I am not a Boy Scout

If you are on a tight budget, but would still like to take a vacation, I strongly recommend finding a friend who has children and who would also like to take a vacation.  Then swap houses.  It does not matter where the friend lives, or where you live.  It doesn’t matter that there is “nothing to do” in that area.  Middle of nowhere, no cultural venues, no recreational opportunities?  No problem.  As long as the friend has toys, your kids will be perfectly happy to stay put.  Pack a good book and a laptop (for yourself) and chill out for a few days.

Friend and blog reader, Kris, was so very kind and offered us her house when she learned we were coming to town.  Kris and her family were heading out of town for an annual family reunion, so we showed up as they were heading out.  Kris has only met me once, and I’m not sure which of us is crazier.

My only moment of panic came when she asked me to take care of the pet geckos.  During the day, the light to the tank needed to be ON, and at night, the light had to be OFF.  That was all we had to do, but it still had me worried I would mess up.  We left yesterday and she wasn’t coming home until today, so I stressed out a lot wondering if I should leave the geckos in the dark or the light.  I finally asked the neighbor to come over in the morning to light them up.

I’m just happy she didn’t have fish.  I have killed every fish I have ever had.

My children would have been happy had we just stayed at the house and allowed them to play with the toys and the Wii, and watched movies.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) for them, they have parents who have little inkling to sit around and do nothing when there is a whole city out there to explore.

And so we dragged them all over, spending very little time at the house.


Last night, as our trip was nearing to an end and Bill was lamenting not having brought appropriate footwear for all the walking we did, I concluded that I really need to spend a full day – 12 to 14 hours – to properly get my family packed up and loaded, and to get my house put in order.

“If I’m only going to spend half that time to prepare for a trip,” I told him, “the job will only be half-@$$ed {ahem}.  And if I’m only going to spend 3 or 4 hours to pack up, then the job won’t even be half-*****.  Basically, I did a quarter-***** job preparing us.”  Now, the footwear issue is not my fault.  A grown man wants to pack boat shoes for a sightseeing weekend, that’s his problem.  The kids all had shoes appropriate for walking.  But there were other items forgotten, that I would have remembered had I used my checklists (pre-made, stored on the computer) and/or had 15 minutes of peace and quiet in which to just think about what I was doing.

We had lots of police-people telling us to STOP.  Good advice.

More on things left behind later.

Poor kid, dragged hither and yon.
Finally, a good place to stretch out and relax.

Being unprepared also had the detrimental effect on the general mood of the trip.  The kids would have been grumpy no matter what (is it just my kids?  Tell me it’s not just my kids who aren’t very good at doing new and different things, breaking with the routine or walking 5 miles over the course of a day, for 2 or 3 days in a row).  But normally, I am not a grumpy person and my joy and enthusiasm is, if not contagious, plenty enough for all of us.  But if I’m stressed and aggravated, then that mood certainly is contagious.  Poor Jenny, who really has a very hard time rushing and being spontaneous, was so upset when packing that she said she just wanted to go the next day.  She knows, if I don’t, that it’s much better to take the time to do it right.

My normal, happy self.

Sometimes it’s contagious.

He has his own brand of happiness.

Advil for Breakfast

Storming Atlanta

We’re just back from a weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s been about a year since Bill and I did this kind of trip: wake up early, stay up late, walk walk walk, and walk some more, see this, do that, mandatory fun sort of vacation.  I brought back 682 photos, of which I will only post a tiny fraction.  The great thing about digital cameras is that you can take 682 pictures and be happy with a few dozen good shots.  The kids moaned and whined the entire trip…well, everybody whined a few times, some whined more often than others, and when you have 6 children (and 2 occasionally grumpy adults), there’s always somebody whining.  All that walking, much of it with an extra 30 lbs on my back or shoulders, means I had Advil for breakfast.  More posting to follow after I take a shower and start the laundry.

Better than Crossfit

Family Tent Camping: Having Fun

It was my intent to go camping near the beach so we could just hang out and not rush home.  I have yet to take my kids to the beach or pool this year and have one of them say they’ve had enough before I say it’s time to go.

Unfortunately, three things conspired against this plan.

One, we didn’t get out the door very quickly.  We’re working on organization.  It takes practice.

Two, we brought the dog.  Our dog has had heat stroke more than once, so we have to be very careful with her.  Our tent spot was more sunny than shaded, so she was already getting hot while we pitched the tents and ate lunch.  Then we had to walk a sandy path to get to the water.  Loose sand is extremely hot, and the poor pup’s paws were on fire.  Then we got to the cool water, which was great, except that the waves freaked her out.  She tried to attack them.  We tried taking her a bit deeper and past the breaking waves, but she seemed to be gagging.  I took her up on the beach, but it was too hot.  I took her back to the water, and she attacked the waves. 

Finally, we went for a walk.  She really calmed down then, but I soon realized it was because she had swallowed so much salt water that she felt ill.  She threw up twice on the beach (and once in the van on the way back to camp), and also had some diarrhea.  Back at camp, she drank a gallon of fresh water, but refused food until we returned home.  She burrowed her wet body into the sandy soil that made our campsite, and was absolutely miserable the whole night. 

Dog attacking waves.

Calm dog walking on beach, pre-vomit.

The camera scares her, too, so she really wasn’t liking me at all at this point.
So happy to go home, that she doesn’t mind discarded crocs on top of her.

Next time, I think we’ll kennel her.

It was nice, though, to have her around at whatever time of the night when I awoke suddenly thinking there was some person or creature scratching at the side of the tent.  I scared Bill half to death when I shook him as I called out, “Who’s there?”  It was just Peter rolling around and kicking the wall of the tent making it move.  Immediately after waking Bill, I had a moment of clarity and said, “It can’t be anything or the dog would bark.”  Both she and Bill wished I would have thought of that before waking them up.

The final thing that prevented a fully enjoyable time at the beach was the thunderstorm that rolled in.  We had left our tents open to prevent heat build-up, but that meant rain would get in.  I’d rather have a hot tent than a wet tent, so we had to get back before it poured.

Peter, balancing

Peter, deciding that balancing was too dangerous

Dead wood + water = lots of fun for kids

When I was down beside the sea…a plastic spade they gave to me…

This is Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island.  It’s cool.
Shrimp boat heading out to sea.  St. Simons Island in the background.

Shrimp boat in the sound with mainland Georgia and a thunderstorm behind it.

Almost a nice picture.  Wish I had snapped a few more.

In her own world.

These little white pebbles all up and down the shore are baby clams.

Cruise ship, driftwood, thunderstorm.

Extreme fishing.  Lightening, what lightening?

Brief respite before it started to rain.

What they were doing when I said, “It’s raining!  We have to GO!”

We’ll try this again, soon.  Maybe we’ll go down on a Friday afternoon and set up camp and Bill can meet us after work.  We’ll leave the dog, so we won’t have to worry about her getting hot, sick or scared.  And we’ll leave the tents closed up so that we don’t have to hurry back when it starts to rain.  There’s nothing we can do about the weather, though.  This time of year, there’s almost always a chance of thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon.

Family Tent Camping 101: Managing Expectations

If you could go inside my head to the little room labeled “Camping,” you would find a pleasant room with pictures of my smiling happy children roasting marshmallows and singing “Home on the Range” around a roaring campfire.  There is a soothing voice assuring me, repeatedly, that camping is fun.

Happy children going camping.

Dog, happy to get to go along.

Happy Dad.

Happy mom with sunglasses.

And if that isn’t enough to brainwash me, I remember a woman who lived in my neighborhood many years ago.  She had 4 – 6 children (at the time) and the rumor was that she had gone home during her husband’s deployment, driving all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast, camping along the way.

Wow.  That’s been like a Double Dog Dare for me ever since.  I mean, she seemed like a normal mom.  So if she could do that, surely I could camp a few nights with my husband doing most of the work.  Right?

The last time we went camping was July 2007.  I was heavy with child.  I had a toddler.  It was hot.  Despite this memory, I continued to tell myself that I really wanted to go camping.  Unfortunately, we moved during the summer of 2008, and Bill deployed during the summer of 2009.  We had reservations to go camping last summer, but I caught some virus that took me out for more than a week.  This summer, I told myself, we were going.

So, we did.

And it was fun.  Sort of.

The reality of the situation is this: camping can be great fun, BUT…you have to accept certain truths which that soothing voice doesn’t care to focus on.

1.  Camping is dirty.  It is.  There is no getting around this fact.  And if you have young children, or a dog, the problem is magnified.  Even washing dishes involves a lower standard of cleanliness.  I have to admit that the dirt makes me hyperventilate, slightly.  And it makes me very appreciative of tile floors and hot running water.

Digging in the road while eating a Poptart.  I’m a GREAT Mom.

Do you see why I hyperventilate?

Look, Mom, filthy hands!

Dirty legs.

Dirty Toes.

There are a few ways to combat the dirt.  One option is to wear long pants, socks and shoes.  This is not an appealing thought when the temps are in the 90’s.  Another idea is to put your children, at least, in bathing suits and wash-and-wear shoes.  Then you can periodically hose them off.  This really is the best option for any child who feels compelled to sit and dig.

2. There are bugs and wild animals out there.  Lots of them.  Bugs, especially crickets, cicadas and frogs are very noisy at night, especially when it is hot.  Moths and other nocturnal flying creatures are attracted to the lantern you are using to read after dark.  Mosquitoes enjoy having you over for dinner.  Wild animals will get in your trash or coolers if you leave them out.

That’s one big beetle who came to visit.

3. Camping is work.  You have to set up the tents.  You have to light the fire.  You have to hand wash the dishes.  You have to haul the food in and out of your van to keep it away from the wild animals.  You have to walk little children over to the showers several times a day.  When you get home, you have to vacuum an inch of dirt and sand out of your van.

Staking the tent

Putting up the 2 man tent

Holding the pole so Dad can find it.

The sandy soil made this an easy chore.

Setting up the chairs.  They actually discussed how the chairs
should be arranged by color.  Such girly girls.

Drying the dishes.  Dirty towels as a tablecloth.

Breaking camp.

Woe is her.  She was the ONLY ONE working, and it just wasn’t FAIR.

Home.  Exhausted.

I think the work part of camping gets better with experience.  And with children getting older who can help.  Planning simple meals, especially things that can be pre-cooked, lessens that chore.  You could use disposable plates and utensils if you must, but my “green” and cheap nature doesn’t recommend it.

Sandwiches: easy meal.

And it is the work aspect of camping that appeals to me the most.  Everybody helps out, so it really is a “family team building” experience.

Despite these facts, I still believe that voice that tells me camping is fun.  I’m already thinking of our next trip, hopefully in a few weeks.  My daughters may need some convincing, but mandatory family fun is the way we roll.

Working Vacation

Yesterday’s success story was finally getting my husband to join me in being an official resident of the state of Florida.  He has a driver’s license and both cars now have Florida plates.  So long, New Jersey.

Florida does not have a plate for the front of the car, so Bill said he’d look around and find me something.  The front grill looks very bare.

He suggested something glittery that said “Michelle.”  Can you imagine?

Several weeks ago I was eyeing the camo steering wheels covers at a local store.  I have nothing against camo steering wheel covers, but they are definitely not my husband’s style.  I thought it would make a funny practical joke.  He caught me looking and threatened to pimp my ride with Betty Boop paraphernalia.  I decided the laughs weren’t worth the expense.


Speaking of practical jokes, several weeks ago, Fritz took an empty beer bottle, filled it with water and hammered the cap back on.  He put it in the fridge hours before Bill came home.  I didn’t see him, and didn’t notice anything suspicious when he loitered in the kitchen that evening when Bill came home from work.

It was a well played joke.

It doesn’t bode well for our future if we don’t sharpen our wits.


In order to register the cars in Florida, we had to drive the cars to Florida.  We went to Fernandina Beach, which isn’t too far away.  And there’s a beach.  Bill left an hour before me to take care of his license first.

I was almost to Florida when my car started shimmying very very badly.  I pulled over and expected to see a flat tire, but they all looked fine.  As I sat and texted my husband, who was 25 minutes away, a police officer pulled over to see what was wrong.  He looked at my tires as well, but suggested the problem could be internal.

“You wouldn’t know it until it blew out.”


We agreed I needed to keep it slow (55 mph in a 70 zone), and he left.  After I got back on the road, Bill called and said perhaps the lug nuts were loose.  Since I was near an exit, I took it and checked those.  They seemed fine.  He texted that I should find a service place, but I saw only gas stations at that exit.  I decided to get back on the highway and limp the ten miles or so to the exit closest to Bill and deal with it then.

On the curve to the entrance ramp, the left rear tire blew.

I am very grateful that it was there and at that low speed then at highway speeds with traffic.  One’s car does fishtail when something like that happens.

Safely to the side of the ramp, I called AAA and they promised to send someone to put on the spare tire as soon as possible.  I appraised Bill of the situation and he said he would be over as soon as his license was done.

I thought about changing the tire myself.  I have changed tires before.  Not on this car.  Not in a while.  The last time I started to change a tire, somebody pulled over to help.  It was in my neighborhood, and I knew him.  I wasn’t sure I wanted a random stranger’s help in this situation.  The biggest reason I decided not to do it was that it was the left rear tire, only a few feet away from the edge of the ramp.  I really didn’t want my little kids witnessing mommy being dragged off by a tractor trailer.

So I waited and when the pickup truck showed up, the person who got out to change my tire was…

…a girl.

I texted my sister that fact and she texted back: “Are you sexist?”

“No,” I responded, “just embarrassed.”

I helped by keeping an eye on traffic.  And I’m glad I didn’t have to kneel down in the gravel in my nylon board shorts.  She was wearing jeans which are much better suited for that sort of work.


The rest of the day was calmer.  After the clerk checked my VIN and mileage, I headed to the beach.  We sat and waited a bit for a thunderstorm to pass and then spent a few hours watching the fish jump out of the water. 

This may be our last summer here, so we’re enjoying the ocean as much as possible while we can.

Blue Star Museums

Once again, the Blue Star Museums Initiative begins tomorrow, Memorial Day, and goes until Labor Day.  Last summer, we happily took advantage of the free museum admission offered to military families at participating facilities.  I noticed one new addition in my local area to last year’s list, so check your state, even if there was nothing on it last year.  This is only the second year running, so we can hope that it will only get wider participation every year.

Playing Hookey – Again – on a Monday

Lessons from the beach:

If you go to the beach with a friend who inspires good conversation, you may miss your exit, and not notice it for, oh, 14 miles or so.

That’s only a half hour extra in the car with cranky kids.


If your strawberries fall in the sand, and you wash them off in the ocean, they will be salty.

Sea salt on chocolate – works.

Sea salt on strawberries – no go.


If it is sunny and warm, but not hot, you may forget to reapply sunscreen.

This will be bad.


Three hours at the beach in perfect weather means nobody, even you, will be happy that it’s time to leave.

Hollywood Studios

We’ve had a crack down here on people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing (that would be me, primarily).  This may seem like a no-brainer, but half-days for schoolwork for, um, three months, will put you behind schedule.  Really.
So, it’s my lunch hour and I’m hoping I can post pictures of another Disney day before I have to put my nose back to the grindstone.  Or rather, pick up the whip.  {It is now bedtime and I’m hoping to wrap up the first part of our vacation day…}

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, Monday was so exhausting that we took Tuesday off.  Bill and I went for a run, and then we all went to Downtown Disney, which is a shopping and restaurant district designed to part people and their cash.  There is a LEGO store there, and that is where most of my little fools bid farewell to their souvenir money.  I checked out the ticket prices for Cirque du Soleil and decided that my children will never see this show if I have to pay for it.
Wednesday dawned sunny but cold.  The 10 day forecast had predicted temps in the mid-60s, but every day, the reality became lower and lower.  We ended up having highs in the mid-50’s with morning temperatures in the 30’s or even lower.

And I left winter coats and gloves at home.  Brr.  We tried to avoid the shade.

The older kids wanted to go to Hollywood Studios, and friends had said the Toy Story Mania ride was a lot of fun, so that’s where we headed.  I went to get Fast Pass tickets fairly early (~10 am), and our ride time was something like 2:30 pm (and when we went for our turn, there were no more Fast Pass tickets available, so keep that in mind if you go).

No short sleeves.  Yes, Jenny is shivering.

One of the participatory shows allows kids to become Padawans.  It’s for kids ages 4-12, and of my 5 eligible children, only one was interested: Billy, of course.  Another note if you go, you have to sign your child up for a time slot, then they have to come back 30 minutes before the show.  But if you have a Star Wars fan, it is a lot of fun.

In line for Jedi training.

Listening to instructions.




And again.

And again.

And again…

And again.

Darth Vader cometh.

Billy bravely ready to fight evil.

Take that!


Not sure if this is a defensive or offensive move.
I think it’s supposed to be offensive..

The class stands firmly opposed to the Dark Side.
Check out the cutie on the far left.  Bad to the bone.

This happy face made standing in the cold worth it.

After this, Bill took the older 3 to an Indiana Jones stunt show, and I took the younger half over to see Beauty and the Beast, abridged.  Both shows were outdoor venues.  In the shade.  On metal benches.

“Indiana Jones”

Throwing punches.

We met up and ate our packed lunches.  I’m not partial to smushed sandwiches.  If I were to pack lunch for the office, I would guard it carefully or pack it in a hard plastic (reusable) container.  Throwing a sandwich wrapped in foil in a backpack along with 7 other sandwiches and snacks and water bottles guarantees smushed sandwiches.  Solution: Bill and I and Fritz opted for wrap sandwiches.  Same fixings, but in a large tortilla.  Doesn’t smush up like bread does.

After our lunch we split up again.  Bill took 4 off to some of the indoor shows while I took Billy and Katie, the Daring Duo, to ride the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.  Although I like for us to do things together, it’s not much fun for little kids to sit and wait for big kids to get off rides…nor is it fun for big kids to sit through things geared for a younger audience.  And going separate ways gets you through a park faster. 

The lines were blessedly short and we joined the rest of the family for a Playhouse Disney show that Mary thoroughly enjoyed.  The rest of us were happy to be sitting and warm.  By this time, our Fast Pass ride time was almost up.  We headed to Toy Story Mania, which is a larger than life 3-D video game, similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride in Magic Kingdom.  Mary really couldn’t figure out her gun, so I ignored her and focused on maximizing my score.

I dogged our group, by a landslide.

Very excited.
Very tired.
The whole place was made to look like you were the scale of
a toy soldier.  We liked the C9 lights…more like C9000 lights.


Having fun.

The “toy” scale carried through outside.  It was cute.


I asked Bill what in the world he was taking a picture of.
The army guys, of course.  They were well done.
As I said, cute.

We had been working hard to quell meltdowns in the younger crowd before Toy Story Mania, and I would have left but for those Fast Pass tickets. Also, unfortunately, we had promised someone we would stop by “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”  As a final stop, that was actually rather nice.  The little ones just want to play, and this is a playground.

She wanted me to hold her up so she could
reach the PlayDoh to get it out.
Her heaven: a lifetime supply of PlayDoh.

The little kids were too scared to get near the ant.
Thank goodness the big kids aren’t too big to pose.

It was mid-afternoon, and we decided that the younger crowd had had it.  Or maybe we had had it with the younger crowd.  We saw what we needed to see, so we left.  I wanted to get a last picture in front of the centrally located hat, and a nice worker offered to take one of all of us.  You might notice that 2 people are highly uncooperative.

Shiny, happy people (not holding hands).

That day wasn’t over, but this day is, and I am signing off.

Magic Kingdom

I don’t think I ever blogged about the trip we took to Disney 7 years ago.  I wasn’t blogging back then (almost, but not quite).  I did write about it for an obscure magazine, but I doubt if more than one or two random readers saw it.

It was, in a nutshell, hell.  (The trip, not the article.)

Perhaps I will reprint that article here soon.  I can look back and laugh.

Anyway, it all started with trying to take the kids on the ride It’s a Small World, and the meltdowns we had from the get-go on the morning of the first day of our vacation.  Because of this, I insisted that the first ride on this trip be It’s a Small World. 

There were no meltdowns. 

Taking the ferry over.  Note the short sleeves.  It rained
later, but Monday was our warmest day the whole time.

When going to a large, public spot, we always take a photo
of all the kids to help identify them should they get lost.
Mary did not want to cooperate.

It’s a Small World.  No meltdowns necessary.

Just inane, repetitive singing.  Mary loved it.
It made us all smile.

Meltdowns came later.  Even the 3 year old can’t figure
out what her problem is.

That first day was pretty crowded.  There is a Disney Half-Marathon and Marathon which was the weekend before we went.  You know who had run in it, because they wore medals around their necks.  We saw Santa Claus, and he had a medal.  FYI: it took Santa just under the 7 hour time limit to complete the marathon.  Santa did not work for Disney.  He was just taking a vacation after the busy season.  He was not in uniform, but he did hand out Santa coins to the kids.  I forgot to get his picture.

Her face needs cleaning, but her mom is on vacation.


Never too old for a carousel.

Much happier.


Ready to win.

Right after this ride, we got in line for the Flying Dumbo.  We were almost up there when they closed it all down due to storms coming in.  It poured.  We saw lots of shows.  I regretting leaving my jacket in the car.

We kept thinking maybe we should just leave, but we were so far away from the entrance.

And then the rain stopped.

Then we had meltdowns.

Then they stopped.

Then another kid had a meltdown.

And then it was so late that we decided it would be stupid not to stay for the fireworks.

She will make me delete this photo when she sees it.
She wishes to destroy all evidence of her sourpussness.
That way, when she’s 30, she can pretend that
she was always perfect.  But I’m on to her.

The stockades.  Just punishment.

Swiss Family Robinson Tree House.
Would be a nice picture except for the rear
end of the man in line ahead of the kids.

Finally on the Flying Dumbo ride.


Blurry, but nice.  We’re waiting for the parade.
I am quite chilly and really wishing I hadn’t left
my sweater in the car.  I seem to be the only one though.

Bill got a good shot.  One good shot.  He took about 20.
Fireworks are not easy to photograph.
And you can never capture their essence, so why bother?

The thing is, you can’t really do all of Magic Kingdom in one day.  You have to come back.  Have to.

But 11 hours at the park with little children is much more than normal humans can bear.

We took Tuesday off.