Category Archives: Kids

Love ’em or hate ’em, we’re stuck with ’em.

A Day on the Farm with Michael

Editor’s Note:  Liz started this with Michael a while ago, but hasn’t been able to convince him to finish it.  Rather than wait for what will probably never happen, I’ve decided to post what he’s done so far for the benefit of people who want a view of our world through the eyes of Michael.  Who knows what this would have looked like had Michael finished it, but for now, enjoy the sneak peak.   –Peter

Today Michael and I decided to make a book.  He asked me to take pictures of “bugs, animals, chickens, Thornton, and cracks in the dirt.”

The adventure begins…

“I’m standing on the chicken roost.”
“These chickens are having a happy day ’cause we didn’t mess around with them.”
“This is what eggs look like.”
“This is a striped rooster.”





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Siege Weapons Part 2

Mangonel: a type of catapult. It’s name comes from a Greek-Latin word for war machine.

The mangonel was a siege weapon used to launch rocks, dung, bales of hay (set on fire), dead bodies, wooden spikes, and hostages (very few hostages survived) over or at a walled fortress.  Hostages were launched from mangonels to scare the people inside the wall. The dead bodies and dung were launched to spread diseases to the people in the fortress or castle.

Mangonels work by a mechanism called torsion. Torsion is when you take ropes and twist them and stick the throwing arm in the twisted ropes.  When you pull the throwing arm down and lock it in place the ropes spring the throwing arm forward.  It took one person in full armor to pull the throwing arm down and hold it down in place while another person put the lock in, which is on a rope or string, so when somebody pulled the string the throwing arm was released.  The projectile was then launched forward over the castle wall. Some people were too light and when they pulled the throwing arm down enough they went flying into the castle wall. Sounds like a dangerous job…

In the Siege of Dover in 1216 among many siege weapons used, the mangonel and trebuchet were the favorite catapults of the French army. The French sieged Dover so they could get control of the ports and docks in England so they could send a ship inland toward the capital city and attack. But the French never got past Dover (only the objects launched by the mangonels got “passed over”).

Today mangonels are mainly made for hitting people with water balloons and tennis balls. And in some cases, marshmallows. Most people make them because they are interested in siege weapons, physics, and people who like medieval history.

mangonel shot
Mangonel shot used in the Siege of Bedford Castle in 1224

Siege Weapons Part 1

The  ancient Assyrians were one of the first civilizations to use the battering ram, although it’s more commonly known as a medieval weapon.  Battering rams were made to knock down walls and gates; some even had real sheep heads on them.  Others  had spikes on them to pull down wooden gates.  They are still being used today in smaller sizes to knock down doors.



This weekend we packed up the family for a short trip to the coast to test out the recently acquired pop-up trailer.  Not a lot to say other than whoever thought tin-foil dinners were a good idea in the sweltering heat of a South-Texas summer needs to have their head checked.  It’s bad enough cooking over a fire when it’s cool outside, but doing it at 95+ degrees in the coastal humidity sucks!  The worst part of the whole deal is that I don’t really have anyone to blame but myself.  I was the one that put together that part of the menu.  Even cooking with the smallest fire I could make was enough to make me wonder why anyone would settle this part of the country before air conditioning.


Isaac went right to hitting trees with sticks, messing around with his new fixed-blade knife, and generally enjoying being dirty.  He also decided that the mustang grapes growing all over were fairly tasty and fun to play with.


The heat didn’t stop Michael from making the most of an opportunity to throw stuff into the fire.  He must be a true boy at heart.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I think this picture captured the only time during the whole trip where we were able to convince him to wear something on his feet.


Sydney made the most of things by dressing up in camouflage from head-to-toe.  I guess she figured she could hide from Michael and Isaac better that way.  Unfortunately for her, there weren’t any cute boys in the neighboring campsites.  Apparently we chose to camp in the geriatric ward.  Our kids were about the only ones around.


If you look closely, you can see my favorite part of the trailer… the air conditioner on top.  It’s tough to keep up when it’s near 100 and humid, but the air conditioner managed to take the edge off and give us somewhere to seek relief from the oppressive heat.

Two days at the beach and we were sunburned enough to satisfy our vitamin D requirements for a while, but you won’t see pictures.  I forgot to bring the waterproof camera, and I have a poor track-record with cell phones and salt water.  You’ll just have to imagine Sydney, Isaac, and Michael playing in the bathwater-warm surf for hours on end while Liz and I enjoy doing nothing under a sun canopy.   I think we’ll have to go back again when it’s not so awful hot.  Maybe next time I’ll remember the waterproof camera.

Happy Father’s Day

For Father’s day this year, Liz interviewed Michael and provided me a run-down of the answers he provided.  You never know what you’re going to get when you ask a four-year-old questions, and in this case, the result can be quite funny.  The questions and his answers are provided below for your reading pleasure:

  1. How old is Dad?  20
  2. What is Dad’s favorite color?  Orange
  3. What is Dad’s favorite outfit to wear?  Shirts
  4. What is Dad’s favorite movie?  Jason Bourne
  5. Where was Dad born?  He was with Jesus before he was born
  6. Dad’s favorite sport is:  Soccer
  7. Dad doesn’t like: Coyotes
  8. Dad’s favorite food:  Egg scramble
  9. Dad’s favorite dessert:  Pumpkin pie
  10. Dad knows how to: Feed the chickens and check for eggs
  11. Dad’s favorite vacation spot: HEB (a local grocery store)
  12. Dad’s favorite animal: chickens
  13. Dad’s favorite restaurant: Dairy Queen
  14. My dad’s job is: Shoots his gun
  15. Dad weighs ___1___ lb
  16. Dad likes to: Goof around
  17. One day Dad will: Play with toys
  18. I love Dad because: he plays with toys with me

How accurate these answers are is a question you’ll have to resolve in your own minds.  It’s so hard for me to pick favorites, even on simple things like desserts.

A beautiful young lady

Sydney is off to youth conference for the weekend.  Of course, that means she had to get all dolled up for the fireside and dance that kicks the weekend off.  I’m so proud I have to share a picture of her dressed to kill.  Look out teenage boys, she’s dangerous but still under-age.  Check back in just over a year and you can get in line to compete for a first date.IMG_8419-1

Sea World

Several years ago when we lived in Florida we would go to sea world pretty regularly.  I never really enjoyed the experience.  Between the three dollar bottles of water, the whiny kids who wouldn’t or couldn’t go on any of the fun rides, the expensive crappy food, and the outrageous parking I usually walked away feeling financially violated and irritated.

The last time we did anything of that sort was almost five years ago when we were in Florida. We’ve been in San Antonio for almost three years now, have had the option to go back to Sea World on complimentary passes for the whole time, and only just now managed to make time to go.  Recently, I went with my heels dug in and being dragged the whole way.  Michael was not going to let me forget the promise we had made some time ago that we would come here “later.”  When my sister and her family came to visit, making the pilgrimage to see Shamu while here, “later” became a more imminent requirement.  I could no longer get away with telling him we would come later, I had to be more specific.

Unfortunately, the dates we initially selected to go had all been rained (or more accurately flooded) out.  When Monday came and the forecast looked clear I was informed that I should put in leave and do the paperwork for the complimentary tickets for Tuesday.    While I was arranging tickets I did the unthinkable and ordered the all you can eat meal plan (at a substantial discount) and pre-paid parking. This unusual decision has turned out to be a blessing.  One of the things that tend to bother me the most when we do things like this is the almost endless string of over priced drinks, snacks, and bad food that end up as a necessity and trend towards doubling the cost of the ordeal.

While I grumbled at the cost of my “free” tickets when I ordered them yesterday, I haven’t had to pull more than fifteen dollars out off my wallet all day, and the pain of yesterday was over before we left the house.  I was able to buy four dollar bottles of water and Diet Coke with abandon all day, didn’t feel like force-feeding Michael when he declined to eat the food he ordered for lunch, and somehow didn’t feel quite as cheated when the ten dollar plate of something that was supposed to be Chinese beef and broccoli turned out to be almost inedible.  In reality I probably only saved a relatively small amount, but I felt better about it all day, and as a result I didn’t take it out on Liz or the kids.

Along the way, the kids all had a great time.  Sydney and Isaac both conquered their hesitations (I won’t publicly call it fear) to ride two of the most intimidating roller-coasters in San Antonio.  Michael was delighted by the dolphin show and slapstick clown humor that was part of the pre-show act as well as demonstrating a love for the wilder of the kid-friendly rides like the Shamu Express and distaste for the calmer ones like the ferris wheel.  Liz seemed to enjoy leading Michael through exploring the penguin house and other events while I shepherded the bigger kids through rides Liz didn’t feel like experiencing.  All in all, the day was a success.   And the best part of it all…  I don’t have to go back for another five years or so!

Mulch, Christmas and the Jump-o-leen

For years I’ve been trying to convince Liz to let me “sleep in” until eight or nine on Christmas morning.  Liz, however, is firmly in the camp of the early Christmas risers.  I don’t think she ever once has allowed me to stay in bed past six thirty, even before we had kids.  Since we’ve had the kids, she’s even developed a habit of waking them up because they have the audacity to sleep in.  What kind of holiday is it when you have to stay up late the night before shrouding trinkets in ridiculously patterned paper only to wake up insanely early the next morning and tear the same ridiculous paper off while making a huge mess of the living room?

This year was no exception with one caveat: the two youngest woke up quite excited and early on their own.  They were wired and ready.   I, on the other hand, was not.  I’d spent the night before working on a car until going to the family party, driving home late, setting out presents, and assembling Michael’s new tricycle.  I was tired and sore.  My bed was soft and warm.  I wanted to stay there badly.  Liz won.


After opening what was under the tree, the kids looked ready to settle in and enjoy the ill-gotten gains they had received due to some arbitrary holiday.  That wasn’t the plan.  It turns out there was one big present that didn’t fit under the tree, and couldn’t be assembled on Christmas eve.  We sent them out into the frosty morning to explore the cargo trailer and see what they could find.

By 10:00 the frost had thawed, so we ventured outside to assemble the new toy.   Now it just so happens that I had contacted a tree trimming service that had been contracted to clear the power lines along the highways in our part of the county about getting some mulch for our garden.  I ended up with MUCH more than needed for our new chicken-moat protected garden, and I’m not particularly excited about moving this over-sized trampoline every time the grass needs to be mowed, sooo…  why not cover the ground under it in a foot of mulch.  It’s a good thing I had borrowed a neighbor’s tractor with a front-end loader.    Not only will it keep the weeds down, but it’ll break the fall of kids who are trying to break an arm.  Besides, I still have 3 truckloads of mulch (industrial trucks, not my puny pickup) left to do other things with.

You can see how excited the kids are…  IMG_8265Isaac was doing back-flips,  IMG_8268and Sydney was jumping for joy

For the next few days all Michael has wanted to do is go out with me and jump on the “jump-o-leen” with him.  I forgot how much work jumping around can be.  Between that and the recent spate of car repairs, I’m good and sore just about everywhere.  It’s probably a good thing for me that it’s been cold and wet for the last several days so my body can recover somewhat.

Kids fall asleep in the darndest places!

Updated 21 Dec 2014…

This one requires explanation.  Liz found Michael asleep on the piano bench.  He stirred, got up, and announced that he was going to go lay down in his bed.  However, when Liz came back a few minutes later this is what she found:IMG_8254

Apparently he had gone to his bed, pulled a blanket off, and gone back to the piano bench to sleep.  He stayed there for almost an hour.










IMG_1744Isaac 2006

IMG_6681Michael 2012

DSCF0204Michael 20013

IMG_7227Michael 2013 IMG_7683Michael 2014

IMG_6209Isaac 2012


Building the Back Yard

Every project we’ve done so far in the “yard” has been geared towards something that produces food or is food.  So far projects have included things like the barn, fence, chicken coop, electric to the barn and coop, water to the animals, etc…  The only thing I’ve done to the yard is to cut back the brush and let wild grasses grow in.  Not much of a yard, and not particularly good at keeping the mud down when it rains.

Now that some of the major projects are done, and all the animals have homes and water, I decided to finally break out the big bag of grass seed I bought last year and work on getting at least a small patch of grass for the kids to play on.  The funny thing about the kind of clay we have here is that it’s about like an adobe brick when it’s dry, and about as sticky as rubber cement when it’s wet.  This makes working it and getting it ready for seeding kinda difficult.  To make matters worse, Liz is pretty adamant that I not use weed killer to get rid of the prairie grasses that “filled” the void when I cleared the brush last year.

It isn’t much fun, but a sod-buster on my puny tractor is decent at tearing up grass and the first few inches of dirt.  It turns over the sod, leaving a narrow trench and extremely uneven ground that has to be run over multiple times and directions to get all of it since the wedge is much narrower than the wheelbase.  My back would appreciate suspension, but that’s not a real option on my tractor.  After an hour bouncing and rattling and banging through the hard dirt, the deeply furrowed and rough ground looked worse than when I started.

To try and clean things up some I used a crappy disc plow that came with the tractor to cut the big blocks of clay into smaller blocks.  Along the way, the grasses got torn up for the most part. The problems with this approach are that the ground ends up pretty uneven and is completely covered in golf-ball sized chunks of hard clay, and the grass forms hard root-balls in the clay that won’t die unless you break up the roots and pull the grass out.  I had to come up with something better.

A few weeks prior, I had acquired some scrap expanded metal when I taught a neighbor how to weld together a milking stand.  There were two pieces of it left that would be about the width of the tractor if I welded them together on some kind of frame.  I figured if I dragged the expanded metal grating across the dirt it would help to both smooth out the ground and to break up some of the chunks.  A few minutes with some more scrap from the garage, some random things to weigh the sled down and my excessively cheap Harbor  Freight welder, and I was in business.

It did a decent job of breaking up the chunks, and a great job of pulling the roots and grass out of the clods.  After a few passes (maybe more than a few) the grass was all clumped up in a handful of balls that either blew away in the wind or were easy to pick up by hand.

The best part… I didn’t have to drag it around the yard.  Isaac and Sydney are still under the delusion that driving anything that is powered by an internal combustion engine is fun.  I don’t want them dragging a plow yet, but a fairly light “sled” that just smooths out the dirt seemed about right for them to cut their teeth on.  I even used the kids and sled to pack or cover the seed after broadcasting it.

IMG_8232The only bad part of the whole deal is that the next week it rained several inches overnight while I was out of town on business.  When I called Liz later to say hi, I got an ear-full because the freshly turned and broken-up earth was now an ankle-deep muck pit that sat squarely between the house and the goat-pasture.  Turns out it’s hard to walk through gloppy, sloppy, deep and sticky mud in the rain carrying a bucket of fresh milk without falling down.

It’s been a few weeks and one or two rains, and now I have a bunch of clover (on purpose) and the beginnings of a green lawn behind the house.