October 18, 2007

Vacation Planning 101

I must pause here and say a bit about the planning phase of this vacation. I was aided and abetted by The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, known around here as the Disney World Book. Perhaps you've heard of it.

I bought one when CB and I went 16 years ago (before kids) and much to the urging of friends, I bought one for this trip, too. The best $20 you'll ever spend.

The one I bought 16 years ago only had about 200 pages. The most recent one has around 800! 800 pages of pure Disney! It contains (almost) everything you need to know about The World from stroller rentals to rides to restaurants to touring plans. They even compare prices of common purchases at area grocery stores! Gotta love that kind of detail! It's a great read and I read almost all 800 pages of it!

Taking this vacation was a big step for us. Decisions had to be made as to when we would go, would we drive or fly, would MawMaw go with us. Once those decisions were made - and that took a while - this vacation was planned via telephone. I followed The Book's advice for the best rate and made Room Only reservations and ordered our tickets separately.

I lost count of how many times I called Disney. In fact, after a while I expected them to say, "You again?" The first few calls were just to get my feet wet - getting information about park hours, parade times - just to get the Lay of the Land. I wrote it all down in a notebook which became quite a source of important information.

Here's our vacation planning in five easy steps:

Step One: Order tickets. This could be done regardless of when we decided to go. The clock doesn't start on your Disney tickets until the first day you use them. And then you have two weeks.

Now purchasing tickets is, at first glance, a simple and straight forward task until you learn all of the options you can tack onto your ticket.

How many days will we visit the parks? Will we park hop? Do we want to go to the water parks? What about the No Expiration option?

In the Disney Book I learned there are significant discounts available to Annual Passholders. If we paid a couple of hundred dollars more for just one Annual Pass, we could save several hundred on our hotel. So HolyChow got the Annual Pass in case she came back within the year with one of my sisters and we got a great discount on our hotel.

Actual numbers work out to around $800 savings during Value Season on the hotel by spending an extra $200-$250. Around a $600 net on savings.

The decision was made to get five 6-day base tickets and one Annual Pass. All tickets were ordered and the confirmation numbers recorded in the official Disney notebook.

Soon thereafter we received five regular base tickets in the mail, but no Annual Pass. Another call to Mickey was in order.

They told me we would have to pick up our Annual Pass when we arrived. Any of the parks' Guest Relations could print it off for us.

Okay. No problem. That would be fun. We'd get to drive over to one of the parks the afternoon we arrived. The kids would like that.

Step Two: Where to stay? The on-property/off-property question was answered long ago. When CB and I went to WDW, lo, those many years ago, we stayed off-property in Kissimmee. Just over I-4 on 192 directly across from Celebration, Florida, a community formed by the Walt Disney Company.

Back in 1991, our Homewood Suites abode had a kitchen, living area, bedroom, vanity area with separate shower and tub. We enjoyed their continental breakfast, pool, and sauna. It was very nice, but I vowed that we'd stay in a Disney hotel next time. This being our first family vacation ever - we were staying on Disney property!

The cabins at Fort Wilderness looked fun. They were in a wooded area; the older two kiddos would get to sleep in bunk beds; and they had a porch with a bbq grill. How fun would that be?! But they only had one bathroom. With six people we needed certain amenities and two bathrooms was at the top of the list!

Second on the list of must-haves was a comfortable bed for everyone. All Disney hotels sleep four people easily. When you go to five or more people, it gets a bit more complicated if you want everyone to sleep comfortably - and we did! No trundles, sleeper sofas, or sleeper ottomans would suffice.

Yes, there are sleeper ottomans on Disney property. I say, "Beware!"

Personally, I wanted a king-sized bed. At the time, we slept in a queen at home. Quite frankly, I knew we'd be beyond tired at the end of the day and I knew I didn't want to encounter CeanBounter's elbow during the night or his "turning over routine". (You know how I love that, babe!) And I knew he'd want to be as far away from me as possible just in case I might possibly perhaps snore.....a little.....maybe.

CB narrowed the dates down to the third week of September. So back to the websites, the book, and calling Mickey.

I compared prices of booking two adjoining rooms against the Disney Vacation Club resorts. The DVC resorts were clearly the better option. Due to availability, our choices were Old Key West and Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs was new, but Old Key West looked much more roomy and unique. After a few days of looking at pictures online, we decided on Old Key West. Book it! Record confirmation number.

Step Three: Book the "stop-over" hotel coming and going. We wanted to limit our expenses here since we just needed a place to lay our heads for the night. Comfort Suites fit the bill as we could get all six of us in one room - two queens and a sleeper sofa.

Now, take a deep breath and say, "Whew!" The big decisions were made and paid for.

Step Four: Back to The Book to decide on dining options and call to make reservations. Based on where we planned to eat and how often we'd be dining out, we needed to determine if we should purchase Disney Dining Experience Card. With an Annual Pass the card would only cost $45 and we'd get a 20% discount at table service restaurants. In the end we opted not to purchase the dining card as we would practically break even.

Making the reservations, however, involved several more phone calls to Lake Buena Vista and an Excel spreadsheet.

Note: Disney reservations don't work like they do here in the real world. You don't call The Mouse and tell him when you want to eat; he tells you what reservations are available. Since you don't want to use up valuable park time getting from one restaurant to another it's good to book restaurants in the park you'll be in that day, when possible. Once you find out what reservations are available, then you can determine which park you'll be in on a particular day. So with a time and confirmation number for each reservation...well, hence the need for a spreadsheet.

Step Five: Call and request a balcony room with water view (not pool) on the first floor, knowing full well that this is just a "request".

I loved planning this vacation! Figuring out how it all worked and reading up on all of the ticket options and hotels and restaurants was great fun. HolyChow was calling me almost everyday to talk about it. She was just as excited as we were!

Recommended websites:
disneyworld.disney.go.com - fun to play around with, check availability, calculate cost. Make sure you register and log in everytime you visit. Sign up for newsletters. Go to My Disney Vacation above top bar and order the Vacation Planning DVD and customized maps. Disney will send you your very own personalized maps and a DVD to get the kids all hyped up about their upcoming vacation extravaganza! A fun keepsake!
touringplans.com - official website of the "unofficial book", aka The Disney Book
allearsnet.com - great and accurate pictures of the resorts, menus from restaurants, and much more
mousesavers.com - all kinds of Disney discounts and savings codes

October 17, 2007

Big Family Vacation

We finally got our act together and went on our first official family vacation. You know -- before the oldest is in college. The one where money is spent with abandon, like we pluck it off the money tree growing in our backyard.

That one.

We went to Disney World!

Day One And We're Off! - We decided to drive because it was cheaper than flying; it would create great family memories; and we could bring a bunch of stuff we wouldn't be able to bring if we flew.

Besides, a great road trip would be fun, right?

Oh, it was. We headed out about 8:30am Saturday morning. CB and I manning the front, MawMaw and the younger two in the back, and the big guy in the Way Back with the Igloo cooler.

We were all perky and excited about our destination. Until about 9pm Saturday night. More on that later.

Driving was tiring. 1000 miles, each way. The trip there was full of excited anticipation. The kids watched DVDs and listened to books on tape most of the way. I did Sudoku. CeanBounter drove. MawMaw entertained her backseat buddies.

About 2-1/2 hours into the trip we had to stop due to, "I think I'm going to throw up," coming from the back seat courtesy of FM#2. He was watching a movie and resting the DVD player on his lap. We think the motion of the screen made him car sick.

I grabbed a plastic grocery bag and told him to lean over it until we could get stopped. I brought a couple of bags for the trash we would accumulate as we mowed through chips, crackers, cookies, water bottles, soda bottles, and CapriSuns, not thinking it might have to double as a Barf Bag.

We exited the interstate and pulled into a gas station. He put his feet on terra firma, had a few sips of Sprite, and he was good to go. Bathroom breaks for everyone!

I will call this throw-up event our Magic Moment #1 because it was a blessing the Lord sprinkled into our vacation that we were very thankful for and will remember as something really neat or exceptional that happened to us along the way.

I remember how my legs felt after being in the car for so long and trying to get around to FM#2's side of the car as quickly as possible with noodle legs.

I remember the expression on everyone's face as they stretched their legs in the parking lot of the convenience store, how we were relieved by the not-so-great bathrooms, and that excited feeling of getting back in the car to get closer and closer to Disney World!

The kids settled back into their movies; we had cold beverages in hand, empty bladders, and no one threw up! See...Magic Moment!

The weather was good the whole way and we were accompanied by those black love bugs. Everytime we stopped for gas, CB would clean the windshield. It was covered in lovebug juice and smooshed carcasses.

Sometimes we had to stop for the sole purpose of cleaning the windshield because it would be hard for CB to see! And whenever we opened the car door we had to do it quickly so the love bugs wouldn't get in which they sometimes did anyway.

We would SPLAT! them or crack the window so they'd get sucked out at 80 mph.

Magic Moment #2. MawMaw cooked a roast before she left home and brought it down. We made roast beef sandwiches the night before we left and packed them in the cooler along with other goodies for on-the-road munching.

Instead of eating while driving, we needed to stretch our legs so we stopped at a little tourist center in Mississippi, or were we still in Louisiana? I think it was the west side of Mississippi.

This little tourist center was a modular building with a wood facade that made it look like a cabin. It had a porch around it. It must have been fairly new because you could still smell the stain. Apparently, they had left for lunch because even though the sign on the door said they were open, they were not.

I thought we'd have to hit the road again and look for another rest stop, but CB pulled around back where we discovered a picnic table under the covered porch. We enjoyed our roast beef sandwiches, chips, drinks, cookies, and lovebugs.

Yes, lovebugs. Only a few bothered us during our meal because the majority swirled around our car like a black cloud. We surmised they were attracted to the heat the car was giving off.

We cleaned up our picnic area, used the bathrooms which were quite clean, and somehow managed to get back in the car amid the swarm. We hit the road once more.

And now for the awards:
Worst Roads & Nastiest Bathrooms - Louisiana, a place we will be glad never to have to return to again.

What a Relief/Smoother Roads - Mississippi! We loved their visitors center. A beautiful southern plantation with FREE soda and a lunar module out front.

(From this picture can you tell who's doing the driving?)

Best Roads Overall - Florida, well-maintained roads and lots of trees! Besides, where else can you go through towns with weird names like Okahumpka?

Most Rest Areas - Florida received yet another award because it had more rest areas than I've ever seen and they were exceptionally nice. Many had a State Patrolman on duty. Saturday evening right before sunset, we stopped at one rest stop that had palm date trees. The fruit was ripe and had fallen off the trees. You could smell the sweetness in the air.

Coolest Bathroom and Magic Moment #3 goes to -- Whataburger in Somewhere, Florida. It was already dark when we stopped here and we were starting to get tired. CB wanted to keep truckin' so we decided to eat in the car, but we went inside to order so we could use their facilities. And what facilities they were! There was a flat screen TV in the men's bathroom!

This Whataburger also had one of the nicest girls working there. She was very patient with us (we were very road weary). She gave FM#3 crayons and a coloring page, made menu suggestions that would save us money - some of us weren't very hungry so a couple of meals were split. She was a delight! I wish I would've gotten her name and written a letter.

And last, but not least...

The Thank You for Sticking Out Just a Little 'Cause We're Almost to Florida Award goes to --Alabama where we crossed over a couple of bays, saw the USS Alabama, birds diving into the water, and we got to drive through a tunnel.

Are We There Yet? - And this came from the adults! I'd like to state for the record that Tallahassee is a loooong way from here! And let me just say that there are NO towns of significant size in Florida's panhandle.

After 12 hours on the road we were ready for the first leg of the trip to be over, yet we still had 3 hours to go! Because it was dark, I couldn't do Sudoku to keep myself awake and we were in the middle of nowhere so we couldn't get anything on the radio to hold our interest (or our eyes open).

Nothing but black night whizzed by as we raced toward our destination which at this point was a comfy bed and soft pillow. Brutal. Occasionally, I'd say something to CB to make sure he was awake, but mostly we quietly fought off sleep while our backseat passengers snoozed.

When we arrived in Tallahassee, we (and by "we", I mean, CB) had to unload all of the luggage from the roof of the car because we had a soft-sided luggage carrier and they don't lock like the hard-sided ones. He loaded it all, including the Igloo cooler, onto one of those bellhop carts. We were able to pile everything on it and make it up to the room in one trip.

While CB parked the car, me, MawMaw, and the FM's lugged our belongings up to our room.

Now, to make my point here, I must say that this luggage cart was seriously weighted down and very hard to push, pull, and steer. But FM#1 and I managed -- in and out of the elevator, around the corner, down the hall. There was just enough room in the elevator ("alligator" according to FM#3) for five people and a bellhop cart.

We got to our room and just as I was about to put the cardkey in, I heard voices coming from the other side of the door.

Laughing, talking, people having a good time.

In our room!

So back downstairs all five of us go - down the hall, around the corner, in and out of the alligator. I marched up to the clerk and announced that someone was in that particular room. He was unphased, gave us an obligatory "sorry about that", and reassigned us an empty room.

And so...

In and out of the elevator, around the corner, down the hall. Push, pull, push, pull. They don't call it LUGgage for nuttin'.

Day Two - Since we decided to forego the alarm clock, we got a late start the next morning. I was the first one up. Hey, don't laugh! I almost rolled over and went back to sleep, but I checked the clock. 10:00am. The hotel's breakfast ended at 10:30am so I threw on some clothes and went downstairs to gather sustenance for my weary traveling companions.

By the time I got back to the room, everyone was awake. We ate, dressed, and CB began the arduous task of putting all of the luggage back on the roof of the car.

When he paid the bill, they gave us a discount for our room snafu. That, coupled with MawMaw's AARP discount, was a nice little bonus.

And away we went. Clear blue skies. Crisp morning air.

After showering at the hotel we realized that the teeny weeny bars of hotel soap were not going to cut it for a group of six for a week. On our way out of town we stopped at Walgreen's to buy full-size bottles of body wash, thinking Disney would have the same miniature offerings as Comfort Suites.

As MawMaw and I jumped out of the car, FM#1 requested a bottle of Axe body wash. Snake Skin to be exact. I said he could share the body wash I would get because he had a brand new bottle of Axe back home. Once inside, MawMaw asked if she could get the Axe for him and I said yes. When he found out, he was very happy.

Florida was the prettiest of the states we went through. The morning light revealed trees that lined both sides of the interstate. I wondered if there was some huge state-sponsored tree planting because they were in neat rows.

We enjoyed the smooth ride on Florida's roads and commented on their call boxes that were placed at one mile intervals.

After putting several miles between us and Tallahassee, the skies grew gray and dreary. We stopped for lunch at Subway, gassed up, and got back on the road. Just a couple more hours til we're there!

However, a few miles down the road we slowed to a crawl due to an overturned RV. In the bumper to bumper traffic FM#1 spied this:

At some point along the Florida Turnpike, the skies cleared. With that worry aside, I decided to call Mickey Mouse and ask the following:

Question: Can we check into our hotel and receive the Annual Pass discount on our hotel without showing the Annual Pass?
Answer: No. You'll have to get the Annual Pass first which can be picked up at any of the parks' Guest Relations window.

Question: Will we have to pay for parking at the park?
Answer: Yes, ma'am. That will be $11.

Yuck. The rub here is that parking fees are waived for resort guests, but since we wouldn't be checked in yet, we wouldn't be resort guests yet.

What to do? We decided to go to the hotel first and see if they can work something out.

We zoomed over the exit ramp onto the Daniel Webster Toll Road.
Skies - clear.
Roads - new.
Sights - scenic with an occasional orange orchard.

Can You Hear Me Now? - An intermittent humming noise was coming from the luggage rack since Tallyhassy. CB determined that the load on top of the car was not as aerodynamic after he repacked it that morning. At top speed, the air rushing over our soft-sided luggage carrier made a gosh-awful hum that turned into a roar after we went through the last toll plaza. It was so loud we could feel the vibration on our seats which was nice for the first few miles, but after a while that just gets annoying.

We had to talk really loudly to hear each other. We even had to cover our ears it got so loud at one point! I couldn't concentrate on my Sudoku. The numbers were jumping around in front of my eyes because of the vibration! The roof of the car was vibrating so hard we were hoping the luggage rack didn't unscrew itself and fly off the top of the car.

Looking off to the east, we could see Disney World in the distance. We could also see dark, ominous clouds. No worries. Get the rain out now.

We exited the toll road and rounded the cloverloop. Due to our slower speed, that humming from the roof faded. Aaaaaaah, relief!

As we approached the welcome sign at Disney's Western Way entrance, the skies emptied.

August 8, 2007

We're all a bunch of weirdies

Shellers tagged me. She wants to know the 10 most weird things about me.

This is a tough one. I can't think of any. Really. It's like the log in your own eye. I realized I needed to look at myself from other people's perspective.

Or ask CeanBounter.

He could come up with A LOT!

One weird thing about me is that I can not reuse a glass once I've drunk milk out of it. Can't do it. Even if I wash it with soap and water. It grosses me out.

If I need to work on something that requires extreme concentration, my house must be clean. Perhaps this explains why I don't get much done around here.

I've started eating tomatoes for the first time in my life. Love them with Mexican food!

I wear yoga pants almost everyday.

I'm beginning to think that shaving your legs is overrated. If one wears yoga pants everyday, why shave?

Go Hixson!

MathMom has invited us to revisit our high school memories. Quite appropriate in this my 25th year after graduation.

I'll try not to get bogged down in my angst.

1. Who was your best friend? Lori. Still hear from her from time to time.

2. Did you play any sports? No. But when I "dated" John Pack, we played a bit of tennis, pool, and ping-pong and I got quite good.

3. What kind of car did you drive? 1970-something brown Ford pick-up. It was my Dad's and I got to drive it because he had a company car. My first wreck was in it. I literally drove over a VW bug that was parked next to me in the high school parking lot.

4. It’s Friday night. Where were you? At home, spending the night with a friend, or driving around in Lori's car after the game looking for the guys we liked.

5. Were you a party animal? No. I wasn't popular so I never knew about any of the parties going on and my Mom kept such a tight rein on me I never could've gone anyway.

6. Were you considered a flirt? No. Guys didn't really notice me.

7. Were you in the band, orchestra or choir? No, no, and no. I took Drama for a year and starred in one of our plays. I also tried out for majorette and flag corps, but all I got were bruises to show for it.

8. Were you a nerd? Hmmm, I made good grades and was in the National Honor Society. Does that make me a nerd?

9. Were you ever suspended or expelled? No. I got called into the principal's office once for being repeatedly late to Homeroom. The horror!

10. Can you sing the fight song? Something like "Hail to thee, O, Hixson High School, loud our praises ring."

11. Who was your favorite teacher? Mrs. Wade, Spanish. Although, Mrs. McClintock, Math, was a character. She told the girls to always keep a separate checking account when we got married.

12. What was your school mascot? Wildcats.

13. Did you go to the Prom? I was asked my junior year by John Pack, but he asked me the week before the prom and I knew there'd be no way I could find a dress in time. I went to the prom my senior year with the guy I was dating at the time, Scott Wallace, with whom I also worked at Red Food Store. After the prom, me, Scott, Lori and her date, and Russ Wise and his date went back to my house. Mom had cooked for us. We played songs from Queen's The Game album backwards on my stereo. Freaked Lori's date OUT!

14. If you could go back, would you? And do it again, no. To every season.....

15. What do you remember most about graduation? The fact that I was moving. That night me and several girl friends went out to eat. As we were sitting in the restaurant I looked at all of them and realized I might never see them again. That was true of everyone except Lori - so far. She came all the way from Tennessee for my wedding!

16. Where were you on Senior Ditch Day? Can't remember having one, but my Mom would sign me out early all the time. I'd call her after lunch. As long as I didn't have any tests, she'd come and get me.

17. Did you have a job your senior year? Junior and senior year. Checker at Red Food Store! 100% polyester uniform! That's where I learned what true customer service is and now I'm overly critical of all grocery stores.

18. Where did you go most often for lunch? We couldn't leave campus. Cafeteria or me and Lori would hang out with John and Susan who worked in the library during their Study Hall. One day I realized John was going to be really cute when he got his braces taken off.

19. Have you gained weight since then? This is a toughy. Let me think. Yes. Three kids, duh.

20. What did you do after graduation? See #15. Next day we left for Texas.

21. What year did you graduate? 1982

22. Did you attend any of your reunions? No. Too far away. Haven't kept in touch.

23. Strangest thing you ever sold for a fund-raiser: Valentine notes. Our typing class sold them. You could pay a few cents and have a special note delivered to anyone in school. I actually found some recently going through old boxes. None from boys, by the way.

Hey, that was pretty fun!

How much do I owe you?

I got a kick out of EuroMom's post on Simple Math and wanted to tell you my experience at with lacking math skills and customer service. Two of my pet peaves in the World of Retail.

Party City - My purchase totalled $1.08. I gave the checkout girl a $20 dollar bill and 3 cents. She hit 203 on the number pad and looked at the computer screen, perplexed.

She cleared it and punched it in again. And again, perplexed.

So she asked the checkout girl next to her how to enter $20.03. "Is that right?" Checkout Girl #2 looked at it and said, "No, it's 2003," and punched it in herself. Then she looked at it and began doubting herself! Upon further examination she regained her confidence and allowed my Checkout Whiz to hit enter.

Jason's Deli - During a recent trip, they did not have any sweetner packets at the beverage counter. None. No pink stuff, yellow stuff, blue stuff. Not even straight up sugar.

There were three employees standing at the counter. Let's call them Larry, Moe, and Curly. I asked Larry if they had any Sweet & Lo to which she replied, "I don't know."

That was it. She didn't know. I looked at her. She looked at me. Question answered. My job's done.

How about Moe or Curly? Do you think they might chime in and answer for their dim-witted co-worker?


So I bypassed Moe altogether and directed my attention to Curly because he looked to be the oldest and asked my question again. He turned to a FOURTH person and asked them when a FIFTH person, a bright young lady with good hearing, overheard my question and said that someone was refilling the tray in the back.

So I wouldn't have to wait on the tray, she retrieved a handful of the pink stuff and my black currant tea was saved!

Finally, a glimmer of competence.

Not only am I glad I homeschool, I don't think I'll worry if I'm doing a good job anymore.

July 5, 2007

Explosive Reading

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

I never read the Declaration of Independence before this year when we studied it in history.

I always thought it was a lovely and important document written in fancy handwriting on parchment.

It is all that, but when I read it for the first time I was struck by what it says. Those colonists did not mince words. The independence we now possess and enjoy with abandon without realizing we even have it --- it all came at great price.

The fancy handwriting and eloquently crafted sentences stated in no uncertain terms what those colonists were sick and tired of and exactly what jolly old King George had done.

He has refused...

He has forbidden...

He has obstructed...

George was

totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation...A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Imagine the courage those men must have had to make that bold proclamation. It did not mean they fired up the grill and shot off fireworks. It meant certain and imminent war.

June 28, 2007

Does that come with a guarantee?

We went to Day Camp earlier this summer. It was hot. When I went to training prior to Day Camp, the training lady said it would be hot and we'd probably lose about 5 pounds by the end of the week.


I gained three.

I waited to post this tidbit of news, hoping the 3 lbs. would disappear as quickly as they appeared. They didn't.

So now you know.

June 26, 2007

I Know Him!

The other night my husband and I were watching TV. A Lowe's commercial came on. The guy in the commerical was looking at one of those high-efficiency front-loading washers and dryers. They were red.

They zoom in on this guy and I said, "That's Don Stephenson! I went to junior high and high school with him!"

CB did not believe me.

See, he has this thing. He sees people he went to high school with. All the time. Everywhere he goes. It's spooky.

Me? I never see anybody I went to high school with because I didn't go to high school here.

It was really neat seeing Don in that commercial. He looks the same - only older.

Don was very talented back in the day. He could sing and dance and act. He was funny. A real entertainer.

I found out Don was an actor when I ordered our 20th high school reunion book. There he was, living in New York. So I googled him and found out he was in The Producers and had married into a well-known Broadway family. He's Frank Loesser's son-in-law. Guys and Dolls.

What amazed me was that Don had actually pursued what to most would've been a passing fancy, a childhood interest. But it turned out that was his gift. And he's been quite successful.

When we were little and people would ask us, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" How many of us are doing that?

Not me. I thought I'd be an architect. Because Mr. Brady was an architect and the Brady's had the coolest house and I was going to grow up and be an architect and design a cool house like theirs.

So they next time you see the Lowe's commercial with the red washer and dryer and the guy getting calls from his family on his cell phone, you can say, "That's Don Stephenson! Mazy went to high school with him!"

June 20, 2007

Bowling for Ants

Well, the ants are losing their appeal. I'm not finding them so fascinating anymore. They've come into this house everyday since Sunday. From under the window sill by the kitchen table. Which is now caulked. CB and I couldn't find where they were coming in from outside either. But we sprayed anyway. Just to have the rain wash it away. It rains every day so that's not helping.

This particular group of ants prefers FM#3's high chair. Let it be known that I sweep almost every day and I clean his tray after every meal. This group has a very keen sense of smell.

Case in point: the cleaning ladies came yesterday so the floor was really, really clean. FM#3 dropped one drop of his ice cream and within 5-10 minutes they had detected it and come in FROM OUTSIDE! Not a lot. Maybe 6 or 8. Just the scouts, I think. But I couldn't see where they were coming in. Annoying.

Back to the ice cream.

Some friends asked us to go bowling yesterday. Lovely surprise. We had a great time. We discovered that three of the four of us really, really like bowling shoes.

It didn't take FM#3 long to catch on to the object of the game. His big bro helped him push his ball down the lane and when it knocked over quite a few pins, he threw up his arms and gave a big, "Woo hoo!!!"

His ball got stuck in the lane twice. It was going so slow it just stopped.

I wish I had video of my two older boys. Their technique was quite, um.....interesting. Not a lot of bending at the waist which just results in a horrible cracking sound when the bowling ball hits the wooden floor.

Ouch. Wish you could've been there.

Afterward, since it was so hot we stopped for ice cream.

Today I'm sore in strange places.

But now I think I have to buy bowling shoes.

June 12, 2007

National Lampoon's Appalachian Vacation

I have to tell this funny story about Clark Griswold, I mean, my Dad. He and his wife recently purchased a camper. He says it's called a hybrid. It looks like a hard-sided fifth wheel, but it has pull out beds on each end like a pop-up.

Dad and Helene took the camper out on its maiden voyage recently. They live in a lovely mountainous part of the country where the scenery is beautiful and the weather is mild.

Dad had the camper hooked up to his car. They were all ready to head for home when Helene went back inside the camper to get them each a soda for the return trip. Unknowingly, Dad took off for the dump station with camper in tow with plans to return to the campsite for Helene.

When he got to the dump station he heard this banging on the inside of the camper and wondered what it was. He opened the door and found Helene sitting on the floor of the camper - red hot mad (his words, not mine). He said he made the mistake of asking her what she was doing there.

Helene is fine, and remarkably, Dad lived to tell me this story. In his defense, he said they took separate cars so he thought she was in her own car.

I'd stick to that story if I were him; however, I bet Helene will think twice before she decides to grab a soda for him ever again!

May 25, 2007

Go to the ant, o sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise.

Have you ever observed ants? I mean really closely watched them? They're fascinating!

I've had several opportunities to observe their world because they keep coming into mine. All that is needed is one crumb on the floor and they sniff it out. We're talking sugar ants, here. Those teeny tiny ones.

Some came in yesterday. A crumb on the kitchen floor lured them in. I followed their trail and it led down the grout lines of the tile floor over the threshold, into the den, down the side of one wall, all the way down the other wall where they ducked under the baseboard.

I love to watch the way they single-mindedly sniff out their path - the pheromone trail left by their "snack scout". Ants travel to and from the food source along this one trail, bumping into each other along the way, while chanting their mantra - food, food, food.

What I like to do is kill one. Just one. And I do it at their point of entry into the house.

This stops others from coming in. My favorite part is how the ants on the trail react when they get close to the site of their lost compadre. They stop dead in their tracks, do a 180, and head in the opposite direction. I suspect they warn each buddy they pass because they all turn back.

Turn back! Turn back! They got him! He's down!

Yesterday I killed one where they were coming in and watched them for a while. Two ants were carrying one huge chunk they had chiseled off of a crumb. It was too big for one so both were working together to get it back to the queen.

What teamwork! You walk backwards. No, I don't want to walk backwards, you walk backwards.
Before the warning signal got transmitted too far down the trail, I killed them, one by one, until I approached the sweet nugget of sugary goodness they had attacked like Uruk Hai swarming on Helm's Deep.

These creatures are so small, yet they can carry something several times their own weight. They are so skilled yet so teeny weeny. Their legs are thinner than a human hair. Their head is no bigger than the dot of an 'i'. Yet in this speck of a body, they have been created and given abilities that allow them to conquer things bigger than they are and sustain themselves.

Intelligent design. How can it be denied?

Evolve from a cataclysmic explosion in space. How can it be given credence?

Then I killed one in the valley surrounding Mount Munch. What I observed was remarkable!

One little guy headed down the trail to bring his gift to the queen when he detected the "somebody got squished" pheromone. He turned and headed back toward the mountain to tell his buddies. Now he didn't just choose the first guy he came to. He chose the big guy - the one who looked like a regular sized ant - who was at the base of the mountain. I suspect this guy had some "special purpose" since he was bigger than the rest.

I think he was wearing a hard hat and I could see a wee little clipboard in his hand.

Anyway, El Jefe spread the word to the workers on Crumb Mountain. They seemed a bit agitated - aw man, we're being attacked - then went back to work on disassembling the food. Then El Jefe and his sidekick started trying to find a new path back home. Hunting and pecking, here then there.

I'm sure they would've succeeded, but the giant destroyed them all. Muahahaha!

Until next time, when I will use a magnifying glass to get a closer look.....

May 21, 2007

Preserving Intergalactic Relations

It's been over two weeks since I posted?! Wow, things have been busy around here.

Our history co-op ended a couple of weeks ago and we had our last den meeting. You'd think -- or I thought -- things would slow down to a nice pace and we would be uninterrupted in our quest for The End of School.


Lots of emails, various scout stuff to tend to, doctor's appointments, haircuts. I had a little meltdown. I'm fine now, pretty much, but I realized I already have a tidy little to-do list for summer and I'm bound and determined to GET IT DONE!

One nagging thing on my list is that I have to frame some pictures.

A UFO landed in our backyard and the aliens inhabited the bodies of my children. This is the only explanation for the fact that a ball bounced off the stairwell wall and knocked the pictures off it. Fortunately, for the little aliens, nothing broke, but the pictures in one of the frames shifted so I might as well take them out and fix them, and while I'm at it, hang the pictures we had taken of the kids (last summer!) But first, I needed frames for them.

I scoured a few stores looking for frames. Four stores actually. My first visit was to Aaron Bros. because this is where I purchased my first installment of dark brown frames that are currently adorning my stairwell wall.

Unfortunately, brown is out; black is in.

I rather like the look of pictures framed in black, but I had committed ($$$) to dark brown frames in my stairwell figuring they would be lovely and warm against the fabulous paint color on the walls (in my fantasy world - Watch it, CB.)

But this framing is proving quite a hurdle to be hurdled. It's not that I mind framing them. It's the hanging them. You know, figuring out the right spot on the wall and trying to line the hooks up and get the nail right. And they're quite different than the frames currently/formerly on the wall. They're more contemporary and I'm worried they'll stand out in a not so good way. Oh, well, they're going up good or bad.

Now, what to do with the aliens.....

May 2, 2007

Green Marble

This green marbel (aka marble) was such a great idea I just had to post on it. My CB is quite creative, is he not? The kids need exercise? Throw a green marble out in the backyard and tell them to find it.

It's actually not a bad idea, but I don't think they'll get the physical workout they need on their hands and knees, although the whining they'll do will up their respiration rate. Whining as a form of exercise.....this just might work.

I have given serious thought to the Y.....again. The trick is that by the time we're finished with school in the afternoons, so is every other child in this town, so we'd be there just in time for the after-school rush. But then again, I'm not sure what the Y offers so there may be ways around that.

Now, on to the crock pot.

Just last night I thought, "I really need to commit to crock pot meals on the nights we're out. It would be wonderful if dinner were ready right now." So great minds think alike, MathMom!

A mutual friend of ours got me thinking about crock pot meals a few years ago when her schedule was out of control crazy. Following her lead, I went to the bookstore to pour over crock pot cookbooks (say that 5 times really fast) and found that a disproportionate number of recipes require you to sear the meat before you put it in the crock pot, meaning you have to do some thawing and "cooking" and dirtying of dishes beforehand and we all know we just want to throw the frozen meat in the pot with some water or soup and leave it alone for the rest of the day, throwing in vegetables later on for nutritional effect.

Needless to say, I abandoned that plan primarily because 'crock pot' in the ancient Dutch language is "krohken potje" and it means "dump and go" and I respect the Dutch because they have contributed much to the modern world like Rembrandt and microscopes and gouda and those adorable wooden shoes.

But Life is looking like I may have to revisit this culinary option because I am not the kind of person to cook a lot of meals and stockpile them in the freezer as in Once-a-Month Cooking.

April 30, 2007

You want a what?

FM#3: I want a soccer whistle.

Me: You do?

FM#3: Yes, that would be cool. I could wake everybody up.

Yes, indeed.

April 23, 2007

I Tell Ya!

I've had a busy/crazy week over here.

Had a fender bender which FM#1 pointed out didn't involve the fender at all. I got rear-ended with all three kids in the car along with someone else's child, too! That isn't supposed to happen! This mom was very calm about it though. Bless her heart. Although I attribute it to the fact that she's been on prescription narcotics for three weeks.

Everyone was fine, and to quote Pastor Bob I Ran Over a Chicken on my Way to Poughkeepsie, "Thanks be to God!" FM#2 was in the Way Back! No damage to my car either.

Then I had an eye appointment. Now, I must say that I have been wearing corrective lenses since 5th grade. They were the wire frames shaped like a stop sign. Cool, I tell ya!

Then I upgraded to the huge plastic frames popular in the late 70's. Cool, I tell ya!

Then I got the plastic frame/metal side variety. Again, I'm telling ya -- cool!

10th grade was the Year of the Contacts. Freedom!

But HolyChow still wouldn't let me wear mascara, only blush and lip gloss. Not cool, I tell ya. Yes, I'm still bitter.

I've always been a good contact lens wearer. The longest time between appointments for me was six years, until last week. I thought it had been eight, but they told me it was nine.

How did they know? They took my glasses to check the prescription and came back and said the prescription was nine years old. I'm convinced it is a conspiracy among the optometrical society whereby they insert a microchip into your lenses stating the date on which the prescription was given (and it probably lists things like "naps too long in her contacts" or "needs to cut fingernails").


Okay, okay, so it's been nine years. My doctor didn't chastise me or anything so he gets a repeat visit from me and maybe, just maybe, it will be less than nine years from now.

My prescription hadn't changed that much and I don't need bifocals. Hurray!

The purpose of this visit was to get new contacts and glasses. I'm taking a leap and getting disposable contacts. This guarantees I'll have to go back in a year. Although just between us (shhhh!) I'm going to try and wear them longer than a month. I'm a really good contact lens wearer, I tell ya!

I let the 24 year old assistant help me pick out frames for my glasses. I wanted to go with the rimless variety, but she insisted that would be a big mistake. She personally hates the rimless kind (something about "old lady") and said it would be "a whole lotta lens" with my prescription.

So I put my trust in her and ended up with a small rectangular frame. Quite a change from my tortoise shell frames that cover half my face and are a great source of humor for my kiddoes. My sister even laughed at them!

I'll also have to get a part-time job to pay for it all because we don't have vision insurance and - man! It was expensive, I tell ya!

March 9, 2007

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

We went camping with the Cub Scouts last weekend and my fingers are finally thawed out enough to type. It was cold, campers! How cold? I've heard it was in the 30's.

The weather was beautiful, but cold. Did I mention it was cold? Friday night when I jumped into my icy bed, the one comforting thought was that I could always go to the bath house and sleep. It was warm in there and I could just turn on the air hand dryer every now and then. But thankfully that wasn't necessary.

I hopped from fire to fire all day Saturday it seemed, to spite the fact that I was wearing three layers plus gloves and a hood. Still cold.

But the most important thing is - was I warm at night? Yes, due to warm layers, a down comforter, and two bits of advice from CeanBounter:

(1) Put on clean dry socks at night.

(2) Something must go between you and the air mattress (which in our case was a wool army blanket).

Both nights I was surprisingly toasty. Except for my nose which had to stay out from under the down comforter so I wouldn't suffocate on my own carbon dioxide.

Another good thing about the campout was the fellowship. I got to know several of my fellow Christian homeschoolers a bit better. We probably had 12 or more families there. FM#1's group of teens and pre-teens totalled probably 10 or 12. They were great! They huddled together periodically to play dice games, but they also socialized with the adults and the younger set. They even got the whole gang together for kickball and they participated in our campfire with a funny skit - all of them! They were stupendous!

Quotes from the weekend:

FM#2: This is the best campout ever!

FM#3: I want to go home. (because he was a popsicle)
This campout is really hard! (because he was still a popsicle)

February 27, 2007

Broom Sweepa Broom

If you didn't believe I was a procrastinator before, now you know. I'm back after a ridiculously long break from blogging. The pictures below are why.

It's taken me a while to get everything back in place...and clean...and then actually take the picture...and then download it. This is how our floors turned out.

The first picture doesn't do the wood floor justice. And the tile makes everything look bigger, more open, and echo-y.

The first day I swept the tile I swept all the yucky-yuck in a pile and then couldn't find the pile! It was totally camouflaged. Gotta love that!

This is the first time HolyChow has seen the floors. She should be very proud of her work.

Glad to be back. Now I can catch up on all of you!

February 7, 2007

Una Dia Mas

I can almost walk on all of my floors. At least the computer is back in the office, but it's as slow as dial-up which is why I'm not posting much today. I'd love to read all of you, but it takes forever to load a page. CeanBounter, aka CB, aka ComputerBoy, will have to work on it this weekend.

Hope to be back in the saddle soon...riding into town alone by the light of the moon.

Just for chuckles, FM#3 likes to sing Old MacDonald at night before bed. Here's a list of the animals he chooses for the farm: alligator, turtle, fish, dinosaur, and camel.

Whatever happened to the traditional pig and cow?

January 29, 2007

Xanax, Por Favor?

Over a week and a half since I posted? Time flies when you're on the verge of a panic attack.

We're going into Week 2 with our newest family member, Daniel. He's quite a skilled craftsman with abundant patience. Sabe ingles muy poco. And my Spanish is about 20+ years old.

I was good with two dining tables and 16 chairs in my den. Then came the stove. And the dust. Then there was that day that we couldn't go into the kitchen. I swear the refrigerator was taunting us. And then the back door was off limits and we could only get the front door open about a foot and a half because my china hutch was in two pieces in my foyer.

I'm excited because I think when this is all over I'll be really good at hopscotch!

And Spanish!

January 17, 2007

Ice Panic of 2007

Well, it finally made it - a day late. The drizzle, barely freezing temps, kind of a let-down.

The boys think the icicles are cool and have been outside banging the ice off of everything. I'm sure the noise attracted the neighbors and CPS will be knocking at our door any minute wondering why the children are not in school. Have you never heard of recess?

"Please, can we stay outside? Besides, the icicles are melting."

"What's the temperature?"

"33.3 and rising by the second!"

"Okay, but wear real shoes, not houseshoes. And gloves."

The Tree is down, courtesy of CeanBounter. I'm glad because now I have to start getting ready for the Flooring People.

Yes! I said it! I did it! I Made A Decision!

With a TON of help from HolyChow. She came down for a week and dragged my sorry wiffle-waffling behind around to every flooring store west of the beltway! Wood in the den and tile everywhere else. The wood is scrumptious, hand-scraped, warm, yummy, golden, gooey...no, wait, I'm describing chocolate chip cookies. Anyway, it will look really nice next to that stone behemoth of a fireplace.

A friend's husband asked me about The Flooring on Sunday. I was so excited...he was the first person to ask since I made The Decision. I jumped when he asked and I might've squealed a little. I think I startled him with my excitement. Seriously, this has taken me a year and a half. I think I'll go raise a toast to myself and HolyChow.

Only family would do something like that. Gotta love that chica!

January 9, 2007

Support Group

Thank you all for your support of my procrastinating ways. We have a fake tree, otherwise, as TeacherPerson so wisely stated, it would be almost entirely in our vacuum cleaner bag (assuming, of course, that I vacuum).

I must admit that I rather enjoy the little white lights. They brighten up the joint. I'm thinking once the tree comes down I'll put some little white lights on something around here, like the fake topiary in the foyer.

What's feeding this procrastination is the ridiculous number of ornaments we have. I'm going to count them when I take them down and tell you exactly how many we have. I should go with a theme, like snowmen, my favorite. I have some fabulously terrific (!!!) snowmen. Glass, fabric, handmade, and several specialty ornaments I like to call Bartnetts.

Or perhaps next year I'll just buy outrageously large ornaments. So large that ten will cover the entire tree.

But let's hope the tree comes down soon, preferably before we have to start calling it the St. Valentine's Arbor de Amor!