Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fun and Games

My kids love to play games of all shapes and sizes. Major is getting old enough to be able to understand how to play lots of games. With those that aren't age appropriate, we usually just improvise so that he can play. I really enjoy games too and like to encourage them in their game playing/game inventing.

One day this week we played Skip Bo, an old favorite, during one of Mary Alice's school breaks.

For a couple of months now, one of the kids' favorite games has been played with a balloon. They use the same balloon for about two weeks until it is "used up." The object of the game? Keep the balloon from hitting the floor. This game keeps them entertained and laughing for hours a week. Yesterday, Major came out and let me know that the only balloons left in the craft dresser were pink. The balloon that he had been playing with was no longer usable, so he asked me to blow up the pink one for him. He wrote his name across the balloon. His name was written (rojaM). About half of the time, he writes his name this way. We are still working on the whole left to right thing. :)

Today, Mary Alice and I played an invented card/board game to help her get a firm understanding of place value. After we finished the game, she said, "I LOVE Math! I used to not like it, but now it is FUN!" That made me excited, because, at least for today, she likes Math. I think it is game playing that she really enjoys, though. :)

A few days ago, the kids and I played one of our favorite games together---"Loaded Questions". They LOVE to play this one. You take turns moving around a game board and answering various questions about different types of things. Then, you write your answer down and then guess who gave which answer. For our version of the game, we asked the question first. Each person wrote (or drew) their answer to the question. Then we shared our answers. It was so funny to see the kids' minds working as they decided on an answer. Playing this game was a good way to get to know them better. I love my sweet kids! I enjoy my time with them so much!

Here are the questions and answers that were given during our little game. These questions were all from the actual board game. (The wording of two or three of them was slightly altered to make them easier to understand.)

#1- Who is your favorite person in the movies?

MA- "Mrs. Price" (Angela Lansbury)
Me- Julie Andrews
Maje- Lightning McQueen

#2- What is the grossest thing in your refrigerator?

MA- cheese food
Me- cheese food
Maje- cheese food and celery

(by the way, we didn't tell our answers until everyone had written theirs down, so there was no copying)

#3- If you could do something fun, what would you do?

MA- go to Six Flags
Me- hug and kiss Josh
Maje- ride a roller coaster

#4- What makes you sweat?

MA- summer time
Me- working out
Maje- riding my bike for a long long time

#5- Where do you not like to be tickled?

MA- my armpits
Me- my neck
Maje- When dad comes home and horseplays with me and tickles me, I like it. :)

#6- What is something that you often forget?

MA- to wear leggings under my dress
Me- jobs that I was supposed to do/places I was supposed to be
Maje- to put my shoes on before TAFA

#7- When is the best time to have a party?

MA- birthdays
Me- Christmas
Maje- my birthday

#8- If you had magical powers, what would you do with them?

MA- make movies like the Wizard of Oz
Me- Keep my house clean
Maje- Turn people into super heroes with special powers

#9- What is something that you would need to get up very early to do?

MA- go to public school
Me- Christmas morning
Maje- daycare (His picture of a daycare very closely resembled his picture of a shoe from question #6)

#10- If you could make a delicious dish out of eggs and one other ingredient, what would you add to the eggs?

MA- "rosemerry" (original spelling)
Me- tomatoes
Maje- cream cheese

#11- If you were in charge of a sports team, what would be your mascot?

MA- the bird that comes to Red Robin on Fridays and Saturdays
Me- ?
Maje- a bear

#12- What is the best thing about staying in a hotel?

MA- sleeping with Major
Me- a bigger bed
Maje- eating breakfast (He drew a pancake.)

#13- What is the best Christmas movie ever?

MA- White Christmas
Me- It's a Wonderful Life
Maje- It's a Wonderful Life

#14- What is something that should be done every Sunday morning?

MA- worshipping God
Me- listening to music, worshipping God
Maje- get dressed

#15- What is your favorite part of the Willi Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?

MA- when they are eating chocolate
Me- when Charlie finds the golden ticket
Maje- when they are flying high up in the elevator

#16- What is your favorite dairy product?

MA- ice cream
Me- ice cream
Maje- milk (He is his daddy's son.)

#17- What is your favorite thing to do with snow?

MA- make a snow man
Me- make a snow angel
Maje- throw snowballs at each other

#18- What is something that makes you very excited?

MA- going on a vacation
Me- going on a trip
Maje- riding a roller coaster/ Powder Keg at Silver Dollar City

#19- What is one of the biggest problems with the American school system?

MA- The kids have to sit all day.
Me- Too much is expected from teachers.
Maje- The building explodes and it is on fire. (What?!?)

#20- What is one thing that someone can do to make a mess of their life?

MA- not worship God
Me- not follow Jesus
Maje- break someone's toy (This recently happened to Maje when a destructive friend intentionally broke one of his favorite toys. Major hasn't quite gotten over it yet.)

#21- What is something that would be very rude to do during a funeral?

MA- scream
Me- talk on your cell phone
Maje- hit someone

Addendum: Josh just reminded me that I forgot to include this one. I can't believe I left it off of my initial blog!

#22- If you were to invent a deodorant, what would you call it?

MA- Smelling Good
Me- Fresh Scent
Major- Hiney (He showed us a picture that we first thought was a picture of the Ten Commandments until he explained that his deodorant was simply called "Hiney". I don't think that product will be flying off of the shelves. :)

The day can't be all about fun and games, though. I have work to do! I have had so much to blog about these past couple of weeks, but absolutely NO time to post. I will write more soon.

Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Our First Family Vacation

The kids are playing outside in their new mudboots. Lunch is cooking in the oven. Life is good.

I have had little time to update my blog lately. I am trying really hard to stay on top of Mary Alice's schoolwork, manage my chores and my responsibilities around the house, and still have enough time for quality one on one time with the kids. It is difficult to do. It is a constant balancing act. Sometimes I think I have too many goals. I find it hard to meet them all. In addition to those goals already mentioned, there is also my personal relationship with God and my ministry to those who are outside of our little world to think about. I find it difficult to do everything well. When I get better at one thing, another thing slips up. I find myself increasingly reliant on God to help me through each day cheerfully and without being discouraged at my failures. I often am encouraged by one of my favorite verses. Posted on the windowsill above my kitchen sink is this verse:

Let us not grow weary of doing what is good. Let us not get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. Galatians 6:9

Even though some of the tasks that I do are mundane and often thankless, God helps me to find joy in them (most of them anyway). :) Sometimes I catch a glimpse of rewards from the little things that I try to do, but often I have to realize that some of these rewards will come later. This verse helps me do that.

Sometimes I have to choose. What am I going to do today with the time I've been given with my kids? I needed to go to the grocery store today, but Mary Alice and Major have been asking for me to play outside with them for several days. Each day, I have some sort of excuse. They are good excuses (laundry, dishes, etc.), but today I am not making an excuse. I am choosing to embrace the precious time with my little ones. My grocery list can wait.

Here are some pictures from our first family vacation ever. Last week, Josh and I took the kids on a trip to Branson, Missouri. (Melanie, I thought of you. How far away were we from your home town?) There are alot of things that we didn't capture on film. Sometimes, it was too inconvenient to haul our camera around. I will try to recap the highlights with a brief list. Lunch will be ready soon. :)

1) First, we travelled through Searcy, Arkansas and took my sisters out to dinner. It was fun to catch up with them. My sis, Hannah, is quite the adventurous freshman at Harding University. She has participated from everything from cliff diving to fighting childhood cancer. She is CRAZY busy, but seems to be having tons of fun. I am so glad. My other sister, Tessa, is super busy with nursing school. I have to brag on her just a bit. She is doing quite well so far. I am very proud of her.While there, we stayed on campus at the Heritage Inn. The kids spent the whole morning saying things like "How BEAUTIFUL!" about the hotel room. They obviously haven't travelled much. It was so much fun for Josh and me to get to see their enthusiasm and excitement over the tiniest of things.

Here they are, peeking out of the window of Heritage Inn. Too funny!

2) While in Arkansas, I got to meet a blog buddy. I met Kim from Lifesong. We met at a local coffee house. Mary Alice enjoyed playing with her sweet daughter, Evie. I had SO much fun visiting with Kim. I told Josh that I could have talked with her all day long. Meeting her was definitely a highlight of our vacation.

3) When we neared Branson, we stopped and saw our good friends, Beau and Joni Bennett and their A-DORABLE little boy, Grant. It was so much fun catching up with them. This was totally unplanned and a huge blessing to get to visit with them.

4)On Saturday evening, we entered Branson, Missouri. Immediately, the kids were impressed with the "beautiful" and "amazing" surroundings. Branson is filled with lots and lots of flashing lights (Las Vegas style). We entered after dark, so the kids were in awe of everything. It was precious!

5) On Sunday, after having our own worship service in our hotel room, we took the kids to play mini-golf at a local place. They LOVED it. Then...we went on to the IMAX to watch a show about ocean life. We took the kids swimming that evening at the hotel.

Here are the kids right before playing mini-golf at Pirate's Cove in Branson.

Mary Alice right after a game of mini-golf... The weather was PERFECT.

6)On Monday, we went down to Branson Landing, which is a really neat shopping area. We didn't shop much, but just walked around and enjoyed the scenery. Monday was kind of a day to chill out and relax. (We were really just biding our time until Silver Dollar City opened on Wednesday.) That evening, we watched a really neat Chinese acrobat show. The kids were WAY impressed. Josh and I were too. It was fascinating how agile and flexible these people were. Throughout the show, I got to hear Major and Mary Alice say things like, "How did he do that?" and "Did he mean to do that?" and, my personal favorite, "A-MAZING!!" I am sorry to say that we did not get any pics of the Chinese acrobats. That was a really fun part of our trip. What I really wanted was to talk to the acrobats. They didn't speak English, but I would have loved to have heard their stories, what brought them here, etc. I wondered if they were Christians. Many of them were so young. It must have been hard for their parents to send them to live so far away. I was just really curious about their lives and backgrounds.

The kids and me at Branson Landing

7) On Tuesday morning, Josh surprised the kids with a train ride on a real train. It was a really fun experience. The conductor punched the kids' tickets. I think the kids' favorite part was riding through the tunnels and looking for the "tunnel monkeys".

The Maje in his trainman hat

Looking out of the window at the beautiful view... I think the view of the two of them is even better :)

8) Tuesday Night- Perhaps one of the most extraordinary things that we saw on our trip was the Noah Musical. It was awesome! The theatre and production was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. I REALLY wish we had gotten pictures of this amazing place. It was a beautiful theatre and a beautiful interpretation of the story of God's provision for Noah and his family. The theatre surrounded you on all sides. It was as if you were inside the actual ark. The theatre group used many live animals and animated ones for those that they could not use on stage (lions, elephants, etc.) Our whole family thoroughly enjoyed this amazing experience. I REALLY wished that we had gotten pictures of this place. It prompted much family discussion. If you go to Branson any time in the near future, this is a MUST SEE!!!

9)And now.... What the kids had been waiting for all week.... Silver Dollar City!!! On Wednesday morning Josh and I took the kids to Silver Dollar City. This was a great time of the year to go. There were tons of people there, but most were in the over 60 crowd. Many of those people were there to see all of the shows that Silver Dollar City had to offer. Josh and the kids had no wait time on all of the roller coasters. The kids had never been on a roller coaster before. I was so impressed with their bravery. They ATE IT UP!!! They wanted to ride and ride and ride, which is exactly what they were able to do. We encountered very few other children during our visit, except for one large ridiculously out of control group of preteens on a field trip. It was wonderful. The weather was great. The people were great.

Our first day at Silver Dollar City....just as we walked into the park...

The lye soap lady...They have all of the old fashioned craftsmen at Silver Dollar City. It is very interesting. Mary Alice remarked once that she wished she'd worn her bonnet. :)

Here are the kids right before their first roller coaster ride. I have fond memories of riding "Fire In The Hole" as a child. I had pumped up this ride to them all week. Oddly enough, it was the only one that they didn't enjoy. :( They didn't like the fact that it was in the dark and they couldn't tell what was coming next.

Josh and the kids right after "The Great American Plunge"... This one was a little bit blurry, but I loved their faces in it. Josh was a sport and rode all of the water rides with the kids...twice. He and Mary Alice got soaked! I spent a half an hour in the bathroom squeezing all of the excess water out of their clothes. Nightmare!!! Major didn't get wet. He wanted to ride again. Josh and Mary Alice said, "No way!" I was just thankful to be sitting out for these rides.

Mary Alice and Major on one of the kiddie roller coasters... Notice that their hands are up in the air. :)

The kids watching a taffy maker... They were happy to sample some of the free peanut butter taffy. :)

Here are the kids particpating in an old fashioned school lecture. Major kept shouting out questions without raising his hand. "What is a bomb?" I found myself wondering if he was this annoying in his Bible class. The kids used real slates (made out of slate) for their lesson on the American flag. Mary Alice carefully followed the directions of the school teacher. Major drew a picture of Super Major on his slate.

Here are the kids eating a funnel cake...I think they enjoyed it, don't you?

Major squats on the ground and listens to an old fashioned Bluegrass band. He really enjoyed it, but was definitely ready to ride more roller coasters when it was over!

My sweet girl sat in my lap and listened intently to all of the instruments...

The end of our two days at Silver Dollar City...We had a fabulous time!

10) I forgot to mention that after one of our days at Silver Dollar City we met Beau, Joni, and Grant at Branson Landing for dinner. We expect a call from them when they come through our area in a few weeks!!! :)

All of the shows/entertainment were fun and a great treat. You know what I enjoyed the most, though?

-Hearing the kids giggle each night for what seemed like FOREVER because they were having so much fun together... Almost every night we had to say, "Quiet! No more laughing. It is time to go to sleep." (By the way, we were saying this while holding back laughter of our own.)

-The kids getting to spend so much time with their daddy. I was a distant memory on this trip. It was always, "Can I sit by Daddy?" I usually walked a couple of steps behind Josh and the kids. I enjoyed the view of my two special kids holding the hands of their dad.

-Watching the kids do so many things that they don't get to do very often

-Listening to Josh read the Bible with the kids each morning as I put on my make-up. (At night we were WAY too tired!!)

-Hearing Major call out "Hey sis!"

-Hearing Mary Alice explain how/why things worked the way they do (even if sometimes it wasn't quite accurate)

-Naps at 3:00 in the afternoon so that we would feel energized enough to enjoy the late night life in Branson

-Having a husband that catered to my every dining whim (I seemed extra starving on this trip. Josh was sweet to try to accomodate the needs of my palate.)

-Taco Bell almost every night of the week (It was a good way to save money.) We usually had a fantabulous lunch and a smaller dinner.

We were so blessed to be able to take our first family vacation together. I hope it is the first of many!! I have to go finish school with the girl. Hope you enjoyed the recap!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

This and That

The kids and I went to visit my grandfather today. The first thing that he asked me was, "What is going on at your house besides smelly towels?" I realized that I hadn't updated my blog in quite a while and decided to come home and get busy writing!

Update on the smelly towel dilemma: I think I may have solved the problem at last! In my research on the Internet I found that MANY MANY people are unhappy with their front loading washing machines. We originally bought our front loader because it was supposed to be more economical. As it turns out, the front loading washer may have been contributing to the smelly problem. Many front loaders are said to be prone to growing mold/mildew and such if they are not handled with kid gloves. We were already following the manufacturer's instructions to clean out our washer with bleach. The washer has a "Clean Washer" cycle. We had already meticulously followed the instructions for the recommended amount of cleanings, along with the instructions to always leave the washer door open after each cycle.

Here is what I am doing differently to make sure that the problem does not reappear. We will just have to wait and see how it goes... I now set the washer to buzz when the clothes are clean and transfer them IMMEDIATELY into the dryer. Before this mildew incident, I might have let them sit for an hour or so on occasion. Also, I wipe out the inside seal after each wash with a paper towel, to make sure that NO water is left standing inside the washer. In addition, I will now ALWAYS wash my towels and whites with bleach. I think that using bleach more often might help with the problem. We also found a product that is made specifically for this type of a problem. We are testing it out as well. If we had known about the complaints from so many people with front loaders, we would have bypassed trying to be earth friendly and would have stuck with a traditional, inexpensive top loader. In the long run, we will be spending much more on bleach, special tablets, paper towels, and time than we would have ever spent on a few extra gallons of water. Hopefully, our stinky towel problem is gone for good and we won't have any more problems with the matter. If we start smelling like sour rags, we will be selling our front loader and getting a model that actually fulfills its purpose of cleaning clothes.

Other than the smelly towel problem, here are some things that we have been up to at the Smith house....

Last weekend, we went up to Temple to my nephew, Jonah's, second birthday party. My sister-in-law, Alisha, has a knack for making fabulous cakes. Check out this cool motorcycle cake that she made for Jonah, at his request. It was entirely edible and was made using her super delicious recipe for fondant. Isn't this an amazing cake?

The party was motorcycle themed. Here are the kids in their do rags...

The kids played on the slip and slide and had fun with their two cousins. By the end of the day, we were all worn out and ready to go home and get to bed!

On Labor Day, my Mom, Dad, and brother Ben came over to the house for the day. My sister, Taylor, and her husband, Scot drove down and spent the day with us too! It was really fun to catch up and talk with everyone.

On Monday night, Josh camped out in the back yard with the kids. He has done this several times. Each time, the kids LOVE it. It is so much cheaper than camping, and, when Major gets hot in the middle of the night and wants to escape to his bed, he can. :) They made hot dogs on the grill, s'mores, and watched movies outside in the tent. Josh asked me if I wanted to join in on the fun. I didn't.

Major just started another season of tee ball. I have a love-hate relationship with sports. I love watching my kids play sports, but think that sports have gotten totally out of control in our country. Let's remember that Major is only 4 years old!!! He has been having two practices a week for the last two weeks. Some of the parents on his tee ball team went to the coach and pointed out that, according to league rules, they were allowed a maximum of three practices a week. WHAT?!? What is the meaning of this? It is insane! We are talking about four year olds here! I can't imagine there being a reason for a four year old (or anyone other than a college athlete or professional) to need to have three practices a week. You have to be kidding me! What about family time? What about church? With three practices a week, when would there be time for other (more important) family pastimes?

I don't remember things being like this when I was a kid. For some reason, sports start earlier and earlier and with greater intensity than ever before. I am thankful that Josh, too, saw that three practices a week was excessive and decided that Major would not be committing his whole life to tee ball this season. Crazy!!! He will continue to play, but will be missing many of the practices. I can only hope that this decision doesn't put him behind on the competition for college scholarships and world fame. That would be a bummer. :)

On this subject of excessive sports involvement in our country, I have to share a conversation with a woman that I had last week. This woman had been a missionary in New Zealand for 12 years and is currently living in the states. She has three grown children. At least two of them are fabulous athletes (like college scholarships and being featured as athlete of the week on the local news station), so I'm not talking about some anti-sports person who has no clue what she is talking about. She told me that her children experienced a major culture shock when they moved to this country. They were in upper middle school/high school when they moved here from New Zealand. In New Zealand, sports were so much different. There, they had only one practice and one game a week. They did not have practices on Sunday nights or Wednesday nights and did not have games on Sundays. On the rare occasion that a game was scheduled, they informed their coaches that they would not be participating in the event. They did not miss church for sports activities....ever. Apparently, their local church greatly supported their decision, praising them and encouraging them for taking a stand for what was most important. This missionary woman told me that the atmosphere at practices and games was relaxed. The moms would come out to practice and drink tea together and talk while their kids practiced their sports events.

The woman said that when their family relocated to the States, the kids' practices increased tremendously, AND games/practices were now scheduled for Sundays and Wednesdays. When the kids tried what had worked in New Zealand, politely telling the coaches that church came first, they were ridiculed and made to feel terrible for letting the team down. This missionary woman told me that they were even persecuted by their local church members, who couldn't believe that they would let down the team. In addition, she said that practices were no longer a tea drinking affair, but a screaming frenzy of intense parents who seemed to feel as if their child's very life depended on the outcome of that practice. This is something that I simply cannot understand. I just thought it was interesting to hear how our obsession with sports is so much a part of our culture. I love so many things about our country, but this is one part of our culture that I will never embrace.

On to another subject....

We have been really busy with school this week. Mary Alice has had a mental block about memorizing her addition facts. She is really good at memorizing things that she wants to memorize, but, for some reason, just hasn't wanted to memorize math facts. We went over her flashcards for HOURS this summer. It hasn't been such smooth sailing, but we're making progress. I really want her to be able to move on with the Math concepts that she is going to be learning. I don't think she can do that without first memorizing those facts! We are already starting to see the benefits from our hard work. She has been taking these daily timed tests and enjoys shaving seconds off of her time each day. We're working on it...

Mary Alice just started using Rosetta Stone for Spanish. I think it may be a bit above her head. It seems to work best if I sit with her and explain things to her as she goes along. I'm just hoping that this gives her a good foundation in Spanish. She seems to be enjoying herself. We have been talking in Spanish a little bit around the dinner table. Even Major joins in on the fun. He is learning a little bit of Spanish as well.

Major is such a little jokester right now. I wish I could remember half of the jokes he tells us. He keeps us laughing, though. He is always such a silly boy.

Sometimes kids amaze me with their insight and observations about life. The other day, Mary Alice and Major told me something that I thought was funny. We were talking and Mary Alice said, "Mom, Sometimes, after I watch a movie, It is hard to concentrate on school or the Bible, or other things that I'm supposed to be thinking about. It's like the movie gets into my brain, and I can't think about anything else. I'll be sitting there, trying to think about my schoolwork, and all that I can think about are the things in the movie. They are even in my brain when I try to go to sleep at night."

Then Major said, "Yeah. It is like my brain is all twisted up with movie stuff....and then, when I am supposed to be listening to a Bible story, my brain can only think about movie stuff. There is only so much room in my brain, after that, it is all used up!"

HA! Isn't that the truth??? If we fill our mind up with the things of the world, it sure can make it hard to think about more important matters, can't it?

The other day I took Mary Alice out for breakfast. We talked about how Aunt Hannah was about her age when Josh and I got married and how Hannah just went away to college. I told her that it wouldn't be too long until she was old enough to go to college. I asked her if she had any idea where she wanted to go to college one day. She replied with, "Well, mom, I don't mean to distress you, but I think I might go to Harding. If I go there, I won't be able to live by you for a while, so you'll probably just have to move out there by me for a few years. Then I'll move back to your neighborhood. Does that sound okay?"

Silly girl! I think I might have to have to remind her of these living arrangements one day!

The kids love playing together. Today, Major decided that he would be nice and play Mary Alice's games. (Usually it is the other way around.) They just came down the stairs and announced, "We're country folk." Whatever that means? Here they are in their costumes.

In case you were wondering.... The orange bucket is their "bucket of treasures", which included a treasure map, a broken trophy, some fabric scraps, two swords, some Spiderman figurines, and a harmonica. They have some active imaginations and can play together for hours. I love that about them.

Last night, I experimented with rolling Mary Alice's hair with old fashioned rag rollers. I found instructions on how to make them on the web. I cut up an old sheet and used the strips to roll up her hair Laura Ingalls' style. Mary Alice loves all things prairie, so she loved her new rag roller do. As a bonus, I thought that her curls were much prettier than the ones that you get with sponge rollers.... AND she said that sleeping on the tied up rags was much more comfy than sleeping on sponge rollers. We may be rag rolling it again tonight. She looks so cute with those little knots of fabric all over her head, don't you think?

Well, I guess that's it for now! Have a great week!