Tuesday, July 4, 2017

You have to catch up somewhere!

I have gotten behind on my photos. I try to keep my digital frame up to date and update the blog simultaneously, and I have been trying to play catch up on both! I am not going to just say the last two months are a wash and start fresh, but at least I can start July off right- and that is with the 4th!
This year we went to the festivities at Carrboro, which was a nice family fun event- including pie eating contests that we will be signing Stephanie up for in the future!
There was the usual kid stuff- bounce houses, face painting, carnival games. Additionally, Stephanie got to participate in the sack race, bucket brigade and the water balloon toss. It was a hot day, but we only spent a few hours out (as a whole family-Hooray!) and had a good time.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Trials and Successes of Kindergarten

As our first year with a child in school wraps up, I have started feeling like it is really important to review the year. I keep the blog to mostly share pictures, but I also use it to reflect back when Gwen hits a similar milestone, and this feels like a big one that I would want to review when her turn comes in two more years.
There have been more surprises from Kindergarten than I expected:
Happy Surprises:
The morning schedule- I thought this would be a nightmare adjustment for us. Stephanie has not had any preschool or daycare the year leading up to Kindergarten since I had been home with her for the first time that year, and I was sure we would be wrecked having to get up early and out of the house. Not a problem at all- She is either awake before us or is (mostly) easy to rouse and we are mostly able to get her fed and out of the house with (normally) only a few reminders to get a move on. Generally, I take Stephanie in while Kevin and Gwen stay home, but if Gwen wants to go with us, we drag her along too. I walk in with her every day, and she sometimes finds a friend on the way in and runs off to the classroom with them and I am off the hook for the full walk.
Learning to read- Easy peasy (again, mostly). I tried to teach her a bit in the summer leading up to school- even the easiest of sight words were impossible and frustrating, and I was amazed that I had friends with kids in first grade that could read chapter books, because my kid couldn't figure out the pattern for sounding out cat, hat and sat. School started sending home sight word flash cards once a week pretty early on. She was able to catch on to most of them pretty easily (I think they practiced and stressed them at school), but there would inevitably be about five of the weeks words that she just didn't know and she would make all kinds of wild guesses, and those were always frustrating (making me really grateful that reading has been fairly natural for her- because even that small frustration felt big). Fast forward a few weeks, and she suddenly seemed to realize that there were 20 sight words, she knew 15 of them and she then memorized the five she didn't know and would make good guesses of the ones she didn't know based on a limited selection of words she knew she didn't know. I was totally impressed that she worked that out on her own. Fast forward to the end of Kindergarten and she is easily reading well above Kindergarten level and is well on her way to being able to read easy chapter books next year. I should say that while she can read, it takes time and energy so I think we are a few steps away from reading for pleasure, as it is still work to read.
Bad Surprises:
The afternoon schedule- I didn't see this coming! The bus arrives just after 3, but ideally Gwen would settle for a nap between 1:30-2:30, but that is hard if I have to leave the house just before 3:00. For a while we pushed through, napping earlier or just waking her up. As she is getting older and growing out of naps, she has gotten good at keeping herself awake. She would likely fall asleep around 2:30, but then I don't let her because it is just before we have to get Stephanie. So now I have a tired and manic three year old at the bus stop. I really like the bus stop people and it is nice to have some adult time, but it is next to impossible to break Stephanie and Gwen from the neighbor kids and get home without chaos- Gwen is trying to run around the streets, Stephanie is hiding in her friends car and then when I rally them we have to walk the block home. It is just a block! Why does it take 15 minutes? Gwen is inevitably pushing whatever car or stroller we used to get her to the bus stop, wandering into the grass and then back into the street, with Stephanie zig zagging right along with her. I would really like this time to be a moment for Stephanie to tell me about her day, but it nearly always turns into a stressful corralling process to the front door.
Mixed Bag Surprises:
Reintroduction of the Siblings- Some days we get home and Gwen and Stephanie play just wonderfully together- this is often better facilitated with a treat type snack AND outdoor play. Being trapped inside, not always, but more often, leads to bickering and conflict. You just can't always avoid the inside though! It took me a several weeks of adjustment to deal with Stephanie coming home and the chaos that it could rain down on our home. There are times I just resort to television. I figure Kevin and I unwind every night with a TV show so why not give Stephanie and Gwen that courtesy when the transition is getting ugly.
Friendships- For young kids these days, kids are referred to as "friends" in the classroom nearly uniformly by all adults, as in, "Why did you hit your friend in the face with that toy?" For the most part, the kids really are friends, and they care for each other. The kindergarten dynamic is actually very sweet, and I am surprised to hear Stephanie express her concern or admiration for a classmate that she has never talked much about. On the other hand, some children are not consistently kind, and often those same children can be exclusive. As kindergarten has worn on, she has talks about it more, so I have been spending time talking about what it means to be a friend, stressing that friendship isn't always easy, but it should make you happy most of the time. We are lucky that we play with several neighborhood girls her age that are well behaved, kind and generous. This is such a good model and I remind her that her time with the neighbor friends are what good friendship looks like. Interestingly, her neighborhood friendships are different from each other, and I think that also helps model that a good friendship doesn't have to meet any given set of criteria to make you happy. I think she gets it, and does normally seek out the kindest children, but her feelings do sometimes get hurt by her other "friends". This one is SO important to me. I want her to be a kind friend and I want her to play with kind children. I feel like we are on the right track but that we will need to be constantly keeping an eye on that track!
Homework- After Stephanie successfully completed and tested correctly with the teacher all of her sight word lists, they started sending home actual homework. This consists of one math sheet and one reading sheet with questions. She has one week to complete it and turn it in (I think absolutely nothing happens if she doesn't, but I am a deadline kind of gal, so I wasn't going to find out). The math is a breeze, partly because she can come and go from it, just completing a question at a time as she feels like it. The reading is far trickier. She has to read a full page story and then answer questions about it. That means it all needs to be done at one time, and her attention span has a hard time with that. Combine the fact that her time at school has to be focused with the fact that Gwen is playing while she is working and the reading homework some weeks is a real chore. I would be far happier with a short assignment each night than what we are doing. I am curious as to what first grade will bring.
As I was putting this post together, I asked Kevin and Stephanie what their biggest Kindergarten surprises were. Kevin said it was how much they learned. Stephanie said it was how much TV they watched. The truth, it seems, lies somewhere between their expectations, but I think closer to Kevin's. Kindergarten isn't what it once was- gone is naptime and learning colors and shapes.

A flashback to the first day!

Pictures of Stephanie with her teachers at "Kindergarten Graduation", which I think is kind of a bit of nonsense, so I like to think of it as the end of year Kindergarten program- and if it had been called that, I would have thought the whole thing was adorable.

And pictures from the last day. I made her shirt. I am still a little giddy about how it turned out.

Let the summer begin!!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Got to Be NC- second year

This year marks our second going to Got To Be NC. Last year was so much fun I declared that Stephanie would miss a day of school to go back this year. A year later, I was less confident about the plan, but it is the end of the year, so why not! We have missed school for the beach and Disney, so may as well as add a carnival.
The deal hasn't changed- $20 gets bracelets for the kids to ride as much and as may rides as they want. This year, the weather was sunny and quite warm. Last year was overcast and threatening rain. I prefer last year, as I thought I might melt a few minutes in! Many of the rides were self-shaded, and I tried to stand in whatever shade I could find.
Gwen has grown to 36 inches, which gave her access to a couple more rides, but not many more. Stephanie, at 46 inches, could still ride most, but the next cut off was 48 inches, so she also couldn't go on more rides than last time. Gwen struggled some that there were rides she couldn't go on, and I thought we would have to call it quits. We went with our neighbors, and we managed to pull enough together to satisfy Gwen and let the big kids ride the bigger rides and keep Gwen in motion and happy on the little rides.

Until our neighbors showed up, just a bit after us, I had Stephanie only ride with Gwen. Even the tiny rides were fun for them.

The picture above was from a Dumbo type ride that Gwen was not big enough for. It was the only ride that I let Stephanie go on before the neighbors got there. As it would turn out, the hydraulic line blew mid-ride. Some people were sprayed with yucky oil fluid, but fortunately not Stephanie.

Gwen was just big enough for the teacup rides this time! One guy that worked there offered that I could go with her on the ones shaped like strawberries (You might notice them in the background of other photos).  I went, and then was motion sick. Not terrible, but not interested in going on many more rides!

Did I mention there weren't many lines....?

Gwen was tired, and we had "won" these stuffed animals from a Geico booth. The operator tried to take it away before starting the ride. She wouldn't let him, and held the critter close the whole ride. Later, Blake managed to take the big kids away and Gwen became obsessed with a ride similar to this one and went around and around. It would end, she would change vehicles, and the operator would start the ride again. After many turns, she actually fell asleep towards the end of the ride. I didn't get a picture, but it was equally hysterically and adorable. It was also a sign that she was overly tired and we are still struggling with not resting though exhausted days later. I am glad she can push through when we want to, but often we don't need to- I will not miss this phase when it passes!
Did I mention it was really hot out? Because it was. Blake and I got the kids (and ourselves) Hawaiian Ice, and also spent some time indoors at the Food sampling event hosted by Lowes (grocery store not hardware store!). We all enjoyed the sampling- and then back to the heat! 

The dragon rollercoaster was a favorite! Looks like I have at least one hands up roller coaster kind of gals!

Stephanie has all the energy in the world. Our neighbors had to leave around 5:00, but we stayed to play a bit more- I had no plan and I told Kevin not to expect us until I texted him to expect us. Blake passed onto us her unused tickets, which gave me a chance to take Gwen on some bigger rides. At this point in the day, the operators (okay, carnies) were getting pretty flexible about size limits and what a "responsible person" looked like- they let Stephanie take Gwen alone in the Ferris Wheel, as at under 42 inches, a "responsible person" was required. Gwen finally got to go on some of the rides she had coveted earlier with Stephanie, and I went with her on some of the rides that the operators were more stickler about- which included the helicopter ride from the hydraulic line blow earlier in the day. It also included, as the absolute very last ride, a ride called "The Paratrooper". Gwen really wanted to go on it, but it looked really fast with way to much circular motion. When the operator would not let Stephanie take Gwen, I made them wait until the end. It was like I knew how much it was NOT a ride for me just by seeing it, despite Stephanie's assurance that it really only looked fast and didn't feel that fast. It was awful! Gwen was next to me, gleefully telling me that "this ride is super super super super super fast!" and I was just trying not to be sick. After the ride, I managed to stumble them both out of the park (Stephanie still skipping- and it was 8:30) and get them home. I will not be paratrooping it again in, but at least Gwen thought it was awesome.
I haven't mentioned this on the blog yet, but I am soon to be gainfully employed again, starting in August! I mention it now because I declared I wasn't going back again next year unless Gwen was big enough to ride the next tier rides- and then I realized that I wasn't going back next year anyway because of the new job (teaching at a private high school- not many flexible days off when you have summers off!). Kevin piped up that he would take them next year, as he has plenty of time off. And lets be realistic here- if anyone can do the paratrooper ride, it is Kevin- and next year it can be all his!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

First Beach Trip 2017

We had a blast in our off season September trip last year, and Kevin and I were both itching to experience the outer banks again, so we planned a mid-May trip. You always roll the dice a bit for the off season, and last trip we scored. This trip, not so much. My packing list included hoodies and umbrellas! We headed to the beach on Friday, cloudy and chilly. It rained overnight into Saturday. Saturday was mostly overcast and chilly. Sunday was beautiful, warm and sunny, so we crammed a lot of beach fun and activities in then. A couple of very good choices were made leading into the trip. First, we picked a hotel with an indoor heated pool AND we planned to use our aquarium membership during part of one day so we did that on Saturday. There was also a hot tub, and it was lovely to warm up in that before heading into the cold back to our room. I also brought the same kites that I have dragged to every beach trip and never used and they FINALLY were used- it was great kite weather since we didn't want to be in bathing suits in the sand for the first two days.
Friday we arrived in the very late afternoon. We enjoyed the indoor pool right away and then had some kite time. We also walked around a bit to all the souvenir shops close to the hotel. Saturday we did the aquarium and the pier (it was a bit nippy out there!). We walked the half mile on the beach to the pier and the kids did some water play right on the edge (the water was SO SO SO cold!). We did more indoor pool and grabbed dinner out and it was at least nice enough (and by "nice enough", I mean I only wore two jackets) to hang out on our oceanfront balcony in the evening while the kids settled (in perfect view of us via a large window). Sunday was a power day, because finally the sun was shining! We started with kites, then hit the pool again. After checkout, we spent a few hours at the beach, but only Kevin really went into the water (which turned his fingers white after a while). I am a sand person though, so the girls and I built sand forts and collected shells. Gwen was totally content, which was so nice and different from the last beach trip- during which she wore thin of sand play and started asking for snacks fairly quickly. We had to convince her to leave to do all of our other activities of the day, which included putt putt, ice cream and a light house.
Does she look like she is enjoying the wind? She wasn't, but she did think it was fun to fly the kites so easily!

Our hotel balcony- Stephanie dressed optimistically for Saturday. It was fine, except for on the pier- she was a little too chilly out there!

A couple of photos by Stephanie!

The NC Aquarium had an outdoor play area we did first...

A pocketful of her very favorite- honeysuckle!

And then into the Aquarium! This is right in the entryway- a live video of you with various animals "appearing" with you.

And then there was a Gwendolyn favorite- Darth Vader! She calls any tank diver Darth Vader, thanks to a day at Greensboro Science Center, during which the person outside of the tank said that the diver sounded like "Darth Vader". We have seen our fair share of tank Vaders over the years, but this guy takes the cake! He was waving kids over, posing for photos and doing tricks.

Trick #1: Blowing bubble circles!

He posed with Stephanie and then gave her bunny ears for a few- which I didn't realize until I reviewed the photos. It cracked Stephanie and the rest of us up!

Trick # 2- Upside down!

Petting the Sting Rays. She says she got to touch them 9 times.

Lion fish- and Stephanie through the tank. I thought this was a fun and creative picture!

Riding the Sea Turtle- an Aquarium tradition so far!

Speaking of sea turtles, they had a rescue center with turtles in tanks, which was interesting. They had a unique museum feature, in which you selected a plastic turtle, took it to a diagnosis station and then a treatment station. We assume it was equipped with an RF tag, and there where various diagnosis and treatments. This was popular, and we might still be there right now had we not convinced them to break for snacks. And then they made us go back to the sea turtles. Most engaging museum activity ever.

Sending a treated turtle back to sea!

They also had animals on displays. Stephanie petted the baby alligator, but was feeling a smidge apprehensive.

Then we walked the half mile distance to the pier. I have photos of Stephanie and the ocean from every trip from behind, and all of her interactions are different, but all hysterically natural.

Stephanie and Gwen got in their ocean edge play...


On the pier, Gwen genuinely asked me for a photo- and then she posed....

A wedding was set up on the beach. The driftwood statuary was weird and irresistible. We slipped in for photos just before wedding guests showed up. I guess that is what happens if you set your wedding up in a public space.

Sunday morning kite flying.

"Daddy lets the kite up a lot higher than you." or so I was informed.
We did the pool and the beach after the kites, but my camera was safely tucked away in the car. We lasted a few hours on the beach. Kevin really got in the water, but it was quite cold and rough, so the kids and I mostly stayed out of it and played in the sand. The girls played with him in the waves a bit, but that was all. After the beach, our final adventures- putt putt and the light house.
Stephanie spotted a putt putt with waterfalls on our way to dinner. I sort of wanted to go to the putt putt that I spent my summers at (side note- our family always vacationed as an extended family at Nags Head from the time I was pre-K to adolescent- so the old putt putt has been going for over 30 years!). Stephanie, however, was drawn to the shiny and new, so we went to the waterfall putt putt. Gwen fell asleep on the way there, and this place was a bit pricier than the others we saw in town, so we double checked that she was free before waking her (We thought she would really enjoy it, but we also knew she might be a bear if we woke her, and I didn't want to pay for the privilege to mini golf with a cranky 3 year old). She was free, we woke her, and she had a fantastic time. It started with a "train" ride to the "top" of the course, which was a unique mini golf experience. We had to spend a minute calming Stephanie down, as she would have busted through the course in 10 minutes on her own. Once we eased her excitement a bit, Kevin and I were able to take turns, and we let Stephanie go first and finish her turn and Gwen took as many turns as she wanted, used some unique techniques and played a little fast and loose with the rules- Nevertheless, she was thrilled each and every time the ball made it to the hole, even if she dropped it in by hand.

I thought it would be fun to compare my technique to Gwen's...

Line it up.

Get it in the hole.


Line it up.

Get it in the hole.

It is on celebrate that I really feel like I am lacking in comparison!
She killed us with the game. Every ball in the hole was worth dancing over. On the way home, Stephanie said, "Wasn't Gwen cute playing putt putt?".

After some mini golf, we picked up some ice cream.

And we also took the time to drive the few miles south to Bodie Island to see the lighthouse there. I was the one that really wanted to (but I had Stephanie fully on board), but it was getting a bit late and I was afraid I would regret the time it would take on the getting back on the road. Not true! It was really neat to see it and I would like to go back and climb it (they were out of tickets for the day AND it was too windy to go out on the observation deck anyway).

One last thing- On the way home we got to see the drawbridge open and let a boat through. I didn't get any great pictures, but for me it was a great way to end the trip- I find the drawbridges fascinating, they open and close fairly quickly, which means I haven't seen them open very often AND they don't stick you in traffic for long.
The weather wasn't ideal, but it ended up being nice enough. The kids also weren't without a few touchy moments- nearly everything we did had a moment where it looked like it might go totally south- but we managed to get everyone more or less back on track. Everyone ended up exhausted- we got home late- after 9:00 with both kids asleep (Stephanie didn't mean to fall asleep she told me later- we were all trying to get Gwen to fall asleep, and she was helping us out by being quiet- and that was all it took).