Giving Baaaaaack

Uber had some difficult decisions to make before this summer began.  First off, he decided he wasn’t ready for Driver’s Ed, despite what his birth certificate says.  This was the summer he was supposed to take driving lessons and get behind the wheel, but amazingly, he came to the conclusion that he simply wasn’t ready for that much responsibility yet.  (No tears here)

Following that decision was the joint decision that he wouldn’t get a summer job, either.  That, too, had been the plan.  But since he wasn’t going to be motoring anytime soon, the desperate need for money subsided.

So the last decision was then…what to do with his summer??  We hadn’t signed him up for camps of any sort, and he hasn’t got any real projects going, so this was a quandry.  Until I suggested the idea of a summer of volunteering. 

Say what?

That’s right.  Spending a summer giving back to your community.  Hmmm.  Uber actually jumped on the idea, and we inquired around to different agencies and non-profits.  Finally, an interdenominational assistance ministry took him up on his offer.  They need help revamping their website (one of his specialties), volunteering and he will also be helping them in food distribution and office work.  He went in for a “job interview” and he was as nervous as if a triple figure salary was at stake.  It was too funny!

But he started this past week, and I think it is going swimmingly, so far. 

Not to be outdone, H-T is getting in on the bandwagon as well.  He is going to be offering his services at a local historic site, helping out at the goat farm one day a week.  He’s all about the giving baaaaack. 

And I’m not too proud to put my hat in the ring.  I’m busy supporting my main passion – – local farmers.  Helping out with an upcoming family farm tour that lets local residents see up close and personal what our farmers do on a daily basis.

Sounds like a recipe for summer success, don’t you think??


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The Countdown

One month???

One measly month????

That’s how much time is left of summer vacation.  Makes this geeky homeschool mom want to cry into her Palm Pilot.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I love homeschooling.  It has allowed me to spend nine years of quality time with my children that non-homeschooling moms probably never even knew they missed.  It has allowed me to learn about bunches of stuff I missed the first time around.  And it has strengthened my belief in child-led learning. 

But who are we kidding here?  As much as I love homeschooling, I REALLY love summer break.  And since my oldest will technically be of “working age” next summer, who knows if this might be the last one my boys and I will share together just “hanging.”  And we’ve done lots of that so far.  We’ve hung out at the pool.  We’ve hung out at the mall.  We’ve hung out at the library, the bookstore, the parks, the ice cream parlor, and the coffee shop.  We’ve hung out pretty much every place in town that doesn’t have a ‘NO LOITERING’ placard overtly visible.

We’ve talked about lots of cool subjects together.  There just isn’t anything better than having philosophical discussions with your tween and teen over sherbet Push-Ups.  Lazy summer days seem to somehow loosen our tongues and create discourses on everything from why people get tattoos to what it will be like in the afterlife.  We’ve been known to even start a conversation in the morning, take it up again after lunch, and run it in the ground before bedtime. 

We’ve also found incredibly creative ways to avoid work.  I had at least seventeen house projects scheduled for this summer, and do you know how many we actually accomplished??  Give yourself a pat on the back if you guessed: ZIPPO! I’ve kept up with the laundry and dishes (mostly), and kept the floors from being overtaken by mutant dust bunnies and the bathroom from being overtaken by mutant mold creatures (mostly), but other than that, this has been “the little house that time forgot.” 

Our summer has been filled with plenty of Topsy-Techiness, as well. Uber has discovered he doesn’t have two left feet at his new favorite game “Step Mania.”  H-T has been the official YouTube tester of every sci-fi-related clip – – and, for the record: Yes, they are ALL working!!  I have had loads of fun with R-T’s new Windows Media Center PC, and have learned how to control the computer remote from the comfort of my king size bed.  You’d be amazed what you can find to watch on the computer when you have no satellite service.  Even R-T has become comfortable with his new ‘puter, and has been blogging away on it. 

All in all, it has been a terrific summer vacation so far. I can’t believe there is only one month left!!

Well, I could try to think positively.  You know, cup-half-full, and all that.  Maybe I could look at it as: “Cool.  We’ve got a WHOLE month of summer vacation left!!!”  Unfortunately, when they were giving out the positive-thinking genes in heaven, I was distracted by the blinking lights on St. Peter’s celestial cell phone. 

Stupid calendar.


Summer TV – – It’s All About The Timing

They say that what people lack in brains, they can make up for in good timing. I’m feeling pretty darn compensated right now, as I look over the summer TV schedule, and feel not one twinge of remorse for dropping our satellite subscription at the end of May.

I think I have mentioned before that I am a true enemy of just about every reality show on the planet – – with the denise richards exception of American Idol (ever since I saw that promo by President and Mrs. Bush, and figured if AI was a big enough deal to take our country’s leader away from wars and the like on Tuesday nights, then I’d better get on the bandwagon). And the summer TV schedule seems jam-packed with reality fare. Admittedly, I’m writing without personal knowledge or experience about shows with titles such as: The Mole, Denise Richards: It’s Complicated, and Celebrity Circus.

So, perhaps you can set me straight in the comments section if you have found one of these to be actually Emmy-worthy, or at least not conducive to mocking. But I am feeling rather like whoever was dating Tom Cruise pre-Katie Holmes…WHEW!!! Did I get out of THAT just in time!!!

Keep in mind, though, that a lack of subscription television hasn’t kept me completely out of the broadcast loop. Already this summer, I have caught up with the first season of Big Love, and Friday Night Lights, and I’m working on the second. I’ve fallen hard for those pigskin-lovin’ freaks in Dillon, TX. I’m even keeping up with my one summer guilty pleasure…the sports-themed sitcom “My Boys” on TBS. Thankfully, the good folks at Turner are kind enough to supply the full eps on their website…allowing me to enjoy the poor acting and silly plot lines for no money down.

The only downside I have discovered so far to watching episodes online is the repetition of the commercials. NBC’s video site, for instance, insists on playing the same exact commericial – – twice – – during every break. By the end of the show I have not only memorized the script, but have started to say the lines along with the actors. Unfortunately for the advertisers, I have also usually vowed never to buy the featured product because by the time you’ve said, “Bertolli, the restaurant experience you experience at home” for the eighth time in your head, it just becomes annoying. But other than having to have the Nissan theme song professionally hypnotized from my brain, I’m thinking this is pretty smooth sailing so far…at least until fall premiere season. And have you heard??? NBC is planning on streaming coverage for the entire season of the 2008 Olympics online!!! I am over the moon about that one.

But don’t go hating on me now, just because of my good timing…remember that I am probably compensating for something.

Techie Girls Can’t Two-Step

I’ve been lax in my Topsy-Techie blog of late, and I deeply apologize, but I warned you I was in a summer funk, didn’t I?  Actually though, I haven’t had time for a funk, even if I had wanted one.  Summer is supposed to a time for rest for homeschooling moms, and it is  – – if by rest you mean working two jobs, helping in Vacation Bible School, writing four blogs, sanding the paint off your front porch, and repainting, helping taking care of elderly family members, and keeping the weeds at bay in your flower garden.  Summer is actually quite refreshing, by those standards.

Anyway, I couldn’t ignore my precious Topsy-Techie blog even one more day, because far too much topsy-techiness has been going on around here that needs to be reported. 

Exhibit A….the StepMania invasion.

Uber has truly enjoyed his summer break thus far, not because of the balmy days, or the trips to the pool, or those lemonade slushes his dear mom happens to be famous for.  No – – Uber has discovered StepMania.  Now for those of you who live under the non-techie rock of cluelessness, StepMania is an open source rhythm video game.  It is the method behind the madness of games like Dance, Dance Revolution, In The Groove, and Pump it Up Pro. 

Now a couple years ago, during the height of the DDR craze, I bought a couple of those crazy dancing mats, and after about two hours of finding that Anglo-Saxon females of a certain age are more likely to be kidnapped by terrorists than learn to dance on cue with flashing lights and arrows, I stuck those things in the back of the closet and never thought of them again.  Until….Uber’s latest new obsession.

Now if any of you have ever been DDR fans, you know the basic gist of the game – – you step on the squares of the dance mat that correspond with the arrows as they come down the screen.  The arrows are timed with the beat of the music, so that if you can keep basic rhythm with the song, you are more likely to hit the arrows in the correct sequence.  For those of you who are not DDR fans, and are looking at the screen with that familiar blank stare, just try to picture a game of Twister, but a lot louder, faster, and with a lot of funky electronica music thrown in for fun.

Stepmania, though, is for the rhythm video game purist … there is none of that canned club music, there are no hypnotic graphics, it is just you and the music – – your music.  That is the key element of StepMania.  Instead of having to play whatever god-forsaken tune Konami decides to give you, you are in control of your own tunes.  You upload your favorite music to the program, and are off and running, literally.  So guess what Uber’s StepMania music queue consists of?  Video game theme songs.  No, I’m not kidding.  There is actually a genre of music out there called “Classic Video Game Music”, and apparently, Uber is a huge fan. 

So there he is, in his room, dancing his techie heart out to….”Plantman Stage from Megaman VI.”  Now you tell me if that isn’t the pinnacle of geek status, then really – – what is??? 

So Uber spends much of his days now stomping and stepping to the music of his generation.  He works his way through the different difficulty levels, unlocks hidden songs, and creates custom rhythm patterns.  And when he wins?  Well he puts in his initials on the virtual scoreboard, of course…by stepping out the letters with his feet! 

Uber invited me into his room one afternoon to try out his favorite new hobby.  He turned it on for me, set it to the easiest level, and started up the music, and off I went.  And guess what?  After a couple more years of maturity under my belt, not much had changed.  I’m expecting the terrorists to drop by for tea just any time now.

Just in case you were under that non-techie rock and missed this
Youtube DDR video, here is your chance  :

Sometimes, You Just Need A Break

I’m writing this blog entry on pencil and paper because we are on a break.  No, no Kit-Kat’s are involved here.  The break I’m referring to is the Techie family “Screen Break.”  We all sat down as rational (hee) family members and discussed the fact that we have nearly three entire months of summer vacation ahead of us, and we needed a plan.  One that would include staying away from our computer screens for a set amount of time each day in order that our familial hunchback syndrome doesn’t worsen, and so that our neighbors will stop collecting our mail for us “in our absence.”

So, at this family meeting, we discussed the types of activities that we could do during our screen breaks.  My first suggestion was yard work.  I knew the boys had probably spent a little too much quality time with their PC’s when they both looked at me wide-eyed.  We had a yard???!!!

It was obviously time to introduce Uber and H-T to Mr. Trowel and Mrs. Shears.  After about an hour of good hard work, they were actually getting the hang of it.  Especially when Uber stopped trying to hold the trowel like a joystick.  The backside of my front flower garden is virtually weed free, and the bush that I have tried to kill for the past three years looks like it may have actually given up the ghost after H-T went after it like Rambo in an Afghan desert.  The boys were pretty good sports about their first day of screen break (aka manual labor).  I was quite proud.

I thought I’d make our next screen break a little more teen friendly, so I suggested we head to the pool this time.  Interestingly, it was very easy to get them to part from their ‘puters for a few hours when there was water and bikini-clad sunbathers involved.  The screen-free time fairly flew that day as they happened across some friends and plenty of eye-candy.

So I got to thinking.  What if I invited a few of those gals in their summer skivvies to come help with the yard work next time?  I’m figuring if I turn on the hose every once in a while, it will be almost the same experience.  And who wouldn’t give up a few hours of multiplayer online games for such good clean family fun?

This screen break idea is genius.  Pure genius.  lonely computer