Fun Friday Returns

School ended yesterday and we’ve wasted no time diving into our summer vacation rituals. Today, we indulged in our first Fun Friday of the season.  (For a review of what a Fun Friday is, check this out.)  Now that the kiddos are older, Fun Fridays are trickier to orchestrate.  Getting everyone to agree on a destination is becoming more and more difficult.  Gone are the days of care free acquiescence to any suggestion I make.  Instead, everyone has an opinion and no one can agree.  If today is any indication, Fun Fridays are going to offer the kids many opportunities for practicing deliberation skills, compromise, self-sacrifice, and graciousness.  It took a good fifteen minutes to decide on an activity this afternoon and even then half of the participants weren’t happy about it.  The plan: grab lunch from Subway and have a picnic at Lancaster County Park, then tour Rockford Plantation and wander the short Five Senses trail (which are both located in the park).

It was a gorgeous day to be outside.  My Perfect Weather said it would be and he was so right!  Sunny, temps in the low 80’s, light wind, and low humidity.  How I wish summer would be like this every day.

[ Can you tell who isn’t happy? ]

Once we finished our sandwiches, everyone was feeling better about the plan.  Food seems to have that effect on the Whimsey clan.  We headed over to Rockford Plantation to take the 2:00pm tour.  When we arrived there was a bustle of activity on the property.  They were preparing for a big Revolutionary War enactment with over 1,000 participants going on this weekend.  Why a Revolutionary War enactment?  Because Edward Hand, the original owner of the home, was a general in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War.  He sailed with Washington across the Delaware and was at Yorktown for the British surrender. He was Washington’s Adjunctive General and was awarded three stars by the time the war was over.  (I learned all this today!)

Rockford is a beautifully restored example of Georgian architecture, which is recognized by symmetry and balance.  The Hands built the house in the early 1790’s and lived there for less than twenty years.  Because no one who owned the house after the Hands actually lived in it (it was used as housing for tenant farmers), it was never really remodeled or updated until the 20th century.  Even then, just a little plumbing and electricity were added.  When the house was saved from demolition in the 1940’s, all of the hardware, windows, and woodwork were original to the house.  The house maintains a very authentic feel, right down to John Hand’s (a son) signature etched into one of the window panes in the dining room.  I thoroughly enjoyed the one hour tour.  Our tour guide was dressed in period costume and was very knowledgeable.  Unfortunately, none of my photos of the interior are blog worthy.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  I would have never guessed this bit of expertly restored history was so close to home.

[ Front of Rockford ]

[ Back entrance to Rockford ]

[ Goofballs ]

Supposedly, Rockford has a strongly documented history of paranormal activity.  One of the Hand sons committed suicide at Rockford in 1807 (I think) and both Edward and his wife died there earlier.  This information isn’t given on the general tour, but we had a gentlemen in our group who asked several questions about the topic.  For individuals who are interested (such as my daughter) Rockford offers ghost tours around Halloween.  Spooky….

We finished the fun by wandering the paved Five Senses trail.  It’s a short, manicured and landscaped trail that encourages the use of the different senses.  Our favorite section was the Smell area, which contains several boxes filled with different aromas like sassafras and birch bark.  All in all, a very pretty way to end the afternoon.

Some Advice to (almost) Guarantee Blissful (or at least sane) Travel Experiences with Kids of Any Age

Mr. Whimsey and I love to travel.  Most of the time, we want to take our kids with us.  So far, they have wanted to come along (knocking on wood).  Over the last fifteen years, we’ve had many incredible travel experiences as a family.  What I’ve come to realize as a traveling mom is that really great vacations rarely happen on their own.  They are created with deliberate effort.  Listed below are the essential ingredients I believe are necessary for parental sanity and memorable vacations regardless of the age of your child.

1. Know your child (or children).  Personality, stage of development, interests and anti-interests – they all play a part in determining destination and itinerary.  Toddlers who scream bloody murder if they are in a car seat for more than five minutes probably shouldn’t be taken on a cross-country road trip.  Likewise, teenagers who do not become human until noon should not be forced into daily crack-of-dawn activities.  Everyone suffers in these situations.  Unless you are one of those sadomasochists.  Which I’m guessing most of us are not. No. Wait.  Aren’t all parents sadomasochists?  Now I’m confused.

Moving on…

2. Plan accordingly.  Use your almost supernatural knowledge of your children to plan trips the whole clan will enjoy.  Perhaps an illustration is appropriate at this time.  I have three kids  – daughter (15), son (12 1/2), son (10).  As you can imagine, personalities and interests run the spectrum and planning trips can be tricky.  We would like to head to Gettysburg for the weekend next summer.  For the youngest son, the battlefield is a must-see.  To make it more enjoyable for the first son, we’ll probably ride bikes instead of driving.  The daughter would gladly endure all of this if there is the reward of a ghost tour in town at the end of the day.  In this scenario, everyone gets to do something that really interests them, as well as practice a bit of self-sacrifice, a necessary life skill in successful relationships.

3. Ask for input.  As your kids get older, they’ll have opinions about where they would like to go and what they would like to do.  Listen to them.  Then do the research and figure out if it can happen.  Realistically, not everything the little people in your family suggest will be feasible or desirable.  It’s OK to explain to them why the moon or the Disney Wonder are not possibilities.  Then work together to come up with satisfactory alternatives.  Getting the kids involved in vacation planning from the beginning pretty much ensures enthusiasm about and active participation in the experience.

4. Discuss expectations in terms everyone understands BEFORE you depart.  This will eliminate many of the issues discussed in the next item.  If your children know what you expect from them, they can make informed choices about how they will behave.  Talk about things like fighting, cell phone and iPod use, bedtimes, independence, how much time will be spent with the family, etc.  Once kids have this information, they are responsible for it.  When problems do crop up, as a parent you have the ammunition to say, “Sorry, this is not up for discussion.  You already KNOW the rules.”

5. Remember who’s the boss.  (Hint: It shouldn’t be your children).  Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean that the responsibilities of parenting go on hiatus.  As a matter of fact, the unique factors that make a vacation what it is might require even more parental diligence than normal.  It’s OK to relax the rules on some things like bedtime or the amount of junk food allowed in a day.  However, ignoring disobedience, mistreatment of family members, disrespect, and all-around rotten behavior is just asking for misery.  Yes, sometimes this means you will suffer the consequences right along with your little monster angel  – I hate that about parenting.  However, if you have any hope whatsoever of a pleasant travel experience, you have to be willing to play the heavy.

6. Allow age-appropriate independence whenever possible.  This can be as simple as letting your toddler out of the stroller or back carrier to run around.  Take younger kids to a playground and let them run around while you read a book or just relax. Older kids can go to the hotel pool, walk the boardwalk, or tour an amusement park on their own.  Trust me, 100% togetherness does not make for the best travel experiences.  Allow for some breathing room or you’ll end up hating each other.

7. Schedule down time.  It is so tempting when you travel to someplace new and exciting to go into overdrive attempting to “do it all”.  Don’t.  You’ll be headed for burnout.  Remember, no matter how exciting your vacation experience is, your little kids really just want to be back at the hotel or rental unit, swimming in the pool.  And completely depriving older kids of time to maintain their social connections will result in a full-blown vacation strike.  Always plan for some time to just hang out and relax.  Isn’t that part of the reason we take vacations anyway?

8. Be as flexible as possible.  When it comes to travel, planning is essential.  I, for one, probably fall into the uber-planner category.  I’m OK with that and so is most of my family – both nuclear and extended – because they’ve reaped the benefits of my obsession.  I am here to testify that no amount of planning covers every possible scenario.  Things happen.  It rains.  People get sick.  Rides break down.  Having a flexible schedule and attitude can go a very long way toward thwarting disappointment and tears.  Believe it or not, planning allows for more flexibility because Plan B’s are easier to pull out of your hat when you know what’s available.

9. Give kids opportunities to earn spending money.  My hubby and I are not big souvenir purchasers, mainly because I don’t want to spend my travel time shopping.  My kids like to buy things, though.  We’ve discovered that they make fewer and better buys when they use their own money.  It’s quite funny how discriminating they become when it’s their own money they have to part with.  And, it completely takes the pressure off the parents to approve or veto an item since it’s not our hard-earned cash flying out the window on the wings of junk.

10. If all else fails, go to a science museum.  These gems offer a wide variety of exhibits that are sure to satisfy the interests of almost everyone in the family.  The exhibits are very hands-on and kid friendly.  In these museums, kids are expected to meander and touch.  Often, IMAX theaters with great movies are connected to the museums as well.  The bonus – your children might actually learn something in the midst of playtime (gasp!).  My daughter, whose fifteenth birthday is just around the corner, still requests a visit to a local science museum whenever we travel.

Family travel is a delicate balance between scheduled togetherness and independent relaxation, between doing what we love and allowing others to do what they love.  It’s about spending time with the most meaningful people in our lives and making memories to talk and laugh about for years to come.  Using the above tips will help lay the groundwork for the best experiences.  The rest is up to you.  Have a great trip!

Oh, and if you have any tips, please share….

A Farewell to Summer

Summer is almost spent.  The sunlight is faded and the corn has turned brown.  I’ve even noticed the slightest hint of leaves changing from the dark green of summer to the yellows and russets of autumn.  Now is the perfect time to review my summer goals and decide if I’ve met with even a modicum of success.

1.  Read fours books.  (These are books for pleasure – I’ve read enough educational texts this summer to last me a lifetime.)  I’ve already mentioned Monique and the Mango Rains in an earlier post.  I also read a fun, somewhat mystical book by Sarah Addison Allen called The Sugar Queen that reminded me of Alice Hoffman’s writing.  Then, while in the Outer Banks in August, I devoured The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak.  While not an easy book to read because of the subject, it was impossible to put down.  (My daughter recommended it to me.)  I am now in the middle of House Rules by Jodi Picoult.  As with most of her books, the story is based on a difficult topic and is loaded with drama.  If I get on the ball, I may just finish it before the official end of summer.

2. Go to the beach.  I had the much anticipated pleasure of spending a few days at the Outer Banks (North Carolina) in August.  Although it was shorter than the trip I normally take, it was still heaven on earth.  Four blissful days of nothing but sun, sand, and sea.  For a detailed description, check here.

 

3.  Eat lots of corn on the cob.  I am sorry to report that I failed miserably at this.  The country store where I’ve bought corn for years was sold for development last fall.  I’ve been floundering trying to find a new favorite farmer’s stand.  As a result, this goal was a big fat fail.

4.  Try two new homemade icecream recipes.  I tried one new homemade ice cream recipe and it was so good, no one wanted me to make anything else.  My family really likes the icy, pure flavor of straight vanilla ice cream (no cooked eggs).  In the recipe below, brown sugar replaces the plain old white granualted variety.  The switch creates an ice cream with a rich, slightly caramel-ly flavor and a wonderfully smooth texture.  Watch out, though!  It will make your belly hurt if you eat too much.

Brown Sugar Ice Cream (makes about 5 cups) taken from The Best Ice Cream Maker Cookbook Ever by Peggy Fallon

3 cups heavy cream

1 cup half-and-half or light cream

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

5.  Make peach and rasperry jam.  This summer, I made peach and blackberry jam.  And, while I was performing the arduous task of cleaning out the freezer, I found several bags of frozen strawberries from last year already crushed and prepared for jam!  There are now thirty jars of jam tucked into the freezer.  That should last to at least the end of October, don’t you think?  (my family loves freezer jam)

6.  Attend a free concert.  I was lucky enough to attend three concerts at Long’s Park this summer.  They were all fantastic – Oz Noy Trio, Danny Kortchmer band, and The Paul Thorn Band.  I had every intention of seeing Hot Club of Detroit but the weather was iffy that day.  Instead, Lovey and I went to see The Help with my sister-in-law and niece.  Because the movie was so good, I can’t really regret missing the concert.

7.  Catch  a few lightning bugs.  This is another goal that falls into the fail category.  While I did spend many nights on the patio watching the lightning bugs go about their complicated courting rituals, I never bothered to get off my butt and catch any.  This is probably all for the best, however.  From what I understand, the lightning bugs were relieved to be free of all that harassment and trauma.

8.  Go camping for a long weekend.  We spent an eventful weekend at Hickory Run State Park in the Poconos over the Fourth of July.  I wish we had more opportunites to camp, especially in the fall.  Alas, with kids participating in the marching band and football, the schedule doesn’t allow it.

9.  Walk 3 miles, 3 times a week.  I was doing pretty well with this until the end of August.  My teaching schedule has interrupted my walking schedule.  I’m finally settling in to the new routine and the walking has begun to fall into place, too.  I would say I met 85% of this goal.  Give me another week and I’ll be up to speed once again.

10.  Survive Qualitative Analysis (and Research Methods).  Four hour classes of designing experiments, one and two-way t tests, and factorial ANOVA’s for twelve weeks straight – I was a mind-numb zombie by the time it was over.  But I made it!  Now I’m ready to conduct my own psychological experiment and perform all the data analysis.  Unfortunately, I’m not finished with statistics yet.  At this moment, I am taking a class on program evaluation which does contain some small amount of numbers crunching.  After what I’ve just been through, though, this will be a piece of cake!

Well, I did not reach 100% of my goals.  The corn and the lightning bug items are zeroes for sure.  On other items, I went above and beyond – making jelly, going to concerts, thriving in statistics – which balances things out in my mind.  Finally, while I technically didn’t achieve 100% compliance with books read, miles walked, and types of ice cream tried, effort was clearly demonstrated.  Because I’m feeling especially generous today, I’ll forgo my perfectionistic tendencies and claim victory. Even though I didn’t meet all my goals, I certainly had fun trying and benefited in numerous ways from the efforts.  There must be a way to use statistics to figure out exactly how successful I’ve been, but we won’t go there today.  I perfer to maintain my sanity – as fragile as it is, I need to be very cautious.

 

My Un-Bucket List (shamelessly borrowed from another blogger)

I was browsing through the Freshly Pressed blogs the other day and came across this.  Barb Best has a funny and interesting take on the Bucket List.  Instead of listing everything she wants to accomplish before she dies, she’s done the opposite, stating 25 things she doesn’t want to do before she “croaks”.  Because she is an award-winning comedy screenwriter, her list is going to be light years ahead of mine in the humor department.  But she sparked my creativity – I had to give it a try.  I thought it was hilarious that she called her list The F*#!-It List.  I’ll keep my list PG and just call it The Un-Bucket List.

My Un-Bucket List (25 Things I Want to Skip Before I Die)

1.  Participate in an ultimate fighting tournament.

2.  Sing the National Anthem at any sporting event.  (Even people who really can sing routinely foul this tune up.  I’m not taking any chances.)

3.  Return to Tijuana.  For any reason.  Ever.

4.  Buy another Pathfinder or any Nissan, for that matter.

5.  Swim with Great White sharks, wrestle alligators, or camp in a tent for months at a time in grizzly bear territory.

6.  Run a marathon.

7.  Experience bungee jumping.

8.  Have my identity stolen.

9.  Be a celebrity.

10.  Join a cult.

11.  Get a boob job, butt implants, or lip injections.  I don’t care what anyone says – they never look good.

12.  Win a beauty contest.  (Probably because of #11)

13.  Organize my underwear drawer based on color, style and fabric.  Life is too short.

14.  Make mountains out of mole hills.

15.  Dance in a rap video.

16.  Own this or this.  I’m just being realistic.

17.  Make brownies from scratch.  Box brownie mixes are just as good and take much less time.

18.  Expect peace on earth.

19.  Finish reading books or watching movies that I don’t like or care about.  Again, life it too short.

20.  Starve myself for the sake of vanity.

21.  Knowingly pay good money for medicore restaurant food.

22.  Miss out on life because I’m too busy to notice.

23.  Look to Hollywood for wisdom and insight on anything beyond entertainment.

24.  Publicly pose nude for any reason – even for a charitable cause.

25.  Give up the race (Hebrews 12:1).

You know, this list might be quite a bit easier to accomplish than the traditional bucket list.  I think I’ll get started on it right away.

A Totally Narcissistic Post

The autumn edition of the Boden catalog came in the mail a few weeks ago.  As I perused the little book filled with colorful and generally very expensive clothing, I noticed that many of the photographs had captions.  Each caption was a question posed to that particular model and her response.  I thought the questions and statements were fun and found myself answering them as well.  Today, I’m going to pretend that I am a Boden model (this will take a significant amount of creative effort) and that the whole world wants to know what I have to say in response to these many deep and thought-provoking questions.  If any questions catch your fancy, send me your answers.  I would love to read them as much as I enjoyed reading the models’ responses.  By the way – and this is completely off topic – I really like the models Boden uses.  Many of them are much closer to my age than the average fashion twig, and  display a very natural beauty that I appreciate.  And now, here they are, the Boden survey of questions, in no particular order.

I’ve always wondered why:  American culture defines beauty so narrowly and unrealistically

I’m no good at but I love doing:  Sudoku puzzles

I wish I could stop: eating potato chips

My life philosophy is:  live for God and the rest will fall into place

I’ll never forget:  the first kiss my husband ever gave me

The moment that changed my life: the birth of my daughter

I wish my man could:  sing like Harry Connick, Jr. or Paul Rodgers from Bad Company

Hopefully I will never learn to:  harbor resentment or bitterness

What scares the pants off me:  current world events

It takes real courage to:  admit I’m wrong and seek forgiveness

What is your latest obsession?  salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbuck’s

When I’m traveling I think about:  God.  No matter where I go, I am forced to recognize His love and creativity – in the natural world and in the people who inhabit it.

What is your greatest unfinished project?  This is a tie – my education OR the first floor remodeling mess that we are enduring at the moment.

Yesterday, I should have:  exercised

Tell us a secret:  Skinny-dipping is the bomb!  (I’ve just totally embarassed my kids)

What was your best catch?  my hubby

What’s in your picnic basket?  potato chips and homemade cookies

What is your favorite fetish?  Now that is a secret.

What makes you cry?  human suffering, especially involving children

What’s under your bed?  Nothing.  I hate clutter and my psyche can’t handle it.  Because clutter is out of control everywhere else in the house right now, my bedroom is my uncluttered sanctuary.

It takes a woman to:  make a man’s life beautiful

When I am angry I:  pray for clarity and self-control

What is your favorite car journey?   Man, this is tough.  I’ve driven the entire Cascade Loop, Route 1 in Califronia and Maine, the Kancamangus Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park – all singularly wonderful.  I think my favoritest drive, though, is through the southern river hills or the western and eastern farmlands of Lancaster county.  This place has such a understated, quiet beauty and is very near and dear to my heart.

I always underestimate:  how long it will take me to make myself presentable

I hate making decisions about:  what color to paint the walls

How do you know when you are happy?  I feel relaxed and smiley

What are you totally unrealistsic about?  what I can accomplish in a day

I love being asked:  for my recipes

The best day of my life:  I don’t have a single best day – I’ve had many and anticipate many more.

What advice would you give your 18 year old self:  Love your body and take care of it.  It’s the only one you’ve got and it will never look better than it does right now.

I wish I could stop:  dwelling on things I can’t change

One thing I would like to do this year:  buy a composter

What is your advice on ironing underwear?  People iron underwear?!  What for?  The only person who cares about my underwear would rather I didn’t wear any.

What will you never get credit for?  my intelligence – I’m overshadowed by too many other big brains

Who was your first pet?  (A pet is a who?)  a dachshund named Fritz

How do you make yourself smile?  I think about my kids

Well, there you have it.  My model interview.  I hope you enjoyed answering the questions as much as I did.  Do you think Boden will be giving me a call to model their clothing?  Yeah, I didn’t think so either.