September 29, 2006

Botany Lesson

Botany Lesson
Sep 29, 2006 - 14 Photos
We recently had an outstanding Botany lesson. The kind of day that reminds you what is so special and unique about homeschooling and what makes homeschooling fun. Our original plan was to go to the arboretum in the afternoon after school but rain was in the forecast so we flushed the plan and headed to the arboretum first thing with our sketch books and Botany textbook.

We were learning about different phyla of the plant kingdom. For this lesson we would learn about vascular, non-vascular plants, angiosperm, gymnosperm, seedless vascular plants and find samples of these. We took a hike through the cool fall leaves and found what we were looking for. We discovered, photographed, narrated and sketched: moss, lichens, trees, ferns, acorns, helicopters (as my kids call them), fungi, and pinecones.

We had a lot of fun all together even though it was a bit chilly and we cut the day short. It was fun to be out all together just enjoying God's creation and getting some schooling done in the process. It reminded us all about the special opportunities and choices we have as homeschoolers and how much fun we can have together as a family while we get things done.

I recorded Rhiannon's narrations for her and placed them in her Botany notebook along with her sketches and some photos from the day. I thought I would share some of the photos we took from the day. Picassa has a cool new tool that allows you to create slideshows and photo galleries. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

Let me know your thoughts.

September 28, 2006

Letter of the Week

I love teaching young children with a letter of the week approach. It is a lot of fun and lets us be silly and serious at the same time. It is easy to incorporate great storybooks and fun hands on activities along with other usual things like writing the letter and math skill builders.

Last week we did the Letter A. We learned about apples, went apple picking, used an abacus, painted a letter A and printed out pictures that start with the letter A. We read books that either started with A or were about subjects related to the letter A. We studied Noah's Ark and Adam and the Apple. We worked on addition and did apple painting, baked an apple pie and went to the arboretum. We learned about anatomy and did art work. We talked about being an artist and the country of America.

This week we are looking at the letter B. We have made a B box with items around the house that start with the letter B, studied bears and the bible. We have read books and talked about our brain. We went on a bear hunt and learned about Botany. We pretended to be bears and learned how to hibernate and lived in a den (under our kitchen table). We have painted the letter B and googled for images that start with the letter B to glue on it. Today we are going to be butterflies and learn about their life cycle and act it out.

We are also going to talk about badgers - including their favorite one Frances (from the books by Russell Hoban). To get them excited about badgers we watch these short cartoon clips (warning not all parents would find these suitable for their kids) found here and here.

I intended to include a bus ride to the bear rock cafe like I did when I taught this to Rhiannon but it is rainy and we are sick so we will miss out on the bus ride this year. Maybe we will make a boat inside. Another good field trip idea for B week is to go visit a barn. We were going to do that this afternoon when we went apple picking but the weather once again foils our plans! Still we can do it another time.


September 27, 2006

Welcome Fall

Fall is my favorite season - it always has been. Here is a single tree that looks like two from a recent trip to the arboretum. Fall is in full force and the leaves get prettier every day. Get out and enjoy!

September 26, 2006

Rhiannon on school

I recently asked Rhiannon what her favorite subjects are - this is her subject selection in order.


She did not mention the other subjects we cover because we have not gotten too into them yet (music, art, latin, poetry). It was interesting to hear her opinion.

September 25, 2006

Argument Class

I've been going back and forth about how I want to blog my argument class this year. I am teaching an Introduction to Argument class for our homeschool cooperative. I have just 6 students (the class maximum size I was willing to have) all boys 7th-9th grade.

Typically I put full lesson plans or teaching outlines up for the classes I teach but I have decided against that for this particular class for a variety of reasons. Instead I guess I will just sum up what I teach each week. The main reason is far too much would get lost in the translation of my outlines and it would seem oversimplified. I would hate for someone to pick up one of my outlines and try to teach from it as it would be very difficult to do without my background and understanding of argument. Also so much of the class will be based around the particular arguments the students themselves choose.

So what is worth sharing here? I still feel some basic overview of what I teach is week would be useful atleast for my own record keeping if not for someone trying to get a full lesson plan out of it. This is the time when my blogs multiple functions come into play. While much of what I post is to help my readers find ideas and creative ways to share lessons some of it is also just to record our daily lives and lessons and things I want to remember how I did them.

All that being said my first argument class was a success and very fun to teach. I felt at home right away - teaching argument and debate is such a part of who I am and I love having an audience to listen to me when I talk about this topic. I could have been a "lifer" in debate were it not for how unfamily friendly the lifestyle of a debate coach is. It is no life to have with three small children and traveling every week and living and breathing debate for atleast 7 months of the year (often more months than that as well). So we both gave it up though we both loved it. It was the right choice but it is always exciting when I can have opportunities to share even little parts of it with others who are interested in the topic.

I began the class with a lot of talk about expectations and behaviors I wanted in the class as well as asking each student to tell me why they were taking the class. This turned out to be very informative to me and was a natural lead in for the topic of "What is Argument" I wanted the students to list a wide variety of answers and they did, including elements of argument and elements of fighting and everything in between. We also talked about the difference between a speech and an argument - where they can overlap and where they can differ. I also spent some time going through the difference between argument and debate and setting the expectation for what I want them to get out of the class when they are done.

The tricky part of teaching this particular class is that I only have 6 one hour sessions to teach a complex topic to relatively young students. My overall goal for the students is that they have a basic understanding of the elements that make up a good argument and an understanding of how to structure and write a good argument themselves. This may disappoint some who are hoping it will be about the competition or debate more than the construction of a good argument but in the end I think this approach will offer them the best basis in argument.

I used some sample arguments to demonstrate the basic elements that should be contained in any good argument. I used some ideas that would appeal to them (video games, tv shows and the like) as well as some real life examples of arguments that I have constructed on the fly to demonstrate the power of understanding how to construct argument.

For their first assignment they have to find a written argument that they feel demonstrates good argument and point out the elements of argument that we discussed. They also have to pick a topic for the entire class that they want to demonstrate through argument. For this next class they need to pick the topic and outline it using the elements of argument. I am looking forward to next week.


September 23, 2006

American Girl History Class Lesson Plan Felicity

We did our first American girl history class today with 9 little girls in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade at our homeschool cooperative, Rhiannon is one of them. I am teaching this class with two wonderful ladies who also have daughters in the class. We are looking at one American girl each week and the time period and culture in which she grew up. We began this week with Felicity and her friend Elizabeth who live in Williamsburg Virginia around the start of the American Revolution.

Rhiannon actually owns both Felicity and Elizabeth and nearly their entire wardrobe thanks to the generosity of her grandparents and other family members. She brought both dolls dressed in her favorite outfits for them and laid out all the rest of the outfits with accessories on the table for the girls to see and look at the type of clothing worn during the time Felicity grew up.

After looking through these clothes and the dolls the girls gathered around a table and I began talking to them about the time period. A good friend of mine taught this class a few years ago and I was able to use some of her notes and suggestions and the book Welcome to Felicity's World is an excellent resource if you want to create a lesson for this time period.

I began by mentioning the time period and what was going on in the world. I talked a little about the history of England and the colonies and why people came here. I talked about the Loyalists and Patriots and how Felicity and Elizabeth's families were of opposing positions on these issues yet they were friends. I drew the girls in by asking them what they knew of Felicity and what was different about the time from now. Then I showed pictures from the book (as I did not have access to real artifacts which would always be preferred if you can obtain them) and talked about the way people dressed, school work, childhood responsibilities, games, cooking and entertaining. We talked about how different things were and I often pointed to the pictures and asked for the girls observations. I only spent about 10-15 minutes doing this but a lot of information was passed on and hopefully some absorbed.

My co-teachers had set up several stations for the girls to move through to actually try and experience some of the things we talked about. We divided the class into three groups and they each got a turn at a needlepoint station, a handwriting station and playing the game of graces/learning the minuet station.

For the needlepoint station three embroidery hoops were set up and each girl worked on one. They were working on the letter A. One of the teachers helped them learn how to do the stitches and helped them as they went along. We used the same hoops for all three groups letting each group work off of the group before them. The girls were pretty quiet and focused at this station.

At the handwriting station there was nice paper and envelopes, an ink bottle and quill feather pens. The teacher also had set up a candle and wax stamp for sealing the envelopes. There were sample letters there to show the style of handwriting used and each girl was given the opportunity to write what she wished using the supplies. We did not anticipate how wet the ink would be and that it would not dry in time for the girls to place the writing in the envelope and seal it with the wax. We ended up doing this at a later hour for the girls on our hour off together. Though I must confess I did not do it at all, the other wonderful ladies did.

At the station I was in charge of the girls learned how to play the game of graces. This is a two player game which involves a decorated hoop (ours was decorated with ribbons) and four sticks. Each girl had two sticks and they had to toss and catch the hoop with the sticks. Since our groups were odd in number I had two girls play the game while I taught the third the steps to the minuet. I found these in the back of a Felicity book and found a free 45 second clip of Bach's minuet online which I saved onto my computer and played in a repeating loop. After the girls had all learned the steps they took turns partnering off and doing the steps together.

We let each group spend approximately 10-15 minutes at a station and then move on to the next. This meant each girl was always having the opportunity to do something and there was very little idle or waiting time involved. This worked very well and I would highly recommend it if you have the opportunity to do a similar class.

We ended the class by letting the girls taste Sally Lunn bread, a traditional bread from the time which one of the teachers made at her house and brought in. We did make certain modification like we used Redi-whip swish in the can instead of clotted cream (which was a wise decision). The girls enjoyed the snack and it was a nice way to round off the class though I am not sure if we will cook for every class.

All the girls were delightful to have in class and it really was a lot of fun. They seemed to enjoy themselves and to engage both while we were talking about the subject and while we were doing the activities. I think they enjoyed the activities more but having talked about them beforehand gave them context and engaged them in the activities. When I was teaching the minuet several of them realized that they would have had to practice alot and how tiring it would be to dance all night as many of these dances went on until 2am! They also realized how hard they had to concentrate on the stitches and letters. I think the lessons combined to bring home what life then was like.

Of course I am a huge fan of living history and historical fiction and all the wonderful activities that go along with it. Bringing history alive for kids and making it fun is something I simply love to do and I am excited to be able to do that with these wonderful ladies and for these great girls. I am also extremely thankful that I have been paired with creative artsy ladies who are not all intimidated (as I am) of crafty things!

Future dolls and time periods we plan to study (though this may change) are Kaya, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. We also plan to present a full play based on Samantha and have a formal tea party during this 6 week session that runs until the beginning of December approximately every other week. Look for more lessons to come.


September 22, 2006

Homeschool Cooperative

Over the years we have been involved in several homeschool cooperatives. When Rhiannon was just four we started our first preschool type one with two friends of mine and we took turns teaching lessons to them, we have been through several since. Our current homeschool cooperative is truly exceptional and we are blessed to be a part of it!

We had our first session this week and it went great. Our coop is a parent taught and organized one. It is very well organized, run and maintained. We meet for a little over 3 hours each week and divide the time up:

General Assembly
First Hour Class
Second Hour Class
Third Hour Class

The group has five age group divisions: Nursery, 3-4 year olds, 5-1st grade, 2nd-4th grade, and 5th grade up. The nursery is primarily just free play time and they do some crafts for the older 2 year olds as well. The next two levels follow a Five in a Row type structure reading one book and doing activities around it, including crafts, snacks, music and games. The older two levels have electives picking a different class for each hour. The classes are created and taught by moms and some dads. Each parent teaches or assists for two hours and has one hour off to socialize with other parents.

This year both Ciaran and Sirah are following the Five in a Row structure but are in separate classes because of their ages. Rhiannon has electives and is in the 2nd-4th grade group. This year she is taking an American Girl history class, physical education (gym), and an art class called Meet the Masters.

For my teaching responsibility I am teaching her American Girl history class for the 2nd-4th grade, I am also teaching a senior level (7th grade and up) argument class. I am very excited for both of these classes as I love both these topics and passing on a love and knowledge of them to children.

As time permits I will include partial lesson plans for the classes that I teach here on the blog. It looks to be a great year for our coop! The kids had a great first day and the older two went to a friends house to play for the entire afternoon. Sirah and I came home read some picture books and took a nap for the remainder of the afternoon. Bliss!

September 21, 2006

P.E. in the Garage

Due to the rain and crazy kids we had PE in the garage. Having a two car garage with no car in it actually gave us a pretty good space to play in. The temperature was nice and we opened the door slightly for extra light and a breeze. I put blue paint tape on the floor to make a court for in bounds and out of bounds. We also used an extra deck plank for a balance beam and to divide the court when we needed. We also used a blow-up beach ball, scooter and a timer.

We played balance beam games, follow the leader, jumping games and several ball games. We played a version of volleyball, keep up in the air and monkey in the middle. It was modified at times to meet the ages of our kids but everyone was moving and laughing and enjoying themselves (me included). Before it started raining the kids ran some laps in our backyard - it takes them about a minute to run one lap along the perimeter of our fence, our yard has a nice hill that provides up and down hill working as well. They also did some jumping jacks and push-ups in the house.

This is unusual for us I have never tried to do anything formal with them but I find they really need to release the energy in the middle of the day and Rhiannon especially needs to be more active and build up some endurance. I am trying to think ahead for another Minnesota winter and plans to keep them active. Any equipment to purchase and preplan for. We also belong to a gym but unfortunately most of the kids activities you have to pay extra for. They have a rock wall and pool which we use regularly and basketball courts and racquetball courts we use on occasion (generally for running and other balls games then what they are intended for). We also have a mini trampoline that gets a lot of good use during the winter and are contemplating adding a kids weight punching bag to our garage this year especially for Ciaran.

What do you find your kids and you enjoy doing to keep physically active when you are generally housebound? Any great activities and PE type things you do regularly with your kids or items you think are great to purchase (like the mini-trampoline worth it's weight in gold for us). Please share your ideas here or point me to resources you enjoy!


September 20, 2006

Back to Good

Today was our first really good school day this year. The kind you really enjoy having. Most of that was because I started the "fun" stuff with Ciaran and Sirah, I really love doing Letter of the Week lessons and making them fun - preschool and kindergarten just has such fun things to do.

We are studying the Letter A this week and have gone apple picking and made an apple pie and made apple paintings with the star in the middle of the apple. We are learning about Adam and the apple, Noah's Ark, apples and amphibians. Today we got out our "sound boxes" - each Sirah and Ciaran have a basket they collect items in for the letter of the week. Rhiannon helped Sirah and I helped Ciaran search around the house for items that started with the letter A.

Some items in their baskets were: apples, Adam, arachnids, amphibians, apes, Ariel, aardvark, asparagus, artichoke, art, airplane, astronaut, letter A, and Aslan.

I have a big posterboard where I tape our themes - The letter of the week (A), the number of the week (0), the shape of the week (triangle), the bible story of the week (Adam and the Apple), the theme of the week (apples), and the vocabulary word (anatomy). I have colored pictures taped to the board and then they go in the binder at the end of the week along with any other work they did. We talk about those each day and we go through our letter boxes each day. We also painted with apples today.

It was a fun and good day. Rhiannon helped "teach" some things and enjoyed painting her own picture in addition to her own work. I am glad to be back in the swing of Letter of the week again.


September 19, 2006

Oliver Kelly Farm

We began this week with a field trip to the Oliver Kelly Farm. It was a cold and rainy day, certainly not an ideal day for a field trip to an outdoor farm. Half of our group cancelled at the last minute for a variety of reasons that was the best decision for their families. This brought our group numbers from 66 to 34 but we still had a great time at the location.

The group broke up into two age groups splitting around the age of 9. All three of my kids were in the younger group which made it easy for me to be with all of them. The groups each visited four stations at the farm and did age appropriate tasks for that part of the farm.

We began inside the house in the kitchen. The kids prepared to get things ready to cook. Some went to get ingredients, others ground coffee (the youngest toddlers included), some carried firewood and others helped stir the items together. They learned about what was different from the way we cook today and from our modern day kitchens.

Next we headed out to the fields where the kids helped cut doen corn husks and pile them into bales. The oldest in our group got to use the scythe , Rhiannon included. Ciaran was upset he did not get to use that especially since the farmer mentioned it was a boy job but he was letting a girl try it out. Ciaran did get to tie the bundle together though.

Next we moved to the garden. By this time Sirah had fallen asleep (I scheduled it right over her naptime - you would think I would know better). I had brought the double stroller though and laid her down in it to sleep. The kids went out into the field and learned a bit about planting and harvesting. They helped harvest and eat yellow tomatoes and a type of melon.

Finally we went to the barn where they got to feed touch and see several different kinds of animal and learn about the animals and how they would be cared for and their jobs on the farm.

The kids all seemed to really enjoy themselves and the moms even had some time to socialize and get to know one another. We had several new families join us on the trip which is always exciting and fun.


September 15, 2006

River Rendezvous

Today Rhiannon went on an all day field trip with friends from our homeschool support group. She went to the River Rendezvous, a living history festival whose goal is to demonstrate the lifestyles of people living in Minnesota between 1800 and 1870. It focuses on the history and culture of the American Indians, the fur traders and the early settlers. I stayed home with Ciaran and Sirah and her is Rhia's description of the day. In her own words as she dictates them to me....

Well first we went to see someone and he was joking around. He was telling you to stay with your group and joked that he would whip kids if they went away, but he said he couldn't so he would just tell you to go home.

Next we went to see this tent and in it there was a medical and magic show. First they were talking about how medicine shows would go around and do stuff. Then his son did some magic tricks. He juggled one, two, three, five balls, flaming torches and then he and his dad had a little fight. He kept handing him and then he kept lighting them and blowing them out on accident. Then he got people to volunteer and he found jeremiah and tetnie and then he had tetnie and jeremiah and him hold a ring and they stuck together in a chain though the hole was in the middle and not in the chain. He was actually very funny because he kept taunting Jeremiah. Jeremiah was really funny. Then he had his son lay on a bed of nails without his shirt and then had five people come up and feel that they were real nails and they lied down on them and put a small one on top of him and had another volunteer come up and she stepped on the iron spike that was laid across his chest and after about one minute she stepped back down and then she went back to her seat and he got his son back up off and showed where the nails had poked him but there was no injury or anything.

Next at the tent we saw him do the fire eater and this was a very funny thing because he took torches and lit them with real fire and swallow them and burp up the fire and once it actually scorched the top of the tent. Then he actually swallowed the fire and he said that actually pretty much tastes like chicken but don't try it at home.

After we left the tent we went to go to lunch and then we went to cat and mouse. It is a game kind of like tug of war except you need to find a stone or something that you can stand on. Then you find long pieces of rope and tie them together and then you each start out with one and the rest in the middle and the first person to have a foot off the boat or fall down loses.

Then we went to see rice picking. This guy from China told us about it. How they pick it to how they package it and used it in their homes. The neatest part about this was people actually wore special shoes called rice jigging shoes. Usually small women and children are used to jig around in the pit with all the rice to help get all the moisture out of the rice. There is one rule you can not let any dirt or earth or anything else get on your rice jigging shoes.

Then we went to a tannery where we saw him show us how he makes stuff. He takes it from killing an animal or finding a dead animal or picking up the hides of an animal that someone already killed then they would pick it up and scrap all the meat off and get the tan and leather and make hats and coats and shoes and stuff. We actually did learn one really neat thing. If you ever find an eagle feather on the ground don't pick it up or put it in your hat because that is against the law. The tannery smelled really bad and it was covered in flies because of all the animal skins.

Next we went to a chair making shop where they make chairs and stools and tables. They carved pieces out of trees and used special tools to make a round top with little holes in them. They showed the tools and said these have sharp blades. The neatest part about this place was that every single there had something that was wood on it, so it was really a wood shop.

Next we went to early medicine and he showed us how back in that time he would do stuff and back then they did not have any painkillers or anything. The three most painful things I think were. One if you got what we now would call a migraine, back then they would think he had gone crazy for a couple of days and say "Hey this man has a demon, let's take it out" and then they would drill a hole in the top of your head! Second was when you get a lockjaw. If you didn't have a gap between your two front teeth, then they would just knock a piece of your tooth out and they would use this little nail drill thingy and they would twist it into your jaw so it would open and they would have you bite down really hard and fast on a piece of leather and keep doing that for about a day. The third most painful thing was when during a battle people came in and asked him for help because many of these soldiers that came in would come limping because bullets had been shot into their legs they would take a big knife and cut out your bone. They would put you to sleep instead of our breathing into a mask though they have this little bottle thing of stuff and it didn't taste good and it didn't smell good but you would drink a whole bottle and then for about one minute it would not be good and then you would fall asleep and they would do the stuff on you.

Last of all we went to this place it was kind of like cricket but they use different nets, it is lacrosse. They seperated kids on teams. It was the homeschool against another school and had us do a quick game. We went over to a man in the corner and he told kids about how it happened. If you made a mistake when playing then a grandma would come out and hit you with a stick. And just a scrap on your head then and you could die from infection back then. They did not have the medicines to cure the infections.

Then we went to a candy store and we all bought rock candy. I had a lot of fun and it would have been perfect except for one thing, the heat! I did kind of wish I wore shorts but I got lots of complements on my pioneer dress so I'm glad I wore that.

September 13, 2006

What we study

I find this question easier to answer than how we school. I suppose we loosely follow a classical curriculum but tend much closer to Charlotte Mason in style and timing. We cover all the main subjects we need to for our state plus all the extra ones we want to give our children and we try to keep it close to half day schooling leaving plenty of time for everything else enriching we want to do.

So here is the basic curriculum we will be using this fall.

Second Grade Curriculm

Reading - Ambleside Online Year One and Two Books, non-fiction to fit our studies and additional classics we choose.
Math - Miquon blue and green workbooks
Copywork - bible verses, poetry, letter writing and cursive handwriting practice
Language Arts - First Language Lessons, Explode the Code
Bible - Day by Day Bible and devotional
History - Story of the World Vol II
Science - Apologia Creation Botany, nature journal
Music - studying works of one composer per quarter (per ambleside)
Art - study works of a great artist per quarter (per ambleside), beginner art techniques
Latin - Prima Latina

For Ciaran we are using

Phonics - Phonics Pathways and Explode the Code
Reading - Bob Books and Primary Phonics readers
Math - Miquon - orange and red
Letters - we follow one letter a week and pick themes and read books centered around the letter and plan our activities around that letter. This is fun and the primary focus of what we do.
Bible - ABC bible activites to correspond with letter of the week and teach main bible stories.

Sirah tends to join in with some of Ciaran's stuff as she is interested.

September 11, 2006

September 10, 2006

Week Two in Cali

Well my brother's wedding was beautiful! They got married on a boat in Newport Beach (I think - that whole strip of beaches blends for me) at sunset. The bride and groom looked wonderful and once they were at the wedding seemed able to relax and enjoy themselves. Our little ones did a good job I am told (Serona and I did not see anyone walk down the aisle because we were downstairs making sure they got upstairs ok) - Sirah was nervous at first but then played to the moment and had to be encouraged by another flower girl to stop walking so slow and get on with it! Ciaran did a good salute when he gave the rings (though I was relieved he did not actually carry the real rings). The kids were troopers and made it through the long night. Though the photographer did get some good pictures of Sirah and Ciaran crashed out sound asleep on the couches by the end of the night. With a wedding on a boat there is no such thing as leaving early and we were actually the last ones off the boat since we had cleanup and helping to do. They headed off to Hawaii for what I expect will be a great honeymoon.

Our little family headed back to their place in Rancho San Margarita (right near Mission Veijo - between San Diego and LA) - it is a beautiful locale in the canyons and mountains. We kept an eye on their pets, fish, kitty and a puppy and got a free place to sleep. We extended our stay almost a full week to just enjoy California.

Monday we headed down to San Diego to visit my brother and his fiancee at their place. We had a great Labor Day BBQ with outstanding weather, good food, fun family conversations and some games. It was a nice relaxing way to spend the day after the wedding. It was a joy to be able to spend time with my folks and brothers as we so rarely get together all as one.

Tuesday and Wednesday Serona and I headed off for a much needed getaway. With family out of town we VERY rarely get these and cherish them when we do. We headed for an overnight in southern california wine country - Temecula. It was a surprise for Serona I had arranged the whole thing ahead of time, including reservations at South Coast Winery which was a lovely place to stay.

We visited 6 wineries in the valley. I really enjoyed three, found one mediocre and was highly underwhelmed by two. If you are ever there be sure to visit Wiens, Wilson Creek, and Mount Palomar and personally I would stay away from Frangipani. Their websites also offer access to their wineclubs which make interesting gift ideas or if you love wine fun for you.

The whole experience was wonderful and while not Sonoma or Napa it was a great way to spend a weekend. I actually liked being in a smaller region and trying less known wines. It was also a beautiful drive straight through the mountains to get there and less than two hours from where we were staying. It was a perfect little getaway with Serona and we enjoyed some good wines and simply forgot about the ones we did not like. The scenery and weather were wonderful, the resort perfect and just being away very refreshing. The kids enjoyed being with grandma and grandpa and I think my parents survived the two days. They immediately headed to Vegas for a little of their own R&R. Thanks again dad and mom!

Thursday and Friday were spent in Altadena (just outside Pasadena) with Serona's sister and her wonderful family. We have not seen each other since they got married and I was pregnant with Sirah. It was great for my kids to get to play with their cousin who is a year older than Rhiannon and for us to hold our newest nephew - who is 5 months old and of course to spend time with their parents. We ate great Salvadoran food, enjoyed concerts by the kids, played football (soccer), and just caught up about life in general. They live a good life and seem very happy and are great parents. It is so nice to see that first hand in your family and I always love seeing people where they live, it shows so much more about them and you can understand their lives better. That is one of the hard things about being away from family, is not experiencing that day in and day out. We enjoyed our visit though it seemed too short.

Our last evening in California we met up with a good friend of ours from college, one we have not seen in over 7 years! We last saw him when I was pregnant with Rhiannon and he headed out to California to be a school teacher. He still is and seems to really enjoy it, now he is teaching 6th grade students in the Beverly Hills area. We met his wonderful wife who works for UCLA and had a nice visit at the Irvine Shopping center.

The kids were crazy as it was late and the good parents we are we offered them funnel cakes. To burn off the energy they literally ran around in circles, jumped up and down and walked it off. We also discovered that some frogs or toads (Ciaran assures me they were toads so they must be) were hiding in the underground vents and we would stop periodically to listen to them and try to see them. Overall the kids hung in there pretty well and just before 11pm Ciaran asked me if we could go home because he was sleepy.

t was just so nice to visit and chat with our friends and learn more about their lives in California. We reminisced some about the good old debate days, he was my debate partner in college and then we coached competing teams against each other. We talked a little about homeschooling and his classes at his school. It was nice to share with each other and I love that there is no sense of judgment or defensiveness between us that can sometimes happen between school teachers and home educators. It was fun for him to meet our kids for the first time. In a way he feels like he knows them somewhat as he has been reading this blog for awhile so that had its own strangeness to itself. He is also working on writing a screenplay so when he makes it big we can say we knew him when! I'll keep you posted on his progress.

We were up super early this morning as we had a long drive to the airport, a rental car to check in and three small children with lots of bags to make it through security. We had an eventful plane ride as I experienced severe barotrauma. I have never experienced ear pain like that in my life. I was crying through most of the descent and realized I would need medical attention when we got home. I had a head cold for much of our Cali trip, the mountain driving did not help and I was already experiencing ear issues before I flew. Upon landing I visited a doctor and discovered that I have a sinus infection, an ear infection and severe barotrauma (Blood and fluid behind my eardrum, swollen shut eustachian tube, just think lots of pain, muffled hearing and the feeling of water in your ear). I am on meds and hope to feel better in the next few days, though these symptoms can last for weeks or even months the doctor said! I have already been asleep twice today which is the only reason I am still up typing. Tomorrow I will download the 680 plus pictures we took and see if there are any good ones to post! Thanks for your prayers and the interest in our day to day lives. School to start sometime in the next two weeks after we get a few field trips under our belt and some semblenace of a fall routine in our lives. By the way we left 80 degree weather to return to a chilling 53 degrees! Welcome back to Minnesota!


September 2, 2006

Tarantulas, Snakes and Mountains

We went for a hike in the mountains on Friday, ok so they are small mountains but still perfect for what we were looking for. We drove and we drove and we drove looking for the right kind of place to hike. We found a great place well off the beaten road in the Modjeska Canyon adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest. We visited Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary which is operated by CSU Fullerton.

They have a bird and wildlife area that was fun and easy to walk around with the kids. We watched a hummingbird fly right up by our faces and flutter there. Many other birds, turtles and other wildlife was there. We stopped in the museum and the naturalist was really good. He let the kids hold a tartantula, and a gopher snake. He even wrapped the snake around each of their necks for some good pictures and the kids thought it was great.

We headed out for a hike up into the canyons. The kids were real troopers. It was hot and sunny with very little shade. We walked pretty much straight uphill for about 30 minutes. The mountains and canyon was absolutely gorgeous! We got to some great views and went through three water bottles. The heat led us to turn around and walk back down. The kids did a great job and the walk back down took half the time it did to go up.

Hiking is another one of my favorite things to do. Being in such a beautiful place is inspiring. Like Serona said the hills and mountains just beg you to climb them and explore. The beach one day, the mountains the next, the city the next - I must admit California is a place of beauty with much to do.

It is wonderful to share it with my family. Both our little family of 5 and our big extended family who are out here visiting and for the wedding. After our little hike we went to a family party. It was great to see all my aunts, uncles and cousins - so many of us all in one place. It is the first time many of my family members are seeing all three of our kids together at the same time. They have met the kids one at a time as I visit New York but never all together. That was fun.

It was nice to have conversations and play games with my family. While still amazinging scattered and broken up by watching three kids with so many people there I managed to have a few adult conversations as the kids were entertained. Being away from family is tough, I do miss them often. There was a wide variety of activity going on from playing connect four to beirut. There was swimming, shooting pool, playing ping pong and lots of eating and drinking beer of course, we are Irish after all!

What a day! I even wore my hair in braids all day long! It was fun.

Greetings from Sunny California

Greetings from Sunny California!

Blogging is light because we are enjoying a family vacation in beautiful California! My younger brother is getting married to a wonderful woman. They truly are blessed to have found one another. It is the kind of wedding you really enjoy because you know how good they truly are for each other and how happy they will make each other.

We are staying in Costa Mesa and have spent time in Irvine, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Mission Veijo and Rancho San Marguerite. It is amazingly beautiful here with the mountains and the oceans together. Serona is falling in love with California. That is until we got on the 405 and it took us over 30 minutes to travel 2 miles, literally!

It has been a very busy week filled with fun family activities and lots of running around and then relaxing. Our first day here was my mothers birthday and we all celebrated with a party at a restaurant. It is a rare occasion she has so many of us together for her birthday as we are scattered around the country. In fact this weekend is the first time in 2 and a half years that all my brothers and I have been together with my parents. The last time was when everyone flew out to Minnesota for my 30th birthday.

On Wednesday the guys went golfing, we hung out at my brothers home and then had the rehearsal on the boat (all three of the kids are in the wedding as flower girls and ring bearer). We went out to dinner at a Dave and Busters and the kids held up really well. It was a really nice time and their photographers even had a special slide show showing all sorts of pictures from baby pictures, family pictures to couple pictures and even some pictures from just a few hours earlier. They have a really neat photographer. Instead of just the wedding day they are doing a whole package that started with engagement photos and have followed through the whole process including the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, pre wedding activities and the wedding itself. These guys are really good they find the really cute moments and capture them in beautiful ways.

Thursday was spent at the urgent care for Serona's eye (he got an infection but is fine now) and then at beautiful Laguna Beach. My brother and future SIL knew the best place to go. A more secluded area of the beach that was not crowded and had nice waves and beautiful beaches, even with a lifeguard. The kids had a great time. Poor Rhiannon in her cast could not really go swimming. But we wrapped it really well in this huge latex glove and duct tape and she was able to at least go in a little bit to her waist with her uncle and daddy. I love the beach so much, it means so much to me and I miss it. I love sharing it with my family!

That evening was spent with Serona's sister, her husband and our youngest newphew (who we met for the first time). They were also meeting Sirah for the first time (yes she is 3) and it was nice to visit for awhile. We plan to see them again several times this upcoming week.