A quick update

A quick update for those that follow here:
The last month or so has been busy times for this homeschooling mama. We have entered a literacy fair which takes place tomorrow. My zany six year old has made a fantastic poster to display on the book Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson. I will post a picture of the poster later. We have also recently gotten into geocaching. What fun! Letting my son embark on a treasure hunt, teaching him how to use lat/longs, directions, deduction and to spot a well camouflaged cache. There are also tons of riddles to solve and it often takes the whole team to accomplish this.
We took our first family trip to Gettysburg. The first day was cool and very foggy, which only served to add to the mystique of the area. We took off beaten paths through the woods, lined up for General Reynolds, “fired” Union cannons and ultimately fell to enemy fire. After all that work, we enjoyed a steak dinner in the oldest house in Gettysburg (Dobbin House Tavern) and then retired to our hotel room. My six year old was very excited by a shower that was large enough all three of us could have slept in there with room to spare. We met up with my uncle who I had not seen in four years or so and let J take a dip in the pool.
The next day, we started at the museum, film and cyclorama. My son was engaged and I watched as his tiny little mind was taking it all in. After the film and a short break, we completed a 3 hour audio tour which took us 6 hours due to frequent stopping and soldiering that we felt compelled to do. It was such a pleasure to take my son to the spot where his namesake earned the Medal of Honor through a remarkable act of bravery. I could see his pride when I explained to him what had taken place on that patch of dirt and that I had named him after such an honorable soldier.
My sister has finally had her baby, though there has been some family drama post birthing. I am just pleased to not be involved in the drama. I was geocaching when it all took place and (fortunately) unable to answer the phone.
I have been thankfully recovering from a little downtime. Fiona was my faithful friend, her sweet voice helping to ease very old scars. The world so often lets me down and I want to believe that my past is an anomaly. But every day I sit in this place, I watch these people interact, I read the news, I read comments on blogs and videos and I know the awful truth. My past is the past of so many women and that reality is often too much to bear.
For today, I choose not to give in. There is no past that can take away my today.

On being grown

It’s nice to be a grown up. As I sit and listened to my coworker’s stories of the past weekend, this simple sentence was all I could think. They proudly admitted to large quantities of alcohol consumed, not remembering how many jello shots they did or many hours of the night. I thought of snuggling with my six year old in the dark of DAR Constitution Hall, listening to Tori and watching his eyes follow the intricate light show that accompanied the rich, living sound of her piano. I remembered being proud of my son for looking at me when Tori began to sing “Gold Dust Woman” and saying, “That’s someone else’s song.” Proud that he could decipher Tori Amos from Stevie Nicks.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against alcohol. Sitting in a 15th Century style restaurant with food, décor and staff made to bring you back to Medieval Europe, I happily taste tested the sample of mead placed before us. Last year at Disney, I got ridiculously excited over some fruity cocktail with a light up ice cube inside. I enjoy a well-crafted drink, and I enjoy savoring the flavor and the slight warmth and relax that just the right amount of drink can bring.

It just isn’t a prerequisite to having fun anymore. I was happy enough to stroll the streets of DC, pop into a museum and watch my son’s glee when he spied a Jackson Pollock painting, the artist we have been studying as of late. We were actually almost late due to fact that before leaving home to check into our DC hotel on Saturday, my son was experimenting with Pollock’s techniques with reckless abandon. Even the neighbor kid stopped by and decided to give it a try. I was unwilling to cut him off early and eventually, he used all of the paint and we had to call it quits.

And so I sit happily, knowing someday, when they are “grown” all of their stories will not revolve around how much they have had to drink and who did more shots. One day they will learn to slow down and appreciate how life feels sober. Those moments of clarity and full feeling cannot happen between drunkenness and hangovers. They think me a prude and I smile. I no longer have to escape and someday, they will be happy enough not to have to escape either.


Sometimes you are just inspired. When life has found me sitting, day in and day out, in a mold infested room with fuzzy blobs of people like substance whose brains have long since rotted from neglect, inspiration has been hard pressed to find me. The sheer blood boiling ignorance of having to tell someone to turn the page to find the answers they seek; of having someone so unaware of the basic facts of life that are going on around them– its maddening.

One man’s misfortune is my luck. One of the few people whose light burns brighter than the rest has found himself under the misfortune of being thrust back into our administrative hovel. He is a dreamer, and with his love will soon be off on a world adventure. My bones are green with envy. To be able to throw off the world, dispossess themselves of all the ties that bind, and just go. My heart longs to go on such grand adventures.

Alas, I am bound here by chains stronger. But I am working on our release. Paying off our debts is goal number one. Anyone who has a Master’s Degree worth of student debt knows what I mean. We aren’t over our heads, but we have enough to make freedom out of reach. So, a short time of focused goal tending and then, off to see the world.

I have already freed my son of societal expectations by not forcing him into the government run institution that erodes their self and builds up an artificial, commercial consumer who has more wants than dreams. My goal: to teach him to find passion for something. Anything. As long as it is his passion.

For today, I am playing hooky from work. Taking my son to a concert he picked. And delaying the mind numbing ignorance that makes me angry and anxious.

Until then: out to collect my daily prize!!


Question to my readers

I am working on some unique ideas to help parents in our local area find things to do with their children on weekends, holidays and other school vacations. If there was a website available to you for this kind of thing, what would be most useful to you? Do you prefer lots of pictures? A good description of what is available? Discounts to that place (if it costs money)? Perhaps worksheets or other activities that you and your child can take part in at that location?

Would you subscribe to this kind of website? Would you pay for access to this kind of service? Would you purchase materials (such as ebooks, worksheets) from this kind of a site? Would you like this site to link you up with amazon or other sellers of activities that can be used at the sites (for example, if the activity was to fly a foam airplane, would you want the site to tell you “These can be purchased online or at Target” or would you rather that it said something to the effect of “Purchase online now”)

Share your comments below.

Snobs, Soccer and other S words…

2014FIFAWorldCupHey look! Two days in a row. I’m on a roll with this keep-the-blog-updated thing. In case you haven’t been watching, Brazil lost to Germany in a big way. The score was 7-1. I haven’t been watching, but everyone I work with has. They come in to my office, put their pretentious noses in the air and remind me that they are cultured and sophisticated because they are watching the world’s biggest soccer match.

Of course, I know the truth. These are the same idiots who asked me last week if London was a city or a country. I don’t even think most of them are watching it. They unlock their iPhones, open their EPSN apps, run through the highlights and then promptly declare, “you mean you haven’t been watching the game?” I’m on to you. I can smell you from a mile away. Your desktop has pictures of Paris, Madrid, Machu Piccchu. But you can’t tell England from Great Brittan from the United Kingdom. Snoot on, but what will you talk about in a month when your precious soccer match is over?

For actual soccer fans, you know, the ones who followed it BEFORE the World Cup made headlines, I’m good with your enthusiasm. Truth is, I don’t mind the World-Cup-Only soccer fan’s enthusiasm. It’s their snootiness I take issue with. Go team USA!! Oh, we’re out? Well, then, whatever.

Teaching Mexico, Epcot Style

Mexico was the first nation we studied on the World Showcase. Since this was our first country, it was a little more disorganized than the countries going forward. Mexico was our learning curve.

Teaching Mexico was a lot of fun with my kindergartner. We started with the basics. My son has a large Discovery Kids world map on the wall in our classroom. The first thing we did was find our country and our home. This was the easy part, since we had done it before. Then, I showed him where Mexico was. We labeled it with the Velcro country labels that came with the map and discussed the continent. The DK map shows each continent in a different color but it does not have state lines drawn on it. So, we went to our globe and discussed the exact country location.

We had gone to the library and checked out various books relevant to Mexico and a DVD from Marathon Films Productions from a series called “Countries Around the World.” We watched the video and discussed what we saw. These videos serve as a wonderful introduction to the countries we are studying. Usually, they feature a child telling a little about the country, their lives, culture, foods, etc.

Next, I went to Google and found pictures of Mexico. I specifically got pictures for each environment type (beaches, deserts, mountains) different cultural depictions (dress, musical instruments, religious figures, and fiestas). I then used those pictures and traditional Mexican music I purchased from iTunes to make a slide show. My son and I sat down and looked at each of those pictures and discussed what they meant in terms of the country. We used National Geographic Kids to help supplement some of the information.

Then, using construction paper, my son made a flag of Mexico. This was accomplished by using a white sheet of construction paper and 1/3 of both green and red. He then drew the eagle/serpent/cactus part in the middle. This was one of many art projects that carry over into the Social Studies realm as well. Prior to making the flag, we had heard the Aztec story that founded Mexico City from the “Countries of the World” video. The Aztecs believed that when they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a serpent that is where their city should be founded. They saw this in the area that is now Mexico City and the flag’s center shows the picture of an eagle, sitting on a cactus, eating a serpent on an island.

Flag of Mexico

Flag of Mexico

Using Google again and Time for Kids I was able to learn a few simple phrases in Spanish to teach my son. We practiced those phrases as well as pointing the country out on the map, the continent and the flag recognition every day of our 10 day lesson. We also looked at famous places, including Chechen Itza and Tulum.

We downloaded the GeoWalk app on my iPad which gave some nice pictures and facts about some animals unique to Mexico. We ordered Mexican jumping beans online. This was the basis of our science/biology area of our Mexico studies. Using fact sheets from online resources and from the retailer, my son learned about the moths inside the jumping beans, their lifecycle and habitat. We are still eagerly awaiting their hatching.

We also used a scientific article on Jaguars and their habitats for both scientific exploration and reading comprehension. The worksheet was located on superteacherworksheets.com which provided both the article describing the cat’s habitat, eating and living habits but also followed the article with reading comprehension questions.

Another scientific area we studied was the climate differences between Mexico’s capital city and our home. We took the weather readings daily from weather.com, gathering temperature and precipitation. At the end of our Mexico studies, we graphed the results and discussed how Mexico compared to home. This crossed into the math studies as well.

For additional math studies, I created a homemade “Souvenir buying” worksheets. I used pictures of the types of souvenirs which may be purchased at the Mexico pavilion and gave them whole-dollar price tags. From this, I created math problems involving adding and subtracting money (prices and change) that help him not only understand math concepts, but concepts of money.

For the English/Language Arts we focused on two areas. The first, writing. I created a worksheet for writing “M-E-X-I-C-O” with the use of Microsoft Word. This worksheet listed each letter and an elementary style lining for him to copy the letters. He also practiced writing on the reading comprehension worksheets and weather worksheets.

For reading, we checked out a number of books from the library that covered various areas of Mexico and its culture. Those books varied in reading levels, some being very simple and read by him and others more complex and read to him.

Art is always a pretty easy subject to teach. Other than completing the Mexico flag, we also made an “eye of God” craft, homemade maracas, and a homemade piñata. To top it all off, we created a suitcase from cardstock which houses postcards he creates depicting scenes from each country. It is decorated with flags from the various countries. We have also created a passport which has space for each nation’s flag, various information about each of the nations and a place for each of the pages to be stamped at Epcot.

To end our study of Mexico, we had a Mexican fiesta, which included various Mexican foods, drinks and snacks , Mexican music and the breaking of the piñata.

Making the pinata.

Making the pinata.

The finished product.

The finished product.

We also watch The Three Cabilleros to end our study of Mexico and tie Disney back into our trip. For those who have not yet been to the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, the ride has scenes from the movie. It also features a large Aztec/Mayan style pyramid which is a architectural feature that my son is now very familiar with. I can’t wait to take him to Epcot. I plan to quiz him as we enter each pavilion to see if he can determine which country we are in.

Breaking the pinata.

Breaking the pinata.

So, that’s it…. Until Norway.

Innovention on the Horizon

After my revolutionary decision to home school my son through kindergarten, my life has gotten somewhat more hectic. I have spent hours reading books, searching through curriculum and looking at worksheets and workbooks. I have completely moved two rooms around in my home and changed the fundamental use of those rooms. My onetime idea that my son’s room would be a place of quiet reflection, having only small, quiet-play toys and books has been replaced with all of the toys that lack educational use. The once overcrowded and loud playroom has been replaced with a quiet area of books, educational movies, blocks, musical instruments and globes. I have one entire unit planned and ready to go, lots of notebooks, pens, paper and art supplies on standby and new lamps, bins and baskets.

Also in the same timeframe, we have finally made our third annual Walt Disney World Resort reservations for the fall. Our party of 8 will be traveling in style at the Caribbean Beach Resort and having wonderful dinners at Cinderella’s Castle, the Tusker House, the Garden Grille, Narcoossee’s, the Coral Reef, the Liberty Inn and the brand new Be Our Guest Restaurant. My family will be spending 9 lovely days at the resort and 7 days park hopping through the worlds. Extended family will be spending 7 days at the resort and 4 days park hopping as well as one day at universal Studios. It is sure to be a wonderful trip! I can’t wait for new experiences such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot. I honestly wish that we were leaving right away!

Since the trip will take place after homeschooling has begun, the trip will be prefaced by animal and cultural studies that will coincide with animals and countries we will come into contact with at Disney’s Epcot and Animal Kingdom. We will also be reading some of the classic literature (not just the Disney version) that is associated with some of the rides at Magic Kingdom. This way, the learning will help build excitement for the trip and the trip will help reinforce the learning. Win-Win! With stories like Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson, Through the Looking glass (the real version of Alice), Beauty and the Beast, Song of the South (the tale of Briar Rabbit [splash mountain]) and many other fairy tales, we should have plenty of literature to keep us busy. Not to mention Epcot’s many country representations, complete with cultural foods, videos, architecture, language and entertainment. Epcot also has the living seas and the land pavilions which teach about the environment and the animals and plants that live there. Innoventions East and West teach about weather, technology, engineering and other scientific topics in a fun way. Let’s not forget Spaceship earth which gives a great overview of the evolution of man. Animal Kingdom goes without saying. Life science is an easy find here. I can’t wait!

I have also managed to score tickets to an upcoming Heart concert complete with VIP package which includes a meet and greet with Ann and Nancy prior to the show. I will be giving one ticket to my partner in crime who really wanted to go but thought it was too expensive for her birthday. *shhhh*

With all this excitement, it is hard not to get started right away! But first, I have to finish building the bookshelves….

Disney Diva

For those of you who don’t know, I am a Disney freak. We go to Walt Disney World every year for our family vacation and we stay for a while. My son has a few shirts with Mickey on them, we have at least two Disney themed dishes, a pair of ears and at least one biggish Mickey stuffed animal. Okay, okay maybe we aren’t quite to the level of Disney freak just yet.

Disney is our favorite vacation spot though and I am a freak about planning vacation. To me, the planning stage of any vacation is the most fun. I enjoy spending hours reading reviews, scoping out the perfect place to stay, eat and play. And of course, I love finding ways to have a five star vacation at a three star price (or better).

For Walt Disney World, I have found that information is both bountiful and of good quality. There are a few websites that I must point out. First and most obvious, the Walt Disney Official Site . This site gives quite a bit of information about the various parks, hotels, and restaurants available on Disney property.

One thing I should say upfront, is that I am a purist. Meaning, when I go to Disney, I stay onsite, I eat onsite and I don’t stray from WDW until I am homeward bound. No, it isn’t because I don’t know that there are many other wonderful things outside the Magical world of Disney. It’s because I’m lazy. It’s a 15 hour drive from home, I have a preschooler in tow and I get one good vacation a year. I like to relax once I arrive and not have to drive anywhere or work too hard for anything. Thankfully, Disney makes it easy for me to do all of the above. The experiences at Disney are amazing and (if planned well) not that expensive, so there really is little incentive for me to stray.

So, after checking out the information available on the official site, I venture to Touring Plans to check out the crowd calendar. This site is amazing for quit a few things, not the least of which is the crowd calendar. The crowd calendar is important for picking a good time to visit Disney. I for one, hate the large crowds which pack in like sardines to every corner of the park at peak season. It is more important for me to avoid high crowds than high prices, so I start by looking at dates. The calendar provides a rating (1 to 10, 1 being the lowest crowds 10 the highest) for each park, each day of the year. For instance, a friend I know is going to WDW on March 23 and, based on her toddler, I’d say Magic Kingdom. A quick look at the calendar tells me that MK’s anticipated crowd level for that day is a 7.8. Ouch! I couldn’t do it.

Touring Plans has a few extra features I’d like to point out. My favorite, the lines app. Lines works on Android or Apple devices and provides up to the minute accurate wait times for every attraction, show and even restaurants in the park. This is especially helpful for those last ride of the day situations where your hopeful is on the other side of the park. There is nothing worse than running clear across the park only to find that the wait is too long for you and you wasted your time and energy. Another helpful feature for those who travel at busier times of the year (which I won’t), are the touring plans. If you use them religiously, they will take you to each ride on your list in the order necessary to spend the least time waiting in long lines. A definite plus when its 100+ degrees and 500 million people have joined you on vacation. Touring also has a blog where they review all of the new features available in Disney, as well as follow up on the old ones. Great for understanding how new things, like NextGen will change how my family does Disney. If you don’t know about NextGen, check it out Here or Here. These are two more amazing sites for all things Disney.

Next, it’s All Ears for the really fun part. All Ears has a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures. This is especially helpful if you want to try a new resort or restaurant and you just aren’t sure if it is a good fit for your family. This site is very detailed and has a review on anything you can think of. For me, the pictures are great, since Disney can make anything look amazing on their site. I like the more balanced review I get from Touring and Ears.

After all of this time spent reading, researching and reviewing, its time to make reservations. Many people like Mousesavers because of the many reviews on how to get the best value and what discounts are available. Its a great place to look, but I prefer All Ears and they push much less for a travel agent which I believe is just absurdly unnecessary for a Disney vacation unless you are coming from overseas or just simply can’t work a computer. I typically make my reservations through Disney directly as I book room, tickets and a dining package. You can see above about my preference for ease of use vacations. As such, I like the comfort of the dining plan and since I usually get it for free (thanks to my travel dates), its a win-win. After booking my package, I go straight to ADRs (advanced dining reservations). This for me is the most fun as my family always does some type of character meal, and usually more than a couple. Thanks to the dining plan, it doesn’t cost anything extra and my son loves them. I usually plan for a sit down lunch as it gives a respite from the heat and walking at the hottest part of the day. With a young child such as mine, that rest gives us just what we need to party late into the night at Stitches 626 dance party (a favorite of my 5 year old). Be prepared however, reservations book quickly (even in the off season) so I make my reservations right at the 180 day mark (the earliest possible).

While all of this may seem really intense for a vacation and way too structured for many, I find that it provides the exact opposite for me. I get excited about the trip very early thanks to all the blog following and review reading. And once my family arrives, all the hard work pays off and we can relax and really enjoy our trip. Food, paid for and arranged. Bed, check. Fun, let’s do it! My vacations are stress and worry free and my five year old sees nothing but the Magic!


My life, Unplugged…

Fun Time

Life is busy. There is always too much to do and too little time in which to get it done. That is just the life of being a mother, especially when you have a small child. With that in mind, I spent this last weekend completely unplugged. No, I don’t mean that I ignored the computer for a couple of days. I mean I took my son, drove to the mountains of Tennessee and spent the weekend in my parent’s cabin in the Smokies. The cabin has no phone, no internet and no TV. When I say we were unplugged, I mean we were UNPLUGGED!!

It was nice to be out of the hustle and bustle of the world I am used to living in. When my son randomly decided to walk out the front door, I didn’t worry. My parent’s cabin sits in valley, on a private hill which is actually the highest point in the valley. In the warmer months, there are black bear and coyote to worry about.  In the middle of a snowstorm, the only thing I had to watch for is my son’s insistence that he play outside without his hat and coat.

We spent time cooking together, reading, coloring, talking about the world and his concerns for turning five on Thursday. We watched as a HUGE snowstorm came across the mountain tops, up the hill and up and over the other mountains. We went into town, had lunch, played games at an arcade, ate fudge and wandered through town. We found pinecones, cool flat rocks and ladybugs (oddly enough).

We also were able to meet my sister’s daughter. My son was able to hold his 3 week old cousin, showed her how to use a bow and arrow, and offered to take her to the toilet. He was very helpful.

I’d forgotten how distracting and loud the T.V. is (which seems to always be on, whether we are watching it or not). I’d forgotten how much time I waste perusing the internet, whether there is anything to look out or not. I’d forgotten how bland store bought eggs taste in comparison to fresh eggs.

I think unplugging is the way to go. Having that child-focused weekend, where you are either asleep or being a family is very important to staying in touch with your child. And while you can always turn off the TV at home, it is usually just too tempting to finish the laundry or check your email for that important thing you are waiting on.

My goal: Try to make time every month to unplug—completely! Even if I have to rent a small cabin out at Point Lookout or camp in the backyard. A day or two for just me and my boy, where I can forget those million and one things that HAVE to be done and worry about the one important thing that NEEDS to be done—being a mom to my precious boy.

Travel bug

Lady LibertyOne thing is for sure, I was bitten by the travel bug very early life. My mother loves to travel. I’ve been told that for both of us it was probably a means of escaping difficulties in our lives. Yeah, maybe. I think it is the rush that I get. There is an overwhelming feeling of awe standing in front of Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in NyC, a giddiness standing atop the Empire State Building, a breathlessness watching the sunset from Sacre Coeur, prepare bliss sitting beach side from Myan ruins in Mexico, a desire for adventure and possibility when eating freshly picked fruit watching wild horses atop a mountainside in Jamaica. No, it isn’t an escape, its an adrenaline rush!


Beach at Tulum

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively in my younger years. I have been to 46 of our 50 beautiful states and 6 other countries. I’ve touched the ancient rocks at Stonehenge, sat at the foot of Rodin’s The Thinker, fed stingrays in Grand Caymen, felt the mist of the falls at Niagra, fed iguanas at the Myan ruins, I’ve watched the Queen of England light fireworks from Buckingham Palace while serenaded by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, Elton John and more. I could fill a novel with the things I have been lucky enough to see and do.  But there is still so much I’d like to see; Brazil, Peru, the Amazon, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Italy, Ireland.

For the moment, I’ll just have to be content with showing my son all of the wonder I’ve seen In the world. It is my hope that the beauty of the world will widen his eyes and that his heart will long for daring travels and quiet enchantment. Or, if all else fails, Mickey Mouse ears and cotton candy is always a sure bet.

Cinderella's Castle