Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Universal Studios, Orlando Florida

Wedecided that we'd start at Islands of Adventure; ride any last rides we wanted, finish casting spells all around Hogsmeade and then head over to Universal Studios on the Hogwarts Express and finish out the second park. 

Our first stop was the Pteranodon Flyers.  Alec, Evan and myself all rode up in the sky hanging from the track like a Pteranodon.  It was lots of fun and the ride emptied out into a dinosaur themed play area.  I told the boys they could play for a little bit but reminded them that if they wanted to ride Flight of the Hippogriff again we needed to get to Hogsmeade before it got too crowded.

They ran around for a while up rope bridges, through look out towers and down slides.  They  had fun until Evan thought he was lost and started to cry.  Luckily he was nearby and I could hear him so I popped into view and assured him he was fine.

Pteranadon flyers

The fort

Learning about dinosaurs in Jurassic park
We entered Hogsmeade and immediately went to Flight of the Hippogriff.  We all rode once and Alec was fine being paired off with a complete stranger.  As we were standing in line waiting for the roller coaster to come around he was telling her all about Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.

The older boys liked the ride so much they asked to ride it again immediately.  The line was pretty much non-existent so I agreed.

 Evan and my husband decided to sit out the final ride and we found them sipping non-frozen Butterbeer as we exited the ride.  Alec wanted some Butterbeer too so we got him a cup and the boys spent the rest of our time in Hogsmeade casting spells around the town using their maps and wands.

Alec liked to pretend his map was the Marauder's Map and was heard to mutter "mischief managed" a time or two.  They would have happily spent the entire day in the Harry Potter worlds again but we reminded them that there were other fun rides too.

We boarded the Hogwarts Express back to London and the younger boys kept their wands out to fend off dementors.  They were trying to keep them hidden from all the muggles we saw and they were having a ball.  

We went to Diagon Alley and rode Escape from Gringotts.  Alec was real scared to even try it but we managed to get him on the ride.  Most of the rides at Universal Studios are 3-D motion pictures combined with movement.  Alec does not like 3-D and chooses to ride the rides without his glasses.

He was so scared this time I didn't use my glasses either but kept reassuring him he was OK and everything was fake.

It was a very neat ride!  The special effects were amazing and the other two boys just loved it.  They wanted to go inside the Magical Menagerie and pick out some stuffed animals.  I hated the idea of carrying them around all day but didn't want to have to walk all the way to the back of the park to get them at the end of the day either.

Alec chose a pink pygmy puff like Ginny has in the book and Evan chose a nice gray Hippogriff.  They kept their animals and wands out while we walked around and they each cast a final spell or two before exiting Diagon Alley.
We all rode Men in Black Alien Attack and I got the highest score!  We were being trained as recruits for Men in Black and had laser guns that we had to shoot at aliens for points.  It was fun and silly and we all enjoyed it.

It's nice that Universal Studios provides lockers free of charge near all the rides that don't allow bags on them.  

I also loved that almost every ride was indoors in air conditioning; a real plus when you're walking around in the hot Florida sun all day.  We walked around and saw the DeLorean from back to the future as well as some other movie props. 

After Men in Black we got some drinks and walked around while heading towards the Simpsons ride.  My kids had no idea who the Simpsons were but they LOVED this ride.  They're still reciting lines from the movie we watched.

 Throughout the wait areas there are TV screens with episodes of the Simpsons being shown.  The ride itself is placed inside an amusement park and you're following the Simpsons as they try to escape from Sideshow Bob, who's trying to kill them.  It's all presented in a funny, slapstick comedy kind of way and the kids were laughing uproariously the whole time.

At least two of them told me this was a favorite of theirs!

We were walking around looking for some lunch ideas as we wandered across the E.T. Adventure ride.  I had heard this was really cute and great for families so I convinced the boys to go on the ride.  We sat on a giant bike and glided over cop cars and through the woods in a race to get E.T. back home to his planet.  At the end of the ride we end up in E.T's world and see his friends and family.  It was really cute and since we've watched E.T. the boys got a lot of the references in the forest scenes. 
We found the boys some snacks and we went to watch a live show called Animal Actors on Location.  We learned all about how they train animals to work on television and movie sets.  While waiting for the show to start they all sorts of trivia questions about animals in movies; many of them about Harry Potter which really excited the boys.

 We got to see how they film birds in flight and how they use computer aided graphics to enhance footage of animals actors and make them talk.  We saw birds, otters, dogs, skunks, and even cats.  It was a super cute and fun show to watch.  The boys just loved it. 

The pig cleans up garbage!

Showing how they film birds in front of a blue screen so they
can add in background effects later with computers

Watching how they make dogs talk in movies
We stopped for lunch at a diner and shared some milk shakes, fries, burgers and chicken fingers.  We passed by a mini little parade area with floats, music and dancing Spongebob characters. While eating we talked about what was left to see and do.

We wandered over to the Transformer building but the older two boys didn't want to ride.  The wait was a little long (like 20 minutes-- OK so I know that isn't a long wait time but it was for us at this time of the year) so we decided to go check out Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.

Gru is telling us all about becoming minions
We used our fast passes from Gringotts and walked right onto the next ride.  It too is a moving picture ride and it was adorable.  The boys love the minions and Gru and they were laughing a lot all through the waiting areas where they show video clips and all through the ride.  It was awesome!

We walked across the rode and went into the Shrek 4-d theatre.  Alec was a bit leery since he doesn't like Shrek or 3-D movies but it was cute and funny and I'm pretty sure all the boys enjoyed it.

The skies were getting pretty dark and we weren't sure how much longer the rain would hold off.

Evan still really wanted to try out the Transformer ride and so we headed that way.  We passed Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.  The boys were thinking about getting in line to meet Bumblebee but we were told the line was closed.  Imagine our disappointment when Optimus Prime showed up just minutes later!  We could have gotten in line to meet him but by that time the line was already really long.

We were bummed but Evan was more focused on the ride and Ian wanted to head into the Transformer store and buy a toy.  We agreed that I'd wait in the store with the older two boys and my husband would take Evan on the ride (the ride, of course, dumps you out in the gift shop so we thought that would work perfectly).

Within minutes of getting into the store the skies opened up and just started down pouring.  We heard very loud claps of thunder and saw bright streaks of lightening.  The store got very, very crowded at that point with everyone trying to hide from the storm and buy ponchos.

I received a text from my husband that the ride had broken down and they were stuck on it!  After a very long wait in a very crowded store we finally saw them exit the ride.

They had to get off the ride and walk to the exit.  They were given express passes to try and ride again at another time or another day but we decided to just call it a day.

The rain had let up slightly and it had  been a while since we heard any thunder or anything so we started walking towards the front of the park.  The rain started coming down a bit harder and in no time we were soaked to the skin.  We heard some thunder and saw a huge streak of lightening so we headed into the nearest shop to finish waiting out the storm.  Once the thunder and lightening stopped for good we made a run for the car.

I commented that it probably wasn't a good day to get the kids picture in front of the giant globe that says Universal Studios but saw my opportunity near the exit turnstiles.

They were wet here but by the time we reached the car no one had a single dry spot ANYWHERE! 
Once through the turnstiles we still had a long way to go to get to the car and we decided to keep on trying to run; why I'm really not sure since we were already very, very wet.  Somehow it just made it more fun though.

Alec and I lost our flip flops in some of the huge puddles along the way and ended up pulling them off, running barefoot to the bridge that connects the parks to the cars.

We were laughing and at that point we were so wet we couldn't possibly have gotten any wetter.

Puddles up to my knees were dotted here and there, the rain was coming down so hard at times it seemed to be bouncing right back up and soaking our pants.  It was definitely a time in our trip we'll never forget! 
Linking Up With:
Strawberry Butterscotch

Monday, September 29, 2014

Trying To Do Too Much

It's funny, but on a day like today, where I feel like a total failure, I can look back through our day and marvel at how I FEEL that way even though our day was not a failure.

Perception is everything and I really did feel like we failed.

We did so much today and yet I felt like it was one of those days where nothing went right, no one was in a great mood and we didn't have a wonderful day.

Thinking back through our day I realize that most of those feelings belong to me.

The boys were mostly happy and if asked I'm sure that they'd say they had a great day (until the very end when our Wii died).   I woke up tired and kept adding things to my list that I wanted to get done today.

I don't know why I always have so much on my list and I try really hard to keep it realistic but today I just didn't. 

I wanted to get in a full day of school with the boys, go run errands, bake pies, clean the house, and really the list just went on and on.  As I saw the clock slowly ticking away the day my sense of urgency just kept ratcheting up and hampered my enjoyment of the day.

It was time to start dinner by the time I really stopped and gave conscious thought to our day.

When I tried to focus  on what we did today I realized part of my feeling about our day were due to the fact that we had done so much and I was feeling so rushed through it all.

I realized I needed to try harder tomorrow to enjoy the moments and have fun with my boys; something I don't think I did at all today!

Trying to do too much always leads to disappointment and frustration. 
Our day started out great.

Alec came downstairs around bedtime last night and watched us teaching Ian to play the card game Pitch.  He watched and asked questions and while I could sense he wanted to play he instead asked if someone would play Zeus on the Loose with him.  We told him it was bedtime but I offered to play with him as part of our school day "tomorrow."  Before he headed up to bed he had already shuffled the cards and dealt them out.

The minute I showed my face downstairs this morning he asked me to play.  I, of course, agreed.  We played three rounds of Zeus on the Loose and I marveled at his quick computations.  He can add and subtract very well in his head all the way up to 100.  

He was excited to play-- just still waking up I think
 As we finished up our game he asked me to play Hangman on the Kindle with him using Greek and Roman God names.  We played several rounds back and forth all morning as I pinned Ian's new pants for hemming, did laundry, ate and cleaned up.

Playing on the Kindle worked great for us since neither one of us had to be in the room while the other person was guessing and we just kept passing it back and forth to one another.  I often looked up the spelling of the Gods names on the internet to make sure I was spelling them right but Alec often just sounded them out (or perhaps he remembered them from his reading since he only spelled one or two of them wrong the whole time we were playing!).

I asked all the boys to vacuum their rooms and one other rug in the house.  Ian, who is always on top of things was the first one ready for school.

We did another mini lesson in his Verbal Math book and then I set him up with a tray of cornmeal and his list of new spelling words.  He practiced writing his words in cornmeal and reading them in cursive. 

While he was working the younger two were vacuuming and I brought my sewing machine down to the kitchen to work on hemming a bunch of pants.

By the time Ian finished his schoolwork the other two boys were ready to start on their work for the day.  I sent Ian upstairs to finish reading his book Miss Klute Is a Hoot.

The younger two boys sat down with the cornmeal and their lists of spelling words.  Alec had a tough time reading his words in cursive but soon figured them out.  Evan and I read all of his words together and as he wrote each word he re-read them to me.

The boys ended up getting frustrated with the cornmeal and both decided to just write their words.   Evan used a pencil and wrote his words along the side of his list while Alec pulled out black paper and my white chalk pencil that I use for sewing and wrote all of his words in cursive. 

Once they were done with spelling, I offered to work with Evan on his math.  We finished up lesson three in his Verbal Math book and then I let him play for a bit while I worked with Alec on catching up to Ian in their Verbal Math book.  He did two pages and didn't seem to mind doing more work today.  I was reading in the book how when adding 9 in your head you should add 10 first and subtract one.  Alec just looked at me and said "well, yeah, that's how I've always done it!" 

I sent Alec to go read and since has been complaining he's out of library books he went to see if Ian was done with his book.  He was and so Alec sat down and started reading Miss Klute is a Hoot while Evan and I did another few pages in his reading lesson book and read Count the Mice together.

It was slow going and painful trying to read with Evan today.

I noticed he was super sensitive about everything this morning and I thought he might have been overtired from our weekend.  I know it's always a hit or miss thing with him and reading so I tried not to get too frustrated with him.

By the time we finished all our schooling it was already lunchtime.  I was STILL working on hemming pants and was just determined to finish it all today since I had pulled everything out.

The boys were reluctant to make their own lunches but they did.  Evan surprised me and decided to make macaroni and cheese.  He asked me to walk him through the process again since he hadn't made it in a while and I was willing to do that.  I knew I could keep working in the kitchen on hemming up until he needed my help to pour out the boiling water.  He did a great job putting his lunch together!

By the time all the boys sat down for lunch I was finally done sewing.  They asked me to read the next chapter in Harry Potter and I agreed to just as soon as I got my lunch together.  Evan offered to share his macaroni and cheese with me so I had some not wanting to hurt his feelings.

By the time we finished reading and had the kitchen all cleaned up we decided to run out and finish all the errands we had planned.  

We were out and about for a couple of hours making several stops and we listened to our book on CD the whole time.  Our first stop was the library.  Alec has been complaining he has nothing to read but I don't think I'll hear that any time soon.  He must have checked out 20-30 books!  The boys learned how to use our library's new self check- out system.  One of the librarians came over to show us how to do it and all three boys took turns scanning books and running them through the machine that allows that us to get past the detectors without setting off the alarms.  They had so much fun and honestly, I think they're going to want to check out more books in the future. 

From the library we headed to Target.  Evan had birthday money and a gift card he wanted to spend.  We spent quite a bit of time walking around comparing prices, adding up purchases and figuring out change.  He finally settled on some new Skylanders and Ian picked out a new Wii game.  He had some money left over from vacation and working that he had brought along to spend.  We ran into some homeschooling friends and stopped to chat for a bit. 

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up all the supplies to make apple pie and Tollhouse pie.  The boys played outside while I cooked dinner.  We switched the boys chores around and they all willingly helped in the kitchen for once.

During dinner we got onto the subject of percentages and my husband started giving a mini lesson on finding percentages and decimal points from fractions.

After dinner we made a bunch of apple pies together as a family.   The boys all took turns using the apple peeler.  The two older boys read the recipe and helped mixed up the filling, they also helped roll out the crusts and Alec took great pride in pinching the crusts together and covering the edges with foil.

I knew Ian would help but was surprised the other two boys were even interested since they won't eat apple pies.  It was nice to have the help though!


Measure and pour

Peel and cut

Rolling out the dough

Once the first two pies were in the oven and the other two were all ready to go into the oven we cleaned up the kitchen and headed to play Wii.  Our console wasn't working and while my husband looked up ways to fix the problem the younger two boys occupied themselves by playing with Mad Libs.

We came up with a few really funny ones and they were laughing hysterically by bedtime.

We headed upstairs for books and Evan read Moo!  We listened to a few more stories too and each of the older boys kept their lights on for some additional reading.  Ian finished up Ice Fishing and was trying to finish Bow Hunting.  Alec wanted to finish the Weird School book he had started during school today.

All in all it wasn't a horrible day but we ended the night with the realization that our Wii had died and I had three pretty upset boys on my hands.

 Normally, I'd just think "oh well, that's too bad" but with all the new games Evan got for his birthday (that he really hasn't had time to play since we were gone on vacation) and the new games the boys just bought today I'm feeling really bad for them and researching different solutions.

We sent them to bed with the promise we'd talk more in the morning.   As much as I can't say our day was awful or anything I am still hoping for a better day tomorrow.   

I really will try my best not to over schedule myself and relax more, take enjoyment from the good times we have together, and just breathe.

Linking Up With:
The Homeschool Post

Our Night at the Medieval Times Dinner Show

My husband and the boys remembered our last trip to Medieval Times in Orlando  (you can read about our last trip to Medieval Times here)  and decided they really wanted to go again.

 It was very last minute and we weren't even sure if any tickets would be available so we called ahead and found that we could in fact join in that night's events.  We packed up and headed out.

Checking out the suits of armor
I knew the boys hadn't really liked much of the food that was available last time and I wasn't sure what they were going to eat but they were beyond excited.

Ian was really excited to find out that we were sitting in the red section this time and Evan loved that "our" knights symbol was the griffin.  We sat in the front row and Ian immediately made friends with the guy sitting next to him.  They chatted through the show and Ian even ended up getting an extra dessert out of it!

Our knight
We enjoyed watching the horses, the falcon, and all the jousting and fighting.  There's a lot of pageantry to the show and it reminded the boys of our medieval study.

Our server offered to scrape some BBQ sauce off of his rib platter and the boys had sauce to dunk their chicken in so they ate lots of chicken, all of their garlic bread, some of their tomato soup and they all tried their potatoes.  I couldn't help but marvel at how much their tastes had changed in just a short amount of time.

Each realm marching in

The falconer

getting ready to battle

We could hear the clink of metal as they used hand to hand combat

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Checking Out One of Florida's Natural Springs

When we woke to no rain we decided to head out and check a local spring.

Florida has many natural springs and we had a ball at Rock Springs Run a few years ago (you can read about it here) and decided to check out another one.

We first needed to get some supplies.  We always bring a picnic lunch, buy a cheap Styrofoam cooler and some ice and make a day of it.

This year Ian was asking for a strainer to bring with us.  Last year's spring was pretty shallow and we found one boy searching through the small stones for shark teeth.  We stopped at the Dollar Store, Subway, and Wal-mart and we were on our way. 

We arrived at Wekiwa Springs State Park and walked around to check it out.  We could rent kayaks and canoes and paddle up river/stream, swim in the spring, and they even check out the nature center.

My husband and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun and looked really neat.  Ian and Alec were not so sure.  They were sad and upset that we couldn't tube down a stream like last time.  Ian was upset that the water was deeper this time and he might not be able to sift for shark teeth.

We had all the boys change and take a dip in the spring while my husband went to rent us a canoe and a double kayak.

Alec was apprehensive to try the water- it was
too cold for him.

Ian and Evan got right to work

All springs in Florida have a temperature around 70 degrees so it's pretty cool.  It took Alec a while to get in since he thought the water was so cold.  It was a very hot day and we were all sweating so I offered to hold his hand and we'd go underwater together.  He came up smiling and shivering!

We piled into our boats with Alec and I riding in the kayak and the other three in the canoe.  In no time at all we were enjoying all the wildlife Florida had to offer.

We saw/ heard an otter!  My husband spotted a river otter's face popping up out of some weeds and we could hear the animal letting out great puffs of air every time it surfaces.  We watched the weeds moving and knew where he was moving to, I even got to see it's tail at one point as it came up and dove back under real quick.

We saw a lot of different varieties of turtles and birds.  Some turtles were small and others were quite large; many were sunning themselves on logs along the stream but the water was so clear we could see right through to the bottom and often saw them swimming along beside us too.

This squirrel was not afraid to come right up to us
Looking for the otter- we could hear it and occasionally saw it too!
We saw birds flying overhead, resting in trees and all along the water's edge.  We heard insects buzzing in the trees and saw lots of different types of trees and plants.  Ian was excited to see lots of different fish species too.

We were all relieved not to see any snakes or alligators.  After paddling for quite a while we came to a fork in the stream and a sign that pointed to Rock Springs Run.

Lots of big black birds
Another bird at the water's edge
Lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs
Alec paddling up river
Such different trees and vegetation from home!
Fork in the stream
We decided to turn and see if we could paddle to Rock Springs.  We were fighting the current and both Ian and Evan were getting hot.  The spring was really shallow in this area and so they both decided to hop out of the canoe and walk and swim alongside us.

Ian and Evan walking out boats against the current
Ian walked through the spring pulling both the canoe and kayak along for a little bit.  It was so peaceful!  The boys were having lots of fun but soon started asking if we could go back and swim "for real."

Can you see the white Ibises in the trees?
The boys decided to swim back part of the way
We paddled on for a while and then decided to turn back.  We were due back with our canoes by 2:00 and were surprised to find that is was 9 minutes until the hour which meant we had been paddling around for 2 hours! 

Checking out the size of the plants

Spotting another bird along the shore
We ate lunch and all the boys went back in the water.

We found the fissure where the water comes up out of the ground and Ben talked all the boys into exploring it.  There is a deep crack in the rocks and you can see the water bubbling up out of it.  Ian, Alec and my husband all tried swimming down into the fissure to check it out but the water pressure slowly pushes you back up to the surface.

The boys sifted through rocks looking for shells and sharks' teeth.  Ian used our strainers to try and catch fish; he was successful too!  They played with other kids around the springs and had fun in the cool, clear water.

Playing with the water

Trying to catch fish

He got one!
 Alec and I went to check out the nature center and we were thrilled to find it was an outdoor pavilion with live animal tanks!

 We saw turtles, fish, snakes, lizards, and a baby alligator.  We read all about animal tracks and animal scat and even saw a stuffed diorama of all the local animals in and around the springs in Florida.

Alec met a little girl up at the nature center and it was so cute to see her asking him all sorts of questions.  He was politely answering her and you could see her soaking in the knowledge.  Her eyes would get big and wide and she'd immediately ask him another question.  She eagerly ran from tank to tank encouraging him to follow her and trying to show him/ tell him about new things too.

Once Evan learned the nature center had live animals he wanted to go check it out too.  Alec and I brought him back and pointed out everything we saw.


Florida Pine Snake

Corn snake

small lizard

Baby alligator

Alec makes a friend

Learning about tracks and scat
We stopped throughout the park to read various signs posted about the species of fish, species of turtles and other assorted signs.

We learned that what we had thought were giant sun turtles on the river had actually been red eared turtles; a non native, invasion species of turtle that is cross breading with the yellow- bellied slider and causing that species to slowly dwindle.

We've been learning a lot about invasive species these past few years and talked about why that happens.

I love days like this when we can combine family fun with lots of learning opportunities. 

Linking Up With:

This Is How We Roll Thursday Party