Apr 13

Fort Worth Botanic Garden: Fantastic Freebie

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The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is a free attraction located on the southwest side of Trinity Park.  It is Texas’s oldest botanic garden and one of the largest in the state at 109 acres.  Whenever Karen and I are traveling we are always on the lookout for well-done free attractions and it does not get much better in both of those categories then the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
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Though our particular visit took place at the beginning of spring and many of their 2500 plus native and exotic plants were not in bloom we enjoyed our stroll around the place.  While over 90% of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden is free they do charge admission to their 10,000 square foot tropical conservatory as well as their 7 acre Japanese garden.  On this particular trip to the Fort Worth-Dallas area we bypassed on the two pay areas.  Instead we just used the garden as nice little hike with our 2 month old and 2 year old.
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The grounds of the garden were well kept and the variety and types of gardens they had on display were pretty amazing.  We have been to a variety of gardens and have paid to see most of them so getting in for free to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden were a real treat for us.  My wife and I plan on coming back at some point in the future to see the garden at the peak of its season.
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The Fort Worth Botanic Garden has 21 themed gardens that will just about cover every variety and type of fauna out there. From elevated platforms that show off Texas hardwoods, ponds and streams to a variety of perennial and annual gardens the Fort Worth Botanic garden has a lot for any visitor to see. What we enjoyed about our visit was the way that gardens flowed from one to another. Instead of making us feel like we were in a botanical garden it made it seem like just one continuous stroll. The Fort Worth Botanic Garden was well laid out for our taste.
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Another great thing about the Fort Worth Botanic Garden was that it was very informational.  Not only about the types of plants, but also about the fauna that would typically go with those plants.  Our 2 year old is very inquisitive and any sign we see she wants it read out loud to her.  Having all the flip up charts and information boards was a real treat for her and us. Overall, we really enjoyed our early evening stroll through the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.  We definitely plan on going back when the outdoor garden season is a little bit better.

To read our reviews of other Botanical Gardens click here

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Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Located at 220 Botanic Garden Blvd, Fort Worth, TX
Hours of Operation: Monday through Sunday 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. the paid admission areas have different set times.
Cost as of this Posting: Free
For more information visit their website at http://fwbg.org/

Apr 08

Frank Buck Zoo: Good Stop for our Little One

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Frank Buck Zoo is a nice little children’s zoo that will keep the five and under crowd entertained.  As we were traveling south into Texas we saw signs for the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville and decided it might be a good place to get out and stretch our legs.  We did not have high expectations going in knowing that Gainesville is a small town, but were pleasantly surprised at their nice little zoo.
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Located in Leonard Park, which has a lovely little playground area and a swimming pool for the hot summer months in Texas, the Frank Buck Zoo is nice capstone to a great small town park.  The park and zoo even have a train ride. It made for a nice little place to get out of the car, stretch our legs, eat our lunch, and take a walk through the zoo.  All-in-all we were quite pleased with our decision to stop.
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The Frank Buck Zoo is laid out in a small circular path which is just the right size for small children.  Pre-teens and older might not like it, but my two year old did.  There were enough animals of different types to keep her entertained and she was just as delighted to see bunnies or Shetland ponies as she was to see the more exotic giraffes, zebras, and flamingos.  Seeing her smile and talk about the different animals that she saw made it a fun visit for us.  Besides the animals already mentioned some of the other animals you can see at the Frank Buck Zoo are black and brown bears, camels, American alligators, kangaroos, and a variety of farm animals you can hand feed.
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Now obviously one cannot compare the Frank Buck Zoo to zoos located in much bigger cities, but there were a few things that they did have that we found quite nice.  We liked the fact that giraffe and zebra yard was nice and big and had an elevated platform to give a great view of the animals.  Karen and I also thought the flamingo and alligator habitats were well put together.  Another thing that we noted was that they seemed to be doing some new renovations to exhibit areas which shows they are looking to improve their zoo.  The only downside to the Frank Buck Zoo that really stood out to us was the size of the black and brown bear areas hopefully that will be something that they can change in the future.
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Overall, we enjoyed our visit to Leonard Park and taking a stroll at the Frank Buck Zoo.  It was the perfect little hour or more stop on our long road trip through Texas.  Our girls enjoyed there time there and a contented little girl sure makes for a much better travel companion than one that is grumpy.

To see all of our zoo reviews click here

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Frank Buck Zoo
Located at Leonard Park 1000 W California St, Gainesville, Texas
Hours of Operation Spring and Summer 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fall and Winter 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost as of this Posting Adults 13 and over $6.50, Seniors 55 plus $5.50 and Children 1 to 12 $4.50
For more information visit this website at http://www.gainesville.tx.us/index.aspx?nid=108

Apr 04

Cockrell Butterfly House: Little Wings over Texas

Butterfly houses like the Cockrell Butterfly House in Houston are a fun family vacation spot.  Traveling with two little ones, finding fun educational things is a priority for us wherever we go.  We also look for places where we can see lots of things without traveling very far and Hermann Park in Houston definitely fit that description.

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Being home to the Houston Zoo as well as the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Cockrell Butterfly House we knew exactly where we wanted to go on our short trip to Houston.

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So after visiting the zoo in the morning, we next headed over to the Cockrell butterfly House.  Our oldest girl just loves butterfly houses and seeing all the butterflies flying around is a real treat for her.  Also now that she is older, about two and half when we visited the Cockrell Butterfly House, she took a real interest in the interactive exhibits they had on display.  It was also a treat for us to see our three month old follow the butterflies with her eyes as they flew close to her.
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The Cockrell Butterfly House, located at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, is a living butterfly habitat centered on a 50 foot waterfall.  It is a stunning three story facility with floor to ceiling glass walls filled with exotic plants and of course hundreds of colorful butterflies.   In addition to their replicated rainforest the Cockrell Butterfly House is also home to the Brown Hall of Entomology, an educational center with interactive areas and tanks filled with a variety of insects.
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We really enjoyed our visit to the Cockrell Butterfly House and would have to say it is one of the prettiest ones that we have been to with their large waterfall.  We were also impressed with the variety of butterflies they had on display.
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Karen and I have been to several different butterfly houses but have never seen one with a greta oto or glasswing butterfly.  The greta oto has transparent wings so that was pretty neat for us to see.  Our eldest child enjoyed the educational areas as well as seeing the butterflies so we thought it was well worth the admission price.

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Karen and I recommend that you make a day out of it and visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science as well as the Cockrell Butterfly House.  By buying a combined ticket you can save a few dollars.  The science museum was fun, but we both enjoyed the butterfly house more.  It made for a great end to a long day at Hermann Park.
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To see our reviews of other Butterfly Houses click here
16830041467 a9af16ebc4 z Cockrell Butterfly House: Little Wings over Texas
Cockrell Butterfly House
Located at 5555 Hermann Park Dr. Houston TX
Hours of Operation: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 7 days a week
Cost as of this Posting: Adults 12 and over $8.00, Children 3 to 11 $7.00 and Seniors 62 and over $7.00
For more information visit their website at http://www.hmns.org/

Mar 23

Children’s Aquarium: Perfect for the Wee Ones

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The Children’s Aquarium in Dallas was one of the highlights of our spring break Texas trip because our little 2 year old loved the place.  Seeing her face light up at the different aquarium tanks as she ran from spot to spot makes the trials of a road trip with a 2 wee ones worth it.  Hearing “daddy I touched a sting ray” with a squeal of delight followed by “I touched it again” warmed the heart.  It was more about the experience we were able to have at the Children’s Aquarium versus what they had that made it a great stop on our trip.
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Designed for little kids in mind, the Children’s Aquarium in Dallas is great for little kids in the age range of 10 and under.  The aquarium tanks are built at a height for them to see without somebody holding them up and my 2 year old loved that.  M is a travel-veteran but most places that we go she constantly has to look through bars or be lifted up.  She enjoyed having the freedom to go from tank to tank getting to see everything.
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The Children’s Aquarium is divided into 3 sections.  As you walk in towards your right there is a freshwater tank area filled with animals like an albino alligator, piranha, tetras,  electric eel, and alligator snapping turtle.  In the middle, there is a short hall to the best exhibit at the Children’s Museum where they have 2 large tanks one being a touch tank where visitors have the chance to touch stingrays.  A second larger tank is home to animals like the bonnethead sharks, leopard sharks, and sea turtles. The third area which is just to the left when you enter is for their saltwater fish.  In this part of the aquarium, you will see a variety of ocean going creatures like jellyfish, seahorse, lobster, batfish, clownfish, eels, and turtles.  There was enough variety of animals and fish to make it a nice aquarium.  To describe it I would say it is more in the scope of something you might find at a zoo compared to a standalone aquarium.
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None of the exhibits are earth shattering or will make you want to visit time and time again (unless you have small ones and get a season pass), but for what it is and who it is designed for the Children’s Aquarium does a great job.  So do not expect a walkthrough tunnel with fish swimming all around you or a 500,000 gallon tank filled with hundreds of species of fish.  If you go in with the right expectations that this aquarium is designed for the 10 and under crowd you will have a great time.
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At the time of our visit there was around 2 other families there so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves which was nice.  The next day we visited the Dallas World Aquarium which has great exhibits but standing in the long lines and behind the different school groups hampers that experience.  Being in a place in Dallas and not fighting crowds or standing in line wherever you go sure made the Children’s Aquarium a nice trip for us.
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The Children’s Aquarium is just one of those places that if you have toddlers it is great place to go.  The price was not bad for us because both our kids got in for free, and like I mentioned before getting to touch the sting rays and her excitement from that experience was priceless.  Not having dozen of kids and parents cut in front of you to see inside a fish tank made it much more enjoyable for us.

To see our reviews of other aquariums click here

16911591591 de4ae8229c z Children’s Aquarium: Perfect for the Wee Ones
Children’s Aquarium
Located at 1462 1st Ave (Fair Park), Dallas, TX
Hours of Operation 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 7 days a week closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Cost as of this Posting Adults 12 and over $8.00 Seniors 65 and over $6.00 and Children 3 to 11 $6.00
For more information visit their website at http://www.childrensaquariumfairpark.com/

Mar 18

Turner Falls: Oklahoma

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Turner Falls located in the Arbuckle Mountains of Southern Oklahoma is nestled in a beautiful park, one that you will appreciate more the less people that are there.  If you do a quick search of the park on Tripadvisor you will see that people love it or hate it and the reviews seem to have one underlying point which is the size of the crowd.  On our particular visit there was 1 other car in the parking lot and we had a great time and loved the falls.  Of course, we went when the water was too cold to swim, got there right when it opened, and left before 11:00 a.m. so the crowd was at a minimum.  We loved our time there.  Our little 2 year old enjoyed looking at Turner Falls for about two minutes and was on to the playground area.   This worked out great for us because we were on our way to Dallas so Turner Falls Park was a nice little spot for us to get out and stretch our legs and burn off a little energy.
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The water drops about 75 feet making Turner Falls the tallest waterfall in the state of Oklahoma.  It is a gorgeous waterfall dropping into a light aquamarine color pool that you can swim in during the warm summer months.  There is also an overlook that gives a bird’s eye look of the falls.  We were there in early March and after a good rain so the water was really flowing.  The weather was on the cool side so we basically had the waterfall to ourselves for a good half hour.  About the time we were leaving around 10:30 there were several families making the short walk up to the falls.
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Besides being the home to Turner Falls, Turner Falls Park boasts 2 swimming holes, hiking trails, caves and other interesting geological features.   It also has a walk-in castle, cabins, and camping opportunities.  For more information about the park visit their website at   http://www.turnerfallspark.com/.   We were only there for a short time, so we cannot give a full review of the park itself, but from what we saw the park was clean, the lady at the admission area was real friendly and the waterfall was better then what I thought it was going to be.
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Turner Falls
77-Foot Waterfall
Located near the town of Davis Oklahoma exit 51on I35
Short paved Hike from the Parking Lot
Paid Admission to see the Falls.

To see our reviews of other waterfalls we have seen click here

Feb 24

McKayla’s week 12

16638379551 979d080b69 McKaylas week 12

12 week photo

TWELVE weeks!! That seems like some sort of milestone… I think it was with McKenna at least.  We are having such fun times.  McKayla is growing like a weed and really starting to show her little personality.  She smiles so easily and you can see the sparkle in her eyes just before a big ole grin spreads over her face.  She is making more and more noises, little squeals and coos.  McKenna can’t wait for her to start talking.  Kenny had his first Soccer game of the year on Saturday.  It was pretty cold so we three girls didn’t get to go but we were cheering for him from the living room.

Highlight of the week:

Karen- Seeing McKenna and McKayla ‘play’ together more and more.  They can lay on a little blanket on the floor and McKenna will bring toy after toy to show McKayla.  It’s so neat to see them interact.  McKenna was so excited when she handed McKayla a little soft ball and she grabbed a hold of it with her little hand.  ”Mommy she’s HOLDING it!!!”

Kenny- We had a snow day on Monday and I had a great time sharing a lazy day at home with my girls.

Product we’re loving:

Karen- We really get a lot of use out of our leachco pod cushion.  It’s a little pod pillow that McKayla can sit in and it props her up a bit so she can see more of what’s going on around her.  We use it a ton.  McKenna calls it McKayla’s “seed pod”.

Kenny- Books!  This little girl is already a bookworm like her big sister. She pays good attention to lots of different board books.

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McKenna and McKayla Week 12 Picture

Struggle:

Karen- My house is a wreck… I need to get everything more organized so its easier to “tidy up” quickly.  It is so hard to use my free moments cleaning when McKenna wants some Mom time to play or its nighttime and I’m ready to drop.  I try to make the girls the priority, we can live with a mess for now.

I’m also struggling to get an exact schedule down for McKayla, I know she can be awake about two hours before she’s tired and wants to nurse every three hours or so, but each day is different.  Thats hard because McKenna was more scheduled and that helped me so much.  I’m sure a pattern will start to emerge soon.

Kenny- no struggles right now, we’re doing pretty good.  I wish there was no crying ever but that’s part of life.

16449309648 b5d6e55408 McKaylas week 12

Picture of the Week

Something we’ve learned:

Karen- There is nothing sweeter or softer than a precious little baby head nuzzling under your chin.  I could do that for HOURS!

Kenny- McKayla is getting pretty good at tummy time.  Before we know it she’ll be rolling over.

Quote of the week:

Karen- It’s snowingggg!! (McKenna looking out the window)

Kenny-

16635867612 2109781d74 McKaylas week 12

McKayla vs Bear Week 12

for comparison, HERE is our update from when McKenna was 12 weeks old.

Feb 17

McKayla’s week 11

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11 week photo

I’m so sorry for the lack of posting and/or updates.  We have been taking McKaylas weekly pictures, just can’t seem to find the time to blog lately.  We will try to remedy that.

We have had another great week around here.  Our girls are growing and changing everyday!  I find myself still spending a lot of time at my mom and dad’s house, especially on days when Kenny won’t be home until late.  It is so nice to have an extra set of hands ready and happy to help with the girls.  It’s nice just to have some adult company also.  We have had some great weather, sixties and seventies and even got to take a family walk at the lake on Valentines Day.  I love my sweet family, we are so blessed.

Highlight of the week:

Karen- my parents watched BOTH girls on Sunday and I got some one on one time with my sweet hubby!

Kenny- we had a lot of fun walking at the lake. McKenna was running and laughing away while McKayla slept on my chest in the Bjorn.  McKenna really had fun throwing rocks in the water.

Product we’re loving:

Karen- we bought a Mamaroo swing a few weeks ago and it has really been helpful.  McKayla is pretty happy to play in her swing for a bit while I scurry around the house trying to get a few things done or while I get lunch together for McKenna.

Kenny- we have a big nice tote bag that my mom gave us, from 31gifts.  It’s the perfect thing to haul around library books in.  Especially when we get about 30 a week for our little book worm.

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McKenna and McKayla Week 11 Picture

Struggle:

Karen- Early mornings are sometimes a struggle for me.  Kenny has to get up about 5:45am for work.  If I am up nursing McKayla back to sleep and McKenna happens to wake up then we are all just awake in the wee darkness of the morning… Hmm… Not ideal but we get through it.

Kenny- There is always something going on, that can be a good thing and a bad thing.  Even when we have down time there is always a house project, work or cleaning that needs to be done.

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Picture of the Week

Something we’ve learned:

Karen- Being a Mom is a tough job!  Being completely in charge of two little lives can run a girl ragged (and I’ve got a lot if help!).  Just trying to get food, naps, potty training, diapers, reading, learning, discipline, everything, there isn’t enough of me to go around sometimes.

Kenny- McKayla can blow a raspberry now.  It may have been an accident but I’m going to go ahead and say she’s advanced.

Quote of the week:

Karen: Out of the blue one day McKenna stretched out her arms and said “I love McKayla thiiiisss much!”

Kenny- McKenna is really into rhyming right now.  So often she will snuggle up close to McKayla and singingly say “Kayla, Mayla, Gayla”.

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McKayla vs Bear Week 11

for comparison, HERE is our update from when McKenna was 11 weeks old.

Jan 23

Book Review: Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

Berlin Boxing Club Book Review: Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
“Today you had a very important lesson on taking punches. A lot of people will tell you that the first thing you have to learn is how to take a punch. But I believe the first thing you should know is that you can take one and survive. A punch won’t kill you. Conquering your fear is the first step to becoming a powerful fighter.”

 Berlin Boxing Club is a nice work of historical fiction, a book to get those reluctant teen boy readers to read.  The story follows a young teenager named Karl Stern, a non-practicing Jew living in Germany at the start of the Nazi takeover.  Luckily for Karl he does not possess the typical physical characteristics of a Jewish person and escapes most of the ridicule and abuse other Jews including his little sister face on a daily basis.  Eventually his secret is exposed and when his fellow classmates bully and beat him at school Karl becomes ashamed at his inability to defend himself.

Fortunately for Karl his life takes a dramatic change of course one evening while helping his father in his art gallery.  Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, who is on friendly terms with Karl’s dad, asks about a special painting that he wants, but is not for sell.  In order to get Karl’s dad to give up the painting he offers to train his son.  Karl’s dad reluctantly agrees and Karl starts to see himself in a completely different light and grasps with both hands the chance to reinvent himself.

Over time Karl becomes a strong, self-reliant young man and with the help of the greatest boxer in his country a well-respected amateur fighter, but Schmeling and the other boxers he trains with does not know Karl’s family history.  And as Nazism takes hold in Germany and Nazi violence against Jews escalates Karl finds himself struggling with his rising fame as a boxer and keeping his secret safe.

I really enjoyed reading the Berlin Boxing Club and thought that this was the perfect book to get some of my reluctant students reading.  I enjoyed the internal struggle that Karl faces with standing up for his Jewish faith while at the same time realizing that letting people know that he is Jewish could jeopardize every relationship that he has.   Telling the story from that point of view I thought was very creative and original way to look at Jewish experience in pre-World War II Germany.  I give the Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow 4 shells out of 5.

Jan 14

McKayla’s Week 6

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I remember week six being a milestone with McKenna.  The first five weeks were so challenging and by the sixth week things were FINALLY starting to settle into place.  It has been so much easier this time around with McKayla.  I don’t know if that’s because she’s a more mellow baby or if it’s because this isn’t my first rodeo.  Either way, things are going pretty great.  I seem to be visiting my parents house pretty regularly now a days just as a treat to have some company and they are also such a help with my girls.  Eventually I’ll be able to do it all by myself all the time but for now I am so thankful for the help.  Kenny taught Saturday school and did some work with my Dad on Sunday so it didn’t seem like much of a weekend but that’s okay, we have this coming weekend to look forward to and it’s supposed to be really nice weather.  Maybe a trip to the zoo is in store (McKayla’s first).

Highlight of the week:

Karen- Going to my Mom and Dad’s is SUCH a highlight for me.  It brightens my day and is such a blessing to me.  I am thankful they live close and are willing to help me.

Kenny- Coming home from my busy days is always a treat, I miss my girls.

Product we’re loving:

Karen- I am really loving this new nursing bra I bought.  It is super comfortable and easy to operate (I can hook and unhook it with one hand when necessary).  I even bought one as a Christmas present!  It’s a Bravado Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra.

Kenny- We bought a new sound machine to use with McKayla.  It was inexpensive, can be battery powered if you need it to be portable and it makes great sounds.  We are really liking it.  It’s a MyBaby Sounds Spa Portable.

McKenna and McKayla Week 6 Picture

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Struggle:

Karen- My main struggle right now is trying to get both girls and myself ready and out the door.  Just the last minute little things like getting McKenna’s coat, shoes and hat on….getting McKayla in her carseat….gathering up my purse, diaperbag, coat etc…. I’m usually sweating and we’re all kind of in a tizzy by the time we get settled into the car.  Whew!

Kenny- Both girls have not been sleeping well this week.  We had been doing so great the last six weeks and it all just kind of fell apart this week.  Hopefully we will get back on track quickly.

Picture of the Week    

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Something we’ve learned:

Karen- I have to keep reminding myself that this stage of my life isn’t permanent.  I won’t always be changing diapers and nursing around the clock.  I won’t always be so busy I don’t have time to shower or clean my house.  I won’t always have a little two year old begging for my attention and I need to step back and treasure these memories, I’ll miss them one of these days.

Kenny- As long as I keep rocking McKayla’s little Rock ‘n Play she will keep sleeping… it’s a great little calf exercise.  (We may have to get this girl a swing).

Quote of the week:

Karen-
Mom: (trying to soothe McKayla while simultaneously getting us ready and out the door) “shhhhh”
McKenna: “Shhh…shhhh…no Mommy you’re not shushing her, I’m shushing her….shhhh”

Kenny-
Dad: “McKayla, how was your day today?”
McKenna: (Looking at Dad quizzically) “Daddy she can’t talk…she’s just little”

It has been a great sixth week and we are looking forward to many, many more!

McKayla vs Bear Week 6

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for comparison HERE is our update from when McKenna was 6 weeks old 

Jan 10

School or Education

soe home School or Education

As a public school teacher we are placed under a lot of pressure to provide an education for our students, and rightly so.  That is why I choose that career and have persevered doing it for over a decade.  Unfortunately it gets tougher every year to stay with it.  Do not get me wrong, I love being a teacher, getting my students to think for themselves, care about the subject I teach, and go forth looking to further their education.  So why, from time to time, do I think about giving up my room key and start looking for a different career?  It is because every year it seems like I become less of an educator and more just a school teacher.

You might be thinking that an educator and a school teacher are the same thing, but I do not see it that way.  To me school is just a building, a place where young folks go and spend some time.  School is just something that you had to do.  Education on the other hand is something that lasts a lifetime, and an educator teaches students to develop those skills to make learning a lifetime passion.  Regrettably education has taken a backseat to schooling as an over reliance on standardized testing and teaching to those tests have taken the place of self-discovery, debate, and enjoyment of the educational process.

If the majority of the school day is spent reviewing standards and test taking strategies to pass those standards then school just becomes a place to spend time.  In a lot of ways school is like prison, students buy their time in hopefully with good behavior and good work, pass some test to show they can be a productive member of society, and go on their way.  The idea of developing a life-long education is lost and thus students will fall farther behind their global peers because education becomes less of something that we want and more of something that we just have to do.

I urge you to go out and see what is going on in your local schools, ask your children, nieces and nephews, or other kids you know, see what they learning.  Ask them all how often they work on test taking skills, or spend time doing math and reading but miss out on science and history.  Are they working on self-discovery of material or is just standard after standard?  Are they learning to work in groups, debate, finding their own solutions to problems, learning to think quickly to overcome obstacles skills that will help them in whatever career path they chose or are they just able to answer questions from a test?

To see my other musings about education in the United States click here

picture via http://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/colleges/educatio/media/soe-home.jpg (lol assessment driven all teachers are we have to be)

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