The Family

The Family

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fun

The Southeastern Raptor Center holds a "Fans and Feathers" educational program each fall on Fridays before home football games.

Today was the kickoff for this year's program, and we met at the Raptor Center's ampitheather with other families from our homeschool cover school to learn more about these birds.

The claws and beaks are two features that set Raptors apart from other birds. These characteristics allow them to grab ahold of things - prey mainly.

We saw five owls, a vulture and a hawk. We watched them fly and learned interesting facts and tidbits about each creature.

For instance, did you know that most owls don't actually "hoot"? Some do, but for the most part owls screech instead of hoot.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On The Day You Turned 6

You woke up before dawn. For three nights you were too excited to sleep. You've been asking about your birthday for so long now it seems like it should have already come and gone.

It's hard to believe that today, my son, you turned 6.

Your momma is having a hard time with this one. I get weepy every time I think about it.

I'm glad you're 6. No really, I am. Six is a great age. It's all play and rough housing.

This growing up thing is what you're meant to do. It's just that no one tells you before you have a baby how this might break your heart. Or maybe they do? Only a mom can truly understand the bittersweet emotions birthdays bring. Maybe other mothers did tell me, but I brushed the comment aside thinking they were too attached or overprotective. You know, all those things I'm not - HA!

If 6 is this hard, what is 10 going to be like? Or 15? Or 18?

Seriously, where does the time go?

Those things I thought I would never forget about your baby years are getting harder to recall, especially now that you are into Legos, video games and silly antics all the time.

There are so many days when I wish I could bottle up half of your energy and use it for myself.

There are days we butt heads.

There are days when you make me smile, others where I can't stop laughing at your silliness, and still others when I think I might pull my hair out.

Those cuddling days are too few and far between. You are too heavy for me to pick up and too big to be held. You even like it when I leave to go to work because that gives you time to play with someone else.

It's all as it's supposed to be.

So why is it so hard to accept you are growing up?

I can't stop that you are getting bigger. I wouldn't want to. Life is meant to be lived, and in my opinion, lived with a spirit of adventure and a love for others.

Live the life God has planned for you. Don't run from it. Don't run from him. Listen to that inner voice that guides you and be the person you are. That's easy when you are 6. It's not so easy at 16.

When you do turn 16, go easy on this mom of yours. I'm going to mess up here and there. I'm going to embarrass you, though I promise it will never be intentional. I'm going to love you then as much as I do today and as much as I did the day you were born - maybe more!

And I hope every birthday is as happy and joyful as this one today!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Exploring Our State

One of the things Jack and I will be doing this year is learning about the states. We are starting with our own, Alabama, and will continue in alphabetical order.

My fourth and eighth grade history classes are a blur because I hated studying Alabama history. American and World History fascinated me - they still do -  but I tuned everything out when it came to my own state.

I think I've mentioned before that I don't do curriculum. I focus instead on books that I think contain valuable information. Our local library is a great resource, and we picked up a number of books from the children's section a few weeks ago.

I was stunned to realize how many places in Alabama I am unfamiliar with. Reading the books with Jack, I actually found myself interested and excited about these cool places in our state.

1. Dismal Canyons - I've asked almost everyone in my family, and a few friends, if they had ever heard of this forest in the northwest part of the state and no one said yes. When I checked out the website for it I was amazed. So much so that we will be going to visit and stay a few nights at this park in a few weeks!

2. Desoto Caverns - This is one place I visited often as a child. My brownie troup even spent the night in the cavern when I was in the first grade. Jack keeps asking me about it, and I'm thinking about mentioning it to the director of  our homeschool cover school to include as a field trip in the spring.

3. Mt. Cheaha - This place I know about as well because it is only minutes from where I grew up. It is the highest peak in Alabama and is beautiful in the fall. I remember another Girl Scout sleep over as well as picnics and hikes throughout childhood. My cousin was married at the lodge there a few years ago. It was a July wedding, but the altitude made it incredibly comfortable for an outdoor wedding. When Mattie was a baby we spent a night there. Matt's dad has a camper, and he and his wife were there for a few days in October that year. Jack still remembers telling scary stories by the campfire.

4. Bellingrath Gardens - Another place I never knew existed is this home and gardens in the town of Theodore (no clue where it is). This is going on my list of places to visit.  I enjoy touring old homes and can spend hours wandering around on the property surrounding them.

5. The Space and Rocket Center - While I've heard of it and even think I went there once, I can't remember anything beyond it having a cool space camp that children and adults can attend.  I've been telling Jack for years that we are going to do that when he gets bigger. Besides space camp, anyone can go for a visit. This may be a good winter destination. My grandmother lives in Decatur, which is a short distance from where the Space and Rocket Center is located in Huntsville.

6. Dauphin Island - In the 10th grade our biology teacher took a group of students to Dauphin Island. Sadly, I opted out of the trip. For years I wish I would have gone. Reading about it now makes me want to plan a visit so we can get a first-hand glimpse of the marine life.

7. Ave Maria Grotto - Only one of the books we checked out mentions this site located in Cullman. A Benedictine monk worked for 40 years building miniature reproductions of famous churches, shrines and buildings. This is something worth seeing.

8. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival - OK, so this wasn't mentioned in any of the books, but I thought I should give it a plug. Located in Montgomery, it showcases wonderful plays year round. I've been several times and even took Jack a few years ago to see a Winnie the Pooh play.

9. The Civil Rights Museum - . Birmingham has an extraordinary Civil Rights Museum. I'd like to wait until the children are older in hopes they might understand more about the history and struggles of civil rights.

10. The McWane Center - Like the Space and Rocket Center, I don't know why we haven't been here yet. It's only two hours away, in Birmingham, and includes so much to see and do.

11. Helen Keller's Childhood Home - Hellen Keller is one of our most famous citizens. Her childhood home, known as Ivy Green, is located in Tuscumbia and will be a real history lesson in and of itself.

12. Sequoyah Caverns - This would be another great day trip and a fun way to explore the natural and historical aspects of our state.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Those Days

For the days when nothing seems to go right.

When you are bone tired the moment you wake and drag yourself through the day.

When the children are arguing and aggravating each other at every turn.

When your two year old takes a swipe at you because she needs you, but doesn't know how to express it in any way other than a tantrum.

When a child has to be told over and over again to stop this and to stop that for the 6,000th time.

I had two of these days this past week. Days I thought would never end. Days I thought I was going to explode. Days where I could do nothing but keep going because that was the only option.

I heard someone a few weeks ago talk about these kind of days in her life. She had observed that "these days" often come on the heels of the really good days.

You know those days too. The ones where everything clicks. The house seems to be in decent shape. The children are kind to each other and you (and vice versa). The days when you feel you've got this mom thing down.

Then bam.

The wise woman also reflected on her thoughts that these awful days are days when she is reminded of her utter dependence on God. That it's these days that teach her that she is not in CONTROL.

There it is. That one word that's hard to swallow. The thing most of us want to say we don't have a problem with, but the truth is that's our major problem. It's at least mine.

So the other night when I was reading from a book of prayer, I came across a hymn that I hadn't heard in a long time.

"I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power
When Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Summer of Rain and Allergies

Back in June I had all sorts of ideas about spending time at the pool.

We don't have a pool in our backyard, nor do we have a neighborhood pool, but my in-laws built a pool last summer. I also have a friend that belongs to a local country club, and we were planning on meeting up there every couple of weeks.

I was already deeming it "the summer of the pool."

That was before July when the torrential downpours began.

I think most people residing in the southeast all agree on one thing - this is the wettest summer in memory. When I say wet, I don't just mean a lot of rain or the typical summer afternoon thunderstorm that sometimes happens days in a row. I'm referring to massive rain for days on end for nearly two months now.

There have been respites of sunshine, the past two days included. That's why this weekend we ARE planning to spend some time at the pool.

And if it wasn't raining this summer, I seemed to be having a horrible time with allergies. I don't know what has been growing or why this summer seemed so agonizing, but just being outside (when it was sunny) left me with horrible sinus issues. Now that ragweed is in the air, it's even worse.

I'm ready for fall simply in hopes that the weather pattern will change.

Thank goodness for the change in seasons, and the feeling that much is new with the start of each one.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to School

It's the time of year when everyone goes back to school.

Even though we're a homeschooling family, it does still apply to us in some form or fashion.

I teach classes at our local university, and we begin fall semester classes tomorrow. It's a time of high anticipation for students and high stress levels for those of us in administration.

As far as my own children go, we do school year round. I guess I should say Jack does school year round. Mattie's only two, so I do nothing formal with her. She does listen in on most of the reading though and loves to help me draw the circles when I'm working with Jack on his number lines!

We've also signed up for some classes this fall. While Jack is in an art class with other homeschoolers, Mattie and I will be enjoying a Mommy and Me music class!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Adventures in Reading

It appears I overestimated my ability to get through the books on my summer reading list.


I think I've made it through four of the books that were on that list. They've been good, parts were great, but as a whole, I haven't been been too excited about any of them.

Last night I finished "Beautiful Ruins," and am unsure whether I liked the book. I guess I don't see what the fuss is all about. I definitely don't see eye to eye with the reviews posted on the back cover.

Parts of the book were great, but I had a hard time identifying with many of the characters. All except one were likeable; they just weren't believable. The one character that had the most depth, Alvis Bender, was the one probably given the least attention. I think I may have liked the book better if the entire novel was devoted to his story.

I also found a lot of the language to be crude and crass. I'm no stranger to four-letter words and don't get easily offended by them (I read and love "Game of Thrones" for goodness sake.) This was beyond that. There were a number of instances while reading that I was so disgusted by the discourse that I almost didn't finish the book. Most of it was unnecessary and, in my opinion, detracted from the best parts.

I've now decided to go back to the Open Yale class on Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald for my next read. I've had Fitzgerald's short stories sitting on my nightstand for months, but ever the one for conformity, I'm going to stick to what's on the syllabus and go with Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not" next.

The book I found myself most drawn to this summer was Mark Twain's classic, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." It wasn't on  my personal list, rather it was one I read aloud to the children.

There's good reason why it's much loved by children and adults alike. Tom's a mischief maker with a conscience.

I'm just as enthused to begin "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" tomorrow. We picked it up at the library this afternoon. While Tom was new to me, Huck's story is one I'll be re-visiting. I read it in the ninth grade - a year that was full of great reads in Mrs. Rhinehart's class.

We also picked up a biography today on Queen Nefertiti.

No, you aren't confused. You read it right.

Last week I was going through some poems in a children's anthology and read one about Queen Nefertiti. It was sort of scary and Jack stopped what he was doing, came over to me and listened intently. This rarely happens!

He wanted to know if she was real. When I said yes, he said he wanted to get a book on her from the library.

I kid you not.

I thought he would forget about it, but he brought it up again yesterday. When we were in the library today I asked him if he really wanted me to find a book on Queen Nefertiti. There were no children's books on her, so I found a biography in the adult section.

I'm interested to see how this turns out!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Note on Where We Stayed

If you are ever in Chicago, you should check out Hotel Indigo.

I would have never known about it had it not been for a chance encounter with a friend. About a month ago she mentioned she had just returned from Chicago. I mentioned we were about to go to Chicago, and I was having a hard time finding decent prices on hotel rooms.

She told me to check out Hotel Indigo.

Later that night I did and booked our room the next day. I got it for $500 less than any other hotel I had checked on in Chicago.

It's a boutique hotel located on N. Dearborn Parkway and is within walking distance of many, many great restaurants. It's also a few blocks from Oak Street, where some serious shopping gets done. Not to mention how close it is to the most famous street in Chicago: Michigan Avenue.

Even though we had our car, we ended up taking the bus to almost everywhere we went. We would walk to Michigan, or State Street, and hop on a line. Matt and I bought a $20, 3-day pass for us. The children rode free.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the hotel had a great breakfast menu. The restaurant is open at night too, but there's too many good places in Chicago to just stay at the hotel and eat.

The staff was friendly and accommodating. I requested that our room be cleaned by a specific time each day so that Mattie wouldn't be disturbed while napping, and they were happy to oblige.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food and Fun in Chicago and Beyond

Each time I visit Chicago I like it more.

It's no love affair like with New York or Paris, but it's a city that has grown on me.

We spent four days there last week enjoying the weather, the walks and the kid-friendly activities.

I had no idea the Lincoln Park Zoo would be free.

 The views from around the park were amazing!

Besides the aquarium, Jack's favorite thing was the Field Museum.

Mattie is becoming a lover of large cities because of all the dogs that cross our path. She also gets a kick out of riding in hotel elevators. She likes how they tickle her tummy when starting and stopping.

Matt is game for just about anything.

And I loved the shopping and food.

I knew I had a limited amount of time for shopping, and I had to make it count. I was able to find not one, but two, great pairs of skinny jeans, plus a dress, in one stop!

The breakfast we had every morning was by far my favorite meal in Chicago. We ate in our hotel restaurant each day. By our third day, the waitress knew our drink orders by heart.

There was a huge egg and ham sandwich on sourdough that I ordered at least twice (I think it was called the Hemingway -  a nod to one of Chicago's famous sons). There was also a tasty BLT on the menu that was a bit too spicy for my tastes that early in the morning.

There was an Italian eatery, Eduardo's Enoteca, a few doors down from our hotel where Matt picked up lunch a couple of times and brought it back to the room while Mattie napped. I loved, loved, loved the pickled vegetables, especially the brussel sprouts.  I swear I could have eaten a hundred of them. Eduardo's also had great pizza and fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Speaking of pizza, this trip was the first time I tried Chicago-style pizza, and I must say, I'm not a fan. We ate at Lou Malnati's. It's not that the pizza was bad, it's just that I prefer my pizza sauce under the cheese instead of on top of it.

We also ate well while traveling to and from Chicago. My father-in-law makes fun of me because I like to stop at Cracker Barrel when on the road. We stopped there four times on this trip.

But the best food I had on the entire trip was at a hamburger joint in West Lafayette, Indiana. I saw billboards advertising Triple XXX Family Restaurant on our way to Chicago. When I saw them again on the way home, and saw that the place had been featured on The Food Network, I knew it would be good.

We had to wait, with a lot of other people, out in the parking lot until our name was called. The hostess said it would likely be 45 minutes, but I don't think it took more than 20.

It had been so long since I had a thinly cooked hamburger. Almost everywhere these days cooks the burgers incredibly thick. Triple XXX grounds its own beef into thin, but incredibly filling, patties.

I ordered the famous Duane Purvis All-American Burger that included peanut butter. It sounds gross, but the peanut butter just blended in with all the other ingredients. I've been thinking about that burger for two days now!

Triple XXX is family owned and looks like something of a dump. In food terms, just the right mixture to make a wonderful restaurant.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Chicago in the Evening

One of my favorite things about spending the past few days in Chicago has been enjoying the city in the evening.

We spent time Thursday and Friday night in Millennium Park, a part of Chicago's famous Grant Park, listening to music and letting the children run around. There are free jazz concerts on Thursday nights during the summer and on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays as part of The Grant Park Musical Festival. It's also free for those that sit in the lawn area.

The Cloud Gate sculpture (which Jack said looks like a big bean) is a major attraction. Children and adults flock to it for photographs and to catch a glimpse of their reflection.  We saw hundreds of people both nights. There was even a couple taking pictures with a baby that couldn't have been more than a week or two old.

We spent our final evening walking along the River Walk and enjoying the cool breeze.

Chicago is definitely a walking city, and we've got the tired legs to prove it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


We're here, and it is definitely windy!

I was worried a few weeks ago about coming to Chicago at this time of year because I was afraid the heat would be stifling. I guess we lucked out because it's in the 70s and so windy that when you're in the shade it's actually cool.

We've already hit the Shedd Aquarium today. I'm writing this as Mattie naps in our room and as Jack and Matt hang out across the hall in Matt's mom's room putting together some Legos Jack got at the aquarium gift shop.

My mother-in-law decided to fly out to meet and play with us for a couple of days. It's always nice to have a helping hand.

I've been too busy taking it all in and keeping up with two excited children to take a single picture.

We made it to Chicago about 4 yesterday afternoon and enjoyed a walk and dinner. We made great time in the car on the drive up.

I'm soooooo glad we drove. It gave me time to pay more attention to Jack. Mattie's still at the age where she needs so much from me that I feel as if I'm always telling Jack to hold on or to wait. Too often, I never get around to answering that question he had or doing that thing he was asking about:-(.

It was nice being able to connect on HIS level and laughing and listening to this precious boy of mine.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Here We Go, Go, Go!

The bags are packed and ready to go.

Where to now?

The Windy City!

I'm not sure how "windy" this time of year is in Chicago, but the weather forecast makes me think it's going to be a pleasant few days.

We're hitting the roads again for this one. I've got some time off in between semesters, and Matt was racking up vacation hours at work again - hours he will lose if he doesn't use - so we're not in a hurry.

We're going to see how far we can make it tomorrow. I'd love to end up in Louisville, KY.  It's a great town. I went on a work trip twice, before the children were born. It would be nice if they could experience it as well. Louisville will be pushing it though, so who knows where we'll end up.

The plan is to make it to Chicago sometime on Wednesday. I use the word sometime mockingly because I was told by someone who recently made the drive to expect a lot of roadwork delays. And also because when we spent one night in Chicago last year on the way back from South Dakota, it took us almost three hours to  make it to our hotel once we were technically in Chicago.

I'm better prepared this time. Not only can Mattie ride for much longer periods now she's a bit older, but I'm bringing along some favorite books to read, fun activity pages to complete and new apps downloaded on the I-Pad.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

More Poems!!!

Another anthology compiled by Caroline Kennedy.

I was literally "giddy" when I saw this book advertised a few months back.

I couldn't wait to order it, but decided to hold off until Mattie's birthday last month. I wanted to add to her collection.

We've been slowly making our way through it, and it's as awe-inspiring as the others!