Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gingerbread Lane 2014

Today was Gingerbread Sunday in our family . . . our third year visiting the gingerbread competition at the Ballantyne Hotel. First we attended Mass, then ate out a great lunch, before descending upon the beautiful hotel.

The children were much happier than they looked.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Music Recital 2014

Saturday morning began bright and early with a toddler who decided to be awake for the day before 5:00 and with Daddy getting two children ready for another Rorate Mass (Mama and littles stayed home).

Mary at the Rorate Mass, John was serving
After a long day of the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, we attended the children's Christmas music recital. Normally this is such a popular recital that it fills up months in advance, but this one ended up being an intimate affair with just a few players. Still, we had fun!

John and Mary before the recital

The girls singing Christmas carols with the violin teacher

Mary singing along

Mary, being the youngest, went first, playing "Ode to Joy" and "America" on the violin.

Note that you can hear Margaret (3-1/2) admonish her sister, "Mary, start!" Kudos to Mary for ignoring her instead of getting angry at her little sister!

Then Mary played "Jingle Bells" (which I think she accidentally shortened) and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on the piano.

John went next, playing "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Rugrats" on piano.

After the recital was over, Margaret (3-1/2) clearly wanted in on the action. It was a relaxed setting, so we asked her if she wanted to play the two lines of music that she knows and she sure did--despite her somber (shy) expression. She played the first line of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and then asked for her sister's coaching through "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which she had forgotten due to nerves.

And then, such a cute moment! Joseph (23 months) ran up to the piano, scrambled atop the bench, played a few notes, slid down, and bowed for the crowd. (Then did it all a second time.) I didn't catch it on video, but he was definitely playing the ham!

Then the violin teacher and piano teacher played some festive Christmas duets to entertain us, which was so enjoyable.

Grampa Neil, visiting us from California
After the recital, we got an ice cream treat at Baskin Robbins before everyone tumbled into bed. I asked the kids, "Who wants a day off from practicing music tomorrow?!"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mother-Daughter Holiday Tea

Yesterday was my sickest day yet of this pregnancy so far . . . which is to say exponentially better than any of my prior four pregnancies! I mean, seriously, I can still brush my teeth every day, something I couldn't do for the entire duration of my earlier pregnancies, which make shock readers but that's common when one has hyperemesis gravidarum. I am grateful for what is seeming like the typical pregnancies I've always heard about.

Mary wearing a Mass dress for no good reason

Yesterday I couldn't make it past two o'clock, when I lay on the couch while playing Uno with the kids.

Then I lay on the couch in the sun room while supervising them playing in the back yard . . .

. . . followed by laying on the couch back in the den while they watched TV, and then while Daddy made and served them dinner.

Then I transferred upstairs to bed where I lay still manning a movie on the iPad to captivate the children who were not currently receiving a bath from Daddy.

And then I went to sleep. I guess that means I was laying down for sixteen hours straight! (Thank you, Chris!)

Therefore, I sure was worried that today I would be unable to keep my long-held reservation to take Mary (6) to the holiday tea at The Ballantyne Hotel. When I had called on December 1 to make a reservation, they were already booked a month out with only a few openings left. Thankfully, today wasn't so bad and I was able to fake it till I made it!

Leaving for the Holiday Tea

Such lovely table decorations!
Mary took home the candy canes to her siblings.
The Ballantyne Hotel is one of the fanciest hotels in Charlotte and, apparently, where President Obama stayed when he visited our town a couple of years ago. The atmosphere, decor, live music, and service were refreshing and peaceful. This is the same hotel we have visited each year to see the gingerbread houses (which we will be going to see as a family soon).

Do I look queasy? I sure was!

A feast of sweets!

I talked to Mary ahead of time about using her "fancy manners" and was very pleased to see how well she rose to the occasion. It can be so disheartening to be around one's children's relaxed manners day in and day out and to think they're just a bunch of wild Indians. But all my teaching, guiding, haranguing, and disciplining isn't for naught! Given the right environment, Mary was able to walk slowly, sit up straight, speak very politely to the waitress, make conversation with me, and use her silverware well. In fact, not one but several mature, silver-haired ladies came up to us over the course of our visit to speak to Mary because they had noticed her behavior. I think learning to exhibit good manners is empowering for children (and then adults), as it is the key that opens doors to events and places they couldn't otherwise visit.

A two-story Christmas tree

We enjoyed listening to a harpist during our tea. When we first arrived, he was playing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which is one of Mary's piano pieces for her upcoming recital, so that caused her excitement. After our tea, she requested we sit and listen to the music for a time, and the gentleman paused to talk to us, which tickled my little girl.

I hope this holiday tea is the first of many! This is a wonderful, truly special event and I look forward the future . . . and when Margaret turns five so she may join us too!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

O Antiphons

The singing of the O Antiphons begins tomorrow (December 17-23).

An O Antiphons wreath that Margaret (3) and I made during her arts-and-crafts class

I found a wonderful compilation of the prayers set to Gregorian chant with links to YouTube videos to hear the music at Traditional Catholic Living: see here to view and print.

Will our family manage these new songs and prayers? The unvarnished reality is that we get to our Advent calendar and chocolates every day or two or three, while most nights we do our Jesse Tree readings, but sometimes have to catch up on a few nights all at once. We're trying over here!

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Have to Remember These Lines

Two great lines from today . . .


Mary (6) was caught once again during school sneaking off to the dining room to read ahead in books off curriculum. I found her and said, "Stop reading!"

Mary: "But I love reading!"

Mama: "Well, this is school time! Read on your own time!" (File under Things I Never Thought I'd Say.)


John (8) was watching a 1949 movie and remarked earnestly, "It seems to me like movies from the 1940s were better than modern movies from today."

Winter Ember Days

Advent really isn't Christmas yet . . . I'd like to invite those interested in learning more about traditional Ember days to the below resources. While Ember Days are voluntary since the 1983 Code of Canon Law, I think it is valuable to consider seriously traditions that existed since Apostolic Times, for nearly 2,000 years. Instead of asking, "why should I do that?" maybe the better question is "why shouldn't I do that?"

For 2014, the Ember days are:

  • Wednesday Dec. 17, 
  • Friday Dec 19, and 
  • Saturday Dec. 20.

"Do Not Forget the Winter Ember Days"

"These times are spent fasting and partially abstaining (voluntary since the new Code of Canon Law) in penance and with the intentions of thanking God for the gifts He gives us in nature and beseeching Him for the discipline to use them in moderation. The fasts, known as "Jejunia quatuor temporum," or "the fast of the four seasons," are rooted in Old Testament practices of fasting four times a year." (Source: "Ember Days" at Fisheaters)

"Advent Embertide" at Fisheaters

"The Glow of the Ember Days" By Michael P. Foley (originally published in The Latin Mass Magazine) *** really excellent article ***

"Ember Days" at New Advent

Cookie and Tree Day

Gaudete Sunday was the day for baking Christmas cookies (recipe here) . . . 100 of them! I am all set for a cookie exchange with a dozen ladies on Monday night and for the Christmas octave with two plates of cookies frozen for my own family. Those I labeled in the freezer: SAVE FOR CHRISTMAS.

Also, we got the tree and lights put up . . . ornaments probably waiting till Christmas Eve!

The tree was purchased while Mama was home resting on the sofa and the lights were put up when Mama was already asleep in bed for the night. Such is the first trimester!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

St. Lucy's Day 2014

This would be our fourth celebration of St. Lucy's day, the tradition of which calls for the eldest daughter to dress as St. Lucy and serve the coffee to her parents, then all partake in the sweet treats. The whole week before, Mary was counting down the days, declaring that this year she would be old enough to serve the coffee, how excited she was!

My mistake was waking up Mary. Rookie maneuver and I should have known better.

See, her constitution is that of her daddy's side of the family which wakes up later, slower, and more leisurely (because they are alert and ready to socialize and party late into the night!). The other three kids have my sleeping constitution, which means they wake up very early, alert, ready to chat-chat-chat, and eat immediately (then collapse into a faint if they don't eat right away). I have long since learned to let my husband sit quietly with his cup of coffee while he wakes up and not bombard him with all my Grand!!! Ideas!!! and Plans!!! at that time . . . and I have known for years not to so much as talk to my Mary when she wakes. She needs about a half an hour to grumpily sit alone till she is ready to engage. And I certainly don't wake her up from sleep!

But this morning, everyone was long awake and ready for our St. Lucy's festivities while Mary slept on and on. So, at seven o'clock--when the early birds had been awake for some time--I woke up her.

And then I pushed her to get dressed in her Lucy outfit.

And then I put the new Luciakronen on her grumpy head.

Meanwhile, she was scowling, surly, and ascerbic because it was during her first half hour of being awake.

So, we marched in procession into the kitchen with Mary declaring loudly, "I don't want to serve coffee or tea!," the new crown fell off her head, and most of the light bulbs smashed on the floor. (On a side note, I spent $22 + shipping this year on a new crown, so I could return our borrowed crown to my friend. I was happy to spend that much and would have spent double for a crown we use every year for the next 15 years. But I didn't realize it was very cheap plastic, such that it can't be locked into position on the child's head, which is why it popped open and clattered to the floor, breaking.)

What I felt was the only "win" of the morning was that in that moment: this mother did not push forward, fixing the crown, demanding Mary serve the coffee, or letting her little sister serve the coffee (which would have caused a fight). Perhaps I finally have enough experience that I simply picked up the broken crown, let Mary sit down, served everyone myself, and we ate. Period. Done. It was a bust, but at least it wasn't an explosion, right?

The grumpy gang trying to be polite

I served Lussekatter (cinnamon rolls in a tube, thanks to Immaculate baking company) and spice cookies (having made a double batch at St. Nicholas day, in drop cookies instead of cut-outs of St. Nick because I was so tired, which froze beautifully in between the two holy days). I didn't even read St. Lucy's book to the children because everyone was in a crabby mood and we had just heard "St. Nicholas" read it to us last week.

"St. Lucy" disappeared after breakfast, which she wasn't even ready to eat, and went to read an entire book alone in her room--the alone time she would have had in the first place if I hadn't stuck to my agenda.

A tradition of service on St. Lucy's day is to visit the elderly and homebound. The last several years, we have done this by having the children make Christmas cards for the homebound of our parish, which I then mail to them. This kind of service fits my station in life in which traveling anywhere is onerous. (Due to first trimester queasies, this week I skipped taking the children to two Christmas plays for which I had bought tickets and their daddy took them to swim and Friday afternoon co-op in my stead.)

By mid-morning, my Mary was finally awake and cheerful--look at that beaming smile!

I can barely remember what I cooked for dinner last night, so the way I remember liturgical traditions is by putting them on my Gmail calendar. For example, I have an entry for St. Lucy's day on December 13, which is set to repeat annually forever. In the Notes section, I add any traditions we do or would like to do. Then I set the calendar entry to send me an email reminder one or two weeks ahead so I can prepare (e.g., ask the secretary for addresses of our homebound parishioners) or buy supplies (e.g., cinnamon rolls). Without this practical aid, I'd be hopeless.

Bonus Reading: Apparently the Geminid Meteor Shower will be peaking in activity tonight (overnight December 13-14). We will be offering to the bigger kids to stay up late to watch the meteor showers with the wonderful telescope their grandfather gave them.
"When the Geminids are active, their peak [100-120 meteors per hour] can stretch for almost as long as Earth's 24-hour day. Also, they are visible earlier in the evening than other meteor showers, generally around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. local time, NASA said. This makes the shower more accessible to children."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Vatican Museums 3D Movie

At six and eight years old, the children have now gone to their first movie in a theatre. I believe my first movie was E.T. in 1982. In contrast, their first movie was The Vatican Museums in 3D. (See the trailer here.)

Lights, camera, action!

From a purely pragmatic point of view, it was magical to watch the children stare agog at the sparkling allure of the movie theatre, reminding me of country bumpkins who walk into New York's Times Square at night for the first time.

They would point at giant, three-dimensional cardboard displays advertising movies and ask what they were (what was their purpose). They saw the Madagascar penguins and remarked how they had received a penguin toy in their Chik-Fil-A meal just the other day . . . and why was that? (I explained advertising and cross-marketing).

"I smell popcorn!"

They asked if ours was the only movie showing and I explained that there were probably 15 movies showing all at various times throughout the day and evening overlapping, which made their heads spin. They began shouting out titles to me and, when John saw an advertisement for an upcoming Hobbit movie, he just about burst out of his skin with anticipation. Because they don't see commercials ever, they truly don't understand marketing and are unaware of any movies (or products) upcoming.

I was tickled to see their first exposure to what should be and was a very exciting movie theatre experience.

There were many fellow homeschooling families at this one-time showing. I counted six families from our parish alone just in the 3D theatre: I don't know who might have been in the regular viewing theatre. At one point while we were standing in line for concessions, I saw a mother and all her daughters walk in wearing skirts to their ankles, the mother with a full head covering, and I knew just what movie they were going to see. As I chuckled at perhaps what I look like to some people, then another devout Catholic homeschooling mom walked over to talk to me and she keeps her hair nearly shaved off and dyed any random color she pleases that week (today: blue), which helped remind me that, thankfully, we don't all fit one mold.

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

The movie was absolutely exquisitely done. This is a film worth owning when it becomes available and I would let my children watch it as many times as they want. The viewer is given a tour through the Vatican museums, with much time properly given to the Sistene Chapel. Especially with the 3D effect, we feel that we are there, walking down the marble hallways.

"An extraordinary voyage of discovery to see the most impressive collection of works of art built up over two thousand years of history. VATICAN MUSEUMS 3D, a SKY production in collaboration with the Vatican Museums Directorate, for the very first time brings Ultra HD 4K/3D film cameras inside the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, to show the masterpieces in these collections as they have never been seen before.
"A unique, spectacular, fascinating event: the history of one of the world’s most famous,renowned museums, the history of us all. A mega-production by a team of 40 professionals who, in the magnificent setting of the Vatican Museums, traveled hundreds of miles while filming amazing night-time footage through the halls which house some of the most rare and precious works of art in the world, spanning all cultures and all epochs…
"Thanks to a unique mix of native 3D and the most advanced dimensional techniques used in cinema by James Cameron and Tim Burton, audiences can literally immerse themselves in the great masterpieces of art history: “enter” the paintings of Caravaggio and, with unprecedented realism, touch Laocoön and the Belvedere Torso, and feel swathed by the figures in the Sistine Chapel that have never seemed so real before.
From the masterpieces of classic statues to the Cast of Michelangelo’s Pietà, right up to Fontana’s modern sculptures; from paintings by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio to those by Van Gogh, Chagall and Dalì; from the extraordinary frescos in the Rooms of Raphael, such as “The School of Athens” to the spectacular masterpieces by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel such as the “Creation of Adam” and the majestic “Last Judgment”. These are the stages of a unique , emotional journey under the guidance of the Director of the Vatican Museums, Professor Antonio Paolucci, expertly leading us through past, present and future."

John (8), a comedian who rarely stops joking around, was so instantly engrossed that he fell silent and didn't want to talk to me or hear my commentary. Mary (6), on the other hand, couldn't stop talking to me. She whispered squealing commentary the entire time and couldn't stay sitting down, but repeatedly had to stand up in her thrall, sometimes hugging and kissing me just to release some of her joy.

I noticed a striking effect as my children watched Prof. Antonio Paolucci lead us through the artwork, narrating in Italian with an English voice over. This learned gentleman is 75 years old, white-haired and covered in liver spots, and I believe his left arm might have been injured or paralyzed because his dynamic right arm gesticulated wildly through the whole movie but the left never moved from hanging still. One might understandably think that children six and eight would be bored stiff by such a man talking at them, but these children were engrossed. Why? Because what he was saying was engrossing.

Very early in my parenting, when I had a mere preschooler and toddler, a wise, older mother explained to me that the purpose of education should be to teach truth, beauty, and goodness, all of which will always lead one to God, who is Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. This is why we don't teach solely what is Catholic; for example, Catholic seminarians spend four years learning classic philosophy, which is pagan from the Greeks, but is also full of truth, which can lead only to God.

I contrast to truth, beauty, and goodness, I witness at so many institutions we visit that are genuine attempts at being educational for children employ what I consider babyish, cartoonish attempts at engaging children. Adults expect that children can't possibly be fascinated by a world-class aquarium without a cartoon dolphin figure leading the children through the tour, which I believe draws the children's eyes away from the glory of God's creation that is the sea creatures to focus on a silly character. An art museum might have a cartoon paintbrush character who gives a tour to the children, drawing the children's attention away from the greatest art man has ever created to obsess about a cartoon. Children can't possibly study this or that academic subject without the book being filled with cartoon characters. Any educational TV show is filled with these garish, over-the-top cartoon people without whom it is expected that children couldn't possibly be interested in the content.

Watering down and making babyish the content for long enough and I believe the overall cultural effect is that younger children become older children and ultimately adults who do require such pablum, such cartoonish crutches to engage them. Evaluation is made solely on the packaging and not the content.

My husband and I have tried to limit our children's exposure to garish, over-exciting television and such toy junk in general. We're the ones who will go to a museum and actually decline the little take-home plastic character junk. (If I take my kids to an aquarium, I might buy them a souvenir real starfish, but I'm unlikely to buy them the stupid stuffed animal dolphin mascot.) While much of what we censor from television is for immoral content reasons, maybe equally as much is for being generally too wild, too loud, too boisterous, and using too much slouchy, snarky slang.

I will give one example that I know many well-meaning religious parents enjoy: My husband and I decided some years ago not to show Veggie Tales in our home. Now, if our children are at a friend's house and it comes on, we're not going to turn it off because it's not immoral. Veggie Tales are a valiant attempt at making the Bible engaging to youngsters, giving them wholesome entertainment. But you know what? We believe that the Bible stories are engaging on their own. They are, in fact, the most amazing, dramatic, stories the world has ever hard, full of war, romance, sorrow, and drama.

It really hit home to me when my children couldn't stop horsing around and mocking how the walls of Jericho fell because in Veggie Tales, the soldiers are throwing grape jelly down on the Israelites. Totally lost to my children was the actual story of Joshua (and why he was leading the Israelites to conquer Canaan instead of Moses), how Joshua received direct instructions from God and followed them obediently, that it was a miracle that God brought down the walls, and the wonderful lessons stemming from the ignorant but faithful Rahab. And I had already taught them the whole story many times. But they couldn't hardly recognize it through the hilarity of grape jelly.

Every episode of Veggie Tales we watched ended in my children laughing uproariously (even if the story was one of war or sorrow) and learning no Biblical story or message, so we exchanged Veggie Tales for reading the actual Bible and listening to the finely dramatized and unabridged "Truth and Life" CD series (which became three-year-old John's favorite CD to listen to daily, despite having many child-friendly fiction options).

I've felt in the dumps this week about our school work, feeling that we're not achieving enough, we're not learning enough, and what is the point of it all? First trimester hormones may or may not be involved, but Chris can attest that I haven't been the most fun to be around. Well, last night was such a gift to me, such a joy!

I received the gift of seeing what I perceived as confirmation of eight years of some of our parenting choices bearing fruit. (Not all our choices bear fruit: we have much to learn!) My mere six-year-old whispered to me for an hour and half straight comments like, "Mama! I recognize that art! It's in my such-and-such book."

"I know that one, it's in my prayer book!"

"Mama, this movie is the best!"

"Look, I know that saint, it's so-and-so! He is the one who did . . . "

"Mama, I can't believe I'm here!"

"I remember learning about that artist, he's the one who . . ."

"Look at that symbol! I remember you taught us that! It means . . ."

"We learned that story in history!"

All of this bubbling enthusiasm while she and her brother hung on every word from a one-armed septuagenarian with liver spots talking in elevated, poetic language about classic art from hundreds to thousands of years past.

You'd think that I must think I am some kind of art history expert who has given the children a curriculum of study in these matters, but I don't think so and I know I'm not. I feel that I've cleared away a good portion, but not all, of the detritus of this media culture so that the children have space and time to exposed to truth, beauty, and goodness.

One book that has never rotated out of our Holy Reading Basket is "Saints in Art." The children have been occasionally flipping through its pages since they were preschoolers. Over nearly 400 glossy pages, this book shows more than 100 saints in classic art, with innumerable margin notes (with helpful black lines pointing to the details in the paintings) describing the symbols, what this means, why artists did such-and-such technique during such-and-such time. Gruesome at times? Absolutely, yes. St. Lucy's eyes being gouged out, St. Bartholomew being skinned alive, St. Lawrence being roasted alive. Such stories are part of the truth in truth, beauty, and goodness, and I can only attest that our children have shown no harm by knowing these events.

(And now on my Christmas planning list are the Sister Wendy glossy art books, which I perused in our parish library some time back.)

The children are listening. Amidst the sometimes chaos, the noise, the baby crying, the children hear my saint story read over breakfast toast. While playing blocks or Legos, the children really are listening while I read from history narratives. Within the swirl of coats and shoes flying, sometimes too little sleep, and my losing my temper, the children are noticing the classic art and music to which we expose them. It is worth it to my husband and me to keep trying to reduce the deluge of insipid media so that they have the space and time to experience truth, beauty, and goodness.

I have luxuriated for an hour and a half to write this blog post in an attempt to capture what had my mind swirling last night. I know this writing needs much more time to polish it, but I offer what I can now that it is seven, children are waking, and duties call!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Great Wolf Lodge

Between Mass on Sunday and the Monday evening Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we took an overnight trip to Great Wolf Lodge, located about 45 minutes from our home on the north side of Charlotte. We had heard about this place from various homeschooling families who enjoy it, so we choose it as a motivational reward when John had to work really hard day in and day out on something.

We planned this trip before I found out I was pregnant, and I find travel (even one overnight) while pregnant very hard, so I am now happily hoping not to travel again till after the summer.

I was rather surprised by how much I liked the Great Wolf experience. This gave me a glimpse into why families like Disneyland--a place I've never visited and always said I would find too commercial, too boisterous, too overstimulating. But maybe I'm mistaken!

Wolf ears

The organization at Great Wolf was greatly appreciated by me. Upon check-in, each person was given a wrist band. Our adult wrist bands are coded with a microchip to open our room doors, so no having to take room keys down to the pool area. They are also coded with our credit cards so we can buy things around the resort without having to carry our wallets. (The children's bands could have been coded this way, but we declined to do so.) The wrist bands stay on for the entire stay.

The children were each given wolf ears. I was charmed that ours are all still young and innocent enough that they desired to wear their ears most of the time and, apparently, even upon arriving home.

The hotel is designed as a lodge. All the decorations are grand and beautiful.

Our hotel room actually had a little "cabin" for the children inside of the room! The "cabin" contained bunk beds and was a major source of fun for the tots. I had happened to pack their overnight bags in one backpack each, so they got to feel like campers with their backpack slung up on their bunks, each with a flashlight and a book to read after bedtime. (For posterity's sake I note that John brought "Robinson Crusoe," Mary brought "Charlotte's Web," and Margaret brought the Golden Books "Pokey Little Puppy" and "The Lion's Paw," although she frequently resentfully points out, "I'm not reading! You haven't taught me how to read!")

Three-year-old hiding in a window

Two brothers snuggling in a bed

Now, the entire point of Great Wolf Lodge is that it is really a massive water park, but one can only patronize the water park by staying overnight in the hotel. The water park is of enormous proportions, but I don't have pictures because I couldn't manage snapping along with my iPhone while guarding my 3- and 1-year-olds from drowning. (You can view some photos here, but the close-ups really don't capture the grandeur at all.)

The outdoor pool (lake?!) was closed at this winter time of year, so we had access to a gated-in baby and preschoolers' area, a wave pool (like a beach), a huge splash pad with two-story climbing features, and slides the likes of which I'd never imagined. These water slides were so huge that the (pitch black inside) tubes snaked outside the building, they were two or three stories high, and caused the patrons go to approximately a zillion miles per hour. One (The Tornado) drops the patrons in their raft many feet into a giant-sized funnel. As the children pointed out, "Mama, you would never go on those slides." I concurred that there probably wasn't an amount of money I could be paid that would get me past that fear. Good thing Daddy was here to take the two older children on all the slides!

Video of the water dumping at the splash pad

We took the children for about an hour and a half of water play the first afternoon, which is really about all our exhausted bodies could take. It is super fun, but the noise is a roar so that an adult has to shout at the top of her lungs for the child next to her to hear her. There is water roaring, kids shouting, and bells ringing all over the place as part of the water games.

There are restaurants in the hotel, so we ordered pizza for our room. Then I got the two littles to sleep (which took about five seconds) while Chris took John and Mary down to the lobby for Story Time. This was our first glimpse of a growing phenomenon which Chris misses as part of his business travel because he stays in hotels oriented to business travelers: the practice of children and adults alike walking around in public in their pajamas. Chris reported about 80% of the (couple hundred?) people attending Story Time were in pajamas, a statistic I verified the next morning when at least that many people patronized the various restaurants for breakfast in their pajamas and ratty bedheads. I texted my dad my disbelief and he reported that he often sees this apparel at a breakfast restaurant he visits on weekends . . . so people are actually getting into their cars and driving somewhere wearing their pajamas!

I guess the indoctrination (already present in my elementary school days) of kids being told to wear nightclothes for Pajama Day during Spirit Week has worked its job of breaking down any boundaries at all.

Story Hour, my Mary with her wolf ears near the front

Meeting Oliver the Racoon
The conclusion of Story Hour is that it begins "snowing" from the vaulted ceiling, which is pretty magical for the children.

Speaking of magical, the one criticism I have of the Great Wolf experience (because the pajamas thing really reflects the culture at large, not a choice on the part of the hotel--although they could enforce a dress code) is the MagiQuest. One can pay extra for a magic wand so the child can wander the hotel, waving the wand at different stations where things like tree spirits or evil spirits or books of runes talk to the child. The child is on a quest to "save the light" from a monster of sorts. While there are some fairy tales that teach truth--we don't eschew the genre--this struck us as creepily pagan. We couldn't avoid it because every time we walked up and down our hallway to the pool, all the electronic MagiQuest stations are "talking" to the passers-by. It was a reminder to me that we live in a post-Christian culture. There's no completely hiding our children from it, so we need to catechize them strongly.

There were many more activities in which a family could participate with more time and more money: a game room (like Chuck E. Cheese), a spa geared toward mothers and daughters, mini-golf, a movie theater, and presentations in the lobby (like a nature talk on wolves and animals) each day. (Watch for specials to attend Great Wolf: We got a good discount through a special available on Amazon.)

Breakfast in the lobby--still wearing wolf ears

Buying squished pennies as souvenirs

In the morning, we (got dressed and) ate breakfast in the lobby before heading to the pool for another hour and a half of fun. The children had an absolute blast and I just can't make my pregnancy-addled brain put into descriptive words how well-designed these pools are.

I will give a "shout out" to Great Wolf for what I saw as very high safety standards, which put this water-phobic mother at east. Every single pool had numerous lifeguards surrounding it. They seemed professional, not slouching teenagers looking at their iPhones. The lifeguards had no station in which to sit (and get tired), but had to walk the pool perimeter nonstop, doing an also nonstop sweeping motion with their eyes in a regular pattern, their whistles never out of their lips. There was a "Timmy" the training doll, a rather alarming looking little training doll that looked like a drowning toddler that would be placed secretly at various places around the pool. "Timmy" was part of daily, ongoing safety training for the lifeguards, who are to spot the doll and leap into action to save it.

I also appreciated the family atmosphere at the pools, although I can attest only to this one day and don't know how and if the atmosphere changes at different times of year. There were so many Rubenesque mothers wearing increased-coverage swim dresses (and even two families, obviously religious, wearing full coverage swim outfits) that I felt perfectly at home. Sure, there were all types of patrons, but the atmosphere as a whole was definitely family-friendly.

Speaking of bathing suits, when I was packing our bags, the children saw my swimsuit. They all gasped, "Mama, do you own a swimsuit?" Then when they saw me wear it, the older two kept swooning with compliments about how beautiful I looked, as if I were in a ballgown. If you could see this dowdy skirt suit with its old-lady floral print on this already-popping out pregnancy stomach (which happens with #5), you would have laughed inside at their innocent reaction as much as I did! (Maybe I should take their reaction more to heart as being one that is pure and not already ruined by the world's eyes.)

When we marched back to our room, Joseph (22 months) had a nuclear meltdown of proportions I've almost never seen with him. I wrestled the screaming child into dry clothes and he was asleep in seconds (even though the whole family was loudly bustling about the room, packing up), which explained his meltdown. The pool broke my baby!

We had a wonderful time, if ever-so tiring for this Mama who really wanted to be curled up on the couch and not sloshing around swimming pools. I can absolutely see going back to Great Wolf for a special occasion in the future.