Friday, September 14, 2012

The Big E

We came, we saw, we conquered. Or, rather, we ventured in with the masses, spent way too much money on very mediocre fair food, had some fun anyway. It's difficult, though, not to compare our visit to the Big E today with our first visit two years ago. The Big E was, in fact, our very first outing here in the Arctic after our arrival on 9/11/10. That first visit took place on a rainy day, so few people went. Today was a beautiful day, so EVERYBODY went.

It took us about 45 minutes to make it off the highway and to the entrance of the Big E. Thankfully, we scored half-price parking at a private lot off the property of the Eastern States Exposition. A little further to walk, but I'll take a walk to save five bucks.

The Big E is a county fair on steroids, and it is held annually in Springfield, MA. The "fair" features a mini amusement park (for the price of about $3/ride - I said no to that since we have spent the summer at our local amusement park), lots of booths with locals selling their wares, and way too much greasy fair food.

One of the main purposes of the fair is celebrate agriculture. There are sheep:

And there are cows, chicks, and ducks. There are also pigs, my favorite:

Is that brown and black spotted one not the cutest thing EVER (besides my children)? And I make that judgment call after seeing nothing but his cute little hiney. If no one had been looking, I would have scooped him up and put him in my pocket.

And doesn't this mama look fully and completely content?

And she's got eight children (that I can see anyway)! Oh to have that smile on my face all the time with just my four!

There were several horse shows, and the very elegant Clydesdale horses were on display as well.

My favorite show at the Big E is the Border Collie Demonstration. This is Peg:

The demo took place in a small arena, too small for a bunch of sheep, so the trainer uncaged what she called "mini-sheep":

Aren't these fun looking ducks?

Peg quickly went to work herding the ducks and obeying her trainer's commands.

Peg forced them over a bridge:

And even under the bridge, though that feat took a little more coaxing on Peg's part.

Audrey enjoyed watching from the sidelines:

After the dog show, we went over the big top for the circus that is part of admission to the Big E. Even though we got there 30 minutes early, we still got terrible seats and therefore saw the back of most of the performers (as well as a big post that stood right in my line of sight), but we were entertained by many of the acts anyway.

After the circus, the three younger kids enjoyed a ride down a huge slide:

One of the things the Big E is best known for are its replicas of each New England state's state house.

Inside each building, visitors get a tour of many of the customs of each state: visitor guides, crafts, state museums, food...all of these things are available and unique to each state. The kids already knew they wanted to go to Vermont to get some maple syrup cotton candy. After that purchase, we decided to visit Connecticut and the Lego exhibit. Since the American Lego headquarters are in Connecticut, they are well represented at the Big E. The three younger kids made a Lego tile for display. Alex, my socialite, meanwhile ran into some friends with whom she chatted while the others built.


We were ready to leave after visiting the states, but on our way out we came across more friends as well as a sea lion show. So we stuck around to chat and to witness the sea lions doing the conga.

The funniest thing to me was that the sea lions all clapped whenever one of them would perform a trick.

So not bad for a free day (we get free tickets through one of the homeschool groups). Next time, though, I will remember to take my Tylenol. Thankfully, the Big E also has an apothecary, so I was able to purchase some Advil to take away my headache.

Like I said: we came, we saw, we conquered.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Adventures in Rhode Island

It was a fun day today. It was my turn to make the milk pick-up trip to the farm, and since it is some distance away, I decided to turn the day into a field trip. We went to Rhode Island. The kids hadn't been to Rhode Island yet, so they were introduced to the Ocean State with a visit to Narragansett.

I was inspired to visit Narragansett by a friend who hosts the website Kid Friendly Things To Do. And basically, we just did everything she suggested...because, why not? The first thing we did was visit Point Judith Lighthouse.

The beach was made of rocks, with stacks of rocks scattered here and there.

I am not sure of the story behind the stacks of rocks, but the kids enjoyed exploring the rocky landscape and making their own stack of stones.

I think we had been there about 30 minutes when one of them asked, "Is this the beach we were going to go to?"

"No," I replied, "this is the lighthouse."

"Lighthouse? What lighthouse? Oh..."

Lunch followed the lighthouse. I had already planned where we were going to dine using MapQuest.

Turned out to be a fairly good choice, although we were the only customers. I hope they do better ordinarily so we can return one day to find them still in business.

The beach was our next stop. There was a public beach across the street from Amalfi, but it was quite crowded. My friend's website had given away a great secret about a small secluded beach that belongs to the University of RI. We found it, and it was perfect.

It was a little bit chilly, but it wasn't long until the kids were warming up with all of their running around

and digging.

It wasn't long until they were romping around in the waves.

It was a gorgeous day,

and I loved spending it with my kids. I think they felt the same way...

If not, I know they were definitely excited that we ended our adventure at Nana's Candy Bar where each kid got to fill a bucket with candy!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hot Air Balloon Festival

I have always thought hot air balloons are so beautiful. That's why I was so excited to hear about the hot air balloon festival that is held annually in our town. The festivities began on Friday night where visitors had a chance to check out all of the balloons. On this night, the balloons stayed tethered to the ground with very expensive rides offered to those who wished to float up to the end of the tether. There was also a craft fair and a live band who tried their best to recapture some of the classic 80s rock I grew up on. The evening culminated with a fireworks show that rivaled, if not beat, any I have seen at Disney or elsewhere.

The special weekend continued the next day with a 6am launch of the balloons. Since we were up rather late the night before, I chose to sleep in on Saturday morning. However, the launch was repeated Sunday morning at 6am, and both girls wanted to join me for this special event. I tiptoed into each of their rooms and awakened them at 5:30, and we headed over. For such an early event, I did not expect the crowds that were there, but we were able to easily find a parking spot nonetheless.

When we first got there, the balloons were all still laying on the ground while their owners performed various checks and worked to hook up the baskets and other paraphernalia necessary to launch. It was still dark, so the ballooners had plenty of time. It was interesting to watch all of the preparations underway.

Finally, as dawn began to break, first one balloon and then another began to inflate.

And shortly after that the first balloon launched.

I was a bit disappointed because I had visions of a whole sky full of beautiful balloons, but this one had launched by itself with no others even close to launching. I thought perhaps there was a certain amount of space required between launch, both in time and space. However, that theory proved wrong, and I got my wish because soon many of the balloons began to launch one right after the other. It was indeed beautiful.

After most of the balloons had launched, and it was nearing time to get ready for church anyway, the girls and I left. Of course we had one more stop to make: Starbucks where I had promised the girls a special treat.

I don't ordinarily wake up before the sun does, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience and one I will encourage even the boys to do with us next year. And perhaps next year I might find a way to fulfill an item on my bucket list and go for an actual hot air balloon ride!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Birthday Week

I'm calendarly challenged. My "baby" boy's birthday was back in May. My "baby" girl's birthday was two days ago. Last night we had a birthday party for my boy. I know. Not great planning, but that's just how it worked out.

Jacob's birthday happened the fall the day after we moved into our new house, so it wasn't real good timing for a birthday party. And this year is the boys' year for parties, so we put it on hold. So far on hold that Audrey's birthday snuck up on us too. It wasn't her year to have a party, but we did let her choose a dinner location. I'm sure it's not hard to believe she chose Chuck E. Cheese.
Nothing like dinner with a creepy puppet, right? 

At least she got to meet the real Charles Edward Cheese.
(That's what I call him; we're pretty tight, you see.)
Turns out our friends ending up joining us. And they brought gifts too...something that is definitely NOT supposed to happen at a not-party. It really looked like a real party to me. Shhh....don't tell anyone!
But at home, Audrey did get a not-party birthday cake, so I guess that made up for the real party not-party. I don't think she was complaining about the not-party cake, though.
Jacob had his real party party two days later. He invited a couple of friends over for the night. They rough housed like boys are supposed to do, enjoyed an Angry Birds pizza courtesy of his dad,
wolfed down an Angry Birds cake (and, yes, I realize my cake decorating techniques have seen better days),

(and notice the redneck "birthday candle")
rough housed some more, watched a movie, rough housed some more, and then built a gigantic tent in the boys' room.
I think his party was worth waiting for.
It was a busy two-for-one birthday week, but I think the two birthday kids had a good time. As for me, it's time to refresh and try to more competently plan future birthdays.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Daughter on a Mission

A guest post from my daughter who went with her Middle School group last week on a church missions trip (with my questions to get her writing juices flowing):

Where did you go?
I went multiple places. First we moved some things in our church. Then, we went to a nearby nursing home. The next destination was Camp Womposet, a camp for innercity kids. Next was a waterpark, then an outdoor soup kitchen. Lastly, we went to a hotel.

What was the purpose of the trip?
To serve people other than ourselves. This was a chance to get out and show God's love to others.

What are some things you did?
I first went to a nursing home and painted a birdhouse with an elderly lady named Mary.
Then I went to a camp, there we did jobs like painting and clearing wreckage of an old building. While there, we did various activites like swimming, and hiking as well.
On Saturday, we went to an old water quarry converted into a waterpark. Afterwards, we went to Isaih 58, and outdoor soup kitchen and served people there water and pudding. We also set up a little carnival. Later, we enjoyed a Chinese buffet.
The next day we went home.

What is the best thing that happened to you on this trip?
Well, there were a few different things. The worship was great, as well as the chapel services. I really felt close to God.
A moment I will probably always remember took place at the soup kitchen. I asked an eldery lady how her day was going. She responded by saying 'it was amazing, I got everything I need.' She was carrying a plastic bag full of apples. I asked her if I could pray for her and she agreed. So I did, and I noticed that she had tears in her eyes after.
Also, we stayed in a hotel on the last night, and I took two showers. There were no showers at the camp and after three days of work in the eighty degree weather it was great.

The worst?
I'm going to have to be honest and say the sleeping conditions and the bathrooms at the camp. I slept with the other 7th grade girls (there are around twelve of us plus three leaders) in a room that reminded me of an attic. There were bugs everywhere, and dirt. It was also severly hot. I don't think I need to go into the bathrooms.

What is one thing you learned on this trip?
To step out of your comfort zone and live your life for God. That's your life purpose! A life not wasted is a life lived exalting God (I will probably always remember that, as I wrote it on a dozen water bottles for the soup kitchen).

What are some of the fun things you did?
This list could probably go on and on.
I found painting the buidlings fun even though I got it all over my hands, hair, clothes, and shoes.
On Saturday, the water park that we went to was tons of fun. They had ziplines, a water slide, and all other types of inflatables. Me and two of my friends raced on one of the ziplines. I lost everytime, and kept demanding re-matches.
There were some tetherball poles at the camp. My friends and I enjoyed playing during our free time. I was pretty good at it actually.
We went to a Christian camp across the lake. There we used the actual  bathrooms and played in their game room.
On Saturday night, in the hotel, there was an indoor pool. Even though it was crowded (I was waiting for the hotel manager to come in and bust us for ignoring the maximum occupancy) we played water volley ball. It really wasn't my week for winning things, as my team got crushed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where all the book learnin' takes place...

It has been a sad, tragic, lonely, boring summer, and I've never been happier to see the end of a season in sight. I'm anxious to begin a new school year, but because we have several things going on next week, I have declared First Day of School to be August 20.

As I anticipate that day, I have had fun planning and setting up the schoolroom. Let me show it to you.

My schoolroom is in the basement. The room also doubles as a guest room. See the bed to the left?

What's nice is that it is a daybed, so throw a few cushions on it, and it's the perfect reading spot. Other important features: my huge whiteboard which I love, the table, the bookcase (always a favorite thing in any room), and oh yes - that blasted treadmill which mocks me everytime I go down there (but I usually just ignore it).

That bookcase there that I love? That's just a small number of my books. I won't tell you how the movers complained about the number of boxes of books they had to drag down to the basement. Here are the rest:

And there is also the game closet, though it is not quite as jam-packed as the bookcases are:

It's been fun organizing.

I bet I'm the only person in the world who is excitedly counting down the days 'til school starts.