Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Always Overpacked But Hopeful

With time away from home, whether for vacation or a business trip, I always imagine that I will have all this free time. While I'm traveling (if not driving), during large group meetings where I just have to listen or sitting on the beach, late in the quiet evening. I foresee hours of open time to catch up on my to-read pile and to-crochet stash, as well as maybe some of the not so tedious tasks on the ever going to-do list. Thus, I pack a tote bag full of all this potentially productive stuff.

If I get to half the stuff, I'm doing excellent.

This week is another attempt. I have a conference to attend and I'm gathering all the stuff I'm going to get to without the distraction of cooking and folding clothes and going to meetings and driving around the county.

I'm packing:
- Toni Morrison's just released new book, God Help the Child. Like folks waiting for the new iPhone, I was at Barnes & Nobles first thing in the morning to buy my copy, despite my husband's assurance that there probably was not going to be a line at the bookstore. Who buys hardback books, from a real bookstore anymore? We may be a dwindling breed.

- Yarn. I have some pretty orange and white souvenir yarn from Madrid from a trip a bit ago. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but have now decided on a poncho/shawl for the spring. Though I wish there was a less 1970s word than "poncho." I think of those granny-square, orange and brown, rough acrylic mini blankets with fringes every little girl had in her closet. If there's a better word, please tell me.

- Blank cards and stamps. To catch up on thank you cards, notes, birthday cards. I love personal notes - giving and receiving - and I'm trying to get better at actually writing and sending them.

I wonder how much I'll get done. At least I finished a blogpost.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Currently...Shopping, Stitching, Pouring and Other Stuff

Hat shopping. I love hats. You can check out my Hats Hats Hats Pinterest page and see that I believe in the bigger and brighter, the better. Through the winter, I probably wear a hat almost every day – nice, bright felt and wool hats, ostensibly because it’s cold, but we know better.  Now – we’ve reached spring hat season, which, of course, kicks off with Easter Sunday.  Then, for me, it’s my sorority’s fashion show luncheon that funds our scholarship fund. It’s ladies who lunch – wearing hats and so much fun.  And then – to the races!  I’m returning to the Virginia Gold Cup this year with my girlfriends, so hat shopping is in a frenzy because now we’re really talking about a Hat (with a capital H, yes.)

Sighing over celebrities who try to act like they are regular folk. Did you hear, Gwyneth Paltrow tried to promote the SNAP program by committing to eating on $29 a week? Yes, read that sentence again. Millionaire actress was going to try to feed herself on food-stamp program budget.  Really? That’s probably what she spends on coffee and a doughnut (because, I’m sure she eats chocolate dipped doughnuts with her coffee, while doing her oh-so-hard job.) She quit by day four.  Message: this is hard, let me stop pretending I’m poor and find an easier cause to uphold.

Picking out my next crochet or knit project. Right now, I’m working on baby blankets for my boom of pregnant friends. I need something for myself, though.  What I’d really like is one of those long long sweaters (dusters, I think they’re called) or maybe a bright summer shawl.  I’m trying not to buy any more yarn and dig through my stash (go ahead and laugh fellow yarn-lovers), but we’ll see. I need something by the time I leave for my sorority convention, because you know I crochet during any long meeting that I can get away with it.

Still researching drivers’ ed. Actually, I haven’t really started other than asking other parents which drivers’ ed their kid is going to because I’m a bit in denial that my kid is old enough to start driving. I took her out and let her drive around the school parking lot the other day. I can’t get her into drivers’ ed soon enough.

Enjoying pineapple vodka and rum.  A couple weeks back we had a luau-themed shindig and had a bunch of pineapples. We could not eat them all and I had to think of something to do with them. So what do you do when life gives you a bunch of pineapples? Slice them, put them in bottles and pour vodka and rum (in separate bottles) over them.  Close, let sit for at least a day, then enjoy in your favorite cocktails.  Keep away from the children.

Enjoying 100,000! Thank you for reading - our little blog has hit over 100,000 views!

Have a good week folks! Keep Piddlin’!

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Currently... Enjoying the Sunshine

We just came off of Spring Break, which, as it turned out was a bit chilly and a little rainy. But, hey, it was unscheduled days and we were away from home a few days.  We went to Virginia Beach, did a drive-thru tour of Hampton Univ., spent a day in Colonial Williamsburg, and camped out at Great Wolf Lodge.  We also went to Annapolis for a day of advocating on the Maryland budget, particularly funding for schools, and watching a little bit of Senate and House sessions, and as payment for doing educational stuff for the morning, had a delicious lunch at Chick & Ruth's: BiPartisan Crab Soup (crab soup and cream of crab in the same bowl) and crab cake for me.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.


I am ready for spring to really, for real, come.  I love the flowers blooming and the sun shining and not bundling up in a heavy coat and, of course, the new shoe options the warm weather brings.

I'm doing my taxes. Comment below if you are actually finished - I'll be impressed.

Looking forward to attending my sorority's fashion show to raise money for our scholarship fund. It's such a great time and a fun excuse to don a beautiful spring hat.

Getting back in gear for Girls on the Run. It's been a long, cold, lazy winter. And I can't let these little girls outrun me (again.)  We're about three weeks into the spring season, but the weather's not been great. I think we'll finally get out this week.

Doing my taxes. Did I say that already? Well, as an indie-writer and publisher, I'm doing business taxes, too.

Enjoy the sunshine!

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Splashing at Great Wolf Lodge

We finally made it to Great Wolf Lodge! It feels like we're the last family on the east coast to visit this family resort in Williamsburg, Virginia.  It's one of a chain, others located scattered across the U.S. and is fairly popular for family get-aways.

The theme of Great Wolf is all rustic and woodsy, with cute fluffy wolf ears at check-in. There are a number of room options, including a log cabin themed room, with a separate tent-looking area for the kids. We were in a regular family suite (the tent-theme rooms were sold out), which was space-y enough for the six of us, with two beds and a sleep sofa, an in-room coffee maker, microwave, and refrigerator.
  • Tip: you get a wristband which acts as your water park admission, room key (swipe it across the sensor) and room charge card (again, swipe it across the sensor.)  I like this and it was handy not having to carry a wallet in the pool area.

The big attraction is the indoor water-park, which makes it a great middle-of-winter (or when will winter ever end!) mini-vacation.  There's a wave pool, multiple fun slides, one of those scream-inducing vortex/tornado type slides, a water-y playground, lazy river, and a little kids' shallow pool.  And an adults-only whirlpool.  (Is there any better two words at a family resort than "adults only"?)
  • Tip: you have access to the waterpark before you check in and all day when you check-out, so pack the family swimsuits separately for your arrival and have traveling clothes packed separately on your departure

On the lower level is also other entertainment options. There's a 4D video, video games, arcade, and duckpin bowling, all for additional fees of $2-$6 per person.  Our kids spent a few minutes challenging each other in the Time Challenge - a room equipped with a pattern of lights which the kids had to run around and turn off in sequence (think, life-size Simon.)  There's also a few Quest games - the kid gets a magic wand and then sets off to different stations around the lodge. It looked to total almost $50 to play and seemed geared to younger kids, so we got out of having to do that ($50 for 4 kids adds up.)
  • Tip: Have a plan and a budget. You know how quick $2/kid/game can add up. You can get a point card to load your points, so that's a good way to limit your spending.

We didn't eat in the lodge, but I did get coffee from Dunkin' Donuts! I think this was the first hotel I've stayed in with a Dunkin' Donuts and I was kinda happy. Although there was a long line, as folks were picking up donuts and breakfast, too.  We also got ice cream and fudge from the sweets shop, even before breakfast - you know that's a sign of spring break.

We were only there one night, but it was a full stay.  If we had a lower rate, we may have stayed another night.  We're on Spring Break this week and it seems like everyone else is, too, thus, the higher prices.
  • Tip: Prices, like most travel destinations, vary depending on season and demand, so if you're flexible, you can get a better rate.
The kids had a great time and I'm glad we finally checked this off the family to-do-one-day list. I could see us heading back on another mid-winter/will winter ever end get-away.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Going back to 1776 in Colonial Williamsburg

We spent a day in the 18th century in Williamsburg, once the capital of Virginia.

If you haven't seen the commercials, Colonial Williamsburg is a refurbished town, with live actors, or interpretors, re-enacting the activities of the time. There are wheelwrights, milliners, shoe makers... even slaves and free Blacks.  Throughout the day, you encounter them in their various shops and on the streets.  According to the wheelwright, the skilled laborers actually go through an apprenticeship to learn there craft and the work they are doing is real, not just for show. For instance, he was working on two projects - carving a section of a wooden wheel, using a tool that would've been used in colonial times, that would go on a wagon used in the town, as well as making a cannon wheel for a museum in New England. Of course, I made stops in the spinning shop, where the woman was spinning wool into yarn, and bookbinder. Interesting to see that some of these crafts have not changed much in hundreds of years.

The townspeople were fascinating in that they seemed to know a lot about their particular craft (it was just as intriguing to hear them field questions, as to hear  their own presentations), had  opinions about other folks (the shoemaker clearly expressed disdain for the cobbler), and portrayed a well-rounded and informed  history of the time and their character. Many of the people talked about what was going on in other parts of Virginia or pieces of trivia about the Governor's palace. The slaves mumbled to each other that nothing was going to change as the Declaration of Independence was read out loud.  There were re-enactments of one man's decision on joining the military and a slave jumping the broom ceremony.  It all felt like you had stepped back and were eavesdropping on history. To the point that when the townspeople nervously yelled that the British soldiers were coming, my kids got up and ran with them.

You need a pass to go into the various shops, available as one day, multiday, or annual passes. We received annual passes as part of our room package at Williamsburg Woodlands. If you go, check the various room deals; this one turned out to be a little less than what I would've paid for hotel and five day passes. There's a daily schedule of events, when shops are open and special activities.  Take note of any special things you want to see, as once you start wondering around, you might forget.

A day in Colonial Williamsburg transports you back to a time when cooking was done with food grown nearby, clothes were recycled and repaired as an economic necessity not as fashion, and when towns were filled with skilled "smiths." It was also a time when women couldn't vote, nor could poor men, and slavery was still legal.  There's stepping stones going into Williamsburg that remind you of the differences. It's an educational and entertaining day, and makes you appreciate walking back into the present.

It's Not a Vacation 'Til You See Water

Any chance I get, I love a stop at the ocean. That vast water and sky helps to put life into perspective. And its beautiful.
Our first stop for spring break has been Viriginia Beach. It's not really bathing suit weather, though there were folks trying to soak in the cold sunlight.  Even in jeans and long sleeves, I was cold, but it was a wonderfully, sunny day and you can't pass up chances to get your feet in the sand.
We rented a tandem bike and rode up and down the boardwalk. Good thing it wasn't too crowded, since my kids apparently aren't the best co-drivers. Hard to believe, all our beach visits, this was our first bike rental.
On our way to the beach, we also squeezed in a college visit drive-thru tour at Hampton University. With a high school sophomore, college apps around the corner, so we want to get at least an idea of colleges.
It was a good start for the spring break week.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Can You Find Jesus at the Easter Egg Hunt?

I'll be among the many who are boiling and dying eggs this weekend in celebration of the Easter holiday. Yes, I know, there weren't dyed eggs under the cross, but it is a family tradition. We dye eggs, go to church, celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and our eternal salvation, and scramble around the yard in search of eggs and chocolate.  It's not totally from the gospel, I know.  We do enjoy a little bit of the worldliness of the holiday.
Are we still looking for Jesus at the Easter egg hunt?
But, it's starting to get a little out of hand.  Easter is on the rise of becoming more and more commercialized, though I doubt that it will ever catch up with Christmas. But it's getting there with the Easter dresses and candy (I admit my taste for Peeps!) and all kinds of stuff for the Easter basket, including sports (basketball, darts) and character-related (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Disney Princess, SpongeBob) toys.  The Easter egg roll hoop-la is slowly starting to take-off as a thing to "celebrate" Easter (and I use that phrase very loosely.)

I've noticed more and more Easter egg rolls and hunts, hosted by organizations and companies and groups and municipalities that have nothing to do with Jesus dying on a cross and rising from the grave three days later.  Hunting and rolling eggs are thrown in as fun activity for spring festivals, neighborhood block parties, and a fun thing to do now that spring is finally here.  Hunts have become teaching activities (find the yellow eggs), shopping incentives (find the plastic egg with "money" in it to purchase toys at the booth), night festivities with glow in the dark eggs, and party games.  It's a new marker for the coming of spring, like Memorial Day for summer or Labor Day for fall.  I get it that the egg hunt is fun - kids love running around looking for goodies and prizes; who can argue with that? But I'd like to humbly suggest, that if one is not going to mention Jesus at all, then call it something else - spring scavenger hunt, for instance, or  chicken egg hunt.

It's one of those little things that kinda irk me and make me nervous: Jesus barely gets an invitation to the Easter celebrations.  I can see that this holiday, the most important Christian holiday, will become another over-commercialized event day that loses meaning, even, especially, to Christians. But we can have hope that Jesus will remain at the center of the celebrations. That somewhere, He will be invited to the festivities and we will find Him in the scramble and hunt for the prizes and chocolates.

Have a blessed Easter.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Family That Reads Together

As our children get older – and more literate - we generally feel like we can let go of family reading, the nightly story at bedtime thing.  But educators keep telling us that family reading, even after kids can read on their own, makes kids better readers, which of course, is a pretty important lifelong skill.

Last week, our school hosted a Family Reading Experience with the National PTA.  There were reading and word games that parents could play with their kids that were easy to do and didn’t require a whole lot of prep or equipment (good things for a busy parent.)  For instance, one game focused on compound words: select a letter at random and write all the compound words you can think of in one minute. Easy. Anybody can play. No special equipment; in fact, this could be a car game where everyone calls out words while driving to [fill-in your own kid activity].

The guest author, Kwame Alexander, demonstrated reading picture books – particularly those that rhyme – with your little ones. Read the sentence and pause at the words that rhyme and let them guess.  “Would you eat them in a box, would you eat them with a ____?” You get it. Yes, this counts as helping your kid with literacy skills!

Now, the early readers, that’s easy because we know we’re supposed to help them read. But what about the older ones?  Here’s a few ideas that might help you out.

Read a book together. This could go two ways. One - sit down and read the same book at the same time.  Something like Wonderstruck with its story both in prose and beautiful pencil drawings is a great reading and conversation book.  Or two - read the same books on your own time and talk about it, like a book club. This might work better for longer books and older kids.

Have your kids read to you. Little kids get a kick out of their new reading skills and like to show them off. Let them.  This could be at home or while riding in the car.  Busy mom tip – you can enjoy listening to Because of Winn-Dixie while folding clothes or prepping dinner.   You might even consider taking turns reading to each other.

Listen to audio books together. Pick a family-friendly book (depending on the ages of your kids) and pop in the CD, download to your iPad or whatever and listen while riding around or even while hanging out at home.  Hearing a story, like reading one, requires imagination – what does the character look like, where are they, what’s going on in the story – much more than watching a movie.  Listening as a family gives you a common activity to discuss and talk about.  It might even spur your kid to read other books by the same author or in the same genre.

Let your kids see you read. In your spare time, instead of checking Facebook, let your kid witness you reading a book, magazine, the newspaper.  You could even set aside a family reading time, like they do in school, where everyone finds a quiet corner and reads. (This worked well on those stuck in the house snow days.)

Go to the library. You’ve got to have books to read them, right? Get to the library on a regular basis, or if you prefer the bookstore, bricks and mortar or online, so they can select books they want to read.

I know – getting kids to read is sometime hard, especially with all the other non-reading distractions. But hopefully these tips will help a little bit.

Any other family reading tips you use to get your kids to read more?

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