Thursday, September 30, 2010

The leaves are changing color and falling off the trees now, so Norah read the book "Why Do Leaves Change Color?" another Let's Read and Find Out book.

The book suggests that you collect leaves and use them to make leaf rubbings, so we did that.

It also shows you how to press the leaves into wax paper. We did that, too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Norah got a book of temporary tatoos from one of her friends at her birthday party on Saturday. We spent Sunday afternoon cutting and laughing and customizing the tatoos in the book to say what we wanted them to say.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A very good friend of mine said she considered me frugal and admitted that she was "shocked" when she saw that we decided to have Norah's birthday party at The Jump Zone this year. She has heard how expensive these parties can be. The basic package usually starts at $250 but when you add beverages and food and decorations and favors for the guests, you can easily double that price and spend $500 on your kid's party. I wanted to say a few words about this by way explanation and in defense of our choice. What I say might surprise you.

Norah turned six this birthday, so to date, she has had three birthday parties that included guests...

The first party we had at our home, assuming we'd save money that way. We worked for days to make the house clean enough for husband and wives and kids to come over. It was very stressful. We decorated the kitchen with streamers, a table cloth, matching plates and napkins and a few balloons. We provided dinner (hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill plus sides like chips and dips) for three of Norah's friends, their parents and siblings. We purchased a simple cake from a local bakery and had ice cream with it and we gave the kids goodie bags. We were exhausted and after everyone left, the house was trashed. The cost of that party was $310.

The next year, I was determined to save some money, if at all possible. So, I started pricing everything weeks in advance. I compared different stores' prices and found coupons for things that I could. We had the party at our neighborhood park. We decorated the gazebo with balloons I had a coupon for, but skipped on the matching table cloths and plates and napkins, using what we already had at home, not caring whether or not everything matched. We invited half a dozen kids and their families. We provided them with pizza and their choice of water, soda or juice boxes from a cooler. I made the cake. The cake was huge and the pans and supplies I needed to pull it off added to the cost of the party, even with discounts, but Norah needed a cake anyway, I reasoned, and she had been asking for a cake with three tiers for months and months... We also gave the kids goodie bags. I ended up spending more than I did the year before, but I also saved more than I would have if I had not been trying so hard to cut corners, shop for best prices and use coupons. Still, the cost of that party was $350.

This year, we considered the fact that Norah had a lot more friends, four times as many as last year. And, all these friends have siblings that aren't Norah's age but who are still her friends, so they needed to be invited, too, naturally. And all their parents are our friends. We wanted to do something nice for them. I knew we'd easily need to be able to host forty people or more. I knew the past two parties ran over three hundred dollars, so with that in mind, I looked around at party places, doubtful that I would be able to afford something like that for that price.

The Jump Zone would allow us to invite twenty kids as guests (siblings under two and parents were allowed in for free). They would provide all set up and clean up. They would provide table cloths, plates, paper products, etc. The only thing we had to bring was the cake (which I could make at cost since I had paid for the pans and supplies last year.) We had to show up five minutes before the party started and we could leave as soon as it was over. The Jump Zone even helped us wheel the presents our to the car! We had the party after lunch but before dinner, so we wouldn't need to provide food. The price of this year's party was $250.

Now, it could easily have been much more expensive than it was. The Jump Zone had a strict policy about outside food and beverages. We couldn't bring anything of our own (besides the cake). If we wanted to give the kids goodie bags, for example, we had to buy their goodie bags at $6.50 per kid. If we wanted to provide basic food and drinks for guests, including water, we had to pay a premium for those items. One plate of fruit that would feed only 10 people (out of our forty possible guests): $30. One veggie try for ten people: $20. One miniature bottle of water: $1.50... and the list went on and up from there if we were to add pizzas and sodas and decorations, etc.

And, as the date of the party grew closer, I considered doing this, even though the prices were outrageous. I was starting to second guess my decision to skip refreshments and felt really uncomfortable having nothing to offer people.I think this must be what The Jump Zone counts on to really make money on parties. I kept thinking how terrible it to would be not to even have a carrot and some ranch dip to offer people... But, I forced myself not to spend anything more.

I figured the guests would be too busy playing with their kids or supervising them in the area (where food and drinks weren't allowed anyway) to eat anything. I realized our guests would be thirsty, but I solved that problem by sneaking away and spending ten minutes of the party filling the free paper cups they gave us with the free water that came from the water fountain by the bathroom. As the guests came back to the room, they could grab a cup of water. And, I think that water ended up being better than the bottled water in the long run, anyway, since it was really cold.

The guests only came back to our party room at the end in order to sing and cut the cake and at that point, I had cake to give them, naturally, since I had just cut into it. Now that the party is over, I am pretty convinced any food we would have had would have been almost entirely wasted.

So, this birthday party was not only the easiest, the largest, the funnest party we've ever been able to host for guests and us alike... it was also the cheapest, by at least sixty dollars. Lord willing, we will do this kind of thing again next year.

And, when Avril is old enough to "need" a party, too... I imagine we will just pick a day of the year that works for everyone and have our two girls split the guest list in half and let them invite ten kids a piece. We'll just have to find a way to do two parties without doubling our "party budget."

Monday, September 27, 2010

We prepped Norah's new Ant Hill to receive the live ants that we sent away for. They should be coming in the mail within the next week or two.

When they come, we will put them in the fridge for ten minutes (to slow them down) and then add them carefully to the hill. If we care for them properly, they should live for a few weeks before they die (for lack of having a queen).

Did you know ants need a queen to survive? We learned that and lots of other interesting facts in this book called Ant Cities that Norah read out loud to me. It's another Let's Read and Find Out book we got from the library.

I noticed one interesting illustration with the caption "Queen ants and males flying off to mate" in the book and pointed it out to Norah. I wondered if this actually happened on a regular basis and thought to myself that it would be interesting to see a bunch of ants swarming out of a nest somewhere, someday.

I was on the phone a day later when Norah ran inside (she had been outside drawing with chalk on our front walk). She yelled that she had found "an ant with wings!" I didn't hurry off the phone because I figured she'd just found one winged insect of some kind and was mistaking it for an ant.

But, low and behold, when I finally went outside to see what Norah was making such a fuss about, I saw this swarm of ants coming up out of the ground next to our sidewalk, crawling to the tops of the blades of grass and flying away into the wind.

It's incredible how often God is so good to us and how He times what we see in our own yard with what we "happen to be studying." Of course, I believe He orders our steps so that we see these things when they will be most meaningful to us. This happened last year when we were reading Charlotte's Web and saw baby spiders flying away from their nest. Knowing the creator God makes living (and learning) so much more interesting!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We're doing Life Science this year, so we started out our studies with a Let's Read and Find Out book that Norah could read herself. It answers the question, "What's Alive?"

The little girl in the book draws pictures of things in her house and her yard, then she puts pictures into groups of living and non-living things.

When we were done reading and discussing the book, we did the same thing with the pictures in our picture file. We organized them into groups of living and non-living things.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Norah had her birthday party (with friends) this afternoon.

It was at the Jump Zone.

The kids played for the first hour or so and then we came together for cake and juice and presents! at the end.

Dwayne and I had a good time visiting with the other parents (all of whom we love and adore) and I think the kids had a blast.

Thanks to friends (like Karen who held the baby and Joanna who dished out the cake), the day was a lot easier on me.

We're so grateful to everyone who came. It matters a lot that people were willing to take time out of their day to help us make a special memory for Norah. Thanks, everyone!

Friday, September 24, 2010

We wanted to try out my new CD player, so we took a drive to the Farmington Canal Greenway and let Norah ride her bike while Dwayne pushed Avril in the stroller (and I took pictures).

We parked where there's a petting zoo and shared some fresh produce with the animals.

The leaves are just starting to turn and fall off the trees. I enjoyed watching them float down onto the path in front of us as we went along. And, this fall weather is just perfect, too. It's not too hot, but not too cold, either.

As the sun set, I played with my camera's manual settings and learned a little more about capturing the light and allowing more colors into my photos.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

We've used Norah's Bubble Gum Factory only once and candy-making is already much less of a mystery. (Note: This "factory" was really nothing more than a recipe book and a bag of ingredients.) That said, the gum we made tasted identical to what we buy in the convenience store. Norah still has plenty of ingredients to make several more batches of bubble gum and we will. But, not before I have to find some disposable, microwavable cups and some disposable, yet sturdy stirring spoons. When the directions warn that making bubble gum is sticky business, they aren't exaggerating. I had to throw out the Tupperware and the plastic mixing spoon we used to stir our first batch of gum. But, it was yummy!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dwayne traveled to Chicago for work, so while he was gone, I took the girls to visit a friend, another homeschool mom, in rural New Hampshire.

Even though she homeschools her kids, they are allowed to participate in sports through their local public schools. Avril watched and cheered while her kids played soccer one afternoon.

My friend lives minutes from Polar Caves. Norah and I wanted to visit there anyway, since we're doing so much reading about caves recently, so I took the older kids and my friend stayed home with the babies.

The kids enjoyed playing hide and seek in the rock garden leading to the caves. It's like a natural labyrinth of rocks.

Then on to the caves.

The caves were cool (but we were working up a sweat, so they felt nice) and they were also very dark (thank goodness for my camera's flash).

The view from the top.

On the nature trails.

One rock we saw on our walk gathers water and makes a natural wishing well.

My friend's kids had to get back for another soccer game the day we went to the caves. But, before we headed home to Connecticut, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were so close, so I took my girls back to do some sluicing and mining for more rocks to add to our growing collection.

Norah found some fossils and shark's teeth.

While I drove home, the kids slept off all the fun we had.