Saturday, July 31, 2010

Library Visits and Book Reviews

On Monday, after the girls got out of school, we went on a trip to the library.  We had finished circling all of the boats required for the library's reading program, and we had 19....yes, 19!...books that were due back.  So, off we went!

We used the automated check-in and returned 17 books, went to the librarians desk and renewed 2 books, and turned in our game boards.  The prizes for finishing the program were:  a giant beach ball, a pass to the Lawrence Hall of Science, a coupon for a free personal pizza from Round Table Pizza, and....a brand new book, to keep!  They had a whole rack full of books to choose from, and it was a tough job to narrow them down, but we came home with:  Pig Out! by Portian Aborio (chosen by Emma), Who Spilled the Milk? by Martha Gradisher (chosen by Katie), and Amelia Bedelia Under Construction by Herman Parish (chosen by Abby).

Next, we went and picked out new library books.  Between the 3 girls and I, we checked out a total of 19....yes, 19! books.  It seems that 19 is our lucky library number!

Here are some pictures of some favorite recently read books:

This last is a picture of Junie B. Jones, a spunky kindergartener who has a series of 19 books, written by Barbara Park.  I read these to Brianna and Brittany, and am thrilled to be reading them again!

Now, on to some books that I've read recently.  The first is called The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton.

This book is quite thick (over 500 pages), and was chosen by my book club members as the book we will discuss in August.  I had previously picked up Kate Morton's debut novel, The House at Riverton, and haven't finished it yet.  For some reason, I couldn't get into that one, and was afraid this one would be much the same.  I was very happy that this book hooked me from the very beginning!  In the beginning of the book, a four year old girl is left abandoned on a dock in Australia, and is raised by the dock master and his wife as their own.  When she turns 21, she is told the truth, as much as is known, about herself.  The book goes back and forth, from past to present, as Nell (as the dock master named her), and later her granddaughter, tries to find out who Nell really is.  This was a very engaging book, and it has made me want to find the other novel by Kate Morton, and give it a try again.

The next book I read was Home Safe, by Elizabeth Berg.

This book, like most of Ms. Berg's books, was a very quick read.  Helen, a writer, has lost her husband, and her ability to write.  She is trying to regain the balance in her life, and have a relationship with her adult daughter, when she finds out a big secret that her husband was involved in when he died.  The book is about her decision making process, and coming to terms with the changes in her world.  While it was a decent book, and I was able to read it in 3 days, it wasn't captivating.  But sometimes, you just need an entertaining book, which this one was.  As was the next book I read, also by Elizabeth Berg.

the last time i saw you was also a very quick read.  A group of former classmates, 3 men and 2 women, anticipating their fortieth (and last) class reunion, reflect on their accomplishments, disappointments, and expectations.  These people represent the basic cliques in high school:  the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, the wanna-be-popular girl, and the misfit.  Each attends the reunion for different reasons, and each comes away from it changed in some way.

My current book is called The Shack, by William P. Young, and is the book my book club has chosen for December.  Yes, I'm very ahead of schedule, reading this book now, but a) I had it on the shelf and b) when I heard about it, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to finish it.  I put off starting it for several weeks, because I typically read at bedtime, and this didn't seem like a bedtime kind of book.  Here is the synopsis off the back cover: 

"Mackenzie Allen Phillips's youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, in this midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change his life forever." 

Even after I started this book, I had concerns, and for a couple of nights, slept very restlessly.  But now, towards the halfway point, I'm intrigued, and really want to find out what happens next.  I'm going to choose to finish the book before delving into all the controversy that is surrounding it, as many books with a religious bent seem to have.  I want to make up my own mind about it, before reading someone else's opinion.

The book club has come up with many interesting books throughout the next 8 months, and I will share them with you as I read them.  And count on many, many more trips to the library!  The girls have a ball there.  I might even be able to pick out a few "Mom" books next time!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Spider Mouse"

Remember when I mentioned in Brittany's birthday post that a post about playing cards would be coming?  Well, here it is.  I know that you had no idea what the topic would be, based on the title!

The name of the card game is Spite and Malice, but when you run that through a five year old's translator, it becomes Spider Mouse, and so that is what we have started calling this game.

Spite and Malice is a two player game, involving 2 complete decks of cards, including jokers.  My mom says that she played this game all through college.  For me, it is the kind game that I forget about if I don't play it regularly, but it all comes back pretty quickly.

 On Easter Sunday, we resurrected this game, and Brittany would occasionally challenge me to a game.  The girls, particularly Abby and Emma, were always asking someone to play "Spider Mouse" with them.  We originally created a 5 year old friendly game, and they always chose someone to be the spider and someone to be the mouse.  They played pretty regularly, until the unfortunate milk incident that caused two decks to be thrown away.  But, they gave Brittany two brand new decks for her birthday, and their grandmother gave them two decks of their own.  Thus, new life was breathed into the game again.
In this picture, Aunt Becky and Emma (you can just see her elbow), are on one team, Gam and Abby on another.  Katie and Poppa are watching. 

The day of Brittany's party, Mom and Becky started playing Spite and Malice, and they teamed up with the twins.  Just through doing that, the kids caught on quick!  This is not an easy game for kids, as their is a lot of strategy involved.  As the name suggests, the game (and players!) can get pretty nasty!

Another view of the same game.

Game play continued all day, squeezing in between breaks for dinner, presents, and cake.  The following day, play picked up again, between Brittany and Emma.  Abby and I played a game, and while I didn't try to crush her, I wasn't handing her a victory either.  The girl beat me by 11 cards!!!  After a while, Brittany challenged me, and she and I played several rounds.  Eventually, Don decided that he wanted to learn too.

This past weekend, Emma had Brianna sit down, and worked on teaching her the game!  Last night, I had Don sit down with me and we played.  While we played, I took pictures, so I could teach the game to you.

  • To start off, each player takes a well shuffled deck, making sure that the jokers are included.  Each counts off a pile of 25 face down cards and 1 face up card, for a stack of 26.

  • All of the remaining cards are shuffled together to make a draw pile.

  • The person with the highest card up goes first.  They draw five cards from the draw pile.

  • The object of the game is to play the cards out of your stack, while blocking your opponent from playing any of his cards.  In this game, suit doesn't matter, only numbers.  Play begins when an ace is played.  Each player can play off any piles in the middle, and piles are built sequentially, in ascending order.

  • You always start your turn with 5 cards in your hand.  At the end of your turn, playing any cards you can play, you have the option of discarding a card.  Each player can have up to four discard piles, and discard piles are in descending order.  However, unlike Solitaire, you are not limited to one card per number.  For instance, you do not have to have "K-Q-J-10..."  A discard pile could be "K-K-K-K-Q-Q-J-10-10..."
After a few hands.  You can see that neither of us has played any cards out of our stack, each has 2 discard piles, and we have two playable piles in the middle.

  • You can play with cards in your hand or cards in your discard piles.  You want to be careful not to bury cards too far, or you won't be able to play them when you need them!

  • Discard piles play an important role in the strategy.  You want to keep track of any cards your opponent has at his disposal, that will allow him to play a card from his stack.  You do not want to play any cards that will allow him to play his card.  In the above picture, Don has in his discard piles a 7, 8, and 9.  He has a Jack up to play.  I cannot see if he may have a 10 in his hand, so I am not going to play my 6.

  • Jokers are wild cards, and can be used for any cards EXCEPT aces or twos.  If you get a joker on your stack, you can look at as many cards beneath it as you think you can remember, in order to plan future turns.

  • You want to not let your opponent know that you have key cards in your hand.  As an example:
In this hand, I have an 8 up for play.  I have a 6 in my discard pile, but my 7's are seemingly buried.  I want Don to play his 5 (in his discard pile), so I do not let him know that I have another 7 in my hand.

This is an example of discard piles.  Be careful, if you have 4 piles, and can't discard any cards, play stops!

As the center piles are completed by the placement of a King, they are reshuffled and added to the bottom of the draw pile.  Play ends when a player plays all 26 cards in his stack.  Games have been known to seem endless!

This game is much easier to learn when you watch someone else play first, then play with someone willing to show you things and teach you tricks.  This tutorial is possible not sufficient to teach you how to play, but it does introduce you to Spider Mouse, and hopefully, if it gets mentioned in the future, you will know what I'm talking about.

One last picture:
This is Don, after the game, cleaning up the cards.  Oh yeah, by the way, he beat me....but not by much!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brittany is 15 now!

The birthday girl, coming downstairs.
My posts are a little bit out of order, chronologically.  I should've posted this one back a week or so, but again, time got away from me.  This should catch me up, though.

On July 17th, Brittany turned 15.  I can't believe how time is flying.  We celebrated, as we usually do, with a family party.  Brit invited her boyfriend, Ramiro, and her best friend, Brenda over.  We had dinner, which was takeout Chinese food from Panda Express, at Brittany's request, followed by presents and cake.

Here is the cake.  As you may know by now, on most of our birthday cakes, we choose an ornament and decorate around them.  Brittany has had Tinkerbell cakes for many years now, and this year was no exception:

It's a little challenging to make a snow themed cake in July, but with a little imagination, it can be done.  It didn't help us feel any cooler, though!

Brittany, reading the card the 3 little girls "made" for her.  They got her 2 decks of playing cards, as replacements for 2 decks that were covered in spilled milk.  Look for  future post on cards.

The girls put stickers inside Brittany's card.  When they were done that, they decided to decorate Madison, too.

Katie used a couple on herself, as earrings.  I think, by the end of the night, all the females at the party had sticker earrings!

Ramiro and Madison, helping Brittany.

Opening the present Don and I got her:  $100 IOU towards a new cell phone, packaged with a toy phone.  Somehow, I think Madison would up with the toy.

Time for cake!  I got these relighting sparkler type candles.  We all thought they were funny...

....but Brittany wasn't quite as amused.  Ramiro and Brenda are looking on.

Finally, the candles are out, and it is time for cake and ice cream!

Happy 15th Birthday, Brittany!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Back to School!

Yesterday was the first day of school.  Hooray!  Two out of our six girls was excited about, two were not, one was crushed, and one didn't have a clue.  I know, it sounds crazy, doesn't it?  School starting in JULY??  I made the mistake, when we first got here, of calling it year round school, when in reality, it is called a modified traditional schedule.  Which, in my mind, translates to....year round.  The kids start in late July, have 2 weeks off in October, 3 weeks off in December, 2 weeks off in March, and then get out in early June.  They also still have the usual breaks: Labor Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving, Spring Break.  So, they get the same amount of school days, but more frequent breaks.  As a mom, I love it!

Anyway, yesterday, Brianna became a high school junior, Brittany became a sophomore, and Abby and Emma joined the world of kindergarten.  We've been preparing for kindergarten for a few weeks now.  The girls helped me make their lunch bags:
They picked out the fabric, and helped me push the sewing machine "gas pedal".  Katie's is on the left, although she's not going for another year.  I have the fabric cut for a fourth one too, and will finish it soon.

Sunday night, I remembered that I hadn't made any kind of ID tags for them.  When Brianna started kindergarten, I made her some tags from Shrinky Dinks.  Remember them?  You draw and cut out special plastic, put them in the oven, and melt them down.  I happened to have some in the Craft Room (aka garage), so I made these:

This picture is before baking them.  Brittany came in and saw me, so she asked for a hippo, which is in the lower left corner.

Here they are, after baking and finishing:


and Katie's.
I like how they came out, and they were surprised the next morning.  I'm dreading the day they no longer think these kinds of things are cool!

My sister-in-law contacted us and told us that there is a German custom of giving the kids bouquets of flowers on the first day of school, and asked us to do that, from her.  Therry, here are cards I put on their bouquets:

And here are the girls, coming down for breakfast, and finding their flowers:

By this time, Brittany was ready for school.  Here is one of the few pictures I got of her.  You can see she is doing the typical high school girl thing:  texting her friends to see who's going to be there this early!
We managed to get a picture of Brianna and Madison too.  Brianna wasn't quite ready for school yet, and it's not a great picture, but it is getting increasingly difficult to get a camera into the same room as her!

Here are Abby and Emma, waiting to get into the car.  See how Abby's arm is around Emma?  That pretty much tells her their day went!
Katie, modeling her "back to school" outfit.
Waiting to go see the classroom.
Emma putting on her name tag.  See that folder?  That was 1/2 of MY homework last night.

Abby, putting on her name tag, and the other half of MY homework.

By the time we left, they were already poking around, finding out what is in a kindergarten classroom.  Don had to call them over to say goodbye to us!  They stuck pretty close to each other, but had no problem separating from us, which is a good thing.  OH!  I guess you can tell from the pictures, but they are in the same class, which kind of surprised us.  We had been told at registration that it was standard practice to split twins up.  I'm not sure why they didn't, but we had 2 of a very small group of kids that was not upset yesterday.  I think it helped that they had each other. 

After leaving them, Don and I went home.  Don took the day off, so while he stayed with Madison,

Katie and I dropped off Brianna.  Katie had a hard time with the fact that she didn't get to go to kindergarten too, so I took her to the local bagel shop, just the two of us.  I let her pick a doughnut (pink, green, and white sprinkles), and got her an apple juice.  A bagel with cream cheese and vanilla latte for me, and we were ready for our "breakfast date".  When we got home, I did my "homework", and then Katie and I worked in a numbers workbook until it was time to pick the girls up.

The report for the day was that school is fun.  Abby and Emma played on the playground together, and ate snack together.  They didn't make any new friends yesterday, but are going to soon.  They heard a story about a raccoon who was going to school, and then drew their hands, to leave with me, so I wouldn't miss them while they were gone each day.  Their teacher (Mrs. B.) gave them each a hand shaped cookie, to take home and share with someone they loved.  I think it's going to be a great year!  As for the older girls, they both got to school on time, some classes with some friends, although not enough friends in other classes.  Neither one of them had much to report, so I'll assume that's a good thing!

P.S.  Katie cried today, when we left the girls at school.  When we got home, I had her help me cook dinner:  Baked Penne with Meat Sauce.  Here are a couple pictures of her helping me.
Grinding pepper into the sauce.

Boy, this thing is loud!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reading logs, science project and art project

Hi again!  Are you dazzled by the rapidness in which these posts are coming these days?  I'd like to say I can keep this up, but don't know that I can!

We are getting ready to go back to school!  Yep, school starts on July 26th, and this year, I have four kids going!  The twins start kindergarten this year, and they are looking forward to it.  I have to keep after Brianna and Brittany to not ruin it for them...they keep trying to tell them that school's not that fun.  Sigh.

Towards that end, we've been doing some prep this summer.  We practice writing our names the "kindergarten" way, which means a capital letter first, then lower cases letters.  I have wall charts showing letters and numbers.  I have a list on the refrigerator of words that they can read themselves.  And yes, I'm getting Katie in on it too. 

We've also visited the library a lot in the last 5 or 6 weeks.  The county library system sponsors summer reading programs for all ages, which I think I mentioned previously.  For adults, they read a book, write a review, and are entered into a drawing.  Babies Madison's age have 16 word play activities: picture books, nursery rhymes, clapping games, etc. in their program, and then receive a board book.  For kids ages 2 through 5th grade, they have a game board with 45 boats on them.  For every 20 minutes of reading/being read to, they mark off one boat.  After 23 boats, they get a halfway prize, after 45 boats, they get a big prize.

Last week, we went to the library.  Madison was finished her game, and received the board book "Hip Hippos".  Katie picked it out for her.  The other girls received their half way prizes:  a sticker, a ticket to the local space and science center, and a ticket for a free soft pretzel from Auntie Anne's.  I decided that to make it a little more special, I would take each girl separately for her pretzel, and that's what we did. 

For the first time EVER, I had one-on-one time with the 3 of them.  First Abby and I went.  She got her pretzel and I got pretzel sticks.  We shared a cheese dip and a cherry lemonade.  Next was Emma.  All was the same, except we shared a strawberry lemonade.  Finally was Katie, and we shared a blue raspberry lemonade.  It was wonderful.  (Well, not so much the lemonade...the fruit flavors made it too sweet!).  We tend to see these girls as a group, and it was really fun to get to see them as individuals, even for just a short time!  I hope to do more of that as we go on.

As of my writing this, we have 2 boats left!  And we still have some library books we haven't read yet.  Too date, we've read 71 different books, and some we've ready multiple times.  I've written them all down, as well as their authors and illustrators.  I'm not sure why, but it seems like a good idea, some how.

A few weeks ago, Don brought me home 2 bouquets of flowers.  As I always do when he brings home flowers, I cut the ends off and put them in vases.  As they always do, the girls asked me why I cut them.  So, I decided a science experiment was in order.  I bought white carnations, and divided them up into 5 bunches, one for Katie, one for Emma, one for Abby, one for Brittany, and one for me.  I let each girl choose a color, and we added food coloring to the water in some jelly jars.  I cut them stems, and we put them in.
Emma chose pink, Abby chose purple, Katie chose blue, Brittany chose red, and I left mine white, for comparison's sake.

By the end of the first night, Katie's flowers were turning blue:

It's slight, but you can definitely see it.  No one else's had done anything yet. 

Can you see the blue at the edges of the petals?

The experiment is over now, and although everyone else's flowers had the faintest tinges of color, Katie's blue was the most dramatic.  I wonder why?

And lastly, we did an art project.  Going to the beach right now is next to impossible.  The beach would not be fun for Maddie at this stage, and it is a 2 hour drive, one way, to a fairly decent beach.  So I decided we would make "permanent" sand castles, using a recipe I found in Family Fun magazine for sand clay.  Brittany mixed it up for us, and the ingredients are sand, cornstarch, powdered alum, and water.  Simple, right?  Brit says it smelled really bad!  We divided it into 3 chunks, and I gave the girls a bowl of mixed shells I bought at Michaels.

Here is Katie and her creation.

This one is Emma's.

And here is Abby's.

They aren't exactly castles, but they are really neat looking.  They did a much better job than I expected, and it kept them occupied for quite a while.  At the time that these pictures were taken, Abby and Emma were upstairs putting on their bathing suits.  Katie was ready, so she got to be in the pictures.  They were getting ready for a "Backyard Beach".  Basically, they play in their wading pool, run through the sprinklers, and play in the sandbox.  Works for them, works for me!

(There is a cartoon on the Disney Channel, called "Phineas and Ferb", which all of us kind of enjoy.  Phineas and Ferb are 2 boys on summer vacation, and they pull off all of these outlandish schemes and engineering wonders.  Their older sister, Candace, is always trying to bust them, only to have everything vanish before Mom can catch them.  In one episode, the boys build a beach in their back yard: beach, ocean, surfing, video arcade, the works.  Each episode has a really catchy song.  Check out "Backyard Beach"'s been in my head all week!)

Talk to you soon!