First Kiss (or, what happens when you feed a giraffe by mouth).

Naturalist got her first kiss today, and let me just say he was a real animal.

“Hey Babe! Come gimme some sugar!”

It all started innocently enough while we were visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. They have an amazing African Rift exhibit where you get up close and personal with the giraffes.

Giraffes are very soulful.

So close, you can feed them wafers by hand!

Giraffe tongues are long!

It didn’t take long for Naturalist and I to fully exploit this opportunity. Why feed them wafers by hand when you can stick the wafer out of your mouth? (I’ve found that we unschoolers really stick out in a crowd, yes?)

Giraffe tongues are very sticky.

Some may call this gross. And they’d be right! But, you can also call it way fun.

[flickr video=2534728707 show_info=true w=260 h=195]

Feeding Giraffes by Mouth.

For those who want to know…giraffe tongues aren’t really wet, just very velvety. The strings of spit may be a turn off, as well as their breath and foot long tongue, but their eyes will get you every time.

Or, not.

Giraffe tongues are very twisty.

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Miss Independent.

Sassy has been working on her independence for a while now. Like, since birth. Her height (or lack of) has always worked against her…there’s only so much you can do when your little hands won’t reach higher than the edge of the countertops.

Our last trip to Moab she learned some mountain climbing skills, and has been scaling the heights of our cabinets and refrigerator with ease. If she’s hankering for cereal, she gets the box out, climbs up 5 feet of cabinetry to get the bowl, climbs back down, opens the fridge to pull out the gallon of milk, and then gets a spoon. It’s quite a site watching her ferry it all to the table and pour it herself. What makes it all worthwhile is the fact that she then does it in reverse to put it all away….a Child’s Play first from any of my kids at so young an age. She even cleans up the inevitable spilled milk!

All in all, she goes for the healthy stuff…fruits, granola bars, Naked juice…but if she ever closes herself in the pantry then I know she’s only there for one reason. Marshmallows.

Lately she’s gained some more dexterity in her fingers and been able to button and unbutton things, like, anything I dress her in. I button the shirt and pants up, and next thing I know she’s run into her room, unbuttoned them and taken them off, and brought me back an old hand me down sleep shirt (4 sizes to big) from Golfer.

She’s reached a certain level of autonomy that makes it possible for her to do just about anything she sets her mind on, without consulting the powers that be (Me!)…and has taken the maxim ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission’ to heart.

4 year olds…gotta love ‘em. Their can-do and come-hell-or-high-water attitude is quite inspirational, if it doesn’t drive you crazy first.

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Alright. So, I haven’t been around a lot of tornados, and I haven’t lived in a lot of places where tornados happen. In fact, as Jen inadvertently pointed out, I am terribly ignorant about tornados. While her son was at school huddling under a desk in lockdown, my kids were running around our front yard with bicycle helmets on (you know, to protect them from the massive golf ball hail).

Extreme weather is part of the fun of Colorado, especially living by the Rocky Mountains, where strong fronts move through and collide constantly. For the most part I can watch it all happening way up on the mountains without having to deal with it directly.

Now that I’ve been educated on tornado weather, I’m a little high strung. Today we continued to have strong winds and ominous clouds overhead, and I couldn’t stop running to different windows to make sure there were no swirling clouds coming to take us somewhere over the rainbow.

It just so happens that yesterday was the second time this month that I’d been under a tornado watch. We encountered some weather in Wyoming on the drive back from South Dakota. It all started innocently enough, with the beautiful prairie and big sky above us.

And then I admired some massive cumulonimbus forming in the distance:

And then the sky above us started roiling and boiling a little bit, which I thought looked really cool.

It was cool, until we drove into some other, more ominous clouds which made it black as night all around us, even though there should have been plenty of daylight left.

That’s about the time when the downpour started. I wasn’t driving, so I could focus on taking pictures and mindlessly chattering about ‘My! I’ve never been in a storm like this!’.

Hubby had set his jaw and grabbed the steering wheel tightly. At one point he muttered, “What? Are we driving into a tornado or something?” to which I thought he was joking around and laughed. Like they have tornados in Wyoming!

Radio reception was poor, so we drove an hour or so through intermittent downpours, daylight, walls of clouds, and weird weather. As we approached Cheyenne some radio stations came through in time for us to hear, “…APB, Tornado Watch is in effect for the Cheyenne area. Keep a watch out for severe weather and take tornado precautions until 10 tonight…”

Hubby looked at me like, “I told you so!” and THEN I started freaking out a little bit.

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Tornados–what the hail?

I’m sitting here under a tornado watch. Seriously. This afternoon a storm cell blew through here depositing big marble to golf ball sized hail, which set off car alarms and carpeted the ground in ice.

The kids put on their bike helmets and ran out to investigate. While outside, Golfer pointed to a HUUUUGE, enormous, biggest storm cloud I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even a cloud, really, just a roiling boiling mass taking up half of the sky.

The kids tried to talk me into going out in the minivan and being storm chasers…I was more focused on getting lunch on the table, and as I herded them inside I remarked, “You know, that’s right in the direction that Dad went for work today. We should call him!” But one thing led to another and I didn’t think much more about it.

Obviously, I haven’t grown up with tornados because I didn’t even turn on the news. I did keep looking out the window thinking, “Man, it’s nasty out there” not realizing that funnel clouds were being spotted not 10 miles away.

Hubby called a little bit later to ask me questions about why the road they were on was closed, but the reception broke up and I didn’t get where he was or what he was talking about.

He busted through the door a couple hours later asking if I’d seen the news…which I hadn’t…so he gave me a firsthand report of what was going on 30 miles north of us. The convo went something like this (I added the pics coming in from our local news station, to give a glimpse of what Hubby was talking about):

Hubby: “Did you hear about the tornado?”
Me: “TORNADO?!?”
H: “!!!!!!!!!!”
Me: “Did you see it?”
H: “I was about 3 miles away from it, right outside of Windsor. That’s where I called you from!”
Me: “!!!!!!!!!!!”
H: “!!!!!!!!!!!”
Me: “What did you do? Did it get close?”
H: “Well, the weather was getting bad, and we’d gotten off I-25 towards 34 when we stopped to eat lunch at ‘The Sour Pickle’. By the time we walked back out, everything was torn up.”
Me: “Wait, did you say you ate at a place called ‘The Sour Pickle?”
H: “Not the point!”
Me: “Sorry! Go on!”
H: “They’d closed 34, and trees were uprooted everywhere. Cars were on the side of the road with glass blown out and all pitted on the outside!”

Me: “!!!!!!!!! Is that when you came home?!”
H: “No, we skipped looking at the property in Windsor and drove up 25 to Ft. Collins. The weather was really bad, still.”

Me: “!!!!!!!! Is that when you came home?!”
H: “No! We continued to the second property!”
Me: “!!!!!!!! Then what happened?!”
H: “We got to the second property and the guy said, “What are you doing here?! A tornado is coming through!” And THAT’S when we drove home.”
Me: “!!!!!!!!!!! Are you telling me you almost bit the dust in a place called ‘The Sour Pickle?!”

It’s just been surreal.

This tornado was huge and has done a significant amount of property damage. Remarkably, and thankfully, the casualties are small in comparison.

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I had a horrible dream the other night. I dreamt that I was stuck in my car because of all this crap that had piled up in it. And this crap just kept getting higher and higher until I could barely breathe. In my dream, we had taken a roadtrip and it got out-of-control-living-on-the-road-for-7-days messy. And then, I procrastinated cleaning it out because of all the laundry I was trying to catch up on, and then since it was so messy anyway I just kept throwing more crap on top of the crap from the week before. Until finally there was only room for the kids and I to sit in our seats, but then I turned around a corner and everything shifted…trapping us inside.

And then I realized that it wasn’t a nightmare, it’s the current shape of my poor minivan.

If you don’t hear from me in a few days, send AAA, because I’ve gotten lost in the depths while trying to clean all this stuff out.

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The Color of Place.

My lovely friend over at A View From Here wrote a great blog talking about terroir, which is a ‘taste of place’. Since I had no idea what this was until she wrote about it, I’ll let her explain it in her own words:

This is the subtle taste that comes from a place– why different regions in France have wines that taste differently because of the soil, the slant of the sunlight, the microclimate. Perhaps why a Colorado peach is so peculiarly good. I’ve been told that there is no place on earth where the vegetables taste as good as those grown in the Red River Valley– and that maybe they are especially nutritious.

We are learning the taste of this place. Our chickens, eggs, the water. When we moved here I kept using the Britta water filter pitcher that my mother in law left us. Now we drink straight from the tap (and yes the waters been tested and is good). The water has a distinct flavor– even strong sometimes of iron.

This got me wondering if there is a word for ‘the color of place’. Because there is something about the color of Colorado that I start missing when I go anywhere else. I know that this isn’t the only place with fields, clouds, lakes, mountains, and trees…but there is something so distinctly different about the colors of those things here.

The green of the grass next to the blue of the sky and the pastel of the clouds. Not to mention the red of a barn…

Historically speaking, lots of men came here for the gold and silver mining. For me, the treasures of gold lie in the wheat harvest.

Some days, all the colors combine to make a heavenly place.

Does anyone else associate a specific ‘color’ palette with where you live?

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Homeschool Anniversary.

This weekend, while ‘cleaning the house’, I thought It’d be a great use of my time to go through my old posts here at Child’s Play. Can you say, “easily distracted”?

Anyway, it dawned on me that I’ve passed the three year mark for how long I’ve been homeschooling! Yessiree, three years ago I was at the edge of my rope, emotionally and mentally exhausted after fighting the public school system for some help with Naturalist. The pathway towards homeschooling was a long, winding, and frustrating road that we didn’t even know we were on until a particularly bad IEP meeting. A week after that she was out of school. Officially it takes 14 days from the time you notify the state until you can withdraw your kids…surprisingly easy but not quick enough for me. I called the district office to announce that she wouldn’t be going back, they threatened to claim truancy, I threatened to be waiting with a news crew for the officers to show up so I could start asking questions like, “Why isn’t school properly taking responsibility for teaching ALL children”, and “Why is my daughter being subjected day after day to an abusive system from your school district?” etc., etc. The district and I ended in a truce. They told me how irresponsible I was for taking my daughter out, I told them where they could take their opinion, and Naturalist went back only long enough to get her belongings.

I was scared to start homeschooling, but motivated. You can read my ‘OMG, I’m homeschooling!’ freak out post (my first blog entry ever!) here at “And It’s Decided!” (I had a good laugh reading about how soothed I was that homeschoolers have a local bowling league. Like, hey…they actually emerge from deep dark basements to take their kids other places…*snort*)

The IEP meeting that went bad happened when they told us that no, Naturalist didn’t qualify for any accomodations or programs, but yes, she was showing signs of extreme anxiety and depression…so we should medicate her and then send her back for the same old, same old shit that was making her feel so incredibly bad in the first place. And yes, it is illegal for schools to suggest medication, so they phrased it like this: “We can’t officially tell you to medicate, but if she were OUR daughter….”

What kind of sick place diagnoses an 8 year old with anxiety & depression and then does absolutely jack shit about it? Why yes, public school. Back then, I was too upset and freaked out to be mad about it. I was so heartbroken to see my formerly dynamic, vibrant, confident child become a shell of herself and be upset enough to warrant medication. The post that talks about that is here: “Homeschooling…WHAT?” I just knew I had to get her out of that place. Maybe, I thought, I’ll just take her out long enough to find a school where she belongs. So, we took her out…and I never looked back.

I’m upset that Naturalist, Hubby and I had to go through that. But, at the same time, it spurned me towards this life that I’d have never known without such a drastic event. I had never considered homeschooling, never thought about it, never even wondered about it.

When I read my first blog entries compared with my middle ones and finally the current ones, I can trace an arc from tentative, scared, and massively controlling towards a kinder, gentler, more open and mindful homeschooler. An arc that goes from rigorous ‘school at home’ curriculum towards what we do now, unschooling.

Like a rainbow in a storm, this has been an unexpectedly beautiful experience. It’s a journey I never thought I’d be on, but it’s better than anything I’d imagined my life would be like.

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I'm a Pro!

At least, that’s what Flickr calls me. Just having someone tell me I’m a ‘Pro’ over and over is totally worth the $24 a year.

I’ve been wanting to upgrade my account for a while, but kept using that $24 for other more immediate and pressing things. Like, Starbucks hot chocolate. And random itunes songs.

Today, however, I bit the bullet and got myself a pro account. It was fun seeing all my old pictures magically reappear again. Hello again, Virginia! Nice to see you, pool pictures from California! I thought you were lost forever, other 34958934857 random pictures from last year!

Now I’m going hog wild with all my pictures. I’m uploading…first, the hot air balloon pictures from the festival today, and then, because I’m a pro, I uploaded the other balloon pictures from the last 3 years! And I put them in sets! And then I put those sets in a collection! I’m on fire!

Does anyone else out there have a flickr account? I’m just dying to add some more contacts to my list. But first, I need to learn how to ‘add contact’ and then I need to ‘find contact’. Leave a link to your flickr account if you have one and I don’t know about it! Or, here’s where I am…you could just totally add me as a contact and I won’t have to do a thing.

Now, I’m off to do more categorizing and other stuff that pro’s get to do. If only I could be as excited about organizing my house as I am organizing my flickr account…

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When 9 months is longer than 4 years.

I swear, 9 months of this:

felt like 4 years.

But then, all of a sudden, that became you:

(see…even back then you were our princess…)

And then, in a flash, you became this:

I blinked, and then you became this:

which oh-so-quickly became this:

(which is precisely when ‘The Toddler’ became ‘The Sassy Princess’.)

And GOOD GRIEF, child! Can I get one picture of you not making faces at the camera?! Is there not ONE in my thousands of pictures?!

No. Apparently not.

Hold the phone–here’s one!

I don’t know how it happened…it seems like less time than the 9 months I spent gestating your sassyness, but apparently 4 years have passed by and now you’re a big girl! What will I do without a toddler in the house?

Maybe it’s time to get that puppy.

Happy 4th Birthday, Sassy!

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'Dare to Do It'–Irene Sendler

I haven’t done a ‘Dare to Do It’ blog in forever–I’d kinda forgotten that I’d even started it until this weekend. I read about so many inspirational/brave/pioneering/interesting people and I wanted a place to highlight some of the stories I come across.

Remembering it this weekend was perfect timing, because I just read an article about Irene Sendler, who managed (along with a team of 20 other workers) to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940-43. (Article here.)

It wasn’t until I lived over in Budapest and travelled around Central Europe that I really gained some perspective about the Holocaust. I mean, I’d read ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ in high school and taken history classes, but I gained a tangible element when I walked around different cities and talked with people who had lived through the War, and many who had lost family in concentration camps.

I started reading a lot of books, articles, and first hand accounts of the Holocaust. Yes, I am disturbed by the total inhumanity, but at the same time I am inspired by the absolute best and most tender humanity that emerges from all that horror. People like Irene Sendler, who recently passed away.

Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker with the city’s welfare department when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II. Warsaw’s Jews were forced into a walled-off ghetto.

Seeking to save the ghetto’s children, Sendler masterminded risky rescue operations. Under the pretext of inspecting sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak, she and her assistants ventured inside the ghetto — and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and in trams, sometimes wrapped up as packages.

Teenagers escaped by joining teams of workers forced to labor outside the ghetto. They were placed in families, orphanages, hospitals or convents…Anyone caught helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland risked being summarily shot, along with family members — a fate Sendler only barely escaped herself after the 1943 raid by the Gestapo.

The Nazis took her to the notorious Pawiak prison, which few people left alive. Gestapo agents tortured her repeatedly, leaving Sendler with scars on her body — but she refused to betray her team.

“I kept silent. I preferred to die than to reveal our activity,” she was quoted as saying in Anna Mieszkowska’s biography, “Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Story of Irena Sendler.”

For me, one of the more haunting quotes from the article is from a child she helped to save.

“It took a true miracle to save a Jewish child,” Elzbieta Ficowska, who was saved by Sendler’s team as a baby in 1942, recalled in an AP interview in 2007. “Mrs. Sendler saved not only us, but also our children and grandchildren and the generations to come.

(italics are mine).

Isn’t this the essence of humanity? Seeing in one person the vast connections to the past and to the future, and respecting that spark of immortality in everyone…regardless of race, religion, or class.

Here are some more links about Irene Sendler:

Irene Sendler bio
The story of the 4 school girls who helped rediscover Irene’s story and turned it into a play, “Life In a Jar”.
“Life in a Jar” website.


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According to Sassy…

A while ago, Sassy Princess was obsessed with dividing objects into categories of “things with batteries” and “things without batteries”. Before that, it was “things with brains” and “things without brains”. Lately, she’s been wondering what is inside certain things. As in, “What’s inside rocks?” “What’s inside a bed?” “What’s inside the sun?” and on and on and on, all day long. I’m not quite sure if she’s asking metaphorically or scientifically…the mind of a 3 year old is quirky and not to be underestimated.

If I’m not giving her the right answer, though, she’ll usually tell me what she’s trying to get at. Here are some of my favorite answers from her…of course, she is the one both asking and answering her questions.

According to Sassy:

Q: “What’s inside of paper?”
A: “Papercuts!”

Q: “What’s inside of lips?”
A: “Kisses!”

Q: “What’s inside of Mammas?”
A: “Snuggles!”

Q: “What’s inside of hands?”
A: “Tickles!”

Q: “What’s inside of airplanes?”
A: “People!” (this thought makes her laugh, which is my favorite part.)

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Happy Mother's Day!

Just a shout out to all you amazing moms out there! I think that we, collectively, are the glue that holds humanity together, and I hope you have a special day full of love notes:


and remembering lovely moments:

Happy Mother’s Day from Child’s Play!

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Devils Tower Snowball Fight.

Yes, it was a few days into May, and yes, a blizzard had just blown through depositing about 2 feet of snow all around Devils Tower. When we arrived, the temperature during the day had risen to about 50 degrees–so, comfy and quick to melt the snow. (The nights were another story.)

My Frye boots will demonstrate the slushy/snowy stuff that remained on the ground:

There is a 1.3 mile trail loop around Devils Tower that we all could do fairly easily, so off we went.

We’re all holding hands and practically skipping down the cool trail winding it’s way through huge boulders and old conifer trees.

And then. Hubby picked up a handful of snow and lobbed it at Golfer.

Golfer, like an excitable Labrador puppy, immediately escalated things by retaliating with a full snowball windup right into Hubby’s back.

It was on. We were divided against each other in a free for all snowball fight all the way around the walking loop. With so many boulders and trees to hide behind, it was a frenzy of surprise blitzkrieg-like attacks, as shown in the next picture when Golfer feels safe and secure–unwittingly walking right into Hubby’s trap.

Golfer wasn’t quick to forget, and snuck up on Hubby later on down the trail, getting a slushy snowball right down the back of Hubby’s shirt. Score!

Then Hubby threw a frozen rope right to Golfer’s head.

Luckily, Golfer’s ranger hat was a great defense, and kept most snowballs from getting his head or down his shirt.

Until the one fateful snowball that hit him on the chin. That caused some tears.

By the end of the 1.3 miles, we were all exhausted from running, laughing, and throwing*. A truce was called, and we ended the walk how we started it…as friends.

*I opted out of the snowball fight after one got a little too close, and served as AP photographer instead. Also, I’m still trying to recover from a slight broken nose I suffered as a result of Sassy’s heel to my face during a particularly rambunctious tickle fight.

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Napoleon of the Stump

And…we’re back! We left a couple days early, due to the freezing temps at night and Hubby’s need for his own personal bathroom rather than the KOA one. However…4 National Parks in 4 days, not to mention tons of camping fun, means that we are back home tired, happy, and fulfilled.

While I’m sorting through pictures and washing stuff that Golfer threw up on today (MY blanket! Why is it always MY stuff that is on the business end of his vomitous wrath?!) I’ll leave you another snippet of aforementioned Golfer. It’s rare that he asks me to take his picture, but when we got to our campsite, he started yelling, “Mom! Take a picture! Look at me! I’m James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump!”

My American Studies heart leapt for joy. And, I thought of another reason why I love They Might Be Giants. They inspire kids (and adults!) all over to appreciate our “austere, severe” 11th President. Golfer listens to this song on a loop when we’re in the car, and at night before bed. He watches videos that other kids make with it on YouTube.


And yes, this makes 2 TMBG video posts in one week, but what can I say? We’re obsessed. And on lots of long car rides, which means listening to this over and over. I even heard Hubby humming it under his breath, and he’s not fully on our TMBG bandwagon…yet.

In any case, I think Golfer makes a cute Napoleon of the Stump. Even when making faces like this:

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Checking In

I have to make this fast–the kids are gathering firewood and then I’ve got a night of s’mores, jiffy pop, hot chocolate, and snuggles lined up until 11 pm. Then, we’ll all try to sleep in freezing temperatures with only the most basic of blankets to warm us. Somehow I didn’t figure this equation correctly: Rustic Cabin + Early May = below freezing nights. And so, I’ve left us a little underprepared for the chill. Tonight I’m layering all my clothes on and then adding Sassy and Naturalist on either side of me. They’re squirmy, but they’re warm!

So far, this trip has been a dream! Devils Tower was amazing. I’ve loaded some pictures onto flickr but of course have 200 more. Mt. Rushmore was just as great the second time. Custer State Park was so beautiful we’re going back again, and Jewel Cave was top on our list of great things we’ve explored. The season has only JUST begun in these parts, and so everywhere we’ve been has been really low on crowds, which has let us really enjoy it without a crush of people around.

I only have time for uploading a couple pics. The first one is golfer showing the overall emotion of our trip so far:

And the last one I like to call “Flaming ‘Mallow” in honor of some pretty spectacular marshmallow burnings that we do before we get the right one to put on our chocolate & graham. Sassy is the best at burning ‘Mallows, and she’s proud of it.

Tomorrow we have another full day planned…

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