Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lake Compounce

What do you do the day after a tropical storm hits? Why, go to an amusement park, of course!


It was Mike's company picnic at Lake Compounce. Private Party Y'all - Wooot! The day could NOT have been nicer. Low 80's. Sunny. Perfection.

We got there a wee bit before 1:00, just as the park was opening for us. (Did I mention is was a private amusement park party?) We had never been to Lake Compounce before so we just wandered a bit. The first ride we came to was The Wildcat. I would say the Wildcat is a medium intensity roller coaster - perfect for me and my 8 1/2 yr. old who is adventurous but not crazy.

We (Mike, Magoo, and me) were the only ones on the ride. We took the first two seats. Then up, up, up we climbed.

It's kinda crazy when you come over that first hill. My first thought was This isn't so bad. Then when we kept dangling further and further over the abyss, I thought This is a 90 degree drop! We're going straight down!

Of course it's not. It's probably more like a 45 degree angle, but HOLY MOLY it felt steep. It was super fun though. Lots of twists and hills, lots of laughters. No barf.

We pulled into the loading station and since no other passengers were in line, we got to take another go-'round.

When we pulled in to the loading station a second time, Magoo said, "I think that's enough."
I seconded the emotion.

We were all feeling pretty jazzed. So we decided to ride this:


It's called Thunder and Lightening and it's basically like a giant pendulum. You sit at the bottom in the chairs and you swing back and forth. You swing so high you can only see the sky. Then you swing back and can only see the ground.

It. Was. Horrible.

Zero fun.

As soon and I felt the G's in the first "tiny" swing, I knew I had made a big mistake.

When we reached the top heights all I could do was close my eyes and go to my happy place. I was in full logic zone: It will end soon. It will end soon. Just hold on. It will stop soon.

I don't know how anyone finds that fun. I think it should be used as a form of punishment.

We were all a little shakey after that one. I think Magoo was alright though. I don't think he loved it, but I don't think it shook him to the core, like it did to Mike and myself.

We rode a few more rides. Some more pleasant than others. I really started to feel a little old. My body was responding differently to the movement of the rides. I felt more like I was in danger than I was having fun. Maybe Thunder and Lightening messed me up more than I cared to admit.

Mike decided to sit the Saw Mill Plunge out. This was actually very pleasant. It's your typical water log ride. You go up, you have lots of twists and turns in the water, then BOOM big drop.
Magoo and I sat in the front and didn't get too wet.


The Bumper Cars, unfortunately, were less calming. Magoo got pinned in by a kid who couldn't drive well. I was zipping around without hesitation, but Magoo couldn't get out from his wedged in position. By the time he was wriggling free, the ride was over.


See this smile? This is the BEFORE expression. The AFTER expression featured the tears of bitter disappointment.

But that was short-lived because it was time to hit the WATER PARK!

I LOVE a good water park. And I've learned what I like and dislike to help me choose the best rides for maximum enjoyment.

I like to see. Pitch black water slides are unpleasant for me. I never know when to close my eyes or cover my nose and it's not uncommon for me to emerge from the dark semi-blind and with the taste of chlorine in the back of my throat.

I like slides with inner tubes. I can certainly ride a regular slide, but when there's a tube full of air to absorb the shock - that's all the better.

I don't like giant novelty bucket of cold water poured on top of me. When I went into the kid's water play yard with Magoo that happened to me. Twice. Then I was like, You're on your own, kid.

The water park at Lake Compounce is probably about the third of the size as the water park at Six Flags - but we got all the major components in. And you didn't have to walk miles and miles to get from one ride to another.

Despite my list of things I dislike (and those are just general water park things - not specific to any one park) - it was super fun. There were plenty of things that I did like and I especially liked the fact that I was at a PRIVATE PARTY and it wasn't crowded at all.

After about 90 minutes, we dried off, put our clothes back on, played some games, and were outta there by 5pm.

It was an awesome afternoon and a lovely way to close out the summer.

Tomorrow, I take Magoo into the school to see his third grade classroom and to meet his teacher. And Thursday is his first day of school. (Clap, clap, clap!)

Hope you are all having fun in your final days of summer.



Monday, August 29, 2011

A Visit from Irene


I woke up around 6:30 yesterday morning and Tropical Storm Irene was in full swing - although technically the full force of the storm was a few hours away. But the wind was a'blowin' and the rain was a'whippin' and this is what the back yard looked like. (above)

Mike and I watched the news, flipping from channel to channel to see the best maps. We felt fortunate that we had electricity, so I made sure to make Magoo a nice hot breakfast. At 9am, after I'd been up and anxious for about 2 1/2 hours, I started to relax. Hey, this isn't so bad, I thought.

At 9:30 we lost power.

Then the fun began.

We live in what used to be a pond. It got drained and houses were built. But it wants to be a ponds and seizes any opportunity to return to a pond-like state. Which means, we have a sump pump in the basement. And the sump pump was doing it's job - chick - ch ch ch ch chug - until, of course, the whole losing-power thing.

So Mike and I strapped on our boots and sprung into action. (Actually, we had been prepared for this. Mike already had his boots on. Mine were out. Magoo's were out. Every available bathmat was on the floor between the basement and the front door. All we had to do was grab a flashlight and go.)

This is the set-up in the basement:

Stick the bilge pump in the hole, stick the tube in the bucket. 14 pumps for the small bucket and 20 pumps for the big bucket. Carry the bucket of sewage water up the stairs. Magoo opens the front door. Throw the water out. Go down stairs. Repeat.

Of course, the photo above was taken with a flash. This is what it really looked like:


We were like cave-dwellers. It was super creepy.

We were constantly pumping and dumping for two hours straight. At 11:30 I took a lunch break while Mike kept it up. At noon, things started to calm down a bit. We found we could pump for 10 minutes and rest for 20 minutes. Then pump for 8 and rest 25 and so on and so on.

Meanwhile, our friends on the other side of the block ... well, they didn't lost power at all. And since they are on the high side of the hill, they don't have to worry about flooding either. So Mike took Magoo over there to play and soak up the electricity. Shortly after Mike got back a HUGE branch fell from the neighbors' tree, knocked down their power lines, and narrowly missed both of our cars. (By our cars I mean mine and Mike's.)


So now we have downed power lines next door. Awesome! But we did get really lucky as far as the big branch and cars thing goes.

In the afternoon, we all went over to out friends' house for a pasta dinner - courtesy of electricity!!! We came home around 7pm. Tidied a few things up. Lit some candles.

Here's Magoo relaxing with the iPod.


And at 8:10 pm the electricity came back on! Hooray!!!

So all is well. There are still downed power lines next door, but things are up and running in our house. There's a little cleaning to do, a little laundry, but all in all we came through Irene A-OK!

And the moral of this story is: I like electricity.

Hope all my East Coast friends did as well!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preparations

It's going to be a busy few days, I think.

On Saturday, there's a block party.

I already: made flyers
passed out flyers
reserved the road (with the town)
prepared my act for the talent show (Bollywood dance)
bought plates/napkins/utensils
created a kids' scavenger hunt
bought prizes for said scavenger hunt
bought trophies for road race

There will be more to do on Saturday, but that's a bulk of the prep right there.

Does it seem like I'm doing a lot for a community block party? Yes, yes it does. Normally there's about six-to-seven regular people who chip in. This year there were three.

So I'm gonna hunker down and do my best, knowing that next year I won't be the schmuck who spearheads this event.

To ADD to the preparations, we're gonna have a HURRICANE! Wooooo!

Yeppers. Hurricane Irene looks like it's going to be heading right toward West Hartford, CT. Of course, it may not. It may move East. Wouldn't that be nice? But right now projections show it flying right over our house. So we've bought some water. Some batteries. Some flashlights.

I'm doing laundry now so I can clean the basement in case it floods.

As long as we don't lose electricity our super-awesome sump pump will keep us dry. But if we do lose it ... glug, glug.

So there's much to do. Little of it fun. But if I do a little bit here and a little bit there, we'll have a lovely block party on Saturday and a non-tragic rainy day on Sunday.

Here's hoping!



Monday, August 22, 2011

I Have a Little Birdhouse


Well, it's not actually a birdhouse. It's a bird feeder. But birdhouse sounded better in the title.

When I was in Maine, we went to a big firehouse-funding tag sale and I found this little bird feeder. I'd been thinking of getting a bird feeder to put outside the window by my computer desk. I keep my camera right there and I thought, Wouldn't it be nice, as I'm typing away, to see a little birdie out my window and snap pictures of it.

So I when I saw this bird feeder, full of rustic charm, I plopped the the dollar and made it mine.

Next, Magoo and I went to the pet store and bought some bird seed. I choose the bird seed I wanted by the pictures of the birds it had on the bag - and the price. The low price.

Then I filled the bird feeder, hung it up, and waited for my FLOCKS of feathered friends to come dine. And waited. And waited.

Clearly they didn't know it was there yet, I told myself. I will make a path!

So I went out with another dixie cup full of seed and left a Hansel and Gretel style path from the tire swing to the bird feeder.

A couple days passed. No birds. A couple squirrels found my path - no prob. But no birds.

My father-in-law came to visit and since he's all about the birds, I proudly showed him my bird feeder and the seed I was using. He told me I should get them sunflower seeds. "You have to spoil the birds," he said.

See, I don't want my birds flying in here with fine dining expectations. Sunflower seeds are something I buy for us. We, humans, eat sunflower seeds. The birds are gonna eat the cheap bird seed I give them - and like it!

And sure enough, a few hours later, I had my first customer. (above.) Mr. Chickadee. Welcome. Do tell your friends.

And he did!

The next day a cardinal was sifting through the scraps the squirrels left in the dirt...


... while his lady friend had a table for one.


That was yesterday. This morning I have had several visits from Mr. Chickadee and/or Mr. Chickadee's friends.

My photography challenges are these:
- moving slowly as to not upset the birds.
- my red flash light not upsetting the birds.
- taking photos through a screen gives a hazy image.
- taking photos through the side door off the kitchen has no screen, but is further away so I have to majorly zoom - which sometimes gives a hazy image.
- those darn birds are FAST!

I'm hoping that they will learn that the crazy lady behind the window with the red, glowing eye won't hurt them and they can dine at their leisure. But for now, I'm just psyched that the word it getting out.

The little blue/green bird feeder in back of my house is open for business!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Magoo Presents: Dr. Frankenstein's Dog-Cat


Dr. Frankenstein just woke up and was hungry. He had an idea; he would combine bacon and eggs together!

"Mwha ha ha!"

He took the eggs and bacon to the laboratory and put them under the Combine-inator.

Meanwhile, Mr. Meanie (Dr. Frankenstein's Shih Tzu dog) was chasing Ms. Smarypants (his cat) through the lab. The dog and cat jumped on the breakfast food as Dr. Frankenstein hit the power button.

ZAP!

He accidentally combines his dog and cat, creating ...

DOG-CAT!

Dr. Frankenstein yelled, "Ahhhhhh!" and that scared Dog-Cat away.

Dr. Frankenstein had another idea; he would combine a net with another net so he could catch Dog-Cat.


Dr. Frankenstein chased Dog-Cat to the top of the castle. Then he swooped the double net at Dog-Cat, but he missed. Dog-Cat ran away to the basement. Dr. Frankenstein ran down many steps. He swooped the double net at Dog-Cat again, but he missed again. Dog-Cat ran back up to the roof.

"Blast you, Dog-Cat!" cried Dr. Frankenstein.

He ran up many steps. Then he swooped his double net again, but missed again.


Later, he had a third idea. He made more bacon and eggs.

"Mwha ha ha!"

He took the food to the lab and put the bacon and eggs on the table with the Combine-inator. Then Dog-Cat followed the smell of the bacon and eggs and jumped up on the table.

Dr. Frankenstein pulled the switch to reverse, the hit the power button. Now the machine was a Separator-inator.

ZAP!



Mr. Meanie and Ms. Smartypants jumped off the table, each with their own four legs.

"Success!" shouted Dr. Frankenstein.

"Meow," said Mr. Meanie, the dog.

"Woof," said Ms. Smartypants, the cat.

The End.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Shots of Maine

The view from Cundy's Harbor dock.

A shot I snapped as we drove along. Pretty, pretty.

A hermit crab peeking out.

Skeet-surfing anyone?

Lab-stah boats.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Maine


We spent the weekend in Maine. A few years ago our neighbors bought an unfinished cabin up in Cundy's Harbor and every so often they go up there and work on it. (They've done a TON of work on it - actually. It looks awesome.) And they invited us up for the weekend.

Since Mike used to spend summers in Maine when he was a young man, I think he especially wanted to get back.

Maine is beautiful. It just is. Naturally, I took a bunch of photos. I think I'll just post them throughout the week.

(Above) The abandoned boat house at the dock at Cundy's Harbor. This is a short walk from our neighbor's place and it's where they launch their kayaks and the boys hunt for green crabs.

(Below) Lobster cages at the dock.


Captive lobsters.

Magoo strolls through the chilly waters at Reid State Park. (I went in up to my knees.)


The view from the Holbrook Lobster Wharf and Grill at Cundy's Harbor.


More soon ...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Zippity-Zip Lines, Zippity-Ae

It was an adventurous day today.

Magoo and I went to Brownstone Park in Portland, CT. Basically, it's a big lake/quarry with zip lines, inflatables, kayaks, waterslides and a bunch of other fun water-related things. It's pretty exciting to look at.

(I should also mention that I took a disposable camera with film along. So there will be photographs - just not in this post. So to see pics of the place, click on the links.)

Magoo wanted to hit the Iceberg first. (If you go through the slideshow here, it will pop up.) Basically, it's a giant inflatable iceberg with arm/foot holds all over it. I tell ya - neither of us could even get up on the thing. You have to have strong arms to hoist yourself out of the water because there's really nothing to put your foot on. After some feeble/pathetic attempts, we moved on to another water toy with a foothold.

After our friends joined us there, it was time to hit the zip line. Zip line! Zip line! Clap, clap, clap! That's what I was excited about. There are a ton o' zip lines at this park. Some you have to walk far away to get to the start of it. Some you have to climb a mighty tall rock wall. But the one we hit was a mild one (as far as zip lines go.) You walked up a rock path and then waited...waited...waited, until it was your turn to go up a steep rope bridge and then zip.

This is a single file situation. I had to watch as my baby walked the steep rope bridge. To give you an idea of this thing, imagine one thick rope that you walk on, and two rope net/railings on either side. If you fell, the ropes would catch you - but in a way that would result in massive rope burn. Now, crossing this, in and of itself, would be slow-going - but this thing was steep. So, that wasn't easy. As Magoo was nearing the top, I was mentally willing the man-boy up there to extend his hand and help my little dude out. Nope. No can do. He just hung back, as if to say If you can't make it up here, then you can't zip line, kid.

But Magoo made it.

The man-boy hooked him up and then whoosh - Magoo stepped off the platform and glided over the water. He hit the water's surface and back-stroked to the next platform, just like he had been instructed to do.

There's something very *Danger, Will Robinson* in my mom-bones about letting my child be so far away from me at a water park. A lot of trust went into that moment. Trust of the park's system. Trust of the lifeguard on the other end. Trust of Magoo.

And it panned out. All was well. I took a big breath and knew he had grown up just a little bit more and his boundary had been pushed just a little bit further.

So now I had to climb the dreaded rope bridge. Yeah, man - that thing ain't easy. Man-boy hooked me up and gave me the thumbs up and I put my instinct aside (Instinct says, Uh, don't step off the platform) and zippity-do-da'd over the water. Wheeeeee!

It. Was. Awesome!

If the line (for the zip line) hadn't been so long, I would have loved to do that a few more times.

Then we went back in the water for awhile. It was getting kinda crowded so all the inflatables had lines. We got out, had lunch, went back in for another hour and paddled around. Then called it a day.

It was mucho fun - but upper body strength is definitely a must to really enjoy this park. Still, if he wants to hit it next year - I'm in.

If you're local and have adventurous little ones, definitely check it out.




Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Magoo's Latest Find


Time is slipping away. If I have three goals for a day, most likely I will only get one done. There's simply too much to do most summer days, and much of my attention is needed by Magoo.

So (another) one of my goals has been to find things that interest him and that he can do independently. Last night we found this: Make Beliefs Comix. (above.)

It's very easy. You choose how many panels you want (2-4.) You choose the characters you want. You choose the size of the word bubble - or thought bubble. You choose your background. And you type in your dialog. (The dialog bit is a bonus for us because I've been teaching Magoo to type - so he gets to practice when making comics. Win - win!)

Magoo has been loving this! He can spend a good 30-45 minutes a stretch at it and have something he's proud of when he's done.

If you have creative kiddos who are starting to get a little bored this summer, definitely check it out.

Note: If you are a teacher or work with children with special needs, there are tabs on the site that help you guide the child's play in ways that may be therapeutic for them. Bonus!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Magoo Presents: Grizzly Bear and Squirrel


Once Grizzly Bear went into the forest to find his friends. He saw Squirrel. But no one else.

Bear said, "Where did all the animals go?"

Squirrel said, "There was a poacher. They say he lives in the South. We'll need to find a boat."


Bear said, "Where are we going to find a boat when we're near so many trees?"

Then Squirrel got an idea. "Wood can float. Let's tie logs together and make a raft!"

"Squirrel, you're a genius!"


So that night, Bear stroked with his big arms to get to the South on the raft. Squirrel was the look-out.



When they got to the South, they found the poacher's house. The poacher said, "Ooooo,
more animals to hunt down!"

Bear swooped his big claw at the poacher's face.

Squirrel bit the poacher's leg.

They knocked out the poacher and freed all of their animal friends.



The End.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mystic Aquarium Has Gone to the Birds!


A new attraction at the aquarium is the Birds of the Outback exhibit.

Here's what you do. You give the nice man at the cash register some extra money ($3/person) and he gives you a popsicle stick with some bird food stuck to one end of it. You go into the big cage, locate a willing bird, slowly present your stick to the bird. Like so:


And if you're lucky, the bird will step onto your stick and hang with you while it dines. Like so:

Magoo had several different feathery friends hang with him throughout our visit.
Here's the little guy who spent some one-on-one time with me. I call him Mr. Yellow.


Yeah, Mr. Yellow and I were buds!

But, eventually, it was time to go. I think both Magoo and I had a lot of fun getting close to the birds. I think it might have held some therapeutic value for me as well.

You see, I once lived with a young woman who had a small bird named Basil. For some reason, Basil liked to fly AT MY FACE! Most of the time she would have the bird's wings clipped so it couldn't fly - but when the wings grew out, Basil would FLY AT MY FACE! Once I covered my face with my hands and it landed right on the top of my head.

Not cool. Not cool at all.

So although I would say I greatly enjoy birds, I've never been a fan of the pet bird, or even birds being too close to me.

But my time with Mr. Yellow was high-quality, bird-lady-binding time. So who knows?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mystic Aquarium


Yesterday Magoo and I hit the Mystic Aquarium.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved aquariums. The darkness and slow underwater movement is very soothing to me. Aquariums chill me out. But Magoo has often been bored in these environments. He's much more of a hands-on "doer" than an observer. But he saw an ad on TV that featured a new "exhibit" - a 3-D, seat-moving, feature - and he wanted to go. So we went.

And it was good.

We started off with the ray-petting pool. The last time we were there, Magoo wasn't able to touch a ray. They were all swimming really low. This time, there was a man feeding them near Magoo, so a bunch were swimming closer to the surface. (Video at the end of this post.)

Then we went inside and there was a shark-petting pool!!!

They were small sharks - as you can see - but Magoo got to pet a couple of them and that was super-fun!

Then we just walked around, looked at the jellies (I LOVE jellies behind glass, I HATE jellies when I want to swim), pufferfish, big sharks, pirahna, sea turtles, and sea horses.

Magoo wasn't too interested in the outside creatures: beluga whales, sea lions, penguins - but that just might have been because it was hot and crowded out there.

video

We DID see the 3-D motion movie, and compared to the highly synced, smooth 3-D rides at Disney, this one was like a 10-minute physical assault in an alley. OH MY it was jarring! (Still, Magoo liked it so that was good enough for me.)

Way back when Magoo was a wee one, he had the mother of all meltdowns at the Mystic Aquarium. He LIVED for throwing sticks into bodies of water: puddles, drains, rivers, lakes. So when he was not allowed to throw sticks into the Beluga exhibit - he started to pout. When he was not allowed to throw sticks into the penguin exhibit - it was a full-blown, red-alert, class 10 melt-down. We still talk about it to this day.

It's nice that, a good six years later, we can go back to the same place and have a lovely time.

(There was an awesome bird exhibit at the aquarium as well. More on that tomorrow.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Making a Stop-Motion Short Film


Were you wondering how I made the stop-motion film? Well, lucky you, I'll tell you how in this post! (If you weren't wondering, just check back in tomorrow. I'll have aquarium shots!)

(Above) This is my set-up. (And by "my" I mean the set up I had with my partner, Jon.) We had a plank that had a webcam and a light attached to it. And the computer with the SAM animation program on it. That's what's up on the screen. That's basically all you need to get rolling.

If you're really interested in trying this out, I'd like to recommend this book:

The Klutz Book of Animation: Make Your Own Stop Motion Movies

It goes through a lot of basics and it uses the SAM animation program, which is a great program!

Here's a shot of what the "set" looked like.


See all the extra arms, legs, and eyeballs off to the side?

As you probably know, you put your characters in a pose, take a shot (or two or three), change the pose and do it again. In animation like this, you want 24 frames per second. Which means if you shoot your little guy making 24 small movements, when you are done you'll have 1 second of animation. We were told that it's OK to take 2-3 frames per movement, that the eye fills things in. Depending on how many frames you take and how big the movements are - that's how you control the speed of your characters.

Our movie was about 2000 frames long.

All in all, I probably spent about 7 hours preparing to shoot the animated short and another 7 (or so) hours shooting it with Jon. When you think that it took 14 hours to make a 90 second film, that can be daunting. But it was really 14 hours of fun.

If you want to see some really, REALLY good stop-motion animation, check this out.

Have a great day!