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,