth about their being real. As for the scavenger hunt, the kind lady who emptied our bank account for this game promised us a prize if we could correctly locate a hat, a spear, jewels, a snake, a shield, and a mask along the trail. With visions of a special prize--perhaps from the gift shop--in mind, the kids were as excited about this added adventure as they were about the game. Unfortunately, until yesterday they have never knowingly been subject to gimmicks. The "prize" was a scratch-off ticket which awarded us $1.00 off of our next game. Somehow the knowledge that Mom and Dad will only have to pay $49 instead of $50 the next time we visit (no expiration date!!) does not equate into prize status--they're still asking for their well-deserved prize.

McDonald's on Steroids

Although I know there are Chuck E. Cheeses here in Florida, I haven't actually seen them, nor have I sought them out. Why would I need to anyway when there is an unusually gigantic McDonald's 1/2 mile from our hotel? This McDonald's offers a variety of menu items, some even more on the healthier side than their typical greasy fare. The eating isn't what's important, however. What's important is what lies upstairs: a fantastically huge playground where one can easily get lost (I know this from previous visits where I had to rescue a disoriented child from the labyrinth above) and lots of those games that so innocently suck up your quarters you keep right on shoving them in. Of course, it's all for a good end; after all, who doesn't want to spend $10.00 on games so that the earned tickets can be redeemed for that highly valuable junk? Money pit or not, the kids had a fabulous time!

A Taste of Disney

No magic kingdom for us this time around, but we got a taste of Disney yesterday anyway. We spent the afternoon at Downtown Disney snacking, browsing, and running around like silly children in all of the open space. Isn't homeschooling wonderful? This fact comes to my attention every time we go on an off-season vacation and don't have to experience claustrophobia in order to have a little fun.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Set in Her Ways...

Let me start with some of the blessings from our first day of travel:

1. A safe journey.

2. The joy of watching the children's excited faces as they opened early Christmas presents (and birthday gifts for Alex), presents we knew they would enjoy having on the trip: electronic games, card games, Polly Pockets for the Princess.

3. Plans with my friend from teaching...and a possible shuttle launch scheduled for Thursday! She can see the launchpad from her home in Titusville, so we'll watch from there. As I was making plans with her on the phone last night, I jokingly thanked her for working with NASA to arrange this for us since we've never had the expectation of being down here at the right time to witness such an amazing event. Now we're just praying that the weather holds true and that all of the shuttle parts are in place so there will be no reason to cancel.

OK enough of all that happy stuff...Let me just say that I've come to the dismaying conclusion that I'm an old lady very set in her ways! It's not a realization of which I'm proud, but allow me to whine a little here:

1. I'm very impatient with long car trips. Though our trip yesterday was uneventful, every so often there was a chorus of 4 voices: "Are we there yet?" followed by a sweet, little echo: "Dere yet?" I'm quite sure we drove our chauffeur mad.

2. Now the bed: it's terrible. I brought my own pillow, but I need my Select Comfort bed. (Maybe I should ask dh to start staying in Radisson hotels instead of Marriott!)

3. The room: too quiet for sleeping. At home, I always have a fan going for noise. So I improvised and turned on both bathroom fans and let them run all night.

4. I got hardly a wink of sleep, although the bed and the pervading quiet were not completely to blame. In fact, I can blame most of my sleeplessness on the kids. My children's coughs only come out at night...and two of them had horrible coughs last night. They were troopers, however, and didn't complain; in fact, I think they slept through their coughing fits. Not I, however. Not in a too silent room on an uncomfortable bed. I think it was around 4:00 this morning I lay in bed literally PLEADING with God to make Audrey and Michael stop coughing. God is awesome and answered; however, I forgot about His sense of humor. I had just fallen asleep when Michael's coughing started again. God, You're killin' me, I thought and went into the kids' room to see if I could offer Michael a drink of water. It wasn't Michael, however. Very funny, God--I forgot to pray that Jacob wouldn't be afflicted. I said a quick prayer for Jacob and finally drifted off to sleep. Maybe they'll be all coughed out by tonight.

5. And this is not so much me whining as me ascending my soap box for a little preaching. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Tony Roma's last night, but prior to our entering the establishment, my youngest reader very competently (and loudly) read the sign on the neighboring store: Bad A** Coffee Shop. The sign has a little donkey on it. Honestly, if I didn't have my kids with me, I would actually find this mildly humorous (although I fail to see the correlation between donkeys and coffee), but really, do they have to set up shop right next to a family restaurant on the busiest tourist street in Orlando? Of course, that's my answer right's the busiest tourist street in Orlando, so I get the marketing strategy. Anyway, we did have a thorough and good conversation with the children about the meaning of the word in Biblical times (thus the donkey) versus the derogatory meaning today. Hopefully, we made our point clear enough. If not, let's fast forward to Christmas dinner and imagine us sitting down to dinner with the grandparents and one of the kids recounting how we went to the Bad A** Coffee Shop. Let's just hope we got our point across!

So there was a day once upon a time when my life was more footloose and fancy free where I enjoyed adventures and leaving home to stay in some strange place. Now I think I've just gotten old. It's sad. I need to "relax" as my dear husband so aptly instructed me last night after every heavy sigh I heaved following every cough that emanated from the kids' room. I need to reach down inside me and retrieve that easy-going, fun, adventurous, spontaneous, young woman I once was. (Well, we may just have to agree to willingly leave the "young" behind!) Seriously, though, I have these 4 wonderful, amazing children who deserve some adventure and excitement...even if it does mean I miss a night of sleep here and there.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Miscellaneous Meanderings

I often have a “blog voice” writing in my head. Oftentimes, the Blog Voice even gets intermingled with my Narrator. I know…all these voices in my head…now you have an explanation for my insanity. Seriously, though, my Blog Voice had half-written an entry for today in perfect holiday style. It began something like this:

‘Twas the day before our big trip, and all through our home
Everyone was stirring, anticipating the adventure to come.
The suitcases were all packed to the very tip top,
And anxious parents prayed their zippers wouldn’t pop.
The children were so excited they were bouncing off the walls;
Mom's unheeded warning of “Calm down!” echoed through the halls.

Obviously, I didn’t get very far, and I can attribute this to the crazy, crazy weekend we had coupled with our very hurried preparations for this trip upon which we are embarking tomorrow. So rather than try to impress you with my verse, I will just present a look at some happenings from the last couple of days as well as a few of the events to come. No doubt my family members will likely be the ones to appreciate such a newsy post!

First, some very, very miscellaneous meanderings…

Jacob woke up the other morning with his standard bedhead. I told him it was the work of an elf hairstylist who visits his room every night, globs gel in his hair, and makes it stand up that way. He giggled. (What else can you do when you look like that?)

The Princess is probably the most affectionate of all the children. She is very into giving “tisses” lately. She will request, “Tiss me.” “Where do you want your kiss?” I’ll ask. “On cheek,” she says as she pokes her soft, chubby, totally kissable cheek. I comply. “Now where?” “On nose.” “Now where?” “On eyes.” “Now where?” She pats her head. “On head.” Is there anything sweeter than THAT? I don’t think so either!

The cat almost got booted today. Ever since his surgery, he hasn’t wanted to use his potty. I’ve done some disciplining, some training, and he’s doing better, but not perfect—and when it comes to using the kitty potty, I insist on perfection. My dear friend from whom we got the kitty and who has offered to kittysit—get this—offered to take the cat and train him while we’re gone! Now there’s a real friend who will do THAT, don’t you think? I know I wouldn't measure up in such a situation!

Meander through our weekend…

We had a busy, busy weekend, but a memorable one and one full of stimulating conversation and quality moments with friends. Saturday night we had two fellow homeschool families over. It’s our tradition at dinner parties to feed the children and then send them up to the “theater” for a movie so we grown-ups can finish sentences, eat our food hot, and exchange conversation with someone within at least 5 years of our own age. Prior to our peaceful dinner, however, the kids got to take part in one of the families' annual traditions. Toting cookies, sprinkles, M&Ms, gumdrops, and icing, my friend brought all the fixin’s for the kids to assemble a cookie Christmas tree. They had a blast, although I think there was more finger licking than actual assembly going on. The trees dried during dinner for a later decorating.

Sunday was a busy day as well with church, choir practice for the two older kids, and then Small Group. We really enjoy our Small Group as all of our personalities mesh so well, and it’s always such a fun time of fellowship. Oh, and we do get some Bible study in there as well…not to mention our usual dinner feast. The evening offered more stimulating conversation (with the kids banished to the basement with a babysitter!)

Meander through today…

Today is a day of harried preparation as we get ready to head to Florida tomorrow where we will be until Sunday. We’ll be in Orlando until Saturday, then to Miami Saturday night, and then on to The Pearl. We’re all excited, although 3 out of my 4 woke up with bad coughs today. What did I expect anyway? So we’re loading our car with not only the kitchen sink, but medicine and at least one humidifier as well. Baby never did get potty-trained, but maybe she’ll sneak in the pool on the ship at some point anyway!

We’ll be in an apartment-style hotel in Orlando while Mark tends to business, so during the day we’ll continue with school as usual (isn’t mobile homeschooling wonderful?). I’ll also have the opportunity to see a dear friend with whom I used to teach as well as spend an evening with a cousin and his family.

So this is just a blog break in between loads of laundry, piles of things to put in suitcases, and cookies to bake. Yes, I realize the cookies aren’t necessary, but as a child whenever we went on a trip, we always baked beforehand so we had lots of snacks in the car. Of course that was a different time, a different continent--we couldn't stop at McDonald's or Kroger...and a potty break meant finding the tallest bush--but while I could always just hand the children a bag of goldfish for snacktime, it just isn’t the same as homemade cookies on a roadtrip.

After all, occasionally it's important to meander through memories of times gone by!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Children at Night

In preparation for the season, I've been leafing through my collection of Christmas storybooks and came across one of my favorites: Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner. Caralyn's husband Mark whimsically illustrates the mischievous tale of the nocturnal activities of a snowman. It got me thinking about last night...

I'm bunking alone this week. Around 1:00 Michael came in to tell me he was scared. In a daze, I told him to hop in bed with me. At 3:30, the next little man came in crying because, well, I don't know why exactly, but I figured Why not? He crawled in between Michael and me. I still had not fallen back asleep a half hour later when I heard a dainty little cough outside my door. It was none other than Her Royal Highness, clutching her blankie and with an expectant look on her face. Sorry, Princess, no room at the inn. I promptly ushered her back up to bed. I turned off the alarm clock and finally went back to sleep and got an extra half-hour at the tail end of the night.

This morning, Jacob informed me that on his way down to my room at 3:30 he happened upon his little sister asleep on the stairs. What exactly goes on around here after I turn off the lights anyway? Kids, as much as I miss your daddy, it's kind of nice having the whole bed to myself, and I'd like to keep it that way tonight. Moreover, I'd really like to get my 6 hours of sleep all in one dose!

Although the two boys and I are dragging a bit today, the Princess seems not to be fazed in the least. While I was one-on-one schooling with one of the older 3 today, all was quiet with the little one. Turns out she was busy putting the finishing touches on her outfit. That hat? Well, it's been on, as you know, since Monday afternoon. But the shoes, her best Sunday shoes on backwards...they really make the outfit.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Royal Hat

Grandma gave the Princess a new hat and coat. A heavy coat, which she put on and didn't want to take off. Given this is Georgia and the heat was on in the house, we finally convinced her to relinquish the coat. She made it clear that the hat, however, was to stay put. I tried to take it off when I tucked her into bed, but she would hear nothing of it. It did work its way off sometime during the night, becoming lost in her covers so that her awakening caused a minor panic attack: Instead of hearing her normal morning babbling and "Mommy?" through the monitor, I heard "Hat? Hat?" in a voice something close to hysteria.

She's eating breakfast now. Still wearing the hat. I had no idea I only had to put a hat under the tree...and I've already spent all that money on those dumb ol' toys!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

G for Grinch

I think I stole Christmas yesterday. The beginning of Christmas anyway. It is our tradition to decorate the house for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving, so the day began with boxes being pulled out of storage. Already I had a blasting headache because it has been some time since I've been to see Dr. Quack about adjusting my jaw. Anyway, headache aside, the boxes were set out , and the children naturally wanted to dive in. Being the control freak I am, I wanted everything done in an orderly fashion--no ripping things out of boxes or randomly pulling ornaments out.

As I sorted through the ornaments, I realized just how many we have. We normally have two trees: one is for me to decorate, the other for the kids. During the sorting, I had visions of last year's Charlie Brown tree, the one laden with far too many ornaments, none of which were evenly distributed. I sent the man of the house out to get another tree, one to replace the Charlie Brown tree so the Charlie Brown tree could go upstairs. Yes, I know there are people around the world who don't even get to enjoy one tree. And, yes, I realize I don't need three Christmas trees in my house. But on a day when I was feeling grumpy and grinchy, I really did want a third Christmas tree. So I got a third Christmas tree.

And the tree decorating process was underway. In an orderly fashion. And that's when Alex broke Jacob's "Baby's First Christmas" ornament. I began to scold and lecture about carelessness and sentimentality. As I ranted and raved my first born stared at me like I was the craziest thing since silly putty. "You understand now why I'm upset, right?" I asked her the rhetorical question. I continued by explaining to her that it's not the fact that she broke the ornament that's upsetting because an ornament can be replaced.

"Then why don't you buy another one?" she asks.

"Because this one says '2002' on it, that's why!"


"It's 2007!!"

"Oh. Sorry, Mom." Then she didn't actually shrug her shoulders, but I knew she was shrugging on the inside. And she skipped merrily off to Lala Land, which is where I wish I were sometimes. In Lala Land. Where the Grinchies can't get you. I know she doesn't understand sentimentality yet. And I don't expect her to. And what I should be doing instead of worrying about numbers on an ornament is treasuring the special moments we can have as a family doing something together. I should treasure the way that Charlie Brown tree looks with its many handcrafted ornaments. I should treasure the excitement in the children's eyes as they bring light and color to each room.

I should more often file daily moments under S for sentimental instead of G for Grinch.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Top 10...

...things I'm thankful for:

10. A wonderful family I had the privelege of joining 12 1/2 years ago and with whom I was able to spend this Thanksgiving.

9. A lodge in the mountains where we could spend the holiday...and not have to cook or clean up.

8. A warm day before Thanksgiving that provided a great opportunity for the kids to run around and wrestle. The sun was a welcome, cheery sight as well, although a little too bright for Michael who had his eyes dilated before the trip.

7. A fun loft in the hotel room, which, needless to say, was a highlight for the kids. Michael exclaimed, "I love this hotel! I want to come back here the next time we go to a hotel!"

6. A fun gift exchange for all of the grandchildren...and a special thank you from Audrey for her play baking set.

5. A chance for the kids to spend time with their cousins playing games and getting to know each other better.

4. The opportunity for all of the cousins to become better acquainted...and a chance for me to get to know my nieces and nephews better.

3. Time to spend with my sisters-in-law.

2. Another family reunion to remember because Pierce family reunions are never "normal." This reunion's event worth noting: being edged out of the common area by the loud, drunk "Wastin' Away in Margaritaville" serenader.

1. And the #1 reason for being thankful is the wonderful opportunity to take picture after picture with the family. (Of course, opportunity might not be the right word; duty maybe?!) And with this traditional picture-taking session came this series of pictures:

The in-law picture. My brother-in-law's joke went something like this: What's the difference between an outlaw and an in-law? The outlaw, of course, is wanted. Don't be surprised if I become an outlaw after this post; I will surely be on the run when Jennie finds out I've posted these pictures.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Amazing Race

I hope you caught The Amazing Race this evening...I suppose I should have posted this BEFORE tonight to encourage you to watch it. Not that it would necessarily have been an exceptional hour of TV for everyone out there, but for us it was. If you haven't figured it out from previous posts, hubby and I grew up in West Africa as missionary kids. What does this have to do with the Amazing Race you ask? Well, the teams traveled to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, tonight, and you should have heard them trying to pronounce that! Too bad they didn't travel a little further south to Ferkessedougou, the town where I grew up! As for Ouaga, Mark lived there for a year and also lived in Bobo-Dioulassou and Santidougou ("dougou" is sort of like our "ville"). It was indeed a treat to see a whole hour of Burkina Faso center stage in pop see the familiar landscape and the African culture. How I would love to take the kids there, although I'm quite sure they would not appreciate the experience so much as I would hope at this age.

So if you caught The Amazing Race tonight, tell me what you thought. I know one thing for sure--what those Africans were thinking: What on EARTH are these silly Americans up to now? And, Oh cool, I'm on TV! (You see, some things transcend all cultures!)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

More Words from the Princess

"Ut eez dat?" she asks about everything. We like to embark upon a very lengthy explanation of the item she is pointing to because it makes it that much more funny at the end. She listens with rapt attention through all the details and then exclaims an understanding, "Oh!"

She has also taken to telling the boys off. Stitch the cat had surgery yesterday, and since his return home, it has been a constant battle with the boys to ensure his safe recovery. This morning, we overhead Audrey scold, "Be nice ditty, Bize!"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A III-Act Day

Act I
Ever have those days when you think you might scream if you hear one more person call you "Mommy"? Most of today was like that. At one point, one of my boys began, "Mommy, can you..." I interrupted. "Matilda. Call me Matilda. Do you think you could call me Matilda...maybe just for a day? Just for a change. So call me Matilda, OK?" A blank look. A very blank look. He continues, "Mommy, can you..."

Act II
The oldest two are signed up for basketball with Upwards through a local church. Jacob would be great at it too, but the sweet little boy just can't work up the courage to walk out on that court by himself. So the older two had their evaluations today. We were a little nervous because we saw all of those little boys and girls out there dribbling and shooting like pros while our kids really haven't played much. But...they did great! I guess they've picked up a lot just playing out in the driveway--even though we haven't spent that much time out there. They begin practice next month and games in January. I'm looking forward to seeing them have fun through a new outlet.

Mark and I realize our children are on loan from's our job to care for them and ultimately to allow them to live in an environment that is conducive to living their lives for Christ. Tonight during devotions, the boys both asked if they could pray to ask Jesus into their hearts. We're so happy our boys have made this decision. We were a bit hesitant at first because we aren't sure how much they actually understand, but they explained it to us in their own words pretty well. Now it is our responsibility to provide them with the right tools to grow and learn more about God so they may come to a full understanding of the decision they have made.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Flight (Home) School

Nothing could be more enjoyable on a beautiful, sunny, not-too-cold fall day than to hang out in a hangar! We joined our homeschool group today for a field trip to a local airport where we learned how an airplane flies. We learned important airplane terms, and we even got to play on a simulator. We browsed the many planes parked in the lot and discovered just how many different kinds there are. Our hour in the hangar was followed by a leisurely lunch at "The Flying Machine", a restaurant that sits right on the runway. We were all tickled to see a couple and their dog taxi up to the outside patio area of the establishment, come in, get their lunch, and then taxi back out for take-off. Take-out on wings, or take-out on the fly, or perhaps a "fly-thru"?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Week 1 on Day 61

Day 61 of our school year, and I crammed the first week of our new curriclum in! It was a very condensed version of the lessons provided, but since it was the introductory week, it was light anyway, so we accomplished much. I really do like this new curriculum--it sparks more conversations than we've had before, and the fact that it's all there laid out for me and done is such a blessing.

My Father's World provides Bible lessons too, which is a wonderful addition as I was wanting to incorporate a Bible study but just didn't have time. This year in the "Adventures" series, we focus on the different names of God and getting to know Him through the meanings of each of these names. Today we introduced the significance of names by focusing on the meanings of the kids' names. I had some prep: I had to write a letter to each of the children in which I gave the meaning of each name and the significance of why Mark and I chose each name. They seemed to enjoy receiving these letters, and it was fun for me to do as well.

We're plugging right along and keeping the same pace as before with our core subjects (the 3 Rs). Alex always amazes me with how quickly she picks up things. She has just recently begun doing a lot of her math mentally. When I look over it, I find myself marking her problems by carrying and borrowing to check her accuracy; she's generally always right! I'm not going to be the teacher who requires the student to "show her work" if that's not how she works best, so I guess I'll just "show the work" to check the work!

I do have to admit that I drew the afternoon out a bit too long. The kids' ability for academia pretty much expires at 2:00. If I school after the witching hour, it becomes a battle of wills and bad attitudes. But today I plodded on anyway. We did a science experiment, which the kids enjoyed (I think this occurred about 1:45, so we were safe). Then it was on to history. In this curriculum, we're studying American history, and the timing couldn't be more perfect. We had just finished studying Leif Ericsson and the Vikings in Story of the World, and the first week of MFW provided some much needed review. My little students did comply with listening fairly well and completing a couple of notebook pages; however, they kept asking, "Are we done now?"

Part of the afternoon was also an introduction to the US State Notebooks they will be creating. We talked about the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance. After a discussion about the significance of the stars and the stripes, we finally finished our school day by decorating a very special dessert for after our leftover spaghetti dinner:

Forget posing for a picture...I'm taking my chances and going for the good stuff!

She Speaks

In a previous chapter, I discussed the endearing names our little Princess had created for her siblings. She has just recently refined her labels to the following: Alex is "Aix", Michael is "Mama", and Jacob is "Bub"! Audrey has also begun stringing words together to form sentences. In fact, I write this in stages because she keeps bringing me a new book with a very clear request: "Read dis un!"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sanity Over Pride

Well, I did it. Eleven weeks into the school year I'm changing curriculum. And it's a bit of a blow to my pride. I have always enjoyed planning  and creating my own lessons surrounding an eclectic choice of curriculum and literature. However, somehow my plans which look like perfection on the Master Schedule never completely come to fruition because I just don't have the time to put into them. So...I've ordered a "curriculum in a box." I've heard great things about My Father's World, and I love what I have read about it online. As of tonight, the order's in, and I hope to receive everything this week.

As soon as that box arrives, I'll have to figure out how to jump in mid-year. I could skip to the correct point in the MFW schedule, which goes against my "not-wanting-to-miss-out-on-anything" personality. Or I could just start at the beginning, which means we'll be studying the pilgrims in January. But really, WHY do we only study the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving time? I know it's symbolic and all, but there was so much more to the story. How about studying them during the coldest  month of  the year and thus understanding a bit more of the struggles they went through as they settled this great nation?

So I guess after all of this rambling, it's obvious that I'll just start at the beginning. And so what if my pride is a little trampled. As I told a friend tonight, sanity is so much more valuable than a little pride. Right?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Little Fashionista

Saturday mornings are lazy times for Mark and me, and we like nothing more than to sleep in. Of course, with small children, that's usually an unrealized dream. We have in the past, however, left out bowls, boxes of cereal, and a manageable jug of milk for our responsible little mommy to take over in the morning. On such occasions, Alex takes on her task with pride and does a great job. Last night, we forgot to set everything out, so I wasn't surprised early this morning to hear the bedroom door open and little feet pad over to our bed. But instead of requesting breakfast, Jacob only wanted to know if he could get Audrey out of bed. (She is in a big girl bed, but you'd think she's still surrounded by bars because she will not get out by herself.) So Jacob headed up to invite her out of bed. After that, I could hear through the monitor the boys and their little sister playing together very amicably.

When the early-risers finally gave in to their rumbly tumblies and requested breakfast, the mister and missus of the house stumbled out of bed to oblige. And that's when we found our little Princess dressed for success:

Who dressed our little fashionista? Why, her big brothers of course...from a pink hat, which she quickly shed, all the way down to her shoes and socks!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Cake Art 101 and Checkmate

I went to co-op yesterday with only 2 kids in tow. Jacob, who is usually my shadow at co-op, stayed home with daddy by his own choice. The Princess, however, was positive that she was missing out on something big and cried for a good part of the time we were gone. I had asked Mark to put this date on his calendar long ago as "Audrey Time" so I would not have her underfoot as I taught all of the girls in our group. The day went well. Here are some highlights:

I joined Alex and her friends in cake decorating. I planned for 15 girls but only had 8, so that was a bit more manageable. I wasn't sure how to handle materials for a group this size and of this age-range, so I had each girl bring in her own cake and decorating equipment. Although it sounded like a great idea at the time (as opposed to my making icing and filling decorator bags for everyone!), I regret asking the kids to bring in those Betty Crocker icing tubes with the plastic tips; they were so difficult to use, it was a bit trying on a child's strength. On the whole, however, I think they had a good time, and their cakes looked great. Hopefully, they learned a little something to take home with them too!

Michael spent co-op time under the instruction of a chess master. The end report wasn't laced with the enthusiasm I expected. Michael's daddy has already taught him how to play chess, so Michael apparently found the first hour extremely boring as it was filled with technical instruction. He had a bit more fun, however, once the boys paired off and began a friendly chess tournament.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Weighting Game

"I can't WAIT to go trick-or-treating! Is it time yet?" Even the Princess who hadn't the slightest idea what all of the excitement was about issued an occasional "Boppypop?" Though oblivious about the holiday, she knew one thing: she had been promised lollipops at some point during the day. Yes, it was a true waiting game around here all day as the kids waited for dusk to arrive. When it finally did, they were turned loose (under supervision, of course) in their aunt and uncle's neighborhood. They were quite a sight: 2 knights, one princess, and one ladybug all darting from house to house, their buckets becoming considerably heavier with each stop.

Neighbors were especially generous this year, and it didn't take long until the kids' baskets were close to overflowing. My favorite steals? (And, yes, I said "steals" as the kids do eventually go to bed, leaving me with their loot.): anything chocolate, of course, but I hate to deprive the children, so it's Now and Laters and Bottle Caps. Consequently, and through no fault but my own, this whole Halloween thing becomes quite the weighting game for me.

The waiting game continues for the kids right now as they lay in bed anticipating tomorrow, a day of fewer candy restrictions than days to follow. The natural rules of cause and effect dictate, of course, that such freedom will inevitably mean more of a weighting game for me as well.

(By the way, here's a tip: Should a parent choose to play a waiting game in replacing a missing trick-or-treat bucket, this parent may end up having to purchase a Christmas basket for her (or his) child as a last resort. The Christmas baskets, incidentally, cost 7 times more than those plastic pumpkins.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pumpkin Painting and Other Princess Miscellany

Pumpkins and Waterfalls (minus the pumpkins) 2006

Pumpkins and Waterfalls 2007

Yep. Same rock. And same outfit on our little least her hair has grown!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pumpkins and Waterfalls

Last year, we started a new tradition...well, at least half of a tradition. Knowing our impatience with crowds, I am not sure what possessed us to choose that fall Saturday in 2006 to visit North Georgia's most popular pumpkin patch. But nevertheless, there we were in the parking lot of Bert's Pumpkin Patch along with the rest of the population of North Georgia, North Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee. We really are THAT intolerant of crowds, so we drove on up the road a half mile to turn around and find a pumpkin patch less traveled...and found ourselves at Amicalola Falls, a wonderful state park that features a steep path and steps which lead up to the top of a beautiful waterfall. And so it was in 2006 that we began our Halloween tradition of pumpkins and waterfalls--minus the pumpkins. This year, we decided to carry out the full tradition on a Monday...and with both pumpkins and waterfalls. As traditions go, I think this one's a keeper.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Scrappin' Mess

Last year, we started a new tradition...well, at least half of a tradition. Knowing our impatience with crowds, I am not sure what possessed us to choose that fall Saturday in 2006 to visit North Georgia's most popular pumpkin patch. But nevertheless, there we were in the parking lot of Bert's Pumpkin Patch along with the rest of the population of North Georgia, North Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee. We really are THAT intolerant of crowds, so we drove on up the road a half mile to turn around and find a pumpkin patch less traveled...and found ourselves at Amicalola Falls, a wonderful state park that features a steep path and steps which lead up to the top of a beautiful waterfall. And so it was in 2006 that we began our Halloween tradition of pumpkins and waterfalls--minus the pumpkins. This year, we decided to carry out the full tradition on a Monday...and with both pumpkins and waterfalls. As traditions go, I think this one's a keeper.