Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let Summer Begin!

The last day of school was an early dismissal and we surprised the kids by taking them to the Kings Dominion. We got there around 4 and the older three kids played in the water park until it closed at 8. Luke stayed for about 2 hours, but he was cold and unhappy, so I took him to the regular park while Thomas stayed with the other kids. After the water park closed, we let each of the kids choose their favorite ride. We ended up leaving just before the park closed at 10. It can be hard having kids in such different age brackets. The older kids are all good swimmers and don't require the same level of attention or supervision as Luke. And, of course, he is kind of stuck by himself. We had the first three in 16 months and then there is a giant, in comparison, 5 year gap. Doing things like Kings Dominion make that gap seem very pronounced.

Sole picture of the day, although I did get a great video of his happy walk :)
On Saturday, our staycation to celebrate the start of summer continued. We let Thomas choose the outing since it was also Father's Day weekend.  He chose Fredericksburg. Everyone slept late and we went to McDonald's for breakfast. From there, it was on to Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington. We toured the house and explored the grounds. Unfortunately, it was hot and some of the kids, ahem Luke, were not as excited by the visit as others. They had made a lot of changes since we last visited, which was probably around 4 years ago. The house is a re-creation built on the original foundation. Because George's father died while they were living there, they had to do a complete inventory of the house. That record survived and provided a lot of information that has allowed the historians to accurately create a model (well, of course, we don't know it's accurate, but they are pretty confident). After that, we went to the mall, which is only 10ish minutes from Ferry Farm. In fact, in the 90s, Walmart had purchased the land that is now Ferry Farm and was going to build a store on the spot where the house now stands. It is an absolutely beautiful place, right on the Rappahannock and even without the history, it is hard to imagine a Walmart there. But, the good thing about Walmart's purchase is that it kicked the preservationists into high gear and they were able to prevent the store and recreate the farm. 

And, the only picture of this day.
To end the outing, we finally tried out the ice cream stand at Chaptico Market, which definitely ended the day on a high note. Sunday was a more relaxed day. I made a giant frosted cookie. Thomas mowed the lawn and Jack actually assisted! Jack also spent several hours weeding our garden. He was motivated to earn money to buy a toy he saw at Toys R Us. We stopped in for their going out of business sale while we were in Fredericksburg. Despite being 60% off, it was still the same price as on Amazon (maybe that's why they are going out of business, I appreciate some mark-up to support a brick and mortar, but not 60%). Anyway, it was fun to see him behind the lawnmower. The kids are growing so fast! It is easy for me to picture him pushing his toy lawnmower around the yard to "help". Now, he is pushing the real thing. Sunrise, sunset.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Trip Wrap Up & School's Out!

For the last day of our weekend away we went to Monmouth Battlefield. We debated going back to NYC, but not all of us were up for another long day, so off to Monmouth we went. Just like our last visit, it was beautiful. We watched the movie and then went outside to explore. Unfortunately, the ground was really wet, so we didn't do as much hiking as we planned. On our way out, I offered $5 to anyone who could jog up the big hill without stopping. Thomas, Anna, Jack and Kara all did it!  We stopped for lunch on the drive home and made it back in time for dinner. It was a really fun few days.

As always, my picture doesn't convey, but it was a long, steep climb.
The last few weeks of school were full of activities. Kara had her recorder concert. She practiced a lot and made it to Blackbelt in Recorder Karate. She wants to be in band next year and is thinking of playing the trombone. They also had a 3rd grade picnic, but parents weren't invited this year.

Jack and Anna had a 4th grade Luau. I was able to take some time off from work to go for a few hours. I like that my job has some flexibility and that I can still attend most of their functions. We played games and had a picnic lunch, it was a beautiful day. It is always interesting to see how my kids, especially Jack and Anna, interact with their peers. The older they get, the more introverted they seem to become. Neither one is shy, but they are not as outgoing/talkative/friendly as they were when they were younger. At least at school. At home, they are plenty talkative. Jack and Anna's teachers both sought me out to tell me what a great year they've had. Jack had some significant behavior issues in Pre-K and Kindergarten, first and second grade were slightly rough and there were a couple of minor issues in third grade. Now, as a fourth grader, he was a model student. Thank goodness! Anna's teacher was also pleased with her progress, socially and academically.

I didn't get a Jack picture, he wasn't nearly as festive
In fact, Anna's teacher is moving up to 5th grade next year and both Anna and Jack are going to be in her class. Well, at least we think they are.  She had Jack for reading and Math Team and I heard through the grapevine that she wanted both of them next year. We put on our preference sheets (where we aren't supposed to ask for specific placement) that we wanted both kids in her class. I sent the sheets in on Tuesday, and on Wednesday she told me that the Principal had agreed to the placement. This will be the first time they've been together since Pre-K, but we are confident they will be fine. If not, it's only 180 days, right?

June 15th marked the last day of school. The kids all did very well. They each had one B. In art. Seriously, how weird is that? They have all A's and just one B and it happens to be in the same subject for 3 kids in 3 different classes? That just seems odd to me. Kara was super disappointed, it was her only B all year and she was really hoping to have all As all year. We try not to stress grades, but we know how disappointing it is to fail to reach a goal.

And, without further ado, the last day pictures:

Jack agreed to wear his same first day outfit. I am not sure if the shirt shrunk or he grew :)

Same with Anna, her dress barely passed the dress code!

Kara's dress has turned into a tunic

Aren't they sweet? We had to interrupt Luke's scooter riding, hence the helmet.

These side by side photos show me how bad my camera has become. But, you get the idea.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

New York City (Part 2)

After the whale mall, we walked past the second tower memorial. It was identical to the first and we saw a few more sad white roses on names. Then, we walked to Trinity Church. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations, so we wandered around the cemetery outside, paying tribute to Alexander Hamilton and several other veterans of the Revolutionary War. After Trinity Church, we were ready to resume our bus tour. There were just a couple of people waiting when we got there but by the time the bus arrived, about 15 minutes later, it had grown to at least 40. Everyone immediately rushed the door when the bus stopped. It was very disorderly. I was recently looking at a series of pictures showing how courteous Japanese people are. I couldn't help but think that they would have respected the order that people had arrived in and stood in a nice line. But, alas, that is not the American way.

Thomas and I had played it strategic and stood in two different places. People were pretty pushy and tempers began to flare, but I actually kept my cool (this is exactly the kind of situation where I would normally lose it), mainly because so many people were getting off, I figured we would all make it on anyway. Which, we did. And, thanks to our strategizing (although, we still got on later than fairness would dictate) we were able to sit on the upper deck and enjoy a peaceful ride. Sort of. The jacks on our side of the bus did not work, so we couldn't hear the audio tour. But, after a few stops, people on the other side got off and we jumped into their seats. Well, most of us did.  There were only 4 seats, so Kara volunteered to stay behind (Luke sat on our laps). Hers worked sporadically, and we passed on interesting information, and she still seemed to enjoy herself. We saw where Hugh Jackman lives and Chelesea Market and the Jenga building up close. I took zero pictures, but to liven up the blog I grabbed some photos online.

Inside the whale mall

We planned to ride all the way to Times Square, but about 1 mile away they told us our bus was broken and we would have to switch. I actually think the driver was just getting off duty or something, but who knows. We decided that rather than waiting for another bus, we would walk. We chose a path that allowed us to walk by the Hamilton theater. That brought back some happy memories. Then it was on to Times Square.  The kids were not as impressed as we thought they would be, but they still liked it (probably would have been better at night). We got some ice cream and then made our way to the American Girl Store. Thomas took the girls around while Jack, Luke and I hung out on a sofa and watched videos of giant squids on my phone. The girls loved the store and the boys were happy for a break.

From there, we went to St. Patrick's Cathedral, which was one of my highlights when I went with Thomas. It was just as amazing as I remembered. I am so impressed with the amazing symmetry and the beauty of the construction, particularly when I think about how it was all designed and built without the assistance of computers. It was getting pretty late at this point, so we decided it was time to make our way back to Penn Station. We stopped at Panera on our way there, once again chosen for convenience and the ability to seat 6. Then, it was off to Macy's. We had told the kids about the wooden escalators and they really wanted to see them.

That was our final stop, we made it to Penn Station just in time to get on the 8:10 train. We had walked 11 miles!!!! Just like our last visit, I found the New Yorkers to be friendly and helpful. We got turned around a couple of times during our day, and people were always willing to stop and help us. There were a lot of homeless people and a Hare Krishna who put a bracelet on Thomas' wrist and then tried to get him to pay, which I thought was actually pretty good. When we traveled to Mexico and Jamaica, the people always targeted me or the kids.

We got back to the hotel around 930 and once again, everyone fell asleep mere minutes after their heads hit their pillows.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Did You Say New York City??? (Part 1)

Why yes, I did say New York City! That was our destination for Day 2.  Everyone was excited for the big adventure and we were out the door and on the train by 9. The train ride was about 45 minutes and it was uneventful. When Thomas and I went, we rode a double-decker train, so the kids were slightly disappointed, but still enjoyed the ride. We got to Penn Station and got our tickets for a bus and boat tour. It was ridiculously expensive, but I had done my research and was able to haggle a bit; not enough to make it cheap, or even worth it, to be honest, but at least slightly better than what I expected.

On the train

We got on our bus (which unfortunately, I didn't think to take pictures of) and headed toward Battery Park. Despite the ridiculous price of the bus, the "tour" was automated and some of the headphone jacks did not work. That was kind of frustrating. Also, the upper deck was full, so we had to sit downstairs and the windows were covered with advertisements, which I found ridiculous. That was even more frustrating. Eventually, there was enough room for us "upstairs" and everyone's mood improved significantly. It was a much better view from the top! We went through several neighborhoods, and learned a little about each. We opted to get off at Battery Park. I made a mistake and thought that was where our boat tour departed from, but it was actually at a stop about a mile away, so off we trekked. The boat left from an area directly across from One World Trade Center. And, I think it was the highlight of the day for everyone (except Luke, but more on that later). We went around the Statute of Liberty and it really tugged at the heartstrings. It helped that they played "God Bless the USA." Personally, I think they should have played "Coming to America," which is my favorite Neil Diamond song and a good tribute to what the Statute and Ellis Island represent. But, they didn't ask me and regardless it was a nice moment. I am fairly certain that my family is one of the ones that came to this country through Ellis Island, so it was nice to see it up close.

One good shot of Lady Liberty by herself.

Closest we could get to a smile from Luke

The other kids were more than happy to pose

One funny thing about the guide was he kept saying things like, New York has the highest concentration of Jewish people outside of Israel...New York has the highest number of Italians outside of Italy...New York has the highest number of Polish people outside of Poland...(I don't actually remember the countries he said, but he must have named 30). The older kids loved the tour and the views it gave of the city. Luke HATED it. I am not sure why, but he just kept saying he wanted to be on a bus, not a boat. He wasn't bad, at least for most of it, just surly. He did get mad when we went by the dock. Our guide said that the city is very specific about when you can dock and we were too early. Luke was extremely disappointed.

I enjoyed the extra time and seeing more of the skyline from the water, it was pretty amazing. There was one building that looked like a Jenga tower. All of us commented on it and then the guide pointed it out and said it was referred to as the Jenga building and that the top 3 floors sold for 60 million! One thing I learned from both tours is that I will never be able to live in NYC!

With One World Trade Center in the background
We saw an NYFD boat named 343, after the number of firefighters that died on September 11th.  It was made from the metal of the Twin Towers and was a nice tribute to their fallen brothers and sisters.

Jack with Three Hundred Forty Three
After the tour we went into a very fancy mall. We were going to eat at the food court, but the food was unfamiliar and the lines were long. Not what the kids were hoping for. So, we found a McDonald's (sad--I know!).  From there, we went to the 9/11 Memorials. They were sad and poignant, particularly seeing the roses placed on some of the names. We later read that the roses were placed on the names of people who would be celebrating birthdays that day had they lived.

I swear we took several pictures, but for some reason, this is the only one showing up.
We went into another mall (bathroom break for Luke) that was like being inside of a whale. One thing I do appreciate about NYC is the architecture. There are so many interesting buildings, both inside and out.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to our trip!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Mini Vacation, Day 1

We finally got to take the mini vacation originally played for May 4. We had to cancel our plans then and for our back-up date of May 18 because of bad weather. This was our third and final attempt to make the trip happen. Fortunately, it was a perfect weekend for a short getaway.

We left on Thursday morning at 6:15 and drove straight to Six Flags Great Adventure. It is a 4 hour drive. We made one stop for a bathroom and food break and got there around park opening at 1030. There were very few cars in the parking lot, but several buses. By several, I mean around 2 dozen. Most appeared to be celebrating 8th grade graduations (judging by the various shirts we saw, several schools were represented). Unfortunately, we forgot Luke's stroller. His stroller is a source of annoyance for me. It rattles around in the back of the van and makes it difficult to put in groceries or other items. It is always there, even though we very rarely use it. Eventually, I take it out for some reason or another (after months of non-use) and then I forgot to put it back right before we actually need it. A vicious cycle I have found myself in more than once.

However, Luke was fantastic. We ended up walking 9 miles and he didn't complain once. We offered to rent him a stroller, but he wanted to walk and he never wavered. Despite all the buses, the crowds felt very light and we had very minimal wait times. Everyone had a fantastic time. The only complaint I could make was that El Toro, which is routinely ranked as one of the best coasters in the country, was down all day. We rode everything we wanted to ride and even did the safari. We saw many animals, including tigers, peacocks, elephants, giraffes, ostrich, bison, bears, rhinos, etc. There were a few babies and the animals were active, Spring is definitely a good season to visit.

By 5, most of the school groups had left and the park went from light crowds to almost no crowds. We walked right on any ride we wanted to go on. A few rides, we just stayed on and rode over and over again. A while back I read about rich families renting out theme parks, now I can relate!

We stayed until the park closed and then made the drive to our hotel, a Homewood Suites about 45 minutes from Six Flags. We didn't have to talk anyone into being quiet, everyone was asleep within minutes. Day one was a definite success!

One of the first rides of the day, Luke had it all to himself and rode twice.

I stayed on the ground, but everyone else is up there!

Anna and Kara are sitting in the front row. They were the only riders. Living the life of the rich and famous!

Luke insisted I take his picture in this tree. 

Their best roller coaster faces!

We did a photo shoot while waiting for Thomas and Jack to ride Kingda Ka

Luke was quite a trooper

The pink poop emoji hat may detract a bit from this shot :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Blue Crabs and Separate Activities

Last week we took in our second Blue Crabs game of the season. It was Harry Potter night, which we were all very excited about. We got there in time for the kids to be part of the high five tunnel. While standing on the field, Kara was pulled out of the group and taken to home plate. She had been chosen as mini-manager! They announced her name and she got to stand out there for awhile. Unfortunately, she didn't really listen to what was going on, so we have no inside information on Blue Crabs management.

There were only a few kids dressed in Harry Potter gear--two of them were Anna and Kara. Because they were dressed up, they got chosen to participate in a broom race in the second inning. Unfortunately, neither of them won, but they had fun.  The last activity was finding "Golden Snitches" hidden throughout the park. The kids all found one (the staff was kind and was re-hiding the ones that were turned in). The prize was a free ticket to any game. Jack gave his away, but we still got two tickets. They had some Harry Potter decorations, including writing on the bathroom mirrors, and we stayed for the whole game. Luke was really into the game by the end. They also had a sorting hat and sorted kids for free and a table where they sold inexpensive wands. All in all, it was definitely a fun, successful outing.

The next day, we were kind of double booked. They were doing a Hamilton sing-along at Mount Vernon and Luke had a birthday party. We had intended to go to Mount Vernon, but I forgot to write it on the calendar, thus I RSVP'd yes for the party. So, Thomas took the big kids and I took Luke. The party was at Pump it Up and Luke had a blast. The cutest part was that he asked the little girl, who is in his class, what she wanted and she told him a purse. He took that request very seriously and was super excited to pick one out for her. Plus, the way he says "purse" is just adorable. He was very proud of his gift. He told several of the adults at the party that he picked out a purse for Lacey and when the worker was loading up the gifts, he told her multiple times that his was the purse.

Meanwhile, the other Wilsons also had a good time, although it was slightly marred by some extreme heat. It was something like 95 degrees. And, Thomas and the kids got there an hour early for good seats and then they were kind of stolen from them at the last minute. They still had fun and even stopped at Krispy Kreme for limited edition blueberry glazed donuts on their way home.

While at Luke's party, I had a rare moment of feeling some jealousy. The people hosting the party are local to the area. They had Aunts and Uncles, a grandma and even a great-grandma in attendance. I was sad that my kids (and me!) don't have that. Our closest relatives are hundreds of miles away. I wish they could grow up with their cousins and surrounded by family and I am jealous of the people who get that experience. I can't imagine the bliss of sending my kids off to grandma's house for a weekend. I hope those folks know how lucky they are!

In final news, we gave Gus away. It was a difficult decision. He is an awesome dog, but I just couldn't get myself on board. It was a very costly, emotionally trying, experience. However, I am glad that we didn't let it go on longer than it needed to. Definitely a tough lesson learned! He is with a neighbor who adores him and will be relocating to California in June. He seems to be adjusting well and I have told the kids to think of us as his foster family. They were very mature about the decision. Jack was the one who spent the most time with him, which is ironic because he is the (wise) one who didn't want a dog. However, ultimately, he understood and he is happy to see Gus happy and well taken care of. I know that it was a huge misstep on my part and I honestly feel terrible about it, but not terrible enough to carry on with a 14 year decision that I know wasn't the right one.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mothers Day and Reflection

I have now been a mother for just over 10 years. That also means that my mother has been missing from my life for just over 10 years. Mother's Day is always a bit sad to me. I still think of it as a day to pay tribute to my mom, and I feel the loss of her presence more keenly. I am so thankful for the woman she was and the example she served. I am not as smart, patient, or loving as she was, but I know what she would say and I can play out the reassuring conversation in my head. I truly believe that there is something unique about the unconditional love of a mother. Anyway, enough sadness. I just want to say that my mother was fantastic and I miss her.

This Mother's Day, I was hoping we would go to Kings Dominion. To get our money's worth, I wanted to go once a month. And, May is fast ticking away. But, with the dog, it was not meant to be. I really like Gus, he is an extremely well-tempered and easy puppy, but he still vastly interferes with how I like to spend my weekends. So, we are staying home. Kara and Thomas brought me breakfast in bed and let me sleep until 8!!! I can't remember the last time I slept until 8. It was pretty amazing. The kids gave me their homemade school gifts, which were very cute. We are going to go out to lunch and I don't have to do anything all day. Thomas and the kids cleaned yesterday, so the house is in good shape. It should be a nice day!

Yesterday we had a busy day. I took the older 3 to a party at Sky Zone. They had a great time. And, since I like the mother of the kid who was having the party, I got to enjoy talking with her. It was a nice group of kids and I was happy to see my kids in good company (and with fun parents for me to hang out with). I hope that they can always surround themselves with the good crowd.

Kara and Anna loved the obstacle course. Jack was playing dodgeball, which was harder to get a picture of.

After the party, I did some quick shopping at Aldi while everyone else cleaned. Very nice. Then, we went to a Blue Crabs game. We were supposed to meet up with several of my coworkers and their families, but all but 2 backed out. However, we had a good time and despite the threat of rain, made it to the fireworks, with literally just minutes to spare. As we walked to the car, the wind picked up and blew dirt in all our eyes. It was strange and I am not sure where it was coming from--maybe a construction site nearby. Then, we got in the van and it started to pour. It was a major storm and I am glad we made it home safely. We had watched the forecast and it wasn't supposed to start until much later, so we got very lucky.