Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Labor Day Weekend

With only a week of school under our belts, we were feeling optimistic about the school year, yet already deserving of a break. We spent Labor Day in the mountains enjoying nature.

I was especially looking forward to apple picking at SkyTop Orchard. We knew there would be crowds since Labor Day weekend is the most popular time at this orchard. The weather was gorgeous. Thankfully the crowds were manageable. Most of the people came the Saturday and Sunday before, taking all the beloved honeycrisp apples with them!

Prior to this weekend, we'd only ever picked apples at local farms where there is a minimal apple selection. I was in awe of the vast orchards, scenic mountains, and variety of apples. 

While the apples were still in abundance, the majority were higher up in the trees.

The challenge proved to be an added bonus for Jackson!

The girls were precious, carefully examining each apple and stopping to pose for pictures.

As much as we tried to dissuade James, he felt the need to take a bite out of each and every apple he selected.

Perhaps he learned from his father...

We continued to fill baskets until the kids could no longer carry the weight.

We began our hike back to the checkout area.

While Jesse and Jackson took the baskets to be weighed, I took the trio to the play area. 

The trio favored the tiny houses. It's a small miracle that James didn't fall out of the window.

After purchasing the apples, we sampled SkyTop's famous doughnuts, cider, and slushies.

Jesse was content to drive back home, especially considering we had to get ready for school the next day. I encouraged him to stick with the original plan of  returning to DuPont Forest, the place we had visited over the summer. This time we came prepared with bathing suits, towels, and a picnic lunch.

As we approached the parking lot to the falls, cars were lined along the road on both sides. We pulled into the lot and watched cars circling to go back on the main road. Jesse still advocated going home. We lucked out by being behind a car backing out in one of the front spaces.

We changed into our suits and began the short walk to Hooker Falls.

The falls was overflowing with happy families--laid out along the rocks, splashing in the water, grilling at the picnic tables, floating, etc. We found a shaded spot and ate our picnic lunch.

The water was an exhilarating cold. The kids' reactions ranged from barely dipping toes in the water to having to hold them back from diving in the falls.

We ventured closer to the falls to get a better look and hop along the rocks.

Jackson and I continued further, making our way to the base of the waterfall. 

We walked back towards the van, changed clothes in the porta johns, and headed home. Our drive home was prolonged due to enormous traffic from the Apple Festival Parade in Hendersonville.

The traffic delayed us so much that we weren't able to cook dinner at home at a reasonable time. We stopped on the way in Gastonia for dinner.

Jackson had been asking about his grandma and grandpa a surprising amount, so I decided to show him where they were buried. Growing up, I was forced to regularly visit graves and became very detached from them. Of course, Jackson never met either grandparent so there wasn't any sorrow or longing to the event. His reaction was very literal and childlike.

I wanted to give the kids a final chance to burn off energy since they had been in the van for so long and it would be bedtime when we returned home. We had an impromptu park play date with my sister, niece, and nephew.

We were even surprised with a visit by the ice cream truck.

By the time we got home, we changed the kids into pajamas and went to bed. It was a very memorable Labor Day and a fantastic example of spending a fun day together with the family!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Back to School ABC's

Since there's so much to discuss and this has been a highly anticipated week of back to school, I thought I'd make a classic ABC update.

A is for ASEP
Even though that acronym stands for After School Enrichment Program, it also includes before school. I decided to enroll Jackson in before school so I will not have to worry about finding regular care during staff meetings and early planning days. Since I am a CMS employee, Jackson will also be able to attend the program on workdays and early release days. I plan to arrive around 7:15 every morning so I can leave as early as possible (ideally 4 pm).

B is for Bloomz
James' teacher uses an app called Bloomz. She is amazing at posting daily photos of the kids, a Question of the Day, links to songs or books they read, and general announcements. Jesse and I both appreciate being able to know what is going on in James' classroom each day.

C is for Cleaning Service
For years, I rolled my eyes and judged anyone who hired cleaning services. How lazy could someone be, right?  Only spoiled, wealthy people hired maids. I'm about to eat my words because our first scheduled housecleaning will occur this Thursday and I cannot wait!

D is for Drop Off
Jesse handles everything with the trio, due to the proximity of his school to the trio's preschool. I asked him to tell me about drop off. He said:
"Drop off is not easy because Maddie chooses not to walk every day. So if James and Amelia are being stubborn, it's almost impossible. They're supposed to wash their hands before they go in, which is not easy. They fight over the soap and stools. James inevitably has four feet of paper towels rolled out. The girls cry everyday. It's the least favorite part of my day."

E is for Exhausted
I forgot the level of exhaustion that hits after the first week of school. After a particularly sedentary summer filled with almost daily naps, our new schedule has been especially tiresome!

F is for Feet
Anyone who knows me is aware of how much I hate shoes. One of the biggest adjustments for me has been wearing shoes. Even strappy, flat sandals is uncomfortable. I bring flip flops to wear before and after school because my feet are swollen by the end of the day.

G is for Google Drive
No matter what question I have, the answer is always, "Look on Google Drive". Flashdrives are obsolete. People don't email each other. Everything is on Google Drive. Navigating my way through NC EdCloud, the various Google apps, and iPad has been a major adjustment. I feel so old and outdated! Every fourth grader in our district was just issued a Chromebook, so I'm having to learn how to best utilize that for personal instruction. So far my favorite technological advance (which has nothing to do with Google Drive) is using the document camera. I love letting the students share their work!

H is for Hummingbird Class
Both Maddie and Amelia are now in the Hummingbird class. I was originally upset about the trio being in individual classes, but it quickly became a non-issue. Last week Maddie's teacher called and asked if we would allow Amelia to join Maddie's class. Their school is also the EC preschool for the district. After an EC student dropped out, they needed to quickly re-balance the number of EC and tuition students. I think both girls are happier now that they are together.

I is for Impetigo
We only lasted a week before James and Maddie developed impetigo. Their welcome gift to preschool included open sores on their body. A doctor's visit, antibiotics, prescription cream, and lots of bandaids later--we hope they heal quickly!

J is for Jackson
Jackson has been so flexible and easy going these past two weeks. Between workdays and staggered entry, we had to find childcare for 9 days. Thankfully I have an exceptional group of mom friends who provided the bulk of childcare. Jesse's mom took the week off and helped us out for a few days as well. Jackson never wanted to leave and always had great stories about things he played with and places he went.

K is for Kindergarten Open House
Jackson and I attended his open house this past Friday morning. I am happy with his teacher and am optimistic that he'll thrive. Our school ability groups in every grade level. I refrained from asking if he was in a higher or lower class, because I really don't want to analyze my 5 year old and compare him to others. I still feel guilty about what long days he will have (9 hours at school), but I know he'll adjust.

L is for Lunch
All six of us are now able or required to eat lunch in the cafeteria. The trio's lunches are included in their tuition and Jackson's school has free breakfast and lunch for ALL students. Jackson has requested to pack his lunch, which I can't blame him. It's nice not having to pack so many lunches.

M is for Monday Planning
One of the most appealing things about my school while I was interviewing was the fact that they have a weekly two hour planning session. From 8 am to 10:15, our grade level is able to sit down with a facilitator and plan for the upcoming week. Unfortunately, our planning day is Monday. We did not get planning the first day of school and there is no school because of Labor Day. This means we're more or less on our own the first three weeks of school. It has been a LOT of work blindly planning all subjects for a new grade level on my own. I am hoping things settle down in a few weeks when we're able to have planning time, though Mondays are the most commonly missed school days.

N is for North Carolina
After teaching 8th grade ELA the past few years, Jesse is now teaching Social Studies. I am now teaching 4th grade after having only taught 5th grade. We are both learning new curriculum, and they both include NC History. We both taught about the regions of NC last week. My students made edible maps of NC using various cereals and candies.

O is for Oil Filter
By far the craziest part of my week was when my car completely shut off while merging onto the interstate. Thankfully I had just dropped Jackson off with a friend. To back track a bit, Jesse had taken the car for an oil change a few days before. I drove it with no problems for three days. Thursday morning, the oil indicator light lit up. Within minutes, the entire car stopped. I ended up being late to work waiting to be towed. A police officer pulled up behind me and said, "Are you trying to get yourself killed?" He helped move my car onto the grass, and nearly got run over in the process. It was a highly intense moment. It turns out that the oil filter fell out. Thankfully the oil change place is taking full responsibility and will take care of expenses. At this point I don't know the fate of the car.

P is for Paycheck
For the first time in three years, we are officially a dual income family. Payday was exciting, though it was less money than I expected. So much is taken out because of taxes, insurance for the kids, and opting for 12 month pay rather than 10 month pay. We should be very comfortable this summer when we aren't paying for preschool and before school care.

Q is for Questions
The first week is basically nothing but questions. Jesse and I have filled out countless surveys and forms for each of the kids. We've also asked our students many questions through ice breakers and community building activities. As someone new to the school and grade level, I have numerous questions about where things are located and what resources are available.

R is for Rental Car
The day that the oil filter fell out, the tow truck driver was kind enough to drop me off at school. The friend who kept Jackson picked me up from work and dropped Jackson and I off at Enterprise. Unfortunately, there wasn't a single rental car available because of Labor Day weekend. Jackson and I wandered around the area until Jesse and the trio picked us up and we tried a different rental company. It was such a long day, but I've been driving around a rather nice rental car this weekend.

S is for Superhero Classroom
For the first time in my teaching career, my classroom decor has a theme. The teacher before me left some superhero border. I took the theme and ran with it. It was well received by the kids.

T is for Teammates
Both Jesse and I have joined a new team. My team is unique in the fact that all five of us are brand new to the school and have never taught 4th grade. We get along well so far, but haven't had much opportunity to collaborate.

U is for Understanding
I have a totally new perspective and understanding now that I am a parent of school age children. I didn't think I would feel any different because I had gone back to work when Jackson was a baby. But now that I have four kids in school, my role as a teacher feels even more significant. I am still strict and a bit sarcastic, but I am overall more nurturing and think of each kid as someone's child first, and my student second. I'm also making effective parent communication a priority.

V is for Village
I frequently say, "It takes a village", but this week I truly relied on my village. From being stranded on the interstate, needing childcare every day, requiring help with transportation, learning a new school/grade level/curriculum, and simply returning to the classroom in general, I have needed a great amount of support. I have been blessed to receive so much love via texts and Facebook messages checking in on me during this transition.

W is for Wardrobe Changes
At least one child has come home wearing new clothes every single day. The reasons so far have included mud, spilled drink, applesauce, and falling in the toilet. It's impossible to keep up with laundry. The good news is that James is allowed to wear pull ups, so we aren't having the stress of multiple accidents a day. He's not staying dry 100% of the time, but the teacher will work on potty training with him soon.

X is for eXpenses
Okay, that is a bit of a stretch for x, but I'm going with it. While tuition for the trio is discounted, it's nearly twice as much as our mortgage. I also chose to enroll Jackson in before school, which is an additional expense. I have no idea what is going on with my car. There's a very real possibility that they will call it totaled and give me the amount of money it's worth. We are still more than comfortable financially, but we won't be saving quite as much as I anticipated.

Y is for YMCA
Realizing we'll never have the time, we cancelled our Y membership. Childcare hours are from 9 am to 1 pm and we would always have children with us. Our days are too long as is, so the Y was an easy expense to cut. Jesse and I have a stationary bicycle, elliptical, and T25 videos we can utilize whenever we find our groove and get the motivation.

Z is for Zebra
Amelia was in the Zebra class before getting switched to Maddie's hummingbird class. Amelia is so funny about the zebra. She'll randomly say, "I'm Amelia the Zebra". I had a picture book with a giraffe on it and she said, "Oh, you're the giraffe class?" They are all fixated on what animal they are.