Category Archives: Betsy Writing

Writing Homework by the Boys…

The next two entries are the “final” from our reading of the book “Writer’s Notebook” by Ralph Fletcher.  In the book he describes all the different ways that you might use a writer’s notebook.  The chapters vary from creating lists, recording snatches of conversation, remembering memories, creating mental pictures, stories you can’t forget, etc.    The boys were tasked with trying each of the ways at least once in their own writer’s notebook.  Some were easy like creating lists of movies they wanted to see or jokes they wanted to remember.  Some were difficult such as writing about something deeply personal (I let them keep that one private if they wanted.)

The final exam was that they had to pick one of their notebook entries to publish – going through editing, teacher review, etc.  Carter chose to publish a new mental picture where you take one moment in time and try to capture it in your writing to use at some other time.  He has actually published one of these before on the blog.  Bennett picked a memory entry.  I said that memories had to be over a year old because I wanted the memory to be old enough to mellow in his brain.  A year is a long time in the span of only 8 years of life – a few of which you have no memories from!

The Ptaks Go To New York City

Since we have been doing so little homeschooling lately, I decided to get back in the groove and assign grades to all the attractions we visited in New York City. Info on the RV park we stayed at is at the end of this 9 page post.

New York Pass
David and I did something most uncharacteristic for us; we bought a pass for free admission into over 80 NYC attractions for 7 days. We did SO many things that we wouldn’t have ever considered without this pass. If you know me, you know that if I pay for something like this, I WILL get my money’s worth! We rented bikes in Central Park, went on walking tours, went on a sailing ship, even went to Madame Toussads’ Wax Museum. Why not? It was free at that point! I really feel like it was a great experience for us and a great way to “do” New York City with the kids.
David: I’m not sure it would be as great choice if you only had 3 or 5 days (unless you are up for packing in lots of events every day), but with 7 days I highly recommend it. Even just doing 2 or 3 things a day makes it a good deal.

Walking Tour of Brooklyn Bridge and the DUMBO neighborhood
Walking tours were some of the best parts of this NY Pass. Inside Out Tours got high reviews by everyone we talked to and this one more than delivered. We got lots of information while walking over the bridge and had an enjoyable stroll through the “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass” area. My two pieces of advice if you are going to get a New York Pass is 1. Plan out your days ahead of time and 2. Take all the walking tours that are highly rated on Trip Advisor. They really are great.
David: One cute side note – our boys have a strong affinity to tour guides. They tend to stick right by them and enjoy talking to them while walking from place to place. I suspect they are not even aware Mom and Dad are on the same tour most of the time. We’re essentially irrelevant during tours.

Top of the Rock Observation Deck – 30 Rockefeller Plaza – Rated TOP CHOICE by Bennett
We did this on our first day as an orientation to the city. It was great to see the kids’ jaws drop at the view. It seems like it had been a while since we had gotten a good jaw dropping. There is a free app to download ahead of time that allows you to point toward buildings and the app will identify the more note worthy. Great views, great building.
Bennett: Go there on a clear day if you can. Here’s a tip: The telescope will show you where different buildings are without paying. Just use the numbers on the sign to figure out the direction.

Empire State Building at Night – Rated TOP CHOICE by Carter and David
It’s iconic. You have to do it. We choose to do Top of The Rock the first day as an orientation and save Empire State Building for a night later in the week. If I only had the time or money to do one of these, I might chose Top of The Rock because you can see more skyline from it. By the way, New York Pass provides a free audio tour. It’s a little dry although Carter and Bennett liked the Halloween lights section and some of the building sections.
Carter: The view is amazing on a clear night. You see lots of lights and the skyline. There are so many lights in New York.

Broadway show: Newsies and Mathilda Rated TOP CHOICE by Carter
We used the TKTS booth 3 times. We got ½ price tickets on Newsies for all of us, Mathilda for just David and Carter, and Avenue Q just for David. There is nothing like Times Square and Broadway. The theater quality level is unbelievable. The prices are high though, too. We looked at Lion King – $200+ per ticket??? Wowsa. Both of the kid-attended plays had positive messages, which was an added bonus to the singing and dancing.
Carter: The dancing and singing is amazing and they are really trained to do this. They were both better than anything I’ve seen in Portland. I liked in Mathilda how they interacted with the audience.

Central Park by bike – SBR Store – Rated TOP CHOICE by Bennett and David
What a fun treat! We rented bikes for 4 hours, walked them up to south end the park, and then rode around in the bike lanes all the way to the far north end of the park and back again. At first, this was quite hairy riding in the bike lanes right next to cars, but after about 6 blocks in the cars thinned (or were blocked off) and it was really fun. What I didn’t count on was that it was a bit hard to stop to look at the statues and such while on the road, but we did see The Carousel (I made the kids ride it), The Obelisk (Cleopatra’s Needle) – which is very, very important in one of Carter’s favorite book series and he was a little disappointed to find it scaffolded for cleaning and repair – and the Imagine tribute to John Lennon. The boys also looked at Belvedere Castle, which was prominent in the Smurfs movie. We enjoyed seeing New Yorkers use the park for running, biking, playing baseball, t-ball, softball, and a running club.
Bennett: It was a bonus after being in the city for a few days to see all the green and trees. Make sure to do it during the day and try to figure out when cars are allowed and not allowed and go then! Seeing the carousel was pretty fun, riding it was sort of lame.
David: I second Bennett’s comments. Only after being in NYC a few days can you truly appreciate Central Park and the space and peace it provides.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
There are so many iconic paintings here that everywhere you look you see something you know. We did the Family Audio tour and I can’t recommend the audio tours enough! (Plus they are free with admission.) After a little work with the device navigation, we figured out how the adults could listen to a detailed description of the same work while the kids listened to a kid friendly version (although their versions were also quite interesting). I can’t stress enough how great it was to focus in on only a few paintings and not try to study each of their thousand displayed works. MoMA’s suggested itineraries on the web or via the audio tours were really great. (My one complaint about the audio tours was that it was a little difficult to navigate around the galleries and figure out where we were supposed to go next – minor complaint.) Also a shout out to our elementary school’s Art Lit program – we got to talk about Miro and others and the kids knew quite a bit!

Rockefeller Center Tour – 30 Rockefeller Plaza
This tour was such a surprising success! Maybe we got lucky with an exceptional tour guide, but we spent 90 minutes on the “Art and Architecture of Rockefeller Center” and thoroughly enjoyed it. You’d have thought our kids would have run screaming, but they probably enjoyed about 80 minutes of it. We learned so much about Art Deco and the various pieces of public art around the center. The guide talked about various controversies of the time, pointed out cool little features, and was an outstanding teacher.

The BEAST – a boat in the Circle line River Cruises line
This is another example of something we would have NEVER done without the pass. A 30-minute speedboat ride out to Lady Liberty and back at a roller coaster speed of 45 mph. Look, this was a BLAST, but it really didn’t have much to do with New York City. Giving it a grade makes me question any rubrics I have. As long as you see the Statue of Liberty on some boat, this trip isn’t necessary, but the kids loved it. It was still massive fun though, so it gets an:

Grand Central Station
The New York Pass gives you an audio tour of this impressive building. We messed up the closing time, so didn’t get to do the audio tour, but we still had a great time looking around. The food court downstairs is a great place for a meal. It isn’t food chains, but actual unique eating establishments. Then we went up to the second floor balcony, after a good look at the ceiling we had a great time at people watching. I challenged the boys to find someone running, someone running in high heels, a kid (very difficult to find at rush hour), a tourist, a fancily dressed up person, and the game occupied us very nicely while David took fun pictures of this incredibly photogenic building.

People watching at a restaurant counter looking at the street
Don’t waste your dining time! Be sure to get a seat at the counter overlooking the street and watch the people go by. Challenge your kids to find interesting people.

Subway (MTA / Metropolitan Transit Authority)
We used the subway and our feet exclusively and the kids only got to experience 2 taxi rides. Don’t fear it. It’s easy. It’s way cheaper than taxi’s and it’s safe.
David: We got the 7-day all-you-can ride passes, which made subway decisions easy. Even if it was only a 15 min walk, if we were tired and the subway was easy, no problem. Otherwise it’s ~$2.25/ride per person. According to the one subway ticket person we talked to our kids both “looked” under 44” so they could just duck under the turnstile and that was fine. Since both boys are well over 48” and we’re naturally rule-followers, we did not take a chance on this.

Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, NJ
We wanted a day away from the city and this fit the educational bill for us. Edison’s home and research center was a geek’s paradise and it was a little tough to drag David out of there. We learned about ‘muckers.’ They were the folks that worked for Edison and helped him create all of his inventions. He basically created the concept of a Research and Development lab. Junior Ranger Badges were earned via a lot of ‘mucking’ (doing each other’s work.)

9/11 Memorial and Museum
This was a tricky one. The Memorial is free, but due to construction is currently behind horrible security checks and lines. This felt all wrong to me. This should be a place you can walk up to. We talked to a guard who informed us that it will only be like this for another few weeks – so that is good. Going through lines and airport security felt very, very wrong to get to a memorial that celebrates our resilience and freedom. There are also lots of people selling “memorial books” at every corner. It’s very overwhelming that people are making money on tourists visiting this memorial. Lastly the New York Pass provides free admission to a different 9/11 museum right near the memorial – I didn’t understand that this wasn’t the “official” National Museum (which to add to the confusion is moving in the next few weeks). The ‘Tribute Center’ we went to was created by the 9/11 Families Association. I haven’t done my research yet to figure out what the differences are. So, do your research.
David: The Tribute Center was a good introduction for the kids as a reminder of what an awful event 9/11 was. Considering neither was born when it happened, and it’s not exactly an event you spend time talking to 8 and 10 year-olds about until you have to,
the boys just didn’t have much context for the WTC and 9/11. I’m really glad we spent the time at this touching exhibit before going to the memorial.

Shearwater Classic Schooner – Manhattan by Sail
Another example of something we wouldn’t have even thought of without the pass, however, a sunny day and whoosh we are off for a 2-hour sail out to Lady Liberty and back on a beautiful wooden sailboat from the 1920’s. I think the best part of this was seeing how much boat traffic there is and the ballet choreography it takes to avoid everyone. An enjoyable day on the water and another chance to see Lady Liberty up close.
David: The sound of the wind and waves is so much different under sail power – so much more relaxing, even in the middle of all that is NYC (and Jersey). Also, since this was our 4th boat by the Statue of Liberty the boys were fairly ho-hum about seeing her up close again. The garbage barge going by at the same time as the Statue, however, was really quite interesting to them. I’m sure the other tourists were appalled.

Serendipity 3 (a restaurant near Bloomies)
First, there is no Serendipity 1 and 2 – it is named for 3 people who started it. Second, go hungry. Their portion sizes for desserts are out of this world (as are their prices for them). If we went again, I’d go for food, which seemed NYC reasonably priced and then share one or two desserts. They are famous for their Frozen Hot Chocolate. Minimum per person table charge of $8.50 (you can’t just go order one 9.50 Frozen Hot Chocolate and have the table share) and we had to wait 30 minutes for a table – so plan accordingly. Dylan’s is right down the street.
David: This might be heresy, but I believe you can skip the Frozen Hot Chocolate. Too syrupy sweet. The ice cream desserts were terrific, however. And huge. One ice cream dessert can cover 2 adults and 2 children easy.

Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour
We toured this massive auditorium with 6000 seats and learned a bit about the history of this iconic location. Some of the interesting facts we learned, the lifting, revolving stage was an engineering breakthrough when it was created and it has never broken. It has carried elephants and other live circus acts. We spoke with a Rockette (paid picture opportunity) and learned about their rigorous auditions and rehearsal schedule. It was an interesting tour.

American Museum of Natural History
It’s a landmark, however, the actual contents aren’t a huge WOW. The place is overwhelming and the limited tour we downloaded on the iPhone didn’t work that well. We liked the minerals, we liked the Big Bang Exhibit, and I liked the life size whale. It was pretty crowded with school groups and people. We will now have to watch Night at the Museum so that the kids have that perspective on the place.
David: This is an icon of New York and is a must-visit attraction, but don’t expect more than a good natural history museum. Lots and lots of exhibits, so pick and choose well and ignore the rest. The dinosaur exhibit (actually, the invertebrates exhibit, to be more precise) is truly outstanding, but long and if you’re not that into dinosaurs it will be overwhelming.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
First, the wow factor – this museum is ON an aircraft carrier right in NYC. That’s COOL! The planes they have are sitting on top of the carrier! The view is impressive. They also have one of the four surviving space shuttles. Our boys have seen 3 of those shuttles on this trip. (Udvar-Hazy in DC and Cape Canaveral, they haven’t seen the one in LA.) They vote that this one was the least impressive exhibit of the 3. This shuttle was basically a prototype used for studying gliding abilities – it never went into true orbit. The unusual parts of this museum were getting to see the ship’s quarters and some of the carrier’s history – it saw action in WWII, Korean, Viet Nam, recovered NASA space capsules, etc.). My kids are a bit too jaded on Air and Space Museums though (hello – Smithsonian AND Cape Canaveral) so those parts weren’t that impressive, but the Sea part gets a solid

FAO Schwarz
The grandfather of toy stores is a consumer’s paradise. The kids enjoyed wandering around, but they aren’t great consumers of toys so this might have been a bit wasted on them. I did find it fascinating that they had a whole section on minerals. You could buy various gemstones, minerals, and even a piece of NY bedrock (sort of like buying moose poop earrings in Alaska, me thinks.) I like efforts to make geology cool! I think visiting ONE of the two huge toy stores would be enough – either Toys R Us on Times Square or FAO Schwarz on 5th. I’d probably vote FAO because of its history, iconic status in films, and huge $1000 stuffed animals, but dirty little secret – they are both owned by the same company.

Times Square – by day and then night
We arranged for the kids to “enter” NY by coming out of the subway into Times Square. It was during the day, but it was still pretty impressive. Carter really wanted to see it by night also, so we came back to made sure he got his fill of that also. Free and impressive!
David: I’d up this to an A-. This is another jaw dropping, must see place in NYC. Plus TKTS is there, too, so you’ll be there anyway.

NY Water Taxi
We used this to get back from Brooklyn after our walk over the bridge. They stopped off shore of the Statue of Liberty for a nice picture moment. Plus they had a friendly tour guide on board giving out good info. Efficient, easy and free for the New York Pass.
David: Nothing special. I’d give it a C for most people. It did the job for us, since we needed to get from the Brooklyn Pier (where our walking tour ended) to Midtown Manhattan, but I doubt it would be convenient for most people.

Madison Square Gardens Tour
Look through the newly redesigned building, locker rooms, see where the super rich watch games from, and sit in seats. See what’s being set up that day (a possibility to see a sound check for a concert, but it’s a random chance…). If you are a Knicks or Rangers fan, probably important. For the rest of us, it’s a concert/sports arena. It’s a big one with lots of history, but that’s still all it is. An OK arena tour.

Madame Tussauds New York
This is a PERFECT example of something we would never have done without the New York Passes. If you know David or me, you know that the idea that we would pay admission for something like this is knee slappingly funny. So it was a treat to see what other people see. The kids really weren’t that impressed because they didn’t know who most of the stars or celebrities were, but they still enjoyed the concept and the idea of the place. I enjoyed oohing at the pretty people.

Dylan’s Candy Store (near Bloomies)
This is an overwhelming tribute to sugar in all its forms, a museum of candy. Considering the incredible number of sweet treats the kids had been getting in NY – and our trip to Serendipity 3 just minutes away – we were not in a generous mood for the kids. End result, the kids refused to buy anything with their own money so we walked out with no candy, but they did give us a sample of Jelly Bellys. The kids seemed to enjoy drooling over stuff, but were just not willing to part with their cash. It’s probably a must see once, but I doubt we’d go back. Trivia – the store was started by Ralph Lauren’s daughter.

Statue of Liberty Island
So, I’m going to be a heretic and state, I don’t think you actually HAVE to visit the actual island that the statue is on. It is a MUST to get out on the water and get up close to Lady Liberty, but I’m not sure there is a huge value-add on getting onto the island. It’s cool, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. Keep in mind that we didn’t have either Pedestal level or Crown Level tickets. We had the easy-to-get “get off the boat and walk around” tickets (and free with our New York Pass). Pedestal tickets get you up a few stories off the ground and Crown tickets – yep, get you to the top. The Crown tickets are sold out months in advance and I think THAT would be worth a visit. Pedestal didn’t look worth it to us. They sell out a few days in advance, but you can sometimes pick them up early in the morning. The kids did Junior Ranger badges, but I’m not sure how much extra knowledge will stay with them from that.
David: I’d call this a B+ myself. I enjoyed being so close to the statue – far closer than you get by a boat ride. The National Park Service runs the island and they just do historical touring right. The free audio tour was educational (a given) and entertaining (a little slow for some, I’d bet, but if you take the time to listen it’s well done).

Discovery Center Times Square – the Art of The Brick (Legos)
This is the place that usually has the Bodyworks exhibit that has actual human remains displayed in amazing ways. Carter was going to have NOTHING to do with that (he was trying to block out the massive posters with his hands as blinders), but they also had an exhibit by an artist who works exclusively in Legos. It was an impressive exhibit. Who knew you could make so much art with a plastic toy? We covered this place in about an hour. It wasn’t New York specific, so it gets lowered to a C. If we had seen it in Portland, I might give it a B.

Ellis Island
Turns out Ellis Island was hit pretty hard by Sandy– it knocked out their HVAC systems, so most of their artifacts and cool stuff has been taken out off the island for protection. It’s an impressive structure, but until it is restored, I’m not sure it is worth a special trip. Kids did another Jr. Ranger Badge here, but much of the impact is lost without the additional artifacts and displays.
No Final Grade due to circumstances beyond their control – check National Park Service website for updates.
Mid-term Grade C
David: Knowing our not-so-distant relatives likely walked through this building was moving to me. I imagine they have a very well-done museum and experience if you’re willing to give the island a few hours of your time. I would love to see this again after they fix the HVAC.

Toy’s R Us at Times Square
It’s so big it has a Ferris wheel inside the building. Fit our NYC theme of ‘go big or go home.’ Good for a wander or save yourself up for FAO Schwarz. We did this one first so FAO’s impact was a little muted. Nice easy bathrooms in Times Square!

New York Public Library (and Bryant Park)
We did a walk by of those larger-than-life lions Patience and Fortitude that guard the entrance. We didn’t really sit and enjoy the library due to unrelated time constraints, however. Bryant Park (beside the library) looked fabulous with a reading area (OUTSIDE!) with free newspapers and books, ping pong and lots of other activities geared towards locals. If we hadn’t been in a hurry this looks like a fabulous place to spend some New York down time. I also want to capture the memory of the older man playing excellent ping pong with a younger guy. The elder (age 70?) was moving around with 40 year old legs – I had the feeling if he hadn’t been playing ping pong his movements would have been much more deliberate. I think there was some muscle memory kicking in and it was fun to watch.
No Grade – We weren’t there long enough – It had the potential for an A

Liberty Harbor RV Park and PATH Train
An RV park 20 minutes from the middle of NYC by PATH train? How can you beat that? While 80 bucks a night is by far the most we will pay on this trip and the ‘RV Park’ is no more than a gravel parking lot with electricity and water hook-ups, it is still hard to beat. You just have to go in with that expectation – it’s a parking lot for RVs. David and I stayed at this same park 11 years ago and we were AMAZED by the changes in Jersey City. It has spiffed itself way up. There were nice, shiny apartment buildings, huge police presence (we felt very safe), cute restaurants. We both remember the walk from the RV Park to the PATH train station to be a little adrenaline inducing. Now your fear is tripping over a dog being walked! The PATH train (basically a subway train from NJ to Manhattan, but the same transit system as the NYC subways) is easy, clean, and has handy TV monitors to tell you when your next train is coming. You can get to the World Trade Center or all the way up to 33rd St using the PATH train.
David: We again bought the 7-day pass for the PATH train (a separate card from the NY subway unfortunately) and it also worked out well. We may not have saved money over just paying each time, since there was a one-time charge to get the card, and we only used it on 6 days, but the peace of mind of knowing we didn’t have to keep track of whether our cards had enough cash on them or not was worth it to me.

Lastly David and Carter made a fast, solo trip to both the Guggenheim and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bennett and I headed back to the RV for some quiet time. Carter gives them both B+’s and I will try to get him to write about them later.

Based on a handy website I found that compares prices and passes, we saved $990 on attractions!
Pass cost: $670.00 (2 adult, 2 child)
Saving: $990.02
Again, that’s sort of moot because we just wouldn’t have done much of this stuff without the pass. The pass gave us the opportunity to do things we would never have considered. We had fun and I feel like we truly took a bite out of the Big Apple.

Homeschooling (and proof we are still alive)

See - they are learning stuff!
See – they are learning stuff!

We have degenerated into the basics for homeschooling.  I started the journey with these grand ideas that we would do a few hours a day, four days a week.  We would cover everything in an organized fashion.  David would take math and science and I would take the rest.   That was the fantasy.  Here is the reality –

Math: Singapore Math.  David will get the kids through the year on math.  We are lucky that they are already ahead in math and they love it.  Carter who is in 4th grade will finish through 4B and Bennett in 2nd will finish 3B.  One thing I always tell parents is that it is a huge advantage in our elementary educational system to have math facts down cold.  It is so much easier to learn new math in elementary school when you aren’t spending any brain power with math facts.  Learning the concept of reducing fractions or long division is much easier if you aren’t worried about what 3 x 5 is or that 16 has a couple of factors including 2 and 4.   It lets you listen to the concepts.  It is one thing I have no problem with drill and kill on.  Kids that have their math facts down cold do better in elementary school.  We use an app called Math Drills.  I’d give us an A on teaching math.  As David says, he doesn’t make it fun at all, but they are learning appropriate material at an acceptable rate.  (Just in case my views aren’t obvious, I don’t think having your math facts memorized really well makes you a better mathematician, it’s a parlor trick that makes elementary school math easier…)
Science: Just science museums.  I’m actually not that upset about that.  They didn’t get much science in school anyway.  I give us a C because that is average and I don’t think they are learning LESS science than if they were in school.
Writing: Unschooling.  Neither of my kids enjoyed writing.  One dreaded it, the other does whatever the minimum is.  Neither has ever volunteered to write a story for fun.  Neither has ever been praised for their outstanding writing abilities.  My wisest friend in education advised me to ‘unschool’ for writing instruction.  Let them read massive amounts of reasonably written books and use Ralph Fletcher “A Writer’s Notebook” as a read aloud and require / encourage them to keep a writer’s notebook of their own.  This book basically talks about the process of writers use to write.  Here’s the fantasy of what it will look like:  They will just pick up their Writer’s Notebook at odd times and start scribbling in it all their impressions of this great trip or their thoughts on the soaring eagle.  Yeah, that hasn’t happened yet.  They are required to spend 30 minutes a day on writing.  They can write, edit, conference with me, stare into their notebooks, whatever they want.   What this has accomplished is that they don’t appear to dread writing anymore.  They can write various things without hesitation.  (the Writer’s Notebook has different chapters for different types of writing and they have had to try each type.)   I give us a B- on writing.
Writing (minor): the kids HAVE to write in their journal everyday. No exceptions.  Journal is different than Writer’s Notebook.   Journal is the facts, Writer’s Notebook is impressions, stories, snatches of conversation they thought were interesting…   Writing in the journal is no longer a whine fest, they just do it and relatively quietly.  I’m not sure this has improved their writing style or ability, but they whip these out in 10 minutes and they are reasonable summaries of our days.
Grammar: Spectrum 3rd and 5th grade workbooks.  The school they were going to gave us some workbook type grammar books that they hadn’t finished.  We do a little bit every 2 weeks.  Since 3rd and 5th grades follow the exact same concepts just at slightly different levels, I just combine them and teach them together.  I give us a C on this – mostly because I’m not very passionate about it.
Spelling: Words Their Way.  They get a weekly list, but geared around a spelling concept, not random words.  One thing about this is that the test at the end of the week is on the concept, not the words they learned.   I test them individually so that they are on their own level. I give us a B+ on spelling.
Social Studies: The trip.  We recently started a Scholastic Easy Simulation on the Civil War – just to go up to 10,000 feet again and make sure they see the forest instead of all the trees (Gettysburg, Ft. Sumter).  It’s not a bad academic program, and it will be fun and educational, so what the heck.  I still think we get an A+ on this because, hello, they are seeing amazing stuff.   They have experienced the steady winds at Kitty Hawk, they have seen the walls of the Alamo, and been on the type of boats from D-Day.
Reading:  They read a lot.  Carter averages 90 minutes a day, Bennett 30-45 minutes. I occasionally make them read a relevant book, but mostly they chose books themselves with suggestions from me.  The most awesome required reading has been “Two Miserable Presidents” about The Civil War.   They both read exclusively on their Kindles.  We get 6 books each from our home library at a time and then another 10 available to the family from the Portland library.    This would be an entirely different trip if we didn’t have Kindles and e-books from the public libraries.   Carter’s reading list has been improved because, for the most part, the books available from the library are pretty good.  He also knows he only gets 6 books at a time so that keeps him away from those books he can read in 20 minutes because he will run out too quickly.  Whenever we go into a public library, both boys consume Garfield, Pokémon, and any other comic books they can find.   I would give us an A on reading, but mostly they are consuming and don’t analyze, dissect, or reflect on any reading, so I can only give us a B.
We also have recently started a book called The Reader’s Handbook which is going to make them more analytic readers.  I’ll let you know how that goes.
That’s it.  We took 2 weeks off for Disney as Spring Break.  We took off the entire time in DC off.  Any day we are in a National Park and / or doing a Jr. Ranger Book, I count that as a full day.  They still have to do journals and read on all those days, but nothing else.   We will continue on with our schedule through August 1st.  We tend to homeschool a couple of days a week and often on Saturday and Sunday when ’normal’ people are out seeing sights.
Will we have permanently damaged our kids by taking this semester off?  Nah, probably not.  We haven’t been an A+ on homeschooling, but hopefully this will be good enough.
We are headed to Gettysburg today and maybe a Utz Potato Chip Factory Tour.



We just finished up our 14 days in Orlando.  This is the longest we have spent anywhere on this trip.  It was nice to be in one spot, but our reason for being here was exhausting.  We did 6 days in the theme parks, 2 lazy days of visiting relatives in St. Pete, some poolside days, and a few days just sleeping and trying to recover from the theme parks.  The theme parks are too tiring.  Nothing was shorter than a 9-hour day and we had some 14-hour days!  I certainly racked up the steps on my Fitbit.

First, the RV Stuff, we stayed in a private RV park that was near Disney, had cheap weekly rates, and a nice pool.  It was just a sea of RVs, but the location and the pool saved it from being boring.  Plus it had the fun name of Magic Lake and it was in the same town as my mommy grew up, Clermont, Florida.

Everyone tries to give advice for Disney visits.  Here’s mine – if you can afford it, spread out the days, buy an app that give you a suggested itinerary, bring your own snacks, and then completely block out how much you paid to try to enjoy yourself.   (By the way, the app that we liked was called  It suggests a list of rides and parades based on the age of your kids – you can add and delete from the suggested list – it then continuously optimizes the order based on times and where you are.   Having an app ends the thought process of ‘where should we go next’ and you can just blindly follow the app if you so desire.)  After the first day, we made the kids come up with itineraries.  Carter took this very seriously and read additional articles and some library books on the parks.

Summary, we had one day in each of the Disney World Parks, one day in Universal (for Hogwarts), and one final day in the Magic Kingdom for just the boys and me while David caught a spring training baseball game of the Minnesota Twins.  The kids had a great time, the Disney Corporation awed David and me and we don’t want to see another theme park for a long, long while.  It also cost more than a months rent at a nice house for a family in most cities in the country.

To make the blog post more interesting, I thought our foray into Disney pin trading gave me insight into my boys and was somewhat informative.  First, a pin trading explanation is in order.  Here’s a Wikipedia article, but basically, you buy a starter set of pins ($7.95 and up each) then you can walk up to any Cast Member (that’s what you call ANY Disney employee) that has a pins on and trade one of your pins for one of theirs.  They have to accept the trade as long as yours isn’t a fake / knock-off pin.  The pins that the Cast Members have on are PROVIDED BY DISNEY.  When they get their uniform on, they are given 9-20 pins on a lanyard and they have to come back with the same number.   Here is what a trade looks like, you walk up to the shop attendant who has a lanyard with pins, and you stare at her chest to decide if you like any of hers better than yours, if so, you trade.  If not, you move on.

Some think that this is a fun way to talk to employees or other park visitors.  It is a whole sub culture, with conventions and forums, and massive amounts of eBay listings.   It didn’t really sound like my thing because, you know, you have to talk to people.

However, we had dinner with my lovely cousin, Katie and her husband David who works for Disney.  David has been a Disney photographer for over 30 years and has amazing Disney stories to tell.  You’ve seen his work if you have ever seen a commercial or print ad for Disney!  He and his team will photograph an attraction or even a whole resort months before it is finished construction.   The marketing department has to make it look ready to go so you want to be there opening day.

Katie gave each of the boys two exclusive pins for their last day at Disney so that they could experience the art of the pin trade.   The pins she gave us were super cute of Mickey and Goofy saying “CHEESE” for a photographer.

If you know my boys, you can make a prediction of how our trading day went.   Bennett got really into it and traded quite a few times.  He struck up conversations with employees and other guests. Carter really, really liked the exclusive pin he started with and could not find anything he liked better.  I finally forced the issue around 7:00 at night and told him the next look had to include an exchange because Aunt Katie didn’t want us to keep these pins and she had promised the boys that she would send them a duplicate if they really wanted.  (Carter really wants that.)

Here, in pictures is the day:

The original pin (we had 4 total of these).

We had four of these to start!

Bennett: Got a cute starburst Donald Duck one.  I actually liked this one and was sad to see it go.


Bennett: Got a puzzled Mickey.


Carter: Got a nice one of Donald and Mickey hugging.


Bennett: Puzzled Mickey gets exchanged for Goofy and Mickey hugging.


Bennett: Cute starburst Donald gets traded for Chip n Dale.  Bennett really likes Chip and Dale and I’m not sure why, but he likes them.


Carter: Forced getting of an ostrich.  (Katie really wanted us to trade our pins, so yes, I’m a mean mom and forced a trade.)



Carter: Happiness!  Ostrich traded for a Pluto.  We love Pluto.  Bennett had wanted this trade, but Carter got his ostrich pin off faster so he won.


Carter: Last minute trade of Donald and Mickey hugging for a patriotic Donald.


Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  Yeah, those exchanges are a SMALL percentage of the looks and conversations held around these pins.  It took the entire 14 hour day for Carter to get a system down of politely asking to see pins and then saying “no thank you, I don’t want to trade” instead of the brusque dismissal he started with.  Dude, you’ve been staring at the girl’s chest for a whole minute while she stopped her job and stayed absolutely still  – say something before you walk away!  He finally got the routine down.  Now that I look at it, they actually did the same amount of trades.  It just seems that every time I looked around, Bennett was 10 feet away talking to another Cast Member.

Anyway, I’m glad we did it for the experience, but I’m glad we didn’t do it until our last day and our second day in Magic Kingdom.  I want to thank Katie for giving my kids the experience.  We got into it and enjoyed the process, especially once I got used to the feeling that if I couldn’t find Bennett immediately, look for the nearest Cast Member as Bennett was likely chatting her up.

IF you like talking to people and want to add a twist to your Disney vacation, I’d recommend picking up a few at an outlet store or second hand store and going for the whole trading thing.   If you are cheap like me and don’t like talking to people, ignore the trend and spend all of your time concentrating on the experience that is Disney and wring as much fun as you can out of your 14 hour days.  Disney runs an incredible and admirable business and NOBODY does theme parks as well as they do.  They just do it right from the big idea to the smallest detail.

The boys are going to write up posts on the actual parks.

New Orleans, Louisiana, Part 2 of ? World War II Museum

Going to put in one more plug for the Bayou Segnette State Park, which is a great place to base yourself to see New Orleans.

Our next morning was scheduled to rain again so we decided to go for another inside day in a museum.  We had heard great things about the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.  It used to be called the D-Day Museum.  First question you might ask is “Why is the NATIONAL museum for this war in New Orleans?”  Well, let me tell you.  The Higgins Boat, the boat that made D-Day possible, that classic shot of all the troops pouring out of the front of those boats that landed right on the beach was designed and built right here in Louisiana.  It was based on designs used in the bayous.  Never knew that, now did you?

The second question you might ask is, “do you think it wise to take two children you often protect from scary movies to a museum that is dedicated to WAR?”  Yeah, that’s a question we didn’t ask ourselves.  I’m really not sure why we didn’t think of that.  The kids learned a lot about war, with vivid, moving pictures of the horrors of war.   I’ll come back to that in a minute.  Let’s talk about the museum first.

It’s an amazing museum.  The guidebooks say allow 2-3 hours.  I say double or triple that.  We got kicked out at closing time – which might have been bad because it talked about the end of the war and some of the good and bad that resulted.  I also want to point out that this is a VERY American centric museum.  This is the war told from our perspective.  We barely mention the Allies!

The museum started on the ‘home front’ and showed the state of the country before the war.  How few people we had in our military compared to the other world powers.  That was one of my 3 takeaways – how FAST the build up was.  The immense enlisting, training, deploying, feeding, bedding, treating, dealing with the death, the building of factories – all that is just overwhelming.  My other take away was the sacrifices made on the home front, the rationing, the saving, the pain were so much greater than anything we have experienced for any war since.  This is a war that changed the entire fabric of our country.  The last take away was 650 million people.  That’s the number of people that died worldwide in this war.

There were small booths throughout where you could hear amazing personal stories of everyday people talk about some aspect of the war – from women working in the factories, to men talking about the draft, to memories about the various battles that they fought in.   Think Story Corps if you listen to NPR.  They were small moments and very personal and intimate.   That was very powerful for me.

Then there were the large moments – the guns, the uniforms, the ACTUAL planes you could get eye level with.  There was an amazing movie narrated by Tom Hanks that was big and moving and emotional.  In summary, it’s a great museum.

Back to whether we damaged our kids.   Now that it has been a couple of days I just interviewed them about their views or memories of the museum.  The day of the visit they were just blown away by the actual museum – buttons to push, screens to watch, huge planes to ogle.  Now, they still think it was an amazingly well done museum. They aren’t sure that other kids their age should experience the “bad things” that they saw in the movies and the exhibits.  Carter thinks that maybe 11 year olds should go (a year older than himself).  I don’t think they are scarred in any way.  In a way, I’m glad they saw it all, but I’m not sure with a time machine whether I would take them again at this age.   I think they learned about war, but the one thing I will give the museum overwhelming credit for is that it wasn’t just the heroes and the victories and the glamour and Hollywood version that was presented.  The museum was clear on the fact that war is hell, but I think it was also shown a picture of WHY we had to fight that war.

So – one blow against our children’s innocence on Day 1 of our trip to New Orleans.

A plane that went down in Greenland that was recovered after the war.
A plane that went down in Greenland that was recovered after the war.

Louisiana – Part 1 of 2

Started our trip to New Orleans in Acadiana Park Campground, a super quiet, cheap ($15 a night) little city campground.  We took a walk on the raised boardwalk path and enjoyed our first night in Louisiana.   There was one strange guy there who was in the process of painting his run down RV all black, but let’s go for that it was in preparation for Mardi Gras, ok?   

Woke up ready to explore Lafayette when we realized it was Sunday and most of the restaurants suggested to us were closed, as was the Jean Lafitte National Park.  Things close around here on Sunday.    (How bad was the restaurant situation?? We ended up in a Mexican restaurant because we were hungry and needed to eat.  Mexican in the middle of Cajun Central!)

However, the privately run (non profit) Vermillionville was open so we gave it a try.  Vermillionville is one of those living history museums where everyone dresses in period dress and tells you about their history while showing you the ‘ways’ of the time.  In my cynical world, they are build for school field trips.  In this case the history was the Acadian, Native American, and Creole cultures – from the time period 1765 to 1890. The park sits on a 23-acres on the banks of the Bayou Vermilion with seven restored original homes.

It was all pretty standard fare and we might have been bummed about the admission charges ($36 for all of us) had the day not been saved by three things.    One, we wandered into the science center at the museum, which was run by a woman who was determined to teach the kids some science in only the way that a retired teacher can do.  She was awesome and let the kids play with dead bugs and a tornado machine and showed them pictures of snakes.   Bennett especially was eating it up (not the bugs, but the knowledge and the interested adult).  There is something about an ex-teacher when she gets a hold of interested kids.  I loved how she reprimanded one of the boys when he answered something and she said “Yes, MA’AM, son, you are in the South now and you better get used to saying ma’am and sir.”

That was highlight number one; highlight number two was getting to catch lizards and a frog with a 9-year-old daughter of one of the volunteers.

Have you noticed that both of those highlights were about the boys and not us?  Yeah, David and I were not that thrilled about the day, but it got saved for us because our admission entitled us to a Zydeco concert with Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band and included dancing!   We had a blast watching this huge crowd of very varied age and look folks who obviously knew each other.  We went out for a turn or five around the floor too.  Zydeco – seriously, how can you not move to it??  It’s contagious. (Challenge – watch this  videos  or the ones on the side and I dare you to keep your feet completely still.) We learned later that it was a social group of dancers that are serious about their Zydeco.  The woman that we talked to had retired here, just for Zydeco. There was a film crew working and one of them was filming an unaware Carter’s as his feet just kept moving to the music while he was watching from the sidelines.  We got him out dancing too.

That concert was serious fun and totally worth the price of admission!

Off we drove from Lafayette and on to the KOC Kampground in New Iberia, LA. 

Nice little campground with the best Wi-Fi we have found on the whole trip.  When we pulled into our site, a Carter aged boy came over and asked if he could help in anyway.  (That has NEVER happened before.  Wow, we are really in the South.)  We declined, but  after we finished setting up, the boys went for a walk around the grounds with David while I got dinner ready.  They ran into the boy again and we got a little bit of a cultural education.  Dylan lives in the campground on the weekends.  He explained to David that he likes to catch alligators, not big ones – just 5-6 feet.  You just jump on their backs until they tire out, then you got to close their mouths with the good tape – the gray stuff, not the cheap black stuff –  that won’t work.   He also showed the boys a nutria pelt that they had skinned for last nights dinner.

Just how good was that Wi-Fi?  David and I got to watch a Sherlock episode with streaming video.

The next day we went on a factory tour on Avery Island.  Anybody know the factory?  Their product has been to the moon, is a featured ingredient in MREs and President’s tables… Tabasco.  Cute little factory tour on a beautiful piece of land and it was free with 4 little mini samples of sauce for all of us.  Packaging is always the best stop in factory tours.  Just watching machinery package up stuff is way cool.

If one factory tour is good, two would be even better, right?  The Conrad Rice Mill – the oldest working rice mill in the country – was right near by.  They sell their rice as Konriko – which I had always incorrectly assumed was an Asian company.  Not so much, all the rice is grown right near here in Crowley, LA.  Their rice mill is a National Historic Building so they can’t change any of it or the machinery.  All those of you who think that might be a bad idea not to keep up with any current technology, raise your hand.  Yeah, the place is dusty and the machines are ANCIENT.  It was fascinating to know that these old workhorses are still spitting out bag after bag of rice.  We learned quite a bit about the process.   I loved how they have totally jumped on the gluten free bandwagon though.  Good for them.

We drove on to New Orleans and the ever so fabulous Bayou Segnette State Park.    20 minutes from downtown and $20 bucks a night – try to beat that in New Orleans!  One of the highlights for us that every night we drove back into the park we saw some new wildlife including a live armadillo that the boys got to get out of the car to check out.  (I’ve only ever seen them dead on the side of the road unfortunately).   We didn’t spend much time in the park (hello, 20 minutes from New Orleans), but it was spacious and clean and very pretty.  Plus there is a wave pool there in the summer!

Rain was scheduled for our first day, so we got some homeschooling done and headed out of town for Laura Plantation, a creole sugar plantation a bit out of town known for its excellent tour.   We got an excellent education about Creole vs. Cajun vs. Anglo and learned, for example, that in Louisiana, women were allowed to own property, inherit, and manage their own monies back in the times when that certainly wasn’t allowed in other parts of the country.  Women ran this plantation for over 60 years!   It was quite an interesting tour and worth the admission. We again were reminded how much Carter hears and listens when Carter was able to answer all of the questions David was trying to ask of the tour guide because Carter had been walking up front with her for the whole time.  On these types of tours we tend to let the boys stick right with the leader and we hang back a bit.  They spend so much time with us that it’s nice to let them soak up some education from someone else and it gives us a mini break.    Just as some website suggested, we drove by the impressive Oak Alley Plantation for the view, but paid for the Laura Plantation Tour.

I’m going to stop here and post our New Orleans adventures in the next blog.

Ode to a Campground Shower

Showering in the RV is completely possible, but it is never truly enjoyable.   It’s a super small space.  You can’t raise your hands above your head.  Your hot water is limited.  Your water pressure is minimal.  Lastly, you have to be concerned about using too much water and filling up the tanks of the RV.

As I was showering at Henderson Beach State Park in beautiful Destin, Florida yesterday, I realized it was the BEST shower I had experienced since leaving our house.  As I luxuriated in the shower, I thought about the criteria needed for a great camp ground shower, listed in order of necessity.

  1. Safety: The first level of safety is ‘will I even go in alone or are there too many creepy people hanging around.’  Showering is a vulnerable activity so a basic level of safety is needed before we can even explore other criteria.
  2. Hot Water: Although it is convenient not having to mess with getting the right mix of hot and cold water with the taps.  That is sometimes so annoying as you put on a little more cold and then a little more hot just so you can get it just right… In 90% of the campground showers, you just crank that baby to full hot and you can get a nice tepid shower.  So hot water and enough of it to actually get a full body shower with hair wash is a super nice thing.
  3. Cleanliness: First off, of course I have shower shoes.  I use a pair of Crocs.  However, there have been some bathrooms where I’m not sure I want the bottoms of my SHOES touching the shower floor.
  4.  Water Pressure: I have to say, this isn’t typically a problem, but if you are listing criteria, I have to include it around here.
  5. Security: I know, you are thinking, she already listed safety, what does security mean?  Well, ‘safety’ is a yes / no criteria.  Will I take a shower there or not?  Security is a sliding scale of how comfortable am I WHILE taking a shower.  Is there a good lock on the door, is there a sense of security that I have while showering or am I jumping at every noise?  By the way, I won’t take a shower at night and I try to aim for the ‘just after being closed for cleaning’ window.
  6. Space: Lastly, the main thing the RV is missing is a little space to move around.  Space to put your clean, dry clothes on a hook where they won’t get wet as you are showering.  Space to put your leg up so you can shave them (or at least wash them).   Space is nice.

Given these criteria, I hereby award the showers at Henderson State Park, the GOLD MEDAL WINNER of showers.  They blew out all the competition and really shone on that SPACE category.   (Totally inefficiently big showers, but, oh what a joy.)

OK, since one of the purposes of other people’s RV blogs is to help others do this, I’m going to include the following tips for showering on the road.

  1. Have a Ziploc bag with all of your shower stuff – for during and after shower – like shampoo AND comb, deodorant, etc.   Have one of these bags for each member of the family labeled.
  2. If you have kids, get each person their own color towel.  Sure, they don’t match, but now you know who left theirs behind and who dropped it on the floor.
  3. Consider using a washcloth or other small towel to get off most of the water after the shower and then use a big towel for the final work.  Small towels dry a lot faster.
  4. I haven’t done this yet, but I’m considering getting a small container with suction cups that I can put up in each shower.  Even the gold standard showers didn’t have room for my tiny shampoo bottle, etc in the shower and I have to put it on the floor (see note about cleanliness).
  5. For inbetween shower days, baby wipes are your friend.

Anybody have any other showering tips for road folks?

Look how far away my clothes are! I had to actually ADJUST the water several times to get it right.  Heaven!

Bisbee, Arizona

OK, everybody get this song in your head… Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, not Louisiana, Paris, France, or Rome.   OK… now substitute Gary Indiana with Bisbee Arizona.    Everybody got it in his or her head?  I will proceed then.

Bisbee, Arizona is a small artsy town south of the tourist trap Tombstone, Arizona.   The town made its money off of copper mining while Tombstone was all about silver.  We never would have known about Bisbee if the Tombstone/Bisbee combo weren’t listed in “500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up”  (the book I always mistakenly refer to as “500 Places to Take Your Kids Before You DIE” – which is really morbid).

First, we have to discuss Tombstone.  Let’s get it right out there that the kids loved the OK Corral reenactment of the famous gunfight complete with actors and booing and cheering of the ‘heroes’ and ‘bad guys.’  It was loud (real blanks in those guns) and hokey and overdone and all that would have been fine, but the admission was 10 bucks each (no discount for kids).  (Video link not filmed by me and I don’t actually have the bandwidth to watch it all, but it looked right) I looked around the audience and calculated they made about $1500 from our half filled show on a quiet Tuesday.  They do these performances THRICE daily – probably more on the weekends.  The show lasted about 30 minutes AND then the actors were asking for tips.  Someone is making out like a bank robber from the Old West on that business.

The rest of Tombstone is souvenir shops and old-timey photo booths – BUT they are all set on a cute boardwalk with western looking storefronts.   There seem to be a plethora of folks walking around in period costume also.  The kids got to shoot 6 paintball bullets out of a real gun in one of the stores ($3 each).  Woo-hoo, the excitement just doesn’t end. One highlight was a diorama narrated by Vincent Price that was so 1950s it was fun.  I don’t want to give away too many plot points, but the little plastic cowboy figure falling down after he was shot and then springing back up again as the diorama turns was a hit with David and me.  Lord knows, I love a good diorama. *  In summary, David and I weren’t huge fans of Tombstone, but the kids had fun.

The next day we drove a short 30 minutes down to Bisbee, Arizona (cue chorus from song above).    I loved this town!  I want to move here.  David is a little scared I’m serious, and likely I will forget about it in a few months, but the whole place just gave off a great vibe.  It was finally summed up for me when I saw this bumper sticker.

Bisbee – It’s like Mayberry on Acid

Everybody was super friendly (but not in a ‘we are here to take your money so we have to be nice to you’ way), there was a ton of fun artsy shops**, a great mining museum, Bennett and I ate a fantastic deli called the High Desert Market***, there was art everywhere you looked in every random corner, AND the town doesn’t get boiling hot in the summer.  (They have a small monsoon problem, but what place doesn’t have some faults?).  Everybody seemed to know each other and stopped to have a conversation.  How can you not like a town that has this statue for the “Virile Copper Miners” or that their big fundraising event is the Bisbee 1000 that makes you run all the outside stairs around town?


We didn’t even do the big tourist attraction, the Queen Anne’s Mine Tour, because we still felt a little entertainment budget ripped off from the day before, and it was also pricey.  However, it does get good reviews and the tour guides are mostly retired miners.

We stumbled onto a glass blowing shop where the artist had a sign on his chair that said, “Please don’t hesitate to interrupt me.”  He was actively making a glass piece over the flames but he took the time to answer all of our questions even though it was pretty clear we weren’t real customers.  He also had two nice dogs guarding the shop that we got to pet for a quick dog fix.

In short, if you are ever in this area, glance around Tombstone and then drive on down and embrace the warmth of Bisbee.  If David leaves me for a younger model when I’m 65, I’m moving down there.


*I HATE homework assigned dioramas – especially when they are assigned to students as a mandatory project to describe a time in history or book or whatever.  They can be on a list of 20 options of how to do a project, but never mandatory.

** David reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from a 5th grade student of mine long ago… “If everyone is an artist, who buys the art?”

*** Carter and David ate at a nice Mexican restaurant across the street.  Although the owner of the deli tried ever so hard to find something gluten free/nut free/egg free for Carter, the choices left were a little too fancy or spicy for him.  After we ate, Bennett told the owner that it was the best sandwich he had ever had.  My eyes rolled back into my head after I tasted her coconut Thai soup.  (Our review might be tempered by the fact that we have either been eating my cooking or Costco deli for a while, but it WAS good.)

Is This Vacation or Is This Life?

A friend of mine told me that she hesitated texting me because “we are on vacation and she didn’t want to bother us.”  I told her that was ridiculous because we aren’t on vacation; this is just our life for the next 7 months.  I need my friends to text me when they have a random thought of brilliance, I need the ridiculous email chain showing a series of gorgeous pics of actors or the thought provoking one about rich parents volunteering.  I need more of that.   It makes me feel connected.  I have awesome, amazing friends and I miss them.   Facebook makes this much easier to stay connected, but Facebook is always about putting the best foot forward and never showing the embarrassing or too personal.

I have to think about “vacation” though because, well, technically, we are on vacation – we are travelling, we are seeing amazing sights, 5 years from now when we look back, we will look at this as the RV Vacation.  So, it’s vacation, right?  On the OTHER HAND, it is life.  The kids get haircuts, we have birthday celebrations, I’m still cooking and cleaning (and trust me when I think ‘vacation’ it does not involve me cleaning the toilet every other day).

Bennett reading his kindle while life goes on.  Kartchner State Park, Arizona
Bennett reading his kindle while life goes on. Kartchner State Park, Arizona

Then there is the homeschooling.  That’s not vacation.  (I’ve been getting a few questions on what we do for homeschooling, I’ll summarize it with it’s more than some and less than others and will try to write up a blog entry on it when I’m not being lazy.)

David met a family last night that is planning on traveling for the next 4 years.  FOUR YEARS.  They have 3 kids, 8, 6, and 3.  The 3 year old isn’t completely potty trained.  (OH MY GOD, THAT WOULD BE SO HARD.  I love the age of our kids for this trip.)  In David’s brief talk with them he found out it probably would have been fun to talk to them further.  We seemed very similar in outlook about money and parts of life.*   The dad works remotely (great post here on the care and feeding of your work at home husband).  Are they on vacation?  I would answer a no on that one.

*How much did we have in common with these folks?  I backed a Kickstarter project in November for a board game that teaches programming called Robot Turtles.  It wasn’t available in stores – only to the Kickstarter folks.  They have a picture of the same game on their website!  How random is that?  Unfortunately they are driving west and we are driving east and they left for church this morning before we were even awake.  (Well, that’s something we don’t have in common.)

Anyway – back to the vacation idea.   Vacations are breaks from reality – two weeks in Hawaii.  Traveling is our reality right now.  We are incredibly fortunate to be living our dream and seeing all of these amazing sights, but it isn’t completely a holiday.   Maybe that’s what I should call it.  We aren’t on vacation; we are just living our dream…

P.S. Many of my cooler blogging friends have musical interludes for their blogs.  While writing this, all I could think of was the Go-Go’s “Vacation.”   Further proof that I’m just not that cool.


Using Kids’ Real Names in Blogging

Now that we are a whole 10 days into the real portion of our trip and starting to take the blogging seriously, I’m starting to wonder whether we shouldn’t use aliases for our kids’ names.  David’s thought has always been – there is nothing on the blog that we want to hide from.  It is us.  I think that is a fair decision for us, but I’m starting to question it for our children.  Shouldn’t they be allowed to create their own digital world?  Does 15 year old Carter really need anyone to know that he used to sleep with a stuffed animal called Little Bear?  Does job seeking 21 year old Bennett really want his employer to know that we used to call him Mr. Mayor because he is the only extrovert among us?  One solution is to obviously take down the blog as they get older.  However, I have seen  other bloggers use aliases.  I saw some cute ones last night, Data, Storybird, Monster Man, Cat and Dog.
I’m not a network news watching doom sayer that thinks that crime is rising (it’s not) and that there are bad people around every corner (mostly super nice ones).  However, now that the blog is being seen by non friends and family, I wonder about someone coming up to Bennett and saying “Hey, I hear you like rocks, come over to may scary van with no windows and I’ll show you some.  Your mom and dad, David and Betsy, said it was OK.  Your brother, Carter, is already over here.”  Bennett is a pretty bright kid and we talk about different scenarios a bit, but he might fall for that one.  I don’t see any of that as a likely occurrence, but it is a stronger possiblitity with a web presence than without one.
David’s more worried about identity theft for us.  One of my goals at the next fast internet place is to invest in a simple credit monitoring service for the year.  I might even see if I can get a free one from Target due to their recent difficulties.  (I did use my card during the time frame, but have seen no problems.)
What are your thoughts on aliases vs. real names for children?  I’m going to send this to a few family bloggers too to get ideas.