Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Smitten

We are all smitten with Koll Henry, my brother's new baby. I don't think any of us ever imagined that our brother (he's boy #4, two years older than I am) and his wife would have a baby. It just didn't really occur to us, since he was in his 40s when they married and is now nearing 50. (I know. He doesn't look like it.)

But there they are: my brother—my childhood companion—a Dad to a perfect little guy. I just can't get over it, and I can't wait to get to New York and squeeze him.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Babies, Old Babies, Lots of Numbers

It's pretty cool. My firstborn arrived 19 years ago today. Not quite two days ago (on our 23rd anniversary), my brother and his wife had their first baby. I had just turned 27 when Jesse was born; my brother is 48. I wonder what it would be like to have my first child now? I have so many more things going for me. I am for sure wiser and more comfortable in my own skin. I care much less about what people think about me. I probably have just as much energy as I did then.

But it occurs to me that so much of my self-confidence and wisdom comes from having kids, from being a parent for 19 years. So much of who I am is today is shaped by having been a mom for nearly two decades.

I think my brother and his wife are going to be fantastic parents. Kollman Henry is like this special surprise at the end of a long trail of grandchildren. My oldest niece is 31 with a child of her own, and our Duncan, now at 11, has been the youngest of the grandchildren until Koll Henry. Fortunately Koll Henry will have plenty of second cousins—the children of his first cousins—(or are they first cousins once removed?) around his age: Soren is just 2 months old, and Miles is about 6 months old. I love the thought of Christmas next year, when we can hopefully be surrounded by all these baby boys.

It was strange to wake up this morning knowing that our own birthday boy is 3 hours away at college. We've always made a big deal about birthdays in our house, and the day feels deflated without Jesse here. No cake, no presents, no delicious birthday meal. Just a quiet evening of algebra, chatting with friends, eating pretzels, checking emails.

Just think. My brother will be 67 when Koll Henry turns 19. And my Jesse will be 38. Probably they'll all be out there on Thanksgiving Day, playing their annual game of football. I like that thought.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

NYC, Family Style Part 2: Activities—Central Park and Times Square

New York City, Family Style, Part 1 was all about lodging, eating, and getting around. That was really just a prelude to this section. We went to New York to see and do stuff, after all!

I planned out our itinerary well in advance, again by perusing the internet for topics like "best things to do in NYC." I did not order any tickets in advance except for the 9/11 Memorial. The tickets are free, but you'll need to reserve your time and print out the tickets before going. I didn't bother with any of the New York Passes because I calculated ahead of time that they would not save us any money. But if you are there for more than three days or plan to cram a lot more in, a city pass might be well worth the money.

I also borrowed three books from the library that were tremendously helpful once we got there:

 Frommer's New York City Day by Day, Frommer's New York City: Spend Less, See More, and Fodor's New York City (the 2009 edition was the only one available at our library). All three were very helpful for navigating, travel tips, restaurant ideas, etc. They all had maps included, which was extremely helpful. {Also, each one had background information about the attractions. Unfortunately, I totally forgot about this. I had planned to enrich my children's lives by reading history to them, but alas: caught up in the now of the moment, I forgot.}

Amazingly, I planned perfectly. OK, so I could never have predicted that the weather would be so accommodating, and I might be telling a completely different story had the weather been cold and rainy rather than sunny and unseasonably warm (upper 60s) for March in NYC. But I planned our activities with plenty of room for flexibility, and that suits our family perfectly.

So here's what we did with two and one-half days and three nights in NYC!

Sunday afternoon-evening:
We arrived around 4 p.m., settled quickly into our room, and then took the subway to Central Park. We didn't really intend this, but we entered right at Strawberry Fields, which was on our "must see" list.

Then we just started walking, and Central Park behaved perfectly for us: there were several groups of musicians out busking (including a Beatles trio right in Strawberry fields), all kinds of music going on, dancing, and a general thrill that New Yorkers must feel on a sunny spring day in March. Here's a little taste of the sights and sounds of Central Park:

We spent a couple of hours meandering through the park, mostly watching people, and then we grabbed a bite from a street vendor, took a short trip into FAO Schwartz just for the heck of it, and then headed over to Rockefeller Center and Times Square. And wow! NYC at night was everything we expected: busy, colorful, and bright. We loved all the lights and tourists and especially all the people speaking different languages (and the famed Naked Cowboy, or at least a look-alike). What a fabulous experience!

We were absolutely exhausted after this, so we headed back to our hotel by 9 p.m. Total cost for our half-day in NYC: about $40 for food (street vendor and bakery/coffee) and $16 for the subway.

Coming up next: the Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, and Top of the Rock.

Friday, March 23, 2012

New York City, Family Style, Part 1: Lodging, Transportation, Food

This is Part 1 of 4. Read the rest here:
Central Park and Times Square
Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Staten Island Ferry, Top of the Rock
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

So this year when Randy asked "What are we going to do for our anniversary?" I said: "Let's go to New York City. With the kids." Now usually the two of us go to the mountains, rent a little cabin with a hot tub, do a little hiking, grill steaks, etc. But somehow, this year seemed like the year for NYC.

We started planning back in January for our March trip. I did lots and lots of googling and read a few blogs that reported on NYC trips. Cost was, of course, a factor. We put most of our money into our lodging and looked for low-cost activities that would give us a great taste of New York.

I read lots and lots of reviews, and I just really liked the sound of the Chelsea Lodge. Every review on various sites was positive, and that's unusual.

Laurel in our room watching the passersby
I am absolutely certain that we could have found accommodations that were much less expensive and just as nice; however, we were totally happy with our choice. The room was spacious enough and extremely clean and the beds were comfortable. For those who go from dawn until night and use the room only for sleeping, this might not be so important. But we were leisurely about waking up, having coffee and breakfast food (which we'd brought with us) in our room, and we came back by 7 or 8 each evening, so we needed a nice place in which to relax. Also, we loved leaving the bustle of midtown NYC for the relative quiet of a Chelsea neighborhood.

We drove to NYC (11 hours). Mapquest got us to our hotel perfectly. Make sure you have cash on hand for all the tolls leading into the city. I can't remember exactly, but I think the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels were both $12 and other tolls were a little over $2. Parking is expensive. I printed out several coupons for "guaranteed low price" on parking garages; however, Randy got totally rejected when he tried to give the guy a coupon. He was emphatic with "40 bucks firm," so we ended up paying $120 for our 3-days there. Still, we felt comfortable that our van was safe, and the price of tolls, parking and gas was still way, way less than 4 plane tickets! (Plus, I got a whole lot of reading done on the car trip!)

The subway: Duncan's favorite part of the trip
Once in NYC, we took the subway everywhere. It's easy to use if you have a subway map. A subway ride is $2. You have to buy a MetroCard, which you can get at pretty much any subway stop with your debit card (or cash). We  spent a total of about $60 for the four of us on subway tickets for 3 days. For Duncan at 11, the subway was possibly the highlight of the trip. He would have been perfectly happy to ride it all day. And riding the subway is for sure an essential NY experience.

Food is expensive in NYC—there is no getting around that. We brought breakfast foods with us: muffins, apples, granola bars, etc. I also brought snacks in my purse wherever we went: protein bars, fruit snacks, etc. and a couple bottles of water. Randy went out each morning and got coffee. We had a coffee maker in our room but no coffee. Plus, he really liked walking to a local coffee shop and feeling part of the city. I think the basic rule in NYC is to get a couple of streets away from the main drags to find food a little cheaper. The first day we grabbed hot dogs and kebobs from a vendor. You're supposed to do that in NY, right?

Blech. It was extremely unexciting, though edible. I was going for something amazing, something bursting with flavor. Again, perhaps a different vendor would have offered that, but these felt like a big waste of money at $18 for 2 hot dogs and two chicken kebobs. Later that same evening we splurged on cupcakes and black-and-white cookies (in upstate NY we call those half-moon cookies) at a bakery near Times Square. That was the absolute WORST black-and-white cookie I have ever encountered. It so scarred me that I never got another one while there. I don't know if the upstate vs. downstate definition is different or what, but I will have to make a batch of my own to satisfy my craving.

We had better success the second day with a huge slice of pizza each at a little place near the Brooklyn Bridge ($20 for 4 big slices and 4 drinks). For dinner that night we chose Lasagna, an Italian restaurant near our hotel in Chelsea. You don't even want to know how much our meal cost, but it was totally worth it. The food was excellent and the service spectacular, and we got to eat outside on the sidewalk, watching the passersby. Again, we chalked that cost up to experiencing New York.
Waiting for our lasagna at Lasagna Ristorante.

Our third day was a mixture of feeling outraged and enjoying a good meal. We ate lunch in the cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (more on that in Part 2). We spent nearly as much there as we did at Lasagna the night before (and I'm only exaggerrating a little bit) and the food was absolutely nothing special.  All of our meals at the Met were $10-$14. Our choices were based on weight, and we had very small portions. That said,  I'm not sure we would have done anything differently. We could have left to find a nearby restaurant, but I suspect we would have been so tired that we might not have returned to the museum. Also, the food nearby may have been just as expensive.

That last evening, we again chose a restaurant in Chelsea. This time we went for Spice, a Thai restaurant that had great reviews. We have a fantastic Thai restaurant in our hometown here in Tennessee, but we all agreed that Spice was much better. Again, we were able to sit at a table by the sidewalk, watching the city move. Totally worth it, and this was less expensive than Lasagna.

So, food in New York is expensive. Had we been a bit more adventurous, we might have walked a few blocks away and found less expensive options; then again, it is extremely possible that these prices are normal for NYC. Reading the reviews of Lasagna, I noticed several locals commenting that this was a great "low cost" option. It's all relative, right?

All of the above is really a prelude to what we actually did in the city! We went to New York to see and do stuff, after all!

But I would be breaking all the rules of blogging if I continued on with this extremely long post, so stay tuned for Part 2 of our NYC trip! In the mean time, here are a few photos to give you a glimpse of what we did.

Want to see what all we did in NYC? Check out these others posts:
Central Park and Times Square
Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Staten Island Ferry, Top of the Rock
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Celebrating National Poetry Month with Hands-on Poetry Projects

National Poetry Month is right around the corner! Since 1996, April has been designated as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets. It is a time to for people everywhere to celebrate poetry and its vital place in our culture. So what can you do in your family?
First and foremost, read poetry! Check out my article Reading Poetry with Children  on The Homeschool Classroom for an abundance of links and ideas for sharing poetry with your children. has a list of 30 Ways to Celebrate Poetry, ranging from “put a poem on the pavement” to “write a letter to a poet.”
Perhaps my favorite way to help kids fall in love with poetry is to integrate poetry with hands-on projects.

Below are several projects—ones that I have used both with my own children and in my creative writing classes— that are almost guaranteed to generate excitement about poetry!…

{Come on over to The Homeschool Classroom where I write about 8 great hands-on projects you and your kids will love!}

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Putting Pinterest to Use: Synonym Wheels

I originally saw the idea for a synonym flower or wheel or sun pinned from Hello Literacy. There weren't any directions there, but this is not a difficult project! The hardest part was stuffing my purse with the paint sample cards. I felt like a shoplifter, even though I know these are perfectly acceptable to take!

The idea is to put a common word, like "happy," at the bottom (or top, depending on the direction) and then find synonyms for that word. We actually all did this together as a family, although I intended to do it just with my 5th-grader. Everyone just happened to be around and kept yelling out words. This would be a great learn-to-use-the-thesaurus activity as well.

This was an incredibly easy and fun project, and we now have it brightening up our schoolroom. I really intend to do it with my creative writing classes, but 24 kids X 9 paint cards each is a whole lot of paint cards in my purse! (Yes, I know they will probably just actually give them to me at Lowe's or Home Depot.) I meant to write in the middle, "Instead of _____, Use ______" but I forgot and wrote "synonyms" instead. The idea, of course, is that instead of using the same old words over and over again, such as "awesome" or "nice," you can have a choice of sooo many others!

Isn't Pinterest an amazing resource? How have you used your Pinterest ideas this week?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up

 Making a Renaissance feast for European history class

 Celebrating our Compassion International girl's birthday at American Heritage Girls:

Enjoying the beautiful weather:

Attempting to do school with a fiesty new kitty:

Stimulating a little creative writing:

Last Pinewood Derby

 We've been reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in preparation for our trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art next week. How I love that book! It's one of my favorites from my own childhood, and it was fun so get to share it with Duncan. We watched the movie, too, but it's just not nearly as good as the book.
Besides the above, we've been doing all our regular stuff. Jesse was home last week, so we were a bit lax in our studies. We also had colds, and now we have a pretty serious case of spring fever. But guess what?

Spring break begins NOW! 

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Ultimate Field Trip

Guess where we're going for spring break?

I know! We are terribly excited. My mouth is watering already, just thinking about real New York pizza and half-moon cookies. Oh, and a bunch of other stuff, too, like taking the Staten Island Ferry, walking in Central Park and going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I haven't been to NYC since I was 20, and I'm itching to get there with my kiddos.

Just one more day to get through, and we'll be on our way!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Last Pinewood Derby

Last night was our 10th and final Pinewood Derby, at least with our own kids: 5 with Jesse and 5 with Duncan. Here is Duncan as a Tiger Cub at his first derby:

And here he is at his final one, last night:

Awww. He's such a sweet, energetic, friendly guy. He was so sad last night because his car didn't do very well. He's been accustomed to getting in the top 10, but something just wasn't right with his car. He held himself together absolutely fine while we were there, but he just melted down with sadness when we got home. Poor little guy.

But joy does come in the morning, and I'm sure he'll wake up cheerful and smiling, ready for a sunny day. And he is more than ready to leave Cub Scouts behind and start his years in Boy Scouts!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Three Beautiful Things

It's been a long, long time since I've done a "Three Beautiful Things" post. I don't know why, but I am determined to start again. Want to join me? There is something tremendously peaceful and gratifying about picking out specific beautiful things in your life. Like these:

Our oldest is home from college for spring break. I love quiet evenings like this, when we are all checking our laptops one more time before heading off to bed.

Peach blossoms at my parents' house. Exquisite.

A barefoot boy bearing a bouquet he's picked right out of the flower beds. Really, what could be more beautiful?

What sorts of beautiful things are in your world this weekend?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Putting Pinterest to Use: Newspaper Blackout Poems

I've seen this link to newspaper blackout poems pinned dozens of times, have you? So of course we had to try. Give my 11-year-old a black Sharpie and tell him to scribble things out, and he's all for it.

We took a newspaper article with "music" in the title, because that looked way more promising than one that said "voters" and "election" in it. We started circling promising words, crossing out names and dates, and then eventually began to see exactly how our poem was going to come together:

Music is my own family

Love taken,
put into practice

a bit of familiarity
folk and bluegrass and country…

We had so much fun making this project! My daughter came in as we were finishing and said she was eager to do one of her own. She did point out that when we blocked out the columns, the poem read differently than we intended it to. Next time, we'll leave the columns! But here is our final poem in its entirety:

Music is
my own family.
Love taken,
put into practice.

A bit of familiarity,
folk and bluegrass and country,
blues and funky soulful stuff.

Be careful—
it's hard for people.
really feels
right: in pursuit,
by my own voice.

harmonies so close.

A lifetime began,
hoping on stars.
Only sing:
I am.

Linked up with Pinterest Monday

Friday, March 2, 2012

Homeschooling Through High School {A Simple Homeschool post}

high school lockers

Homeschooling high school. Those three little words can alarm the calmest parents. I have seen the stress cross their faces and watched their hands clench tightly. “I know my daughter is only 8, but I am already getting nervous about high school!”

Oh, please don’t get nervous. Don’t throw away those precious years pondering how in the world you will teach algebra and chemistry and essay writing. Enjoy them while they still like climbing trees and making baking soda-and-vinegar volcanoes.

But one of these days, yes: you will have to think about high school. …

{Come on over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest of my article!}