July 31, 2007

Horseback Riding Lessons

Well Rhiannon has been asking for horseback riding lessons for years now - this year it was all she asked anyone for for her 8th birthday - so guess what she got? Today was her first of a series of 10 lessons and she loved every minute of it. We were very impressed with her lesson, instructor and the facility. Her lessons are supposed to be one hour each but this first one lasted almost 2 hours!

The lesson began with her learning how to place a halter and lead rope on the horse and lead the horse to the crossties. Then learn about the different combs and brushes and had the opportunity to groom and prepare the horse herself. She learned what different parts of the horse and bridle are called. She learned about the different saddles and bits and styles of riding. The instructor decided to begin her in Eastern hunt sea. After walking the horse into the riding area the instructor showed her the proper way to mount and ride and dismount the horse and the proper way to sit in the saddle. Then they went over the difference between walk, trot, and canter and posting in the saddle. She rode around, tried out posting and then did some fun balance exercises - including being able to lay backwards on the horse while her instructor walked the horse around. The lesson ended with the proper horse care of brushing and removing all the gear and leading her horse back to his stall.

Her instructor has a wonderful way of communicating with kids and she seemed to get along quite well. I am glad we waited until now to do this as she is really into and the program we decided to go with requires quite a bit of attention and learning as they realize focus on horse care and the sport in order o ride as well. She was interested and even excited for her homework for next week. She had a great big smile on her face the entire time and now is clearly the right time for this. More to come in the weeks and lessons that follow and look out for some blog posts from her as well.

July 30, 2007


Our visit to Galway was split in two parts - both rather brief as they bookended our trip to Inishmore. Galway itself would be worth a visit but having spent so much time in Dublin in many ways it felt like a smaller version of Dublin that happened to be located on the water. That may sound like it is not a compliment but truly it is - we really enjoyed our brief time in Galway and if for some reason we found ourselves with the opportunity to move to Ireland the Galway area would draw us before the Dublin area would (though I must admit the Wicklow mountains might pull us that way). Hey it is fun to dream right?

As we drove into Galway we experienced a relief and a sense of peace as we drove along the coastal road and took in the beauty. The views and calm of Galway were a much needed welcome sight after what Serona considered at times an extremely stressful drive. He adjusted to the other side of the road quite well and we managed to figure out together what the local gibberish on the signs meant but one aspect he could not quite get over were the dotted yellow lines that allow cars to drive on the shoulder so others can pass (at least that is what they are used for if they are not designed for this purpose). This photo taken by me in the passenger seat was an all too common sight in our driving on this wonderful road across the countryside of Ireland going through quaint towns - the road reminded me of Rte 66 in the US. The photo is a bit deceiving as it actually appears that you have more room than you do.

So we arrive in Galway to discover we have another hour drive to get to the ferry that will take us to Inishmore. We purchased our tickets and headed off to explore Galway. We decided it was a perfect opportunity to make some gift purchases. Ironically in Galway was the only store I knew by name that I wanted to visit - Fallers Jewelers. Before you get the wrong impression, I don't like to shop, I don't love brand names and I am not a big jewelery fan in general (though Celtic jewelery does seem to be an exception to this rule for me). Why Fallers then? We really wanted to see their Claddagh rings which they have been making forever and are renowned throughout Ireland. Like the song from our wedding "My tiny piece of Ireland, my little Claddagh ring". We had decided we wanted to purchase an authentic Claddagh ring for each of our children. Not being completely idealistic we knew they would be for the future - so we don't go off the deep end when our eight year old loses a ring we bought in Ireland. We settled on purchasing them each a Claddagh for when they are teenagers - most likely to be given to them around their 16th birthday or so, but allowing them to see them now - so it would be their main gift but they can't have it for nearly a decade. We are mean parents I know :)

Fallers did have an excellent collection of jewelery and I was tempted to purchase myself something there but just kept reminding myself that being here was my gift and I had the choice between jewelery and knitting - I decided on the knitting - strange woman I am I know. The only piece I really feel in love with (besides the rings we purchased for the kids) was a history of Ireland pendant but I could not justify the cost to be sure! It was great fun to browse and make our purchases that we made here. We had to try to guess what size rings to purchase for a teenage boy and girls without having any gauge of what their build and body type will be. The saleswoman was fantastic and everyone was helping out as we tried to make our decisions. We purchased the girls each a traditional claddagh ring and found a unique one for Ciaran that we both really liked. Serona and I browsed but ultimately decided against any purchases for ourselves here.

It was here in Galway that I insisted on a very touristy photo that was not in the easiest spot to get. I wanted a picture of myself under the Claddagh sign. For it was here in this tiny part of Galway, a fishing community where the Claddagh tradition started - in a place called Claddagh. For anyone who does not know about the Claddagh ring - it is a traditional Irish wedding band (yes I have one) - the heart is in the center and it stands for love which is held in the hands of friendship and protected by the crown of trust. Women who wear them before they are married wear them with the heart pointing away from them indicating that their heart is still available. Married women (and men) wear the heart pointing in and the crown pointing out meaning their heart is spoken for and protected in trust. Serona had a wonderful Claddagh ring set custom made for me - it is a one of a kind set!

Before we started our planning for Ireland I did not realize their was actually a place called Claddagh. Even with all my knowledge about the tradition and meaning behind the ring I never knew it actually was named after a particular place in Ireland. So now with everything Claddagh meant to me and being in Ireland I really wanted this picture. Serona groaned and wanted to be REALLY SURE I wanted this photo because we needed to find a place to park, pay for parking and then walk into the corner of a busy intersection and take photos - it was much too conspicuous for him. But I insisted and he relented. Here is one of the photos we took as we stood in Claddagh after having purchased our children their own tiny bit of Ireland just up the street.

We browsed through a few other stores and took in Galway. Street performers, Irish music, restaurants, shops and it just felt friendlier and more manageable than Dublin. One oddity was this was the only place in Ireland we saw what appeared to be military officers stationed like guards with rather big guns patrolling the streets. I might have not be surprised in Dublin (we never saw anything other than police officers) but it seemed odd and out of place in Galway - or atleast unexpected to be sure. We ate at a bakery and roamed the streets enjoying the music and sites before we headed out to catch our ferry.

We stumbled upon a great knitting shop O'Maille where we spent a great deal of time chatting with Anne and Ger the owners and looking over the finely crafted work. They commission the wool, know personally the farmers, spinners and knitters and can tell who knit the sweaters by the style and pattern. In this store I truly saw some of the finest knitting I have ever seen or expect I might ever see again. There was one sweater I was terribly tempted to purchase. Made in the fine dark wool and with a beautiful and unique Aran pattern hand knit by an amazing master knitter based on the quality. But even though I appreciate all the work and beauty that went into that sweater I and especially all the labor I could not bring myself to spend over $400 on a sweater. I admired the work, enjoyed the conversation and learning a bit of the history of the store and Aran coastal knitting and getting great tips for our upcoming visit to Inishmore. I asked if they had any yarn to purchase and we started talking about knitting together. I found some wonderful dark grey Aran wool and purchased enough to one day make a beautiful Aran sweater for myself and that was my treat to myself in Ireland - along with the aran sweater I did purchase on Inishmore. I would recommend a stop into this shop if you love knitting and are ever in Galway. Anne assures me she can ship her wool to the states as well and will take phone orders - her yarn was beautiful and not overly priced for the quality. Treat yourself sometime!

As we headed out on our drive to the ferry we went through scenic places like Salthill

We drove through the town of Barna which once again we did not know actually existed. It is part of a children's song we sing to the kids "Home to Barna" and here we were in Barna! So many times we found ourselves in places we have been singing about for years. Now we stumble upon a town we did not even know was real.

We returned to Galway after our wonderful time on the Aran Islands. This time we had a goal in mind - to find good vegetarian food. We had not yet had a solid vegetarian meal (and no Guinness is NOT a meal much to Serona's disappointment) during our time in Ireland. We managed to eat well enough and cobble a variety of things together to sustain ourselves pleasantly but we had not had a single meal to write home about yet. We (okay maybe just I was) were on a mission to find something good. The ugly food monster was rearing its head in me insisting that in this wonderful city their must be some great place to eat. We walked up and down the streets reading menus and looking for any other option than yet another Aubergine!

The name, atmosphere and music of Druid Lane restaurant was a clear front runner for the possibility of good vegetarian food and it was the winner and provided us with a wonderful meal! A wine bar tucked in the streets of Galway with good wine, great vegetarian food and nice service. It felt so good to have a curry dish and a wonderful lentil dish - with the wine and atmosphere it felt wonderful and we were quite thankful. The owner was there that day and we made sure to stop and thank her for the vegetarian option mentioning how it had not been that easy for us to find good food and thankful for her filling that void for us. Passing by there a few minutes later she stopped us to let me know we left our credit card there! Be sure to stop in and enjoy a meal or glass of wine at Druid Lane if you are ever in Galway!

One thing I forgot to mention is how beautiful it is that Galway is right along the water. You can walk a few blocks and be at the sea line - walk along the coast - see the islands out in the distance - feel the cool breeze and just enjoy the benefits of both the city and the coastline. How cool is that? The drive along the coastline is beautiful and the different colored building along Galway bay and the swans all through the bay make it truly picturesque. While we did not take time to sightsee in Galway we read there were options of things to see - we just wanted to take in the atmosphere, shop and eat a bit and it worked perfectly to suit those needs for us. I would love to go back sometime and take in a few pubs in the evening I am guessing they may be more my speed then the pubs of Temple Bar in Dublin. Go to Galway and be sure to continue on to the Aran Islands - you will not be disappointed.

July 29, 2007

Random Reflections

Tonight is a night for rambling I am afraid. I have a bunch of random thoughts that I want to get out. Kind of fits that right now I am wearing two very different mismatched socks that I have knit for two different pairs. One is brown sideways stripes and the other many shades of green stripes in the normal up and down pattern. I am wearing them to decide which pattern I like the feel and look of better. I hated the work involved for the sideways sock but it is quite comfortable so I am wearing both for several hours to see how I feel. I also have on PJ's and a heavy Aran Irish sweater because Serona loves the air conditioning on so high that my basement feels like the climate in Ireland. My eclectic appearance matches the randomness of my thoughts.

A young child was found accidentally drown in a lake in Minnesota. In a lake we have swam in before and the boy was just a touch younger than Sirah. Another little four year old boy we don't know recently died while receiving cancer treatments at a Chicago hospital that another little boy we pray for is currently at. The news reports of the cat that curls up at the feet of the dying patients in a nursing home and two men were pulled out of the sewer system in St. Paul. I am thinking about how precious life is.

As I type my own three children are sleeping soundly nearby and I have spent time just looking at their peaceful faces, the size of their feet, the cuteness of their toes and listening to their breathing. At times like this I am reminded of how deeply I love them and how thankful I am to be their mother. A mom for just eight years now and how I have grown and changed, how I have learned and messed up in those few years, how much of a better person I am because of my children and husband and the lessons they teach me. Moments like this I just want to pull them into my lap and snuggle with them all day, play board games, watch movies, read, read and just enjoy each other. Repeat over and over again how much I love them and how special they are. I know I will hold them a little closer tomorrow, yell a little less and try my best to be a great mom to them.

Rhiannon with her sensitive spirit. She loves horses, fairies, swimming, biking and reading. She loves directing plays, creating imaginary worlds and being in charge. Yet for all her leadership she really wants people to be happy and is a sensitive giving child. She has a mind of her own, knows what she wants and works hard to present it in such a way to get what she wants. She reads faster than I can believe. I used to not believe - I used to quiz her hard about small details of books after she finished them in a single day. I have learned she really just does read and comprehend that quickly so just to let her enjoy it and be awed at quite how much she reads. Of course I can no longer keep up with her reading as she spends more time reading in a single day than I sometimes have in a week to read. I relate to her in so many ways as we are very similar - that sometimes leads to more conflict because of those similar strong personalities. Over the years we are learning to be more patient with each other.

Ciaran my nature loving high energy son. This is his season: frogs, bugs, snakes, nature hikes, being in water, skateboarding, biking, just the time of year he loves the most. His pure joy and excitement in God's creation is impossible to not be contagious. He has energy from the moment he wakes up (generally with the sunrise) until the moment he crashes to sleep for the evening. His passion is strong in areas he loves as he dives deeply into whatever that passion is: frogs, insects, skateboarding and of course video games are the current interests. Watching him come into his own and forge friendships is exciting. Sometimes he exhausts me but he also makes me smile and appreciate the important things. Ciaran is much like his dad was at a younger age and I would guess his grandfather before him.

Sirah she has a servants heart. Always the first to be my assistant, always the first to volunteer to help. She loves cooking for me in her kitchen, serving me meals, playing doll house, dressing up, putting on shows and keeping up with her brother and sister. She is thwarted by little confident that she can do anything she wants, which is often anything everyone else is doing. The most independent of the kids, the most likely to do it herself even though she is the youngest. Yet the first to come and snuggle and just need to be in my lap. She is really unsure if she wants to be older or littler again. Her giggle is the kind you want to bottle and take out on a rainy day. Her smiles and laughter and giggles bring joy to all our days as they are so plentiful right now!

They are precious wonderful kids and I am thankful for so much time together with them. Today we went to the library and stocked up on books and videos for the week. Somehow they always manage to convince me to come home with over 30 items each time we go - no wonder my fines get high - it is worth it though to breed such a love of reading in them. We splurged and headed over to the video game store where we bought some used video games that we can play as a family as well - then to top it off they each got to pick out their own bag of chips for our evening. We headed home for some movie and video game time and a wonderful family night.

I rarely like to watch the same movies over and over again. There are a few exceptions and one that surprises me that I enjoy watching so much is The Sum of All Fears. It is not uplifting, not especially well acted and the plot is rather predictable at parts but I think the concept of sum of all fears is clever and I have enjoyed much of the Jack Ryan political action movies and books - a general exception to my movie and book taste.

I am starting a new William Martin book Citizen Washington. I really enjoyed the last two Harvard Yard and The Lost Constitution, historical fiction both. One of my favorite genres to read actually though I read a wide variety of genres. I blew through three Harry Potter books in the past two weeks. We saw the movie opening night and then I wanted to reread OoTP so I did. I immediately moved into HBP and finished that while Serona was reading Deathly Hollows. Being impatient to continue I started reading when he was not home and just kept two bookmarks in it. Even reading this way and letting him read it whenever he was home I finished in two days.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series and will one day share it with my children. Right now they are too young - though Rhiannon could easily read the books she is just not ready for the content. Not for the same reasons many Christian parents are against the books but I know my kid and I know she is not ready. We also decided until we are ready to let her read the whole series confident she can handle it all will we allow her to start - because I know how frustrating it would be to not be allowed to continue.

Still Serona and I have been reading them from the beginning and we have hand knit house scarves and hats and probably soon some quidditch socks. We have gone to the movies, though we don't go with the same enthusiasm as the Star Wars openers got from us and I would like to see this last movie again. I think it was very well done even though it varied the most from the books I think it was my favorite overall movie of the series so far. Even though the books have closure I am sad the series is supposedly over because I will miss the characters in the book and seeing what happens to them next. It was nice to finish the series and see how she chose to end it.

I am also glad I am done with the book because I had to put myself on a hiatus from all internet except the weather channel after woot.com had a potential spoiler (it was tongue in cheek and had nothing to do with the book) still it made me realize how easy it would be to be spoiled with all the news sites and blogs I read with regularity. The internet hiatus was actually nice and I always come away from those with a little less desire to spend as much time on the computer as I did before. Not to say I am not glad to be back to reading freely. I hate stories being spoiled. I was very frustrated with Serona when he read the book for Episode One and told me on our way into the theater that Padme was Amidala. So he was banned from making any noises even while reading the last HP book in my presence. He was very respectful of that and nearly exploded ready to talk when I finally finished the book.

On the knitting front I have taken to making socks. They are a fabulous summer project - they are portable and light and mostly mindless work. I have a fairly complicated aran pattern in the works for a certain special family member that I hope to spend more time on when I have thinking knitting time but for now socks are nice mindless summer work.

On the homeschool front - we have had a great time being completely off. Ciaran and I have started working on reading skills daily again this past week because he needs the review and was starting to lose the progress he made last year. We took out Phonics Pathways, Dr Suess and checked out a bunch of readers from the library to work on together. Rhiannon has enjoyed a work free summer though it is just about time to start some math review with her so we don't start too far behind. When the school supplies all came out this month she was outraged. I explained that some kids go back to school in August for college or year round charter schools and the rest go back end of august or beginning of September. She smiled wide and said "not us" and I reminded her we could start then if she preferred. She said "we don't start until October and I like that!" To find out why you can read my Why I love September post.

These next few weeks though I will pull together my classes for our homeschool cooperative. This fall I will be teaching a Star Wars class. My concept is to teach literary/movie themes like coming of age, good vs. evil, etc and then flush it out through the Star Wars saga. I'd like to have this class planned out a bit more than I usually do at the beginning of my semesters. The second class I will teach is a nature explorers/nature journaling class. I am looking forward to both. For our homeschool studies I did some advance planning at the end of the year and probably won't get around to that again until mid September right before we start up our year again.

We are still reading but I have taken a hiatus from posting reading lists. The kids and I are simply not as good about keeping tabs on what we read and so much of it is rereading our favorite books that I don't keep tabs on it. I have decided to just keep Rhiannon and Ciaran's independent reads in their grade level list and start the new grade level list in the fall when we start their next grade work. So sadly for you no summer reading lists will be coming from me but I am enjoying the break from recording it.

Well I said it would be a long rambling post and that is exactly what it was! I could go on but why bore you anymore?


July 28, 2007

Grumpy Daddy 2 Weeks Later

Hey All.
This is Tenn's DH, Serona.
It's two weeks into my first ever "real" diet. You can read HERE about how I started Weight Watchers (now for MEN). And the results are mixed. (Don't worry you say. everyone goes through ups and downs you say) BOSH. My weight is actually doing just fine, thank you. Actually, it's doing great. I started at 250 and unless we got a new "self-esteem scale" then I've lost 14 pounds. (That's like a Chipotle Burrito -
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm Chiiiiiiiippoooooooootleeeeeeeeeee. Excuse me while I mop up my drool).

The biggest thing I've learned is portions. Basically what you and I used to put on our plates is about a week's worth of food. You know that one time you read the food label on the side of the cereal box or the pasta box or Twix wrapper and you see things like "serving size: 1/4 cup" or "serving size: 1 bar" and you scoffed? "Who measures out individual noodles? Who would only eat 1/4 cup of Mac and Cheese?" You would wonder this or even say it aloud as you shovel snow-shovel quantities of the cheesy or chocolaty goodness into your mouth. (Ok, maybe I'm projecting here. I know I would say that!) Well I have the answer: People on Weight Watcher!

I've become a portions Nazi. "Sorry, Tenn. You gave me two spaghetti noodles too many." "No thanks, I shouldn't have another helping of that conference food catering. (grumble grumble grumble). I'll just have some more ... WATER." Yeah. water. It's so filling and wonderful (NOT!)

Still the results don't suck.

Now I'm off to Asia for a lengthy business trip. The diet will provide me with a good excuse to not try the octopus eyeballs and snake wine. We will see how well portion control works overseas. They're all so skinny over there (seriously, when was the last time you saw a FAT Asian? Never? Yeah, thought so.)

So, while I may still be grumpy daddy sometimes, at least now I'm not-as-fat-as-i-used-to-be-grumpy-daddy.

Until next time. Cheers.

July 26, 2007

Aran Islands

I've been wanting to write this post for awhile but never seem to get it done. On an unseasonably cool July night I am sitting on my deck wearing my Aran sweater purchased on Inishmore of the Aran Islands so when am I going to find a better time?

Simply put we loved Inishmore and this entire part of our trip. It was a last minute add in because it is clear across the country from Dublin and ended up being a 4 hour drive. We were initially hesitant but everything I read made me want to go to Galway and the Aran Islands. So we did and we are so thankful we did. Promising ourselves even as we were there that someday we needed to come back with our kids. I honestly can not think of a better place to take a family vacation especially if you need some time with your kids without distractions as there are very few distractions. We want to go back when our kids are teens and can appreciate it but also when we need the connecting time in an isolated and beautiful quiet way.

We arrived by ferry (you can not bring cars onto the island though there are some there the locals use) and found a minibus to take us to our bed and breakfast. We stayed at The Kilmurvey House which is one of the farthest from the main town area of Kilronan. We wanted to be away from the main town area and to get the feel for how quiet the island is also this allowed us to be close to the fort Dun Aengus with spectacular views.

We were greeted at the door by the owner Treasa who greeted us by our names (without us sharing them) and asked how our journey was. We arrived past dinner time but she offered to arrange a car back to town for us or pull something together. We were not that hungry and she made us a lovely plate of freshly baked breads that were delicious and some farm cheeses, perfectly met our needs. She strongly encouraged us to head up to the fort after dinner as we would be away from the crowds. We headed out in our raincoats though we were wanting for a good Aran sweater and could see the temperature they were created for as we headed up and up to the top. We saw a few people heading down but as we arrived at the top we were alone just the two of us in the quiet overlooking the ocean and having the whole historic fort to ourselves.

People have asked me for an absolute favorite part of our trip which is really hard because it truly was all great (yes even with the rain) and it was all so diverse that it truly is hard to pick but this is probably it if I have to pick. Being alone on top of that fort where it was beautiful quiet and just the two of us is about as perfect as it could get. The views truly are incredible and our pictures simply do not do it justice.

As much as I love nature I have a healthy fear of heights and don't like steep cliff or mountain views for that very reason. Well here we are standing on a 350 foot sheer cliff drop to the water and Serona is laying over the edge snapping pictures and admiring the view and trying to convince me to join him. I am slow to join him, refusing at first and he continues to coax about how this is my one opportunity and it is safe. Somehow the romance of the moment I suppose convinced me it was a good idea and I laid down and very bravely managed to work near to the edge having to convince myself forward with every inch wanting to turn back. I made it and peered over (not nearly as far over the ledge as Serona) with my feet wrapped around a rock and fear in my heart. The fear subsided at the amazing beauty that was beneath me and the view I could get that just a few feet away I would have completely missed and even been unaware of. It was breathtaking and wonderful and I was just awed at God's creation and the wonder of it all. I am so glad Serona persisted and I had a temporary case of insanity that allowed me to peer over the edge as it was amazing.

We stayed up at the Fort through sunset enjoying being alone in this beautiful place and in the quiet of the moment so thankful for this rare opportunity. You see most people experience this beautiful location with hundreds of other day tourists and it is crowded and I imagine a completely different experience than the one that we had. We collected trash as we walked along disappointed at the way people treat places and aware how apparent that was when we were alone in the history just ourselves. There was a certain level of respect and awe and reverence that I think you miss in the crowd and of course the quiet of being alone with my husband looking out over the water. A stay at the Kilmurvey House is worth it just for the private opportunity you will have at this special place. Of course it is an excellent B&B and worthy for so many other reasons as well.

We saw another woman alone on top taking pictures and shared some of the best spots with her and snapped a few photos of her so she could be in her pictures. She was from Poland and working for the summer on the Island - I thought what a wonderful opportunity and special place to spend a summer. Then we headed back down the stony path and wanted to continue walking though it was nearly 11pm it was just starting to turn to full night sky.

We headed over to a beach and I put my feet in the cold cold water in the chilly night. But I was in the Irish Sea so there you have it! Serona thought I was nuts but then he joined me as well. The feel of real sand beneath my toes was such a wonderful sensation and one I miss having grown up at the ocean and now being transplanted to the heartland of America. The sand was cool and felt great on my feet, the water was cold and a bit numbing but still wonderful. We walked along the shore and collected shells for the kids and enjoyed the evening sky and once again being alone on this lovely night. We were struck by how quiet and peaceful everything is and also by how you can imagine that would be lonely in the wintertime. We headed back stopping to look at the horse and her foal as we passed them by on the road. Though we took this photo the next day while it was light.

We headed back for a good nights sleep disturbed only by the ticks we discovered we brought back with us from our evening hike! For some reason I did not think of or expect ticks and we had not done our usual check. Surprise! We awoke the next morning the the incessant beep of the fire detector and no power. The island shut down power because they needed to get some work done and there was nothing our hosts could do. They did their best provided a wonderful breakfast and it was light enough that not having the lights did not really matter - we ate and left quickly though since the fire detector could not stop beeping and we wanted to get out and explore the island more.

We were tempted to head back up to the fort but decided it probably could not possibly be any better than our experience the night before. Since we were only the island for the day we had decided not to rent bikes. If we ever go back we will rent bikes for the time we are there as you do get around the island much quicker and it is a preferred way of travel. We wanted to explore as much of the island on our own as we could before the day tourists arrived and it got crowded. Even though we ourselves were tourists we felt we were experiencing the island in a very different way from day tourists and did not want that interrupted and changed. The shops were still closed and quiet and everything about the island was peaceful. We saw some children roaming around and playing, some people riding bikes to their land to feed their livestock and a few people walking or biking. We headed over to see the beehive huts that the monks lived in when they first came to this part of Ireland.

Here was another special moment as we sat inside this fully intact beehive built well over a thousand years ago I could feel myself pulled back in time. To think what was it like to live in this? For this beehive to be my only shelter. To hear the wind whip around it, the rain fall on it and the weather chill through it. To have such a small but adequate space to sleep and stay inside from poor weather. I thought about how different our homes are now and how far the concept of shelter has come. I wondered if there wasn't something to learn about how much outside time they spent. Don't get me wrong it did not make me want to give up our home and move into a beehive hut. I truly enjoy the comforts of our home and the benefits of air conditioning, heating and lots of space for everyone in our family. Still I did find a new commitment to spending more time outside and enjoy creation. We sat and reflected at awed at this little beehive hut for awhile and then headed off to find more of the 7 old churches.

Along the way we saw a sign for another fort and took a less traveled path. Somewhere along the way we missed a sign and ended up on a long rocky stone wall path that seemed to go on forever and end nowhere in particular as it dead ended into several fields just shy of the other end of the island from where we started. This walk was quiet just us the whole time and for a brief moment an old farmer riding on his bike until he could no longer and then heading into a piece of his land to visit his cows. As we walked along the path we were surrounded by patches of land divided by stone walls. We discovered from our driver that first day (who was born and raised on the island and is still there with his grandkids, maybe even great grandkids) that the land was divided evenly among everyone and they pushed stones from the fields to divide the land. It was divided in such a way that everyone got a bit of the good and a bit of the bad so their land is parceled out all throughout the island. We did see some bad land for farming or really much purpose of anything unless you were going o quarry rocks maybe as i was sheer rocks within the stone walls. Next to that might be a patch of grass with some cows or horses. It was a lovely quiet walk just us and the occasional horse or cow friend coming right along our path to say hello by popping their heads over the stone walls into the path! It definitely felt like we were in the Ireland I pictured.

Our trail overlooked more beautiful cliff drops and this time I opted to see only what I could from my feet. Still the views were breathtaking and amazing. To us it was even more special knowing probably not many people see this particular view as it was a long hard walk with no known destination. My guess is most people would have turned back on this path (if they even started upon it) except for those of course whose land is at the top of this path. We enjoyed the view for awhile and then prepared ourselves for the long walk back down the path we already traveled. We enjoyed ourselves and the quiet moments we were stealing and the joy of not having to help little ones on this rougher road.

When we arrived nearly at the start of the trail we spotted the fort sign we missed before and headed the short distance to the fort. Once again we were alone here and I can't express how special this quiet time was for us to see these amazing sites without a bunch of other tourists truly contrasted to our experience at the Book of Kells or other historic locations. It allowed us time to reflect and enjoy and feel something special - something made possible by staying overnight on this island so many visit just for the day and taking some off the common trails. This fort was completely overgrown and not maintained much at all anymore. You can tell the other fort maybe overshadowed it or was more visited still it was a great experience to be in it. We headed back to the start of the trail and by now were famished and decided food was more important than seeing anymore historic sites. We had walked from one end of the island (the shorter way) to the other and then back again. We had been treated to amazing views, quiet moments, friendly horses and a beautiful vista where we could see both bodies of water from the high center point of the island.

We got some simple sandwiches at a nearby shop that was now filled with tourists where it had been silent just a few hours earlier. Some local children were playing Irish music live and really added to the atmosphere. I could not help but think how entrepreneurial they or their parents were. The fact that they were kids and playing so well no doubt increased the amount they were taking in. Better still they seemed to enjoy it. We finished up some of our gift shopping for our family and enjoyed a few shops. Neither Serona nor I are shoppers and don't generally enjoy spending time in stores but it was nice to pick out a few special items for some special people in our lives.

We boarded a bus back to the main village of Kilronan with an Irish step dancing team of young kids. They were rowdy and loud and it seemed even a bigger juxtaposition to our quiet time on the island. We tried to enjoy our last views of the island over the building noise and were relived when we arrived in Kilronan. We visited a few more shops and purchased some hand knit Aran sweaters before boarding the ferry back to Galway. We both knew we would miss this island and our special time here. I suppose looking back in many ways it was our favorite part of the trip though we enjoyed all of our time in Ireland. We both know that we would love the opportunity to come back here and plan to if we ever make it back to Ireland. It would especially be a great place to go on a family retreat. We talked about trying to convince our whole extended families to come here and rent bicycles and relax on the island for a week or so.

If you are heading to Ireland do not miss this special place. If you fly into Shannon airport you are very close already. Take the time and stay overnight (a few days if you can) and rent some bicycles, stay at the Kilmurvey House or the Man of Aran cottage (yes it was the one in the movie). Purchase your hand knit (read labels carefully many are machine knit) Aran sweater when you arrive because they are specifically designed for the climate you will experience on the islands. Then enjoy the quiet and off trail moments you can find - take full advantage of the time when the day tourists are not on the island. You really get a feel for the Ireland you may be imagining in your head. Stop at Galway on either the beginning or end of your trip and purchase a traditional Claddagh ring. Enjoy!

July 20, 2007

Babysitter's Music

Okay does it make us strange that we listen to much of the same music as our babysitters? We use streaming internet radio for our primary music and since our babysitters have no television options when they are at our house we have shown them how to use our music service and allow them to save their own playlists.

I came home recently one night to discover that more than half of the music on her playlist I listen to and I tried out some of her other bands and enjoyed them. This is not a unique circumstance. About a year ago with a new babysitter she came in the door and Serona was singing one of her favorite songs.

Now I am sure that loads of our music they would not enjoy but we do have a bit of overlap. I must give the credit (or fault?)for this to Serona as I would not have purposefully discovered some of these bands but over time I have come to enjoy them.

Serona and I have very different taste in music for the most part since I focus on lyrics and he focuses on chords and riffs the music not the words. He also grew up loving heavy heavy music where I had a short lived fling with heavy metal music and then gave it completely up and can barely tolerate anything of the like anymore. But the more punky music I enjoy so long as the lyrics are okay (which in many they are not). You see I am trying to find some common ground music with Serona as much of the loud music he really enjoys have lyrics that I simply can not stand and I can't even listen because of that. Furthermore some of the bands use screaming (literally) as another instrument and no matter how much Serona tries to explain it to me I simply don't "appreciate" it the way he does. So in my search for common ground I found harder Christian music (which has improved considerably over the years). Basically if I admit to it this common ground is simply put teenager music. So that is why my babysitters like the same music because truthfully we like their music.

The Christian Sonshine Music festival for Minnesota was recently not that far from us. Serona and I looked over the list and really wanted to go as we really enjoy a lot of the bands who were there. We decided it would simply be too much for our little ones. Several of my friends were taking their teenage sons to the concerts and I wondered a bit if that was weird because I can not even pretend it is my kids music since they are 8 6 and 3 and not interested at all in much of this music. In the end it is probably just as well I did not go so it would not come up in the fall when I teach these kids in our homeschool cooperative.

Serona and I are used to being the babies of our friends and especially within the homeschool community. My friends are great and accepting of the age difference and we all get along as if there was no difference and really we are not that far apart though music is an area where it tends to show up more. Both in what we like now and in what the music of our childhood/teens and college years were. I guess realizing that I really do enjoy the music of many of my friends kids and not because I wanted to learn to like the music of that generation was weird to me. I guess it is just one more thing like the Star Wars thing for us. Maybe some day it will be used for good and I can teach a music class or something since this fall I am teaching a Star Wars class.

The Mall of America

Living in the Twin Cities we have easy access to the Mall of America and we go there several times a year, very rarely to shop. Recently I spent an entire day with Rhia and a friend there mostly riding the roller coasters and the various other rides. Correction: the girls rode and I sat on a nearby space of floor or when I could find it a bench and knit as I waited for them on the long lines. I was quite thankful for the knitting as it would have been tedious for me had I not had it. I got a very good star on my newest sock pattern, a sock knit sideways so not in the round (so far it is interesting but I still prefer the other way as I really am not a fan of purling).

The girls had a great time and their stomachs are amazing - only got queasy once after they rode the Screaming Eagle five times in a row. As for me well I did not go on a single ride. My limit is the Hot Air Balloon ride I go on with Sirah. I just am not built for amusement park rides and never have been. I am a great person to go with though because I don't mind waiting with the young children, being the human shopping cart and coat rack and vicariously enjoying it through everyone else. I stretched myself on our Walt Disney World vacation but still drew the line at the rides I knew would push me over. Thankfully the girls had each other and did not mind me sitting on the sidelines holding all their stuff.

Cotton candy, ice cream, pop, crepes for dinner. Our day was filled with sugar, fast rides and fun. We spent 8 hours at the mall and the girls could have kept going but mom was ready to leave much to their disappointment. I honestly enjoy the mall as long as I don't have to spend any time in the stores. Walking the hallways, riding the rides, even the Underwater Adventures is fine with me. For the past several years we have had an annual scavenger hunt throughout the mall that is loads of fun. People watching is always an interesting thing to do there as well. For all the good I can see in the mall I honestly can not understand why it is a tourist attraction. Perhaps it is because in a lot of ways I am the anti-shopper, spending as little time in as few stores as I can (unless of course it is a book store).

Yesterday was a new experience for Rhiannon and me as we went into some of the "little girly" stores neither of us have ever been in. I literally felt like the skin was going to crawl off my body when I was inside stores like Limited Too, Claires and just walking past Libby Lu. I wanted to scream at the marketing toward this young group of girls and the consumerism being pushed at them, the horrible choices they are offered and the way it is all made so appealing to them. Rhia was overwhelmed and I could not move us through them fast enough. It started because we went past one and our little friend shared it was her favorite store could we please go in. I relented and regretted it. Okay maybe I don't regret it because I have a pretty good idea what they are about now and what I don't like about them and to steer my girls clear of them. Of course I had that gut instinct before and thus we never went in before. Anyway I digress - just confirmed for me that I can't stand shopping and I am thankful for that gift I have been given - if only it had carried over to books, homeschool curriculum, and new tech gadgets!

Still I am trying to get my head around why people want to travel to see the Mall of America? A bunch of stores all together and an amusement park in the middle. Okay the indoor full size amusement park is kind of cool during the winter in Minnesota but would I travel to see it? I don't think so. I just don't get it. I guess it is a shrine to our consumerism and a conveinant place for a marathon shopper to go. So why do we spend any time there? As a Minnesotan it is conveinant for me sometimes and so we go. We go to walk miles when it is lousy weather (hot, cold, snowy, etc) we go their to people watch, to take the kids to the amusement park or visit underwater adventures and we are often found their on Father's Day (perhaps one of their emptiest days). We typically avoid it like the plague around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter as well as rainy or super hot days in the summer because the crowds are ridiculous. I guess I am glad we have it nearby for what we use it for and from time to time I have made purchases there usually at the book store or the Disney store but I just don't get the hype.

Come Join the Fun!

Our family will be joining an unknown number of other people in an awesome online scavenger hunt and puzzle starting today. Check out The Golden Jigsaw and have fun!


July 19, 2007

Garage Sale Find

Okay so I have a confession I really dislike garage sales and always have. Silly I know since you can get so many great deals. Today our neighborhood was having one and my kids had money burning holes in their pockets so I relented.

I actually found a great deal that I was super excited about. We have been building up our math games collection and there was one I wanted to purchase but refused for the $20 pricetag. However I will happily purchase 24 for .25 in brand new condition! So there you go. The kids were happy and I found a few great things including this game, an old working light bright and the Black Cauldron.

July 16, 2007

Happy Birthday Rhiannon

Rhiannon is 8 years old now and will be heading into 3rd grade this fall. Everyone always told me the years and time flies by in the blink of an eye but I have not felt that way with my kids so far, maybe some day I will. It has not felt too fast or too slow but just right. For her birthday card this year we printed out a sheet of pictures one from each year - as I looked at the pictures and reflected on our lives together I could not help but smile.

In her 8 years she has lived in three states and seven homes. For not being a military kid that is quite a bit. She is a fairly flexible child and used to change. She adopts our "One never knows what this crazy clan will do" philosophy with enthusiasm and seems to enjoy it. I looked over the picture and I see variety yet some consistency as well.

Rhiannon loves reading, horses, fairies, American Girls, reading, rocks and fossils, gin rummy, art, reading, swimming, biking, fort building, creating plays, dress-up, oh and reading.

She has brought us so much joy over these years and I love having the opportunity to homeschool her and be the one to share her learning with her. To be the one to watch the light bulb go and and see her get excited about things. I selfishly love all the time we have together as mother and daughter and as a family.

This year I have watched her introduced to things from my childhood like the Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Spirograph, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie and several other things that she enjoys now that I recall enjoying as a girl her age. I get to discover new things with her and watch her passion for them grow. Things like the Disney Fairies, American Girl historical characters, rock collecting and horses. It is so much fun to see her grow and to be such a part of that.

Happy Birthday Rhiannon and thanks for all the memories

July 15, 2007

Grumpy Daddy

Hi everyone,
this is Tenn's DH, Serona.
After much talking about it but little real action Tenn signed me up for weightwatchers. Yep, the 150 lb frame that married Tenn 10 years ago has gained 100 lbs to weigh in at the start at 250.

The thing about this is that I don't suffer from a lack of self-esteem. I have a positive self image, I feel comfortable, am fairly active (biking, hiking, working out at the gym with less than desirable regularity, but I do it), and am generally happy. Oh, I also have a clean bill of health (but for the weight) from the good Doctor.

Maybe I'm wrong but I always thought folks started dieting because they either had 0 self esteem or because a Dr ordered it. I know I'm not in either of those categories. Either way, I know that this is the *right* thing to do, so I'll do it.

Tenn is great. She's really encouraging and helping with meals and planning, and talking about what is good and what is not. I'm not an "eat for comfort" guy. I'm a vegetarian (ovo-lacto) and simply enjoy eating. I don't gorge but my portions are WAY big (at least according to weight watchers). Sheesh, it sounds like I'm in denial. I don't *feel* like I'm in denial. Oh well.

So I'm on day 2, and grumpy. I'm grumpy at the marketing blather that "you can eat what you want" which is BS. If I could eat what I want I wouldn't be on the plan, eh? I'm grumpy at the 0 - point foods like water (mmmmmmmmmm!) or chard (read: beet leaves) or tobasco (thirsty?). I'm grumpy that Dove bars are 6 points per (that should be like a meal according to WW), that mayonnaise is right out(what goes on the fries?), and that they think things like oil & vinegar dressing is "just as good as" creamy peppercorn ranch (....peeeepppppppeeeerrrr ccooooorrrrrrnnnn raaaaaaaannnncccchhh....).

But we'll see what happens. I'll post here with Tenn to keep y'all aprised of the journey and to create some built in accountability. Discipline has never been a strong suit of mine but maybe this will help. This diet should be a hoot when I travel to China and Japan and Australia, as if being a vegetarian over there were not bad enough. I wonder how many points Sake is?

Now, time for lunch. Where was my 1/2 cup of apple?

July 11, 2007

Excitement of Nature

Watching my kids in nature is great fun. They get extremely excited over the precious little things. We were on a nature hike with friends and the mom asked me if they were more excited because they were with others or if it is always like this. I said it is always like this, they get very excited in a way that is hard to express in a blog.

Sirah's mood can change in an instant if a frog, butterfly, catterpillar, interesting insect or really any critter is discovered. She could have been crying seconds before and suddenly she is running with a great big smile so excited to see the newest find. Her excitement is contagious as she rushes to you to get the bug cage or to show you the newest frog. It really brings a smile to everyone around her.

Ciaran is loud and proud. He is so happy when he catches something and he wants to share it with you. He is jumpy like a frog when he finds something until he shares it with everyone and has a moment to enjoy it - then he slowly calms down. That is until the next thing is found and the excitement loop starts again.

Rhiannon is a bit more staid in her reaction. She is excited like the others but less expressive of that, unless it is butterflies. She has always had a thing for butterflies that is hard to contain. She does get excited for the other finds as well but expresses it more calmly.

Being out in nature is always fun and interesting with my kids. I love their excitement and pure joy.

July 9, 2007

When Blogging is Strange

Sometimes I wonder if my family and friends wish I wore this shirt. My kids probably will wish this when they are teenagers. Actually I do try to be considerate of my kids, family and friends privacy. For the most part I try hard to not blog anything private, embarrassing, incriminating or unfair about people I know. I try to keep personal details out and in general opt not to blog something if I have any doubt or question in my mind. I am sure you can find exceptions but at least I try. While I often wear my "I'm blogging this" t-shirt and Sirah wears her "My entire life is being blogged" shirt I generally am not blogging every detail about everything we are doing and hardly ever blog about friends (unless I am complementing them for how wonderful they are and all the good things they do) still it must be weird sometimes to be my friend or related to me and see those shirts and wonder if you are going to end up on my blog.

I have spent a good amount of time reflecting on this as it relates to our children since Sirah's shirt is actually accurate since I began blogging before she was born. Rhiannon has now had half her life blogged and Ciaran 2/3's of his and obviously those numbers are only going up. A few months ago I wrote down my reflections on this topic, Parents Blogging Kids. But it goes beyond my kids and family. I have been blogging long enough now that many of the usual and even some of the unusual experiences have happened to me that happen as a result of blogging

- I've become friends with bloggers throughout the country whom I have never met in person yet I feel connected to them and their lives.

- I've discovered I have a bigger audience than I thought when I realize how many people read these random thoughts I put down.

- I've helped out fellow bloggers I never met in person with their real life needs.

- I've talked on the telephone to complete strangers in a way that felt like we knew one another for awhile.

- I've been contacted by publishers to review materials.

-I've reconnected with old friends who I have not seen or talked to in years who feel like they know my kids and my life intimately because they have read my blog for years.

- I've opened a PO Box because my blog gets snail mail

- I've met strangers and been in the middle of a conversation only to find out they read my blog. Suddenly the playing field is not even as they know a whole lot about my life and me and I know very little about them.

- I've been contacted via email by complete strangers seeking advice or help on a bunch of random topics

- Recently I discovered by reading a friends blog that her daughter had left her much loved blankie at my house (neither of us knew it) and a joyful reunion was made between child and lovie.

- My favorite: I've received kudos, encouragement and support from people I have never met and probably never will through email comments and the rare real-life compliment.

But probably the strangest thing to get used to is how blogging affects my real-life relationships, with close friends, acquaintances and even family. I've been in numerous conversations where I start a conversation about something I want to share to be cut off because my friend already knows all that because they read it on my blog. Or for my very polite friends I am boring them to tears with something they know but will listen to again. Or I am in a conversation with someone and they start answering something I wrote in a blog post but never shared face to face with them and it takes me a minute to realize what they are talking about and how they knew that. Sometimes blogging adds a whole new level to conversation to navigate. Sometimes I don't know whether to bother talking about something or not, or whether to blog about something or not.

I recently went on a wonderful trip to Ireland and decided to blog about it and this has led to several of these strange moments. They are not bad - just different to get used to - its like a conversation has taken place giving background information to my friends. Still it is not a back and forth conversation (unless of course they comment) so we still talk about it usually but other times we do not. The most interesting situations are group discussions where one person read my blog and one did not and the three of us talk. I suppose it is just like if I told one person a story and not the other but it is still different in some ways.

I like that my family and friends read my blog. It is a great way to keep lots of people up to date with what is going on in our lives. Kind of like the continual Christmas card letter. I also like that fellow homeschoolers and other parents find information I write here interesting and worthy of their time.

It is just odd when faced with it in a real life situation because oftentimes people only sometimes read my blog (other than my parents, parents in love and DH who read every silly thing I write) so I never really know whether someone has read something I have written or not. So it is hit or miss which means there is no consistent way to manage talking about things I write in my blog with friends and family.

I am not really sure about the point of this post other than to share some of the strange results of blogging that I never thought about when I started or even as I have gone along until they happened to me. How about you - is blogging ever strange for you - as a blogger or as a reader of blogs or both?

From DublinTown to Galway

On Monday we left Dublin and headed to the west coast of Ireland. We drove on the N^ for most of the way, a road that felt like Rte 66 in the United States. We drove through small town after small town, through farming fields and just small town Ireland on a road that may someday be by-passed by highways. Even though it took longer to get there I am glad this was our route because it made us take our time and appreciate the drive and see more of small town Ireland and parts we never would have decided to visit in our short time. A forced scenic tour that I'm glad we did not miss.

As we drove through the countryside we pointed out cows, horses and sheep just as we would here in the states. We wondered if the Irish point out our livestock when they drive through our country. Or if they wonder why ours are so penned up and there are so many more in such a smaller space. This was very noticeable as we drove through Ireland and in comparison to much of the American heartland we have driven through - factory farming is much more apparent in the United States and by appearances the livestock in Ireland have a very different experience. Interesting to us because we care about that sort of thing, wonder how many other people would have even noticed that difference?

The towns we drive through all seemed to have a similar look and feel. The local bar had a storefront that looked much like the ones in Dublin and the towns seemed to have the same staples with some slight variety. It was apparent to me how much more choice we have in the United States, how much variety there is and also how much consistency chains provide. It is hard to go somewhere in the US without being able to get predictable and reliable food and stores. In Ireland I could not find a bag of pretzels in all the places I looked. Also we never knew what you would find for food in restaurants (an interesting experience for vegetarians travelling). There were brown historical sites all along the way throughout these towns - we did not take the time to stop and see all that was offered to us. We had to be disciplined near Althone and Clonmacnoise but we still had a ways to go.

After three and a half hours in the car listening to bad music and driving through the central part of Ireland between Galway and Dublin town (anyone get the song reference yet?) we arrive in Galway. Only to discover that we have another hour drive ahead of us to get to the ferry docks in Ros a Mir.

We spent some time tooling around in Galway exploring what it had to offer and actually shopping (one of the few times we did this intentionally in Ireland). I will post more about this in my Galway post. We divided our visit to Galway in half on either end of our Aran Islands trip but I will put it all together in my next post. We headed back into the car and along the coastal road to Ros a Mir where we boarded a ferry (people only no cars) over to Inishmore of the Aran Islands.

As I sat on the ferry I reflected on the things we just saw along the way from the busy streets of Dublin to the small towns all along the N6 into Galway (which feels in many ways like a smaller more enjoyable Dublin) off to the very small town of Ros a Mir and on to the boat to the island that is home to several hundred people who still speak the Irish and have their land divided by stone walls. It was a lot of variety for just four hours of driving. To make it from one side of a country to the other in that short time seemed amazing to me considering how long it takes to travel withing some states that feel like they will never end.

Still even as we drove and saw the differences there was a certain familiarity that makes you smile. Watching moms push baby strollers, friends walking together, an older couple holding hands, construction workers waving us through, kids walking home from school and all the normal day to day activities of people no matter where you live. Seeing petrol stations, grocers, shops, churches, farms and homes from town to town - what was the same and what was different. Experiencing some of the 40 shades of green as we drove along the highway, making our journey part of our destination. Sharing what we saw and thought with one another, wondering what others think as they drive along this road and what out of towners think when they drive through the roads in our state and neighborhoods. It was a good drive and a nice way to spend an afternoon in Ireland even as we looked forward with anticipation to our final destination of Inishmore.

July 8, 2007

The Best Way to Camp

We have discovered that for our family the best way to camp is to decide last minute. Whenever we actually go ahead and plan a camping trip - it pours, thunderstorms, tornadoes, you name it that is what will be predicted or happen. Lately we have taken the approach of not deciding until that day dependent on the weather.

So we found ourselves on the Friday morning of Fourth of July weekend calling campsites to see who had availability for one of the busiest weekends of the year. A little secret - most campsites keep a certain amount of first come first serve walk up sites that can not be reserved ahead of time so it is easier than you think to get a good site at a state park with little to no notice.

It was Friday morning and after looking at the weather report I emailed Serona and said let's go camping and he agreed. I did some research and phone calling and found a great place to go. The kids and I headed off to our Young Nature Explorers activity and then headed home to pack. It took me a little less than an hour to get everything (except food) packed. We stopped at the grocery store packed the cooler and headed off to the campsite. Very little planning, very little work ahead and no worry about planning for the trip.

We had a great time and it was easy and fun. And we knew it was going to be good weather because we waited until the last moment to make our decisions. I think for our family this is the best way to camp.

July 5, 2007

Bucket Blast!

The kids have been outside all day playing everything they can with the neighbor kids. Towards the end of the day they were starting to get restless and out of ideas. I brought out our Bucket Blast game and it hit the spot perfect! This game is great and with so many uses - 6 buckets, a bunch of bean bags, blindfolds and some cones. I only let them use the buckets and beanbags. They began by stealing bean bags from each other and the person with the most bean bags at the end won. This was enjoyable but the real fun began with water. What kid does not love water on a hot day?

They filled their buckets and strapped them on - then they run around and try to knock the water out of each others buckets - at the end of the timer the person with the most water wins. Everyone is wet and everyone is having fun. They played several rounds of this and then tried to experiment with a way to fairly fill the buckets on each other. We have one hose and it seemed hard to make this work. They tried several versions and settled on one they liked but went back to dumping the buckets out and trying to keep the water in. A great time was had by everyone. Today the ages playing ranged from 6 to 13 and they played peaceably and enjoyably together. Though I must say the 13 year old is a very kind and gentle spirited 13 year old girl - results might be different with a rowdy competitive 13 year old. I recommend the bucket game - they are also great in the winter for indoor gym or indoor house games. A variety of ideas come with it and there are plenty to make up on your own or find from others. Great for a variety of ages and genders and once you have a few kids it is contagious and fun.

After awhile today the buckets started to annoy them and the realization that what they were enjoying was the hose sunk in. They created some other game of water jail involving our play set fort, the pool and the hose. This has kept them entertained for about another half hour. Really just add a little creativity to water and you have the guaranteed recipe for success on a hot sunny day.

We have just a little baby pool - appropriate for Sirah but all the neighborhood kids manage to get in there. They put it at the bottom of our slide, they stand in it, they put the sprinkler over it, they do a variety of things to get wet and really seem to enjoy this little pool. I tell people we don't have a pool but to bring swim suits and towels to our house because it seems kids always get pretty wet here - just like they always get pretty muddy here in the spring. I see that as meaning they are having a great time and that makes me happy. What is a little water mess and some mud for some great childhood memories and happy kids?

July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July

Today we celebrate freedom. Today we celebrate our country. Today we celebrate and thank all those who made it possible from those first to all those who have come since and all of us who continue.

Still as we stop and watch fireworks, watch parades, eat watermelon, listen to patriotic music and talk to our kids about what this day means we need to reflect ourselves about what we are doing with that freedom? I love this song that was played at church this past week.

What Did He Die For - Twila Paris

He was twenty-one in 1944
He was hope and he was courage on a lonely shore
Sent there by a mother with love beyond her tears
Just a young American who chose to rise above his fears
And as I watch him struggle up that hill
Without a thought of turning back
I cannot help but wonder

What did he die for?
When he died for you and me
Made the sacrifice
So that we could all be free
I believe we will answer each to heaven
For the way we spend a priceless liberty
Look inside and ask the question

What did he die for?
When he died for me
To the darkest day in A.D. 33
Came the mercy and compassion of eternity
Sent there by a Father with love beyond His tears
Blameless One, the only Son
to bear the guilt of all these years
And as I watch Him struggle up that hill
Without a thought of turning back
I cannot help but wonder

What did He die for?
When He died for you and me
Made the sacrifice
So that we could all be free
I believe we will answer each to heaven
For the way we spend a priceless liberty
Look inside and ask the question

What did he die for?
He died for freedom
He died for love
And all the things we do not pay Him back
Could never be enough
What did He die for?
When He died for you and me
Made the sacrifice

So that we could all be free
I believe we will answer each to heaven
For the way we spend a priceless liberty
Look inside and ask the question
What did he die for?
When He died for me

So today as you reflect on all who have sacrificed for you and your family also reflect on what you are doing with all that freedom and life? What are you teaching your children? What are you passing on to the next generation? What else can you do? What else do you need to do?

I really enjoy the movie National Treasure, I love treasure hunts and I love history and the character Riley is just great comic relief. Still a line from the Declaration of Independence that is cited in that movie still sticks with me and I like to reflect on it from time to time (I have added the sentence before for a more full context):

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

People have worked for us and someday we are called or may be called to work for others. We have a great government (no matter your particular views on political issues) and we have been blessed by so many before us who have been willing to stand up for our freedoms - be thankful for them and do not fritter away those freedoms and privileges.

So today enjoy the holiday to be sure but think a bit more today. Maybe take some time to read the Declaration of Independence yourself again. Think about what you need to pass on to the future generations.

Personally I will take time today to also thank my God for the freedoms he has granted me and the sacrifices he has made for me. A debt I can never repay. We are not asked to repay but to live - so live and enjoy!


July 2, 2007

The Bane of Nature..

I love being outdoors, I really do. I love encouraging my kids to explore God's creation and spend as much time in the spring-fall outside as we can. Very little discourages me from being outside. But I do have my weaknesses and I have had to overcome them over the years. For me there are two banes of nature that I could simply live without.

With how much time we spend outdoors it should not surprise me how many of these we see in a season. We have already pulled off more than I can count just this year. Even in Ireland we were awoken in the night to realize we had a tick crawling in our bed after our country hike. There is nothing quite like the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night with something crawling on your arm only to feel and discover it is a tick. Or looking at the back of your sons head and discovering that yes indeed that is a tell tale bullseye symbol on his neck.

Now you might think with how many ticks have hidden themselves on us that we are irresponsible in nature. Nope, we wear long sleeves and pants often, light colored clothes, hair pulled back, baseball caps and do a tick check both at the site after we are done walking and again before bed each day we have been in likely tick areas. Still we manage to bring some home with us and even get bit from time to time. We caught Ciaran's pretty early and the medicine took care of it - it is the ones we could miss that concern me.

Still even with the ticks we are heading out on hikes, in brushy areas, looking for frogs and walking the less traveled path. We do our best to try to keep them away and leave them where they belong. The other offender is much harder to ignore and more likely to leave us running for the solace of indoor shelter.

Let me introduce you to the State Bird of Minnesota:

I have lived in a lot of states and traveled to nearly all in the United States and I have never been to a place that is worse for these pests than here. I suppose we live in the land of 10,000 lakes what can I expect? I am resistant to bug repellent but if we want to be outdoors at all we need to use it. Okay I am exaggerating slightly but only slightly. We don't use it every time we walk out the door but for sure on hikes, camping trips, dusk, fourth of july and being outside in the evening without a fire.

Why is this on my mind? Because today I found 5 mosiquito bites, Sirah has another four and we found two ticks this week! _Sigh_ but it is all part of being a "nature girl" as I tell Rhiannon every time she complains about the bugs. She always reminds me she simply does not like the blood sucking ones. I can't say I blame her - I don't like them either. But they won't keep me indoors. Any other banes of nature out there for you?

July 1, 2007

More than the memories

Awhile ago when Serona and I were having a discussion about what we would do if we suddenly became independently wealthy and did not need to worry about working or money I immediately replied with travel more. There is so much of the world I want to see and experience and share with Serona and the kids. I have always treasured travelling and enjoy it so much. I am thankful for the many opportunities I have had to travel. I visited more states in the United States (42) by the time I was 26 than most people will see in their lifetime. I just recently got my first passport stamp to Ireland! I love traveling and believe I always will until it becomes too difficult for me.

During this discussion Serona asked me why I valued it so much because when it is all said and done all you have are the memories and some pictures or souvenirs to remind you of the time you were there. I guess I never viewed travel in that light, though I can see that perspective. To me travel is experience, and for me life is made up of experiences. Long-time readers of this blog will know that about my parenting and homeschooling philosophy, people who know me and my love for field trips and activities would also know that about me. To me experiences and what we learn from them make up our lives.

When we were recently sitting inside a stone beehive hut built by monks in the early 6th century or so on our trip to the Aran Islands in Ireland I put it all together. For me I value experience much more than my "stuff" my physical items. I value the time I spend somewhere and learning something far more than the items I purchase or own, even though they last longer and I use them more. I suppose there are of course exceptions. I value my wedding ring highly, the journals I write for my kids and I suppose our computer, and I am sure someone can point out a few other things. But in general experiences, even brief ones that I learn from I value higher than items I can purchase at a store.

I really believe I am one of those people who learns by experience, and can find a lesson or value in most anything I do or experience. Sitting in the huts that day I realized quite a bit about what we consider shelter to be and what people of the past considered shelter. I learned quite a few lessons about being outside more and what we have made our homes into in this day and age in our country. I took a lot away with me from those brief moments we sat inside the beehive hut listening to the wind blow, feeling the cool temperature, seeing what full daylight lighting was like, the limited space and imaging what it was used for in comparison to what our homes are used for. Thinking about how much time was spent in this shelter and how much time we spend inside ours today. A commitment to even more time outside was born in me in that brief experience I had while traveling. There are many more examples from our recent trip to Ireland and our walk through history there. There are even more examples from my everyday life and experiences and the places I have traveled over the years.

So for me traveling and experiences are more than the memories and the photos I take with me. They represent opportunities to learn, to understand, to grow and to change or reaffirm my own beliefs and values about certain things. They grow me as a person and provide more breadth to my understanding. To be sure not all travel does this for me, or anyone for that matter. There is only so much new you can see in a different cities airport, fast food place and so on. In many ways people are people wherever you go and some differences are overstated to be sure. However, some things really are different and those are experiences I tend to seek out. The unique things about a place, what makes it special, what is it known for, what is the history of the place.

I especially love finding opportunities to bring history alive to me, to try to experience it in a new and unique way. Seeing the actual Book of Kells was much more significant and shed much more light on history for me than reading about it. Walking through a 5000 year old megalithic site was much more unique than seeing it on the internet. Going to see the Ingalls Wilder sites brings home the books more. Sitting in the back of a session of Congress brings home governance more. Climbing the Statue of Liberty and visiting Ellis Island makes immigration feel much more real. Walking through a vineyard brings you closer to understanding how wine is made and what it means for families that produce it. Standing on a glacier in Alaska looking at a giant crevice caused by a candy wrapper brings home the effects we have on our environment far more than any book can. These briefs moments offer experiences that have stayed with me for a lifetime and so many others I have had and so many more I hope to one day experience. Lessons I hope to pass on to my children and hope they too can experience.

Yet I am a practical person as well and traveling is extremely expensive and at times an extravagance that many (including us) can not afford, especially once you add some kids into the mix. We save and do what we can and we try to fill in our experiences by taking full advantage of what is local and available to us and build a spirit of adventure and flexibility into our kids so when it is possible they are adaptable and excited for the opportunities. Part of our whole "One never knows what this crazy clan will do" philosophy.

Even when we can't travel to a particular location we have so much available to us now. So much has been written in books, on the internet and by individuals. Information has never been more plentiful and more accesible to so many than it is now. We have so many mediums available to us. We may not be able to stand on the site ourselves but we can get pretty good experiences from others. We can view pictures from every angle, read personal accounts and blog posts, see virtual 360 degree ours, video clips, short home movies, audio clips and the list goes on and on of so many places that were previously unaccessible to us.

As we educate our children and yes ourselves we have so much available to us that we need only locate and take advantage of. We need to think outside of the box. Yes reading is great and still a primary way to experience and understand history and information about places and people but there is so much more now to supplement and enhance that. To get us as close as possible to experience being there. We can never truly recreate and rexperience history as it was lived - but we can get a glimpse at what it might have been like, have opportunities to experience and try to get an idea of what walking in their shoes might have felt like. However imperfect it may be it is a closer experience that what we can create alone in our brains.

For me one of the most surprising rewards of homeschooling has been relearning history and science with my kids. I find that this time around I really care and want to understand what happened and why things work and are the way they are. This time around I see value in understanding history and science. I find our story and our need as humans to express ourselves and tell our stories fascinating. In many ways blogging allows us all to tell our history from our perspective and communicate to whoever cares to listen and down to the generations that follow.

I find the more I learn about history the more I yearn to travel and experience the places we read and learn about. The more I want to understand and experience. So yes for me it is more than the memories though I do treasure and cherish those. To me travel is a chance to experience history and other people and cultures in a way a book will never bring home for me. A chance to evaluate what I believe and confirm those things that are important to me and question those things that may need to change. I am not a wishy-washy person prone to change at the drop of a hat - it takes convincing but it does happen from time to time. We have so much to learn and there are so many ways to learn it. Yes travel is an expensive way to do it but a rewarding and lasting one if you have the right perspective while you do it and make wise choices about what to include and what to leave out of your travel plans.

So if we ever become independently wealthy (not likely in my lifetime) you can expect to read more travel blog posts here :)