Niagara Falls: Part Something

My husband decided to pile three children under the age of seven and his non-experienced-at-traveling wife into our Honda and head to Niagara Falls. I agreed because I strive to think outside the minivan, even though I really, really dread long drives.

To throw in extra twists and hunts for passports, we decided to visit the non-American side. Stay tuned for pictures, complaints about food, and fun in a few posts – or more or less.

Traveling to Niagara Falls: Chicago

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Driving into Chicago. I remarked to my husband that thankfully, I was the photographer and he was the driver. This is important later.

Because of organizational mishaps, we needed to stop in Chicago to pick up a passport. This was great, because my brother lives in Chicago and graciously let us stay the night, which saved from spending big-city money on a hotel.

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We also got to drool over his garden that he grows in the city. My garden, which I grow in the country, is approximately 1/32 the size of this.

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And of course my brother is lovely, and he loves my kids.

We sipped coffee, and jokingly laughed that of course this “crash” covered by major news sources concerning the passport offices would not affect our 8:30 appointment and we would be in Canada by nightfall.

We’re optimistic like that.

So when we arrived in Michigan round-about eleven later that night, you can imagine how our telling the kids (who were in the van all day) about not arriving in Canada until the next day (while we stared at the border that night) went.

I’ll write about finally seeing Canada, poutine, and Niagara Falls tomorrow. Hopefully.

Morning, Moms

Good Morning, Moms.

It is 5:30 – in the AM here in Illinois. Yours truly awoke at 4:00 and could not fall back asleep, despite heavy eyes and numerous yawns that prove my tiredness and impending grouchiness.

So what did I do for the last hour and a half in my warm bed? Well.

I listened to the oscillating fan, which when it gets to the left (maybe the right? all the way to one direction) sounds like the bottom of the coffee maker, that “gurgle, suck” sound that makes my inner brain refuse sleep, like some weird Pavlovian coffee training.

I thought about grammar hopscotch, and how I wanted to use paper for whatever words – but then the kids would rip paper with their feet. They will probably also slip on plastic if I cover the paper words. Vinyl is too much money.  Chalk? In my mom-mind, I would like an inside game too. I’ll keep thinking. I’ll get back to you, promise, but climb off the edge of your chair because it might take some time for me to solve this dilemma.

What else?

How I would eventually fall back to sleep and be so happy when my alarm finally went off that I slept extra.

How I should plan something for the baby’s second birthday. (That is not an oxymoron. Promise).

How if I don’t go back to sleep this second you will be grouchy at the end of the day and you are working today and will have no time to sit and this is the last rest you will get for the day.

How getting up will put you ahead in the day and obviously you can’t sleep because your body is well rested.

Obviously I’m delirious and awake, sitting at the computer cranking out this stellar material, coffee in hand. Moving onto actual work and spreading the “Good Morning Moms cheer.”

When will the children awake? Oh yes. Whenever I look at the couch and think, I could lie down and sleep for about thirty minutes. About to happen any second.

Summer Reading Programs

We complete a few summer reading programs every summer. The kids like trying new books, and meeting different goals. Plus, they really like our town’s new library.

This year the library started a different summer program. The kids cannot read any books – they need to belong to different categories. I thought this was a nice change. Normally they kids would pull thirty books and get points, one per book. This worked, but the program was forcing them to experiment.

The biggest surprise has been Ty’s interest in graphic novels, specifically the Smurfs. He had to read two graphic novels for his summer reading programs, and he has gone back for more.

I am happy with this Smurf books too! I dislike how the word *Smurf* completes most sentences, but they are fun. I especially like how the story lines tell historical tales using Smurfs.

For example, in one book, Papa Smurf leaves and the Smurfs decide to elect a new leader. A Smurf makes empty promises, becomes king, and earns hatred. Soon enough, the other Smurfs are revolting from the high taxes. Ty and I ended up on the computer researching King George III.

Our summer reading programs are going well and we are headed to the library today to make our final returns and new checkouts of the summer. Summer has flown for us, as I am sure it has for my readers!

Workout Gear

What’s the saying? If it looks like a duck, it’s a sponsored post, or if a blogger writes about a store a bunch, it walks like a duck? Something.

The kind folks at Ross Dress for Less understand that a SAHM is paid in cuteness and kisses and that a mom’s wardrobe is typically underfunded. I don’t talk about it much on here, but I have been losing weight – I’m down fifteen pounds and would like to lose five more. This is great, but I need to tug on my old workout shorts as I run (or walk, honestly, I walk) which is a pain and fulfilling simultaneously. Since it is summer and I need to new workout clothes, I took Ross’ Summer Style Quiz, which labeled me an Outdoor Explorer. I normally slog around the block, but I’ll change my title for sure.

Holding a tired baby.

Holding a tired baby, with new workout shorts and lightweight shirt.

I love going to Ross, but my kids normally destroy the joint, and I worry that the kind customer service folks might ask the kiddos to leave. One night after bedtime, I knew that I had needed to buy diapers and was dreading it because I was done for the day. Read: messy and I didn’t want to fix my hair.

Procrastinating and playing on my phone, I found at that Ross is open until, wait – 10 pm. I did not know that. By the time I drive across town, that leaves over an hour of blissful shopping, of enjoying the treasure hunt. I brushed my hair with my fingers and slapped on lip gloss. Out I went.

First, I splurged as any SAHM would on the kitchen gear:

photo 3 (15)I wandered and bought new workout gear, which was a great price and comfy, but does not excite me because I loathe working out. Baskets though, they excite me. I can’t understand why, but I love baskets. Maybe they are Little House on the Prairie -ish.

Where was Ross when I did the girls' nursery? These are the EXACT colors of their nursery. Exact.

Where was Ross when I did the girls’ nursery? These are the EXACT colors of their nursery. Exact.

I stood in the basket section too long and finally tore myself away and found…

Ross has a clearance section! It was in the back and since I normally don’t make it to the back of the store with kids in tow, of course I didn’t know. Shirts – $2! Six pairs of socks – $2! Here is baby with her $2 shirt, totally not looking like a $2 shirt:

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Anyway, I came home and showed my husband all the goodies, none of which were for him. I honestly told him that I saw several golf shirts, but that I lack any wisdom concerning golf shirt colors, prices, deals, material, texture, etc., etc. So over lunch yesterday he came home with a new golf shirt. Of course, he said, he got it for a deal.

This was a sponsored post by Ross Dress For Less. All opinions are my own.

10 Things I Hate About Summer

Yeah, I’m lucky. I have three creative and fabulous kids and I get to stay home with them all summer. We’ll get that out of the way right now.

I’m going to vent today though and if you don’t like snark, there’s a little “x” in the corner of your screen right now. You know what to do.

Summer is hard and it is all about perspective. I give myself pep talks and try to go with the flow and try to enjoy the mommy moments and the chubby cheeks but summer is hard. They fight and I’m tired and they are little and don’t understand why they need to sleep. So.

Here are 10 Things I Hate About Summer. (I know I’m not alone).

1. I live in the kitchen. They want a minimum of three meals. My desire to feed them healthy, fresh food leaves when I’ve prepared the third meal and the third snack.

Plus, I only attempt taking three of them to the store when I’m well-rested, which I’m not and when I’ve forgotten about the last trip, which I haven’t.

2. Sometimes the older two get up at crazy early hours. I want to appreciate that they leave me to sleep, but one morning Za fed herself chips for breakfast and today she said, “I found out what’s great on cereal. Syrup.” (duh) Plus, they destroy the kitchen which means I’m already behind on the entire day.

3. The television. I hate tv. All those moms and teachers who say tv turns kids’ brains to mush? I’m one of them.

I turn the tv off and dismiss pleas for “one more” most of the day but I need the tv to shower, which I hate because the scenario is this:

The baby naps, or worse, I get the baby (she’s almost two, I need to stop saying that) settled in front of the tv so I can shower, maybe comb my hair. Either way the older kids settle in front of the tv. Fifteen minutes later, I come down and they immediately beg, “the show’s almost over!”

OK. Great. I’ll do laundry/ dishwasher/ sweep. I circle back to the living room, “the next show came on! Please!”

I can scoot them out the door, or leave them planted which means I may get that rush of accomplishment because I actually finished a task.

I really don’t know an alternative because they are not old enough to play outside alone and I want them safe for those fifteen minutes. Plus, they always want to go ‘side and I’m not a fan of ‘side…

4. ‘Side. My husband teases me that I grew up in the country but hate the outdoors. It’s not that. You know those lists that float around Facebook, explaining why mosquitoes like certain people? I am those people, except that I’m not pregnant. And two of my three kids get welts like I do, hard knots the size of quarters.

Do I spray me and the kids? Do I spray the yard? Don’t those chemicals cause cancer? What if the baby chews on her hand after spraying her? I’m thinking all of this while I bat at mosquitoes and guard the end of the driveway.

She gets tired the second we go outside. Then she wants in. and then back out.

She gets tired the second we go outside. Then she wants in. and then back out.

And I will play outside, but it’s not my strength. I prefer to read books but will go outside with them – I know it’s important! But the mud, the filth in my house, the indecisiveness of being in or out, fighting the dog…

5. August. The Doggest. (also see in my blog, “Augie Doggie”). He’s part beagle, which means that his nose rules his life. He takes advantage of the tiny kids and sneaks out the door, only to run wherever he smells something, like something dead in the middle of the road.

Or. (this dog). He runs far away and finds a dead deer, a decomposing something. And messes in it.

So he returns, I scream for the kids not to touch him, I corral three kids, and I tie up the dog who needs cleaned. I’m normally a nice person who brings buckets of warm water outside to wash him but at this point, I need the power of the hose. The other day a neighbor looked over and said, “I think he’s cold.”

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Do not be taken by these big brown eyes and long velvety ears like I once was. He rolls in poo.

Yeah, probably.

Moving on.

6. Laundry. Ridiculous amounts of laundry.

7. That damn ice-cream truck.

8. No rules. We have rules, but my kids are no dummies. They know that as a treat they can stay up late, yes they can have ice-cream, and a sleepover on a weeknight. It is what makes summer fun, it is what I hope they remember when they are taking difficult college summer classes.

Za hiding in the closet, escaping bed.

Za hiding in the closet, escaping bed.

It still becomes too much.

9. Dirt everywhere. You would think that playing outside so much would result in a cleaner house than winter. Not true. Taking the shoes off before coming in, washing hands immediately – it doesn’t work.

Za and I picked up the second floor this morning, and already it is disorganized. The kids are home more, but I what are they doing that is so different than weekends?

It must be extra traffic, Augie shedding, that summer equals extra dirt. I don’t know. I am cleaning extra these days and I wish I wasn’t.

10. Zero calm time. Yesterday we went to the water park. My right arm is burnt, except for a a handprint where some sunscreen must have landed. I must have put sunscreen on my left arm but I remember none of it.

Baby selfies. How does she turn on my phone? When does she get my phone?

Baby selfies. How does she turn on my phone? When does she get my phone?

I just got the baby to sleep and am finishing this post I started five hours ago. Ty and Za have wrapped a scarf (they got out all the winter gear while I put the baby to sleep) around my body and are saying, “getty up!”

Za just asked me for the tenth time today when are we going to see the fireworks? And can we go back to the water park?

I told them to pick up and I would read to them. And of course, they want to read ‘side.

OK. I know. The things that drive me crazy today I’ll love tomorrow. In the dead of winter, I’ll long for summer vacation. I’ll miss my babies while they are at school.

But right now, I hate summer.

I’m over ‘yonder:

The Grits Blog

The Power of Habit: Book Review

I won a copy of The Power of Habit (Why we do what we do in life and business) by Charles Duhigg. I was pleasantly surprised with how interesting this book was. (Non-compensated book review).

I won Duhigg’s book from a blog giveaway and started reading the day it arrived in a red and blue box. While my children tore apart the box, I reluctantly started reading it.

I dislike “self-help” books, or “process” books. Those books never speak to me or move me to change. This book was free, so I figured I would read a bit and if it irritated me, I would toss it in the donate pile.


Immediately, Duhigg explains that this is not a self-help book about breaking habits. Yay! (In fact, there are only eleven pages in the A reader’s guide to using these ideas appendix at the end of the book. Eleven self-help pages). While my kids got lost in a cardboard box, I buried myself in The Power of Habit.

So what’s in the rest of the book if not self-help mantras? Research presented in a story-like way. I enjoy research and don’t mind digging into statistics and tables, but this book requires none of that effort. The author (I researched him since I thought the book was so cool) is an investigative reporter for The New York Times.

Search for The Power of Habit book review – and you will get plenty. The book is enormously popular and spent months on best seller lists. I’m not going to provide a huge summary but to understand the book’s insight into parenting, I will say the base of habit research is the habit loop: cue, routine, reward. Duhigg provides ample examples and applying the loop to your life is easy, even though changing the loop is work. This “loop” is throughout the book.

Every chapter takes a different approach analyzing the habit loop, such as a neurological perspective, habits in businesses, and habits of societies. I want to outline how parents can use this book though.

How I will use the book as a mom:

* I have bad habits. I want to take care of myself and be a positive example for my kids.

My worst habit is eating when I am not hungry. Since reading this book, I’ve realized that when I am bored, I walk around (often in the kitchen), and grab something to eat. Trying to stop that, I now walk around bored and drink a glass of water. If I am hungry in ten minutes or so, I eat. If I’m not, well, I’ve often forgotten that I needed to check my habit loop.

* Again and again Duhigg emphasizes that understanding the habit loop and looking at awareness of your habit loop is only part of the solution. The people highlighted in the book believed in themselves, had support systems, and experiences that catapulted them toward change.

I can do that with my kids. I think I tell them that I believe in them, that they will succeed. I can support them more.

* I can address poor habits with my kids. Lately I have noticed that Ty practices piano in a hurry – often only the day before his lesson and then before we leave for his lesson. I don’t like this. I want him to practice throughout the week. Not only will his piano playing improve, but he should not wait until a deadline looms. He is forming habits that he will apply to studying and other parts of his life.

His piano practice has a habit loop. His cue is realizing he has a piano lesson. His routine is practicing. His reward is doing well and advancing in his book. I dislike this habit, but he really isn’t losing his reward – he does fine at practice!

I’m going to manipulate the reward a bit. I need to find what will get him to add a practice day earlier in the week, maybe my playing along with him for a new reward.

I’ve noticed this bad habit of Ty’s, but now I have some ideas of how to change his habit.

* I like a snobby awareness of trickery from marketers. The chapters on Starbucks (where we learn why those employees are so darn friendly) and Target (not to be read by conspiracy-theorists) amazed me, but learning about a grocery’s store layout empowered me. The fruits and veggies are at the entrance for a reason. Crazy.

This aspect may not directly help me with parenting, but media literacy is an important part of raising children in this digital age.

By the time my kids colored the box, tore the box, and cried over the box, I had texted my husband asking him to read this book. (The book analyzes Tony Dungy, and I plan to rope him in by reading him tidbits from this section).

I recommend this book to parents even though they are not specifically targeted in the book. I never studied habits and their development, even though I studied gads of human behavior as a teacher. This is not a self-help book that prescribes a method for changing. It is rather a reporter‘s investigation into what sociologists, psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists know about habits. And it is fascinating.

The Power of Habit book review by Switching Classrooms was not compensated. The free copy of the book was not contingent upon my writing this and all opinions are my own. 

Party Grammar

Cleaning out the basement, we stumbled upon a few articles to study grammar.

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We found old stuff, stuff my kids didn’t know about, like fake flowers and streamers. We pretended to have a party, and to plan a party, and then have Christmas.

Next we studied “party grammar.” I grabbed paint stirrers and two rubber bands to symbolize a conjunction for my younger kids. Then we rearranged funny objects from the basement.

I’m going to work on the “conjunction” cue though. It looks a bit like a cross to me, and is larger than most items. When we played with our party grammar, I was hurrying to keep the conversation flowing.

Now I’m thinking that I should use a craft stick with different conjunctions to plug in for our kinesthetic grammar activities. Thoughts? Suggestions?

Love Books Summer Exchange

I participated in The Educators’ Spin On It Love Books Summer Exchange Program. We got a new book and had FUN activities! 

I lucked out and heard about this program where bloggers could trade a kids’ book and activity with another family. I signed up and was paired with Books, Babies, and Bows. A few weeks later, Ty, Za, and C.J. got this amazing box in the mail:

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That box is brimming with potential! PLUS -the kids were excited because the book was Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig.

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We’ve read several Mercy Watson books, and a pig who talks and eats toast and causes trouble makes for a fun afternoon of reading. (If you have never read about this special pig, you should check out Mercy’s silly owners and Deckawoo Drive).

One of our activities was to summarize as we read. Instead of writing on plain paper, we had note cards and markers.

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The activity was adjustable for different ages. Ty could write sentences and Za could draw pictures to summarize. Of course Ty drew pictures too, because who can resist drawing a pig?

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We stopped every ten pages or so and made a card that reflected what we read. We also decided ahead of time what each person would draw so that we had a cohesive summary. We displayed our finished product on a rope with clothespin – making this activity more fun than what mom ever plans for the kiddos.

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I won’t spoil the book too much, but basically, Mercy is a pig who has a neighbor who wishes she did not have a pig next door. Mercy eats the neighbor’s flowers, and trouble ensues, with Mercy coming out triumphant. And in all of Mercy’s books, she eats buttered toast. This pig loves buttered toast. So…

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Our next activity was to make homemade butter! (The kids still talk about this!)

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We used heavy whipping cream, a glass jar, and a dash of salt.

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Then, we shook and shook it!

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After about twenty minutes, we poured our butter into coffee filters (buttermilk was at the bottom).

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It felt different than butter we buy at the store, and we discussed different processes and ingredients. It was a wonderful addition to the story, a fabulous science addition.

Ta-da! Buttered toast like Mercy.

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We had so much fun getting a box in the mail with a NEW book and SURPRISE activities. The kids adore getting mail, and this will probably be a favorite summer memory. Thanks to The Educators’ Spin On It for matching me with Books, Babies, and Bows  . (Go check out her blog – she’s awesome!)

Fondulac Farm Park

The Fondulac Farm Park in East Peoria, IL is a favorite of my kids. We head there numerous times each summer.


The layout is nice, with a long walkway perfect for numerous strollers. When you arrive, you will pay and have the option of purchasing feed cones for the animals.


Then you enter the park, and you will walk past several ponds. Ducks are there, as well as frogs – or tadpoles.


My kids nest at this spot and I have to force them to move. They would hang out here for hours, but I know we have limited time in the sun.


After the ponds, an old school house will be off the path. It includes an old school chalkboard and desks.


The animals depend on the year. Sometimes the Farm Park has a pig, or an emu; a cow or a horse – or any combination.


Workers are stationed around the park, and answer questions. They also take time to explain to the kids what the animals are eating and drinking.


“Barns” stand throughout the Farm Park, and have different animals or play stations:


The inside spots provide a nice sun break. This area (below) has a staircase that leads to a slide, but I can’t find a picture of my kids on the slide.


After we feed the animals, pet bunnies, and slide, the kids choose between two playgrounds. (The Fondulac Farm Park sorta loops, with one playground centrally located and the other toward the exit).


I prefer the playground in the middle of the park; it has wood chips. The other swing-set area has sand and my kids want to dig, dig, dig and then touch themselves and I am paranoid about animals and sand – but yeah, this is the only part that I don’t care for at Fondulac Farm Park, which still makes it a winner.


Fondulac Farm Park free days? These are nice, but are extra busy. My kids have always been able to see everything during those days, but the playgrounds are full. None of this deters us from taking advantage of them though!

What else? The park has benches stationed throughout for tired moms to bounce babies and hold fussy toddlers. We go several times a year, as you can tell from multiple kid outfits above. We’ve had zero problems when we go, and you know I always tell the truth.


* Sunscreen!

* The food is reasonably priced inside, and you cannot bring food in. (I always have sippy cups of water though). You can pack a picnic and eat it at the pavilion right outside.

* Your kids will be DIRTY! The Farm Park has sinks to wash hands, but really, they need a bath.

* Cones of animal food is .50. The animals eat the cones too, and I tell my kids to spread it out – they each only get one.

I am not associated with Fondulac Farm Park and this was not a sponsored post. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.

This is Childhood

Sometimes, too much, and often, I get sidetracked and realize I worry about running my kids and cleaning and cooking.

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I forget that this is childhood.

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This is their childhood.

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When my kids are in college and they say, “when I was little,” they will talk about what is happening in front of me.

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Not recording all of it, but just experiencing it, enjoying it, is a job perk.

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