Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Stratford Hall and Halloween

On October 28, we went to Stratford After Dark. It was a fun event. We have been to Stratford Hall a couple of times before this trip. Our first visit was shortly after Luke was born and then we went to an Independence Day event a couple of years ago. It is fairly close to George Washington's birthplace and that area is beautiful. Although best known as the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, Stratford Hall was also home to two signers of the Declaration of Independence and is another beautifully preserved home with a nice visitor's center.

It was at an awkward time, starting at 4. We planned to get there around 4:30 and packed a picnic dinner, since there are no convenient places to eat nearby. I am used to the Halloween events we go to being packed, but the parking lot was pretty empty and it was quiet inside. The kids got their faces painted and we did a couple of crafts, then we had our picnic.

We came back inside, had some cookies and apple cider, then decided to get our palms read. They also had Tarot Card readings, but I didn't want the kids to do that. The Palmist was a nice lady who reads palms as a hobby. She made it very clear to the kids that everything she said was just in fun and not to take it too seriously.  I had my palm read too, but Thomas did not (he took Luke outside instead). The four of us had some things in common, like we are all really smart (so far, that woman was 100% accurate!). Me and Jack had a mark showing an interest in the occult and spooky stuff. Anna and Jack both had a heart line, which I guess is more unusual for boys and the palmist remarked that the girls are going to love his romantic side. :) Jack also had a double life line, which is another rare mark and indicates protection against disease and illness. There was a lot more, like Anna has a "tremendous imagination," Kara is very creative, and Jack and I both enjoy cleverness and being around witty people. Some of it was extremely inaccurate, like Jack and Kara like change. Kara especially is all about routine. Also, that Anna keeps things to herself--maybe that will be a trait that shows as a teenager, but for now, she is an open book who lays everything on the line (sometimes in minute detail, in fact, both girls are that way). Regardless, it was really fun.

Kara and the palm reader
From there, we went outside and roasted marshmallows. We also did the trick-or-treat trail. The kids got some good candy and had fun walking around the beautiful house. After that, it was time for our flashlight house tour. It was a little spookier than I had expected and actually scared Kara a bit. They talked about ghost sightings and apparently it is one of the most haunted houses in America. Of course, none of the tour guides had ever actually seen anything, but they had some fun stories to tell and most of us enjoyed it.
Roasting marshmallows

On the trick-or-treat trail

Cute kids in a pretty setting

My favorite picture of the night

Jack wanted me to take his picture pretending to fall off the wall, I didn't notice what Anna was doing until it was over, but the final shot made me laugh. 
When that was over, we did the hay ride and then called it a night. It was a really fun event, it was not free, like a lot of Halloween stuff is, but we don't mind paying to support things we enjoy (like historical sights) and maybe charging keeps the crowds down, because it was not at all busy (it was well-attended, just not crowded).

Sunday, we went over to the Wills' house to carve pumpkins, eat cookies and drink warm cider. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of our pumpkins all lit up. They were pretty generic this year, but we had fun.

This was my only carving picture

Luke decided painting was more fun than carving.

On Halloween, we went to a neighbor's house for a potluck. It was the third year in a row and is a nice tradition. I like not having to worry about dinner on Halloween and it makes the day even more festive. After that, we did our traditional pictures and then headed out to trick-or-treat. I was really looking forward to the experience with Luke. He had so much fun last year and we expected this year to be even better. But, he was kind of cranky and difficult. He was mad that he didn't get to ring doorbells (people just sit outside or leave candy on their porch while they walk with their kids). He also wanted to be the first one to go to every house. Generally, he was just a brat. At one point, Thomas took him home because he wouldn't stop crying when someone else dared to walk ahead of him. After that, he was a bit better, but never as happy as we had expected. Everyone else was cheerful and cooperative. When we got home, Luke and Kara sat outside and passed out candy. Actually, Luke demanded to pass out the candy and got mad when Kara tried to give any away. Fortunately, for him (and Thomas and me), the older kids were really patient with him.

We told Anna she wasn't allowed to smile. Luke apparently has a new camera face.

I forgot to take a nighttime picture, we also had one of those projectors in an upper winner broadcasting spooky scenes.

Overall, 75% of our kids were great and we had fun!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

More October

We had school conferences on Columbus Day. The kids are all doing great. On their midterms, two of them had straight A's and the other only had a single B. I am sure eventually school will be more difficult/challenging, but for now it is nice that we have no worries in that area. Of course, we have plenty of worries in other areas, but that's a topic for another day.

The kids aren't missing sports and we definitely aren't either. I know it is the thing for kids to be in organized activities, but we tried it and it wasn't our thing. As a wise friend said (that's you, Alecia), if it's something they are passionate about, they will be the ones asking and putting forth the effort. We were definitely the ones driving the ship. Jack was more than willing to play baseball and he never complained about going, but he rarely wanted to practice with Thomas and wasn't striving to get better. Kara tried soccer, but we had to fight with her on practice days. She liked baseball practice, but didn't like the games and as it turned from t-ball to machine pitch, she wasn't interested. Finally, Anna. She also did t-ball and soccer and while she was the best sport, she probably got the least enjoyment. So, here we are. It's a Saturday and the kids have been playing outside for the past 3 hours. I have no regrets! (As a side-note, if they had been more excited about sports, we were willing. Oh, and we also tried dance). We still have Luke, so we'll see what happens there.

Fall activities have been a little more relaxed this year too. We skipped the Haunted Dove. We loved it last year, but the kids were cranky that day and we just weren't up for it. We did do the Fall Festival at Mount Vernon. The girls made corn cob dolls, which was super cute. Like last year, they had some people staying in character in the slave house. Hearing about the lack of quality of life was really sad. Our family loves George Washington, but he shouldv'e been better than that. Like last year, they had the little hay bale maze. Also, like last year, Luke loved it and just ran through over and over again. We had lunch, then spent a little time in the museum. From there, we decided to check out the distillery. It is really cool to see how they managed to do things without electricity or other modern conveniences. Luke wasn't interested in going in, so I stayed out with him. It is in a beautiful setting and Luke used the time we were alone to repeatedly roll down the hill.

For whatever reason, Luke insisted we take his picture on this rock.

The very popular (with the preschool crowd anyway), hay bale "maze"

With their corn husk dolls and if you look to the left of Thomas, who do you see running through the maze.

The kids also had their book character day at school. Anna and Kara were legit again and went as characters from actual favorite books (Harry Potter). Speaking of which, there were a lot more Harry Potters this year. I am so glad it is still popular and relevant.

See if you can figure out what Jack was. Here's a hint, he wasn't a "ghost cow" like many of his classmates thought. I felt a little bad because we worked hard making his costume and he was really excited about it.

I was thinking we hadn't done much, but looking at my paltry pictures, I was reminded that we also did chocolate mummies at Heritage Chocolate and went to Forrest Hall Farms with friends. It isn't the biggest corn maze in town, but we really like it. Plus, it is small enough, that we felt comfortable letting the kids go in a second time by themselves. Of course, they got lost and we had to retrieve them, but everyone still had a great time.

Our chocolate mummies. Almost too pretty to eat.

Lost in the corn

Today, we are going to do After Dark at Stratford Hall (so, I am belated in adding pictures and posting, we went last night, but I'll still add details to the next blog). We haven't done this event before, but I've been looking forward to it for weeks. Stay tuned for the next blog to hear how it goes. We have that, pumpkin carving, neighborhood Halloween party and trick-or-treating left. I am not sure when Halloween turned into such a major holiday, but no complaints from anyone in my house! Oh, we also decorated outside this year. Perhaps, I will remember to get a picture (raining right now).

Monday, October 9, 2017

Jack and Anna Turned 10!

Our oldest reached the decade milestone this week. Double digits! Great Wolf Lodge was their gift/party, but we still saved some celebrations for home. The day before their birthday, they were very sweet to each other. They went on a scooter ride together through the neighborhood, "one last time as 9 year olds," and, they even hugged each other goodnight. They wanted to have a sleepover, but since it was a school night, we had to say no.

On Tuesday, their actual birthday, we had Jack's requested dinner, stuffed crust Pizza Hut pizza (again) and Anna's cake, a homemade cookies and cream ice cream cake. Originally, I had thought about doing cupcakes with their neighborhood friends, but ultimately, we decided to just ask the Wills family to join us for pizza.

Seeing this picture makes me want another one of these cakes.
The kids used their allowance to get each other presents. Jack and Kara joined forces to buy Anna Hufflepuff robes. Kara got Jack Disney Infinity 2 for the Wii and Anna got Jack Army Men. We held true to our promise that they can choose between a party, an outing, or a nice gift.  We did get them small birthday gifts, a shirt and book for Jack and a shirt and hair bow for Anna, I think it came out to less than $10/each, so I am saying close enough. They were mostly happy with what they got, although Anna did make a minor complaint that she didn't get any toys. You can't win them all! The Wills gave them giftcards for the movie theater and they got some money from relatives, so they were pretty spoiled when all was said and done.

Luke got to "help" Anna open her presents, he looked forward to this all day.

In addition to his other gifts, Kara wrote Jack a story, "Snoopy and Not the Red Baron".  Destined to be a classic.
On Friday night, we had Anna's chosen meal of loaded beef nachos and Jack's "Deathly Hallows" cake. His only cake request was that it have the Deathly Hallows symbol. I ended up taking the easy way out and ordering an icing sheet for his cake. I did make him a homemade chocolate cake with buttercream icing, but the decorating was a definite shortcut, although he was happy. The kids probably don't realize the amount of time I put into their cakes when I wasn't working. I would literally spend hours planning and executing. They didn't always look like that amount of time went into them (I recognize that I lack artistic talent), but it did.

Anna's beefy nachos

Jack's Deathly Hallows cake.
As I have seen others do, in honor of their 10th birthday, here are ten things about each of them:

1) Wants to be a vet when she grows up
2) Is an excellent, conscientious student
3) Loves to read
4) Gets joy from helping others
5) Is a new fan of JoJo Siwa (a teenage YouTube "celebrity")
6) Has strong feelings on just about everything
7) Has a tendency to be messy
8) Is good at reading other people's emotions
9) Has a lovely singing voice
10) Is protective of her siblings

1) Loves to read
2) Is a huge Star Wars fan
3) Enjoys anything that has to do with early American History
4) Wants to be a war reenactor
5) Wants to be a politician when he grows up (despite our best efforts to convince him otherwise)
6) Is the hero of many little kids in our neighborhood
7) Loves to play Disney Infinity on the Wii U and with his Army Men
8) Can name all the Presidents in order
9) Has a quiet, introverted personality
10) Is a really smart student who has a goal of getting straight As

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Great Wolf Lodge 2017!

Once again, Jack and Anna requested a trip to Great Wolf Lodge to celebrate their birthday.  As we have done in the past, we decided to take advantage of fair day. We planned to go up on Thursday, which meant the kids would only miss that day of school. Unfortunately, I still had to go in to work for a few hours. Since I only started two months ago, I don't have much time saved and I am sure I will want a day or two around the holidays. Therefore, I went in at 5:45 Thursday morning, to get a half days worth of work in.

We headed up late Thursday morning, stopping for lunch along the way. We checked in and headed straight to the waterpark. For Luke, the difference a year made was huge! He was all about the slides. They also changed the height requirements, so the only thing he could not go on was the Tornado (probably the surf board thing too, but we didn't go over there). He was very enthusiastic. First, he tried the baby slides, he just went up and down, probably a hundred times. He was able to stand himself up at the end and was tall enough that he didn't need a flotation device. Then, I asked him if he wanted to try the family raft ride. Last year, we went on it and he hated it! Several times, he would think about going, we'd climb the stairs, and then he'd change his mind. Not this year! We rode that thing repeatedly. Then, we rode the two faster slides. I thought for sure he'd be scared, but he wasn't, not even a little bit. We rode and rode and rode.  He still doesn't like the giant bucket, but he was willing to climb the structure to get to the slides up there, although, he didn't like them as much as the tube rides.

So, what were the older kids doing all this time? We have no idea. Like we did last year, we were with a group of friends. There were something like 6 families from our neighborhood who joined us and all the bigger kids just ran off by themselves. Every now and then, we'd spot one racing by and I think they may have occasionally joined us on the family raft ride (one here or there). But, with their friends there, they didn't need us.

We played for almost 4 hours and then realized we needed some dinner. Jack and Anna wanted to go to a sit down restaurant. I was hoping for Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel, but they chose the very fancy Taco Bell. At least it was close. We had our quick dinner, and went to Walmart to pick up some breakfast food. We made it back just in time for story time. Jack and Anna didn't want to see the show or hear the story, so I let them wander the hotel by themselves--in small increments. They had to check in with me every 5 minutes. Luke HATED the lobby and avoided it at all costs. So, Thomas put him to bed while we were gone.

Friday morning, we had donuts, cinnamon rolls and bananas for breakfast and were at the door to the waterpark when it opened at 9. One of Kara's best friends from school was there too! Her parents had texted us to let us know that they were coming up after the girls had mentioned it to each other at school. It was a complete coincidence, and the kids were thrilled. They raced around together all morning. At some point, some of the kids discovered that they went faster on the tornado if they had grown-ups with them, so they would occasionally come find us to ask us to ride. But, mostly it was a repeat of Thursday.

We left at lunchtime so that we could visit the Yorktown Victory Center (which is now called the American Revolutionary War Museum or something). I volunteered to stay in the car with Luke while he napped, and Thomas and three older kids went in. Luke ended up napping for the entire visit. I didn't mind the quiet time and figure we'll make it back there at some point soon. Thomas said the museum was really good. The interior had a good combination of artifacts and text-based information. There were lots of interactive multi-media displays. Additionally, there was a very large outdoor area with an encampment and a colonial farm. There was artillery and demonstrations and lots of reenactors. Everyone enjoyed it. In fact, Thomas and the kids upgraded to an annual pass, knowing that they want to explore more. It is about 2.5 hours away, so it would be a long, but doable day trip. The pass is also good for Jamestown, which everyone enjoys.

We ate dinner at the hotel and had a surprise waiting for us when we got back to the room. One of our friends (who went anonymous, but I'm pretty confident I know who it is) sent the kids a birthday package. There were 6 whoopie pies (delicious!) assorted milks, two t-shirts for the birthday kids, cups, pens, and ice cream coupons. They were thrilled! It was really thoughtful and very appreciated. After that, went back to the water park for a couple of hours. None of our friends were there, so Thomas and I were once again in demand as ride partners.

After we put the kids to bed, I hung out with the ladies for about an hour to celebrate my neighbor Kayce's birthday. There was wine and chocolate and fun conversation. We had a good time chatting and it was a nice way to end the day (as a side-note, I was amazed at how many little kids were still wandering around after 10pm).

Saturday morning, the kids were okay with skipping the waterpark. Instead, we packed everything up and headed to the awesome Air and Space Museum in Hampton. The kids had a great time last year and were anxious to repeat the experience. Fortunately, it did not disappoint. Luke loved the luggage exhibit and the girls enjoyed the giant airplane. Jack and Thomas spent a long time in the NASA simulators, which were new since last year. I tried driving a rover on Mars, but it was hard! We stayed for about 3 hours. Unfortunately, the drive home was long! We were starting at a deficit, since Hampton is about 30 minutes further than Williamsburg, and there was an accident on the freeway, so we took an alternate route with lots of lights and traffic.

After about 30 minutes, we decided to stop at the first fast food restaurant on our side of the road. It ended up being Taco Bell. We hadn't eaten there in years and then wound up twice in a weekend. Then, Luke need a potty break about an hour after that. After that, we had to stop for gas and a bathroom break for the older kids. The final time drain was bridge construction. They had it down to one lane and it took us 1.5 hours to get through. The drive ended up taking close to 5 hours. But, Luke slept for part of it and the kids were good. Still, it was a relief to get home.

I was very remiss in my picture taking, but here are a couple:

Luke spent a long time at the museum playing with this. You got to move the planets around and see how their orbits changed.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

School Starting (and Philadelphia Wrap-Up)

Our drive home from Philadelphia was uneventful. We got gas station food, which seems to be everyone's favorite part of a road-trip. I forgot to mention that on Day 4, Anna's watch went off at a later place on the road and everyone was disappointed that we hadn't timed it to coincide. Overall it was a good trip. There were definitely some moments of frustration, but generally speaking the kids were well-behaved and cooperative.

When I asked everyone their favorite part of the trip, this is what they said:
Anna: when we walked around the city and heard the stories.
Jack: visiting the Museum of the American Revolution
Luke: hearing stories
Kara: Six Flags
Thomas: Independence Hall
Kori: Six Flags

I like when we get a variety of favorites, so it was a nice outcome.

We got home late on Sunday and had one day to relax before school started. I arranged to go in late to work so that I could see the kids off on their first day. Everyone was nervous. Because of our trip to Philadelphia, they hadn't been able to meet their teachers. Not everyone was sure where their classroom was and aside from a few friends who I could text, they didn't know who their classmates would be.

Speaking of which, I was pretty annoyed when the teacher list came out. We have had 3 out of 4 of the 3rd grade teachers and I expected that we would get one of them for Kara. It is just easier when you know the teacher and already have a good relationship established. Plus, we liked them all. The 4th option was a wildcard for us. We also had an expectation of who Jack would get. When the list came out, it defaults to the oldest kid. Anna had the teacher we thought Jack would get. Jack had a different teacher, and Kara had the wildcard. Ugh! We had talked to a few people and it was universally accepted that personality-wise Anna and Jack would be better off switched. I was most upset about Kara. Seriously, we had a 75% chance and she got the only one we didn't want.

I contemplated calling the school to complain, err politely request a change. But, I didn't want to be that parent and gave up on the thought almost as quickly as I had it. And, it's a good thing I did, because everyone is VERY happy. Jack got a teacher who has a passion for history, Anna loves her teacher, and Kara said her teacher is super nice AND her two best friends are in the same class! So, I am glad we trusted in the process, with only a few misplaced complaints.

Without further ado, the pictures:

Our sweet little Luke is very happy so far at his new school.

Hard to believe our little Kara is an upper elementary classman. ;)

Fourth grade Anna

And, her handsome twin.

Almost hard to believe it is the same kid. I am not sure where her K picture is, I'll have to dig it up at some point.

Jack has really sprouted up in the past few months.

Little Kara-bear.

Four years, lots of changes.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Philadelphia, Days 3 & 4

For our third day, we decided to check out Valley Forge and the second largest mall in the country, which happen to be just minutes apart. The forecast called for rain in the morning and clear skies in the afternoon. Everyone was up around the same time and again, we had our free hotel breakfast.

We loaded up the car and had a sense of deja vu when Anna's watch started beeping and Thomas turned to tell her to turn it off. We were at the exact same point on the road as the day before! It was our own little Groundhog Day moment.

We got to the mall just as it was opening. It was enormous. From what I could tell, they joined together two malls to make a supermall. The joining walkway was full of high end stores (Hermes, Tiffany's, Jimmy Choo, DVF, etc). It was fun to walk through and see all the stuff we will never buy ;)

The kids had a great time walking around and going up and down the many escalators. Some parts of the mall were three stories, others were two. It was an odd layout. We had lunch at Cheesecake Factory, which the kids love. We got 3 cheesecakes to share for dessert and everyone was stuffed for the rest of the day. We spent about 3 hours there, including our lunch. I think we saw most, if not all, of the mall. 

Unfortunately, the forecast had changed and it was now rain for the remainder of the day. We still went to Valley Forge, but limited our time to the visitor's center, including the movie. Jack was happy to see some of it, but sad that we weren't able to walk around where his hero lived and breathed. He definitely takes after his dad and his love of history. While on the trip, he made it his mission to memorize all the Presidents in order. I think he is up to 39 (Jimmy Carter). It is so awesome to live so close to so much American History.

Cut out at Valley Forge
Our last day was Sunday. Our plan was to visit the Museum of the American Revolution. Jack and Thomas were really excited about it. But, Luke isn't really great at places like that. So, we decided I would take him to a kid's museum and Thomas would take the interested kids to the MAR. The girls decided to stay with me. My first plan was to take them to the Please Touch Museum, but they were having a member's only event. So, we decided to just walk around the city. We went back to the Liberty Bell, then headed to Reading Terminal Market. We walked the whole market and picked out some treats. 

Carpenter's Hall, where delegates to the Continental Congress met to resolve grievances with Britain.

Nice shot of Independence Hall

A picture with the crack visible!
Then, we headed to the park at Franklin Square. The park wasn't great, especially because the playground surface was really wet and the kids kept falling. We saw a story telling bench and decided to sit for a story. The story was awesome! It was about Ben Franklin and his pet squirrel, Mungo. We were all mesmerized. The storyteller was super engaging. He gave the kids a flag and told them there were 13 different benches throughout the city and they could get a sticker at each one to put on their flag. I had seen the benches in a few places, but we hadn't stopped. I told the girls we would do one more on our way back to meet Thomas and Jack. We stopped at a bench and the woman was kind enough to tell us three more. We heard about our nation's first bank robbery, the early celebrations for 4th of July in Philadelphia, and the history of the carousel. They were all great stories. I wish we had stopped sooner and been able to hear all 13. But, everyone was content with 4. 

Our second story teller. So entertaining!
In the meantime, Jack and Thomas were having an awesome time at the MAR. They got to sit in a replica chair of George Washington's Rising sun chair. They watched some good movies and saw interesting artifacts from the war. I'll let Thomas add in more here if he wants.
With the uniforms worn by the actors in Turn (we love that show!)

Battle Flag from the Battle of Monmouth, carried by the Regiment from Philadelphia

Sad and poignant quote

Jack sitting in the Rising Sun replica chair.

Thomas is the same height and probably a similar build to George Washington.
We met up about 3 hours after we split and everyone was very pleased with their choice for the day. We really lucked out that we couldn't do another kid's museum, because it was such a fun way to spend the morning. Next time, we will have to budget in time to just walk the city and sit at all the storytelling benches.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Philadelphia Day 2

The hotel we stayed at last trip was either booked or super expensive (I can't remember which it was), so we moved down the road to a Towne Place Suites. It had two bedrooms and a living/kitchen area, but was very small. However, it was clean and the beds were comfortable. The first night was really rough, there were people above us who were up until around midnight and I could hear them walking around. There was also some weird techno music blaring away. I have no idea where that was coming from. I was very tired, but did not get much sleep. Fortunately, these issues did not bother anyone else and the kids and Thomas all got a good night's sleep. Everyone was up around 7:45 and we planned our day. Originally, we were going to go to the Franklin Institute, but since it looked like rain the next two days, we decided we needed to make sure we saw Independence Hall. We had our free hotel breakfast and headed out.

At 9:02, just as we left the hotel, Anna's watch alarm went off. Thomas yelled to the backseat for her to turn it off (there is a point to this, but it won't be clear until I write about Day 3). We had no trouble getting into downtown and picking up tickets for the tour. First, we stopped off to see the Liberty Bell. 

There were other people waiting to take pictures, so we couldn't pose everyone. Of course, Jack stood right in front of the iconic crack. 

Kara and Luke weren't enthusiastic about doing the Independence Hall tour, but Kara decided to be a good sport when she realized it was important to Thomas and me and I gave my Luke my phone and he was content. The tour was good and we enjoyed seeing the spot where our Founding Fathers met. 

From there, we did a tour of Congress Hall, which is where the Senate and House of Representatives met for ten years while Federal City was being built (which later became Washington D.C). It was very informative and in the Senate Chambers, almost all of the furniture was the original. When they moved south, they decided to order themselves new furniture and left everything behind. It was very cool to see the rooms in their original state and to think of the precedents that began right there. 

Probably just like it looked in the 1700s, original furniture and all.

Where our first Vice President, John Adams, sat.
We walked around the visitor's center and had our lunch. Then we set off for the Franklin Institute. However, what we didn't know was that the city was setting up for a giant music festival that was set to begin the next day at Franklin Square, right next to the Franklin Institute! We got caught in road closures and a major traffic jam. Thomas finally let me and the kids out and waited alone to get through the mess. We got inside, got our tickets and enjoyed a few rooms before he was able to join us. 

They had virtual reality! Anna and Kara got to explore a shipwreck...

Complete with a giant blue whale!

This was still a favorite.
We only stayed about 3 hours, which was not long enough for the kids, but Thomas and I were anxious about all the traffic. Unfortunately, it was not to be avoided. Thanks to road closures and regular weekday traffic, it took us about an hour to drive the two miles out of the city. The kids and I entertained ourselves by making up commercials for the random items in the car. Once we got over the bridge, the traffic to our New Jersey hotel was light. We stopped at a Target and got food for dinner and ate in the comfort of our hotel room. 

It was a nice quiet night and everyone slept well.