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Category Archives: Sunshine Girl

Tubin. Tubin. Tubin on the River


Yesterday I got to take my kids and their friends tubing down Rainbow River in Dunellon, FL.

We had been once before, last year, with our church high school youth group.  I was warned then that the water would be cold (I don’t do cold) because it is spring-fed.  Cold didn’t even begin to describe it.  I spent the entire 4-hour ride down the river (Yes, I said 4-hour ride.  At least the passengers on the SS Minnow only had to suffer through a 3-hour tour.) perched balanced atop a tube, never allowing my bottom or feet to enter the river.  It was probably the equivalent of a 4-hour ab and back workout.  I was exhausted.  And it was all futile effort because, as is the norm in Florida during the summer months, we had an afternoon thunderstorm.  So, we all ended up completely drenched, stranded on someone’s private property for about 30 minutes while we were waiting out the storm (lightning and water are a bad mix) so that we could continue our torturous ride down the river.  Hopefully, only 3 other people on that trip last summer knew how miserable I really was (two of them would be my kids because they know I don’t do cold).

So, you might be asking yourself, why in God’s name did I agree to go back down this cold, crystal clear, spring fed river, on purpose?  Because I’m a mom.  And that’s what you do when your kids want to do something that you know is good for them, will bring them joy, and get them outside and off of the electronics.  (To be honest, the kids didn’t ask to go.  I suggested it because of the other good-for-them reasons, and they agreed.  Then I thought, ‘Oh dang, now I have to actually take them.’)  Oh, how we moms suffer for our children (cue the hand-to-forehead-nearly-fainting-from-exhaustion pose).

Now for the good news, yesterday was a BLAST!

I was a  little worried as we drove up there, my little truck full of 6 different tubes and one raft and 5 human beings and one cooler.  Dark storm clouds were all around us.  This didn’t bode well for the day, and it wasn’t even Florida summetime yet.  But we pressed on.

We got to the launching area and the first thing I noticed was a sign that said flotation devices over 60″ diameter not allowed.  Dang!  My raft was over that limit.  That was going to be my salvation in this river….I wouldn’t have to get wet at all and could carry our “necessities” such as waters, snorkels/masks, and phones in plastic sealed baggies.  Leaving the raft in my little truck, I again, pressed on.

We all dug in to the food we had packed so we wouldn’t set out completely starved.  I inflated 5 tubes while Sunshine Boy went up to the counter to pay for park admission and transportation back to the launch point at the end of our 2-hour ride.  (Make note here.  We planned to only go down the river for 2 hours, get out at that exit, and be returned to my little truck to go get something for a late lunch).  One of the rafts was much larger than the others, and had a net bottom.  I claimed that one reasoning that I could carry supplies with a reasonable assumption that we wouldn’t lose them because this tube had a bottom.  Plus, it was the biggest.  And it had a bottom.  That would certainly help keep me out of the water, right?  Riiiiight…

So we get the tubes into the water and the sun is shining and the water really doesn’t feel too bad at this point.  I’m thinking this is going to be a piece of cake today and I’ll most certainly receive a round of applause at the end of the day.

And we headed down the river and about an hour into the lazy ride, we came to the tree swing. Someone rigged up a rope swing from way up high in a tree on the bank of the river, and nailed some 2×4 planks into the tree and a small piece of wood on a broken branch as a platform to jump off.  Perfectly safe, I’m sure.  So the boys wanted to jump and I thought it would be awesome to get some pictures.  So I dug around into the pool bag I had in my large, net-bottomed tube and found my zipper-closure baggies with my phone and keys so that I could take a few pics.  And I discovered that zipper-closure baggies aren’t waterproof, even when you put one inside of another.  My phone and keys were swimming inside of a baggie filled with water inside of a baggie filled with water.  Dead phone.  So I “paddled” over to the riverbank (careful to look out for gators) and tried to stand up out of my tube and realized I was kinda stuck.  My tube had been leaking air for the entire hour and I hadn’t noticed.  But that would explain why it was becoming increasingly harder for me to keep my bottom out of the water.  I just thought I was really, really out of shape.  So I proceeded to blow up my tube, keeping an eye out for gators (Pretty sure I spotted on on the opposite bank, but the kids tried to convince me it was turtles.  Funny how they were the ones convincing me.) and thanking God that at least I only had to deal with a leaking tube for one more hour and could get my phone out of the water in an effort to start to dry it out and save it.  Yeah, right.

So, after several jumps from the tree, I convinced the kids to keep moving on the river and we approached the 2-hour exit and got out.  I had never used this exit before, so I was unfamiliar with where to go.  Two of my adventurers took off ahead of us but made so much noise that I knew pretty well where they were.  And then we encountered another group going the opposite direction as us.  I recognized them as the group that had set out right before us at the launch site.  They stopped us and said don’t bother going all the way up to the parking lot because there’s nothing there.  It’s a ghost town.  Ummmm, what??

So, since my adventurers were so far ahead of us, we had to travel the long and winding boardwalk through the swampy hammock.  I carried my now-almost-thoroughly-deflated tube and increasingly-heavy gear to the sidewalk and walked up to the parking lot with a building with bathrooms and a little convenience store just to catch up to them.  The place was deserted.  The building was locked up and no lights were on.  The bathroom doors were locked.  There were no cars in the parking lot.  We saw signs that said the last shuttle run was at 3:30.  Without my phone, I could only guess that it was around 1:45.  We sat and we wandered and we talked and we kind of stared at each other for a good 30 minutes while we waited hopefully for a shuttle.  And the actions of the previous group were echoing in my head, knowing that they had decided to cut their time losses and get back into the river and finish the entire run….2 more hours.  If we did that, we’d be returning home way later than we had planned.  This could cause some problems since we all had someplace to be in the evening.

One of the boys decided to run up the road from the parking lot a little ways and came back to report that there was a padlock on the gate to the entrance.  Not lookin’ good.

So we made the decision to trudge…uh, I mean walk purposefully back to the river and get back in and finish the rest of the run.

On the way back to the water’s edge, one of the boys played a fun little game called, “What would you do if there was a Zombie Apocolypse RIGHT NOW?”  The kids shared their creative and stealthy ways to survive a Zombie Apocolypse.  Ahhh, the optomism and feelings of immortality of teens.

So we got back into the chilly water and I told the kids we’d actually have to paddle (vs. just floating) down the river because this stretch of the river has almost no noticeable current and the signs on the 2-hour exit said the last transport runs at 3:30.  Considering the time we spent waiting at the little convenience store/parking lot, and walking into/out of the river exit, I guessed it was nearing 2:30 now.  And we supposedly still had 2 more hours on the river until we reached the “end” of the ride.  And I had no idea what to do if we got to an empty parking lot and I had no phone and no car and no transportation was coming to get us.  I totally would have figured out something, but I just didn’t know what at the time.

I got into the river and I started paddling and I was making great strides in getting down the river muy rapido.  The kids, not so much.

After a few “encouraging words” only garnered short spurts of paddling from the kids, I decided to just let it be.  We (mostly) floated down the river (because I really just can’t let anything be….just ask Mr. Sunshine).  And it started to rain.  And I got cold.  Really cold.  And I seriously considered climbing out of the river onto one of the properties with one of the smaller “Private Property” signs (My reasoning was that the people who went out and bought really big “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs really meant it.  But the people who only put out small “Private Property” signs were just making a suggestion.) and asking, or begging, them to drive us back to the launch site and I’d pretty much just hand over my Visa.

But I didn’t.  I. STUCK. IT. OUT.

And the kids?  THEY. WERE. AWESOME.  They continued to play the entire way down the river.  And we got to the end and got out and walked to the parking lot with my now deflated tube and 4-ton bag of gear.  And we waited about 10 minutes and a van showed up and took us back to the launch site where we all felt a little refreshed and successful.

(We found out from this driver that the 2-hour exit is run by the state and they only run on the weekends, only until 3:30.  And they will not come get their customers at the 4-hour exit if they miss the 2-hour exit, EVER.  The 4-hour exit is run by the county and they run every day.  And the state does not allow them to drive onto the 2-hour exit property to pick up river adventurers.  Oh, and the country runs their transportion until something like 5:30.  So if you go on the river, you need to know who you are paying to pick you up where on what day and until what time.)

We got changed into dry clothes (bathrooms with changing rooms on site, but no showers.).  And we deflated the rest of the tubes and put all of the gear away and decided to go celebrate a great day with a gourmet meal from McDonalds.  (Which could probably be a whole other blog post because our orders were totally messed up and these kids are stinkin’ hilarious!)  And I actually got everyone where they needed to be just in the nick of time (though they all still had dirt and river muck on them where they might not have been able to wipe it off before they changed clothes).  I was even able to make my 2 meetings at church with nasty rain/river smeared hair, damp bathing suit under my sweatpants and tank top, and exhausted makeup-less face.

And later last night, after we all had showers and had our pj’s on.  My precious children said, “Thanks for taking us tubing today, Mom.  We had a great time.  It was probably one of the most fun days we’ve had in a long time.”

My standing ovation.


Raising Patriots

It has taken me a few days to write this post because, to be honest, it’s kind of embarrassing. But because of what happened, Mr. Sunshine and I have decided to change some things around the hut and turn our surprising revelation into a positive outcome. Here’s what happened:

A few days ago we went out for our daughter’s birthday dinner (albiet, 2 weeks late because of our crazy busy schedules, but that’s probably fodder for another blogpost). We just went to Chili’s and then walked across the parking lot to Dairy Queen for dessert. While we were in Chili’s, some of us finished eating before others. I saw my teenage children break out their phones and iPods and start to disengage with “the family unit”. (No, electronic devices at the dinner table are not the topic of this post either. Again, fodder for another post.) Instead of demanding that they put away their electronics and interact with “the family unit” in a pleasant and fun manner, I decided to fight fire with fire. So I got my phone out and started texting them. (Mr. Sunshine wasn’t too happy until I showed him who and what I was texting.)

Here’s where you’ll need a little background. When my kids were very small and always curious, we used to play a game we named “The Guessing Game”. We played it everywhere. It basically consists of a parent/adult asking the children one at a time a question that they have to answer. The questions were based on their developmental level and, when applicable, what they were learning in school. So the questions might go something like this, “What is our phone number?” “What is your mother’s/father’s full name?” “What does 5+7 equal?” “How do you spell ‘squirrel’?” There are no points awarded. There’s no prize at the end. The reward is the knowledge that you know something. And my kids begged to play this game all the time!

Gradually, we played the game less and less until it faded from our consciousness. Now, back to the present-day Chili’s scene. I started to play The Guessing Game, but by text. I sent them a question by text. They answered by text. The kids were smiling. It was fun! The game migrated with us to Dairy Queen where we ate our desserts outside with other families and while an antique car show was going on.

Once we were at Dairy Queen, I got onto the topic of American Trivia. Mr. Sunshine and I would collaborate and would text each child a question that we believe every American should know the correct answer to. If they got it wrong, I texted, “No, try again.” If they got it wrong a 2nd time, I texted, “No, ask a friend.” (Our son actually called his friend! lol) If they got it wrong a 3rd time, I texted, “No, ask a stranger.” It was a fun and funny experience for the kids, with the exception of the first time they realized we were serious about them asking a stranger for the correct answer to these questions.

Here’s the sad and embarrassing part. They got several of them wrong. Several times. After 10 years of education (both public school and homeschool. I hold us more accountable at home than at public school.) And with a father who served 20+ years in the Armed Forces. To say we were surprised was an understatement.

And strangers got them wrong. Several times. And our hearts were breaking for the country that many of its citizens don’t seem to know intimately. And don’t seem to care that they don’t know intimately.

I won’t share with you which questions my kids (and the general public) got wrong, but I will share with you the questions we asked. See if you know the correct answers (we double checked when we got home to make sure we were correct). Ask your family if they know. I hope and pray that you know more than our kids and our community did a few nights ago. And I can tell you this, by the end of this summer, my kids will know, respect, love, and cherish more about their country than they did a few nights ago.


1. How many states are in the United States?

2. Name one person who signed the Declaration of Independence.

3. How many Senators are in Congress?

4. What is the name of the current Governor of the State of Florida?

5. Who is the Vice President of the United States?

6. Who is the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

7. Who wrote the National Anthem?

8. How many stripes are on the American Flag?

9. Who made the first flag of the United States?

10. How many Congressmembers are there in the House of Representatives?

11. In case of a tie vote, who is the tie breaker in the Senate?

12. How many Justices on the Supreme Court?

13. When was the Declaration of Independence signed?

14. Where was the Star Spangled Banner written?

15. Name the probable candidates for US President for this upcoming election.

I’m not giving you the answers. That’s too easy. Good luck, and if you can think of other questions that every American should know (and that we should teach our kids this sumer), please send them to me!

An A in Art

As you probably know by now, I have two amazing children.  My son is 15, and my daughter just turned 14.  And they are complete opposites in every way.

My son is the Math and Science over-achiever.  And in school and society, there are a myriad of ways to gauge that kind of intelligence:  classroom tests, GPA, PSAT, etc.

My daughter, on the other hand, is gifted with creativity, artistic talent, humor, a free-spirit, and a non-conformist attitude (aka: hippie).  Unfortunately, creativity is not so easy to grade.  There are no standardized tests for painting or sculpting.  Classroom grades in Art are fickle, depending on the teacher and the material they are grading.  One teacher may grade a piece of artwork based on ability to shade a still life.  Another teacher may grade based on knowledge of famous artists.  As a result, often my daughter doesn’t get the praise and recognition she rightly deserves for her gifts and talents.  And it’s hard to live in the shadow of her brother’s public accolades.

I have many pieces of my daughter’s artwork decorating my house.  Not just the crayon-colored-Sesame-Street-coloring-book-pages-on-the-refrigerator kind of artwork.  I have her sculpture of a fish from 3rd grade sitting on top of my grandparents’ bible on the fireplace mantel.  I have a painting of a flying eyeball from 4th grade sitting on my bookshelf in the office.  I have a clay face from 6th grade sitting on another bookshelf in the office.  And there are many more pieces of her artwork in her room.  In fact, there are so many that we installed a 1×4 wood border around the room to display her artwork.  And her walls have nails and holes all over them from her hanging various masterpieces.  She is currently writing chapter 8 of a story she has been working on for the past several weeks which has gotten positive feedback from her friends.

All of this because she has a talent and a gift.  But it’s a talent that is not highly regarded or appreciated in public school, or our society as a whole.  You can’t look at her PSAT scores and see that she excels in creativity.  You can’t look at her GPA and see that she can coordinate colors and patterns into something pleasing to the eye.

But I have recently been informed that her Art teacher has an online blog (which you can only access with a password so I can’t link it here).  And in that blog, she showcases her students’ artwork about once a month.  And guess whose artwork has been showcased 5 out of 6 months?  That’s right!  MY GIRL!!!  She’s finally getting recognized for her talents and gifts.  And while I don’t cater to self-esteem, my daughter’s has gone up recently as well.  And for a short period of time, her Math and Science grades went up.  Is it all because someone finally recognized what she’s good at?  Who knows?  But as her mom, I’m so happy that someone finally did.

Oh, and she’s getting an A in Art.

Spring Break

This week is Spring Break week for our county schools.

Unfortunately for my kids, they had school work to do over the break.  I had encouraged them to get their projects finished early in the break so that the rest of the week can be carefree.  My daughter actually got all of her work done by Sunday night.  My son (who has two substantial-sized extra-credit projects) is still working on his.  He did finish one, but for the second one, he seems to be adopting the “take all week to finish your work so that it stresses you and your mother out for the entire Spring Break” approach.

I also had projects to do over this break.  Much needed home repairs had waited long enough, and I planned to tackle them over this week when I knew I wouldn’t have to stop in the middle of something in order to drive someone to church or golf or school or somewhere outside of walking distance.  I hit the ground running and worked on my projects all weekend.  They migrated into the beginning of the week, but I finished the last one yesterday.

So now, my daughter is free and I’m free for the rest of the week.  And hopefully my son will kick his butt into gear and get his project largely finished so he will have some free time with us.  (Technically his project isn’t due until the end of the month, but let’s be real.  Once he goes back to school and his evenings are filled with homework and church and the “mandatory” video game time, he won’t have nearly as much uniterrupted time to work on it and he should listen to the sound advice of his mother and get as much work done during this week as possible.)

So we’re going to take advantage of this free time by hanging out with friends at our local sports complex to kick around some balls and throw some frisbees.  And eat frozen yogurt.  And we’re going to go to the beach.  And we’ll probably see a movie or shop or eat at the mall.  And we’ll definitely ride our bikes and take the dogs out for walks.  And some of us will stay up late and sleep in late.  And we’ll just take a break from the daily rush.

If you’re lucky enough to be on a break, ENJOY!


A Much Needed Break

The kids standing in front of the cheetahs.

Last week was Semester Exam week here.  My kids spent the last 2 weeks working hard on exam reviews and studying for the exams.  My husband and I worked hard on quizzing them for their exams and making sure they were well-rested and well-fed.  At the end of the week, the school system kindly rewarded us with a 4-day weekend.

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, and Tuesday was a non-student day.  So the kids and I had a 4-day weekend (Dad had to work both days, unfortunately).  I tend to use these days off from school to make appointments for the kids that would normally require taking them out of school.  This way, they don’t miss school work and there’s no make-up work to worry about.  So we had a doctor appointment on Monday and a dentist appointment on Tuesday.  I now have to make follow-up appointments for more tests and more labs and more work.  Nothing life-threatening, but just more to add to our busy lives and busy schedules.

Thankfully, this time I also made time for some rest and recreation.  We planned a visit to Busch Gardens here in Tampa Bay with some friends.  If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it.  They have some of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on!  And I’ve been on a lot of roller coasters!  They also have some wonderful shows and animal exhibits.  And the food is excellent (but pricey).

We only got to spend about 4 hours there yesterday.  But the weather could not have been more beautiful.  And the company could not have been more pleasant and entertaining.  And the rides were fun.  And the crowds were small.  And our pace was slowed.  And the air was fresh and we breathed deep (well, except near the elephants and rhinos).  It was a very nice break from all the hectic rush/work/plan/schedule/study/quiz/drive routine we always seem to be in.  And it was much needed.

A Great Idea

Sometimes I have to pat myself on the back for the genuis ideas I come up with as a mom.  This is one of those times.  Don’t worry, I’m not vain.  These genius ideas are few and far between, and I usually steal someone else’s idea and modify it to make it work for my situation.

Not this time.  This one’s aaaaaaaalllllll mine.

When my kids were babies, we noticed how much “stuff” came with them.  The diaper bag, the car seats, the baby carriers, the strollers, the Pack-n-Plays, etc.  Well, now that they’re teenagers, they still come with a lot of “stuff” except that it’s smaller, more expensive, and more dangerous.  It’s the cell phone, the laptop, the Gameboy, the Wii, the iPad, the iPod, etc.

We fought off the encroaching electronics much longer than most of their peers’ parents.  We made our kids totally uncool for as long as we could.  But eventually we caved.  It was hard to say no to a child who had saved his or her own money for over a year to be able to purchase their own $500 gadget.  (But we DID teach them about bargain shopping and “opportunity cost” since we are Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University graduates.)

So once the gadgets entered our house, we spent a lot of time trying to keep one step ahead of the teenage ability to readily grasp this new technology, while also encouraging them to look up from a screen once in a while and see the world around them.  Or at least see the furniture in front of them.  It’s been hard.  And I find myself chasing down these pocket-sized gadgets to check up on what’s being received, sent, uploaded, downloaded, Skyped, Facebooked, Facetimed, etc.  EXHAUSTING!

Last night I came up with an idea:  The Electronics Basket.  ALL of the portable electronics go in this basket when the owner of said electronics is home.  The cell phone?  In the basket.  The iPad?  In the basket.  The iPod?  Well, you get the idea.  So no more searching for these electronics for me.  If I want to monitor what’s going on, I can go straight to The Electronics Basket and pick an item.

And the owner of the item has free access to get an item from The Electronics Basket whenever they want to use it (assuming no restrictions have been set), but it MUST be returned when they are finished.  Since the basket is placed in our office and visible from most of the house, I can monitor when the kids are getting onto and off of their electronics.

Here’s the unexpected icing on the cake:  it appears that the kids are spending LESS time on their electronics and more time with their family!  They watched a TV show with us the other night.  They helped me work on a jigsaw puzzle on and off for a few hours.  They built and maintained a fire in the fireplace.  They’ve read books.

We’ve only had The Electronics Basket for a few days.  But it was a great idea.

What’s the Real Lesson Here?

This year is my daughter’s first year back in public school after being homeschooled for a year and a half (which I’ll go into in another post).  She has hated public school, and has specifically hated her Science class.  While she received a “B” on her first report card in that class, she has continually struggled to master the concepts and also has a history of test anxiety which prevents her from performing well even when she knows the material.  I made an appointment with the teacher and discussed my daughter’s test anxiety with her, among other things, and the response I got was basically, “Oh well.  Everyone gets nervous on tests.  She needs to make more effort.”  So my daughter increased her efforts at home to learn the material and be successful in this class.

Up until this past week, my daughter’s highest grade on a test or quiz was a 72%.  (Lab and classwork grades were higher which is how she managed to get a “B” in the class.)  This week she took a quiz and earned a 100% on it.  You would think she and I would be thrilled!  But we are not.  The teacher decided that since the majority of the classes did not do well on the quiz, she is not counting it for anyone.  She’s just throwing out the scores.

I emailed the teacher last night just to make sure I was getting the correct information from my daughter, and to find out why she would throw out everyone’s scores when there were students who did well.  Here is my email:

Hello teacher,

I wanted to ask you about something my daughter told me tonight.  She brought home her most recent quiz (6.4) with a 100% on it but she said it doesn’t count.  Is she right?  If so, why?  I hate for her to FINALLY get a good grade in Science and then not have it count toward her grade.  She’s been making a greater effort and it looks like it is finally paying off for her.

I thought it was a nice email asking her to confirm the information I was given by my daughter, and to explain the thought process of such an action.  (My husband thought it sounded a little challenging, but I had already emailed it by the time he saw it so I couldn’t change it then.)  I also included that my daughter had done just what the teacher had said to do in our conference:  make a better effort.

The reply I got from the teacher was this:

I teach 150 students.  My decision was based on  best practices for all of them and my experience as a [sic] teacher. I am happy she did well on the quiz. She will get an opportunity to demonstrate her understanding on today’s test. I hope you and your family have a happy holiday.

But as we’ve already covered, my daughter does NOT do well on tests due to test anxiety.

While I understand that the teacher has to consider all 150 children in her decisions, I do not.  I only have to consider my daughter.  I am her advocate.  But having gone up against the public school system in the past, I understand how much wasted effort I could make in trying to get this good grade reinstated when I’m pretty certain it won’t happen.

So now I’m left with what my daughter and I can learn from this.  It does, in fact, appear that my daughter has learned the material for this section of the class.  I’m glad about that.

She could have learned that making the effort to learn the material well enough to get a 100% on the test is wasted effort.  I’m not happy about that.

What I hope she has learned is that there are some things that are always out of our control, there will always be some people or institutions who don’t reward hard work, demonstrations of knowledge, or masterful skill with commensurate reward, but that we must always put forth our best efforts regardless of the outcome.  I’m hopeful about that.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”  Colossians 3:23 (NIV)