December 31, 2006

What a Year!

We had an amazing year filled with many blessings and a few challenges. Since I did not do a Christmas letter this year I will do an overview of our year here. Mostly personal with a few school items covered as well.

We started the year with Serona's 31st birthday and a lovely wine tasting to celebrate. Then we went right into Rhiannon having a tonsillectomy. Unfortunately her recovery was long and trying ending up with pneumonia and dehydration, thus January was a hard month for us all. We did some dinosaur preschool activities, some snow safety and science activities, ice melting experiment, and enjoyed a visit from grandma.

In February Serona spent majority of the month traveling to a conference in Orlando and then two weeks in London and Ireland. I began teaching a Narnia class for our homeschool cooperative focusing on The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. We also had an awesome Mall Scavenger Hunt at the Mall of America, focused on our Learning the 50 States lesson plan, curled up on the couch with a lot of read-alouds, taught Mama Do You Love Me to Ciaran's preschool class, practiced Learning to Fly and enjoyed the snow and cold of a Minnesota winter.

March brought a very fun unit study with two other families as we studied Mozambique, in picturesI created one of my favorite lesson plans ever for a gender split class on the books I'd Be Your Princess and I'd Be Your Hero. Ciaran began formal Miquon math. I put together a useful list of websites we use in homeschooling for our support groups curriculum fair. We ended the month celebrating Ciaran's fifth birthday.

April brought warmer weather finally and the much missed sun back to Minnesota. We got back to came out of hibernation. Rhia continued on her Illustrated Bible. We anxiously awaited the first signs of the frogs. We spent time on our Easter lesson plans and I put together an overview of our curriculum choices for the year and Rhia continued to amaze us with her reading list. On a fun note Serona and I had front row tickets to One Man Star Wars Show. Ciaran began t-ball in 45 degree windy weather! He also finally celebrated his birthday party from the month before at a local nature preserve. He waited so he could hear the frogs.

We finished school in early May, here is our year review. I found ketchup in a drawer, played at the farm. The highlight of the month and maybe even the year was our family trip to Walt Disney World! You can read day by day synopsis if you really want (yes we blogged from Disney because we are that geeky!). Arrival Day, First Day at the Parks, Day at the Castle, Epcot and Magic Kingdom, Star Wars Costumes in 90 degree weather - Magic Kingdom until 2am!, Pirate Pool and heading home. You can also read our Tips and Tricks for Walt Disney World with little kids.

Well it is tough to top a trip to Walt Disney World but our summer that started in Orlando continued to be a great time. We filled our days with nature hikes, days at the pool and beach, playing at the park, examining frogs, tadpoles, a drama camp, and performance. I wrote a bit on why we love field trips. Serona and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary. We would take our special time to celebrate in September though.

July brought Rhiannon's 7th birthday tea party, visits from the Maine grandparents, the New York grandparents, and a special robin's nest under our deck that we followed from eggs to fledglings. Rhiannon even went horseback riding.

August brought two more major vacations - this time to New York and California. For her birthday my parents paid all expenses for a weekend vacation to New York City for Rhiannon and I. We had an amazing time spending time with the grandparents, enjoying the extended family at a reunion, surprising my future SIL at her wedding shower and enjoying Manhattan including the American girl store, Rhia's first ever broadway show, Beauty and the Beast and dinner at the View. In between we filled our time with the rock wall, a visit to the Irish Fair, a special day of family worship, and Sirah's 3rd birthday! Rhia broke her arm and wore a bright red cast. I managed to lose 30 pounds over the course of the year. We headed off to California for my brother's wedding at the end of the month.

September started with us in sunny Southern California. Serona wanting to move here because of the ocean and mountains, weather and family. We spent our time here with family, at the beach, hiking, at their beautiful wedding, and then Serona and I finally celebrated our anniversary with a little getaway to Temecula wine country while the kids visited with Grandma and Grandpa. We returned from our fun 2 week California vacation and jumped right into school. Ciaran started Kindergarten this year and Rhiannon 2nd grade here at home with me. We went on several field trips: River Rendevouz, Oliver Kelly Farm, and a botany class. Ciaran and Sirah began Letter of the Week studies, PE in the garage and resumed classes with our homeschool cooperative. Rhiannon really enjoyed her American girl class on Felicity and Kaya.

October brought some fun lessons, a visit to the alpaca farm, and art museum tour. We started political campaigning with the kids. Ciaran started reading on his own. Academy brought more fun classes for the kids and for me, including this Kirsten class. We started volunteering at our local chapter of Feed My Starving Children and loved it so much we go back once a month. We tried to spend as much time outside in quiet moments like this before the cold snap began.

November brought a very unexpected time for our family. The month began as we expected, knee deep in political work for the upcoming election. We had a big group of little girls over for a special American Girl movie night , rock climbing, and all the usual things. Suddenly Serona found himself on an impossible and unpredictable project at work what was supposed to be a 4 day project turned into him being in New York City for 32 days straight! He left on Monday November 6th for a business trip to NYC and his return flight was not until Friday December 8th - after he packed for a simple 4 day trip. This was unexpected and challenging on our family, on no one more than Serona though, working 16-18 hour days away from home. The silver lining in all of this was that Serona's company decided to fly me and the kids to NYC to be with him for Thanksgiving. So the kids and I got free airfare for a 10 day trip to New York. We were able to enjoy being with our family for Thanksgiving, enjoy the city, and be together for some of that long trip for Serona.

December started with us in MN and Serona in NY. We finished up our homeschool cooperative classes including my argument class, and american girl class. We spent time making Christmas candy, soap and other little gifts. We enjoyed ringing the Salvation Army bell, returning to Feed My Starving Children and some other little service projects. The kids rehearsed for choir and continued with their Awana verses. We spent time each night after dinner reading by candlelight from a wonderful book called Jotham's Journey and enjoying other holiday traditions. We wrapped up our school work and spent lots of time enjoying each other as a family. After his long time away from us Serona had some time off to reconnect with us and being back in MN. We cherished and enjoyed the days of playing games, watching movies, sleeping late, reading and just being together. We were so thankful to be sharing meals together again and to have him home. The big news this month is Serona's new job. After 6 years as a software consultant he is making a transition to product marketing in a position that seems to be tailor made for him. He is excited and hopeful for the new position which we believe will be all around better for our family and for his career. December ended out with another wonderful week off to celebrate the holiday together. We all enjoyed our new Christmas gifts and downtime together. The kids were filled with sheer joy today when it FINALLY snowed here in MN! We have about 8 inches on the ground and they are loving every minute of sledding and making snowballs. We highly recommend these great sno-ball makers and using boogie boards instead of sleds!

All in all it was an amazing year. It was a year filled with mostly good health and lots of vacations and travels. Many blessings and opportunities. The kids are all doing great, school is going well and we are looking forward to a new year. Hopefully a quieter year but a joy filled one all the same. Many blessings to you and yours this New Year.

Peace in Him,

December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
-Isaiah 9:6

December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Choir

Our day is going to be spent at church. Rhiannon sings in choir for the morning two services and Ciaran for the evening services. Rhiannon sang a modified version of the Peanuts Christmas Song and Ciaran is singing "Look Who Just Checked In" and "O Come to My Heart" - Hope you have a Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2006

Christmas Ornaments

Gorwing up my parents started a family tradition that we have continued. Each year at Christmastime every member of the family received a new ornament for the tree. When we moved out of the house and started our own tree we received all our own ornaments. It was a nice way to have a base for our own family tree. We started it with our own children and on vacations we try to buy an ornament as well to remember the time. This year we actually began marking their ornaments in some way because I already have a hard time remembering whose is whose and it has only been 7 years so far!

Instead of overcrowding our tree over time some of the ornaments break and we just thin some out. We love the tradition. We started by picking ornaments for the kids and then took some years where we let them pick their own but I think we are going back to picking for them - something that represents each of them for that year. And is not a very large and bright red bird that we have this year at Sirah's request. It is a fun and relatively cheap tradition that brings joy each year and can be passed on through the years to our children as they move away and begin their own tradition.

December 19, 2006

Advent Tradition

For the past two years we have had a nice Advent tradition that we have been slowly adding on to. Here is how we try to spend each evening for the 4 weeks before Christmas.

After dinner we put on a pot of tea, clean the dishes and the table and then light our Advent wreath. We do not have anything fancy just a fake plain green wreath and four candles in small candleholders. We all sit around the dinner table - the wreath is in the center and drink tea. The kids current favorite is Sleepytime. If we are going to have desert this is when we have it - if nothing else they usually get a Hershey's kiss.

While we drink our tea we read a chapter from our Advent book. This year we are reading Jotham's Journey. Last year we read another book from the same series, Bartholomew's Passage. We love these books. They are intense for young children and at times we edit parts of it because it gets graphic but the stories are really inspiring and help refocus us back to the birth of Christ during a hectic time.

The books are designed so you read one a night from the fourth sunday before Christmas until Christmas morning. You could really read any book but we really enjoy this series. They are impossible to find now, we borrowed from friends both last year and this year.

After we finish our chapter we sing a Christmas Carol - we take turns choosing each night. After the song we all go around the table and pray together and for each other. This is also a time when we share any prayer requests we have. Then when prayers are done the kids take turns blowing out the candles and we head off to bed.

Some families choose to let their children light a candle to walk to their room with but our children are too young and we like our house too much to facilitate it burning down, so we just blow them out then.

This tradition has been wonderful. It is such a special family time. It is great to calm down together and come together bringing the focus on the upcoming birth of Christ. We really take time to be quiet and still and reflect on that. We take time to pray together and sing songs that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

Some nights Serona will gather the kids around the Christmas tree afterwards and tell them a story he makes up about our family friend Benkin (an imaginary character he made up) and the adventures the children go on with him. They really love these stories and laying in front of the tree listening.

The Christmas season is a very good one for us. It helped this year that nearly all our shopping was done before Thanksgiving - that took a lot of pressure off. It also really makes a difference to have a daily tradition that brings us all together, quiet and calm and focusing on Christ. It really is a time we cherish together.


December 8, 2006

Schooling Update

Haven't posted one in awhile so thought I would.

Ciaran - Working on reading phonetically fluently. He can sound out any clear phonics word and is working more at simply recognizing them or sounding them out quickly in his head and saying them. The Primary Phonics readers are working really well for him and we are enjoying them. He has moved into some doctor suess and level one readers as well. We are still doing Explode the Code and his is almost finished with Level One. I supplement with Phonics Pathways because Explode the Code moves very slowly. He still uses the Starfall website some as well.

For math we are working through Miquon's orange book. Lately he has worked on number lines, adding three or four numbers, completing equations like 2 + x =5, and filling in whether it is addition or subtraction. He uses rods and an abacus for the more complicated problems. He also really enjoys doing Leon's Math Games, he especially enjoys the movies and Math Dojo.

He is working on his letters and is much better at handwriting now. He holds the pencil right and can write his name small enough now to get a library card (our standard is when you can write small enough for the back of the card). He is consistently writing from left to right now as opposed to right to left (he was spelling correctly and the word looked right at the end but he started with the last letter). He has figured out how to adjust for being a lefty well.

His big deal was our visit to Body Worlds. He has been begging to for almost the whole time it has been here and just him and I went last week. He really enjoyed it and was fascinated. He listened to the recordings about each exhibit and asked good questions. I was surprised at how well it held his attention. He definitely has a science bend to him. I will not be surprised if he ends up a scientist, researcher or doctor based on the way I see his mind and interests working now.

Rhiannon is doing well. We are working on fractions now - dividing and multiplying whole numbers with fractions and adding fractions. She has grasped the concept of fractions quickly. We are gently introducing division at this time through fractions as well. She has been working on her multiplication tables and the patterns of numbers as well. She also just finished up a section on multiplying multiple digit numbers. We are working through the Miquon blue book with her.

For language arts she finished up Explode the Code Level 3 and is working through Primary Language Lessons as well. We have begun cursive work. She enjoys working on each letter individually but gets very frustrated when she tries to combine letters. I may look into a formal handwriting program for her this spring. We do regular dictations and narrations as well. She reads all the time and lately I have let her revisit some of her old favorites - she is currently rereading Anne of Green Gables and some of the American girl books. On vacation she picked up a series of books about the Presidents as Young Men, she really enjoyed those.

We are continuing our work in Botany - we will be dissecting a flower this week and making homemade soap with some herbs. For history we are in the Middle Ages we are just getting ready to study Charlemagne. History still seems to be one of her favorite subjects and one of the first she reaches for when given a choice. We really are enjoying the Story of the World series. For physical education she is taking a homeschool gym class one a week and every other week twice a week. She is also doing a rock climbing class and swimming when we can.

All is all school work is going well and they seem to be enjoying it and progressing along well. We fill in with field trips, nature walks, playdates, and crafts.


December 7, 2006

Always Be Prepared

Well I was a girl scout once upon a time, you would think I would know better. You would think I would follow their motto. But life catches you off guard every once in awhile. Take last night.

A typical Minnesota night. It was actually 4 degrees -14 with the wind chill. Not exactly the night you want to be outside in the cold with nothing more than jeans, a t-shirt and some socks. No, I did not have mittens and a scarf on, instead I did not have a coat or even shoes on. Are you wondering why and how I could do this to myself? Well so am I. Here is the story.

I was cleaning my entry way late last night and went to put a box of summer shoes into my garage. Since I was just walking right into my closed garage I did not bother to put on a coat or even shoes - after all it was going to be just a few seconds. Sure I knew it would be cold but for a short time, something I do often - braving the cold in bare feet to throw out the trash or get something from the car or get the mail. Well I was wrong.

On this particular evening my garage door shut behind me and was to my shock locked! Now I don't know about all of you "prepared" people but I do not carry my keys and cell phone around the house with me while I am cleaning at 11:30pm. I am not expecting the unexpected - perhaps I should have. My dogs apparently had not thought ahead either because they found themselves right there with me.

After trying the door several times in disbelief I told myself surely something else was open. I proceeded to the other doors and of course they were all locked. My house was apparently prepared for the evening even if I was not. Serona not being home I found myself and my dogs locked out of our house and our three children sleeping soundly inside.

So I did what any sane person in my situation would do - I began pounding on the doors and windows. I rang the bell for 5 minutes straight. Nothing, no movement, no lights, no sign of anyone waking. I am now COLD! I search through the garage and find Serona's work boots and pull them onto my feet, while too big at least they are taking the chill out of my feet which are thankful to be off the cold concrete. I tried the doors several more times and realize I am simply going to have to go to a neighbor for help. As I look around I realize all my neighbors are now in bed, no lights to be seen anywhere. I went across to a friends house, very thankful at this moment that we have taken time to know our neighbors and so thankful that we are blessed with good neighbors.

As I pressed the bell closer to midnight than I would have preferred I took comfort in knowing they would open their doors to me just as I would to them. Their dog barked, my neighbor answered the door in his robe and I woke their little girl - but they were so kind and helpful. I explained the situation and asked to use their phone to call the police so they can help me break into my own home. They suggested I go back and give it another try to wake the kids up before we call the police. So I went back across the street ringing, banging and now throwing rocks gently at my children's window. Praying I am not going to frighten them but that I can wake them.

My neighbor came over carrying a coat for me. Remember I have now been outside in the severe cold weather in jeans and a t-shirt for about 15 minutes now. He tried to fiddle with my door and realized it was not going to work. He rang the bell and I banged on our doors more. No luck. I went back to pitching rocks at the window while he rang the bell. I am in shock at this point that no one is stirring in the house. We suddenly hear my youngest crying and I run around to a window hoping she will wander my way. Instead we hear silence and I know she has climbed into bed with one of her siblings for comfort. We resume noisemaking - I am getting dismayed now and sure we will be heading over to call the police soon.

My neighbor comes up with an idea - he carries a ladder and a screwdriver out to the window I am pitching rocks out and props the ladder against the side of my house and encourages me to climb up it. Now you know I love my children and that I am quite cold because little in this world could make me climb a ladder that is propped against a house. I was scared to do it, I was alright at first but when I had to get up on that last step I did not want to do it. My neighbor was right it had to be me peering in my kids window, if it was him all it would do is terrify them. So I climbed and he assured me he would not let me fall and he is someone I trust and besides I clearly had limited choices now so up the ladder I went.

Banging on their window and calling them, now I can see two of them sleeping and still not stirring! I am beginning to lose hope not to mention I feel like my fingers are going to freeze off soon. Neighbor hands me a screwdriver and tells me to bang with that since it will be a sharper sound. I do and suddenly they begin stirring. Ciaran wakes up frightened by the noise. I yell through the window to him that it is okay and that he needs to wake up and help me. He is quite groggy and unsure of where I am. I tell him to look out the window and I see this big grin - he was confused but I think thankful to see me and wondering how I am where I am all at once the moment he is awoken by a loud noise banging on his window. I tell him to open the front door and thankfully he listens.

Before my foot reaches the bottom of the ladder I hear the hysteria at my front door as they open it. Sirah is awake now and both of them are crying and nearly hysterical. My neighbor thankfully puts away the ladder, I thank him and I close the garage and head inside to my blessed warm house to resettle my now scared kids. I just hold them close and thank Ciaran. I tell him how brave he was and what a big helper he was to me. I snuggle in their room until they are asleep so thankful for my home on this cold night. Thankful for fantastic neighbors. Thankful for obedient children and amazed that Rhiannon managed to sleep through the entire thing!

I know you are supposed to try to be prepared most of the time, but really how can you ALWAYS be prepared? How can you know prepare for a step into the garage to turn into 45 minutes in severe cold weather? How can you prepare yourself and your family for a four day business trip that turns into more than a month straight on the road? Sometimes we get curve balls and we just need to deal with them the best we can. I suppose I should not have stepped outside without shoes and a coat on even for a moment - but really who knew?

It really brought home how cold it gets here and how it can be dangerous. We do keep blankets in our car, I do require them all to have their winter coats, socks and shoes with them in the car even if they don't want them or may not use them. We put our snow scraper in the car in late September and keep it there until the end of April. So I guess in overall theory I agree with the Girls Scouts that you should strive to "Always Be Prepared". But I am also convinced you just can't always be prepared. Prepare as much as you can but then be ready to adapt to life's little surprises. Cultivate those relationships for you never know when you are going to depend on them or when they will depend on you. Thanks to my neighbors and to my son!


December 5, 2006

A Reason to Smile

I just can not stop grinning after looking at this! Congrats again!

Ringing the Bell

It is cold in Minnesota by most normal standards, which means most people in Minnesota are still in denial that it is cold since this can be normal for us. It was just above double digits in real temperature and below zero with wind chill factor. Lucky for our little family that today was our scheduled day to ring the Salvation Army Bell.

We had swimming and dance lessons this morning and then we bundled up. I am talking snow pants, boots, scarves, hats, mittens full bundling up and headed to a nearby store to take our shift at the kettle. Our homeschool group organized a day of volunteering and we had a short shift in the middle of it.

Thankfully when we arrived at the store we were blessed to discover they had moved the kettle indoors in between the exit and outside sliding glass doors. We were still thankful for our warm clothes though hats and scarves were removed mittens were still needed and we were thankful for the extra warmth as the door opened continually. But we were sheltered from the bitter wind and for that I am thankful.

This was our first year ringing for the Salvation Army and I am thankful we had the opportunity to do so. The kids enjoyed it - we were only there about 45 minutes or so and that was about the right amount of time any longer and they would have been weary of it I think. Sirah started wearing down about 10 minutes from when we stopped. They took turns ringing the bell and we sang Christmas carols, loudly.

We did find that the Christmas carols seemed to make people smile and thank us or stop and make a comment and we definitely received more donations when we sang. One woman who worked at the store even said "How can I miss this opportunity since you are singing so well." The kids were excited at each donation and said "Thank You" and "Merry Christmas" each time. They too noticed that the singing seemed to bring more donations and it kept them excited to sing.

We sang several songs but soon discovered that the 12 Days of Christmas was our best song and it was a nice long song that we knew all the words too and it seemed to make people smile so that is what we sang for most of the time. The poor cashier working right inside the door probably does not want to hear that song again for awhile. Especially since my Ciaran loves to sing loudly and really only has one volume when it comes to singing.

I recommend taking a turn at the kettle if you have an opportunity to do so. The kids enjoyed it and I think people liked seeing children there ringing the bell. We talked a bit about the salvation army and who they help and why we were doing what we were doing. We spent family time together serving in an easy way and we of course went out for hot cocoa afterwards.

Every month we try to do a service project together either through church, our homeschool group or just on our own. During the holidays we tend to do more than one a month. This was one of two service projects we are doing this month. The kids enjoyed it and it is one I think we will do each year going forward.

To volunteer to ring the bell for the Salvation Army go here as a start. By the way the child in the photo is not mine but I thought it was a cute photo.

Peace in Christ,

December 4, 2006

Family Christmas Traditions

Many families have them, sometimes we talk about them, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we love the traditions and sometimes we don't. Well I come from a big Irish family. One who actually creates traditions so we have yet more reasons to all get together. We get together a lot. Well I should say they do as I am from New York where all my extended family is and we currently live in Minnesota. This was actually my first Thanksgiving home in 13 years! Still I was raised with these traditions so even if I don't have the opportunity to do them every year I know them by heart and they still feel like my traditions because I know that my family is doing them a few states away.

Some signs of the tradition still show up even in Minnesota. For example if you come to my home during the holidays you will likely notice that you are drinking out of a 12 days of Christmas mug and that as much as I am not a knick knack type person I have a full set of the 12 days of Christmas mugs and plates. This does seem out of place for my personality, but it a big part of who I am.

How can a song be a big part of who I am? Well it is a long story and it involves some crazy but fun family traditions that I am about to explain. As I said I grew up in a big family. My father is the middle child of 5 and when his siblings grew up and got married they all had a bunch of kids and we all get together A LOT. I grew up with aunts and uncles close like extended parents and cousins that at times felt like siblings. We are not quite My Big Fat Greek Wedding but something closer to that than to most families only we are Irish. Everyone is in everyone's lives and knows everyones business and everyone loves one another unconditionally and we spend time together.

At no time is this more apparent than during the holidays. Thanksgiving dinner had 26 people all around the table - yes it was one huge table and we were not even all there - that was only some of us we spent the day together. We were at my uncle's house from about 3pm until nearly midnight. My kids just jumped right in and even though we have not been around much you would not know it with how well everyone was getting along and how seamless it was to jump back in. One of the things I love about my family is there really is no gender divide. It is not women in the kitchen men watching football kind of a day. Sure some women were in the kitchen and so were some men. Some men and boys watched football but so did some women and everyone was so mixed up there is no divide like that - I love that and was raised thinking that was normal. Then grew up to see that it is rare. But everyone has Thanksgiving traditions and there really isn't anything unique about ours other than the fact that we always have sardines (well they do we are vegetarian).

What is unusual is about to come now. Two days later we returned to the same home for the first tree decorating party of the season. My dad and his siblings all go to each others homes to decorate their Christmas trees together and make a big party day of it. This year the first party was early to catch those out of towners here for Thanksgiving. So we arrive around 4 pm and visit and just chat - yes we still had lots to talk about just two days later. We had dinner and then started decorating the tree together complete with teams of people holding the garland as it is strung and many critics on how the lights and garland look on the tree. Years of shared memories and ornaments are there and we sing a lot. We don't know all the words and we make some up sometimes and we hum a lot. But we also have a lot of fun. We pick individual songs as we go up. Like Rhia this year "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" or "I'll have a blue Christmas" when an ornament goes up for someone not there or "Grandma Got run over by a reindeer" when a new grandma puts her ornament on the tree. It is crazy and silly and a lot of fun and a big part of who I am.

Not only do we put ornaments up together but our family carries on a tradition from my grandma's house started long ago, I always remember it so it has been going on to me what feels like forever, at least from the time I was a young child. Every member of the family has an ornament with his or her name on it. We put them on the tree in the order you came to the family. So sometimes like in my case I put an ornament on before my uncle who is older than me because I was born before he married my aunt. We start and the top and work our way down to the newest family member - which can at times include a serious boyfriend or girlfriend. When each family member puts their ornament on the tree they have to pick a song for everyone to sing while they walk to the tree and put their ornament on. Yes we have a big family and yes this takes a long time and yes we have repeat songs but it is a lot of fun and it is uniquely us.

Then after this is all done desert is typically served and at the table you will find glasses or mugs with eggnog. Whether you drink eggnog or not you need to take a glass. Your glass typically includes your whole family group or some combination of people as there are only 12 glasses and many more of us. Then the fun begins as family members try to swap glasses, steal them sometimes, or try to con someone out of their glass. The goal for most family members is to get the highest possible number and avoid the low numbers, except for 5 which is always in high demand and 2 which is almost always assigned unofficially. Wondering what is going on. Well in my family at the tree decorating and at Christmas we always sing the 12 days of Christmas. You and your group of people have to sing the part of your cup. Thus the desire for high numbers as the lucky winner of 12 only has to sing once and the two turtle doves sing just about every time. Somewhere along the way we agreed that everyone would sing the partridge in a pear tree part, two turtle doves is usually reserved for a certain couple (such as the newest, or soon to be married, or just married, etc) and five is coveted and fought over. It is another fun and goofy tradition that I love as does everyone else. We grumble when we get a low number and we do try to get the other cups but all enjoy doing it and it is a part of who we are.

One other thing I forgot to mention whenever a door opens and someone arrives at the house we all sing "We wish you a Merry Christmas" and head for the door, no matter where we are in the house. It is really a great way to be greeted and to greet one another at the holidays. For many years on Christmas day we ended up with an impromptu band in the basement complete with drummers, guitarists and singers. We have mistletoe, and eggnog, liquor and lots of snacks and all the normal things that other families have but we also have our own traditions that make us who we are. So that is why I have a 12 days of Christmas set here. Though we have never had the family here to decorate a tree - Minnesota is just a bit too cold not to mention too far for most of them to travel. Still the traditions are part of who I am and hope to pass on to my children and eventually their children.

We have many other "Irish traditions" in our big clan. Next summer I can share more about the Family Olympics which is when we all get together and divide into teams the in-laws and the outlaws (who are the actual blood siblings) and compete in athletic events against each other for a prize at the end. We have elaborate themes, catch goldfish with our bare hands and have a lot of fun. Yet another "tradition" created so we could get together. Hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my history and family. Anything you want to share about your own holiday traditions?


December 3, 2006

Homeschool Cooperative Wrap Up

Well our homeschool coop has come to an end for the semester. It was another wonderful and successful year. I am always amazed when I see how much is accomplished in such a short period of times. We typically only meet 6 times a semester as we usually meet every other week - but still the kids get so much out of it and as a group we get so much done and offered.

At the end of our semester we always have a showcase where each class gets a few minutes to explain what they did and all of the rest of us get to find out all the options that were offered. It is a good opportunity for the kids to get up in front of a large crowd and speak or perform or whatever they are doing.

As for our family the younger two were both in a Five in a Row type class where their three hours are divided by a story and activity hour, then music time, craft time and ending with game and free playtime. The day is based around the themes from the book they are learning. They really enjoy their classes. For Ciaran his favorite part is music and Sirah loves craft time. For showcase they sang two songs they learned - they have music time together so they sang together at showcase which was cute.

Rhia has three elective classes she chooses from about 4 options per her. This semester she choose the American girl class I taught, a PE class and an art class called Meet the Masters where they learned about Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh and then did an art piece based on their work.

Each mom is expected to either teach or assist two of the three hours and then gets one hour off to visit and enjoy. This year I taught an American girl class for 2-4th graders and an Introduction to Argument class for 6-9th graders. I really enjoyed both classes. Check other posts for summaries of the classes.

There were so many options offered that I can not even mention them all here. From k'nex to army battles, craft classes to drama classes, number science to a class on the presidents, Shakespeare and Creative writing and many other options for the kids. We truly are blessed to be part of this group. Thanks to all of you who make it possible!


American Girl Class Round Up

I had the wonderful opportunity to teach an American girl class for our homeschool cooperative. This class was fun because I had wonderful co-teachers who really have the skills I lack (anything arts and crafty) and we worked really well together. We had a great group of girls and the class was really memorable.

We took one doll each week and looked at her time period. I talked about the time period and location she lived in and offered some of the responsibilities and fun that girls their age would have had in that time period. We began the class with Felicity, then studied Kaya, Kirsten, Samantha and ended with Molly. The first four classes followed the same basic format. We had a talk time which I based heavily off the "Welcome to X world" series of American girl books where we covered history location and activities. Then majority of the class was spent in three activity stations which my co-teachers organized and executed for the most part. Which included crafts and games such as:

Felicity: Needlepoint, Game of Graces, Learning the Minuet, writing with a feather pen, using a wax seal and trying Sally Lunn bread

Kirsten: Sewing a patchwork pillow, painting a wooden spoon, making a yarn doll, reciting a poem in Swedish, eating Swedish cookies

Kaya: beading, weaving, making a corn husk doll, playing a traditional drum

Samantha: making silhouettes, bead boxes and rehearsing for our play.

The last few classes varied as for week five we put on a production of a Samantha play. The girls worked really hard and rehearsed and memorized their lines for several weeks. We had nine girls and only 6 parts so some of them split parts and they really did a great job. Somehow scenery and props came together and it all worked out very well. We were all impressed with how it turned out and the girls loved it. Many mentioned it as their favorite part of the class.

For the final class we had a fancy tea party with snacks from each of the girls we studied and the girls came dressed up and many brought their dolls. We talked briefly about Molly and we had a special guest speaker. One of the girls in our class has a grandmother who was 10 years old during WWII and had an older brother go overseas in the war. She came and spoke about her experiences and the girls enjoyed her and the tea party.

It was a great class and I would recommend it to teach to a group of young girls - it is easy to pull together and very memorable for the girls. It really made it special for the girls to do these things together and see what girls there age did over time. There was a bond of friendship created between many of these girls and a sense of accomplishment from doing the play together and hopefully they learned a bit of history while having all this fun. I think we had perfect ages for this class (7-10), if you know a group of girls in this age range consider offering it.


Argument Class Round Up

The second class I taught was an Introduction to Argument class for 6th-9th graders. I limited my class to six students and I had six boys and it was a lot of fun for me. Teaching this class made me realize how much I miss coaching debate and reminded me how much I love teaching argument and how important I believe the skill to be.

For me the greatest challenge in teaching this class was figuring out how to narrow my teaching topic down to a mere 6 hours. This six hours was really more like three actual hours of in class teaching time because the boys had to present their arguments in class and we had to spend some time preparing for showcase.

If you only have three hours to teach key elements of basic argument what do you choose? This was the question I had to answer and I decided that argument construction was the most important thing to teach them. I presented a basic format and structure for argument. A very simplified outline for them to follow and asked each student to pick a single topic they wanted to work on for the semester. The class would be spent refining that argument so their last argument was much better than their first argument.

These boys were patient with me because they were my guinea pigs and I did learn along the way and have better ideas about how to teach the class in the future. Still I think in the end they got something out of it. Some of them were really responsive to the teaching and comments and seemed to make big improvements. Now whether they were just jumping through assigned hoops or really got it is a seperate question that only time will tell.

What I hoped they would leave the class with was two main things. First that argument is about constructing well reasoned and supported claims for a position and not so much about attacking an opponent. Secondly I wanted them to walk away with an understanding of basic elements that should be found in all good arguments and an ability to use that structure themselves whether it be for a personal or a political issue they want to prove. I think they understood those things in the end and had at least an initial experience of actually doing them.

The thing about teaching argument is most of it is done through the refining process. I spent a lot of time with each students paper writing at times pages of comments on how they could improve or strengthen their argument. Then I watched them do just that and see for themselves why my comments and suggestions made their arguments better. So some of the teaching was actually not done in the class itself but in the discussion we had in the writing of their assignments.

The tough part about this class is that there is not enough time for them to really practice these skills over and over again and that is what really build argument skills is practice of the skill. That is why debate is so wonderful because it offers you many opportunities to practice your craft.

I have decided in the future to divide the class into two parts. Argument Construction and Answering Argument. With the first being a pre-requisite for the second class. With only 6 hours a session that is the best I can do so I can really give time to build each skill. Then anyone who is serious about learning and refining argument skills can move into a debate team or advanced argument class offered somewhere else.

Teaching the class reminded me that I love argument and love debate. I kind of hope my kids will want to be involved in it someday so we can get back involved in the community. Right now my kids are too young for me to offer to coach other people's kids as debate is very time consuming and that time simply has to go to my kids. Still it was fun to have a taste of that again and have an opportunity to work with some really talented and gifted kids who had both an interest and a natural ability for argument.


December 1, 2006

Congratulations to Mamadala

My friend Mamadala just had her twin boys! Praise the Lord for a safe delivery and healthy mommy and babies. I just could not be happier for them. When the good news came today at our homeschool coop I just could not help but let the tears flow as they needed to. Congrats
Mamadala and family. The Lord and Janey are smiling down on you today.

With love,

November 22, 2006

A New York Minute

Serona has spent the past few weeks in New York City on a business trip. His company actually flew us out to New York to spend a week with him. The kids and I have been here a few days now and having a great time.

We went to the Long Island Aquarium. It was smaller than I expected but we had a great time. We have been enjoying visiting with my parents and the kids have had plenty of quiet play time here.

The kids and Serona went ice skating in Bryant Park while Sirah and I and grandpa watched and drank apple cider. We were there for the unveiling of Macy's Christmas windows - it was magical for the kids to see. We walked around the city and had some good pizza at a little place we found along the way.

Last night Serona and I went out to dinner at Artisinal Bistro with his boss - and had some wonderful cheese and wine pairings. Then I stayed in the city with him and the kids stayed with my parents.

We are headed to the Thanksgiving Day Parade, to the Museum of Natural History and to see Rockfeller center, FAO and other Christmas moments in NYC. We are also enjoying a nice visit with my parents and get to spend Thanksgiving with my extended family for the first time in more than a decade! All is good here in NY. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and your families.


November 14, 2006

Rock the Wall

I have to admit it I am in awe of my children when they climb the rock walls. They are so brave and have no sense of fear. The first time we approached a rock wall they just went right up to the top and rang the bell, Ciaran was just 5 and Rhiannon 6. I was impressed considering they were doing something I would not even attempt. I will admit it looks fun and interesting and challenging and I like the fact that it is both physical and mental and an individual challenge. However I have inherited my fathers preference to avoid heights whenever possible and I simply do not have the trust my children do that a rope is going to hold me up.

I watch them approach the wall and stay determined to reach the top and figure out the puzzles. I have watched them use auto-belays and have a real person belay them as well. They take a different approach depending on which system they are using. Their determination is stronger when they have a person belaying them as they can take a rest and re approach the wall differently and have support when they reach that tough spot. With an auto belay they are more likely to release and start over again. Still they have the determination to approach that wall again and again no matter how many times it seems they can not reach the top. The faith and determination of a child is really an example to us all. They have such trust in the person supporting them and in themselves to accomplish their goals. They leave fear behind or at least overcome it on the wall and I watch their confidence grow.

Tonight as I sat in Rhia's lessons I watched her confidence grow. I watched her strength grow and watched her rock climbing skills improve. I watched her determination and her enjoyment of the activity. She climbed four walls while I watched and she reached the top of three - the one she missed she did not re approach because her hands were tired and sore and she needed a break she told me. She rested and took on a harder wall which she accomplished. I am glad she has the opportunity to rock climb with regularity and that it is a sport in which she finds enjoyment. There are so many life lessons she can learn here at the wall, skills that will serve her well in all areas of her life. And she is having fun!

Often when a child climbs a wall they will receive a sticker that says "I rocked the wall" and how true that is. I love watching my kids Rock the Wall and all that represents. If you have never tried it with your own kids - do so!


Weary of Whining

That is what my instant message status said today - does that give you any idea of what kind of a day it was? Sirah and Ciaran just could not find a tone of voice that cold qualify for anything other than the label of whinese. It also seemed that no matter what I did or said I only further complicated the situation and seemed to escalate the whining. It was wearing and I am weary now.

Still we did get quite a bit accomplished throughout the day. School went very smoothly for Rhiannon and I. Ciaran managed to do some reading and some Explode the Code and I read aloud to him. Rhiannon and I worked through quite a bit and she was in good spirits and very helpful today. After school we managed to clean out the girls room which is typically an all day event. I keep trying to find new creative ways to help organize their stuff so they can keep it clean themselves. But two girls in a small room is not much of a recipe for neatness I have accepted. We reorganized and cleaned together for most of the afternoon so their upkeep is easier - we will see how it goes.

I also worked on Christmas presents - I am trying to be good and get ahead of the game this year so I can actually enjoy the holidays with my family and not pay more in shipping then I did for the gifts. Since we are out of town we have to ship to everyone on our list in many different states. Somehow I always think I am starting ahead of time and end up shipping the week before or sometimes the week of Christmas. One year we FedExed presents - that was ridiculously expensive and to not be repeated. So I figure starting in mid-November gives me hope. I'll let you know how it goes in a few weeks.

The great thing is we have a fresh start ahead of us tomorrow and another great day planned. We have a busy day which after today I think will be a good thing. Rhia is going on a field trip for older kids with another family in our group, we have a fitness class and a trip to the nursing home plus our regular Wednesday night activities planned. Typically I do not like having that many things scheduled in one day but I am actually looking forward to it tomorrow.

Any great tips on how to handle these days? I have muddled through, lost my temper and apologized a few times and look forward to tomorrow. Days like this also remind me how thankful I am that they are rare and not my everyday life. We all have challenging days - I figured I would write about one so everyone knows it isn't all magical every day and we are real with bad days too.


November 13, 2006

One Book

Okay I'll be honest, I rarely like doing these but since the person who tagged me knows me in real life and is very pregnant with twins but still found time to do it - I suppose I should. Besides it is about books and everyone knows that is a weakness of mine.

Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias
When I met Serona I was an agnostic when it came to matters of faith. I suppose this was progress from my atheistic view of just a few years earlier. Serona is a pastors kid and gave me this book to read alongside with the bible. Let's just say I was a real skeptic and Ravi's book was written for someone like me - with real intellectual hangups and doubts over faith. While reading this book and the bible and some serious soul searching and questioning I came to my Christian faith. While raised Catholic I had stepped away from my childhood faith and questioned God on so many levels. It was during reading this book that I really had to come to terms with what I knew to be truth (God's word and who Jesus is and what he did for us) and decide whether I was going to accept it and change my life or ignore what I knew to be the truth and carry on as if I did not know it. This book was written with a directness that I had a hard time denying or ignoring. I suppose it was this book and the bible together that changed my life forever. The decision to accept that Jesus is God's son and he died for my sins and to accept him as my Saviour is definitely the biggest decision that changed my life.

Okay this one is really tough for me as I reread many of my books! I try to read a Jane Austen book at least once a year so I have reread those many times over. I also really enjoy rereading the Harry Potter series right before a movie and new book come out. There are so many books I am enjoying rereading with my kids especially the Little House series, CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia and Anne of Green Gables. Okay so I completely cheated on this question but I can't narrow it down - so pick one.

The Bible
The only truly living book I know of that speaks to me uniquely each time I read it. There is so much wisdom and beauty and love in that book. I am truly one who believes it to be the greatest story ever told. Also it is the only book that I believe would see me through all the trails I would face alone on a desert island. I would prefer my bible to "Wilson"

A Walk to Remember - Nicolas Sparks
Okay so he is trendy but he is easy to read and really can capture a touching heart wrenching romance story well. While everyone rages about The Notebook - this one brought me to tears and really touched me. It is one of the few books that turned to movie that I actually enjoyed the movie better than the book even though it was a different take on the book. Both book and movie made me cry.

Buck Up, Suck Up . . . and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room by James Carville and Paul Begala

Okay I REALLY wanted to steal Mamadala's answer here. Because I can't really think of a book that would be more fun and meaningful to write than CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. One of my favorite series ever written for people of all ages in all times. But I will try to be more inventive and not steal her answer.

Okay so I am Republican but these two are REALLY smart and I wish I wrote the book so more Republicans would listen to it and learn from it. However you feel about the authors, former president Clinton, or the democrats in general, it is a great book with many applications beyond just politics. If I wrote it I could claim I was smart and maybe the Republicans would run better war rooms.

On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo
I have very passionate feelings about this book and the influence it has had on many parents over the years. Ones I do not really want to go into here. To know how much I dislike this book I have been known to turn it face in at local bookstores when I am in the parenting section so it is hard to find and not on display. I have also resorted to checking it out of the public library and renewing for awhile so it was off the shelves and no one else could stumble upon it. I have grown up and matured some and no longer do these things but I still wish it was never written.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
Recommended by Hugh Hewitt, Serona and I are both reading it together. I am enjoying it though it is very slow moving at times and traces the history of Al-Qaeda further back than I would have expected. It really gives you a good sense of what is at stake and at root in the issues we face today and 5 years ago. I would recommend it.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon - Patty Lovell
Oh wait you probably want to know something I want to read for me not what I will be rereading again to Sirah tommorrow and the day after and the day after that.

One Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury

This has been on my to read list for awhile as I have the sequel here waiting to be read. Somehow it is never in the library when I get the desire or gumption to face down the memories of that day and read this story or when it is in I know emotionally I could not handle reading it yet. Someday I will get to it.

People I tag to do this on their own blog , Lorainne, SoCal, EmpressBarb, PB, Spin, Katie and L2 when she feels better! Post a comment to let everyone know you posted your answers to your blog!

November 9, 2006

It's Great to Be Five!

Ciaran is having an incredible year of being five. I can hardly believe all the things that he has accomplished and learned just this year. He has learned to tie his shoes, read, swim, add, subtract, and write his letters. He went to Disney World and California. He hiked up a mountain, swam in the ocean, was in a wedding and started kindergarten. He developed a love for singing and for video games. He made the decision to accept Christ into his heart and we have watched his faith mature through the year.

Overall it has been an amazing year of growth for him. He is still a little boy to be sure. He still has lots of energy but he is learning how to channel and control it more. Watching him discipline himself to learn to read has been especially meaningful. When Ciaran puts his mind to something he is easily able to accomplish it because he has a determination and tenacity that is impressive in a young child. It has to be his idea or desire though for that spirit to kick in. But wow the results are amazing when it applies.

Schooling him is very time consuming but also very rewarding. We have seen a lot of transition in him in just these few months. He makes me smile a lot and also experience a full range of emotions each day. He can be my easiest student or my most challenging and there is little rhyme or reasons to it that we can discover yet.

I love the age of 5. They still want to please you. They still are so curious about everything and have a natural curiosity and desire to learn. Learning is just fun and interesting. I also love the way 5 year olds look at the world and the questions they ask. Each day Ciaran makes me smile and makes me proud. He is definitely having a great year.

Enjoy your kids,

November 8, 2006

American Girl party

The party went very well. The girls had a great time and I would do it again. We ended up with 28 girls between the ages of 7 and 11. The first movie went well they all snuggled up together and sat still to watch the Felicity movie. We did not have snacks for the first movie because we got a late start. We stopped for snacks and the girls were like locusts. They came and cleared out the table. But they did it politely and with nearly no mess at all. They each brought down a bag of popcorn or pretzels and filled their water bottles (with tops) before they went down to the second movie. The second movie went well but some of the girls had a hard time keeping their concentration that long. We had space for them to play quietly but it was distracting for some.

If you decide to do this for your kids, I highly recommend it. A few things I learned and would recommend. Name tags for the girls and name tags for their dolls (we had like 6 Elizabeth dolls and several of the other ones) - I also recommended they take off shoes or losable items to minimize losing items or people taking home the wrong ones. I also really liked the covered water bottle idea - as we had no spills at all. We also asked people to bring snacks so we had variety and the girls seemed to like this. Lastly, I would limit it to one movie and do two seperate nights rather than one double feature night. It just got too long for some of the girls.

What fun though! Having a movie night is easy and fun. Making it an American girl movie night seemed to make it more special for the girls. Can't wait for Molly to come out so we can do it again.


November 3, 2006

Call me Crazy

We have somewhere around 30 girls between the ages of 7-10 coming over for an American Girl double feature movie night. We are watching Felicity and Samantha. We have snacks, wonderful girls and know it will be a great night. More updates after we recover!

November 2, 2006

Fun Science

October 30, 2006

Quiet Moments

We all need to have those quiet moments of reflection and quiet and as moms they are often hard to come by. I remember being in college and I always went to water and trees to quiet myself. I would sit on the river or ponds edge under some trees and just be still and quiet. I could sit for hours in silence in just my quiet reflections. After I had kids those hours would have to be replaced by mere snippets of a moment or a few seconds or minutes of quiet reflection.

Today I received a real treat. It was the perfect fall day and Ciaran suggested we go for a nature walk so we did. We went to a pond and walked slowly, stopping to examine moss, cattails, a family of ducks, a climbing tree, leaves falling from the trees and all the other little details we saw along the way. At one point Rhiannon decided to sketch something and Sirah was quietly sitting in her stroller drawing her own picture, Ciaran took this opportunity to go off trail and explore the nearby woods alone and as for me I sat still and silent.

I sat right down on the trail and looked out through the trees across the pond and to the trees on the other side. I watched the water move slowly, the wind blow through the trees, the leaves fall off, and the ducks swim slowly. I could hear natures sounds as well as those of my own family. Rhiannon finished drawing and came to sit on my lap. We sat quiet for a bit then quietly shared what we were feeling and seeing. We talked about God's creation and the beauty of all the colors. Ciaran came out from the woods and informed us he decided what he was going to sketch "All of this" and he made broad sweeps with his hands to take it all in.

He dropped down next to us and began sketching with a variety of colors his impression of what he saw around us. He would pause as if to decide what to do next or if he was done. When we completed it in his mind he had me write the name of the pond, his name and age and this "I hope whoever looks at this is happy when they do" - then the magical moment was over and everyone wanted to move on to the next thing.

For a moment though I was still, we all were and we shared a quiet reflective moment. Laying in the greens, blues and browns that were surrounding us with bursts of red, orange and yellow from time to time. I love the peace and the quiet of nature and I love sharing that with my kids. Though I must admit there is little quiet or peaceful when we are there :)

What a blessing of a retreat just a few hours before our weather dipped back down to the 30's where it will stay all week. Nothing like a 30 degree temperature drop in just a few hours. Still it is those quiet and warm moments we hold on to through the winter moments.


October 29, 2006

Serving Children

If you really want to understand how privileged you are - serve someone else who really needs to be served, then you see yourself and your life in a different light. The kids and I recently had an opportunity to serve at Feed My Starving Children which is an incredible organization that gets food to people who really need it.

Friends from our homeschool group spent just under two hours helping package nearly 7,000 meals or enough food to feed 19 children for a year! Everyone did their job well and we worked hard to get a lot done. Even little Sirah helped out - her and Ciaran helped pat down the bags after they were sealed and lined them up along the numbers on the table so that I could package them in a box. Rhiannon helped fill the bags with scoops of veggies and soy. They worked hard and helped clean up afterwards sweeping and drying dishes.

If you have an opportunity to serve with this organization or one like it I highly recommend it. The kids really enjoyed it and want to know if we can go back tomorrow. We have had many great conversations this evening about the work we did, the struggles that so many other children face and how blessed we are. The realization of how little money it takes to make a meal (15 cents per meal) and how much it is needed really gave us some perspective.

Serving with your children is special. It is a precious gift to pass on to them and to witness yourself as you see them put someone else above their own interests and really take it to heart. As I looked around the room I saw many families serving together and thought what a special thing that was. As I watched mothers, fathers and their kids working together for a great purpose it reminded me of how we are called to be the body of Christ to the world and to each other. What better way to show that to your children than to serve with them. There were young kids, teenagers, parents, infants and grandparents, all working together and serving together.

If you have ever performed much service whether it be through your church or your community or a local volunteer organization you have probably experienced that serving together draws you together. The people you serve with you share a special bond with. So who better to serve and share that bond with than your own children, their friends and their parents? Service opportunities abound, find one and branch out with your own children and serve someone or a purpose greater than yourselves. The results may surprise you in pleasant ways.


October 25, 2006

Beowulf Narration

We read a shortened version of the Beowulf poem for history today as we begin our move into the Middle Ages. We have spent nearly the whole beginning of this year in Ancient Rome and Greece up until the fall of Rome so it is nice to be slowly moving on to something else. We still are talking about the Celts and barbarians. I really enjoy sharing history as a chronological story - it just makes so much sense to do it this way.

Here is Rhiannon's narration after hearing Beowulf
Once there was a hall where men came and feasted and slept near the wall. But in the middle of the night a monster named Grendel came in and munched on a man and took 15 more and was gone. They were so scared that they called a great man named Beowulf and this is what Beowulf said when the king asked him if there was anything he needed. "I do not need sharper swords, I don't need anything. Because the beast has no weapons only claws and teeth. So I will fight with my bare hands otherwise I will be bored." So when Grendel came in in the night Beowulf took his arm and twisted it off. The great Grendel ran and fell in a pool and got himself drowned. Everyone else feasted in that great hall. They hung up his arm very high and stayed there until the evening was old.

October 24, 2006

American Girl Kirsten Lesson Plan

In our homeschool cooperative American Girl class we recently studied Kirsten. Several of the girls came in pioneer clothing, aprons and bonnets. They were much more interactive in this class because they knew more about the time period. I changed my teaching approach and basically threw out my lesson plan and simply asked leading questions to have them show they already knew the answers to many of the questions. We did spend some time talking about what it would be like to move so far during that time and how little they could really bring with them. How they would likely be only able to pick one special toy to bring with them. The girls shared what they would bring and we talked some about what life was like then. I also shared a poem in Swedish which I am sure I did not do accurately but I faked it okay. I have some Scandinavian blood in me so maybe that helped. Once again one of the girls had the doll we were discussing and brought her to share with us.

As class has gone on we have decreased the "talk time" so we have more activity and craft time. This seems to work well because they get more hands on experiences and we talk to them as they work about the craft or activity they are doing and how it would have been done and used during the time period. For our activities this time the girls made yarn dolls, painted wooden spoons and worked on sewing a patchwork pillow. We talked about how they wasted nothing and that is why they would use items like yarn and leftover material to make their toys.

The yarn dolls were very easy to make with simple materials, especially since I am knitter and crocheter my yarn stash is happy to release some yarn. We followed a pattern out of Kirsten's craft book but here is another version slightly different from the one we followed. I had a variety of colors for the girls to choose from and we did it all without glue. They tied hair and bows into the hair - some tied faces on as well - others opted to wait until they could glue theirs on at home. Somehow we forgot to have glue with us. While we worked on the dolls I talked to the girls about how and why girls during that time would make yarn dolls.

For the spoons, my co-teacher had pre-painted them a solid color ahead of time, so the spoons had time to dry. The girls then were able to paint different Swedish designs onto their personal spoon and left them to dry before bringing them home. This activity showed some of the traditional items that came from Sweden.

For the final station they had the opportunity to start a patchwork pillow though there was no way we had enough time for them to finish this activity - they were able to take it home with them if they wanted to keep working on it but at least they started it. We talked about why things were made of patches (not wasting anything) and how young children started sewing (around 4) and the girls realized how much hard work it was. We also talked about "bees" and how over time the work would be easy and mindless and the women and girls could visit and talk while they got their work done.

I am really enjoying this class and watching history come alive for the girls. Having the girls interact with history and relate to girls their age across time as they learn about some of what has come before and brought us to where we are. Rhiannon and I often have discussions about what she likes during a time period and what she dislikes and whether she is glad to live now or wishes there was another time she lived in? So far every time there may be a few things she really liked (usually related to how they dress) but overall she is very glad she lives now and realizes how blessed she is to live in this time and how easy things have gotten for us.

For history lately we have been studying Rome and Greece. She has been very interested in the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans so we have just let her run with it and read as she wants to in non-fiction books. Some of the hardness and toughness of the age and times really affects her. She struggled when she read about how they treated imperfect babies and how different boys and girls and men and women were treated. She really struggled today when she read that some girls were married around the age of 12 and she looked at me and said that is in just 5 years for me mom. I assured her that she would not be marrying at age 12 and we talked some about the differences from then and now.

It is amazing to me to watch her interact with history and watch her brain and heart work as she discovers not only history but some of herself, who she is, who she could become and how choices affect who and what she is to be. To see this in these girls is one of the reasons I love teaching this class!


October 23, 2006

Childhood Experiences

I have come to accept and realize that Serona and I parent in a way to encourage our children to have a lot of varying experiences. It is important to us and it is either a result of or a basis for some of the choices and decisions we make for our family. I don't think we ever really sat down and said "We want our kids to have a wide range of experiences" I think we just naturally lived it out and made conscious choices to accomplish that - so that is more a result of our choices than the basis for them.

First I want to set the record straight that I believe majority of parents give their kids lots of varying experiences. We just all tend to choose different types of things to do with our kids. It is just that we tend to do a variety of things all the time and tend do things people don't think of doing with really small children. It is more a rule than an exception for us. This comes at other expenses to be sure. We have less time to dedicate to our home and yard and wish we spent more time improving those, we spend a lot of time in the car, we don't watch much TV, the kids only get to be in one activity at a time (one child per season, not one activity for each child), and we are on the move a lot.

As a family we do many activities that most families with small children do. We go to parks, playgrounds, beaches, swimming pools, play organized sports (only one at a time though), play ball in the yard and fly kites. We do a lot of things that many families with small children do, we take hikes, we walk through nature preserves, we take roadtrips and vacations, we bike together, go to the zoo, go apple picking and we go to the gym together.

We also do many things that other people maybe do once in awhile but we tend to do them all the time. We go to museums a lot, several times a month, we frequent historical sites (we wear time period clothing when we go), we visit the arboretum several times a month (often weekly in the summer), we hike up mountains (and yes the kids walk), the kids go rock climbing, we take several hour long drives just to sightsee or do random things like drive to the next state just because, they hold tarantulas and wear snakes around their neck (both were very tame and we were at a nature preserve), have opportunities to feed and learn to care for all sorts of animals, ride camels and horses, take trolley rides, walk to our downtown area (about a mile) often enough that it is not unusual, we go on frog hunts, look for random places to stop and enjoy, camp in a tent, go to Scottish and Irish festivals, and we visit farms (historical, working, elk, dairy, and others).

We also do a few things that people don't think little children can or should do but our kids enjoy or atleast do just fine at. We work on political campaigns as a family, they have gone to caucuses and to see politicians speak, they have shaken hands with Norm Coleman (our senator), Tim Pawlenty (our governor), our congressman, Ralph Nader and Laura Bush. They have been at picnics with our local state representatives. We have taken them to the capitol several times including visits to their representatives. We've gone door knocking, lawn sign distributing, worked in campaign headquarters, to political rallies, marched in parades and done sign waving in a cold Minnesota November. They come with us when we vote and they've heard about the whole process since they were infants. They have seen President Bush speak in person twice and been right up front for one of them and for when Laura Bush spoke here as well. They have been to hear Ralph Nader speak (Rhiannon twice) as well as other politicians and they were well behaved.

We have taken the kids to Star Wars conventions and midnight movie openers in full costume. We've taken them to plays and concerts and book signings (that were not specifically for kids). We have spent countless hours in locations on field trips geared for "older kids" that our children really enjoyed, we drove to South Dakota to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder home while they were still young. The list goes on and on.

This summer we were extremely fortunate and blessed and took two family vacations. One to Walt Disney World and another to Southern California. In addition Rhia and I took a trip to NYC. This is not normal nor will it likely ever happen again in the same summer but it was an exceptional and a wonderful summer! At first I was hesitant to take the kids to Walt Disney World wanting to wait until they were all older and could remember it but it was worth it and I am glad we went now. They still talk about it in detail (even Sirah) and it has become a part of them that I believe they will remember atleast in fragments and positive ways. When in NYC Rhia even got to go to her first Broadway show and dinner at the View (thanks to her grandparents).

So what is the push for all these experiences? And what is the cost? We have managed much of these experiences financially through memberships to locations (some purchased others given as gifts) which we pay once and then use over and over again. We are a family that memberships really pay for as we generally pay them off after two or three visits and then use them many times over after that. The other costs are an occasional tired child, or a missed nap and sometimes a squabble or two. But the costs pale in comparison to the benefits our kids are experiencing.

What is the driving force behind all this? There are a few things we want our children to grow up with: a deep appreciation for God's creation and all it's beauty, a commitment to good stewardship of our earth (which first requires an appreciation for it), a solid understanding of where they have come from and where others have come from (an appreciation for history), a love of the arts and all that is beautiful (music, art, poetry, etc), a commitment to and an ability to be good citizens (thus all the politics). I suppose since those are the end goals (among others) we are trying to give them experiences to help along that process.

However, it is not all us, much of it comes from our past childhood experiences. Both of us had parents that were committed to giving us a variety of experiences whether or not we appreciated them at the time. Recently I received an email from my FIL in reference to some pictures I sent them last night. He writes:

"...Where was the camel--California? I see you are abusing the kids again
making them go to a stupid apple farm--I think Serona needs therapy--he is
reenacting his childhood's most dreaded memories..."

To put it in context he is referring to Serona in his tween and early teens when mom and dad kept taking them to hopelessly uncool places (like arboretums and apple farms) and he would use unkind words to express his feelings (like stupid and abuse and boring and so on). Serona's dad is getting a kick out of how we are "dragging" our kids to all these same places that were so unfair and unkind to him as a child. They also mentioned it on their summer visit when we all went to the arboretum together. It is a rather fun inside joke that I am sharing because it demonstrates that this is not just our desire for our kids but has been passed down generationally. We both had parents committed to getting us to experience a wide variety of things even if they were not popular childhood destinations.

I remember growing up and frequently visiting New York City with my mother. My father often came with us but not always, sometimes just mom would do it. She would pack all of us from the time we were little and still in strollers and take us on the bus and train and subways into the city so we could experience it. Christmas in Manhattan is still a very fond memory for me and I miss it. I remember going to Macy's and waiting on line for Santa, visiting the Cabbage Patch when it opened, being awed by FAO Schwartz, ice skating in Rockfeller Center under the tree, all the amazing windows, St. Patrick's cathedral, climbing up into the Statue of Liberty, the top of the empire state building, Broadway shows, the rockettes, and how beautiful NYC looks in the snow. My mother took four young kids into the city and she even took my friends with us. Her willingness to do this helped me not grow up scared but rather smart of the city. She also drove us for what felt like forever (about an hour) to the Hamptons so we could spend time on "real" beaches where she grew up and see the little tourist towns and fall in love with the ocean where it was less crowded and we really could boogie board better. She took us to Sagamore Hill and other historical sites and I know Serona's parents did the same for him.

I share all this because as you grow up and try to figure out what you want to share with your children you realize how much of it is your own childhood experiences and memories. Serona and I were blessed with parents who wanted us to experience so much and gave us so many opportunities. The opportunities were driven by what was available to us where we were living at the time but the underlying philosophy is the same and has passed on generation to generation.

So is it really any big surprise that I am a field trip coordinator for our homeschool support group or that I write posts like "Why Do Field Trips"? In a way it was simply meant to be. I hope my children and their children are able to pass on so many wonderful and new experiences to their children and grandchildren. I am thankful for the opportunity that we have to do so ourselves and we try to make the most of it.

Go out, explore and enjoy the world with your kids,

September Reading List

Ok so I am slow moving this year but I have decided to post our reading lists again since I have been asked by many to do so. Formatting may not be the best but it will have to do.

10 Cool Things About Being a Ring Bearer Penelope Colville Paine
10 Neat Things About Being a Flower Girl Penelope Colville Paine
A Baby's First Bible
A Dragon in a Wagon (Magic Castle Readers Language Arts) Jane Belk Moncure
A Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln (Picture Book Biography) David A. Adler
A Sip of Aesop Jane Yolen; Aesop
ABC (The Anne Geddes Collection) Anne Geddes
Abraham Lincoln (Let Freedom Ring: Civil War Biographies) Lora Polack Oberle
Abraham Lincoln (Welcome Books: Real People (Sagebrush)) Pamela Walker;
Abraham Lincoln: Our Sixteenth President (Our Presidents) Sarah Bowler

Abuela (English Edition with Spanish Phrases) Arthur Dorros
Alaska (Welcome to the U.S.a.) Ann Heinrichs
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Judith Viorst
Allergies (Rookie Read-About Health) Sharon Gordon
Ambulances (Pebble Books) Marcia S. Freeman
An Anteater Named Arthur Bernard Waber
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti (An Owlet Book) Gerald McDermott
Animal Babies in Ponds and Rivers Jennifer Schofield
Animal Noises (Copy Cats Spinner Board Books) Richard Powell
Antelope (True Books: Animals) Melissa Stewart

Apples (True Books-Food & Nutrition) Elaine Landau; Children's Press
Are You a Frog? (Touch and Learn) noeline cassettari
Argentina (Countries) Kate A. Conley
Around and Around (Rookie Read-About Science) Patricia J. Murphy
Australia (Rookie Read-About Geography) Allan Fowler
Baby Alligator (All Aboard Reading) Ginjer L. Clarke;
Baby's Boat Jeanne Titherington
Bedtime for Frances Russell Hoban
Bible ABC Eric Metaxas
Big red barn Margaret Wise, 1910- Brown

Bless the Lord: The 103rd Psalm (Illustrated Psalms) Johannah Bluedorn
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Bill Martin Jr.
Bunny's Bedtime Helen Rossendale
Calico Cow Learns How (Read-to-Me Puppet Buddies) Lois Keffer
Come Aboard Noah's Ark Floor Puzzle julie downing
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Jane Yolen; Mark Teague
Curious George and the Dinosaur Margret Rey
Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon H. A. Rey;
Curious George Goes to the Beach H. A. Rey;
Digging Up Dinosaurs Aliki

Disney Winnie the Pooh Learning Shapes Disney
DK Readers: Wild Baby Animals (Level 1: Beginning to Read) Karen Wallace
Follow that flea! Stephen Mooser
Fun and Games in Colonial America (Colonial America) Mark Thomas
Giggle, giggle, quack Doreen Cronin
God is Bigger than the Boogie Man Cindy Kenney; Bryan Ballinger; Inc. Big Idea
God Made You Special Eric Metaxas; Bryan Ballinger; Inc. Big Idea
Going to Sleep on the Farm Wendy Cheyette Lewison
Good Morning, Good Night!: ATouch & Feel Bedtime Book Melanie Mitchell

There's a Wocket in My Pocket! Dr. Suess
HOME FOR A BUNNY Margaret Wise Brown
Homes in Colonial America (Welcome Books) Mark Thomas
I am playing Mercer Mayer
I'd Be Your Princess: A Royal Tale of Godly Character Kathryn O'Brien
If You Give a Pig a Pancake (If You Give...) Laura Numeroff
I'm Kaitlyn!: I Have Important Jobs to Do Crystal Bowman
Look What Came from Australia (Look What Came from) Kevin Davis
Lucky Pup's Christmas ken brown
Lucy's Winter Tale Amy Ehrlich

Mama Do You Love Me BB 03 (Cust) Barbara M. Joosse
Mama's Wild Child/papa's Wild Child Dianna Hutts Aston
Miss Spider's Tea Party: The Counting Book (Miss Spider) david kirk
My "E" Book (My First Steps to Reading) Jane Belk Moncure
My A Book Jane Belk Moncure
My Angel and Me Tom McGrew; Hugh Penton; David Meade
My Ears (Furgang, Kathy. My Body.) Kathy Furgang
My Mom's Great (Great Relatives)
Oh, Say Can You Say? (Beginner Books(R)) Dr. Seuss; Dr Seuss; Seuss
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish Dr. Seuss;

Ours Brun, Dis-Moi / Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Eric Carle
Owl Babies Martin Waddell; Patrick Benson
Put me in the zoo Robert Lopshire
Radio Rescue Lynne Barasch
Richard Scarry's Longest Counting Parade Ever! Richard Scarry
Sailor Moo: Cow at Sea (Golden Kite Honors (Awards)) Lisa Wheeler; Ponder Goembel
Tell Me What We Did Today Rick Kupchella; Warren Hanson
Ten Apples up on Top dr suess
Ten Little Ladybugs Melanie Gerth; Laura Huliska-Beith
Ten Little Monkeys (Spanish Edition) Danny Brooks Dalby

The American Wei Marion Hess Pomeranc; Pomeranc
The Lamb and the Butterfly (Blue Ribbon Book) Arnold Sundgaard
The Life and Times of the Apple Charles Micucci
The Runaway Bunny Margaret Wise Brown
The Story of Jonah (Dorling Kindersley) nadine wickenden
The Trow-Wife's Treasure Olivier Dunrea
The Water Hole Graeme Base
The Wheels on the Bus Paul Zelinsky; Paul O. Zelinsky; Paul O Zelinsky
The Wretched Stone Chris Van Allsburg
Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day Jamie Lee Curtis

Touch And Feel Bible Stories (Touch and Feel (Readers Digest)) Beverly Larson
Touch and Feel: Kitten (Touch and Feel) DK Publishing; Kindersley Dorling
Uncover the Human Body: An Uncover It Book Luann Colombo
What Is An Artist? (Single Titles) Barbara Lehn; Lehn Barbara
What Is An Athlete? (Single Titles) Barbara Lehn; Lehn Barbara
When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth Jamie Lee Curtis
Where do balloons go? Jamie Lee Curtis
Where Lincoln walked Raymond Bial
Who Do You Love?: A Touch And Feel Book Margaret Wang; Melanie Mitchell
You're All My Favorites Sam Mcbratney; Anita Jeram