May 30, 2007

Customer Service

I just finished a post about my great experience with T-Mobile Customer Service and it inspired me to share a post about my favorite places for customer service. Places that have earned my loyalty and my kudos and recommendation and the list is short.

1. LL Bean
Their products are superior, reasonably priced and they stand behind them, period. WE have only had to make one exchange and the new one was on its way to me before the old one was sent back, I received it within days - which was great since it was a winter coat for one of my children in the middle of a Minnesota January! They stand by their products without question, are wonderful on the phone and the quality can't be beat.

2. Lands End
Ditto on just about everything I said above. I am partial to LL beans products but Lands End is a very close second in my book and their customer service is also great.

3. Hammacher Schlemmer
This is the company we purchased Roomba from and I would not purchase a Roomba from anyone else. Their customer service, and return policy is not to be beaten. Because of this they have earned my loyalty when I need an item they have. They typically sell higher end and unusual items and they can be a bit overpriced but in my experience while the price tag may seem initially high the overall service and support you receive make those extra dollars much more valuable then what you can save elsewhere.

4. T-Mobile
Clearly commited to customer service. A joy to talk to and this is saying a lot in current telecommunications and computer trends who are outsourcing all help desk and customer service and frustrating many customers in the process. You can read about my experience with T-Mobile here.

5. Netflix
They almost did not make my list because we have received many scratched movies from them and that frustrates me. However, this is more the customers than the company, as individuals do not take care of the DVD's. Netflix will send an immediate replacement DVD and it does not take an extra slot in your queue. Also the brilliance of no late fees and all shipping paid is worth more than I can say. I have only ever dealt with email and online customer service but have been please with it.

I can honestly say in my experience that is it. But I am a tough sell. Anyone else have companies they think provide exceptional and noteworthy customer service? I am always looking for someone else to be loyal to who will treat us well.

Kudos T-Mobile!

I do not work for them or in any way (other than being a customer) am I affiliated with them. I just am actually pleased with them as they did something nice for me. For almost a year now I have been using a Blackberry 7105 and have enjoyed it. A few months ago I started having some problems with the trackball jamming up - I called customer service prepared to have the rep not understand me or not be very helpful. I was pleasantly suprised.

Not only was my rep extremely useful but offered to replace my phone free of charge because it was within the year warranty. However, they no longer carry the model of my phone so instead they sent me a Blackberry Pearl free of charge. This is a sweet phone and truly a wonderful upgrade! The people at T-Mobile made my day.

The new phone arrived today and I was having a hard time moving all my data from one phone to the next. I called customer service and again I had a wonderful representative who took 40 minutes to walk me through everything and make sure it worked the way I needed it to. She was patient with my questions and with the choas of small children who were annoyed mom was on the phone for 40 minutes in the middle of the day.

This evening I realized the browser function was not on my phone. I called back and spoke with another helpful representative who took time, was very pleasant and got my problem solved quickly and asked to help with any other questions he could.

I must say I am impressed with T-Mobile's customer service and return/warranty policy. They scored some loyalty points with me today, unlike Verizon who had terrible customer service and has lost me as a customer forever because of it.

Customer Service is essential and important to me and today I was very pleased. We live in a world where customer service and support and less and less valued and the consumer is more and more frustrated. I made sure to take the time to speak with supervisors after my phone calls with support to complement the individual, those who train them and the company as a whole for what is an apparent effort in the area of customer service. T-Mobile is doing something right, and not just because they upgraded my phone but more importantly because they hire good reps, train them well and put a focus on pleasing the customer. I have spoken with enough reps in the past few weeks to know it is a trend within the company and not just the individual rep I spoke with at the time (though they were all excellent).

Now I get to enjoy a wonderful new phone with camera, music, email and everything all together. I will let you know how it is after I have been using it for awhile, so far it simply appears fantastic. I love the voice command function and the track ball is really nice, while I keep trying to use my side track wheel I think in no time I will transition to enjoy the ball more. The phone is slim and light and more powerful than the other. I am glad Serona turned me to Blackberry - I was at first resistant but I am no longer. I like having all my contacts, calendar, email, web browser right there I must admit. Better yet it is all for personal use as I do not have any job sending me emails on it - so when I get mail I actually want to read it, unlike so many who use it for work. YAY! Off to play...

Total Momsense

May 29, 2007

Tenniel and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day

We have bad days too and today was one! Coming off a great 4 day weekend filled with lots of dad time they simply crashed. Crabby, whiny, mean and unkind to one another. I am drained after a long day of heart and character work. I feel like I spent the whole day just correcting them and teaching. From one crisis and unkindness to the next, at times challenging to keep up with them.

We have a saying that "We don't speak whinese in our house." Unfortunately we can still be subjected to hearing it. My temper gets shorter and shorter the more the whining, fussing and complaining continues. I yell and get short and am just as crabby - then we get into an unhealthy cycle.

We tried lots of strategies today. They even got to do extra chores like weeding, washing windows and walls. Still it continued, naps did not work either, nor did outside time. You did not want to be a fly on our wall today that is for sure. It seems nothing works, so off to the library and pond, two places that calm everyones spirit. Something about new books, caterpillars, worms and ice cream cheers everyone up.

As I type this on my Blackberry I recognize we all need a day of adjustment that sometimes makes us crabby. Guess today was that for us. Here is to tomorrow being a better day. In an attempt to be optimistic (not a strength of mine) I will say the silver lining is you get to read about the bad too. I'll try not to think too much about the irony of this post following the previous post and remind myself that some days are just like this, even in Australia!


May 27, 2007

Perfect Summer Day

Today was a perfect summer day in every way. Third day of our long weekend and what has turned into a mini family vacation.

Recap of the weekend so far. Thursday night Serona and I kicked off the weekend with a late night viewing of the new Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Friday was spent planting trees, doing yard work and catching up on housework, the evening held a family movie night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. Saturday was spent enjoying our home and yard. Rhiannon and I played a long game of Rummy 500 and the kids entertained us with dances they created. We went for a 3 mile hike at the arboretum and enjoyed all the new flowers and shrubs in bloom. The evening held a kids movie while mom and dad had some time to play games on our own.

Today we slept in, Serona and Ciaran made a wonderful pancake breakfast with some fresh fruit on the side. We took our time enjoying breakfast and relaxing a bit afterwards. Today was a perfect temperature day with not a cloud in the sky and a gentle breeze but no real wind to speak of. We knew we wanted to spend the day outdoors but doing what we were not sure. We left the choice to Sirah who decided on a family bike ride. Serona pulled her in the trailer and the rest of us were on our own bikes. We started down a trail and just kept going until we arrived at a point that would be difficult to navigate without trail or sidewalk and two young bikers. It was perfect timing as Ciaran was starting to tire and we needed to go back the way we had already come. Everyone encouraged and supported each other on the way home and we arrived home with a feeling of accomplishment for what we knew was a good trek.

We got in our car to measure the distance we had travelled and discovered that round trip we had taken a 7.5 mile bike ride! The kids did great and we were proud of them. It was also our first long family bike ride of the year, so we will see how we all feel tomorrow. Everyone commented on how much shorter it seemed than our 8 mile hike of a few weeks ago. We decided to reward the kids with a treat. We headed to a local grocery store and each child got to pick one item to share with the family from the fresh produce aisle. We have very little restrictions, basically you have to be able to eat it as is (so no watermelon, pineapple, etc) but otherwise it is fair game. Ciaran chose cherries, Rhiannon blueberries, and Sirah grapes. We paid for the items and headed to a lake to enjoy our snack watching the boats and people go by.

It was a perfect location, perfect temperature, perfect food and perfect company. Everyone was in a great mood and getting along well. The snacks were enjoyed until they were gone and everyone was sufficiently serensified. We walked along the shoreline, climbed the rocks, talked about the boats, ran in the grass, pet dogs, rolled down hills and just enjoyed the abundant sunshine.

We arrived at a beach and watched the kids take off their shoes and roll up their pant legs to wade in the water. Serona and I exchanged looks and discussed the possibility of them actually jumping into the water. We quietly decided it was fine either way. We were not going to encourage it but if it happened that they decided to swim in their clothes we were not going to say no. I think Serona was secretly hoping they would decide to swim.

They slowly got braver and braver and had more and more fun exploring the water and just before we were getting ready to leave Ciaran said "I am going to get my whole body wet!" and he looked at us and we did not say anything. He did not ask, if he had we would have said ok but he was clearly waiting and looking for us to say no (expecting it really) when he did not get what he was expecting he looked mischievous and headed in, looking back one last time before getting his shirt wet then running out cold and encouraging Rhiannon to join him. She looked at us to make sure it was okay and headed in. She made it about halfway as far as him and headed back to shore. Ciaran however decided it was all or nothing and he sunk down to his shoulders than just started swimming in a long sleeve shirt and 3/4 shorts. Rhiannon decided it was fun and joined him in her full length pants and long sleeve shirt. They had a blast! Sirah waded by the shore careful not to get her own dress wet and content to make sand pies. After letting them enjoy the water some we headed back to the car with dripping but very happy kids in tow - clearly the beginning of summer for us. It really was a perfect fit to a perfect day.

We arrived home for an informal lunch, playtime in the yard for the kids and an afternoon of playing games for Serona and I. The kids chose to watch a movie and then we shared a dinner that Serona also cooked (yummy Sesame Udon Noodles) and then we read from our current family read aloud - a Bobbsey Twins book. We ended the evening with another short family walk, with the older two taking turns on Ciarans scooter and Sirah riding on Serona's back, and swinging her arms walking with us. Ciaran and Serona had a catch in the yard while Rhia rode her bike up and down the neighborhood as Sirah and I played house - she was the mom driving to bible study and getting me a babysitter because she had to take a two day airplane ride. It was a perfect cap to a perfect day. We headed inside right as the sun was setting and the mosquitoes were heading out. We ended with a call to my brother to sing Happy Birthday and a family prayer praising God for all the wonderful things we did today.

As we tucked the kids in tonight both Serona and I were overcome by how blessed we are and how great our family really is. We have great kids who love one another and encourage each other (course they can fight just as well when they want), a peace in our home and we enjoy spending time together. Tonight we talked about inviting others over and decided we just wanted to enjoy our family - that is what we have been doing all weekend and we did not even have to go away to do so - we have been enjoying each other here at our home and at some of our favorite places - a perfect way to start the summer. Days filled with being outdoors together, biking, walking, oreos, potato chips, ice cream, lemonade, grilling, yummy berries, sunshine and all the special things that set summer aside for us.

Summer is a time of "Yes!" for us, a time of enjoying the extras and the little special things. A time of drawing together and exploring God's creation, of being more athletic in all we do, of late bedtimes, flexibility and fun. If this weekend sets the tone for our summer I can say it will be a great one! Hope you are enjoying your holiday weekend as much as we are!


May 25, 2007

30 Year Anniversary

The movie has been out for 30 years today. I can't say I recall anything from its release as I was just 2 years old. Now being the oldest with three younger brothers I am sure Star Wars crossed my path somewhere along the way but I do not recall it. For me the world of Star Wars came much later in life, when I met Serona. So for me this is my 12 year anniversary or so.

You might never know that if you came to our home and spent any time here, you would likely assume that it has been a lifelong passion of ours. I suppose it has been part of our family since the beginning. You see I had a very clear and easy choice to make when I got married. I could either embrace Star Wars or hate it for the rest of my life. I chose wisely.

How could you tell this? Well it might be the decorations in our family room, wall to wall star wars posters, it might be in the replica lightsabers that many come over to play with, it might be the many star wars toys my son plays with, the several collections of star wars dvds and cds on our shelf (yes I believe we own every version), perhaps it is the collectors Star wars figures that hang up as decoration in my master bedroom, or the two huge tubs of Star Wars toys and collectables that no one is allowed to touch. It could be the entire 4 shelves of bookshelf space dedicated to Star Wars novels.

Really though I think there is no doubt anymore when you see the photos. There is no hiding from fandom when you see our entire clan outfitted in hand sewn authentic costumes made by Serona. When you see us in front of an Xwing taken on our Walt Disney World vacation (yes of course we went Star Wars weekend) or the family portrait taken the night of the opening of Episode 3. But in case there is any doubt there is undeniable proof of pictures of our daughter on the star wars website, images of our family caught in star wars documentaries and the numerous news clips we have been part of at conventions and opening nights.

So now you know our dark side, we are deep star wars fans. Tonight we will be have a home screening of A New Hope, possibly with our neighbors, which version we are watching I do not know yet - that is Serona's call. So yes we are celebrating a movie that came out when I was 2 years old but it has become a large part of our lives. I am thankful that I have embraced Star Wars, it is a part of who we are, and a fun part at that. We enjoy it and over the years I can almost compete with Serona at Star Wars trivia pursuit. Note: I said compete - not beat - and he still has to answer an entire card to win the game and I still lose, but at least I get some chips now.

Amazing to me that a simple movie has touched so many lives and affected so many people in the ways that it has. Of course it is a saga and more than a movie to many people, for us it is good family fun and a way to pass on part of Serona's childhood to our children and to have good family fun together. If you have never seen the movies why not start with one tonight.


Handwriting Without Tears Review

Rhiannon was interested in learning cursive this year so I agreed. Having read and heard wonderful reviews of Handwriting without Tears we purchased the Grade 3 Cursive books. I purchased the teachers edition which I would not do again as it really is unneccesary and not very useful other than for a few word lists which you could easily create on your own.

Two things about this program as described that we found inaccurate. First the name lies, there are still tears, at least for us there were. The first few times there were tears and general unhappiness. I pulled back for awhile and then started again and still the tears - I was ready to throw in the towel and then I tried a different approach. I stopped doing what they recommended - I stopped trying to teach it on a board and with all the steps and showed her once in her book and then left her alone to do it herself (which they recommend to not do), reviewed it with her and then she stopped crying and started enjoying it - go figure.

So all in all it was a great program for us once we adapted it to fit Rhia's learning style better. The structure of the letters is different than a traditional cursive program and that takes getting used to and you still need to help your child understand the letters in traditional cursive even if they do not write it so they can read it. This adds in an extra step I suppose but it is worth it. I like the style of HWT and the letters are easier to understand and look more like their print counterparts, they are also easier to write.

Nearly the whole program focuses on lower case letters with just the last few lessons bringing in capitol letters. We did this program thorugh the whole year but at a pretty slow pace and I would recommend it. Rhia misses the curly and prettiness of the traditional letters but likes the way she writes these.

So as long as you don't expect this to be a magic pill, of handwriting without any tears, and don't mind the different style of lettering this is a great program. We will continue using the next level for her next year and bringing Ciaran into this program in 1st grade. We have heard it is especially useful for lefties which he is, so we will look forward to evaluating that.

Miquon Math Review

We began the year with Miquon Blue book for the start of second grade math. Rhiannon really enjoyed the orange and red book last year but this year was a different story. We were moving along just fine and suddenly she started to hate math. Now math has truthfully never been her favorite subject even though she does fine in it. Soon it became a fight and tears and all the things homeschool is not supposed to be. So we switched programs and moved over to Singapore math in the middle of the first semester - she did about 3/4 of the blue book before abandoning it.

Strengths of Miquon: It introduces multiple skills in logical ways. Multiplication and Division do not seem so hard because they are logical flows out of other concepts. Fractions are especially easy to understand with the cuisennaire rods. The amount of work on each concept is just right, not too few problems not too much busy work. Lessons are cyclical so you will come back quickly to other topics you already covered. The connections between math concepts is very easily understood with this program.

Weaknesses of Miquon: The program introduces older and more difficult math concepts pretty early on. The final breaking straw for us when we she was faced with multiplying and dividing fractions in second grade. While we could have just skipped that section because it was too advanced and continued with the other elements in the program we chose not to. She felt discouraged and bad about her abilities when faced with this math book. The book is also less visually stimulating then some others. When asked to describe what she did not like about the program Rhiannon will respond with "Everything. It was boring and too hard!" So there you have it.

The other weakness that moved us away from this math program is the lack of word problems. There are none until you get until the very end of third grade. After using Singapore which is heavy with word problems I really see the strength and importance of word problems as we are most often faced with real life math in a word problem format even when we work the answers out in equation format.

Overall Opinion: I still like Miquon math and have started Ciaran using it with the orange book in kindergarten this past year. I think the program is strong and logical and a good foundation for math.

However, it is not right for Rhiannon who needs success in between her challenges. She has a bit more of a perfectionist tendency and Miquon I do not feel is good for this kind of child as it pushes them farther and farther until they reach their point or past their point and then moves back to an easier concept.

I love the rods and the way Miquon introduces concepts and is not afraid to present more challenging things in a simplified and natural way. For the right child (maybe a gifted math child or one who loves challenges and being pushed) this math program can make the challenges fun. It will be interesting to see how Ciaran approaches this when he gets to this level in the series. I recommend the red and orange book with no hesitation at all. While the blue book was not a good fit for us I believe in the program and given the right child I think this a good advanced math second grade book - though you would likely need to supplement with word problems if you value those in math education at this level.

May 24, 2007

Smart PSA

This makes sense to me. I have seen a few of these stickers on paper towel dispensers already and it does make people think. It is also a great teaching tool for parents and a reminder to us all. Keep it Simple.

First Language Lessons Review

We have spent the past two years using First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise. We used this for first and second grade English. We loved it for first grade and lost interest in second grade. We skipped a lot of sections and found it too repetitive in second grade.

The strengths of the book are the poetry memorization, the gentleness with which the concepts are introduced and the narrative style of lessons. The lessons are short and interesting to young children and there is little to no prep work. The material is classical styled and a good beginning for the English language. It is easy to modify the work as needed for the level of the child doing the work and you could teach more than one child at a time. It is a non-consumable which is always nice and we enjoyed the picture studies as well. Rhia was very excited for this book her first grade year and by the end of second grade really did not care for it at all.

The weaknesses of the book are the repitition. In the beginning it is good but then it goes on and on in second grade. We found many of the lessons unneccesary and simply skipped them once she got the concept. Perhaps for some children the repition is neccessary, but for Rhia it became tedious. By the end we simply worked on definition memorization and once she had the concept down and definition memorized we moved on. The poems were not as interesting to memorize for second grade and the book spends A LOT of time on prepositions.

Overall I am glad we used the book and I will use it with future children. I am not sure there is enough to make this into a complete two year program and may not do that again. The book is a great style for first grade but a bit tedious and young for second grade. I think I will keep it for first grade in the future and use parts of it for second grade along with another program.

All in all it is worth the price and a useful tool for teaching young children the English language in a classical style.

May 22, 2007

Appreciating Trees

This year Rhiannon studied Botany all year. At first I was not too sure and at times I did not think any of us could take learning any more about plants. We even registered for a series of classes at the arboretum. We had a great time learning about plants and I have a whole new appreciation especially for trees. Learning how to identify trees, learning about their structure and all the different parts has given us all a new appreication for trees.

Rhia will mention the inner bark or the heartwood of a tree on a walk when she notices it or we discuss the leaf arrangement of a particular tree. We compare different trees and really enjoy collecting leaves and comparing them, as well as sketching the different trees. It was a good year of science and we all enjoyed it. Though we did supplement with a few other things as I could not bring myself to just study Botany, though that was by far the majority of what we did.

I have also noticed how much trees calm me. As I drive and the kids are fighting or squabbling in the back and I feel my blood pressure rising I have taken to looking at the trees and thinking about them, to see the calming shades of green and think how peaceful they are and how much trees bless our lives and how plentiful they are here and now.

I have always loved trees and hiking and I think it no coincidence that so much of our world is blue and green which are such soothing colors for our eyes and spirits. I love that for mothers day this year we have planted trees. We are very interested in our tree field guide this year as well. Enjoy trees and learn a bit more about them, you may find it more interesting than you thought it could be, I know I did.

May 20, 2007

Alexandria Library

Another one for the "One never knows what this crazy clan will do"...This morning we were headed to church and after a series of events realized we would be quite late - we were on the road there and realized it would be nearly halfway over before we arrived so we made the decision to keep driving and have a family service.

Rhiannon read from her bible and we took a Psalm of the bible apart verse by verse and talked about it, which was wonderful and useful. Then we played and sang praise songs as we drove on. We just kept driving and driving with no real purpose in mind, a rather often habit of ours. After a few hours Serona saw a sign for Alexandria and decided we should go to the library at Alexandria to say we had been there. We talked about the great library and what happened to it.

To my surprise Rhiannon remembered quite a bit about it and was wondering how we would drive there without a boat and wouldn't it take quite long to get to Africa? Then when she realized what we were doing she added "Wouldn't it technically be lying to say we had been to the library at Alexandria when in fact we had not?" We continued on and had some purpose in mind now (even if it was random to begin with). We arrived, took photos and discovered it was closed so we headed home.

On the way home we stopped at a store and let each child pick out one item to eat and share with the family for the drive home and it would constitute lunch (loosely defined I guess). We ended up with rolls and cheese, pretzels, Cheetos, powdered donuts and chocolate pop tarts along. We picked up Gatorade and some coloring books for the kids, a new Casting Crowns cd to listen to and headed back into the car for a peaceful and enjoyable long car ride home.

We had a great Sunday even as we redefine the meaning of Sunday drive with a roundtrip 7 hour car excursion to see the library at Alexandria - which became our destination by random association. What did you do with your Sunday?

May 16, 2007

Care Package for Soldiers

Go to

Today the kids and I put together a care package for a soldier from our church. One of the Sunday school classes at church has been sending bi-weekly packages to two soldiers from our class, one a member and one the brother of a member, and today was our turn.

The kids and I enjoyed shopping together and working off the list we were given. The kids colored pictures and made a comic strip and paper airplane for them as well. I am working on a cd and a collage of pictures of the kids as we gathered items for the box. It was a really nice time together as a family and provided good opportunity for us to talk a bit about what the soldiers are doing and why. We talked about why they might want the things on the list and what other ideas they had to help the soldiers. We talked about what the climate was like in Iraq and why things like a glow in the dark Frisbee were important (because it is generally too hot to do anything before it is dark). I let the kids read and pick the items they wanted off the list.

This is an easy service project to do with your family and to bless someone who is fighting for you, irregardless of your political beliefs or position on the troops being in Iraq or wherever you choose to send.

We had a particular soldier to send to but there are many soldiers who do not receive care packages and you can link up with them through the Any Soldier website. Here you can get lists of what the soldiers need and a list of soldiers to send packages to with the confidence that your package will be passed on to those in need of some care from back home.

The items our family chose to send to our soldier were:
o Ziplock Baggies (qt. & gal. Zip lock)
o Small envelopes, pens
o CD's,
o Chapstick
o Crystal Light, (individual packets only)
o Card's (Thank you, Birthday, Anniversary, etc.)
o Frisbee that lights up when thrown
o Hot Chocolate, Cider or hot soup mix (individual packets only)
o Chips (single servings and Pringles is best)
o Candy, anything that will not melt
o Microwave popcorn
o Sunflower seeds
o Gum
o Band Aids, all sizes
o Q-tips
o Glide dental floss
o Altoids
o Books and magazines
o Pictures that kids have drawn and colored, written letter and picture collage (I took pictures of the kids as they colored and purchased items to make into a photo collage).

You could include so many different things, tailoring your items to the soldiers needs or being a generalist of items they usually need. The post office provides a free box and shipping is a flat fee for the box no matter how heavy of just under 9.00. You could do this as frequently as you want or even just once.

Another thing we do to bless our soldiers is when we see them in uniform in our country at a store or gas station we will offer to purchase their gas or items as a thank you for their service for us and our country. We have had mixed reactions to this, never negative though. Some do not want to accept as they feel they are just doing their job and do not need the extra thanks and others are glad to accept and are clearly touched by the offer.

We want to teach our kids to value those who serve for us, especially those willing to risk their lives for our country and to protect us here. Showing respect and simple thanks is important and if we can help out in other small ways we are happy to do so. Take a moment to consider if sending a care package or acknowledging a soldier is something you and your family might want to do. If so take the time to contact your church to find out about a soldier who might need help, or a soldiers family back here while they are serving away, or just click on through.

Locks of Love

Today Rhiannon donated 10 inches of hair to Locks of Love which provide real hair wigs for children who need them. These pictures are from the receipient gallery of the website.

Rhia had been thinking about it for awhile and today made the final decision to do it. There were a few tears this morning but we encouraged her that we supported whichever decision she made and this was completely her decision to make. She decided to do it and was happy with her decision.

Outside of the salon the kids and I gathered together and prayed for Rhiannon and prayed over her hair that it would bless the child who received the wig from her hair. It was a lovely prayer all of us together and then we went inside and took pictures through the whole proccess.

Rhia thankfully loves her haircut. So not only did she do something to help out a fellow child but she enjoyed the way it turned out. She is thankful that her hair will be less knotty, easier to care for and cooler for the summer as well. I was very proud of her. This decision was made entirely on her own and while she had some concerns about cutting her hair and how it would turn out she really wanted to do it to serve someone else and decided to and feels great about the result.

It is always encouraging when kids find ways to serve others themselves.

May 15, 2007

Ice Bulb Science Project

Now this one looks like fun and has made our "Sure to do this summer" list. Looks easy, cheap, and will likely provide hours of entertainment and good conversation starters.

How To Make An Amazing Glowing Ice Bulb - video powered by Metacafe

Read more about it at Instructables. As an added bonus you can learn how to make Han Solo in Carbonite, oh I mean Chocolate.

May 14, 2007

Lessons from my Other Mothers

Yesterday you read my post about my own mother and the many ways she has blessed me - I have a few other "mothers" that I would like to thank and share some of what they have given me. For we all are blessed with one mother who births us and for many of us raises and loves us. Still we are also often blessed with other motherly women who help make us into who we become. This post is about a few of them for me.

I call her mom but I made it clear that she is not my mother in law but my mother in love because it was my love for her son and then his whole family that brought us together as family. I am blessed with a very special mom-in-love and we have a great relationship. A few of the gifts and lessons she has passed on to me

My wonderful husband trained to be a godly husband and father

An example of how to be a godly wife and mother

The conversation that passed on the wisdom to let God choose my friends instead of me

The freedom of her love and acceptance of who I am and how we live our lives and raise our kids even if she might disagrees (I've never known it if she has)

The strength to accept my flaws for what they are and strive to improve them

Her daily prayers since Serona was a child (a truly cherished gift)


My grandmothers were also a blessing to me through my life. From the two of them I learned many important lessons and life skills.

A strong faith that trusts in God even when times are tough.

A willingness to persevere and be a strong woman even when alone.

A love and appreciation for culture and fine arts.

A safe place to come to no matter my circumstances and open arms to love me.

A generation of family to love me and care for me

Holidays, traditions and an important sense of family ties.

My aunt-mothers
Many of us have aunts, some we know more than others, some we spend more time with than others. I was raised with aunts who were and are an important part of my life. Even though we live far apart and the time between seeing each other grows I know they are always there for me and we pick up as natural as can be when we are together. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my aunts and they blessed me in many ways.

The gift of many arms to hug me, ears to listen to me, and mouths to offer wisdom to me.

The variety of experiences and different life choices and the wisdom that comes from seeing love for family lived out in so many different ways.

The commitment to family and tradition and the glue that binds us together.

Regular time together that built trust, love and as I grew older friendship.

Many cousins to extend my sibling circle as we spent so much time together. Without sisters I especially enjoyed my girl cousins and the time we shared together.

An acceptance of me for who I am whether or not that has agreed with them. The ability to tease in love but encourage and support one another in our dreams no matter if they intersect.

Forgiveness for moving so far away and starting a mass exodus of sorts of other family members. Still loving me though I don't move back to NY.

These women have taught me so many things and I have become who I am today in part because of each of them and the way they love and cherish me, the lessons I have learned from them, and the gifts they have granted me.

When you look at me today you would certainly see a strong reflection of my own mother and the many influences she has had on my life. But you will also see pieces of these women as well and of the many other people who I have learned from, men and women alike. Thank you to each of you who has been a part of my life and helped me become the woman I am today and the woman I will one day become.

Many thanks and blessings,

May 13, 2007

Gifts and Lessons from my Mother

My mom has been with me from the beginning and seen me through so much and I love and appreciate her far more than a simple blog post can say, but I thought I would post just a few of the things that my mother has given me. Gifts and personality traits, life lessons that have made me into the person I am today. Just a few of the highlights.

My mother has taught me:

To be bold no matter what the world thinks

To give my children wide and unusual experiences

To love my children unconditionally

To rise above the circumstances even when odds are against you

To love, support, encourage, help, and thank my friends

To be generous and giving with my time, money, and talents

To stand up and fight for what I believe in

To give my kids the freedom to become who they are designed and want to be

My mother has given me:
My life, my education, the skills I needed to become who I am and continues to love me.

Thanks mom. Thanks for all you have given me, as I strive to pass those gifts and lessons on to my own children. Though I know we are apart today - we are always together. For I am made up of you and of Dad, not just in DNA but in who I am, who I have been and who I will become. Each day I see a little more of you in me. Thank you for all you have done for me and our family and for who you are. You are more special than you know.

All my love,

Happy Mother's Day

Happy mother's day to all the mothers out there. I hope you enjoyed your day.

Personally I was treated to a wonderful day. From sleeping in a bit later to an early morning Latte and scone for breakfast. We headed to church where Ciaran sang in the choir - a beautiful song about moms and about God and they played bells - it was precious and touching.

After church the family surprised me with my mother's day gift. They had decided together to purchase me a tree, a sugar maple tree. This is the perfect gift for me and so meaninful and touching. Perfect in so many ways. This year we have studied Botany and learned so much about trees and come to appreciate them more. One of my favorite places in the arboretum and we have just really been enjoying trees. They are also something that grows and get stronger with age just like love and children.

So today we went out to look at trees and found a nice sugar maple but decided it was rather tall to transport on a windy day in our car so we went to look for a slightly smaller one. We ended up coming across one of our family's favorite trees, the Eastern Redbud - pictured above. Serona suggested getting three and planting them together, one for each child. I loved that idea and that is what we did. Deciding that we will still likely get a sugar maple in the future as well for climbing and syruping.

Three beautiful trees for three beautiful children. Gives a new meaning to putting down roots. I have planted a tree before on my college campus but never in my own yard and never like this. It is very special to me and I can not think of a better mother's day gift then to watch these three trees grow just as I watch my own children grow. Makes me feel some commitment to our home and land, which for someone who has moved a lot is a new and interesting feeling as well.

My family was so giving and generous with me today and I so thankful for them. I am honored with the privelage of parenting my children and having the opportunity to love and raise and homeschool them. I am so thankful to have Serona on this journey with me as we navigate the waters of parenting together I could not ask for a better person to be with me.

I feel appreciated and loved and cared for. I am so very blessed.

May 11, 2007

Bless Her Heart

Precious Sirah. She is three years old and can alternate between being shy and a chatterbox. Today while serving at Feed My Starving Children she worked hard and did a great job with her task. We work for about an hour and half straight and she did a great job. When it was all done we decided to pray over the boxes that are going to the children. The woman who runs the operation asked for a volunteer to pray, I am guessing there were about 20 of us parents and children of all ages. Sirah spoke up that she wanted to pray. You could see the woman looking around to see where the voice came from and the surprise at the realization. Still it was Sirah who prayed.

It was a sweet and tender and heartfelt prayer and appropriate. She may not have said everything an adult would have but she had the tender heart of a child as she asked God to protect the boxes and thanked him. It was a touching moment and one of those times I am so thankful to be able to serve others side by side with my children even when they are very young. It is a joy to serve with my own children, their friends, and parents as we all work side by side. Watching Sirah and an 11 year old boy packing boxes together and watching her with another 10 year old boy who offered to help her sweep. Seeing Ciaran and a teenage girl working side by side and listening to little Sirah's prayers, what a day. I walked out with a tear in my eye and joy in my heart, and the knowledge that today we helped 23 children have food for a year.

Take opportunities to serve with your children. What a great way to grow closer to each other as well and continue to be surprised by them every day.

May 10, 2007

Confessions from a tired mamma

I have a confession to make. I fall asleep while reading aloud to the kids. I even fall asleep while they are reading aloud to me in the middle of the day. It is not occasionaly it has become more and more frequent. It is to the point where the kids point it and out and try to prevent it or bring me back to awake time.

The other day Ciaran was reading and I recall him asking me "What does this sound make?" and from what can only be a dream induced sleep I responded with a full explanation of DRM technology. To which he shook me awake and looked dumbfounded. He wanted to know what "br" says. I somehow in my brain saw DRM and thought my 6 year old son wanted to know about it and launched into a full explanation of it.

Another time he was reading aloud to me "Green Eggs and Ham" for the fourth time this week and he asked me if I could please keep my eyes open. To which I truthfully replied, "No. We have to finish this later when I wake up more fully." I feel bad because he is working so hard at it and has done a great job with reading lately and is so proud of it. But how can it come across to a child, that it is not him and his reading but rather me.

I think it is worse when I am the one reading aloud and I start to skip words unintentionally, reread words or speak gibberish. Apparently I have fully fallen asleep according to Rhiannon in the middle of a sentence. Maybe I need loads of caffeine when we read in the middle of the day - or to walk laps while we read - something to keep my brain awake when it wants to be asleep.

So yes I read aloud to my kids all the time. I hope they will forgive me and one day forget all the times I fell asleep while doing it in the middle of the day!

Resistance is Futile

We had a happy day here this morning. We have two days left to school and I was all set to have a solid day filled with schoolwork. Well you know all about the best laid plans and where they head.

A neighbor friend brought over a toad she had caught and there went our morning. This was the first one of the season and a much anticipated event for Ciaran. He has been almost sadder since he has heard them but not seen a frog or toad in the wild yet.

Our friend asked if the kids could come out and play with the toad - this all before our school day had even begun. I knew better than to resist, resistance is futile in this situation.

I mean really if I said no, like they would have worked? The joys of the flexibility of homeschooling - even when it is mom who has to be flexible. It was well worth it. They spent the entire morning out in a beautiful sunshiny day while it was still in the 70's and not yet the 80's.

Ciaran especially was excited. The kids spent the morning creating a habitat for the toad, gently holding him and watching the toad jump all around the lawn. They even collected worms, potato bugs and box elders for the toad to eat. The kids also took turns jumping on our neighbors new trampoline getting out some of that energy.

There were of course tears when it was time to go back inside and tears when the toad was released back into the wild. Though I am guessing we will likely see the same one again in the near future. There was resistance to coming back inside but this time the kids resistance was futile and they had to come inside for lunch, settle down and work.

The incentive of course is to be free of school after tomorrow, so that is a pretty big incentive to settle down and continue their work. The afternoon settled into a normal routine and all was going well until I had my next "resistance is futile" moment. This time from Serona.

I will concede that for whatever reason our house does not have the best cross ventilation and sometimes when I open the windows I am convinced it gets hotter or at least more humid. How long we can go before air conditioning is always a struggle in our home. I would like to make it until at least June or at least until it hits 90 but we seem to never make it.

During an instant message chat (the way Serona and I talk all day long) I got the "Well if you turn on the air conditoner I'll come hang out at home, otherwise I am going to a coffee shop." So once again "resistance is futile" and this year we made it until to 86 degrees and May 10th before the AC comes on.

Now I poke fun at Serona but I also concede that our whole family does benefit from the air conditioning so I will not tease him too much :) It just feels so weird to me to turn it on in May - when I just turned the heat off about 3 weeks ago.

So resistance is futile, no matter who you are. There is some circumstance where you concede to the other person involved for whatever reason. Today was my day for concession. You know what - it was a good day. I am sitting in a cool house and I have happy kids and a happy husband so not only is resistance futile but sometimes it could be foolish.

May 8, 2007

Are we Too Strict?

I would say on average our kids probably do less chores than most of the kids I know. One of the few things we make them do each day is make their beds. Recently the girls have taken to sleeping on top of their quilts and refusing to go under their quilts or sheets when they sleep. They each keep a throw fleece blanket on their bed that they use. So they sleep on top of their "made bed" never using their sheets or quilt and have their little blanket if they are cold. When I asked them why they were doing this it is because they no longer have to make their beds. So there you have it, well it is their bed they've made, let them lie in it I guess.

May 6, 2007

GPS Recommendation?

Anyone geocache? Anyone have a good recommendation for a GPS they love? Or what to look for in a simple family friendly GPS to use primarily for geocaching that will not break the bank? Thanks.

Finishing Up

Well it is May in Minnesota and one of the best months. Not just because of Mother's Day and my birthday but because May sees some of the best weather in this state. Perfect outdoors weather without the bugs and heat! Time to be outside hiking, biking and enjoying outdoor life. It is also the time we try to finish off school.

This year my target end of year date was May 18th but if we work hard it looks like we will finish up our main book work by this Friday the 11th! YAY!!!! Giving us a full 3 glorious weeks of May to enjoy being outside and having fun before the other students get out in the first or secod week of June. The kids are motivated and while our schedule is full it is not overly demanding or intense - with the possible exception of our remaining Botany work.

Needless to say blogging will be light this week as we focus on finishing up our time. Will post a full review of the year sometime in the next few weeks - probably on a rainy day when I am not catching up with housework.