Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fun for Free! East Nashville Edition

Sorry for the unpredictable posts lately, but with school starting on THURSDAY(!!!!) we've been trying to soak up as much summer fun as we can. 

This means lots of doing things rather than photographing and writing about them. 

But, I did manage to snap some pics of a recent venture out east.  East Nashville, that is.  I have a very dear friend who just moved over there, and she's been showing us around that side of town.  Kind of silly, since we've lived here 5 years, 
but I blame the gestation and procreation stage of life that we're in. 

Anyhoo, our friend and faux relative told us about Shelby Bottoms Greenway. 
 (I keep calling it Soggy Bottoms.  Yes, I have the sense of humor of an 8-year-old boy.)  
I'd heard about it from another mom, but we'd never made it over there until last Friday. 
Though we didn't even cross a county line, we packed enough provisions (read: snacks) and changes of clothes to last 48 hours, plus fishing poles and swimsuits, etc.  

Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that there was a giant mud pit, so I also had towels and a tarp for the car.  
View from the sandbox
There wasn't any mud pit, but they had a killer natural play space with the awesome sandbox pictured above, as well as nooks, tunnels, and a kid-sized fort.  We determined that the paved greenway would be an excellent place to ride bikes, the only things we failed to bring. 

Next, we tried our hands at fishing. 

Turns out, fishing is a sport that works a lot better when Mom's not in charge.
And when we have the proper equipment.  A super-nice man took pity on us (and probably gave up on catching anything because we are LOUD) and advised us on a few critical pieces we were missing, like weights, a float, and bait. 

I told him I wouldn't actually know what to do if we caught anything besides a stick, 
and that I'd probably leave the fish on the hook. 

Since we were already in the area and nobody got muddy or wet, we decided to hit the splash pad at Cumberland Park.

This park is relatively new and located right by Titans' stadium.  
As you can see, there's a splash pad.
Plastic cups are essential for splashing fun and water fights.

              There's also a pretty cool sandbox with dinosaur "fossils" buried so deep under              t                     the sand that only the most tenacious mom has been able uncover it.
My littles were pretty excited to discover some dinosaur tracks.
Once you've gotten sufficiently waterlogged and sandy, it's time to hit the other play areas. 
Unleash your inner Spiderman on the ropes course, slide down the slides (if they're open),
Or stick your head through a porthole in the wall.
It's become something of a tradition for us to end every trip here with a ride up the glass elevator to the pedestrian bridge spanning the Cumberland. 
We check out the views
and try not to get anybody's head stuck in the rails.

Happy Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Not Your Mama's VBS

So, last week was Vacation Bible School at our church.  This was only the second year I volunteered to help out with anything, so it was a real learning experience.  Since it's 5 days  and $15 for the whole week, you have a great big mix of kids who are church members, preschool students, and children from the surrounding area. 

I like to think of it as guerilla-teaching: ages ranging from 4 to 12, rotating through each day for a given time period.  You have to quickly set goals and behavior expectations, while making the whole experience fun and accessible for a variety of backgrounds.

Of course, a detailed curriculum is provided.  

But, since I like to make things more complicated than they have to be, 
I didn't stick real close to the script. 

Mainly because the script called for me to dress like a shepherd for 5 days in a row. 

I was the storytelling chick, in charge of portraying various Bible stories and illuminating the main idea of each of them, pertaining to the week's theme. 

Piece of cake, right?

Not exactly. 

30 minutes can seem incredibly long when you're talking about Peter and Cornelius with 4-and-5-year olds, but I could have easily filled 90 minutes with my 4th, 5th, and 6th-graders.  

That's where YouTube came in to save the day! 

Here's an equation:
Legos + animation + Zacchaeus/Good Samaritan = Happy kids

But, we didn't spend the whole time watching YouTube and Lego-mation.  
We discussed.  People got squirmy.

And we had to get up and move. 

 At times, that meant playing Hot Potato or freeze dancing.  
Other times, we needed more structure, requiring a little more planning. 

Homemade Play-doh was one of the heavy-hitters in my bag of tricks for this week.  The little guys got to squish it around and make "bread" like in the Elijah/widow story, and everybody played with it throughout the week if we had extra time.

Another useful prop: a Bible-themed busy box.  I used rainbow rice (sand would be more apropos), Nativity peg dolls, and extra truffula trees.  It was a hit all week, and there was minimal mess.

My star jars were a soothing source of fascination as well, 
and provided a great hook for  the Sarah/Abraham story.  I can't figure out where I put them, but it's just a whole bunch of glitter-glue and water in a jar.

But, do you want to know what the all-star, crowd-pleasing, home-run activity was, though?

For our Zacchaeus story day, the kids broke themselves into small groups and I gave each group a handful of straws and a blob of dough in a bowl.  Their job was to link the straws together to build a structure as high as they could.  I have never seen such teamwork or focus.  Except for my littlest guys, these kids worked in total concentration for 15 to 20 minutes, trying to win the title of "Tallest Straw Structure".  

Or something.

Readers' theater worked amazingly well with the big guys.  Not so much with the littles, even if they were just acting it out and I was doing all of the reading.  

My favorite thing was the "Good Samaritan First-Aid Station", using Barbies, bandages, and wet wipes.  The girlies especially enjoyed it.

One of the things I love to do when I'm telling Bible stories is to read a secular picture book that parallels the themes and characters of the original.  For instance, after we talked about good ol' Zacchaeus, I read Mo Willems' Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and discussed the similarities between the two main characters and their similar change of heart.  

What was the station after that?
Monster Puppets!

Here's another crowd-pleaser for illustrating 
the Priest's and the Levite's "tunnel-vision" in the Good Samaritan:
Let's watch as Will demonstrates the proper use 
of the paper cone goggles in a masking-tape maze.
I can't believe a 3-year-old would be contrary.  They're usually so helpful ;)

Anyway, the big guys made fun of my lame maze-making skillz, but they really got into their role as the wounded on the side of the road.  

My little peeps thought the maze was cool.  

So there.

The real highlight of the week was Mission Night.

And getting to wear hairnets.
Hairnet lasted approx. 3.6 seconds.  Apparently, it was Will's mission to "Get those pigs!!!".
The reason for the unflattering headgear is that we were packaging 10,000 meals to send across the globe to those in need.
Sarah was a pro, and had a blast.  Plus, she rocked that hairnet.
Me? Not so much. 
 "Lunchlady" wasn't the look I was going for, but, 
add a hairy mole to my chin, and, Presto!

In the words of the great RuPaul, "You better work!"  
No matter what look you're sportin' this Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Last Saturday, Sarah finished up her summer ballet class. 
 Parents (and siblings) were invited to sit in and see 
what the girls learned throughout their time there. 
 I learned that my girl has my flexibility (or lack thereof),
 and the enthusiasm and self-confidence that only a 5-year-old can have.
 She holds her beautiful long-fingered hands with the grace of a ballerina twice her age, 
and she has those toes pointed at all times. 
 I think this might be my favorite picture, and I'm 80% sure it was snapped by Will.
  (I think he might have had a wee crush on the "ballerina teacher").

 In celebration of our tiny dancer's hard work,
 I wanted to make a dance ensemble for our AG doll, Sarah Jr.  
So, I got to work up-cycling an old dance dress 
and tights Sarah wore 2 years ago.  
Using a swimsuit pattern that I got for free from this site, 
 I cut the doll leotard out using as many of the original seams as possible 
in order to avoid my least favorite thing about sewing: hemming. 
 Unlike Sarah's dance dress, the doll has a detachable skirt that I just eyeballed. 
 The doll tights are just one leg of Sarah's old tights, cut down the middle 
and sewn up in two seams to make the legs. 
Everybody seems happy with this zero-cost addition to our AG's wardrobe. 

 In fact, now my little prima donna has requested dance slippers for her mini-me as well. 
I think that might be pushing the limits of my time and skills, but we'll see.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When Daddy's In Charge...

Sometimes, a mama just needs some time on a Saturday to get some stuff done.  You know, like eating bonbons, catching up on her soaps  cleaning the toilets, scrubbing bathtubs, and doing school work.   Being the awesome dad he is 
(and given the choice between hanging with the kids or de-funking the bathroom), 
Mike is game to help a hausfrau out, 
in his own unique way.

This is what a morning out with Daddy looks like around our 'hood:

Getting your hair did.

Hauling some lumber.

Blowing off some steam by shooting a Civil War-era cannon.

Retail therapy.

And taking a load off.  With a stuffed polar bear.

And taking a spin in Daddy's work chair.

Hope your Saturday looks a little better than the inside of a toilet!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Berry Picking

Last week, a friend texted me about going berry picking one afternoon with the littles. 

At the beginning of the summer, I would have been all for it. One might even go so far as to say I was rarin' to go.  And then this summer kicked into high gear like a runaway Harley, 
leaving me hanging onto the tailpipe for dear life. 

So, I had serious doubts as to my energy level and general emotional state going into something that was sure to be a hot, crowded ordeal involving tears, fights, dipping into the college fund for concession-stand snacks and souvenirs, and ending with me curled in the fetal position under a blackberry bush somewhere. 

This adventure was none of those things. 
 In fact, it was EXACTLY the opposite type of experience
 I have come to expect from summer outings. 

We drove out to a little farm in Lebanon called Circle S Farms on an overcast afternoon.  Only one other parking spot was occupied in the gravel lot, and we got out and 
followed a sign that said, "Start Here." 
This sign says, "Hey, Y'all!"  Well, "Hey!" yourself
Why can't they ever look at the camera?  Why?!
The place was blessedly quiet, and unsettlingly peaceful.  Not a soul besides ourselves was in sight, and I got more than a little nervous about not having the safety of a herd to follow or a line to wait in.  The place is totally self-serve, so we popped our money in the lock box and chose our containers.  Some of us got a little overzealous and went for the big baskets with handles, but, when reminded that, "You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit," it was all good.

Armed with our equipment/baskets, we descended on the berry bushes like locusts.  

Really slow-moving, make-your-mom-do-all-the-work locusts. 
The kids had a good time determining the readiness of the berries for picking 
as they sampled the product along the way.

Good thing we didn't go for the jumbo basket.

Teamwork and show tunes made the work go quicker.

Just kidding. 
 I wish there had been show tunes...

Just a boy and the dog that owned the farm.
The kids chased a sweet little beagle-girl around the farm for awhile and named her Jewel. 

Then, it was time for some fossil-digging in this most awesome of sandboxes.
Then we did some see-sawing...

...and cattle-roping.
Almost got him!
We had such fun, we're already planning another trip out there.  
With this kind of haul, we were excited to figure out what we could make with all of that gorgeous fruit.  Sarah suggested a pie, but I don't bake unless you want something the consistency and flavor profile of a charcoal briquette. 

We decided on cobbler, because it's pretty hard to burn cobbler.  
Not impossible, but pretty hard.  

Because I'm lazy and I thought of a cool name for it, 
I just lumped all of the blueberries and blackberries together in the same dish.  

Without further ado, I give you...

Black and Blue Cobbler
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries and blackberries
  • 1 cup of milk
  1. Grease a 9 x 9 baking dish and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter.
  3. Mix the flour and sugar together thoroughly.  
  4. Pour the milk and butter in your sugar/flour mixture and stir it up.
  5. Rinse and drain your berries, then dump them in a bowl.  Sprinkle a few tablespoons of sugar over the berries and mix it all in. 
  6. Pour the batter mixture into the baking dish, and then pour the berries and sugar on top. 
  7. Bake for an hour (or so) and enjoy the yummy smells while you read a romance novel.
  8. After it's all goldeny and gooey, take that bad boy out and pat yourself on the back for not burning it. 
This is why you HAVE to use self-rising flour.  Not very cobbler-looking, but it eats just as good.