Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sleepless in Iowa

Yesterday I returned from a quick trip to central Iowa.  We (me, B., P., G. and L.) left on Thursday morning and arrived at our destination at 4pm.  Spent some time visiting my parents (who do not live in Iowa) and family friends.  Woke up, drove to the meat locker to pick-up our side of beef and a side of beef for friends (the whole point of this trip) and came home, arriving at home at 4pm.

The trip went very smoothly, though I have had better nights.  G. and L. are good travellers, but tend not to sleep in the car.  They do babble at us, though.  Consequently they were very tired by Thursday evening and fell asleep with the lights on while the rest of us were still getting ready for bed.  They slept quite well until about 2:45am, when evidently a pinch fairy came through the room and attacked both girls.  Why do I think this?  Because both woke up screaming at exactly the same time for no apparent reason.  (What is it about hotel rooms and screaming babies?)  I stagger out of bed and retrieve the girls, putting them in my bed to comfort them.  They get drowsy and I think we will just rest a bit and then I will put them back into their beds.  (Two adults, one small child in bed works... one adult and two small children does not work.  There are too many edges.)  Well, I didn't move them soon enough because not long after, G. falls out of bed and starts screaming.  I pick her up, comfort her and she calms down enough that I try putting her back into her bed.  Just as I am about to take away my arms, L. falls out of bed and starts screaming, which causes G. to scream as well because she realizes I'm putting her down. 

At this point, the whole thing is looking like a scene out of a farce and I am amused even as the girls scream around me.  I retrieve L. and B. (who is wide awake now), picks up G.  Both girls calm down.  I lay L. down in her bed, and begin to take G. from B. which causes a new round of screaming from her and also starts L. off again.  P. is now awake by this time and goes to get some water for both girls who are also wide awake.  We give them drinks and since they are coherent, tell them it is time to go back to sleep in their own beds.  Happily for all of us, they agree and we all go back to bed.  Of course, after this much activity in the middle of the night, it is very difficult to get back to sleep.  I don't like lying in bed, feeling tired, but not being able to fall asleep.  I'm sure telling myself how important it was to fall asleep since I had a long drive ahead of me didn't help.

But we made it and my freezer is now full of beef.  It's a bit too full perhaps, since whoever opens it next needs to be careful of frozen, falling beef.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hi!

I'm sure that there must be introverted twins out there, but mine certainly don't make the cut.  I don't know if it is just a personality-thing, or if it is the result of being numbers 8 and 9, or being twins, but these two girls like people.  They like meeting people.  Talking with people.  Going places.  Doing things.  If we combine all these things, they are quite content.  (Though content sounds like a much too contemplative description of them.)

I've discovered as well that they are so used to having people stop and either look at them or talk to them, that they are surprised when someone just walks by without a glance.  We were out today and an elderly gentleman walked by.  G. saw him and I saw her gear up to flash a big smile and her trademark, "Hi!", but he walked by without noticing her.  I watched her face and she appeared to be a bit baffled.  The smile disappeared and her eyebrows furrowed a bit as she looked after him.  I suppose they have to learn the world doesn't revolve around them at some point.

It reminds me a bit of when B. was the same age and he would happily greet passersby with a smile and shout, "Hi people!"  It was very cute.  A family friend who used to like to take him on walks would get upset at the people who didn't say hi back to him.  She didn't say anything to them, but when she and B. arrived home she would be full of righteous indignation that anyone could ignore such a cute boy with such a cheerful greeting. 

The moral of the story?  If some small person ever says hello to you, be sure to say hello in return.  It's only polite.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Funny story

You know we've had some problems with raccoons in the past.  With the new roof and extensive hole patching, we are hopeful we have finally solved the problem.  (I almost hate to write that, for fear it might not come true.)  We haven't heard any unwelcome noises for a while now, but are still just a little bit jumpy about noises overhead.  Which goes a long way in explaining this morning.

Many of the children have been at our church's VBS this week and I have been home with just P. and the two little girls.  P. has been helping me sort out the third floor, so we set the pen up in the room with us and G. and L. have been coloring (or throwing the crayons out of the pen, depending on their mood) while we work.  At one point this morning, I went downstairs to go to the bathroom.  After I shut the door, I start hearing noises above me.  This is so. not. good.  It is the same place where we had been hearing raccoons and I was not pleased to be hearing noises again.  The noises were a little different than I was used to, so I started to listen a little more carefully to see if I could figure out what was going on.  (All the while dreading having to tell J. what I had heard.)  So there I am, listening very intently to the noises to see where the d~ raccoons are heading when... not only did the raccoons make their usually scuttling noises, they started to talk.

This startled me.  This startled me so much that I didn't immediately grasp what was happening.  And then it dawned on me.  It wasn't raccoons in my ceiling that I was hearing, but toddlers in their pen on the floor above.  Yes, the pen had been set-up directly over the bathroom.  I was so happy to realize that we had toddlers and not raccoons.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A little light summer reading

Our vacation last week was wonderful for several reasons, one of them being the fact that I was able to do a lot of reading.  It's an interesting group of books that I'm working my way through (or finished entirely) and not altogether related.  But one of my favorite things is to read a group of disparate books and discover ways that they comment on one another.  Here is my reading list:
I'm still working my way through some of them and I'm sure thinking through it all will be the basis of at least a post or two.  But in the meantime, think about this quote from Buy, Buy Baby:

"Constant distractions are known to impair children's cognitive development in other ways, too.  A University of Massachusetts study conducted by the preeminent academic researcher Daniel R. Anderson on the effects of television on young children showed that even the seemingly benign practice of keeping television running in the background at home can be disastrous for toddlers' development because it interferes with their ability to concentrate on their own activities.  The study reported that one-year-olds' focused play is reduced by half when the television is on, even if the children are not specifically tuning in to the programming.  Focus play -- which, as the celebrated preschool pioneer Maria Montessori pointed out, is the work of childhood -- is essential for normal cognitive development.  In other words, it is essential for little brains to grow."  (p.12)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stuff, conclusion - The hard part

The biggest question I have about all this stuff is, "Where did it come from?!"  I want to believe that at night, stuff just accumulates all by itself.  And truly, it often seems as though that's what happens.  But we all know it doesn't, right?  We have to either bring it in ourselves or let it in.  Part of dealing with this stuff is facing up to the fact that we are the ones who put it there (or let it stay there) in the first place.

And this is where it gets hard, because it is at this point that it ceases to be just stuff and takes on such emotional weight that it seems as though we are all Jacob Marley walking around in our (invisible) chains.  Take all those children's clothes I had stored in the basement.  I began keeping them for a good reason... to save so that I didn't have to buy each child a new wardrobe each season.  But good intentions can go wrong and this one certainly did.  There came to be so many boxes of clothes in my basement that I couldn't find the ones I was looking for... I couldn't put things away... and I didn't feel as though emotionally I could do anything about it.  In my mind, those clothes had become part of my children.  To give them away, was to give away a part of my children and I couldn't do that.  It was when I started to fantasize about major flooding in the basement which would ruin the boxes of clothes, so that I had no choice but to throw them away that I knew I had to do something about it.

It was hard.  It was hard work to physically sort through it all.  (The pile was so embarrassingly huge that I couldn't even take a picture to show to you.  I've seen stores with less clothing.)  But it was also hard to give it away.  When the yard sale was over, I still couldn't face the bags being loaded into the van, and if I had thought about it too hard, I would have bawled right there in the front yard.  Once the clothes were gone, though, I realized something.  My children were still all here.  My memories of my children were still all in my head.  The only thing was missing were the boxes and boxes of clothes taking over my basement and the vague guilt and worry that I had been carrying around in my head about them.

It can be hard to get rid of stuff.  You have to ask yourself if the stuff is hurting the way you want to live with your family.  Is it causing you worry or distress?  Is it taking time away from the people in your life?  Is it making it difficult to do the things you would rather do, such as use a storage room for a better purpose?  Is it costing you money?  What makes it hard is that I don't think we realize that this battle with stuff is not just a battle for organization, it is a spiritual battle.  Satan does not want you to focus on what's important:  thankfulness, peace, joy, contentment, loving the people in your life.  All of these things are the opposite of hoarding stuff.  Satan tries to get us to replace real life with things.  And he is very, very good at it.

I find it easier to be ruthless in my cleaning out if I picture myself fighting a battle.  A battle that says I don't need too much to have enough.  A battle that puts God firmly in control of providing what my family needs.  A battle that put things firmly in their place as useful objects, but not ones that are in control.
______________
Stuff, part 1 -- Lessons from the playpen
Stuff, part 2 -- Lessons from the too small house
Stuff, part 3 -- That's entropy, man

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vacation pictures.... warning, there's a lot of them!

Can you guess where we were last week?

There was a lot of playing on the beach:

L.

G.


K. wasn't too sure about the water, but eventually became braver.


Drip castles

And we found this very cool park (the majority of the playgrounds around us have gone to the metal and plastic variety... this was a nice change):




L. was very adventurous on the slides.

We were the only ones there... but still filled up all the swings.

G.

L.

We had fresh corn on the cob:



And there was time to play on the deck:



And we all enjoyed the beautiful outdoors which God created (pictures by A.):





Thank you Aunt Ginny and Uncle Will!  We had a wonderful time.


(We spent time up on the Michigan side of Lake Michigan, for those who were wondering.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stuff, part 3: That's entropy, man

I have mentioned the British singing duo, Flanders and Swann, here before.  They are a family favorite and you should really look for their albums At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat (my favorite) if you are unfamiliar with them.  But I bring them up because a line in the song, The Second Law of Thermodynamics (click the link and look for the link on the page to hear the song... go ahead and listen, I'll wait), which always makes me think of my house:  "That's entropy, man!"

Why?  Because without vigilance, that is what happens... it moves toward chaos.  And the more people who live in the house, the faster chaos wins.  For us homeschoolers, keeping chaos at bay is even trickier because there is never a time when the majority of the household is out of the house.  It is much easier to keep your house looking like a catalogue picture if no one is ever home.

This is why, even though for the most part I don't collect a lot of stuff (children's clothes aside... and I took care of those), there is always something that needs to be sorted or reorganized.  The natural state of stuff is to be strewn about and not happily and neatly organized into boxes, bins, and folders.  I've been reading a lot of organizing/clearing out books recently, and the main rule of thumb is that if something can't be picked-up in five minutes, it's too much stuff.  Currently our toys do not fit into the 5 minute rule, but that is my goal.

I just keep focusing on living in a way that did not constantly include me telling children to pick-up toys or me picking-up toys myself or me feeling angry that I'm constantly stepping over toys.  (See a theme?)  Having too much stuff about robs us of our relationships because we are focusing on the things in our lives instead of the people.  I'm tired of being annoyed at my children because their stuff is not picked-up, so I am opting to do something about the stuff.  I am choosing to fend off chaos by giving chaos less to work with.
_________________
Stuff, part 1 -- Lessons from the playpen
Stuff, part 2 -- Lessons from the too small house
Stuff, conclusion -- The hard part

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stuff, part 2: Lessons from the too-small house

Oh stop.  I'm not referring to our current house, I'm instead referring to the house we lived in before this one.  That would be the rather small, two bedroom Victorian (which is usually code for very small rooms) in which we squeezed four children.  It was also the house that caused me to read every home organizing book in existence and is probably the moving force behind my intense organizing skills.

I'm sorry to say that upon moving the the Big Ugly House, I became lazy about some of the good habits I had developed in the small house.  Having declared my war on stuff, I'm going back and revisiting some of my earlier practices.  This time not because we have too little room, but because they made for better living.

What were these habits?  First, I purged toys more regularly.  There was only so much room in the little house, and we had to be careful about what we let in.  This caused us to be pretty discriminating.  But then we moved to the overly large house with a ridiculously large playroom.  We didn't have to worry about running out of room and being discriminating was a thing of the past.  The result?  A huge room filled with toys, many of which were never played with, though they were strewn about.  The more toys there are, the bigger mess that can be made.  At some point, the mess becomes so great that the children can't clean it up.  In fact, they don't even know where to begin.  This cleaning then falls to me.  And it is guaranteed to make me grumpy for the rest of the day.

To return to my former habit, I'm in the process of clearing out a lot of the toys.  I'm only keeping the ones which encourage imaginative play (such as blocks, small plastic animals, or nice dress-up clothes), or have always been heavily played with (such as Legos and Playmobile), or encourage active play in winter (such as scooter boards and stilts).  Don't feel too sorry for my children; there are still quite a few toys up there.

The second habit I will be returning to is toy rotation.  In our old house, there were only small areas available to play in, and having more than a couple of toys out at a time made it impossible to move.  As a result, I stored most of the toys in bins in crawl spaces and brought out only one at a time.  This had the dual benefit of keeping toys fresh because they weren't out all the time and significantly cutting down on the clutter.

After the toys have been completely culled, I will put most of them into storage.  We will go back to the practice of only having a small amount of toys available at a time.

The last habit I had given up was the system of children's personal items (you know, all those little tchotchkes that pile up and are too precious to get rid of) being stored in under bed bins.  Each child had one bin and everything that was not considered communal property had to fit in that bin.  If the bin got too full, it had to be sorted out and room made.  This system was absolutely necessary since we had four children sharing a moderately sized room. Clothes were stored in built-ins and hanging sorters in the closet.  There was room for four beds and a reading chair.

I've come to realize that this type of stuff has been allowed to accumulate now that we have more bedrooms and surface areas (aka the tops of dressers and bookcases).  It makes it impossible to keep neat, much less clean, and does not require the children to be discerning over what is kept.  After the toys on the third floor are taken care of, this is the next area on my list to tackle. 

I need to begin living in my large house with the mindset of living in a small one.
________________
Stuff, part 1 -- Lessons from the playpen
Stuff, part 3 -- That's entropy, man
Stuff, conclusion -- The hard part

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stuff, part 1: Lessons from the playpen

Recently, I have been engaged in a battle with all the stuff in our house.  The great purge for our yard sale a couple of weeks ago was just the beginning.  It felt so good to move that stuff out of the house, that I'm looking for more things to jettison.  I've also been doing a lot of thinking about stuff in general and how it affects everyday life.  And because this is what I'm focusing on, it's also what I'm going to be writing about for the next few days.

You know, we just don't need all the stuff that accumulates.  I also think it has the opposite affect of the one we think it does.  Instead of making our lives richer and more enjoyable, having too many things in our lives cause distraction.  My basis for this assertion?  Watching G. and L. in their playpen.  While they enjoy being free range and having access to all the toys which litter live in our kitchen., I don't observe them ever actually playing.  Unless that is, you consider playing to mean emptying baskets and bins and strewing their contents about the room.

This behavior changes when they are put into the their playpen.  At first, neither is terribly happy about this state of affairs and there is a brief moment of wailing.  Wailing that lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds.  But once the initial dismay is over, both girls happily settle down to actual play.  There are only a few toys in the pen:  some books, some small plastic animals, and maybe some toy cars or a small doll will appear.  It's not a lot, yet this small amount will keep them happy for an hour if I am in the same room with them.  They look at books, make the animals walk around, diaper the dolls, or sometimes I will look over and see them sitting quietly resting their heads together.  Even the basket which holds the toys becomes a plaything... a boat, or bed, or stool.

I realize that part of this contentment comes from the firm boundaries the pen supplies (and would be a whole other post), but the other piece of the puzzle is the limited amount of choice.  The toys they have to choose from do not overwhelm them.  Instead of trying to decide what to play with, they can just play.  It is relaxing to not be surrounded by too much stuff.

It is this feeling of relaxation that I am looking for in my entire home.  I do not want to sit down in a chair and be confronted with piles of stuff.  I want to be able to sit in a chair and see some empty space and the space which isn't empty filled only with things that I like and truly enjoy.  I am tired of the visual clutter distracting me from enjoying my home and family.

I want to make my home a sort of playpen for my family, with just enough stuff.  That 'just enough' amount is far less than we currently have.

The battle continues.
______________
Stuff, part 2 -- Lessons from the too small house
Stuff, part 3 -- That's entropy, man
Stuff, conclusion -- The hard part

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hide and seek

Hide and Seek (and its cousin, Sardines) has been a perennial favorite with the children in my house.  Lately it has been one of the games of choice, mainly due to the fact that B. has agreed to play and any time the older children join in, something is immediately more fun for the younger children.  M. has also been playing a lot of the game since she is nannying this summer and her young charge enjoys it as well.

All this hiding and seeking has led to some interesting discussions between me and M.  Who knew that a side benefit of growing up in a large family was the development of really good Hide and Seek skills?  I was also unaware of the level of seriousness with which my oldest children now take the game when they play.  M. made a passing comment about how she has learned to breathe silently when hiding because when B. is seeking, he will enter a room and just stand a listen for a while.  Listen for breathing and movement, that is.  With the youngest and middles, this can be an effective strategy.

I suppose this shouldn't surprise me.  Once when B. was 6 and was playing Hide and Seek with his grandmother, he hid so well that she never found him.  Having looked, she supposed, everywhere, she assumed he had left the house and became rather angry (out of fear, of course).  It turns out that he had wedged himself in an under sink cabinet (which did not look as though it could contain a 6 year old boy) and remained absolutely silent.  Though knowing B., the quiet part was not so much a stretch for his as it might be for other boys.

After all this rambling about Hide and Seek, I will leave you with instructions for how to play its lesser known counterpart, Sardines.  Sardines is sort of an anti-Hide and Seek.  It begins with one person hiding.  After everyone else has counted to the agreed on number, they split up and begin to look for the person who is hidden.  The twist is that when someone finds this hiding person, they hide along with him.  Ultimately everyone will be hiding but one last person who is still looking and the game ends.  According to M., the next hider is the player who found the previous hider first.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The benefits of boredom

Setting:  Beautiful summer afternoon in July.  Temperature in the upper 70's, sky is sunny.

Heard in background... a low perpetual whine:  "I don't know what to do."  "Can we watch a movie?"  "I want to go somewhere."  "What should I do?", etc.

Mother (to older child):  Please go upstairs and find that book on forts.

Older child:  Why?

Mother:  Because when I lock everyone outside to play, they might need some ideas about what to do.

While I didn't actually resort to locking the door, the masses clearly heard the seriousness in my voice and skedaddled outside, fort book in hand.  They all spent the better part of the afternoon outside, and here is what they created:

TM's fort.  I like the pathway leading up to it.

P.'s fort which she claims is roomier than it looks.

And D.'s fort.  He was clearly going for the camouflage look.

Here he is inside.

So many parents today seem to be adverse to their children being bored.  They work so hard to fill every moment of their children's time with activities.  I believe that fear is one of the root causes of this phenomenon.  Fear of not providing every available experience.  Fear of looking like a negligent parent.  Fear of having bored children.

But this fear is misplaced.  A child at loose ends learns so many things.  First,  free time inspired creativity.  Creativity takes time.  A lot of it.  Unstructured time.  Time that is unfilled so that ideas can be thought about.  Second, a child learns self-reliance.  They learn that entertainment and fulfilling occupation do not need to come from outside sources, but can come from within.  Third, a child learns self-awareness.  How can you get to know someone who is always off and doing something?  This is what happens to over-scheduled children.  Without any quiet, free time, there is never a chance to really think and get to know one's self.

Let your children experience boredom and don't rush to rescue them from it.  If a child tells me they don't know what to do, I usually offer to find some useful occupation for them.  Often this is along the lines of cleaning places that seldom get attention.  It is the rare time I am taken up on my offer.  More often than not, the loose-ended children quickly discover other activities.
_______________
Some of our favorite books which encourage outdoor creative play:

and... my older children insist that I add the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Adoption day

I suppose it says a lot about how far TM and I have come that the anniversary of his adoption (July 3) passed without my notice.  (I feel I need to add here that unlike many adoptive families, we do not celebrate our children's adoption days.  That was the day that in TM's mind his world ended and it has been a slow and painful process to put his world back together again.  Hardly a day to celebrate.)  In the past, I was slightly obsessed with keeping track of how long TM had been our son.  Each passing month and year was one more month and year that we had all survived.  It was a way to look back and measure how far, if at all, we had come.

But somewhere in the past couple of years, the need to mark whatever progress there was, even if it was just time served, disappeared.  Somewhere in the past couple of years TM ceased to be my son whom we adopted and were working on attaching to, and instead became just my son.

Now, admittedly, my son, as all my other children, has some quirks.  A good number of these quirks are a direct result of the trauma he suffered as a young child.  But over the past five years, we have learned better how to manage them.   We know what triggers anxiety and fear.  We know what we need to do to keep him on an even keel.  We know, all too well I might add, how parental responses and reactions can either help calm or exacerbate a situation.  We know our son.

This year has not been without success.  TM had his first sleep over and weathered extremely well J. being gone for a week.  We were able to celebrate birthdays and holidays in a relatively relaxed fashion.  For a child whose trauma is triggered by parental absence and breaks in routines, these milestones are quite impressive.

We sometimes talk about the early days with TM and about how scared and angry he was.  TM is agog that he spent his first plane ride across the Pacific trying to bite me.  While we still sometimes deal with fear, the anger, for the most part, is gone.

I was right to cling to the idea during those dark first months that because his foster parents loved him so much that there must be a lovable child in there somewhere.  There was... and is.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Goggles

J. arrived home last night after having been gone for a week.  He is starting a doctoral program and it requires students to be on campus for a week each summer for classes.  We are all thrilled to have him home again.  The week went well while he was gone, though probably his absence was a contributing factor to my less-than-wonderful day last week. 

So, while we enjoy time as a family today, I leave you with some funny pictures of G. and L.  Their newest love is to wear swim goggles... just because.  I should really put their hair into Cindy Lu Who pigtails because it would add to the insect look.  G. is in the pink shirt and L. is in the yellow.





And I have a self-serving request... click on over to my article on family road trips.  The more clicks it gets, the more likely it will end up in the print edition of the magazine and the more likely the editors will want to hire me to write more stories for them.  Pretty please?

Friday, July 15, 2011

All grown up

M. got a haircut yesterday and it's really cute... but it makes her look significantly older to my eye.  I think it's just right for starting college.  (I will add that M. does not like these pictures and is only allowing me to put them up under duress... she knows her grandparents want to see the new 'do.)




And I have an addition to yesterday's bubble post.  The children experimented with a new bubble solution and it works really well.  The boys were able to hold their fingers in a circle and blow bubbles through them, it worked so well.  Plus, it gives you a use for the corn syrup that is lurking in the back of your pantry that you aren't sure what to do with! 

Bubble recipe (This is from the book, The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions which you should really find because it has some great activities and recipes in it.)

2 1/2 qts water
1/2 C light corn syrup
1 C liquid dish washing soap

Mix the water and corn syrup together until completely blended.  Gently stir in dish soap.  It says it will store for several weeks in an airtight container... that is if you have any left after your children are done playing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Giant bubbles, plus a brief tutorial

Summer starting to drag?  Need some new activities to keep people busy?  What you need is my daughter A. to come up with new things to do.  But, since I am rather fond of her and not willing to share, I'll give you the next best thing:  instructions for how to do this cool thing yourself.

We went to a street fair a few weeks ago and one of the entertainers was making enormous bubbles in a park.  A. evidently paid very close attention to how it was done (far better attention than me) and was able to recreate the technique at home yesterday.

It's actually very simple to make these very large bubbles:



This is G.,  and how cool is this picture?

To do this yourself, you need two dowels (or some type of long stick), some yarn or string, and a small carabiner (I'm pretty sure some metal washers would work as well).  Cut the yarn into two lengths.  The shorter one (perhaps about a yard long) and tie each end to the dowels.  The longer one (perhaps 2 to 3 times as long as the first... it doesn't need to be exact) is also tied to the ends of the dowels.  The carabiner is clipped to the longer piece of yarn.  You have essentially made a triangle with the yarn and the dowels are attached to two of the corners:

The yarn is blue; I know it's difficult to see.

To make bubbles, take a shallow container and fill it with a mixture of dish soap and water.  Holding a dowel in each hand, dip the yarn completely in the liquid. 


Bring up the yarn and at the same time, separate the dowels so that you are opening up the triangle.  Move the bubble maker a bit (just like a bubble wand) so that the bubble starts to fill up away from the bubble maker.  Once you have a bubble, carefully close the dowels so that you complete the bubble and are sort of cutting it off so it can blow away.


If you're really good, you can make a whole series of bubbles without having to dip the yarn into the liquid again.


It's a little tricky to get the hang of at first... the whole opening/closing thing... but it makes some great bubbles and keeps people occupied for quite a while.

Enjoy.

Also, I have an article about tips to make family car trips manageable.  Take a look.
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