Monday, December 22, 2014

Where to Get a 6-year Old's Ears Pierced?

My daughter has wanted to get her ears pierced for a while now. Initially, I said let's wait until your 6th birthday. That came and went and she forgot about it for a couple of weeks... then she remembered and started asking all over again. That's when I said we would do it before Christmas as a Christmas gift. She mentioned it to her grandmother on a sleepover visit which resulted in said grandmother's request to be present for this milestone in femininity.

So on a recent weekend, the grandparents made a day trip to see us for the express purpose of getting Elisabeth's ears pierced and to attend a choral performance with both Elisabeth and Jonah. Being the mom that I am, I asked around a bit about good places for getting little girls ears pierced. That lead to me reading and hearing about some nightmare experiences - more than one story involved Claire's. I discovered a few blogging moms and online articles that recommended a tattoo parlor as did a family member familiar with those establishments. All the advice and articles on gun versus needle piercing was actually very convincing so I called around for quotes and to get a feel for some local parlors. Unfortunately, Elisabeth was also set for a tooth extraction two days later. I was concerned if anything went wrong with the needle approach, we would all the sudden have an unwilling patient come the day of the scheduled dental procedure. I probably over analyzed the whole thing, but, hey, it's what I do.

In the end, we went to the Piercing Pagoda in the Oviedo Mall. I chose it only after reading rave reviews online and getting a good reference from a friend for that particular location. In fact, I drove a little further to go to that particular store because of the recommendations and reviews. I was so glad that I did. We were all very pleased with the experience and the result. The fact that this location was an actual retail store and not just a booth in the mall was a plus. The staff was very professional and clean. They took their time getting the dots even. I really appreciated that they fought off the urgency to just get it done in order to get it right. Two staff persons were on hand to pierce both ears simultaneously, which is ideal for a young child. Elisabeth was very brave and very happy with the outcome.

Convenience was a big factor in making a choice on where to go. I wanted to buy a quality pair of earrings for my daughter as a Christmas gift and I had grandparents with us. I'm not sure that many tattoo parlors have kid-friendly earrings for purchase and my parents, in particular, would not have felt comfortable in a tattoo parlor. Does that mean I think everyone should go to Piercing Pagoda? No. You should go where you feel comfortable. In fact, I would still consider a reputable tattoo parlor for future piercings. And if you go to a place in the mall, ask around, read reviews, get references. It made all the difference in our case.

Watch these videos of kids getting their ears pierced at a tattoo parlor.

Regarding pricing, piercings are free with earring purchase at Piercing Pagoda and most other mall locations and jewelry stores. That being said, I don't think I saw any "piercing" earrings under $30 dollars in the store. If your finances are more limited, you may want to take a pair of good quality stud earrings with comfortable backs from mom's jewelry box to a trusted tattoo parlor and pay the $15 for the needle piercing. Or, you can use the technic my mom used back in the day - have your girlfriend hold ice on your ear until it's numb and put a sewing needle through it. Voila! Though an older child and braver mom than me would be required. That's why options are always good!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Radio City Spectacular: A Great Show in a Grand Hall

The Atrium of Radio City Music Hall
While in New York City this past weekend to celebrate our respective milestone birthdays, my mom and I attended a showing of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. We initially bought tickets for this show in honor of my grandmother who attended a performance here over 60 years ago. Her experience in 1951 left quite an impression on the young girl from McDowell, Kentucky. It is remarkable to think that a Senior trip of that magnitude was even possible for such a small rural school of that era. Thankfully, it was possible and had a lasting impact. She never lost her appreciation and regard for the Rockettes, who have made an annual televised appearance in the Macy's Day Parade ever since I can remember.

All of this was in my mind, and my mother's, as we entered Radio City Music Hall for the first time. To be honest, my expectations of the show were low. After all, I had seen their high-kicking song and dance routine a number of times on TV or so I thought. As I sat and watched the performers with their elaborate costumes and technologically enhanced staging and visual affects, I found myself moved beyond words. There were several pleasant surprises during the show including giant, floating snowflakes and a spectacular nativity complete with live camels and a burrow. All this, combined with the opulence and size of the theatre, made for a remarkable experience.

For the second time in two days, I realized the power of a live performance whether it's a comedy in an intimate theatre with compelling actors as the night before or visually stunning displays of musical talent on a grand stage with hundreds of other people in attendance. There is just something about a well-done live performance that stirs the mind and inspires the soul.

I will never forget this past weekend due in large part to this show and the fact that I was fortunate enough to share it with my mother and in a way, share it with her mother. Because of this experience, I now more fully understand my grandmother's fascination with the Rockettes. I get it now. I see how some performances can leave a lasting impression on us. Previously, I have not put much stock in attending live shows of any kind, but not anymore. Who knows, I may even go out of my way to see local performances that before now I would not have even considered. And I now look forward to taking my daughter to Radio City Music Hall one day, God willing. In that moment, four generations of women will have learned to appreciate a great performance in a grand hall.
Art Deco stage at Radio City Music Hall
The Rockettes as Reindeer
A representation of the Nutcracker story 
The Rockettes as Toy Soldiers
Christmas in the City
Drone snowflakes floating around the theater
The live nativity

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Big Apple Birthday Bash

My mother and I have birthdays three months apart, and this year we are both getting a zero. So when she stated a desire to see New York City on her birthday, I suggested we make it a joint birthday celebration and got the ball rolling.

We took our trip this past weekend and stayed three nights at the Martha Washington Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Friday, we started off with a bus tour that took us south past Ground Zero and the new One World tower and then north past Grant's tomb, St. Patricks Cathedral and Harlem. Early evening, we stopped for a light dinner and hot drink in Bryant Park which has been turned into a Winter Village for the season, complete with ice skating rink and restaurant.
One of the holiday display windows of Lord & Taylor
Afterwards, we headed to the Empire State Building and passed the Christmas displays in the windows of the Lord & Taylor Department store on the way. The view from the Empire State Building was amazing. We made it to our room by 10 p.m. which is early by Manhattan standards. Considering that we started our day at 3 a.m. and more than 1,000 miles away, who could blame us?
View of Times Square from the Empire State Bldg
Saturday, we had a leisurely breakfast at Murray Hill Diner before taking the subway to 59th. Our first stop was Tiffany & Company, before taking a ride around central park in a horse drawn carriage. The day was chilly but sunny, and the trees in the park still held their fall color.
The view from our carriage  
Trying to stay warm 
Upper West side with other carriages in foreground
For lunch, we only had to step across the street to the Food Hall of the Plaza Hotel where we found the best lobster roll on earth. We then took a tour bus to Rockefeller Center and then the subway back to the hotel to rest our feet before our scheduled Broadway show.
First NYC subway ride
After relaxing for a couple of hours, we again took the subway to Broadway and Times Square and picked up our tickets for "You Can't Take It with You" at the Longacre Theatre. There was a cozy restaurant right next door called Hurley's where we had a good, relaxing dinner, before taking our seats in the historic theater. I saw some familiar faces among the performers like Mark Linn-Baker from Perfect Strangers. My sister and I loved that show when it aired in the 1980's, and we still occasionally give reference to "the Happy Dance" when something particularly good happens in life. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Fran Kranz from Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods was one of the lead actors in the show. The participation of renowned actor James Earl Jones was very well marketed, however. I thought this comedic production was excellent. I was riveted by the acting and the elaborate rotating stage, not to mention the occasional pyrotechnic display. Without a doubt, this was the best bit of theater that I have ever had the pleasure to experience, although, I must confess, my repertoire does not include many adult performances.
The Set of "You Can't Take It with You"
Upon exiting the theater, we saw a waiting limousine and haphazardly placed aluminum barricades. Only then did it occur to me that we could get a few autographs if we were willing to wait. I was so excited at the possibility of getting to meet Fran Kranz; I felt like a giddy school girl. (He exited the building through the door just like a normal human being.) Despite being a bit star struck, I did manage to mention a few words of accolade to him on the evenings performance and that both my husband and I enjoyed his role in Dollhouse. I couldn't wait to report back about this unexpected turn of events. My hastily snapped photo and his autograph were proof enough. Silly me - being new to this celebrity stuff, I didn't even think to get my picture with him. I think Mom enjoyed seeing me so excited. We were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of the experience.

I assumed James Earl Jones would be a long-shot and I was right. After waiting some time, old man winter was nipping at our toes so we decided to forego Darth Vader's autograph and console ourselves with a slice of cheesecake from Junior's. This meant a midnight return to our room, and a much later repose.

After a very full two days, both my mom and I were tuckered out come Sunday morning. We managed to stir and go get some New York Pizza for lunch. Then, we decided to limit our ambitions for the day and just go back to the room for more R&R. I did manage to get up enough energy to go explore by myself for a couple of hours in the afternoon and ended up walking the Highline - a cutting edge rails-to-trails project on the west side of Manhattan.
On the Highline
I made it back to the hotel for another respite before taking a taxi to the 7 o'clock showing of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular. After yet another memorable experience, we had a late, fast food style dinner in our room and called it a night.

Monday, we packed up our suitcases and checked out of the hotel. They were kind enough to hold our bags while we made the best of our last day. We decided to breakfast at the Murray Hill Diner once again. Then, we rode a crowded subway train to 83rd Street and walked a few blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We enjoyed several hours there while a winter front dumped rain outside. There is more than one eatery at the MET, so it makes for a perfect place of refuge on a rainy day in the city. While this was my second visit to the MET, it was nice to be there with my mom - someone who could truly share in the wonder of it all. We strolled through the Egyptian exhibit and perused the walls in the American and European galleries. Before departing, we made a point of seeing the restored Lombardi sculpture of Adam and Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire.

Tullio Lombardi's Adam
We ended our last day by taking the subway back to the hotel, collecting our bags and getting a wild taxi ride to LaGuardia during rush hour. Our 9 o'clock flight was delayed until nearly 11 due to storms in other parts of the country, but we made it back to Orlando safe and sound by 3 a.m. on my mom's actual birthday. Thus concluded our 96-hour Big Apple Birthday Bash. 

I, for one, had an awesome time, and I know for a fact that my mom checked several things off her bucket list. I'm so glad we got to have this once in a lifetime experience together. There were more than a few unforgettable moments that would not have happened with anyone else. We are both still recovering and trying to get back to normal life, but that's to be expected after a trip like this - especially one that involves New York City. There is so much to do that you go, go, go trying to see and do it all. Perhaps that is where the term "Take a bite out of the Big Apple" comes from, because who could possibly take it all in. Instead, take one big bite at a time.  I'll be savoring this trip for a while yet, but I'll eventually be ready for another piece.

Once again, Happy Birthday Mom! I so enjoyed our Big Apple Birthday Bash. We may just have to do it again sometime.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Remembering the Past: Charles Towne Landing

I always get a bit nostalgic this time of year and lately I have been thinking about our travels this time last year. We were living and traveling in our RV slowly making our way south after visiting NewfoundlandCape Breton and other points north. Aaaahhhh! Beautiful, lovely places.

Our last stop before reaching Florida and family for the holidays was Charleston, SC. We had visited several Civil War related sites on that journey so how could we not make a visit to Charleston - home to Fort Sumter and the H.L. Hunley.

During our stay, however, we discovered another fascinating historical site that pre-dated Civil War Charleston and was, in fact, the site of the first permanent european colony in South Carolina, Charles Towne Landing. It is located across the Ashley River from modern day Charleston on Albermarle Point. Bordered as it is by a river on one side and a marsh on the other, the original settlers hoped the location would lend itself to protection from any Spanish ships. Those original settlers still felt additional protections were needed though so earth works and other fortifications where quickly built as well as gardens and houses. Many of these have been recreated for modern day visitors.

Charles Towne Landing is currently owned and operated by South Carolina State Parks and includes many different components from historic gardens to mansion ruins. Archaeology is ongoing at the site as people seek to uncover the rich history of the area that includes Native American, European, and African American peoples. The park does a decent job of sharing this history via various interpretive displays and reenactments that include a museum and a replica coastal cargo ship called The Adventure. On our visit, the ship was definitely a highlight for my then 5 and 7 year old children. In this video, interpreters are showing them how to operate the pulley system that was used to load and unload heavy cargo.

Additionally, the park attempts to interpret the natural history of colonial Charles Towne with the presence of a small but impressive zoo.

I didn't take a many pictures on our visit, but here is a video of my toothless daughter being stalked by the resident cougar.

For a full description of the park and all it has to offer check out the park website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sewing Class is Fun!

We attended a homeschool sewing class at a JoAnn Fabric and Craft store today. Initially, Jonah didn't want to go, but I told him that if he didn't like it we wouldn't go again. Turns out he and my daughter really enjoyed the experience. Apparently, Jonah thought that he would be sewing clothes instead of making a cute little stuffed owl!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Singing in the Children's Choir

A few weeks ago we started attending an informal, weekday gathering at a church in our neighborhood. During this time, the kids have been practicing with the children's choir and enjoying the experience.

Today, they had their first performance. They didn't seem very apprehensive about singing in front of a crowd of people, but afterwards, Jonah said that he felt more confident about doing it again in the future. They both did a great job.

So here they are singing "God Made it So" during the Sunday morning service.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park

During our recent vacation in the keys, we decided to take a day and ride out to Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park aboard the Yankee Freedom III. The only other means of reaching this remote National Park is by private boat or seaplane. The Dry Tortugas is located 70 miles from the southern most tip of Florida. The area is known for great snorkeling and superb night skies (primitive camping is permitted).
On approach to Fort Jefferson from the NW
Approaching by boat, Fort Jefferson appears to rise up out of the water. The fort sits on Garden Key and was initially built to protect important shipping lanes through the Gulf of Mexico. During the Civil War period, it was used as a prison. The most notable prisoner being Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who was convicted of being complicit to the assassination of President Abraham, because he helped set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth.

Homemade Cuban refugee boat
The Dry Tortugas are less than 100 miles from Cuba. Several homemade crafts from Cuba have made it ashore in the Dry Tortugas; once on US soil they are allowed to stay. We saw 3 or 4 of these boats stored in the fort during our self-guided tour. The one pictured above was the most recent craft to land here.
View from inside the fort with the moat in the foreground
One of two swim beaches from atop the fort
Loggerhead Key and Lighthouse seem to float above the water
The Yankee Freedom III
The clear blue waters are very inviting. So inviting that I totally forgot about all the jellyfish we could see from the boat and atop the fort.  Snorkeling just off the beach, we saw several species of tropical fish along the submerged fort wall as well as corals (including some good size brain coral) and a couple rather large conchs. Elisabeth was just getting comfortable snorkeling when suddenly we were surrounded by moon jellies. I somehow got stung but didn't mention it in my attempt to calm her and get her to shore. Moon jellies aren't known to have very painful stings but everyone responds differently. I had a good 4 inch rash on my arm that was certainly painful but not debilitating. Despite my discomfort and the numbers of jellies, my husband and I decided to swim around to the pilings, dodging jellyfish the whole way. Our efforts were greatly rewarded! I did not expect to see so many coral and fish - I felt like I was in a National Geographic documentary. 

We got back to the beach just in time to change and get back on the ferry boat - we were literally the last ones on board and as a result we were relegated to the sundeck for the return trip. The kids managed to find a bit of shade. 
Needless to say this was a very memorable excursion and one we hope to make again. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bluewater Key RV Resort: Paradise

Our site with the giant tiki hut
We decided to take a week of vacation in the Florida Keys. People come from all over the world to visit the Florida Keys so we decided we should take advantage of our proximity. Typically, we like to stay at state parks. Bahia Honda State Park is the only one with waterside campsites in the keys and they stay booked a year in advance. In researching other alternatives, I found (There is also sublets via All the reviews indicated the sites were pricey but worth it, and I have to say that I agree.
All the waterfront sites have docks
As soon as we arrived the kids both said, "This is the best campsite EVER!!!" and even daddy was pleasantly surprised. So I think I officially got mother and wife of the year for finding this place.

We had our own dock with swim ladder as well as a huge tiki shelter with table and chairs. The tiki hut at this particular site was twice the size as some of the others and had a counter and sink with running water as well as lights and fans.

The resort is actually on a bay in the Saddlebunch Keys. The water was so clear that as soon as we arrived we were drawn into the water as it were. While swimming and snorkeling, we saw several species of fish including grunt, mangrove snapper, and barracuda as well as a lobster.
Front gate
The resort does have restrictions on the type of camping equipment - no tents or pop-ups or even trailers with canvas pop-outs, and a minimum 23 feet traveling length. Our Outlander is certainly showing it's miles with pealing decals and in need of an exterior wash, so we felt a little bit like the Clampetts in amongst the Class As with matching tow-vehicles and giant fifth-wheels.

There is a pool, dog park, and laundry facility - but we didn't use them. (Who needs a pool when you can swim off your own dock in crystal clear water?) The bathhouse is very clean and the one entrance is gated with keycode access. All the sites are well landscaped for privacy and aesthetics. Outside the resort is a greenway/walkway for bikers and walkers that connects to other keys via the old US1 bridges. Essentially the location and amenities couldn't be better.

These two video clips will give you a good feel of the place.

Needless to say this was a perfect spot for us to enjoy all the Florida Keys have to offer. It was so nice to sit under the tiki hut and read a book while the kids played. Or throw a line out from the dock and catch a few snapper. Ah paradise......

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Story of the World: Ancient Egypt & Early Writing

We are on Chapter 4 in The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Revised Edition. The kids really enjoy the hands-on activities that reinforce what they are learning.

Last week, we learned about the first civilizations and the origins of writing. We watched several documentaries and Youtube videos on cuneiform and heiro-glyphs. Afterwards, they wrote messages in modeling clay as a representation of ancient cuneiform tablets.

{Did you know ancient Sumerians wrapped the clay tablets in clay envelopes?! Find out how scientists are now reading these ancient documents without destroying the outer envelope.}

This week we are continuing to learn about ancient Egypt, in particular, mummies and pyramids. We supplement the material in The Story of the World with books from the library. Here is a short list of some of the related books that we are reading.
While I read from some of the books above, the kids made their own pyramids. Elisabeth chose clay as her medium while Jonah chose LEGO. (Be sure to note the mummy and artifacts that Elisabeth put inside Jonah's pyramid.)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A Minecraft Themed Birthday Party

Copyright Temptation Bites
I make no claims of being a great crafty DIY person. So when my son said he wanted a Minecraft themed birthday party I did what most American moms would do I googled "minecraft party decorations." I was shocked that there was hardly anything available for purchase in the category. So I turned to pinterest for other options.

Given that our setting was a picnic shelter at a park, our decor options were limited to tabletops and a pinata.

After looking at pictures of other pinatas, Jonah came up with a conceptualization of one with a Steve face on one side and an Enderman on the other. His got his dad to putting it together according to his vision (a CEO in the making I guess).

I took this idea for grass dirt blocks from pinterest, but used the cocoa crispies instead of rice crispies to make it look more like dirt. They were a huge hit with the extended family.
And did I buy or make that gorgeous cake shown at the top of this post? Nope. I bought some stickers from an online party store that aren't Minecraft per se but are mining related - the kids stuck them to popsicle sticks for inserting into cupcakes and voila you have cupcake toppers (and yes, they were store bought cupcakes). 

We also used strawberry and licorice flavored twizzlers to make some Minecraft TNT. This is a common minecraft party food and can be packaged numerous ways.

We did purchase a Minecraft Papercraft Animal Mobs Set to assemble and use as table decorations. They doubled as party favors for our few child guests. Jonah added a couple of his action figures to the tabletop display as well.

In the end, Jonah was very happy with his Minecraft birthday and I didn't overly stress or overspend on cake and decor. Success!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Whole Foods Homeschool Tour

We visited our local Whole Foods today along with some other homeschoolers. They gave a nice presentation on the type of foods in the store and gave out samples for the kids to try. You can tell by the looks on their faces what they thought of some foods. But at least they tried some new things.