Archive | April, 2010

2nd Brown Belt Promotion!

30 Apr

2nd Degree Brown Belt 01

Big congratulations to my darling KarateKid for being promoted tonight to second-degree brown belt!

Sensei had approached MechDaddy about two weeks ago to say that both because of KarateKid’s discipline and passion and also because he had not yet had a promotion at this dojo, he would like to promote him to the second rank of brown belt. He told us that he would do the promotion whenever we wanted, if there were people we wanted to have on hand and if we wanted to have a camera there for pictures.

Aunt Robin (and the two Uncle J’s) couldn’t make it last Friday so we decided on this Friday. There were 10 people in the audience area for tonight’s sword class… 9 of whom were in the official Fan Club of KarateKid! Somehow, he didn’t guess the surprise that was coming and was absolutely tickled to be promoted. Sensei gave such a sweet speech too about KarateKid’s serious attitude and dedication and how he has become a member of “the dojo family.” How nice!

2nd Degree Brown Belt 02

Celebrating EVERY Milestone – 100,000 of them

29 Apr

I took it as a sure sign that things were turning around for us today when the sun was shining, the temperature was rising, Leigh invited us out to lunch and shop, and then I noticed that the mileage on our van was 99,985 when we pulled in at the mall.  Obviously this was something we needed to celebrate!  How often do you get to see an odometer flip to 100,000?

By the time we drove Leigh and the kids to their house and then came back here for GoGoGirl’s nap, the odometer was at 99,994.  We waited impatiently for MechDaddy to get home from work and then we had our 100,000 Mile Party!

100,000 Miles 01

First we decorated the van by adding gold balloons streaming out from our back windows and we soaped on some words of celebration – HAPPY 100,000 MILES on the back and some happy faces and cupcakes on the side windows.

100,000 Miles 02

The kids picked out party hats (yes, a Viking helmet and my grandmother’s old blue felt hat) and noisemakers for the trip, and we swung by the grocery store for cupcakes.

100,000 Miles 03

We drove the back way from the grocery store to a nearby park and soon found ourselves at 99,999 miles – so exciting! Yes, we screamed and cheered and made lots of noise with every flip of a mile the whole way along – it wouldn’t have been a celebration any other way.  We got some really funny looks from folks we passed along the way.

100,000 Miles 04

Once we hit 99,999, we pulled into the park itself and drove up the big hill and halfway back down. As you can see, it was sunny and gorgeous, a fabulous spring day to be driving in the park.

100,000 Miles 05

And then… right outside the nature trail… we did it! 100,000 miles! Screaming and whooping erupted from the back seat!

100,000 Miles 06

We pulled into the very next pavilion for the rest of the party.

100,000 Miles 07

Luscious chocolate cupcakes…

100,000 Miles 08

…with delicious icing!

100,000 Miles 09

After our impromptu party picnic, it was time to undecorate the van,

100,000 Miles 10

so we could head into the car wash! It’s always fun to see, hear, and feel all the interesting things at the automatic car wash.

100,000 Miles 11

We hadn’t washed the car over the winter, and you can see both kids were thrilled!

What a fun way to celebrate the little things!

Out the Other Side

29 Apr

April has been a month of revisited grief here.  MechDaddy’s brother died from complications after a motorcycle accident last April, and we’ve all been coping with it in our own way all month.  Especially the past week or so – from the date of the accident through the date of his death – we’ve been pulling into ourselves and the four of us have been spending long stretches of time piled in our big bed reading books, talking, watching movies, or just holding onto each other.

MechDaddy struggles with reliving the events of that month, and I struggle with the divide between what we believed would happen (the wake-up call of a tragedy pulling the extended family closer together) and what actually happened (tension and a vast emotional distance – physical too, since the kids haven’t seen those grandparents in 6 months).

It doesn’t make for cheerful blog fodder, so I haven’t been around here much.  But I’m hopeful that we’re coming out the other side with the arrival of May, the return of warmer weather, and with some great things to celebrate – a surprise for KarateKid, the release of the Egyptian-mythos Rick Riordan book, and a half birthday for GoGoGirl – all in the next week, I think we’ll find our groove again.

Blog Tour and GIVEAWAY: Wonder Hanger

28 Apr

My family had the fun opportunity to try a new-to-us product during our spring-cleaning binge… the Wonder Hanger, as seen on tv!

The Wonder Hanger® is an affordable tool that’s great for any Spring Cleaning features. This cascading clothes organizer increases closet space by enabling you to stack clothes vertically.  Each Wonder Hanger holds 5 wood, metal or plastic hangers.  There are 8 hangers to a package – enough to hang 40 garments. The open-mouth design allows you to easily add or remove your jackets, skirts, pants and shirts. Supporting up to 20 pounds, it can hold up to 5 heavy winter jackets.

You can use it to group complete outfits or similar items, organize by color or season, and hang handbags or belts.   It retails for $9.99 and can be purchased at major retail chains including Walmart, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond and CVS and online at www.buywonderhanger.com.

I wasn’t sure whether this tool would really work – would one piece of plastic really hold the weight of 5 garments and 5 extra hangers?  So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  This does work and does help create more horizontal space in your closet.  I haven’t tried it with super-heavy items yet though, like the heavy winter jackets they suggest!  It works just fine with shirts, so far.

Wonder Hanger

A couple of things to know: it is important to have enough extra space so that you can have both ends of the hanger up at once to put clothes on & off – but you only have to have the extra 6-8 inches to do one at a time and can slide the rest along to make space for the one you need to open up.  You may also have to reconsider which hangers you use with it, because some of our thicker plastic hangers wouldn’t fit in the holes!  Thinner plastic hangers and metal ones worked out better.

Also, you need to consider the total height of your closet.  We live in a tiny Cape Cod and so my main closet is under the eaves and the closet bar is probably 4″ or so lower than in a standard closet.  (I had pictures but the files aren’t cooperating – hopefully I can take some new pictures for you!)  So using the Wonder Hanger in a short closet doesn’t work as well, because although you can save horizontal space the shirts hang much farther vertically.  Fortunately the small closet that MechDaddy uses has a higher hanger bar so he’s inherited the Wonder Hangers… and some of my off-season clothes to store there, since he has so much extra room now!

Wonder Hanger

If you’d like to try these for yourself, you can go to the Wonder Hanger website… you can buy one package of 8 hangers for $9.99 plus postage and handling, and if you pay a small extra postage fee you can get a second package free!

Even better, if you leave me a comment you will be entered to win a free package.  One comment is enough for one entry – just tell me where you’d find these useful, and you’ll be entered to win.  IF you post on your blog, Facebook, TwitPics, etc. a picture of your overstuffed closet that is just BEGGING for the Wonder Hanger, that picture will be worth an additional TEN entries!  So get snapping… I would love to see that everyone else needs as much help in spring cleaning as we do!  This contest will run until Wednesday, May 12, so you have two weeks to enter.  Good luck, and happy cleaning!

This is a Mama Buzz review. The product was provided by Wonder Hanger for this review and giveaway.  I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinions are my own.

First Break!

24 Apr

KarateKid participated in his first outdoor demonstration with his dojo at today’s Earth Day festivities… and look what he did!

First Break

Yep!  He broke that board right there with his very own hand.

Naturally, he’s thrilled and proud as can be!

As for me, I love seeing the grass stain on the knee of his gi pants.

For those of you who listened with patience while I ranted about leaving the old dojo and choosing a new one, I want you to know that I’m positive we made the right choice.  Today, the old dojo had a Very Important Competition inside a gymnasium with people coming in from all over the state, high registration fees, strict rules, and No Video Cameras Ever.  (So the paperwork said.)  KarateKid could have competed to earn a ribbon for some skill he’d mastered months ago.  On the other hand, the new dojo had a booth at Earth Day and held a free one hour demonstration out in the grass, in the sun and the wind and where KarateKid’s favorite instructor talked him into trying to break a board… which he did on his very first try.  He laughed and he bloomed and he got positive interaction from all the adults there, and he learned a great new skill too.

In my book, this broken board and this grass stain trump that ribbon any day…  hooray for blooming in the sun!

Muffin Tin Monday: Eat a Rainbow – and a Game

12 Apr

We love the phrase “Eat a Rainbow” and say it to ourselves as we’re grocery shopping to encourage ourselves to try new fruits and vegetables to fill out that color palate.  You can read here about the different vitamins, antioxidants, and the other good phyto-chemicals found in the different colored fruits and veggies.

MTM Rainbow Fruit 02

This week the theme for Muffin Tin Monday was Rainbow, so we had a fruit rainbow for brunch:  red strawberries, orange oranges, yellow lemons, green kiwi, blue berries, and purple grapes.  KarateKid went with me this weekend to do the shopping and choose the fruit, and he put the tin together this week all by himself while GoGoGirl and I played in the living room!  What a treat!

MTM Rainbow Fruit 01

Both kids are fruit-lovers and gobbled this tin up, asking for seconds and thirds!

MTM Rainbow Fruit 03

I also found this fun little Eat a Rainbow game to print out from the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, and we played it while we were eating.  I like this quick game because they’ve included clip art of fruits and vegetables of various colors on the cards.  In this game, you draw a hand of cards which are both color-coded by the color of the food and also numbered.  Each round, the players flip over one card from their hands.  Whichever player flipped over the card with the highest number gets to choose one of the revealed cards to put on her plate.  The first player to fill her plate wins!

MTM Rainbow Fruit 04

Instead of printing out the included “plates”, though, I made colored spaces on real paper plates to make the game more appealing to three-year-old GoGoGirl.  I also made a double set of the cards so that we could play with our whole family.  (Using the double set, if there is a tie, each person who played the highest value card gets to keep that card on her plate.)

MTM Rainbow Fruit 05

We are keeping the plates and cards in a gallon-size bag, and already the kids have started to add their own “house rules” to the game!  KarateKid likes to add up the total on all your cards at the end and have the highest total plate be the winner. Because GoGoGirl can’t yet compare two cards and understand that 19 is more than 13, we made a color die to go with the game.  In the toddler-rules version, we separate the food cards into piles by color and on our turn, roll the die to see what color card we can pick.  The 6th side of the die is a wild star, and you can take whatever card you like.

MTM Rainbow Fruit 06

We’ve had fun playing this game and talking about all the nutritious, different-colored foods!  I hope this free game will become a favorite in your house too.

For more Rainbow-licious Muffin Tin Meals, head over to Muffin Tin Mom.

Muffin Tin Monday at Her Cup Overfloweth

Road Trip: A Play, A Museum, and Lunch

9 Apr

Road Trip Buddy 01

KarateKid and I had a marvelous, magical mom-and-me road trip today.

We had 3 tickets to see a theatrical version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in a town about an hour away, and I’d planned to take both the kids.  But Aunt Robin is a public school teacher & was on spring break this week, and she had been promising GoGoGirl a day just with her to shop and eat, and we decided that this would be a great day to do that.  So KarateKid had just me for 7 hours, and GoGoGirl had Aunt Robin all to herself too.

Although we’ve been a functional family of four for 2 1/2 years, KarateKid was already 5 when GoGoGirl came home, and so he remembers very clearly what our life was like before she arrived and how I was able to devote myself to him all day, every day.  Who wouldn’t miss that?  He sometimes mentions “the old days” very wistfully, and today was just the perfect way to give him that alone time that he craves.

The day started with a nice hour-long drive.  We talked about all kinds of things, from the differences between books and movies and live theater, to how to give directions by the clock (bogeys at two o’clock!), to the places, animals, and cars we saw.  We got to the theater nice and early and chatted with some other homeschooling families in the lobby.

The play was fun – similar to the TheatreWorks performances we had seen in the past.  It had a cast of four: Mrs. Frankweiler, Claudia, Jamie, and “The Man of Many Hats,” who was the taxi driver, the museum guard, the butler, the museum curator, etc.  The abbreviated story was told with plenty of little songs, and we enjoyed the performance.  We sat with another family who is part of our Shakespeare Experience and so we talked a little with the kids about not only watching the show but also looking at the way they did things from a backstage point-of-view.  KarateKid and I talked a lot about the one plain table that was a table, a stool, a taxi, the train, the bottom legs of the bed, and so on.

After the play ended, we walked two chilly blocks to a small art museum that we’d spied on our way into town.  I wasn’t sure if it would be open, but I’d spotted a banner about a “Fairy Tale Art” exhibit and wanted to give it a try.  Boy, am I glad we did!

The museum had been the private home of a wealthy man who was a collector & art enthusiast, who willed the house to the city as a museum around 1910.  One room of the house was built in order to be his art hall, and the art that is on display in that room is the same art, in the same places, as he had arranged it.

We were the only guests for the whole hour we were there, and we only saw one curator and one man behind the scenes doing a little cleaning.  The curator took us into the main hall and told us the story of the family and the house, and when she paused, KarateKid pointed to a statue and asked if it was Hermes.  She was duly impressed – of course! – and he went on to identify a few of the other statues from mythology.  She very nicely talked to us about one of the paintings which depicted Theseus abandoning Ariadne on Naxos, with Dionysus spying from behind a tree.  She chatted with KarateKid about how fascinating it was that the person who had painted that painting in the 1800′s knew and loved the same stories that KarateKid knows and loves today.

After we explored the main hall for a while, we went into the exhibit that is getting the most attention right now – an exhibit of the work of author and illustrator Tedd Arnold (Fly Guy, Green Wilma, Parts), who lived in that area until he was 10.  KarateKid and I had such a marvelous time looking at the illustrations and remembering which books they were from, and he also got a huge kick out of seeing Mr. Arnold’s sketches or original ideas.  He liked seeing the notes on notebook paper, and seeing how a tiny sketch of an idea turned into a finished illustration.  I liked the wall of images from The Twin Princes, where he had originally thought of them as otters, later tried a super-realistic illustration style, and finally moved to the goggle-eyed chickens that we love.

Then we went upstairs and admired the art in a hallway gallery.  KarateKid was captivated by a piece of found-art that used, among other things, a dressmaker form, a suitcase, chains, and the valve from a boiler.  He came back to it several times and loved the way the artist had used all kinds of things to make one interesting creation.

Next it was on to a gallery of Fairy Tale art, featuring the art of several illustrators, including Demi, Kinuko Craft, Jane Dyer, Marilee Heyer, Barry Moser, Jim LaMarche, etc.  That was fun, too, to see how differently the artists had conceived of favorite fairy tales.  KarateKid was excited to see the original art by Demi – one of his favorite books is The Donkey and the Rock.

Already fantastic, right?  Imagine his excitement when we left that gallery and found a tiny gallery, with about 8 glass cases… of Egyptian artifacts.  I won’t ever forget his little hand pressed into the glass as it dawned on him that these weren’t illustrations, or recreations, but actual pieces of art that had been held, and molded, and sculpted, by a Real Ancient Egyptian really in Ancient Egypt.  There were shabti and scarabs and a beaded net from a child mummy, and a cartouche, and even more.  They also had an x-ray of a mummy from a local college.  In the 1970′s, an intern at the art museum asked to x-ray the mummy to determine cause of death.  They found out the mummy was an 18-year-old girl with arthritis, but couldn’t find out the cause of death.

When KarateKid was chatting with the curator on our way out, and told her how excited he was by the Egyptian (and Babylonian) artifacts, she mentioned that those had also been collected by the home’s original owner.  He thought that was really neat too.

I wish I had pictures, but at the theater and the museum we couldn’t take any pictures at all.  Here is KarateKid outside the museum, though!

Road Trip Buddy 02

We walked back to where the car was parked, and because we hadn’t seen any restaurants in that area, we drove to a mall about 10 minutes down the road.  KarateKid and I went to Chili’s, which we don’t have here, and he hadn’t been to since he was a toddler.  We split a big combo plate because there weren’t ribs on the kids menu and he is really, really a rib-lover.  The combo plate came with corn-on-the-cob too, and though we were “sharing” it I think he only gave me about three bites!  He loved it.  I think he felt extra-special that we were sharing a meal, and we shared a dessert too.

All day he kept hugging me and reaching out to hold my hand and telling me how awesome this day was.  At lunch, he toasted to “Our Day” at least five times!  I’m glad he felt the magic as much as I did.  What a great day!

Train-Hideout-Ship-Roller-Dragon

6 Apr

I could sit and watch my kids “play pretend” for hours.

Here they were, enjoying the slightly damp backyard in the afternoon once the rain had stopped and the sun came out:

Double Sliders

They were police hiding out to capture the robbers, passengers on a train, pirates on board a ship on stormy seas, kids on a roller coaster, and Vikings riding dragons through the sky.  All with this same set-up of two slides.  I love that two baby slides (each bought at a yard sale, one was $4 and one was $2, all those years ago when KarateKid was tiny) along with sticks and pine cones for props, can set the stage for such a rich and wonderful world of imagination.  And I love that I can snuggle in a chair in the shade for more than an hour, being grandly entertained by my sweeties.

Painted Faces

6 Apr

KarateKid asked me to post this picture tonight:

Painted Faces

The kids got their faces painted at dinner tonight.  They usually choose a design on their hand/arm because then they can admire it all through the meal… but tonight, KarateKid was going off to karate straight from the restaurant and I didn’t want him getting grease paint all down the inside of his gi, so I asked him to get a design on his face instead.  He chose a cobra up and across his forehead.  GoGoGirl picked “a pink Care Bear with a rainbow.”

Gray Day Science: Periodic Table Puzzle

6 Apr

I love that KarateKid is so sensitive to the weather… like any good nomad (which he sometimes says he’d like to be when he grows up), he’s up and going the second the bright sun comes in his window, but when it’s gray and rainy like today his body sleeps and sleeps and sleeps to save energy for tomorrow.  (And, of course, I love that we homeschool so I never have to shake him awake to catch a bus.)

Today was gray when we woke up – in fact, we had a little 8 am thunderstorm.  KarateKid slept until around 9:00, and then the kids and I had a long cuddle/tickle/chat in my bed until we finally got up about 9:30 to go for a little walk.  The rest of the morning was slow and lazy, with lots of books to read and a little Muzzy to watch.

Around noon, I pulled a big box from the bottom of the crate of toys and goodies that Pappy and Grandma Nita had given the kids when we visited them the weekend before Easter.  They’d recently been to the ACS meeting in San Francisco and gave the kids a 550 piece jigsaw puzzle of the periodic table of the elements, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Periodic Puzzle 01

KarateKid and I worked on that puzzle together until we finished it around 1:30.  GoGoGirl flitted around us, playing with some Memory cards, dolls, a pair of binoculars, and a pile of books, happy to chat with us as we sorted and fitted.

I love doing puzzles anytime, but this one was an especially great fit for us today.  KarateKid wants to be able to move on from the 100-piece kids’ puzzles but all the bigger puzzles he’s tried to help with before this one have been just too tricky.  Look at the rows of bright colors!  the many different pictures!  and all the words! on this puzzle.  It was much easier to be able to help KarateKid with his puzzle skills by suggesting that first we sort for those big white letters at the top, then the edge pieces, then sort by color and work on one row or section at a time.  Being able to break a big puzzle down into easy sections was really fabulous for him.

Periodic Puzzle 02

Of course, it’s also great that the puzzle is the periodic table, so we could spend time as we put it together musing over the names of the elements, why the different pictures were chosen and what they represent, as well as how the different groupings work.  I think that doing this puzzle is much more helpful to sparking a love of chemistry than just looking at the table, and it was fascinating for both of us!

Thanks to Pappy & Grandma Nita!