In the Harry Potter books there is a potion called Amortentia. A complicated potion, it smells different to each individual according to what attracts them. Were I to magically be transported to Hogwarts and come upon Amortentia, I always imagine it would smell like Steven after he’s mowed the lawn, old books, and the computer room from elementary school.
Oh, how I loved our weekly visit to the computer room. The lab was decked with an array of Apple IIe systems, external floppy disk drives, and a dot matrix printer. Our goal was to type out our weekly spelling words, and if, IF, we got that finished in time, we could play some Oregon Trail.
As I got older, the computer systems got better — in middle school, there was one with a color screen! — and by high school I became well-versed in Windows 3.1 via my dad’s office. Then things began to fly.
Bam! Windows 95.
Bam! Pentium processors!
Bam! Broadband connection!!!
And as I soaked in the technology I mused, “Boy, I hope these things have a bit more control over them once I’ve got my own kids to deal with.” There was no such thing as restricted access in 2000.
Now I do have my own kids to deal with. Thankfully the parental controls have come along well and there is not much issue with that . . . it’s other restrictions that make me want to pull my hair out and write a blog post.
Steven and I have been mainly Apple people since circa 2004. “Oh-ho!” I hear you chortle. I hear you, Jason; I know it’s you. “Apple must be giving her fits!” But it’s not Apple; not just them, anyway. Apple gets a lot of things right, but Steven and I are customers of other companies too, believe it or not. So when our Apple Music didn’t play well with our Amazon Echo we got earlier this year — Apple doesn’t like to work on non-Apple things — we switched to Amazon’s Music system. Same music, same price, why not?
And it’s been fine.
But as the kids have gotten older, they want their music, too. That took a while to finagle because their very out-of-date 1st generation iPads did not work with Amazon Music, so updates were in order. Part of Lydia’s birthday was receiving Steven’s older phone, so now she has her music. We updated Sam’s seven-year-old iPad with Steven’s five-year-old iPad — the kids were using it all the time anyway.
Here is where it moves from hardware to software territory. Amazon, like a lot of content providers, have ways to let you share your media with others in your family, but Amazon has an odd way of going about it. Sometimes it is like their family-centric account connections were created by an alien race who has observed humans for about six weeks. You want to share your Prime account with other members of your household? Great! You can build your Amazon Household with two Adult accounts and up to four Kid accounts; share all the things!
You can’t share Amazon Music with a Kids account. Why? Beats me! Maybe they’re afraid of bad words . . . even though they can run across the same thing or worse through Amazon Prime Video. But nevertheless . . . no Amazon Music with Kids accounts.
The best solution for this is to make your kids their very own bonafide Amazon Account that you can then share your Amazon Music subscription. Just teach the kids to avoid anything marked [Explicit].
In order to do this you also have to share your credit card access and purchaseability with that account. But that’s kinda okay, because there’s other ways to lock that down, at least on the iPad. And so we did.
And that worked for a while, but remember the upgrade from the seven-year-old iPad to the five-year-old one? Well, to put it in Sam’s words, “Man, this thing lags like crazy!”
Well, Apple’s biggest drawback is their prices. They are a proud people. So we figured if we would have to upgrade the five-year-old iPad, let’s get an Amazon Fire instead; it’s the economical thing to do. And it’s Amazon! With Amazon Music! And Amazon Prime Video! It should all work together seamlessly because it’s all the same thing!
The Amazon Fire comes in, I get it all set up and I’m immediately dealt with some frustrating choices. If we go with the Kid route and set up the device as a Kid’s device, there is no Amazon Music. So that choice is out. Sam has gotta have his music.
Okay, next choice: set up the device under Sam’s Amazon account and lock it all down, parental-wise. There are still a couple of frustrating options. First, doing this means there is no access to Amazon Prime because Sam’s account is an Adult account (in order to access Amazon Music) and our Amazon Household already has two Amazon Adults (me and Steven). Secondly, if we use the Parental Controls to prevent Sam buying all the Godzilla movies at twenty bucks a pop, we lose the Alexa system. This isn’t the absolute end of the world, but I was pleased with the idea of Sam having his very own Alexa that could answer all his complicated math questions.
So here is what I am looking at:
Kid Account = Prime Videos but not Amazon Music
Adult Account = Amazon Music but no Prime Videos
Parental Controls = no Alexa
This is all with the same Amazon services! I’m not even trying to bring in Apple Music, Spotify, Netflix or Disney into it!
But the Kindle Fire kinda smells like that elementary school computer room, so at least I have that going for me.
August 6, 2017
by Carrie Comments Off on chemistry in action
Yesterday I found some neat little cordial glasses at a consignment shop. After I brought them home, I had to create some space for them. This led to a lot of cabinet shuffling and dragging out a bunch of kitchen knick knacks. As I was rearranging, Steven joined in the fun by fiddling with the overhead kitchen light which has been hanging funny. This has apparently been bugging him for a while. We yak shaved like this for about an hour.
At one point I came across a little silver trivet thing of my grandmother’s that was completely black with tarnish. Lord only knows where my grandmother got it from — there is a large engraved ‘N’ across the top of it. Knowing her, she probably found it at a flea market.
I dragged out our silver polish to see what I could do with it, but the polish did not make a huge dent in all that blackness. Steven, who was now finished with the light, did some googling and found a recipe that promised to remove all the tarnish without any scrubbing, so we set that up.
The mixture involved some stuff that made sense like vinegar, baking soda, and hot water, but it also included stuff that was a bit weird, namely aluminum foil. It was very insistent on the aluminum. So we set it up, plopped in the piece of silver, and then suddenly our kitchen smelled like a big nasty fart. It was pretty rank, but by golly it sure did remove the silver tarnish!
We speculated among ourselves about what chemical process actually happened. The fart smell made me think sulfur was involved, but I wasn’t sure where it came from.
This morning I actually found what the chemical process was, and I was right about the sulfur! The tarnish on silver is formed from silver and sulfur, though I’m not sure where the sulfur originally comes from. The air? Anyway, the silver sulfide reacts with the aluminum to create silver and aluminum sulfide, which creates the nasty fart smell.
So essentially we created silver-plated farts in the comfort of our own kitchen.
July 2, 2017
by Carrie Comments Off on stuck in a rut
Our little town of Chelsea has grown over the 11 years (11 years!!!) we’ve lived here. In 2006, there were some 4,000 people — now it’s a bustling town of some 11,000 residents. Sometimes, it seems all 11,000 people are on County Road 47 at the same time.
For the past few years, Chelsea has had their own city fireworks display for the 4th, but it has been in the middle of a huge neighborhood that has only one way to enter and exit, so a lot of us would not even attempt to go. This year, Chelsea got smart and decided to hold the fireworks event near the much more roomy shopping area in town. Hey, sign us up — we’re in!
And so it came to pass that yesterday afternoon we found ourselves in the middle of a giant field with a high population of grasshoppers across the street from the Winn-Dixie.
Lydia and Sam immediately set to catching as many grasshoppers as they could find. They would try to keep them in between two frisbees, but they would inevitably escape.
Soon after we staked out our territory in Grasshopper Field, some ominous clouds began to form to the north. After checking the radar, we were fairly certain those clouds would drift on by. The bigger question was how long did we have before an unseen storm to the west would make its way to Chelsea.
Our little storm to the north soon blocked out the sun, which made for a very pleasant afternoon, especially for an Alabama July. The kids jumped around on a bouncy house until they were drenched with sweat, and Steven began to fetch some dinner from the smorgasbord of gourmet food trucks.
As the sun began to set, we realized the storm was not going to wait and we began to book it back to Hiroto. The people in charge of the event announced that they would be shooting off the fireworks “in the next five minutes” to try to get ahead of the rain. As the rain began to fall, we clambered into Hiroto and waited to watch the fireworks from the car.
Now, I must mention something here — the rainy, messy month of June. For the first time in a long time, we had a tropical system come right up the gulf — Tropical Storm Cindy — who dumped buckets of rain on us over the course of a week. The rain from Cindy plus our regular afternoon showers ended up totaling over 13 inches of rain for June. And when we first drove over Grasshopper Field to park yesterday afternoon, the ground was already quite soggy and beginning to display some pretty epic tire ruts.
And as we sat there in Hiroto, waiting for the fireworks while the rain began to fall, it suddenly occurred to me that we just might get stuck. Uh oh.
“Steven,” I warned, “we might want to go ahead and leave. The rain is going to turn this place into a mud pit.”
Steven quickly agreed and began to back up Hiroto. When he put the car back into Drive, the wheels began to spin.
“Oh god, we’re stuck!”
Then BOOM! The fireworks began to go off, easily viewable from the front windshield.
I busted out laughing.
No worries, though. We were able to eventually get out of the muck, but not before completely embarrassing myself by trying to drive the car out of the hole while Steven and our friend pushed from the back . . . with the car still in Park.
Steven is currently giving Hiroto a sorely-needed bath.
June 27, 2017
by Carrie Comments Off on cleaning out the cobwebs (it’s so nasty!)
About a year or so ago I noticed that a lot of pictures from some of my older posts were no longer displaying linked pictures. These images were hosted on my Flickr photo site, which has become a bit of a dinosaur. Unfortunately, at the time I could not see an easy fix, so I ignored the problem.
After writing up the kids’ yearly posts this month, I was reminded of the problem, and this time it really began to bug me, so for the past few days I’ve been hacking away at this issue. There was no easy way to do it; I had to go into each blog’s code, find the picture IDs, look them up in Flickr, download the image, re-upload it onto my own server so I would be no longer beholden to Flickr, then make the necessary HTML corrections.
Do you realize how many pictures I have posted of the kids, cats, and other sundry items over the last ten years??
What a mess.
But it’s done! For the most part. I haven’t yet dived into my little 1999 Europe Trip excursion posts, and once I got back to about 2006, the Flickr trail ended and I’m stuck for the moment.
So, if you want to relive any of my fantastic posts, you should have no problems — as long as you keep it between 2006-2017 and don’t go for the European stuff.
Wow. I didn’t think nine would be a big change, but oh lordy. Look at this girl. Look at her!
Now compare her with last year:
Wow. Wow. Wow.
I’m not sure what has changed more — her hair or her teeth. The hair change happened in January when Lydia decided to go for a pixie cut. I must admit I was nervous about it at first. The constant chant in my head on the way to the beauty parlor was, “It’s only hair; it can grow back!” We quickly learned that Lydia can totally rock a pixie cut, even more so when the color pink is introduced.
Lydia’s teeth began to go through their transformation last summer. She has had an overbite since she was very young, which puts her front teeth and lips in a precarious position. Remember, this is the kid that always ends up in the ER. She busted her two front baby teeth and had to have them removed, and she once ended up with stitches in her lip. Now that more of her permanent teeth have come in, the orthodontist said it was GO time and fitted Lydia up with headgear.
Now, I never had headgear as a kid, but my sister did, and I remember the nightly howls of pain the first few nights. I prepared myself for more of the same with Lydia, but she was an absolute champ. The only tears came when they put the metal brackets around her back molars. It also helps that headgear can come in outrageous colors now. The color pink can cure many ills.
Right after Christmas, braces were added on the front teeth, and in six short months they were off, leaving Lydia with a straight, gap-less smile. I still can’t get over how quick the change was. She is still wearing her headgear and the orthodontist predicts more braces in her future, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
There have been changes on the school front as well. No worries — it’s all good changes! Lydia completed third grade at the end of May. It was a great school year for her. I admit I was a bit worried when we started — a lot of literature suggests that third grade is when things can go south for a dyslexic kid. You switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” This style change was very evident, especially in math where word problems have increased exponentially.
Beginning last fall, Lydia began to take a low dose of medication for ADHD. She has the Space Cadet/Inattentive variety, so it hasn’t been a huge issue until last summer. Treating her ADHD has helped SO MUCH in her schoolwork! She is able to concentrate now, and can really think without being constantly distracted. Even Crunchy the Math Cat can’t take her eyes away from her work.
And reading. Oh my gosh, the improvements this child had made in reading is incredible. I have fretted about reading since Lydia was four years old, and now she’s doing it, she’s really reading, even for fun. Is she still dyslexic? Of course she is; she always will be. Does she still struggle with it? Absolutely. Reading is still one of the hardest things for her. But she does it. She doesn’t hate it. She’s proud of herself and how much she has improved. It’s more than I could ever have asked for.
And thank goodness for the sudden popularity of kid-friendly graphic novels!
Lydia’s extracurricular activities have varied a bit over the course of the year. In fall we dropped gymnastics for a while. Lydia had been taking gymnastics since she was four. She decided if she missed it, we could sign back up . . . but she didn’t miss it. And honestly, I didn’t miss it, either. So that left room for . . .
Vocal lessons. Lydia started taking vocal lessons at the same school where Sam takes drums. She likes this much more than piano or gymnastics, and we have continued it throughout the entire year. She even sang in a recital in March! Bless Lydia’s little dyslexic heart, finding rhythm in songs is so hard for her. Just as she struggles with hearing syllables in words, finding the beat in music is tough. She still got up on that stage and sang for that large audience! It’s more than I would care to do.
Lydia did continue to participate in soccer, both in fall and spring. Lydia’s soccer-playing ability improved thanks to the ADHD medication. This year there were less on-field conversations and cartwheels and more offensive plays. This next fall she wants to play again. This time she will move up to the 9-10 year old group. Wow!
We were able to take a few trips over the year. First, we got back on our regularly-scheduled fall beach trip. Lydia was very happy to play in the waves, look for shells, and make friends while her brother dug in the sand. She made great friends with a girl from Georgia that week, and afterwards they became pen pals and even Facetimed together.
We also visited Louisville and Chattanooga in the spring. Lydia was delighted by all the animals at the Louisville Zoo and she also enjoyed playing board games with Ken and Lisa. In Chattanooga, Lydia took her sweet time observing every little thing at the Tennessee Aquarium, even reading the little plaques of information by all the tanks.
Though Lydia’s interests are nowhere near as intense as Sam’s, she does have her passions. One of her biggest continues to be all things art and coloring. Lydia is real big on those adult coloring books with the little details. I’m so glad these are a popular thing — she’s got coloring books in all her favorite flavors like cats, unicorns, and dresses.
Lydia also enjoys building with LEGOs. She will have intense LEGO sessions in her room where that is all she does for hours and hours. She recently discovered Steven’s old Technic LEGOs and she is really keen on them.
Whether she is coloring or building with LEGOs, Lydia will be listening to audiobooks. Though Lydia can now read, her comprehension level is much higher than her reading level, so audiobooks are a godsend for her. For a long time she listened to the Harry Potter books over and over . . . and over . . . and over. Later on she discovered the wonderful world of Percy Jackson and all the Rick Riordian books. She is still immersed in that world.
In fact, Lydia’s party was Percy Jackson-themed, complete with water. After all, Percy is Poseidon’s son.
Lydia is changing so fast. It’s been an amazing thing to behold. A short time ago she was a toddler.
Now I’m looking into the eyes of a girl on the cusp of her teenage years.
Oh man, I hope I’m ready for this.
June 14, 2017
by Carrie Comments Off on sputnik; 84 months in orbit
Wow, 84 months in orbit! That’s seven Earth years!
Just before his seventh birthday, Sam finished up first grade, so he is now officially a second grader. First grade was Sam’s first year of real, bonafide school work and he did really well with it. The first few weeks were a bit of a struggle until the schedule was established. After that, Sam was bothered more by the days when we didn’t have any schoolwork. He has always been a man of routine.
The subjects we worked the most diligently on were math and reading. Science and history are mixed in there, but he mainly absorbs that through Lydia’s work and his general questions about life, the universe, and everything. Reading has gone extremely well, especially in comparison with Lydia. Thankfully, Sam does not show any signs of dyslexia. Finding the syllables in words is a no-brainer for him. Just this morning we practiced finding the syllables in common household words like ‘Godzilla,’ ‘Biollante,’ and ‘King Ghidorah.’
Math is an interesting subject for Sam. He can add and subtract easily, multiplication tables are easy to memorize, but he would much rather think about Very Big Numbers instead of the small-scale stuff we work on for school. He doesn’t care so much that 7+5 is the same as 6+6 — I think that’s already how he does math problems in his head anyway — he wants to think about 7,000,000 + 5,000,000 or how many zeroes are on the end of octillion. In our search for Very Big Numbers, we came across Graham’s Number, which is so large you cannot express it with usual means. From there, Sam made up his own number called Sam’s Number, which he says is a one followed by a Graham’s Number of zeroes. After talking about Graham’s Numbers, Sam’s Numbers, and octillion, thinking about 7+5 is on the mundane side for him.
Too bad, Sam. You still have to do the worksheets Mom gives you.
Though Sam didn’t do a whole lot of history work, he was sometimes very involved in Lydia’s history projects . . . and sometimes unwillingly at that. The addition of Sam makes Lydia’s History Videos much more unpredictable.
Sam is still my little musician and he has continued with drum lessons over the past year. He always enjoys his Tuesday afternoon with Mr. Wes. In March, Sam performed in a music recital by playing “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift. Here is where I would usually post a video of said recital, but Ms. Swift has got her music LOCKED DOWN, so when I uploaded the video to YouTube, they took away all the sound.
To combat some of the more difficult parts of Sam’s autistic side, he continues to have weekly occupational therapy. OT has helped Sam so much over the past few years and I am ever-grateful for all the help they have provided us. This past year Sam has made great strides with his fine-motor skills. One of his biggest feats he accomplished was learning how to tie his shoes. He is very proud of this accomplishment but he still greatly prefers his ‘Godzilla shoes.’
Sam has also started to master some of the more difficult handwriting tasks as well. Slowly but surely, he continues to improve. A few months ago, the occupational therapist said Sam was doing so well she moved his appointment frequency from once a week to once every two weeks. She has hinted that if Sam continues to improve, he will most likely qualify out of therapy by fall. Wow!
As Sam gets older and some of the fine-motor issues work themselves out, our main concern turns more toward social skills and anxiety flareups. To help us with all this, we began seeing a psychologist this past year. This has helped with some of the worries that Sam comes across. We’re slowly making headway, but there is still a lot of work for us to do.
Sam’s other quirks are really the ‘fun’ ones — the ones that make Sam so one-of-a-kind. Since I’ve recently droned on and on about Sam’s love of Godzilla, I won’t harp on about it here. Suffice to say, that boy loves him some Godzilla.
Sam’s other loves are still going strong. Orange, music, car washes, Harry Potter, it’s all still there. This past year Sam has become increasingly absorbed by the wonderful world of Minecraft. He and Lydia both have been playing Minecraft on the iPads for a couple of years now, but more recently Sam has discovered Minecraft on the computer, which is a totally different ball game. The computer Minecraft can be more personalized by adding mods, or modifications. Sam is allllll about mods. Naturally, one of the first mods Sam got was a Godzilla mod, where you can create a bunch of Godzillas, King Ghidorahs, and other kaiju in the game. There’s also some Harry Potter stuff, Pokemon, and other mods that enable you to build all kinds of things. Sam honestly knows way more about it than I do, and he is always willing to explain everything about mods to anyone who stays still long enough to listen.
We did take a few trips this past year. Nothing quite as exciting as Disneyworld, but we did go to the beach, which is one of Sam’s most favorite places in the world. It had been about a year and a half since our last beach trip and Sam was overjoyed to finally be back in the sand and waves. Last summer Sam learned to swim (yay!) so he was glad to use his newfound skills in the condo pool.
We also traveled up to Louisville and Chattanooga in the spring to visit friends and see all the fun things. Over that long weekend we hit up the Louisville Zoo, a fancy playground park, the Tennessee Aquarium, and a healthy sprinkling of fantastic restaurants. Sam’s favorite part was when he got to see the big snake.
That was probably my least favorite part.
Since we got past Christmas Sam has been very eager to know how many days until his birthday. Soon after the New Year, the questions began: “How many days until my birthday?” Trying to accomplish date calculations before your coffee has kicked in can be a little too slow for Mr. Gotta-Know-Now. Around this time we purchased an Amazon Echo, which is like a little speaker that responds to voice commands and answers questions. What a lifesaver! Sam quickly learned to ask Alexa instead, “Alexa, how many days until June 2nd?” and she would just spout off the answer. This became Sam’s morning routine; it was the first thing he said every day. Now that his birthday has finally come and gone he asks, “Alexa, how many days until Halloween?”
That six months of birthday anticipation finally paid off last Saturday when we held his seventh birthday party. The theme was Godzilla — come on, of course it was — and Sam had a grand ol’ time. He even dressed up for the occasion!
So, now we’re at seven, and life rolls on. He’s started second grade, which he is fine with as long as it’s mixed in with a lot of pool time and Minecraft sessions. He is juuuuuust under 48 inches in height, and I suspect by this time next year he will have finally surpassed Lydia in that department.
We shall do school.
We will go back to the beach.
We will probably have another Godzilla-centric Christmas.
We will lose more teeth.
We will keep being Sam. Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop that.
May 2, 2017
by Carrie Comments Off on remember, remember, the 32nd of april
I don’t think our family means to do this, but we tend to buy cars in clusters. In the space of about four weeks in 2004, my brother-in-law got a new Vibe, my parents got the Saturn L300, my in-laws got a Honda CR-V, and we got our Elliott. I swear none of this was coordinated.
Again in April of 2015, we got our Volt, my in-laws got a Ford Fusion, and my brother-in-law got his Mini Cooper. Once again, this was not planned. I even wrote about our sudden need to replace our Saturn L300 — which was the very same L300 that my parents had bought in 2004.
So. I should’ve known.
Now, I will point out that this is not as sudden as it seems! There are no mechanical crises, no fender benders, no weird electrical bucking like a horse. About six months ago, Steven mused to me, “Maybe we should think about getting you a new car,” to which I immediately replied, “No.” Elliott is mine. My Elliott! Don’t say it too loud, he will hear you! Geez.
And so every once in a while, it would come up in conversation. I would always be against it (My Elliott!), but I began to think, “You know . . . someday . . . it’s going to have to happen.” Then I would look at all the cars driving around me and I only saw a sea of ugly. They don’t make Elements anymore; there’s just nothing like them.
You see where this is going, don’t you?
The first interesting car, to me at least, showed up in the form of a Chevy Bolt. It’s very similar to Steven’s Volt, except it is all electric. It’s a neat looking car, it’s different, and it uses no gas at all! Unfortunately, the Bolt is brand-spanking new, and Alabama will not be graced with one until about September.
But I thought about a new car. And I kept thinking about it, just in the back of my mind. Thinking. Reading reviews. Watching videos. Assessing the terrain.
Then a few weeks ago my mother-in-law texts me, “Hey, can we swing by? We got a new car!”
And so they did; a snazzy new Ford Edge with some neat bells and whistles. It’s a very fun ride. Ford has come a long way since the Contour, bless their hearts.
So last week, just for grins and giggles, the four of us test drove a few different cars. Just to see what’s out there. Just to get a feel. Just looking.
Then on Saturday, we signed.
And Monday, we brought him home. But this post isn’t about him.
So Elliott, who was washed, clayed, compounded, and polished to within an inch of his life on Sunday, is resting comfortably in an undisclosed location, ready to put himself on the market.
And so we come to the worst part of this ordeal. Oh my god. I have to say goodbye to Elliott. He has been my car for a third of my life! My marriage is only six months older than him. I knew I wanted him the moment I saw him, we scrimped and saved to get him, and I have loved every moment driving him.
I remember riding home in Elliott’s passenger seat in late evening on a warm summer. It had stormed earlier, the roads were wet, the air was humid and fragrant, and for some reason the hospital saw fit to let us take home a six pound baby, sleeping comfortably in the rear seat.
On a warm May day I stood next to Elliott outside my office, on the phone with Cathy, my voice cracking as we both began to realize our mother wasn’t going to make it through the weekend.
In our driveway in Auburn I mentioned to Steven and Ken that I kept smelling a funny smell in Elliott. Steven said I always smell weird things but it’s nothing to be concerned about. Ken looked under my seat and found a very ripe tomato that had rolled out of a grocery bag.
We drove to the beach. We drove to Chicago. We drove to Louisville. We drove to Atlanta. We drove to Rockyhead.
We hauled an entire dresser from my grandmother’s house. We’ve transported plants, mulch, and sod many times. We fetched drywall and celing rails for the basement. Renton, Hermione, Watson, and Crunchy have all taken a ride, though Renton was the only one that didn’t mind.
We have always called him by his name. Daddy’s car is just Daddy’s car, but Mommy’s car is Elliott.