Thursday, October 28, 2010

And to the tiger in the zoo.....

The start of school means the start of long-term homework projects.  Gordy is usually the go-to parent for any art/creative homework assignment, but this time I got to help as well.  Only the kindergarteners dress up for their Halloween party at our new school, but the second graders wear specially created hats.  Georgia's assignment was to make a hat using a piece of provided oaktag, that represented a favorite children's book.  She will bring the hat to school in a brown paper bag and on the day of the Halloween party, she will wear the hat as her costume and the other children will have to guess what book she chose. 

Georgia and I are reading our way through Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books before bed each night, so at first Georgia thought she would make a sunbonnet and decorate the sides with Laura Ingalls-y things like sewing thimbles, horses and text books.  But as all kids do, she changed her mind, deciding that no one else would have ever heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Don't ask me why she thinks an American classic such as Little House in the Big Woods is so obscure.  I wonder if that says anything about my book choices?

I won't tell you what book she finally settled on.  You can serve as stand-ins for her classmates and see if you can guess from her hat and the clues she provided on the hand-in paper.

First Georgia drew a tall house and then, using plastic vines we bought at the craft store, she decorated the building.
She included a great number of details, including flower boxes, a decorative front door and metal spikes on the roof. 

Georgia has been working on sssslllllooooowwwwiiiinnnngggg down when she works and she did a fantastic job of taking her time and doing her best work. 

After she finished drawing, we spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to make the actual hat.  This is probably something we should have thought about before the drawing began.  Georgia wanted to cut the building out and attach it to a headband-like strip of paper.  Gordy thought it would be best to roll the whole piece of poster board and turn her drawing into a tall, cone-like hat.  Guess who won?

I think it looks fantastic. 

Here are the clues that Georgia wrote out for her classmates:

In case you can't read them, they say:
1.  This book is about a girl.
2.  She is not afraid of mice.
3.  She has a scar.

Have you all guessed?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hiking, The Cheater's Way

Continuing on the theme of "What We Did This Summer," I thought I would post some photos from our trip to Mt. Washington and the famous Cog Railroad.  This was a trip I planned with the utmost excitement.  I should confess that this was not my first journey to the Northeast's highest mountain.  You see, my parents are great nature lovers and nothing pleases them more than hiking up a tall mountain and breathing in the fresh air at the top.  This is interesting, because I am not a fan of fresh air, nor of mountains, nor of hiking up mountains to breathe fresh air.  However, I was a teenager and where my parents went, I went. 

On that first fateful trip to Mt. Washington, my sisters and I got separated from our parents and then got lost on the mountain with three strangers from Boston.  Oh!  Did I forget to mention that it was snowing?  In August?  And that all we had were thin wool sweaters and our own body heat to protect us from the deadly elements?  And did I forget to mention that my sisters and I don't have any body heat?  And did I forget to mention that said strangers from Boston were the real-deal with genuine Boston accents?  Are you getting the picture?  I, a self-described teenaged, couch potato and future chocoholic, was lost, on a mountain known for its harsh conditions, in a snowstorm with nothing but a thin, wool layer, two Raynauds-suffering sisters and three strange Bostonians to protect me!  In other words, I was probably going to die and the last thing I was going to hear was some stranger calling me "Mah-tha."  You can imagine my distress. 

After forming a human chain, we stumbled over rocky terrain that we couldn't see, and through the blowing snow.  We had just passed a sign that warned us of the danger of Mt. Washington snowstorms, when one of us had the good fortune to bump into the building at Mt. Washington's Summit and we were saved.  Our parents had made it to the top already and showed not even the least bit of concern at our late arrival.  And you could tell they didn't believe in the existence of any such dire warning sign.  Because of the snow, they did however allow us to walk down the mountain on the paved road.  Yes, you did read correctly, on the OTHER SIDE of the mountain is a paved road.  Perhaps you've seen a bumper sticker on a car at some point in your life that read "This car survived a trip up Mt. Washington."  Well car, so did I. 

It was at the bottom of that smooth, paved road that I discovered the existence of the Mt. Washington Cog Railroad, a fabulous, old-fashioned, steam train that takes a hiking-hating tourist like me up the mountain to admire the views.  It's steep, rickety and a little scary and I loved it on the spot.  I instantly wanted to take that cog train up to the top of the mountain.  And perhaps it was at that exact moment when it became a little harder to bribe me to hike simply by putting M&Ms in a baggy of trail mix and dangling it in front of my nose. 

I have always remembered the cog train, but I also remembered its steep, rickety and scary qualities which I knew were inappropriate for young children.  So I waited patiently, until this summer, when we decided the time was right to check the railroad out.  There is a lot to do in the Mt. Washington area.  The first day, we tried out the local alpine slides (which were amazing) and some water slides as well (they were a little cold.  New Hampshire is part of New England, afterall, and while they may live free or die, they are not going to heat pools in the summer). 

Here is a picture of Henry and Georgia leaving one of the water slide pools and wishing they had warm clothes to put on.

Gordy tried the water slides, too, because he is brave like that.

I am not.  I didn't even bother to wear my bathing suit.

After a night in a very pleasant, ski-resort hotel, we got up early for our cog railroad adventure.

Here are our children posing in front of the engine that is going to take us up the mountain.

We boarded our train and got a short history about the train from the conductor.  It was very interesting.

We all waited patiently for the trip to begin.

Okay, perhaps not all of us were feeling patient that day.  Some of us wanted the train to hurry up and start already.

We allowed Josie to use our camera for awhile to amuse herself.

The conductor announced that the train was about to start and I grabbed the camera back from Josie.  If you look closely, you can see the steepness of the mountain tracks in front of the train.

Josie didn't care about losing the camera, because at this point, we were moving very nimbly up the mountain.  The train has to be at such an angle that at times the front end of the train is 15 feet above the back end.  I learned the hard way that this means that if you drop your camera lens cap, it will be 15 feet behind you almost immediately.  This was a lesson that many people on the train learned quickly:  water bottles, sunglasses, and purses all went flying to the back of the train in the first five minutes of the ride. 

The conductor had encouraged everyone to get out of their seat and move to the front of the train (one at a time) to see the view.  Here is a picture of Henry following instructions.  The view was amazing.  Once the train moves above the tree line, the vistas are unbelievably gorgeous.  It was a perfectly clear day and we could see for miles.  The only slightly worrisome part was when we crossed over a few hundred yards of trestle that looked pretty old.  Some of us chose not to look down, but I practically leaned out the window to get a good perspective.  After all, this mountain was a bully who failed to kill me once before and I was not afraid of it. 

Once you hit the top, the train lets you off for an hour to admire the view and laugh at all the sweaty, tired hikers. 

It was very, very cold up on the top of the mountain but we came prepared with warm layers.  All of us except Henry, of course.  Henry chose shorts that morning and stubbornly refused to change them even after I told him about the snowstorm of '85.  That is what 10 year olds do. 

After twenty minutes of listening to him complain about the cold, we attempted to find shelter from the wind.  This was the best we could do. 

The trip back down on the train was just as much fun (and much warmer).  It was pleasing to discover that even a lazy-bum like myself can enjoy the great outdoors!  Here is what I learned:  Mt. Washington is quite pretty when it is not snowing, ten year olds should wear pants when they are told to and a baggy of M&M's tastes just as wonderful on a cog train.  It was a fabulous weekend. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Working With A Stylist

My five year-old, Josie, is fond of fashion and likes to dress the part whatever the activity.

Remember the farm get-up for apple picking?

Ever seen a more authentically outfitted chef?

Maybe because she is my third child and I just don't want to fight anymore, or maybe I just enjoy the daily surprise when she comes down the stairs dressed and ready for the day, but I've learned to appreciate her art and I always have a camera ready to document the truly ..... amazing(?).

Here's a perfect example. 

See that bandanna tied around her head?  I didn't suggest that.  I didn't even know we HAD a pink bandanna.  Josie remembered that it was part of an apron she made at her two-year-old preschool group and she gave it to me with strict instructions on how to tie it. 

It's not just her outfits that are unique either - it's the combination.  She channels her inner Carrie Bradshaw every morning and works diligently to coordinate clothes, leg wear, shoes and hair accessories.  Case in point:

But for every truly bizarre and just WRONG combination that she comes up with, there is an equally perfect RIGHT outfit.

Perfect.  Am I wrong? 

And look at this one
Adorable!  I even like the white shoes.

So I figure five years is a long enough free ride around here.  It's time to put this little missy to work and let her earn her keep.  Gordy and I are going to a fund-raising gala soon and I have to have a proper dress.  Who better to take along on my shopping spree than a five year old fashion stylist with a penchant for accessorizing.

I brought along a camera so Josie could document our choices.

Option number 1.  A little matronly, strange shoulder straps.  Not bad but not the one.

Option number 2.  (mind you this is a bright purple dress, even if it did come out blue in the photo).  Not terribly flattering, but at least I'm getting better at my modelling pose.

Hmm.  Much better.  Stylist says "me like-y" and I have to agree.  This might be a winner.

The hard-working stylist poses with the keeper.  Good job, Josie! 

Your first client is happy!  (don't rub your eyes... it's the picture that's blurry.  Self-portraits with pocket cameras are often pretty bad.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Walking to School

We recently moved to a new house and one of its crowning features is its close proximity to the local elementary school.  Personally, I love any excuse to get out of my car and walk.  I walked to school every day when I was a little girl and later, when I lived in cities, I would walk to work no matter what the weather.  I have been dreaming of the day that we could walk to school ever since my son entered kindergarten.  My children are good at many things but they excel at what I will call Carseat Fighting.  There is something about the act of placing my three children into the backseat of a car that brings out the horrid in them. 

Our old house was far away from their school and we were forced to drive every morning.  The fighting and arguing would commence like clockwork as we left the house.  While their little shoes stepped gently over the threshold, one of the children would make some comment or a backpack of one might inadvertently brush against the backpack of another and the war games would begin.  Something as simple as an innocent look in the direction of the wrong person would provide a perfect starting point for a screaming match.  And you never knew who was going to be the person who got the first word.  Maybe they had secretly devised an argument schedule;  kids are crafty like that.

I can only compare it to what I imagine prison to be like.  One day you lose yourself in thought in the exercise yard and the next thing you know you're being shanked by some fellow prisoner who thought you were giving him the stink eye.  God forbid a millimeter of one child hung over the invisible seat boundary of another.  God forbid someone coughed into another's airspace.  Five years of listening to 15 minutes of He Did This and She Did That would drive anyone insane.  Countries around the world should replace their means of torture with a trip to school with my children.    Fifteen minutes after putting the detainee into the car, and he would confess to anything. 

And these are children that get along.... for the most part.  What is it about this box of metal and wheels that turns such perfectly nice children into monsters?

The worst part of the trip would be the last minute.  That would be the moment when our roles would  reverse and the children would have to listen to me rage and dole out the punishments.  All thoughts of sibling injustice would be replaced with mother anger as we pulled up to the school.  Instead of the sweet kisses and goodbyes that other parents were getting, I got grunts and door slams.  You can imagine the stress (and if you can't, I'd love to know your secrets). 

So what's the solution?  Remove the car from the equation.  Get them into the fresh air and wide open spaces.  You can't breathe on your sister if you are walking two feet away from her.  First we had to move.  We moved to a house so close to school that I would be embarrassed to drive.  Or at least that's what I told the children.  Look how close we are to school, I said with a sing-songy voice!  We can walk!  Everyday!  We are sooooo lucky!  And they bought it, hook, line and sinker.  "We get to walk to school," I heard them repeat with pride to friends over the summer.  Of course, this wasn't the only reason we moved, but it was a great perk.

And so the school year began.  On the first day of school, it rained.  And not a light, pretty rain, but a thunderstorm with rain that seemed to come up instead of down.  The children were uncertain about what was going to happen next.  I pulled out the raincoats and boots.  "It's raining,"  they said.  Perhaps, dear Mother, you didn't hear the thunder?  "We can get wet,"  I said.  "It will be an adventure."  I guess this made sense because walk we did.  And it was wonderful:  no yelling, no arguing, no crying over imagined injustices.  Instead we talked, noticed trees and chipmunks and joined up with friends.

Here are the children, waiting to leave the house on the first day of school.  Notice Georgia's wary look.  She is wondering if she should mention that Henry's backpack is touching her left arm. 

With the exceptions of two mornings when I had appointments I had to rush off to, we have walked to school every day this year.  And it has been fantastic.  If only all parenting problems were so easily solved.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Trip to Philadelphia: The Re-Cap

Now that our children no longer require diapers, strollers or constant monitoring, it is much easier to travel with them.  At least that was the theory behind the planning of some touristy adventures that we decided to take this past summer.  Having mastered the beach, a small New England mountain town and a few medium-sized car rides, we decided to head to Philadelphia, home of the famed Liberty Bell and of our beloved auntie, Elizabeth.  Drive with three children to Philadelphia, you ask?  Are we crazy?  Yes.  But we bought a portable DVD player before we left and even with the 45 minute stop we made in New Jersey for Gordy to answer an important work email, we still made fabulous time.

Here is a picture of our wonderful children, sitting patiently on the couch in Elizabeth's apartment.   Don't they look happy to be out of the car?

Our first order of business (and yes, there is ALWAYS an order when travelling with us.  We are very, very fond of a game plan) was to visit the Liberty Bell.  We went by taxi which was a huge hit with the girls.  The concept of sticking out your arm and getting a car TO DRIVE you wherever your little heart desired was truly an amazing one.

Here is a picture of our wonderful children standing patiently beside the Liberty Bell.  Can you see the bruise on Josie's forehead from where she hit the partition in the cab when it stopped short at a red light?  Don't worry, the thrill of potential injuries just makes her love taxis that much more. 

Surprisingly, the kids were interested in the Liberty Bell.  But they were even more interested in the fact that Elizabeth was allowed to bring her swiss army knife into the museum even though the guards saw it lying there in her purse.  Apparently, if you answer "I use it to cut chocolate" when asked by federal security guards "why are you carrying a knife?" you can proceed without hesitation into any of our nation's monuments. 

After taking the required photos and making the required jokes about which family member was responsible for the crack in the bell, we headed east to Betsy Ross' house.  Now this was the stop I was most looking forward to.  When asked why I wanted to travel with three children to Philadelphia, I might have said that I wanted our muppets to experience city life or to see where Elizabeth sits when I talk to her on the phone every morning, and in a way these answers were truthful.  But the real highlight for me was getting to go inside that tiny little building I've walked past on my other trips to The City of Brotherly Love.  I am a huge fan of a historical house and who doesn't want the opportunity to talk to the real live Betsy Ross?

Because you can actually do that!  Doesn't she look fantastic?  So old, yet so young.

Next we visited Elfreth's Alley, the oldest, continually inhabited street in the United States. 

Look!  I was there, too.  Although, not perched on a hitching post as that would be embarrassing - whoops!  Sorry kids.  We might not want to mention this to Georgia.

Now is probably a good time to mention that these tourist sites aren't exactly close to each other.  We did a considerable amount of walking in Philadelphia much of which was spent listening to Josie whine about why we couldn't take another taxi. 

Good try, Josie.  Keep walking.

It wasn't all constitution and history on our trip.  We also went to the Franklin Museum of Science which was amazing. 

Here is a photo of Henry holding up a statue of Ben Franklin.  Such a helpful child.

We all enjoyed this amazing exhibit:

Make a phone call  or send a text message next to this wall and you can see how much electrical activity your cell phone gives off.

Scary, huh?  Don't worry.  You can still reach Gordy by phone or email.   No quantity of glowing red lights, however ominous or overwhelming, is going to separate him from his beloved blackberry.

Surely this trip has to be over, you ask?  You're tired just reading our itinerary, aren't you?  No!  It's not over!  There's more, more and still more.  We are ten years into this parenting thing and we have learned many important lessons including - when travelling/touring, NEVER STOP.  When the activities stop, the whining begins. 

The next day we went over to the Philadelphia Zoo where we had two goals:  to see the lego zoo exhibit and figure out what in heck a naked mole rat is.  Let's just say that the lego exhibit was amazing.  The naked mole rats - pretty gross.  I'm still trying to get their blind, naked little images out of my head.  All in all, the Philadelphia Zoo was fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Philly.

Here is our son, Henry, the lego gorilla.

Our last scheduled activity in Philadelphia was a trip to a baseball game.  The Phillies lost, but I don't think the children noticed. 

As you can see, our trip was a huge success!  We may do it again some time once we've rested for a year or two. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Apple "Picking" in New England

Ah, fall in New England.  If you are going to live amongst the Pilgrims, there are certain requirements to be met.  In the winter you have to play hockey or ski;  in the summer, you are committed to eat a lobster roll (or at least carry around a doctor's certificate proving that doing so will cause great bodily harm) and in the fall you must go apple picking.  Notice that I didn't mention any spring requirements, because in New England, there is no spring. 

Our family is not exactly the outdoor type but we are firm believers in following all rules (and arriving punctually to all required activities) so we have adapted the apple picking process to accomodate us city slickers.  It is a well-known fact that farms are full of nature and that there is such a thing as TOO MUCH nature and therefore it is wise to find a farm that understands this fact.  This year we travelled about a half-hour away to a farm amusement park that caters to people like us.  Walking to the orchard from the parking lot?  Ha!  Who wants to encounter bugs or wild life?  Who wants to walk through tall, tick-filled grass?  Not us!  And apparently not a lot of people because this farm had a train to transport you to the orchard.  And a children's area with a bouncy house, maze and clean, mini animals to admire. 

Although it is barely fall for most Americans, in New England October is late fall and mid-October is practically winter, so most of the apples were already picked from this massive orchard.  Our train brought us to the last two rows of trees left baring fruit and deposited us at the top row with specific instructions on how to get back to the train once we had finished.  Mind you it was a row, so it should have been pretty obvious but judging from the looks of the other passengers on the train, even this small glimpse of nature was adventurous to most. 

"Picking" is not the correct word for the activity.  Most of the apples are on the ground and those still on the trees were clinging on for dear life.  The children learned quickly that if you placed your hand a centimeter or two under the apple it would leap off the tree and into the safety of your soft palm.  So many of their apple peers were lying rotten on the orchard floor and the remaining apples were not as stupid as they looked.  And these were Jonagold apples which our train "guide" had informed us were perfect for all apple recipes.  In other words, these were apples intent on fulfilling their apple destiny.   

My ten-year-old picked two apples and called it a day.  It is not cool to pick apples when it's a perfectly good day to play hockey.

My 7 year-old perfectionist chose wisely, weighing the characteristics of each apple before making a selection, walking up and down the aisle to compare apple sizes and color traits.

My five year-old came prepared.  She chose a denim mini-skirt (farmers wear denim), an apple t-shirt (see the apple theme?) and a straw hat (because, duh, it's a farm!).  She successfully spotted the most jumping apples.  Maybe the apples chose her based on her farmer-like ensemble.  Whatever the reason, in five seconds, her bag was filled.   

Gordy and I watched.  And not because it was a perfectly good day to play hockey.  No.  We watched because on the train ride we learned two interesting facts.  The first was that because we had such an amazingly dry, warm summer, the apples grew extremely large.  Most were over a pound each!  The second interesting fact was that at this farm amusement park, you pay $2.50 per pound for the joy of fruit picking.  Which means each apple cost $2.50.  And they aren't even organic.  Apparently, train rides are expensive and even surly teenage tour guides need to be paid, so it was an expensive day at the farm.  Nevermind that the farm was getting our labor for free and that we paid heavily to get on the train in the first place.

It's a small price to pay to say that we fulfilled our fall requirement and are now in good standing in our community before winter arrives.
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