Speeding Toward Summer

June 9, 2012

Since Adrian moved out, the days seems to speed by at an astonishing speed.  Even with so much less to do each day, we’re keeping busy.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve done this past month:

Homeschool Co-op

We finished up our time at our homeschool co-op.  My story adventure class went really well.  I had parents tell me that it made a huge difference for the kids who normally avoid writting. They couldn’t wait to get home and write about our story!  I had many of the kids tell me they loved the class.  Several were already making plans about the story for another class next semester or planning to write stories on their own.

I’m very satisfied that my goals were met.  I fanned the flames of creativity and inspired many kids to enjoy the fun of creative writing. 🙂  By the end of the class, almost all the kids were bringing written work to class – completely voluntarily.  Several even had their own storylines going from week to week.  Kids who were shy about reading their writing aloud at the beginning were begging to be first to read by the end.

The class also brought an unexpected outcome for the 7th-8th grade group.  Even though I myself am a homeschooler, I’m still somewhat caught off guard when I see the middle school kids fall into the stereo-typical cliques and boy/girl tensions you’d expect to see in any public school.   When we started the game portion of our adventure story, these issues came right to the surface.  The kids’ characters wasted no time throwing one another in the river, withholding food or supplies or making rude/mean remarks to the other characters.

I’d planned to discuss conflict and it’s role in a story right at that point in our class.  I used it as an opportunity to let the kids stop and think on interpersonal relationships, both in the story and in real life.  I asked each child to consider how their character dealt with conflict and write about a conflict they experienced that demonstrated that.  Most decided that their characters were generally ‘good’ people and that they would deal with conflict in kind and mature ways.

Things changed a bit after that, both in the story and in the class.  There was more cooperation and friendliness, fewer ‘mean’ actions and words.  They used their character’s actions in the story and the stories they wrote to show kindness to one another.  And while no one called it out, you could see it affected how they acted toward the person behind the character as well.  It was an unexpected but pleasant side effect of our time together.

Testing

We got our annual testing over with.  We don’t have to test every year but I’ve found there are advantages for us.  First, the whole testing phenomenon is big.  Is it silly?  Yes.  Will it change?  I hope so.  But for now, it’s a big part of what our public schools are teaching – how to take a test.  It’s a skill and it can be learned.  While I don’t necessarily think it’s an essential skill for life, I also don’t think it hurts to have it.

Secondly, it makes for an easy end of the year assessment to comply with our state regulations. I’m lazy and writing up a narrative assessment for all 3 kids is work 😛

Third, it provides what a test should provide – an idea of how everyone is doing.  This is makes my husband feel better about the whole homeschool thing since he doesn’t see the work the kids do on a daily basis and doesn’t know, as I do, that they’re on target.  It also gives the kids an idea of how they’re doing.  It’s nice to have some objective proof of where they’re doing well and what they need to work harder on.

Home Repairs

AKA ‘Practical Arts’ as required by our state homeschooling regulations.

AKA beginning the long process of fixing everything Adrian broke.

The kids helped paint the bathroom, repair door knobs, clean out closets, move furniture and even make furniture for Adrian’s new place.  There’s still cardboard on the walls in most rooms.  We’ve got a long way to go…

Disney?!

Our family loves Disney World.  What better motivation to use to teach some basic programming?  We’re building a few simple apps for fun that will come in handy the next time we go.  The kids are helping with creating graphics, brainstorming ideas, data entry, programming…

Science Projects

Oh!  And school is still in session too!  June is our science project month.  The kids each pick a topic, research, perform experiments and do an oral presentation on everything they’ve learned.  They have the entire month just to work on this.  I think it’s a great way to wind down our year.   They practice many different skills while they’re preparing their own project and  the oral presentations mean that everyone learns about the other science topics as well.   Bonus!

As usual, we’ll be taking off the month of July from all school work.  We’re all looking forward to that.  With Adrian moved out, it will be the first ‘real’ summer vacation any of us have ever had.  Besides sleeping in, playing games and relaxing we’ll probably try to squeeze some day trips in as well….

As soon as we get through June 🙂

Disney 2009 – The Food

October 9, 2009

We’re back from another glorious Disney World vacation and it’s time to recap what worked and didn’t this go around.  Each trip we learn a bit more about how we can make things go well and I like to record it all while it’s fresh in my mind.

Food

Take Out is My Best Friend

We discovered a long time ago that eating in the parks just wasn’t going to work for us.  The food really isn’t all that great, it’s expensive and our autistic son just didn’t do well in the noisy, crowded restaurants.

Staying at the Ft. Wilderness cabins we’ve got a full kitchen—microwave, full oven/stove, dishwasher, full size fridge, pantry and table for 6.  But just because I could cook doesn’t mean I want to do that on vacation! 

For me, a major part of vacation is getting away from the cooking and cleaning and having the opportunity to try new foods.  Take out gives us that.

To make this work, I’ve found you really need to take the time to acquire the menus before or at the beginning of your trip.   We make a go around all the shopping centers in the area when we first arrive to pick up take out menus from any place that looks interesting. Yes, this takes a few minutes to do, but you’ll save a ton of time and energy later when tummies are rumbling and food is just a phone call away.  I keep the menus together in a book in our rental car so we can call and order the food on our way out of the parks.

Big chains are great because they usually have their act together and often offer options everyone in the family will go for.  Restaurants like Flippers Pizzaria, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chevy’s and Joe’s Crab Shack usually offer big takeout boxes packed neatly in a shopping bag.  They include all the condiments and even plastic utensils.  Even if you don’t have a kitchen in your hotel room, these would all work.

But I love getting to have things to eat that I don’t normally get at home.  In those shopping plazas you’ll also find little mom and pop shops offering everything from Mexican to Greek, from Cuban to Indian and everything in between.  Some of the best value and tastiest food we’ve found has been with these small family businesses.  It’s been a great way to introduce our kids to new tastes as well.

Grocery Shopping

I know, I know.  It’s vacation!  The last thing you want to do is go to a grocery store!  But trust me, a half an hour of time out of your weeks vacation can do wonders.  It’s worth it! 

We head to the grocery store from the airport.  Getting this trip out of the way helps me relax and sets us up for the whole week.  I find it very helpful to have a printed grocery list ready to go ahead of your trip.  That way you can be quick and efficient at the store.  Go ahead and get that Winn Dixie discount card if you know you’ll be making another trip to Disney in the future. 

Want to get your family excited about a trip to the grocery store?  Break all the rules!  At home cereal must be low in sugar but on vacation they delight in picking up cookies in a box or chocolate covered everything.  Everyone gets a say in choosing some frozen treats as well.  Yohoo is a big hit in my house and vacation is the only time they can have it morning, noon and night. 

While they’re all picking out cereals, frozen treats and sugary drinks I’m picking up basics for breakfasts, snacks and picky eaters.  A package of ready to bake cinnamon rolls works if you’ve got access to an oven and baking dish.   Individual packs of snacks work well to take to the park.  And simple meals like cheese sandwich or hotdog are great to have on hand to satisfy picky eaters who’ve decided they don’t like Cuban food.

Don’t forget to add some napkins, paper plates and plastic cups to your list.  Also consider getting small packages of condiments your family can’t do without.   Lastly, you’ll most likely want drinks to take to the parks to avoid breaking the bank.

While it may take a bit of time and effort, take out and a local grocery store can make eating on vacation a much more pleasant experience.  There’s really nothing more relaxing than enjoying good food in the quiet and comfort of your hotel room.

Disney 2009 – Packing

October 8, 2009

We’re back from another glorious Disney World vacation and it’s time to recap what worked and didn’t this go around.  Each trip we learn a bit more about how we can make things go well and I like to record it all while it’s fresh in my mind.

Packing

It had been 2 years since our last trip so when I went to print off the packing list I’ve been using for the last 7 or so… I discovered it needed a major overhaul.  No more babies, diapers, bottles, blankies…  What a relief! 

Clothing was pretty easy to do.  The best part about going to Florida from NY this time of year is that I can start to pack away the summer clothing ahead of time since the weather here is cooler.  I use the opportunity to make sure everyone has enough basics like socks and underwear as well—packing the new stuff away in it’s original packaging. 

Packing the clothing bundled in outfits makes it easy for even the youngest  kids to grab their own clothes to get dressed while ensuring that tops and bottoms will not clash.  The larger sized plastic baggies they sell these days are great for keeping everyone’s clothing separate and easy to find.  They also keep everything tidy and dry should inspectors or rain try to make their way into the depths of your luggage en route.

In years past, we had enough room in the cabin to put the kids clothing in the drawers available in our Ft. Wilderness cabin.  This year only the youngest child’s clothes fit.  So the labeled baggies became an important way of keeping everything neat and easy to find for the older kids who had to keep their clothing in the suitcase.

After many disasters with leaking liquids, especially the sunblock, I’ve found that baby wipe boxes and sturdy shoeboxes are the best place to hide away things that could suffer from getting squished.  They worked well for the fragile spraybottle fans and cart decorations too. 

Since we make a run to the grocery store upon arrival anyhow, I’ve found it works better to simply buy some of the toiletries rather than try to bring them.  While there we went through an entire ‘normal’ size bottle of shampoo and conditioner and a full 4 pack of bar soap. 

I’m a little weird about toothbrushes.  The thought of packing a used toothbrush just doesn’t sit well with me.  Nor do I like leaving them on the counter in the hotel.  Instead I pack new toothbrushes for everyone, either cheap ones I buy or freebies from the dentist, and we toss them instead of bringing them home.  This year I finally solved the problem of having toothbrushes laying around (and the unpleasant thought of having the maid touching them all up every time she cleans) by bring along a foam koozie I bought at the craft store for a buck.

Another thing I’ve added to the new packing list this year are the foam earplugs.  I bought these originally for my youngest who is a bit sensitive to the sound.  But when the girls complained about having to share a bedroom with snoring big brother, they turned out to be a best buy indeed.

The 5 large LL Bean rolling duffles were perfect this time around.  Enough room for everything without making the bags overstuffed or too heavy for the kids to roll. 

We got away with only 2 carry-ons this trip but they were a bit heavy.  Not sure that can be avoided as I refuse to pack any electronic equipment in the checked bags.  The trip to Florida we nested the kids activities bag inside another one.  The idea was to remove it to make room for the wheelchair arms and legs.  But on the way home we had so many souvenirs that I ended up leaving the arms and legs on and instead used the extra bag to carry those. 

 It all worked out pretty well.

Planning for Disney

May 5, 2008

With the hubby busy getting his Masters (and shelling out the bucks for it), we’re holding off on our usual once (or twice) annual trip to Disney World this year.  It’s hard!  What can I say, I’m spoiled!

I should really be avoiding anything Disney right now so I won’t be reminded what I’m missing…. but I just can’t resist Jennifer’s carnival on Disney over at Snapshot

This past Friday she asked about trip planning.  Oh yeah!  Not much I love more than preparing for a Disney trip.  Thinking on it more though, I realized I probably don’t have much to offer in the way of advice for newbies.  We’ve gone so many times that we don’t put much thought into where, when or how we go any more. 

In the past our family has stayed at Disney’s Beach Club, Yacht Club, AllStars, Contemporary, Animal Kingdom, Key West and Carribean resorts.  We’ve also experienced staying off site once.  Now we know what works for us so we always stay at the cabins at Disney’s Ft. Wilderness.  If you have a large family or a child with autism, this is the way to go!  The mobile home sized cabin features a bedroom with a full sized bed and a set of bunk beds, a murphy bed in the living area, a full kitchen (full size fridge, microwave, stove, dishwasher, dishes, pots and pans, dining table for 6), two tvs, and most important of all – space between cabins so your kids aren’t always waking the neighbors!

My favorite time to visit is October.  The weather is perfect, the crowds are light and you have to try the Food and Wine Festival in Epcot. YUM!  The hubby and the kids also like to go in May for Star Wars Weekends.  It’s just too hot for northerners like us in the summer and being that we homeschool, we’ve got no reason to go in the spring when everyone else is there.

We tend to go for 9 or 10 days at a time so most often we purchase annual passes.  Last I checked, if you’re going to the parks for 7 or more days, these are the best deal.  We often get 2 or 3 trips out of ours so they’re definetly worth it for us.  The bonus here is that we can go for a few hours the day we arrive or chill in our cabin in mid-day heat and I don’t have to feel like we’re ‘wasting’ our ticket for the day. 

That’s all no brainer stuff for us.  But each trip has to have a plan.  Here’s where we spend our time and build the excitement.  A couple of years ago I made our own personal Ultimate Disney Guidebook.  It’s got everything we need.  Printed menus from Allears.net, maps of all the parks, lists of our favorite rides and restaurants and THE PLAN.   For each day I plan which parks we’ll visit based on the hours, extra magic hours and special events.  We get votes from everyone on where they’d like to eat (the menus come in handy here) and make the reservations.  Then I print it all up on a master plan sheet complete with a list of all the park hours (so we can make changes on the fly) and it goes in the front of our guidebook, ready to help us make the most of our trip.

Besides that, preparations for the trip usually include the little things I like to do to make it special.  I make audio CDs full of Disney music, personalized t-shirts and car magnets that go with our trip theme, luggage and ID tags for the kids.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to get the kids to make a paper chain to count down the days!

 

 

Dreaming of Disney…

April 27, 2008

As if it weren’t bad enough that I’ve been working non-stop and feeling desperate for a vacation, I had to come across Jennifer’s carnival on Disney World.  I’ve already been having withdrawal symptoms since it’s been a whole six month since our last trip.  Reading all the posts on what a good time everyone has there doesn’t help!

Ah, yes.  The magic of Disney.  One of our most magical and memorable times at Disney was four years ago.  We went in the spring so we could catch Star Wars weekends (another one of our family’s obsessions).  My husband and I celebrate our birthdays together being that they’re only 8 days apart and our trip was scheduled right between them.  So we had to celebrate our birthdays at Disney!

It was a big trip.  And by big I mean everyone was coming along.  Besides our family of six, there was my mother and father-in-law, my brother in-law, sister-in-law and our nephew.  With such a crowd I opted to go all out for a birthday celebration.

We sent everyone invitations telling them to meet us on the Fort Wilderness dock at 7pm.  Everyone was surprised and elated when our birthday boat arrived decorated with balloons.  Our captain took us for a cruise around the lake.  Poor thing tried to tell us little known facts about Disney as we went.  With all our Disney experience, we ended up teaching her a thing or two instead. 

It was a beautiful night.  As the sun set we stopped in the middle of the lake and our Captain pulled out the cake and sodas.  We were all so relaxed and enjoying it so much.  Then it was time for the fireworks!  The captain told us that once we saw the fireworks from the boat, there wasn’t any going back… and she was so right!  There really is no better place to watch the show. 

It was an awesome experience for everyone.  Four years later everyone still agrees that was the best Disney experience ever! 

 

Beyond the packing of the clothes and sunblock, I feel it’s my job as Mom to make our trips memorable and special.  To that end, here are some of the things I do for our Disney trips:

  • Shirts – This is the 3rd year the kids have had personalized shirts to wear at Disney.  This year’s theme was The Incredibles so each of us had a different character and quote from the movie. On the back of the kids’ shirts is a list of all their Disney trips.  We all wore our shirts on our first full day in the parks.  We were stopped by members of the ‘Dream Team’ and given a certificate for free ice creams for our creativity.
  • Car Decorations – It started as a way to identify our golf cart among the hundreds of identical ones at Disney’s Fort Wilderness but the car/cart decorating has grown into a much loved tradition.  I make our own car ‘decals’ by printing our designs, placing them on magnetic sheets and then laminating them to make them waterproof.  We made our rental van into the ‘Incredi-van’ by putting The Incredibles logo on the sides, pictures of Jack-Jack and Syndrome on the back and hanging pictures of other characters (with suction cup hooks) on the windows inside.
  • Music – Nothing makes our trip more ‘Disney’ than our homemade music CDs!  Using all of our music files, I prepared 6 audio CDs worth of fun music.  I keep them in the carry-on luggage so from the moment we pick up the rental car, we’ve got our tunes.
  • Lights – Sure, we could shell out $15-$20 a kid for those fancy light up toys they sell in the parks… but we bring our own instead.  I’ve done this for years and surprisingly, the kids seem to like it that way. 
  • Food – I think vacation is a perfect time to have forbidden treats.  Ask my kids what they love about going to Disney and one of the top 5 responses you get is cereal.  Yes, breakfast cereal at Disney is a big deal.  You see, I let them pick whatever they want, something that never happens at home where sugar content and prices dictate acceptable boxes.

This was our 8th Disney World trip as a family.  We’ve got this down to a science.  Here are my best trip tips.

  1. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Cabins – if you have a large family or a child with autism, this is the way to go!  The mobile home sized cabin features a bedroom with a full sized bed and a set of bunk beds, a murphy bed in the living area, a full kitchen (full size fridge, microwave, stove, dishwasher, dishes, pots and pans, dining table for 6), two tvs, and most important of all – space between cabins so your kids aren’t always waking the neighbors!
  2. Two-way Radios – if your party needs to split, these make it so much easier. 
  3. Light Your Way – a few years ago I was looking for a cool way to decorate our golf cart and stumbled on electroluminescent wire, or EL wire.  I purchased one and discovered it worked best on Adrian’s wheelchair.  When we turn it on, people take notice – and move out of the way!  When we started bringing Zee’s stroller too I bought one for that too.  Now people move out of our way and they know we’re together so they don’t step between us.  It also makes it easier for the girls to spot us and stay with us in the crowds.
  4. Don’t Squeeze the Sunblock – Our first few trips we had sunblock explosions in our luggage.  It was contained in the toiletry or plastic bags, but it was still a mess to clean up.  So I started packing the sunblock, along with our other toiletries, in a shoebox.  We haven’t had a sunblock spill since.
  5. Outfits to Go – I’m all for doing less work on vacation.  To that end, I roll the kids’ complete outfits and secure them with a rubber band (or hair tie) and place them in a marked plastic storage bag for the trip.  Upon arrival I empty the contents into separate drawers and tell the kids which drawer is theirs.  Each child can then retrieve a bundle from their drawer and dress themselves without my help.  Ahh.
  6. Poncho Pouch – Ditto for the ponchos.  Each is rolled and secured with a different color hair tie so everyone can find theirs quickly.  Having a few clothes pins in the bag is also helpful for securing the ponchos to wheelchairs, strollers or squirmy kids.
  7. Be Prepared – We’ve learned the hard way to keep a bag with spare clothes and bathing suits in the rental car.  You never know when accidents or water rides will hit you.