Hershey Park and New Friends

So, in typical Johnson fashion, we waited to go to Hershey Park until after we'd moved an hour and a half away from Hershey Park. I assume the summer will be filled with such trips to places that were just down the street less than a week ago.
"Look, kids! The Broad Street Market!"

"We used to pass that every day, Dad..."

"I know, but now it's foreign and exotic!"

Hershey offered a 50% discount to homeschoolers last Sunday, which is about the only way we were going to afford it right now (considering I just blew half our yearly income trying to get the XBox and computers working in the new place on books and educational materials for our beloved children). The threat of tornadoes, hurricanes, monsoons, and the rapture apparently scared everyone else away, because the kids barely had to stand in line for anything. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays homeschoolers from the swift gobbling up of half-price tickets. We'll show up at a sweater knitting competition if you offer us a discount.

Hershey Park was a dream. I've spent the last few summers suffering through Branson, Missouri. Now, my parents and in-laws love Branson. It's 1) a haven for country music and gospel heroes of the 60's and 70's, 2) a shopping mecca, and 3) most importantly for the kids, the location of Silver Dollar City. I have nothing against any of these things but they translate into this for me: 1) Going to work (I played in a club band for so long that watching live music has become a chore), 2) a lot of walking, and 3) a lot of walking up very steep hills.

Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri is built on the side of a volcano from one of those old Godzilla movies. You can literally feel your ears popping as you drag yourself up the 70 degree angled streets to get to the rides. Because, of course, the rides are all at the back of the park, a three mile hike up wanna-be Everest. Then the rides for the small kids are all the way on the OTHER side of the park. Steep climbs, brain-melting Arkansas heat, and whining kids. For me, the thrill isn't the rides - it's finding a premium spot at the top where I can hurl myself down the mountain into the sweet embrace of a quick death.

But I digress...

Hershey Park had the greatest layout of any amusement park I've ever been to. Right inside the front doors are *actual* rides, both for big and small kids, along with a few well placed food vendors. In fact, the whole park is designed this way - scary rides, tame rides, food, bathrooms, all in little clusters. It's like it was designed by someone who has actually patronized an amusement park with children of varying ages, instead of by a childless mountain climber with anorexia and a colostomy bag.

This brown guy kept following us around until we took a
picture with him. Sad.

We went with our new friends, the Foleys. Have I mentioned the Foleys? The Foley's (pictured right) are awesome. I started e-mailing Stacy about the local homeschool group she coordinates (INCH) before we moved here, and she was extremely welcoming. Once we arrived, our families hit it off immediately, mostly due to our kids being completely awesome (at least we've agreed that they're all totally awesome), and our deep abiding love of all things related to Friends (the sitcom) and ice cream. Mark and Stacy live in Annville, a quaint little Pennsylvania town where Rich takes Ice Hockey lessons. (Note: They have a blog! Follow the link above or click Sushi and Pizza in the sidebar)

Rich is amused. Max is not.
I'm Strongly Advised by the signs on these insane roller-coasters that people with heart disease should not ride attractions that exert an excess of 700 G's on your face. Rich, being Rich, wants to ride those particular attractions multiple times. Yeah - he's one of those, that stick their hands in the air when the coaster does those flippy things that neither nature nor physics, even on their worst days, ever intended. So Christie gets to do those with him, except this time she got off easy because Kate (a.k.a. Thing 1, as the Foley's call their 11 year old) is equally blase' about her life expectancy. They made a good, if somewhat worrisome pair.

Here's another thing that's awesome though: When this happened, Maxim, the younger Foley (a.k.a. Thing 2) skipped away with Brennan (at least 4 years younger than him) to ride other rides. Max, being the more sane of the two Foley Things, doesn't enjoy rides that make normal humans vomit copiously. Brennan is down with that. I could digress here into a long and admittedly biased praise of the age-integrated nature of homeschooling, but you get the picture. The kids traded back and forth like this all day and it was a very role-affirming, self-congratulatory parenting moment for all adults involved. Did I mention that our kids are awesome?

All this was followed by a scene of gluttony and feasting at Red Robin that was so gratuitously disgusting that I can't bear to display photos of it. We were STARVED after mostly avoiding overpriced park food all day. How have I never eaten at a Red Robin? The A1 Peppercorn Burger and Bottomless Fries hit the spot, and I distinctly remember stuffing my face with a huge wedge of something chocolaty and fluffy. It was some kind of mousse/chocolate/cheesecake type thing, but I was too  tired and hungry to pay much attention to the name. As usual, we sat there until midnight laughing and making a general nuisance of ourselves to the wait staff while the kids played Yu-Gi-Oh and tried to scheme a way to stay even later. Good times.

We were a little tired by the end of the day


And Now For Something Completely Different:

First, apologies to everyone we normally talk to on video chat. Our webcam decided to die in the move, so it will be a few days before we're up and running again.

Secondly, it's taken me a few days to post because we moved in late Friday, unpacked Saturday, and then turned around and went to Hershey Park on Sunday with friends (more on that in the next post).

Friday was the first time the boys actually helped with the entire move. They usually get to spend most of the packing, loading, cleaning, and unpacking with grandparents, but this time, they experienced the whole shebang. About halfway through the cleaning process, Rich declared, "This STINKS!" This actually led to a long discussion (while cleaning) about janitorial jobs and how some people really enjoy cleaning, so it's a perfect job for them, and about how if you DON'T enjoy cleaning, you might want to be sure to hone a different skill set. (For those who don't know, Christie and I used to own a cleaning business in the 90's, and while the freedom and the income were awesome, the work was not very fulfilling for either of us.) It was probably the best conversation we've ever had with Rich about life choices and planning for the future.

There was a tearful goodbye to our little apartment on Springford Drive, then we were On The Road Again, Like A Band of Gypsies... (thanks, Willie!).

On to Danville.

Actually we're in a little community just north of Danville, PA (where Christie will work at Geisinger Medical Center), PA called Washingtonville. Now, Danville is a small town (just Google it, and you'll see), but Washingtonville is so far out in the sticks, they actually have to import their sticks from Danville. (Again, just Google it).

Here's the story with Danville: There were literally dozens of job openings in the southern states for the summer; Houston, Dallas, Orlando, Nashville, Phoenix, Atlanta, Birmingham, etc. We immediately marked these off the list for two reasons.

1) It is HOT in the south in July and August. I had a really tough time last summer in Fayettville with the heat and humidity, to the point that we had to adjust our lives to keep me inside during the 90+ days (which lasted about 7.5 months if I remember correctly...).

2) Most everything we'd like to do in those states (Disney, Civil War battlefields, Dallas Aquarium/Zoo, Egging the KKK headquarters, etc.) is going to be horrifically crowded during everyone's summer vacation. We'd rather live in these places during the "off" seasons in the fall or spring, or be there in the winter when it's not so hot.

So we started looking around the New England states, like we originally planned for this summer. There were many opportunities in New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. Alas, though Christie qualified for these jobs in terms of her skills, they all wanted a travel RN with at least two assignments under her belt.

So we took the Danville assignment for several reasons:

1) It looked great in terms of experience for Christie. Geisenger services all the small counties in rural northern Pennsylvania. It's big enough to afford her many new learning opportunities, and allows her to work in telemetry/cardiac wards again (at Hershey, she was the cardiac nurse in a new trauma ward). The hospital itself has a great reputation.

2) Danville is a completely different experience for us. It is a very small town (population 6,000) with small town events and shops. It's in a beautiful location in rural Pennsylvania, with mild summer temperatures (at least for most of the summer). We figure our next few assignments will be in much larger cities than Harrisburg/Hershey, and we value diversity of experience highly, both for ourselves and the boys.

3) We haven't finished seeing everything we want to see in Pennsylvania yet! We've yet to go to Gettysburg, Lancaster (Amish country), Niagra Falls (about 4 hours from here), New York (about 3 hours from here), and I will be returning to Boston in July for a checkup with my cardiologist at Tufts. Not to mention we've gotten involved with a wonderful homeschool group and made friends that we're not quite ready to leave yet - in fact we're planning several trips with them for the summer (more on THAT in the next post too...)

So, Danville it is. Problem is, the medical center hired more nurses for the summer than there is housing for them. So while the company typically only houses its nurses in "luxury" apartments, there were simply none left in this small town by the time Christie signed on. We ended up in an old house, split into three apartments. There are several other similar houses on the property, so we share a little neighborhood with two other travel nurses currently.

To be honest, this is such a radical change from the first assignment that it took us a few days to make the necessary adjustments. The house itself has incredible character, and is very cozy. However, it's set up more for two roommates than a family, which means that while the bedrooms are big and well-furnished, the common areas are very sparse and small.

There is no real on-site laundry facilities so we'll be using a dry cleaners or laundromat in town. We've also had quite a challenge trying to make the kitchen work since the fridge is pretty small, and there's no garbage disposal or dishwasher (Oh, the horror! How did people live without these conveniences?) It has also been a technological nightmare trying to connect our various entertainment gadgets to the existing satellite dish boxes and tube televisions (this is a bit of a moot point because the yard outside is so big, shady, and beautiful that I don't imagine we'll spend much time this summer staring at tv screens - though the boys are in awe of having a tv in their bedroom - with CABLE! They're watching Looney Tunes as I type this).

The boys room - plenty of space for Legos, Geckos, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, stuffed animals, and Transformers.

We've never had a television in our bedroom. I intend to catch up on all the Ronco commercials I've missed over the years.

All in all, it's working, and I hope the boys are learning that "home" has very little to do with the house you live in. According to the other nurses living here, this is the only time we'll experience such a different living situation. This feels like living in a farm house and I hope we soak up every second of it. Here's what this translates into: washing dishes together, doing laundry together, playing outside, cooking simpler meals, finding things to do that don't involve a toggle controller and alternate firing buttons, and a lot of negative space.

I love negative space.

(p.s. I'm trying to upload video of the apartment, but our connection here is a bit slow, and blogger isn't cooperating today - I'll try again in a little while).



Physical activity is really hit and miss around here. It seems like we go three or four days just sitting around reading, playing video games, building Legos, and watching movies. Then we have those stretches where it seems like the boys are getting nothing but exercise. Park days usually mean anywhere from 3-5 hours of running around like crazy people, then there's soccer and hockey mixed in with frantic games of hide-and-seek around the apartment building. We also went to a minor league baseball game the other night (The Barnstormers) where the kids ran around on the playground and got more exercise than the players. I wish we could be more consistent but it's about the best we can do during these rainy days of Spring. We're moving to a small apartment in Danville next week with a huge yard, so I'm hoping to spend time outside every day, even if it's just for nature hunts or drawing.

Brennan & his Soccer Shots coach. He finished up the session last Saturday.

Rich making a little garden with the rocks leftover from our geology unit.

At Cleona Park with the INCH group

Kate & Maxim Foley at the apartment. Lots of swords and dragons!


Spring Sprung

What a fun experience! We took part in a Maypole spring celebration with our local homeschool group. About 80 people turned out, and the kids started off by reading poetry and drawing names for the celebration royalty. The King, Queen, and Squires then led a little parade around the park while the rest of the kids played a variety of percussion instruments, or an instrument they brought from home.

You can read the wiki link above if you're un-familiar with the Maypole. It's basically derived from Medieval European cultures to celebrate the arrival of spring. I believe it fell out of popularity sometime during the middle of the last century because of its Pagan associations (ya know, unlike Easter or Christmas which have NO Pagan associations whatsoever...). We went around the Maypole circle and everyone got a chance to tell about something they were thankful for.

Once the Maypole was set up, our friend Peggy taught the kids how to "dance" around it so that the ribbons would effectively wrap around the pole. This was a bit of a mess with so many people, but you should have seen the kids - laughing and having the greatest time.

It was the perfect day to welcome in the new season. We probably stayed at the park in the sunshine for 4-5 hours just watching the kids play and enjoying the weather. I love watching our boys interact with kids both older and younger than them. I really believe it's one of the best things about homeschooling - the interaction with a diversity of people in real life, rather than in an artificial environment.


Patches Dairy Farm

Our local Homeschool Group took a field trip to the Patches Family Dairy Farm last week to see how milk is bottled and ice cream is made. We missed the actual milking of the cows because said milking is reportedly done at the crack of dawn and good luck getting we homeschoolers much of anywhere before 9 am.

This was fairly straightforward - the kids got to see them bottle the milk:

help make the ice cream:

and finally eat the ice cream:

We also got to see the chocolate milk being made, go into the ice cream freezer, and eat lots of ice cream at the end. After the park, we ended up going back to buy a few quarts of ice cream, some milk, and some yougurt. Since Patches Farm is so close to the park where we meet every Friday, this will probably become a regular weekly stop for us while we live in the area.

The best part of this was to see that the dairy farm was truly run by the Patches family. There were kids Brennan and Richard's age working the ice cream counter by themselves, helping with the machines in back, stocking the freezers, etc. They seemed very happy with their responsibilities, and it was another reminder to me that that we too often under-estimate what the boys are capable of at their age. Trips like this spur me to keep them working with us to make meals, take over household chores, let them pump gas, and let them help at the grocery and farmer's market checkout.