Fishy Business in Philadelphia…

We took a ride down to visit Aunt Judy and check out a new-to-us spot…the Adventure Aquarium.

Adventure Aquarium is located near Philadelphia in Camden, New Jersey. It’s a fun and interactive aquarium, and the kids almost decided they love it more than Baltimore….ALMOST! Baltimore still seems to win out by just a tiny bit.

Here’s a few shots of the family and Aunt Judy hanging out in in the Aquarium.

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The new Stingray Beach Club exhibit offered folks the opportunity to touch, feed and enjoy the stingrays up close in a really nicely designed habitat. The whole family loved playing with the “puppy dogs of the ocean”.

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Another AWESOME vacation visit with our favorite traveling Auntie…

Wild Times at Disney

We had an amazing trip to Florida! Our stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani was magical and even a bout with strep couldn’t hold us back. Favorite activities continued to be watching Animals on the safari and trails and hanging out by the fire on the savannah at night.

Here are a couple pictures of our wild friends!
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This is the meerkat that Anna fell in love with on this trip. She said she had a long talk with him about how well his cousin Flower was doing at her house in New York. He wanted Flower to come and visit.

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These hippos are what I feel like every time we roll out of another Disney restaurant, especially the buffets. Happy, fat and lazy!

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When we were not admiring the animals, the kids spent time with Aunt Judy talking to characters and exploring EPCOT. Here are a couple shots of them playing the Spy game in the World Showcase and meeting a few new (or old) friends.

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I guess we can count this as another amazing Disney vacation. The sick kids and cranky adults had their rough moments, but overall it was an amazing experience and we can’t wait to do it again in 2013.

Outside Chores and Inside Chuckles

Today we set about doing the second (and, hopefully, final) major leaf-raking of our yards. We have far too many trees and the leaves are EVIL. Early in the afternoon, Em and Kathy took a turn raking up piles and then jumping into them, taking pictures of themselves, and generally being total goof-balls.

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After Kathy left for church and was replaced by her sister, Allie, I conjured up a team pile raking contest. Em and Anna were Team One and Nate and Allie were Team Two. They worked their bums off, and Nate was the only one who pooped out before the job was done.

I got a bit of raking in myself. Not nearly as I’d expected, though. I had put tape on my hands to keep down blisters, but had a strange allergic reaction to something in the tape adhesive.

While I was raking (in my pajamas, no less) and stopped to take a deep breath, Annie caught me with the camera.

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The yard was cleaned up fairly quickly, then Dave decided he was going to try something new and use the ladder to go up to the roof and rake off the leaves that were piling up there.

This might have been a good idea. He got things cleaned up nicely on the bit over the screen room where the roof is fairly flat.

Things got a bit more dicey when he decided to try the bit of more-tilty roof over the garage.

See, my husband is a very organized and strong man. He’s also a very determined man. He rarely backs down to a challenge, and he’s not afraid of many things. I used to think that spiders were his only weakness….

But now I know he’s NOT SO GOOD AT HEIGHTS.

Dave got onto the roof and did a bit of raking, but he had a scary slip in the beginning and I noticed after that happened that he had backed himself to the wall and wasn’t moving away much.

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Notice where I’m standing to get the above picture. Yep, INSIDE the house. I was watching him rake the roof with great trepidation when he gave me a sheepish grin and suggested that I might want to go to Nate’s room and open the window.

My strong, martial arts trained, incredibly capable husband was NOT going to try to go back down the ladder.

So I hoofed it up to Nate’s room, opened the window, removed the screen, and stood back to take pictures…~wink~

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Notice that he was nice enough to remove his boots and gloves at the window before scrunching inside between the bunks on Natey’s bed.

He swiftly re-shod and went back outside to climb a few rungs and retrieve his rake from the high place.

I’ve been giggling about it off and on all night. Sometimes seeing that really strong and capable people have weak spots can make my own weaknesses more tolerable.

All in all, we got a lot accomplished today and had fun in the process. And there will be no more raking till next fall…YAY!!

A Little Friendly Competition

We spent most of today at the dojo for the annual Autumn Inter-Dojo Tournament. Dave was competing for the first time and Em was competing in Kumite for the 3rd (we think, we’re having trouble remembering) time.

This was a rare opportunity to grab a couple of pictures of Em at the Dojo. Our Sensei is a very, very traditional Master and he has incredibly strict rules that include no photography or video inside the Dojo unless given specific permission.

The rules were still pretty tight. Cameras only allowed during juniors competition, and all photography equipment must be put away as soon as adults stepped into the competition area.

Em, as usual, started the day with a belly-load of trepidation. She’s prone to nerves.

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Then she managed to get in a little stretching to focus and prepare for her Kumite.

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There’s a lot of bowing in the dojo.

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I did not get any photos of the actual match. Sparring for points moves incredibly quickly, and I was really focused on actually WATCHING her without the camera between us.

I grabbed a photo of her afterwards, though, and she was very happy with her 2nd place metal and relieved that it was over for another year.

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Junior competitions were mostly finished by lunch, so the kids were having their lunch and then playing around while the adults went through their competitions.

I caught my kids being NOT FOCUSED ON THE TOURNAMENT. Lego at the Dojo is one of their favorite distractions. They do not have Lego at home, and show no interest in starting a collection, but they love this ragged old bunch of Lego bits and pieces that get to be occasionally pulled out for quiet moments.

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Ok, here’s where I admit that I was sneaky and grabbed a few pictures of Dave in his Gi while it was still allowed. It was certainly in the gray area…he was an adult, which means that photography was less encouraged, but he was not competing and it was still during juniors…~laugh~ I didn’t cheat, I just worked creatively.

And, yes, Em comes by her performance anxiety naturally. Here’s a picture of my husband in full-concentration mode. He’s trying to calm the inner turmoil…~grin~

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Dave also came in Silver during his Kata competition. His was actually the largest single division at the tournament and he had some very tough competition. He did not place in sparring, and is already trying to figure out how to better his standing for the next competition. Sparring is tricky, though, because everything happens so fast and it really is part skill and part lucky timing. Even the best fighter can have a bad match and lose really quickly.

We’re very invested in our Dojo. Somebody’s there 4 nights a week, nearly every week. I have a feeling that Karate is going to be part of our regular schedule for a long time to come.

Pita Perfect? Perhaps!

One of the conveniences we’ve missed during our dive into gluten-free cooking and eating has been the ability to toss together a super fast sandwich lunch. We were lucky enough to receive a gift of samples from Rami at GFL when we returned home from our holiday ramblings.
Pita Plate

Anna and I tested the pitas on a couple of different days, and we decided that they had both postive and negative qualities, but the postive qualities outweighed the negatives in many ways.

First off, fresh from the microwave, these pita pockets are undistinguishable from their gluteny counterparts. They’re delicious and soft and held up amazingly well to having ingredients added. Anna was actually a little worried that she would get sick, because she thought sure the GFL pita bread must have gluten.

After I convinced her to eat, she finished her plate in record time. The sandwich was excellently sized for someone small, but the pitas were a bit on the tiny side for a grown-up lunch.

Our biggest complaint, though, is that they do not hold well. After defrost and stuffing, there was about a 5 minute window in which the pita bread felt fresh and was easy to eat. When that window closed, the bread became hard and incredibly difficult to chew. It’s a downside to anything that has been frozen and must be defrosted in the microwave, I’m afraid. When Anna got distracted during her second lunch and left her plate at the table for a bit, she was upset to return to a sandwich that was just impossible to eat. She really just couldn’t bite and and eat the chewy/stiff bread. Reheating the sandwich gave her another small window of soft bread time, but the pita certainly wasn’t at it’s best after two trips through the microwave.

Closeup Pita

We did have a pita in our sample that arrived cracked, so that it was never really a “pocket”. That particular pita became strips to dunk in hummus. It was an excellent dip-scoop!

Our overall opinion of the GFL pita breads was that they’re very expensive for our personal budget. At $9 plus shipping per package, they can never be a regular part of our menu planning. They are the only commercially available gluten-free pitas that I’ve found, though, so they’ll probably be our fallback for special occasions and ethnic meals that really require pita to feel complete.

The quality of the bread itself, not inclusive of our pricing issues, was very good. I wish they held up longer in their delicious fresh-from-the-micro state, since we often have to hold over meals for small “emergencies” or want to take our meals along when we’re traveling. Would we recommend GFL pitas to other folks. Certainly! Will we buy them again ourselves? Probably! Are their things the company can continue to improve in the product. Definitely!

Thanks again to Rami and the gang at GFL for giving us the opportunity to try their product and spread the word to other families who eat gluten free.

Oh Baby, it’s Cold Outside..

It’s been super cold this week. The snow just keeps getting a little deeper each day, and the kids get more and more cabin fever symptoms hanging out in the house. I’ve been forcing them out for fresh air on any day in which they’re remotely perky.

Anna is not super excited at the prospect of getting “outside in the cold air”. She spends a lot of time tucked up under the eaves of the house in the only snow-free space.
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The big kids love the snow. They have been trying to roll a record breaking snowball. Thus far, they’re making some decent sized attempts, but no real MASSIVE record breakers have been managed to date.

It’s very early in the winter season, and I’m already beyond tired of the cold. I’m not a lover of the long, cruel winter. I’d love suggestions from folks who have beaten their seasonal depression and developed a love of the cold.

First Bird of the Year…

I try to pay attention to the first bird or animal that I see at the start of a new year. I’m just superstitious enough to be interested in what information Nature may want to bring to my attention.

Most years, my first visitor is either a hawk or a squirrel. The last 3 years have been squirrel years, and I imagined that this one would be as well. Lucky me, I was wrong. This year, my first critter visitor was a woodpecker. To be more specific, my first visitors were a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. The pair of noisy, rap-tapping birdies started up very early this morning.

I was busy making breakfast and tending children, so I had Dave grab the camera and snap a quick pick for blogging.

After breakfast, while the kids were doing some individual schoolwork, I dug into some research on traditional symbolic meanings behind woodpeckers and decided that this was a pretty good fit for the way I envision my next year unfolding.

Traditional wisdom says that a visit from a woodpecker means that we should:
* Nurture our ideas in the womb of our core passions.
* Use our heads (intellect) to think up innovative solutions to overcome barriers.
* Communicate our ideas in more creative or non-traditional ways.
* Stop and consider the opportunities available to us at this time.
* Look at projects in unique creative ways to bring new life to a project.
* Listen more clearly to subtle energies, there is a message that only our intuition can interpret.

((Thank you to many websites for the information about totem symbolisms))

I’m prepping myself for a year in which I think clearly in order to act creatively. What was your first animal or bird of the year and where do you see yourself going in 2010?

Old Friends, New Year

We were lucky enough to get to spend the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 in the company of friends and adopted family.

Our Goerlich friends came down from Rochester on Wednesday and spent two night with us, hanging out and playing games, before leaving on Friday afternoon. There was lots of Nerf battling, plenty of board game awesomeness, and some goofing off in the snow. We had a wonderful time playing with Steve, Heather, Tyler, and Emma. Poor Emma was out of her element, though, and spent a great deal of her sleepover refusing to sleep and voicing her displeasure.

Emma perked up on Friday and everybody got to play out in the snow for a while. I was so happy to get to shoot pictures of the Goerlichs out in the winter wonderland that is our yard.

Here’s Steve getting ready to launch a snowball:
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Emma wasn’t sure whether or not she was having fun outside in the cold, but she looked incredibly cute toddling around in the snowy yard.

Tyler built an interesting snow wall with an old flower pot as his “bucket” for making blocks. He also got a couple turns on the sled, and threw a few snowballs. He did not, however, wish to have his picture taken.

It had been a long time (including the birth of two kids for the Goerlich family) since Steve and Heather had a chance to come visit at our house. We get to visit them every couple of months or so when we’re hanging at the GrandChen’s place, but it was fun having them in our space.

I’m hoping we will get to do it again in the spring when the weather is more cooperative.

Like the seeds dreaming beneath the snow…

Like seeds dreaming beneath the snow, OUR hearts dream of Spring.
-Gibran (paraphrased, thanks Khalil!)

It’s become tradition to spend a bit of our Christmas holiday outside. Typically with the traditional burning of pillows of sugar on the ends of sticks over a bonfire and sledding down snow-covered hills. This year, though, we decided we’d switch it up a bit and do some hiking and communing with nature.

Our first stop was a Mendon Ponds park, where we offered up a Christmas time feast to the local feathered friends. Birds at Mendon Ponds enjoy company.

Uncle Ryan and the kids started out cautiously kneeling on the ground outside the woods, trying to look non-threatening.
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It quickly became apparent, however, that the birds were not threatened.
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Emily loved the little Chickadees who perched so lightly on her fingers or palm.
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Anna was also a bird whisperer…she was thrilled with all the tiny feathered friends eating from her hands.
Anna and Chickadee

Some of them were happy to just sit around for a moment and enjoy the sunflower seed bounty in her tiny cupped hands.
Chickadee closeup

Our boy Nate, honestly, is not into Nature. He reluctantly agreed to feed the birds for a bit before declaring himself, “bored, cold and, oh, did I mention…bored?”.
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We walked the paths in the Wood for a bit, and found this absolutely lovely bench tucked deep into a cove next to a small stream.
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It was a fitting place for a group portrait.
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We walked back to the van after our group picture. There was a bit more bird feeding. We said goodbye to the chickadees, the cardinals, the titmouses, and the bluejays.

Our next stop took us from flying creatures to swimming creatures. We were off to Powder Mills park to feed the fish at the trout hatchery.

There were hundreds, possibly thousands, of trout in all sizes at the hatchery. They were divided by age and ranged from tiny to impressively huge. We talked about how lovely they’d be…IN OUR FRYING PANS!!! It was only pipe-dreaming, though, since you can’t fish at the hatchery for obvious reasons.

Nate Hatchery

Fish food pellets were available for a quarter per small handful at machines around the outer rim of the hatchery. The fish would jump up out of the water when you tossed in the food pellets.
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When I got too cold to stand outside holding the camera, we piled into the van and headed back to the Kinnally homestead to warm our noses and toes while drinking hot cocoa and snacking on S’mores in front of the fireplace. It was a gorgeous, relaxing, and beautiful way to connect with each other and the promise of a coming Spring.

First Friday: Growing Up Artsy…

((*apologies in advance for the rough photography taken via Em’s p-n-s with one hand, while the other hand juggled bags and babes))

Taking five children under age 10 on a historic trolley tour and a gallery walk on a busy Friday night means that you’re either brave or crazy…or just homeschoolers who love to try something different on a regular basis.

Tonight’s adventure with the folks over at Mind Games involved taking advantage of our city’s First Friday activities, many of which were themed for the holidays this month.

Our first activity was a guided history and architecture tour of the city aboard a lovely old-fashioned trolley.
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The tour guide, a member of the local Preservation Society, was gracious and full of information. Some of us learned how many bridges are in our city (8 major ones), what the almost-triangular architecture on the doors and windows of a church was called (gothic), and the names of the different kinds of Greek columns used in building design (the ones we enjoyed most were Ionic or, if you’re Nate…IRONIC).

Others of us were…less involved.
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After the trolley tour, we decided to grab dinner at a local cafe that was featuring a live jazz band. Dining out with gluten-free Anna requires some care and planning, but the Lost Dog Cafe has a great gluten-free menu, not to mention some excellent cafe atmosphere.

We had a bit of a wait for our table, so we grabbed seats next to the band to enjoy their set.

After our buzzer did it’s thing, we moved off to our table to enjoy dinner. Waiting for a restaurant meal with 5 kids involves a bit of creative thinking if you don’t want a hungry riot on your hands. In our case, there were thumb wars, a game of trivia for Smarties candies (one handed out to each child, in turn, for answering a question correctly), and some passing around of the camera at the table for creative photo taking.

Handing the camera to the kids gives you some of this:

And a little of this:

And maybe a little of this:
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Then the food came, and there was a little bit of this:

When we had finished eating, we decided to explore a couple of galleries. First stop was at Orazio Salati Gallery, where Anna signed the guestbook (half a page high, in all caps) to “let the artists know I came to see their work”.

Then KarateKids made his Mama sniffle by using all of his saved up money to buy her a fancy pottery piece from Fern Lynn. He was so very grown-up throughout the transaction. Finding the right person to approach about the piece, conversing with the adults along the way as we slipped off (he wasn’t carrying his money around tonight, so I “helped” a bit on the financial end so his Mama wouldn’t have to be involved in the buying) to make the purchase, and then presenting the gift to his mom with such innocent grace that we all wanted to squeeze him senseless.

We made a quick, end of the night stop at Cooperative Gallery and Anna decided to make her first independent gallery purchase.

Em bought a small pottery vase for herself, but she’s made art purchases before so she requested that I not photograph her transaction. She’s hitting the “no photographs please” stage of development.

We trekked back to our car, stopping briefly here and there along the way to talk about various buildings or store windows or interesting things we passed. One of the most fun windows of the night was filled with trains.

The business was closing, the sign had just been turned off, but the proprietor saw me taking a picture and pulled me inside because she thought I should take a picture of the kids looking INTO the store.

She stopped me as I was leaving the building to tell me how absolutely precious our children were…how beautiful they were standing there together in the night.

As we walked away, I got a giggle from hearing an older artsy man comment that “they look like a little, walking Benetton ad”. That’s us…a wee little United Nations.

We hopped into our car, came home to our menfolk, and then divided up to head to our respective resting places. My kids crashed immediately after teeth were brushed and now I’ve blogged. Mission Complete. It was a beautiful, beautiful night!