Saturday, December 27, 2014

Instagram & Catching Up

I'm probably not a typical blogger.  Or maybe I am typical, but I'm not a good blogger.  Either way, I'm terrible at getting updates out on time.  Here's the thing.  I take lots of pictures while we're out and doing fun things (or even when we're just staying at home doing boring things).  Instead of posting them all to Facebook and annoying my friends who don't really care, I finally signed up for an Instagram account.  This is mainly for my family who miss us dearly and want to see loads of pictures, whether they're boring or not.  If you want to check it out, I'm here:  Raums In FL.  I don't make a huge effort to make sure the pictures look great, I just want to show my family what we're doing.  So anyway.. I take lots of pictures, post most of them to Instagram.

Then when I get home, I write up notes (or sometimes actual paragraphs or whole blog posts) on what we did.  Now, if I were disciplined, I would just go through and add the pictures right then, and post it right away.  But I'm busy, and lazy, and distracted.. so I don't do that.  So you may see several blog posts come out in a day, back-dated, when I get around to finishing the drafts.

If you don't want to wait around, check out my Instagram account.  If you want the whole story, be patient and look here.  :)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas in Florida

I'll admit, Christmas in Florida is kind of weird if you're used to a more temperate climate.  It's not entirely bad, but there are several drawbacks to Christmas in Florida.

For one, it's difficult to get a real Christmas tree.  There are almost no cut-your-own tree farms, and if you are lucky enough to find one, they don't have the same type of trees as up north.  The tree farm nearest us, Santa's Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis, is still an hour away.  You can choose and cut sand pines, red cedars, and Arizona cypresses.  They also offer a regular tree stand with firs, spruces, etc.  Since we weren't able to get up there, I can't say how the Florida trees look compared to northern trees.  We're going to try to go this route next year.  If you can't manage getting to a cut-your-own farm or just prefer a different type of three, you're limited to one of the stands where they sell trees shipped in from out of state.  We tried several stands, and all the trees looked pretty crappy.  Most had a significant amount of brown needles, and all were shaped oddly.  We did the best we could, and gave it a fresh cut when we got home (a few inches off the bottom).  We put it directly in the tree stand with hot water, and it never drank any of it.  None!   By the time we took it down a little over two weeks later, it was extremely dry and brittle.  I'm amazed it didn't burst into flames!  The problem is that even if they cut down the trees in North Carolina, or god forbid, Michigan, and immediately put them on a truck, the winds on the highway are very drying.  They just don't have a chance.

While the lovely weather is one of our biggest reasons we moved to Florida, it doesn't really feel like Christmas when it's in the 70s and sunny.  It's really strange to go swimming on Christmas Eve, and to eat Christmas dinner out on the lanai.  Aside from the weather on the actual holiday, it's just kind of hard to get into the spirit in the weeks leading up to Christmas when it's so sunny and warm.  Yes, it feels dumb to complain about this.  But whatever.  Doug and I both found ourselves commenting that it felt strange to be singing Christmas carols while wearing shorts and t-shirts.

The other problem we experienced was not so much a function of being in Florida, as it was just being far from family.  I've never had a Christmas without seeing family.  We're not used to being able to get up and open presents when the kids are ready (normally we have to stall them until it's a decent hour, so my parents and sister are willing to get up), or eat breakfast when we feel like it, to pick our own menu without having to consider other people, to not worry about whether the house is messy after opening presents, etc, etc.  Those sound like positives, sure.. but I'd gladly trade them for some company.

Some of our problems around Christmas have more to do with our exact location in Florida.  We're quite close to Disney World, and Christmas is a crazy-busy time of year there.  Most of December was fine, but the days preceding Christmas, and the week been Christmas and New Year's meant a lot of increased traffic for Doug.  Another annoyance is that our grocery stores were jam packed with tourists.  A busy grocery store is one thing, but a grocery store full of people who have no idea where anything is (and often don't speak English, either), is a nightmare.  Even when it's not packed, it's still frustrating because the stores cater to tourists, so they don't have a big seasonal section, and while they're great at stocking fruit, they don't carry as much in the way of squash and similar veggies (presumably because they take more work to prepare).

Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad.  It was great to be able to take Niall out to ride his new bike on Christmas Day.  And filling stockings with outdoor toys is easier and cheaper.  And Christmas dinner on the lanai is actually really lovely.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Characters at Resorts, and the Boardwalk

I'll admit, I think I like meeting the characters more than the kids do.  At certain holidays, characters come to the resorts for special meet and greets, and Christmas is the biggest time for that, of course.  They do several days of meetings at the deluxes and moderates starting around the 19th or 20th.

We went to the Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge first.  Jambo is the main building, so Mickey and Minnie were there.  The line was decent, it took maybe 15-20 minutes?  Niall shed some tears over a minor issue, and a Cast Member noticed and brought him some stickers to cheer him up.  It didn't work, but I loved the thought and effort.

I didn't think anyone was meeting at the other main building in Kidani (they were supposed to be alternating), but after listening to some people in line behind us, we decided to go over there and check.  Sure enough, Donald and Santa Stitch were alternating.  Fiona and Niall were feeling a little shy, and because it was dead there, Donald took time to sit down with them and 'chat' for a bit.

They perked up enough to get a group shot, yay!  The lighting sucked in both spots, which was no fun.  It may have been better if we were using Photopass (but given the bad luck we had on our September trip, probably not).  I'm sure if we'd had something fancier than a point and shoot, we could have gotten better shots.  No biggie.. we were here more for the experience of meeting them than the photos anyway.

While waiting for Donald to finish his set so we could meet Stitch, we went out to the Savannah Overlook and got to try out night vision goggles.  So cool!  The boys now have another item to add to their birthday list or next year's Christmas list (way too late for this year!).  We didn't see anything other than a bunny, but the kids still had a great time.  I loved the rocking chairs and the fire, and so did Fiona!

Finally went inside and had to wait a few more minutes for Stitch (thank goodness for the cartoons they show in the lobby).  We were first in an almost non-existent line, and the kids were happy to meet Stitch.  He was funny with Fiona's little stuffed Stitch.  He's one of our favorites, everyone loves him, so I was super happy we got to see him.

After finishing up at AKL, we decided on a whim to head over to the Boardwalk.  We've never been there before so we only knew what we've read online.. which is basically that they have some performers, and that if you park, you have to park really far away.  Well, I guess it would have seemed really far if you've spent all day at a theme park, but the walk really wasn't that bad.  Especially since it was pleasantly cool out.

It was a cute little area, and definitely worth visiting.  I don't know that you could spend more than an hour (two if you rent a surrey bike) there if you're not eating, though.  I was surprised at how close it was to Epcot; at one end, we could hear the band playing in either Canada or UK quite loudly.  The performers were fun, but not necessarily something you'd want to see more than once.  There was one in particular that Niall absolutely loved.. he was jumping up and down and practically shrieking with delight.  Too funny.

As much as I miss the theme parks and can't wait to get our resident passes, I really love taking the time to explore the resorts.  I've always read people on message boards talk about how much more there is to Disney World besides the theme parks, and while I totally believed it, I just wasn't willing to spend my precious vacation time anywhere but in the parks.  I'd probably stick with that plan if we move back north, but the resorts really are cool, and having plenty of time to explore them is a definite perk to being local.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lake Eva Park & a New Homeschool Group

Central Florida, specifically the Orlando area, has a ridiculous number of homeschool groups.  I joined yet another one that does park days about a half hour south of us.  This park is pretty cool, and well worth the drive.

Lake Eva Park is on a lake - probably Lake Eva.  We parked near the water and walked along the beach to get to the playground, admiring the ducks as we walked.  There are two play structures, a smaller one and then a giant one with an enormous train.  Oh my god, is this thing cool.

The boys have seen so many movies where guys are running along the top of a moving train that they could not resist trying that out here (even though this train does not move).  They had a blast running back and forth along the top of the train cars.  I may have gotten a dirty look or two from a granddad with a toddler, but hey, what am I supposed to do?

To be honest, I remember that feeling.  When Colwyn and Lachlann were really little, I hated it when big kids were at the park.  They didn't use the play structure the 'right' way, they were bad role models, and they ran way too fast.  Now my kids are the big kids, and I can see it from both sides.  At least my kids have a lot of experience playing with very little children, and they're very careful around babies and toddlers at the park.

Anyway, back to Lake Eva.  As you can see, this park has big shade sails, too, yay!  There's a screened area with picnic tables that you can rent, and nearby is a pool/splash pad thingy that you can pay to use - kind of like the Exeter, NH community pool we went to a lot over the summer.  I'm sure there's a ton of other stuff to do there, too, but we focused on the playground.  There were two other lovely moms there, with lots of girls for Fiona to play with (though she was feeling too shy) and a 12 year old boy who, had Colwyn and Lachlann not also been feeling too shy, would have been a good possible friend.  Oh well.. next time.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


One of the really big homeschool groups down here does a big holiday party called Winterfest, and we were all super excited to go.  It's kind of hard to get into the holiday spirit when it's in the 70's and sunny, there are palm trees all over the place, and you're spending your days swimming or at playgrounds.  So anyway, we were glad to be able to participate in a holiday event, even if it was outside at a park, in warm enough weather that we could wear shorts and t-shirts.

Something I've noticed about the homeschool groups down here is that they seem to be very well organized.  They use things like Google Docs and other sign-up websites to keep track of attendees at events, who's bringing what to potlucks, etc.  It's nice.

So Winterfest was a pretty long drive for us, about an hour away.  I don't plan on going over to that area often for homeschool stuff, but for a big event like this, the drive was worth it.  They had an awesome turnout; there was somewhere between 50 and 75 kids, I'd guess.  They had tons of food and activities, but mostly the kids just played on the playgrounds or they played kickball in a big field.  There was a big pavilion for everyone to set up food and crafts.

I love how a lot of the playgrounds down here are shaded, sometimes with big trees, but more often with huge shade sails.  I've always complained about that up in Massachusetts, that the playgrounds are always out in the blistering sun with no shade.  Here's proof that shade sails work!  They're not absolutely essential when it's in the 70's, of course, but they provide enough shade that I don't have to worry about sunscreen.  You can see one in the background in the pic above - looks like Fiona's got a big blue triangle coming out of her head.

As usual, my kids tired of the playground after a little while and entertained themselves collecting acorns for a squirrel feast.  We met a few people that we'll hopefully get together with soon, but it was actually harder meeting people at this event than at smaller ones.  When there are less people, usually someone takes the time to introduce us around, etc.  Winterfest was just too chaotic (in a good way, of course).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Missing Maddy

Our dog has been sick for a while, but the time finally came for us to put her to sleep.  She had what was most likely oral melanoma, and on Friday, she began refusing to use one of her hind legs.  We gave it some time, because she occasionally will sleep on her leg wrong, or injure herself somehow, and limp for a day or two and then be fine.  But she was still refusing to put weight on her leg on Monday, so we made an appointment to put her to sleep Tuesday morning.

Monday night, we had a special cuddle with Maddy.  We heated up her favorite (hot dogs) and fed them to her while sitting around her on the floor, then we read a bunch of our favorite dog-centric picture books.  When it came time to put the littles to bed and sing our goodnight songs, she followed us (hobbling) into Niall's room, so we laid down with her on the floor and sang to her.

The kids didn't want to come, but we don't have a babysitter down here, nor do we really know anyone.  I posted a message describing our situation to our homeschool group on Facebook and immediately got offers of support and sympathy.  I was really touched.  Another homeschooling mom came over to be with the kids while we took Maddy to the vet down the street.

The vet and his staff were all very nice, and Maddy was as comfortable as could be.  I wish we'd been able to do it at our house, but for various reasons, it didn't work out that way.  Poor Doug had to go to work after pulling himself together, and I got to come home and put away Maddy's things.

The kids have had a hard time, but they express grief differently, so it's been a little bit of a challenge for me to deal with, especially when I'm already upset myself.  Their grief is manifesting more as increased irritability and tendency to get into fights with each other.  Fiona has been really weepy about minor things, but when I ask her if she wants to talk about Maddy (after dealing with the issue that made her cry at first), she refuses.  If they were crying and saying they were sad about Maddy, I think it'd be easier for me to be sympathetic, but it's hard to be understanding when they're just fighting and snapping at each other.

Maddy was 14 years old when she died.  We got her when she was about 12 weeks old, from the Sterling Animal Shelter.  The SPCA and other rescue organizations have done such a good job with their spay and neuter programs in Massachusetts that it's hard to find puppies in shelters; often shelters will bring puppies up from southern or rural areas, and even from Puerto Rico.  Maddy and her littermates were found in a dumpster in Nutbush, West Virginia.  I'll never forget going to the animal shelter to pick out our dog - they had just gotten a couple dozen puppies in and it was mobbed.  How do you pick a puppy in a setting like that?  We went into a few kennels, playing with the puppies and doing the 'puppy tests' we had read about online.  Maddy was the perfect balance:  friendly and playful without being dominant or aggressive, submissive enough to let us do the tests easily, without being fearful or timid.

Bringing her home was a little unpleasant, though - she rode on my lap while Doug drove, and she threw up many, many times.  And the shelter was about an hour away from home.  She was an interesting puppy.  I remember feeling really guilty for taking her away from her littermates when she got really excited about her reflection in the dishwasher and stove.  She also did not like her kibble, and we almost put her on a homemade diet until we found a food she liked okay (Bil-jac, if I remember correctly).  We set up a big X-Pen in our room so she would have enough room to play a bit while I was at work - but we soon learned that Maddy was a climber - she could escape from that X-Pen in seconds.  We had to fashion a roof for it out of plywood and zip-ties.

When we moved out of Beverly to Haverhill, we started bringing her to doggie daycare.  Joe at Bone-anza became one of her favorite people, and he definitely had a soft spot for her.  He had a partition to separate the little dogs from the big boisterous dogs - it was about chest height on me, so maybe four feet tall.  Maddy would scale the partition whenever Joe moved from one area into the other, always wanting to be with him.  Sometimes she would perch on the 2"x4" that topped the partition.

We got our second dog, Lola, and Maddy was incredibly happy to have a sister.  I loved watching them play, and Lola was truly adorable.  Unfortunately, soon after we started having children, Lola began picking fights with Maddy, so we had to find her a new home.  I always felt bad for Maddy that she lost her friend, but rehoming Lola made it so that we didn't have to play musical gates, keeping the dogs gated away from each other, and Maddy could have more time with her family.

Maddy really was a wonderful dog.  We took her to several sessions of obedience classes, working our way into agility classes.  Our trainer frequently used her to demonstrate things in class because she always caught on quickest and was the most reliable off lead.  He praised her highly, telling us he could tell how hard we worked with her.  Truthfully, it was not us at all, but just Maddy.  She would have been a wonderful dog even without training.

My favorite story about Maddy is the Incident Involving the Strawberry Plants.  It was late spring and after a long day of planting in the yard, we ordered pizza for dinner.  It was a pleasant evening, the kids played, Maddy got pizza crusts (and more), and we went to bed happy and tired.  The next day when we went outside I was highly annoyed to see that one of my brand new strawberry plants had been dug up.  I assumed a squirrel or rabbit had done it, but since I had a few plants left over, it wasn't a big deal.  I crouched down and began re-digging the hole, only to hit a strange, firm, brown, coarse object in the spot where the plant had been.  I carefully removed the dirt from on top of it, completely bewildered and having no idea what it was.  It sort of resembled a big mushroom, but it was underground, not above.  After finding the edges, I carefully slid my trowel underneath it and gently flipped it over - it was a slice of pepperoni pizza!  My first thought was, "Is one of our neighbors playing some weird prank on us?"  But soon realized the more likely scenario - Maddy had not been hungry when given a slice of pizza the night before and buried in the freshly dug earth!

Maddy loved catching balls (she wasn't great at returning them, but she loved jumping in the air and doing backflips), she loved picking up food the kids dropped for her, she even loved the cats when they came along.  Above all, though, she loved her family.  Even when she was older and arthritic, she would follow us around the house, wanting nothing more than to be near her family.  She was so tolerant with the kids, so gentle, and always happy to see them.  

One of the gifts of her old age, of the 'forgetfulness' (which is so much kinder sounding than dementia, isn't it?) was an increased interest in playing.  For some reason, she especially liked to prance - in her old-lady way - around Lachlann, and when he sat down, try to climb into his lap.  It was absolutely adorable.

We were so lucky to have Maddy in our lives.  I know many people say that their dogs are the best (forgetting the jumping, the digging, the begging, etc), but Maddy truly was exceptional.  She was so well-mannered, so playful, and so affectionate.  She was smart and gentle and loving, and we miss her so, so much.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Parades are Bigger in Florida

We got up bright and early Sunday morning to make the three hour drive to Jupiter to see my family.  The drive wasn't too bad - the kids watched a movie and we only had to make one bathroom stop.  It was definitely worth it to get to see family!  We saw my uncle Rik briefly - he had worked the night shift and needed to sleep.  But we got to spend the day with my grandmother, aunt Maria, my cousins Emily and Rikki (who is Niall's age), Maria's sister Sandra and her two kids.

We hung out at the house for a while, catching up and petting the dogs (Maria and Sandra each have two dogs), then we went out to the Jupiter Tequesta Holiday Parade.  We had a tradition of always watching the Beverly Santa Parade the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and it was probably my favorite holiday tradition of the year.  We were missing that so decided to time our visit with this parade so we could all see it together!

Well, let me just say.. they do things differently in Florida.  The Beverly parade has a lot of floats, tons of fire trucks, police cars, bands, etc, etc.  But it doesn't last for more than 30 minutes (iirc).  The Jupiter parade took about two hours and had 75 entrants.  A good part of the problem was that they were judging the entrants along the parade route, instead of before the parade in the staging area.  It took FOR-FRICKING-EVER.

The kids were good sports, for the most part.  Colwyn and Lachlann complained a fair bit, but only quietly to me and Doug.  Niall and little Rikki were absolutely adorable together.

I was most surprised when I noticed Sandra's 10 year old son, Nico, and Fiona crouched behind the camp chairs together.  They were sifting through the mulch in the planting beds looking for seashells.  Fiona is incredibly shy, so this totally blew me away (apart from just the idea that there would be seashells in mulch, what's that all about?).  Eventually the other kids got involved, too, but it was just totally adorable and I was so grateful to Nico for getting Fiona to come out of her shell (ha ha!) a little.

We finally got back to my aunt and uncle's house and had pizza for a late lunch.  The kids played outside for a while, and again, Nico was super sweet and kept Fiona entertained.  What a lovely kid he is.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Art of Animation = Amazing!

To continue with the trend of resort hopping on the weekend, we went to Art of Animation today!  Well, first we went to Downtown Disney with the hope of seeing Santa, but the wait was hours long (literally).  We obviously elected not to do that, so instead we went to the Art of Animation Resort.  We spent a fair bit of time in the gift shop (I needed a new antenna topper), then checked out the Radiator Springs section of the resort.  We spent so much time there that we didn't get to check out the other areas, but I'm sure we'll get back there soon.  The kids absolutely loved it!

They have huge replicas of (most of) the characters.  I love Flo - and yes, we made the obligatory, "She's got gas, lots of gas!" jokes.

Most of the cars had "Do Not Climb" signs, but we didn't see one around Mater, so we let the kids climb in.  The ground around all the cars is that springy foam they put at playgrounds, so they're really begging to be climbed on.

Look at Sarge's Surplus Hut!  Isn't that absolutely crazy?  This is supposed to be a Value Resort (though the price isn't comparable to the other Value Resorts, it is considerably cheaper than the Deluxes).

The Wheel Well was so pretty, and Lightning McQueen and Sally are parked out front.  I'm glad we were there in the late afternoon, the light made everything look especially gorgeous.

I think I liked Fillmore best.  Doug and I had a lot of fun looking at all his bumper stickers.

The sun was a little too bright over by Casa Della Tires, but we still had to get a picture.

Luigi and Guido!  Don't you just want to give them a hug?  Fiona and Niall adored them, maybe because they're a little more their size.

We were super impressed with Art of Animation.  I just can't believe the detail that they put into the resort.  I've been getting a few comments on Facebook from people who don't quite get the Disney thing, and I wish I could show them things like this.  These pictures just don't do it justice - you can't see the display windows at the Cozy Cone with real postcards they created just for this, and you can't read all of Fillmore's or Lightning McQueen's bumper stickers (some of which are quite funny).  I didn't take pictures of all of the cars' license plates (again, clever), or the staggered signs along the walkway that spell out funny messages in true roadside fashion.

And this is just one area of one resort.  I'm not even talking about the giant seagulls from Finding Nemo near the pool that occasionally yell out, "Mine!  Mine!" or the beautiful pool itself.  Who knows what's in the other areas of the resort, that we didn't even walk past.  And all that beauty aside - I could never capture the true beauty of the absolute delight my children experience here (and to be honest, Doug and I feel it, too).

Okay, rant over.  Sorry about that!  After Art of Animation, we went over to Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I've been dying to go here and was so excited to finally make it!  We can actually see AKL from one of the big roads near our house, and we even catch glimpses of Expedition Everest, too.  This is one of the differences between being on vacation and living down here, I guess.  When you're on vacation and staying on property, you feel like you're in a bubble, like the real world is just gone or at least very, very far away.  But being able to see AKL and even one of our favorite rides on the way to Target is just funny!  It's not actually nearly as far away as it seems when you're on vacation.

Animal Kingdom Lodge did not disappoint.  It was just as beautiful as I'd imagined, and photos of it just do not to do it justice (which is not why I'm not posting any, I just forgot to take some).  We went out to the savannah overlook and saw some animals (zebras, wildebeests, and some others I'm forgetting).  Then a bunch of Cast Members starting setting up a marshmallow roasting activity.  They had a lovely fire going and were giving out marshmallows and roasting sticks, free of charge.  The kids were super excited to get to roast marshmallows!

After that, we went to find the quick service restaurant, Mara, to grab a snack (we had limited the kids to one marshmallow each).  Fiona picked out a zebra Butterfinger cupcake, Colwyn and Niall got a Mickey ice cream bar, Doug and Lachlann got some kind of peanut butter brownie, and I got zebra domes - something I'd read wonderful things about but never tried.  Well, they were absolutely amazing, and I can't wait to go back.  Everyone really enjoyed their desserts.

We had a wonderful afternoon, and even though the only thing we spent money on was the snacks, we felt like we got to experience a lot of Disney magic!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nature Play Group

Another homeschool park day with the Nature Play group, this time at Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake in Orlando!  This park was awesome, and it's right near Universal so on the drive home, we could see Hogwarts from the road!  So cool.

Back to the park day - the kids had a great time.  We started off at the children's farm and checked out the horses, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, bunnies, and a few free-roaming cats.  It was a nice turn-out, but again, there weren't any kids Colwyn and Lachlann's ages, so they were a little disappointed.  After checking out the animals, we wandered down some trails until we found a good spot to sit and let the kids play.  It was a fairly cool day (about 70, maybe - warm in the sun, cool in the shade) and the area we picked had a nice slope, lots of trees and places to dig.

Colwyn and Lachlann spent a good portion of their time hanging out at a gazebo nearby, away from the younger kids.  Fiona and Niall got involved in the digging up of many rocks, but Fiona kept having shy moments.  The weird - and annoying - thing was, many of the parents would say to me, when she was acting clingy, "Don't worry, it takes a while for kids to learn how to play in the woods."  I kept responding, "No, they know how to play in the woods, they're used to that - they're just shy in new groups."  But I kept getting that comment.  It was driving me nuts.  Later, when Fiona and Niall were using sticks to dig in the dirt, another mom said, "Look, they figured out how to dig with sticks!"  I couldn't figure out what the deal is with these moms.  Do Florida kids really not know how to engage in free play?  It would never occur to me to see some kids playing with sticks, and get all excited that they figured out what to do with sticks.  "Yes, my children are as smart as chimps!"

As the conversations continued, I kept hearing things that I found a little weird and possibly disturbing.  One of the big things that annoys me about this group is that they don't allow kids to bring toys.  They can bring buckets, shovels, ropes, blankets, etc.. but not toys.  Well, my kids love to bring toys to parks.  Fiona usually picks out a plastic animal and occasionally a doll and incorporates it into what she's playing outside - she builds it a house, she has it interact with (far-off) wildlife, whatever.  So when we get to the parking lot, I have to say, "No, Fiona, you have to leave your dinosaur in the car" and it makes her sad.  But, okay, I can deal with that.  But I heard the leader of the group talking to another new member about why she has that rule, and it made me want to follow it even less!  She said that bringing toys prevents the kids from actually interacting with nature, that instead of playing with sticks and rocks and dirt, and being creative and imaginative, they'll only focus on the toys.  Then the kids will start fighting with each other, because they'll all want each other's toys and it will, in her words, "cause an arms race over toys!"  My head almost exploded when I heard her say this.  I've been taking my kids to playgrounds for a long time - almost 11 years - and not once have I seen them get into a fight over toys.  I've never seen them NOT play with their surroundings because they have a toy with them.  Does she really think this?  Is this what kids are like in Florida?  Is it just because these kids are all younger, and these moms are (I hate to say it) less experienced?  I can't figure it out.

Another rule that annoys me is that we can't play at playgrounds.  The parks we've been to have all had great playgrounds nearby, but we're not allowed to go there.  The goal is to play in an unstructured natural environment, not on a playground.  I find it annoying because we inevitably have to drive past the playground to get to where we're going, and I have to tell the kids no, we can't stop.  I mean, whatever, I'm willing to do that because it's just one more out of a hundred things I have to say no to every day, but what's wrong with playgrounds?  I eventually worked up the nerve to ask about it, in a very deferential way.  I said, "So.. do kids around here not know how to play like this?  Like.. when you go to a playground, do they not eventually go off and climb the trees and play in the surrounding landscaping?"  I was told that no, kids do not do that, that most parents down here are afraid to let their kids step off the sidewalk, that they're all helicopter parents.

Okay, I can believe that.  Fire ants, giant spiders, sure.  But I explained that up in Massachusetts, park days happen at big parks where there's a playground, and while the kids might start out playing on the play structure, they very quickly end up building things with branches and sticks, playing hide and seek in the woods, climbing on rocks, etc.  I don't think they disbelieved me, exactly, but they definitely didn't think that would work down here.  But what I thought was really funny was that while they talked about how being a helicopter parent is so bad, they were also trying to direct their kids' play.  The kids were very happily digging up rocks, quite content, when the moms all decided that had to stop and that we should all build a lean-to out of big branches.  Then they started doing it for the kids.  I mean, the kids were definitely involved, but it was not 'unstructured free play' - it was parent-led play.  At another playgroup, I suggested Fiona go build a fairy house - something she came up with all on her own a year or more ago at park days while I was chatting with the other moms and not directing her play, and has loved doing ever since - and all the moms jumped on it, like, "Oh, I know how to build a great fairy house!  Look, do it this way!"

Don't get me wrong, the group is not all bad.  The moms are quite lovely, as are the children.  They know all sorts of great parks to go to, and hey, social opportunities are social opportunities!  I'm not going to give up on it just because it's different from how I'd like.  But it's just kind of weird, and I'm struggling to get a grip on what the local parenting/homeschooling culture is like.  There's a lot I just don't get.

And hey, the kids did have a great time building that lean-to!

Colwyn and Lachlann even found some animal bones in the woods.  I let them spend a fair bit of time examining them by themselves, showing them how to use sticks to gently move the bones so they could see them properly, how to gently move aside the leaf layer to look for more bones, and how to - well, not articulate them - but arrange them in the right order.  Then we called the munchkins over.

While the littles were all examining the bones, I started searching for the skull nearby (thinking of past Bones episodes the whole time!) and found it a couple of yards away.  Again, I let the boys have time checking it out before calling everyone else over - all the little kids were picking up the bones with their hands, saying that they wanted to take them home.  Thankfully the moms said no, that they needed to leave them here for other people to have fun discovering.

And because I can't let things go, I'll mention this.  I was further annoyed with this article that was sent out to the group:  We're Ruining Our Kids With Minecraft

There were a few good points in the article, but I get annoyed with titles like "We're Ruining Our Kids With Minecraft" - it's pandering and sensationalism.  Out of all the various 'screen time' diversions, Minecraft is the least likely to ruin our children.  He makes the point that kids need:  "kind of play that has … no defined script, and no end goal other than inventing worlds and coming up with ideas."  That's exactly what Minecraft is.  Especially when you add in the ability to make mods to the game, too.  And to say that it becomes just 'labor' is missing the point that even if your kids are out in the woods building a fort or digging in the sand, at some point it's just 'labor' too.  To dogmatically eschew any form of entertainment that can't be found in the woods is to miss out on a lot of things that can be beneficial with some balance.

I do like the author's points about parents not structuring children's play.  Already discussed that above.  It's not really unstructured play if parents are telling the kids what to do, you know?

I also agree with the idea that you can't really expect kids to engage in the kind of free play we value if they have unlimited access to electronics.    I know if I let my kids, they'd play video games all day.  But I also don't see any point in placing rules on how they engage in free play, either.  My kids have created some epic imaginary worlds in our backyard, digging canals (which later became rivers with the help of the hose), using branches and leaves to make houses, and populating it with all manner of plastic figures.  All because I was too busy reading my book or chatting with a friend to push them on the swings.

Ah well.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to stretch and grow, to learn to become more flexible and accepting, to lean into discomfort.. in addition to all the actual fun parts of this group!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

O Christmas Tree

Finally got our Christmas tree, a little later than usual this year.  For various reasons we couldn't make it to the one tree farm in the area where you can cut your own tree, so we just went to a roadside stand.  It was one of the few times that I've missed living up north.  Even when we had to go to a tree stand up there (like we did last year in Maine, since we were too sore after moving the day before), there was a really good selection and the trees looked fresh.  These trees down here were just.. meh.  But we got it home and once it was decorated, it looked pretty good.

Unfortunately, even with a fresh cut, the tree is not drinking.  At all.  Doug suggested we get a fake tree next year, but that will never happen.  We'll just plan better and go cut our own.  It'll be interesting having a Florida tree (probably a sand pine) instead of one of the northern species.

We also decorated the front of the house a bit.  Our inflatables did not survive, so that was disappointing, but we had plenty of lights.  Unfortunately, we were all out of 3M Command Hooks to make the lights go nicely across the arch, and we were too lazy to go out to the store to get more, so we just strung them across.  Not our best work, but oh well.