August 31, 2007

Updated Reading Lists

Well it has been many months since I posted any reading lists. This summer I kept more laid back records of our reading time. I only recorded a book once - though many of these we read dozens of times and many of them we did not record. I decided to simply things and keep a single summer list - so these lists are from May-August. Here are some of the books that we have read this summer. Look for regular monthly updates once school starts.

Summer 2007 Read Aloud List

Ciaran's Summer Reading List

Rhiannon's Summer Reading List

A few people have asked how I keep my records that keep track of all our reading. We have a big bin that the kids place all books into after they have been read. When it fills up (usually around once a week or so) I sit down with my computer, barcode scanner and the stack of books. We have Book Collector software on the computer and I use it to scan all the books in. The bar code scanner (a Christmas gift from my parents) really speeds up this process enough that it is not tedious anymore. I used to hand type in all the book titles and authors. Now I only need to do that for the few editions that do not have a barcode or valid ISBN (this is very few maybe about 5% or so). The software takes the book information scanned in and surfs the web for more book information (like publishing details, notes, book art and places it all in a central location. I can save different databases - so I start a new one each month for read alouds and each of the kids independent reads.

After all the information is registered in Book Collector I export it to an html page and copy the html information into the Google Page Creator which I have set up a template for and then post the links here on my blog. This is a much more efficient and centralized way for me to keep the information current. I always wanted a book list of all the books I have ever read in my life. Maybe my kids will come close to having that - at least for as long as I have the patience to help them with it.

Of course a MUCH simpler way to do this was recommended by a fellow homeschooling mom. Around second grade they purchase each of their children a nice special journal and have the kids write the title and author and date read for all the books they read. But then only my kids and I can enjoy our book lists - this way all of you can and I have a nice digital record of it. Besides it gave me a great excuse to own a barcode scanner and purchase library software for our book and video collection :) For previous lists see the right navigation bar under Family Reading Lists.

August 30, 2007

The Reluctant Homeschooling Mom

Yep that is me right now. You see it is the last week of August and I was not really prepared for my first grader to be at my bedroom door at 8:30am chores done asking to start school! Even though I had warning and saw it coming I still was in disbelief that this day was coming so soon.

Rhiannon informed me last week that it was about time to start school and I pulled everything together. If it were up to me we would not be starting for another solid 4 weeks. You see September is my favorite month in Minnesota. Followed only by May so why school those months if we can manage not to? Well the only good reason to do so - my children want to! At least for right now - check back in three weeks to see how strong we are going? Rest assured by October we are in full swing one way or another.

Maybe they are thinking ahead to the fact that grandma and grandpa are coming to spend two weeks with us in October and schooling will definitely be affected by that - so maybe they know best here. Not that I honestly think they are thinking ahead. Still I'm not going to fight with city hall. So we started school today much to my disbelief. Someone said I must be doing something right. I'd love to take that compliment but really I think they just really are getting tired and bored of summer and miss some of the structure and they do love to learn still - so here we go.

I could not have asked for a better day with Ciaran. He was a dream actually. If our days are half as good as today we are in great shape. He was ready to start early and agreeable and flexible and just happy to be working. We started with him reading aloud to me as I folded laundry - makes that chore go so much faster and he is fairly proficient now that I can just correct a few words here and there so it works well. I still prefer him on my lap and we do a lot of that but this was a nice shakeup.

Then he worked in his Primary Phonics book that he loves doing three pages checking in with me from time to time as I helped the girls finish cleaning under their beds and reorganize their toys (yes again) - I left the girls to finish their chores and sat down to do science with Ciaran. We are working through the Christian Liberty Nature Readers and today we learned about mud wasps. We extended the lesson on google of course. He gave a narration of the chapter and then we added some pictures we found of the nest, grubs, and full grown wasp. He had fun and it was so easy to do that it was fun for us both.

He settled into some handwriting and I checked in with the girls. Then it was bible time. He is reading the My Father's World First Grade Bible Reader and illustrating a bible. Today he drew Day One and Day Two of Creation. He really enjoyed having the creativity of coming up with the images and ideas himself and was proud both that he could read it and of his finished work. We did some math - learning odd and evens and finished up with some more read alouds. He was happy and agreeable and did so well that I decided to invite a friend over for him for the afternoon which made him super excited. They played so nicely for the afternoon and he had finished all his chores and school before lunch!

Rhiannon was having a harder time with chores and did not sit down to school until after lunch now less than excited because Ciaran had a friend over. Still she wanted to do some and was hoping she could get done quick enough to invite a friend over as well. We started with math which was review for her but more handwriting than she loves. Then she did cursive practice and we settled in for our new grammar and writing program. We are using Voyages in English which is more traditional and intensive than FLL we have used until this point. She was timid at first but I was excited that tonight at dinner when asked what her favorite subject was today she said writing. Which is amazing considering she near flat refused to do it. Refusing to write or even consider it.

That first battle of the wills - to which I responded it was her assignment and she would do it or nothing else until it was done. I held my breath wondering how that would go over on the first day but sure it was a bit of a testing. She conceded and starting writing a story about her and our dogs and by the end she was really enjoying it and even smiling after what started in tears. I felt like Tom Hanks in the beginning "There's no crying in school" but we made it through and it was all okay in the end. We finished the day with science which for us was a nice review of seeds (we studied botany all last year) and was a high note to end on. I even let her type her answers to the questions instead of a narration or written answers. She enjoyed that - though she made me promise not blog them. She wanted to do Latin then and I said No, we are done. Not wanting to risk more tears or turn downhill after such a nice recovery I decided to call it a day and sent her outside to find a neighborhood friend. The kids enjoyed friends for awhile and then we headed out for a family walk.

Miss Sirah had money burning in her pocket from her birthday so we cashed her checks and took her to the store. She wanted those nice quality little lifelike animals to fill her barn. She bought lots of babies: llama, calf, foal, kitten, lamb, donkey, rooster, chicken, goat, piglet, mouse, and a hedgehog of all things. She was very excited with her purchases. Ciaran bought himself a mechanical claw and Rhiannon settled on a slinky and some marbles.

We headed over to the library - where I forgot Andrea's smart rule "You may not check out more than you can carry home" and found myself pushing a double stroller with all the store purchases (including a hula hoop), over 50 library books and various odds and ends, not to mention Sirah as the other two rode along pleasantly on their bikes as if they had not a care in the world. This would all be great if I was not recovering from a nasty cold and had to stop to cough and hack every few moments. I was a sight to see to say the least.

Came home and managed to make a homemade pizza (yes it took a lot of willpower to resist the urge to call for one delivered) and peeled the over the edge apples for a crisp before they turned to mush in the morning - it actually tasted good. Rebooted the laundry - made the kids beds (today was sheets for the house) and started our new read aloud - The Bobsey Twins and the Circus surprise. Sent the kids to bed, tucked them in prayed, extra last drinks, etc and then proceeded to ignore the sounds that were a clear indicator they were not going to sleep yet as I talked to a friend on the phone. Got off the phone, sent kids back to bed - replaced all couch cushions onto couch from the floor under my kitchen table, did last load of laundry and headed into bed to work on this post hoping Serona comes home sometime soon - but hoping the kids are asleep before he gets back since it is nearly 11pm and I know we are starting over tomorrow at 6:30am with my early sun riser. Well he is home a bit after 11pm and two out of the three are asleep that counts for something right?

Tune in tomorrow when I get to home school again in the morning when I would really rather be hiking or swimming in the pool or relaxing on my lawn chair - so that is why for today at least I am the reluctant homeschooling mom. Reluctant but schooling and trying to be enthusiastic as I do so. And it will be another gorgeous 70 degree sunny day in Minnesota. What exactly are my children thinking? Can someone enlighten me?

Now playing: Relient K - Bite My Tongue
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Now playing: Relient K - High Of 75
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Now playing: Casting Crowns - The Word Is Alive
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Now playing: The All-American Rejects - Dirty Little Secret
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Now playing: Casting Crowns - Slow Fade
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Now playing: Casting Crowns - What This World Needs
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Now playing: Casting Crowns - Every Man
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August 24, 2007

First Grade Curriculum

Here is the plan for first grade though it may change a bit more as we see where Ciaran's needs and interests lay.

Reading - lots of read alouds and self reading from the library and personal collection
Math - Miquon red
Phonics - Phonics Pathways and Primary Phonics
Language Arts - First Language Lessons and Explode the Code
Spelling - online age appropriate spelling list
Geography - Geography Matters
History - Story of the World Vol 3
Science - Christian Liberty Nature Readers, nature journal
Handwriting - Handwriting Without Tears My Printing Book
Bible - My Father's World bible reader - create illustrated bible
Music - Ultimate Encyclopedia of Classical Music
Art - How Great Thou Art

This is a mix of things we did with Rhiannon at this age, some that we feel are better resources for Ciaran and some that we are doing jointly with them this year. This years main emphasis once again will be on building the solid reading skills he needs and foundational math skills.

Ciaran will also have a few supplemental activities, field trips and classes from our homeschool cooperative. It appears his activities of choice right now are skateboarding, basketball and chess. And of course geo-caching - he would like to create more reasons for us to be out caching!

Now playing: Sara Groves - Conversations
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Now playing: Casting Crowns - Does Anybody Hear Her
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Now playing: Sara Groves - Just One More Thing
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Now playing: Sara Groves - Going Home
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3rd Grade Curriculum

Since I spent the last few days ordering and pulling together our curriculum for the year thought I might as well post it here for all its posterity and to answer that burning question - "What are you using this year?" Which is a much fairer question to ask any homeschooler since so many change from year to year.

Every year I look at nice boxed packages like Sonlight, My Fathers World, even Calvert and then I run away thinking I will feel too boxed and unhappy and instead take it upon myself to mesh together a variety of unrelated texts and approaches. Maybe one of these years I will change my mind as so many of my friends are happy with those programs. Here is what we are planning for third grade

Math - Singapore 3A and 3B
Grammar/Writing - Voyages in English 3
Handwriting - Cursive Success HWT
Spelling - Spelling Power
Science - Merrill Life Science grade 3 and Christian Liberty Nature Readers
History - Story of the World vol 3
Geography - Geography Matters
Latin - Prima Latina
Art - How Great Thou Art
Music - Ultimate Encyclopedia of Classical Music

In addition we will do our own bible memory verse and devotional time as well as supplemental classes, field trips and activities as chosen. Right now that is shaping up to include horsemanship, various skills learned through Keepers at Home, and whatever classes she selects in our homeschool coop. I am tired just typing it.

Now playing: Casting Crowns - Stained Glass Masquerade
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Now playing: Sara Groves - Cave Of Adullum
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Now playing: Casting Crowns - Lifesong
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Now playing: Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Concerto No.1 'La Primavera' in E, RV 269: I. Allegro
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When It Rains It Pours

Quite literally lately in Minnesota. We are further north than all the flooding so no worries here though our dried up grass was thankful for the rain or at least all the weeds were. The sun is out again and the kids are looking forward to spending more time outdoors after a time where it felt like it would never stop raining.

It rained so much that Rhiannon actually asked me if we could start school next week! My dirty little secret is that so far I don't homeschool in September or much of May because those are my two favorite months in Minnesota and we just enjoy being outside too much. So I had not purchased curriculum or given the school year much thought. My initial reaction to her request (thankfully only in my head) was 'But I don't want to start then!' Still supposing I should go with momentum I ordered most of our curriculm this week and planned out a rough schedule so I can start when she wanted.

I am not entirely convinced she really wants to start and was not simply reacting out of a combination of boredom and a cool new outfit her grandparents sent her that she asked if it could be her 'official uniform' another thing out of left field. A friend said I must be doing something right to which my honest reply was what 'boring her sufficiently?' Still my kids do enjoy having something to do, a somewhat regular schedule and love learning so who can blame her for wanting to start? As for how formal or how much schooling will actually happen in September is yet to be determined but at least now I will have the books available.

I am recovering from a surprise summer cold that hit me over the head. Today on my nice calm recovery day my dogs got sick all throughout my garage and Rhia and I had to spend a nice part of our morning cleaning up after them - I suppose I should be thankful that it was not in the house! Here is to looking forward to a fun, healthy and relaxing weekend - perhaps the last before school starts? Yikes!

Now playing: Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Concerto No.1 'La Primavera' in E, RV 269: I. Allegro
via FoxyTunes

Now playing: Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Concerto No.1 'La Primavera' in E, RV 269: I. Allegro
via FoxyTunes

August 22, 2007

Roomba and Dogs

Well today it is all over the tech new that there is a newly released version of Roomba. Well we have the Roomba Disoovery and this is our third generation Roomba which brought us in on version 2-4. Overall we have been happy though we had an experience this week that made me rethink Roomba.

We have two Australian Shephers who blow their coats twice a year leading us to need to vacuum twice a day at times and cringe every time they lay on the carpet to rise leaving huge clumps of hair. Well Roomba dutifully picks it up throughout the house and as long as we are faithful about cleaning her brushes (yes the kids decided this model was a she) she manages just fine.

The other morning Serona and I could not shake the fact that something smelled like dog poop. To our strong displeasure we discovered it was Roomba! Somehow she got into dog poop. My best guess was in cleaning our show closet something from the bottom of a shoe or maybe something the dog dragged in. This is one of those moments that you can avoid if you actually vacuum yourself. I am thinking most people would notice a pile of dog poop before they went through it. Roomba is not blessed with such skill and so it fell to us to spend a good part of our morning taking her apart and cleaning out poop from places we have never discovered roomba had before.

So there you go, a downside to roomba. Course most normal situations do not cause this I mean i guess you look at our odds three kids, two dogs, a hiking muddy family and four years of roomba before something like this happened. Rest assured all is well and she has been humming along and cleaning our carpets without any problems for the past few days.


Now playing: Rodney Atkins - Watching You
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Now playing: Kenny Chesney - Beer In Mexico
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August 19, 2007

Need a New Drug

Well this week while having a garage sale my modem simply died and it could not be fixed by tech support in India. I was told I would have to wait until Monday for someone to come (this was on Thursday). A few of my friends were here helping out with the sale and they were teasing me in good fun and a well deserved way. I was at a loss without my internet. I keep majority of my information stored not only on my computer but online and not having access was more than annoying.

When trying to figure out Serona's flight information for his return from a three week trip to Asia my friends reminded me that the telephone did work and not to panic. I think they got great humor in seeing me at a loss.

Regular readers know customer service is an issue for me. This particular companies lack of customer service led me to talk to a supervisor and state that I would simply be looking for a new provider starting immediately. Yes they could schedule me for a service call on Monday but I would likely no longer need it. I hung up and thought through my options. To my shock a technician was on my doorstep the next morning with a new modem and our access was back up and running.

During the course of our downtime I realized quite how much we use the internet for and how much we missed it. Not in a I can't live without it sort of way but in a wow we use it a lot for a lot of little things. Like the pizzeria phone number, flight information, travel iteneraries, banking, renewing library books, our calendar, and on and on the list goes. Anyway there is a reason blogging has been light. Of course we are just enjoying having Serona home as well - three weeks is a long time.

Now playing: Enya - Caribbean Blue
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Now playing: Loreena McKennitt - Dickens' Dublin (The Palace)
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Homemade Meme

Blame the Canadians for my recent interest in memes. Andrea and Ron have been just too much fun to pass up - though this one actually requires some work and guts on my part - so I am putting myself out on the line a bit because I think it will be fun to receive something homemade from Andrea and get on her Christmas card list for eternity.

So who else wants to play? Here are the rules.

If you are one of the first three commentors on this post, then you are in. I send you a homemade gift sometime, er, soon (let's say by Christmas - thats my definition of soon - then you can be happy if it comes sooner). When inspiration and time collide for me (usually when I remember). In return, you go to your blog and make the same offer. So, you’ll be making 3 things and receiving one. You don’t have to send anything back to me.

Kim also wrote a handy FAQ. To wit:

What if you don’t have a blog?

Well, if not, I’ll host your request here. But only if you are a really awesome knitter. Haha. Okay, I’ll do it no matter what. If you join the exchange on your blog let us know here!

What if I don’t like my gift?

Too bad. Mom taught us all how to be gracious.

What if I’m not crafty or artistic?

So? Do it anyway. There are millions of things to be made and some part of you needs to get in to the process of creating something with your hands. It is therapeutic and eye opening. Even if it is a paper airplane. You could always do an artist trading card…they can be easy or hard, depending upon your effort.

What about shipping?
Like I said, an artist trading card? That might cost one stamp or less. But if you want to make a bust of the recipient out of pine, go ahead.

What? I have to give someone in cyberspace my address?

Well, yeah. So you should probably only sign up here if you have read or known me for a few months, that way you know I am a fine upstanding citizen who will only plague you with annual Christmas cards after the exchange.

And yeah… once I have your address I WILL send Christmas/Winter/New year’s cards to the end of time.

So there you go - anyone brave enough to make three gifts for three people you don't know in exchange for one from me? If so leave a comment - first three takers. Ready, set, Go!

Now playing: Loreena McKennitt - Huron 'Beltane' Fire Dance
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Now playing: Norah Jones - The Nearness Of You
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Now playing: Enya - Caribbean Blue
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Random Question Meme

Here is a fun one everyone can participate. If you don't have a blog but want to answer anyway go ahead and leave a comment and you can just answer in the comments after I send you your questions.

I found this at Ron's blog. Here are the questions he asked me:

Does your name come from having been in the family? And/or was it local
to where you grew up?

My name does come from within my family - from my mothers side but no it was not local to where I grew up.

Any other Pregnancy foods?

Besides the strange craving for chocolate (which I won't eat at any other time) the only food I recall making Serona go out and get for me was a fresh spinach, tomato and mozzarella salad. And I really wanted it when I wanted it.

If you could spend a week anywhere in the world that you have not been,
where would it be?

Up until this summer I would have said Ireland but now I have been :) Next on my list - Australia.

What is your favorite subject?

To study in school? To research? To talk about? Not sure what you mean so here are a few.

In high school I loved history because I had a teacher who would not let us take notes, taught history as a time line and sat us in grade order. The tie went to the Irish person :)

In college I loved debate and argument - though I guess that is not a subject but what I spent probably 75% of my college career on. I took a great many political science, environmental science and a few philosophy classes I enjoyed.

Favorite subjects to read and research on are current technology (especially as it relates to the web), politics and important parenting and homeschooling issues.

Favorite subjects to discuss are the effects of post modernism on the Christian church, education, politics, and my family.

If you could chose a mentor from the last 500 years to study under, who
would it be?

Well you really limit my choices by capping it at 500 years - I could think of quite a few before then (Jesus, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Cicero). But I guess you wanted to challenge me.

Okay I am going to go with Martin Luther. He was a man of principle who stood up for what he was sure was right within his faith, faced excommunication and changed the face of religion as we know it today. He brought religion to the people and while he lived a volatile life it was a purposeful and meaningful one. I think I could learn the most from him and apply those lessons throughout my life.

Others I considered from this 500 year time frame were Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Lyndon Johnson. All stood for something and managed their lives in ways I could learn from but none quite come close to Luther and his life and the lessons there. To sit and learn under him would have made me a better person I believe.

Now for your part. Follow the directions and wait for my questions:

The Rules of the Meme:
1. Leave me a comment saying anything random, like [the food you hate most in all the world]. Something random. Whatever you like.
2. I respond by asking you five personal questions so I can get to know you better.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions (if you don't have a blog you can leave your answers here).
4. You will include this explanation and offer to ask someone else in the post.
5. When others comment asking to be asked, you will ask them five questions.
Now playing: Norah Jones - Be My Somebody
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Now playing: Loreena McKennitt - Caravanserai
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Now playing: Yanni - Felitsa
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Now playing: Enya - Storms In Africa
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August 18, 2007

Garage Sale for GPS

I am generally not a fan of garage sales, going to them or definitely not having them. I am much more about giving everything away and have made the kids do that a few times a year. This year however after Serona's encouragement I agreed to have one. I invited friends from our homeschool co-op to join me and ended up with three wonderful families. I could not have done this without them and they were such an encouragement and blessing to me.

I can't say my opinion of garage sales has changed as they are a lot of work. But I will say this. We raised enough money to purchase the GPS we wanted and the kids got several playdates and we moved a lot of stuff out of the house. So all in all I must admit it was not a bad deal. I won't be jumping to do one next year though. I will concede if we have a specific reachable goal and enough stuff to sell I might do it again in a few years. Until then it is back to the free giveaways for us.

Now we are just waiting for Monday when our Garmin Etrex Legend Cx finally arrives and we can head out and start geocaching as a family. You can be sure to see updates here.

Now playing: Sherwood - Song In My Head
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Now playing: Relient K - I So Hate Consequences
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August 12, 2007

My retreat places

Here is a heads up and warning. This post has nothing to do with homeschooling, lesson plans or anything other than me and the paths I have walked. It is long and unless you really want to know more about me probably not that interesting so you can save yourself the reading. Still I felt compelled to write it and I have written it over the course of several nights so I am posting it. Which means Dad and Serona will read it :) Now on to the post and my random thoughts.

Each of us have them, those special places that are so important to us. Over the years and as we move both in location and in stages of life those places will change though some always stay important to us. Tonight I took a walk in one of my favorite places and it got me thinking about those special places that have held an important place in my heart over the years. Of course the truth of the matter is the most special places to me are the places Serona and the kids are - even when they are the mundane places. Being with those I love makes them special. So maybe what I mean are my special retreat places. The places I will go to recharge and re-energize myself when I am weary and need some good introvert time.

As I blog this I am sitting in a Starbucks - there is really nothing unique or special about this Starbucks - other than it is the only thing open for miles at this hour. One of the things the New Yorker in me can not understand about the Midwest - why everything closes at 9pm. Starbucks has really gotten down the whole uniformity thing - while each Starbucks has a slightly different feel based on their location and workers overall they are the same and bring back memories of the hundreds of Starbucks I have been in over the years. Okay maybe not hundreds but more than I can count. Sarah McLachlan is playing in the background and the selection is reliable as is the service. Still is Starbucks one of my favorite places? Nope but I do enjoy the comfort and consistency they offer me in times like this. A dependable and comfortable place to sit for awhile and collect my thoughts in a relatively quiet space.

So tonight as I walked through our local arboretum I was struck as I came up the hill to my favorite spot in the arboretum and that says alot because I have many special places that are important to me here. Still if I had to pick one it is the hedge display garden where the kids, Serona, friends and grandparents have played hide and seek so many times. As you look out over the horizon their is a red farm house back in the distance that just fits so perfectly. From the hedges you can see the Poplar and Linden trees, some of Serona and my favorite trees. Serona loves the way the poplar trees look when they are growing - all tight and close together. As for me the Linden trees just look like the essential "tree" to me - from their shape to the way they all look together.

They will also forever remind me of one of my favorite mentors M. Jack Parker - my debate coach and the "smartest man" I ever met who informed me every chance he could "If only you were as smart as me" and meant it from the bottom of his heart. By the time I worked with Dr. Parker he was the quintessential crabby old man who truly knew better than everyone else but he taught me so much not just about debate and argument, but about life and about myself. Those trees will bring me back to the first time I met him to the tournament we dedicated to him as we planted a Linden
tree on campus in his honor. I also just love them and that they are so close to other things my family loves - the hide and seek hedges, the poplar trees and Sirah favorite field to run and spin in. Sometimes the simple things are just so perfect.

As I walked along the trail and took in God's creation - smells, sights and thoughts kept bringing me back to different special and important places in my life. Places I can go back to in a moment and feel the peace of them and miss the retreat they brought me. Everywhere I have lived I have had to find a place. A secret place of sorts that I can always retreat to when I need to be refreshed. Sometimes this is easy and at some points I had to stretch and find those places. These are the places I think of when I hear Dan Fogelberg's song The Reach. Though that song will always take me back to the beach I can move from the ocean shoreline to those other places that have had to try to play a subsitute role to the ocean in my life. Still each of those places revealed to me their special beauty and peace that was unique and important to me in ways the ocean could never be. My horizons and special places have been expanded beyond what they would have been could I always have retreated to the comfort of the ocean shores.

As you can tell by now the ocean was and is pretty important to me. Interesting and challenging being as land locked as I am. Still my home was close to the ocean and it became an important part of me - one I always long to return to and always cherish the time I have there. AS long as I can remember I loved the ocean but I made it my
special place somewhere in high school, retreating there with friends whenever I could. I know my mother and father strongly influenced this, both have a deep love of the ocean and shared that with me. Offering me special opportunities to enjoy the beaches of the east end of Long Island despite the long drive and driving me and my
friends to the beach whenever they could before we drove ourselves making it possible to spend long summer days there.

As a teenager I spent a lot of free time at the beach. I loved to boogie board and I would often spend all day there with friends. We would also go back at nights for mini-golf and bonfires on the beach, walks on the boardwalk and the occasional late night moonlight swim. I tried to make a habit of spending New Years day at the beach to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next year. I can just walk or sit at the beach for hours listening to the waves. It is the place I can go in my mind to relax. I can hear the waves, feel the wind, taste and smell the salt and feel the sand between my toes. I think the beach will always be my ultimate favorite place - really any "real" beach - I am sorry but a lake simply does not count!

Growing up the ocean was pretty much my place and since I was only about 15 minutes away - why go anywhere else? Well did I mention I did not drive until I was 22? So I was at the mercy of others who would take me there. If I needed to get away on my own someplace local I would go to the local "green" - yes can you tell I grew up near Billy Joel (there are some years between us though) still a "green" for non- Long Islanders is basically your local park. Often a combination of a playground, pool and open green spaces and yes I went there through junior-high, high school and then those summer returns from college. Just a place to get away or go with friends and be away from everything else. I still love swinging on swings to this day and in college I sought out big wooden playgrounds to run around.

Now I have been land locked and far from the ocean for a long time now. When I
left the island for college I headed to another beautiful part of New York but it did not have an ocean nearby. I must admit that I did choose my first college in part because it was on the Hudson river and had a crew team. I loved water and knew it was important and calming to me. I tried out for the crew team and the debate team at the same time keeping an absolutely insane schedule for the first months of college and I feel in love with being on the river in a scull so early in the morning but I injured my knee and had to give up crew and settled on debate instead. Still the dock at college became one of my retreat places. A place I would go to alone when I needed to be away from it all. Just go and sit there and listen to the water lapping on the dock and look out at the trees, rocks and the crew house behind me. A special and quiet place, one I did not like to share with others. I have special memories of going there in the winter when it was really deserted and walking on the ice and sitting listening to it crack - always amazed that part of the Hudson would actually freeze enough to walk on.

Eventually I needed another special place and I started going to this one special rock down along the rivers edge a bit further up the train tracks from the crew house. I first discovered it with some friends - we would go there late at night and hang out. I would also go there alone to just really get away where no one would easily find me. A calming and risky walk along the train tracks would bring me to my location not too far up the river, but yet far enough away that people were not stumbling across it. There I would sit and contemplate things. You see at the time I was going through major spiritual issues. I was raised Catholic in my family, went to Catholic school with nuns and all. When I headed to college I had a lot of questions to sort out and I went through various stages. While at my first college I probably would have self defined as an atheist and then by the time I reached my second college I was more of an agnostic. Sitting up on that rock looking at nature, hiking through mountains, camping in nature made me realize it was too special to be a coincidence. Still I could not find proof for anything and was pretty skeptical. I spent a lot of time on that dock and rock thinking about life and what it all meant.

In the middle of my college time in New York I lived for a summer in Boston doing a cross management training for my company. I moved to Boston knowing absolutely no one and moved in with my director and his roommate in a part of Boston I don't think I would live in now if it were my choice. Still living in Boston was quite an experience for me and while I never really made any friends I had enough co-workers and acquaintances to keep me busy. The part of Boston that most fascinated me was Harvard Square. Not the actual campus but rather the courtyard and shopping area right outside of it. Street performers, squatters, yuppies, college kids, professionals everyone just kind of mixed here. I developed a compassion for the squatters and often spent time getting to know them and developing friendships with them. Now I wish I had more than friendship to offer them and more than compassion and understanding but that was what I had and what I gave and developed relationships with several of them. It was interesting to watch how people responded to them and I think those days have always stuck with me. Both in understanding the honesty and the scams, but mostly in understanding the genuine brokenness that exists. Still it is strange but Harvard square was my retreat place despite it being a busy and full place. I was getting away from the people I worked with and relating to a completely different crowd and discovering more about myself.

I headed out to the cornfields of Illinois to finish college and I thought I was going for 2 years and ended up living there for 5 years, and leaving with a husband and a baby! I will always remember the first time I got out of the car and said "What is that smell?" that was before manure was a usual smell for me. Moving to the cornfields in the middle of nowhere was an adjustment to be sure. Still the town I was in had a lot of amenities as it was designed around the college so it was a good town that met my needs for the time I was there. There certainly was not an ocean there to retreat to but we did have a lagoon and a small river. For me there was a small group of willow trees located along the edge of the lagoon that offered a quiet place to retreat to.

The lagoon was busy as lots of college students came there to find a quiet place to read or study or relax. Still people were usually fairly respectful and would leave you to your quiet spot. It was at the lagoon that I would get away from everything and everyone and collect my thoughts and deal with my own personal "mean reds" that came from moving to the midwest and feeling like a complete outcast. The song "Talking to my Angel" by Melissa Ethridge was a favorite during those early years at the school. Still it was under those trees and hiking the trails along the river that I spent much time considering Christ and a Christian faith and ultimately made the decision to accept the gift of Jesus and become the person I am today - so those were pretty special and important places to me.

My other special place was our debate squad room. In general there was nothing quiet about this room as there were nearly always people there day and night. I could go at midnight to be alone and find myself with a room full of people. Still I thrived on this. I was good at debate, the captain of this squad and in demand. I loved the people (for the most part) and thrived on the intellectual stimulation offered in this room. We eventually brought a couch in and had radios (no streaming music back then) and just had a great time. It really felt like home and I learned and shared, discussed and debated more there than anywhere else (with a close second to 15 passenger vans driving across the nation) and it will always hold a special place for me. It was also a bit like my Cheers bar - a place where everyone knows your name, and maybe a bit more about your life than you wish they did.

There were some coffee shops in Illinois as well that became important to me. In the beginning it was a place I went to study or read or work on debate or listen to live music. Later on it became a place I went to see and support Serona in his own music playing. I started at this school knowing only one person and soon developed friendships (mostly centered around debate) and eventually met my husband (yes through debate) and had a baby here.

Serona and I were friends before we dated and at one point we moved to Portland Oregon for a summer. Portland was a special place that will always bring fond memories to mind and heart for both of us. It was a whim that led us out there and it was provision that made it possible to live there. We lived on the outskirts of the city and walked a few miles to catch our train into downtown. We often walked with a backpack of groceries consisting of a gallon of milk, some ramen noodles and a block of cheese (our staple diet). As we walked this familiar trail we found some special places that most people probably never even noticed. One was a special wildflower garden that seemed random but was absolutely beautiful and always brought smiles to us. Then one day we walked past and they had mowed it all down! We grieved the loss of our own private wildflower garden.

The other spot for us was the place where the telephone polls grow. Along our walk there was a small area where telephone polls appeared to grow. There were around 30 or so tall wooden posts with no apparent purpose or use standing together in this yard by a business. So we decided it was the place they grew telephone polls and it became one of our little special spots.

There were so many beautiful places in Portland and the coastline of Oregon and there we actually got out to the ocean and out to Multnomah Falls and I thoroughly enjoyed those places We spent time a lot of time at Pioneer Square and exploring all of Portland and will always love the Ram's Head for the Terminator Stout and malt vinegar fries but wildflowers and telephone polls remind me most of Portland. I think I could haved stayed there forever and I wanted to but Serona in his wisdom made me come back to Illinois to finish my last year of undergrad and then ultimately my graduate degree.

Serona is a year younger than me and I ended up choosing to do my graduate work here since he still had a year of undergrad left so I was looking at another 2 years in the cornfields. Still it was worth it to be with Serona and live that special newlywed part of our marriage right up until we both graduated with our Masters. Rhiannon was born 2 months after I finished my degree and a month before Serona finished his and then we were heading off to the deep south for his first job.

We landed in Americus Georgia must to my amazement and we actually lasted there a year. As you can probably guess Americus was not my favorite place to live still we have some great memories from there. I must admit that finding a special spot here was a challenge for me but I was determined to find something. The streets in our town were lined by beautiful Magnolia and Pecan trees and I found that I enjoyed biking or walking underneath the tree canopy. In part because this is the only way it was remotely tolerable tolerable to walk in the heat and in part because it really was beautiful and smelled lovely once you appreciated the scent of magnolias.

One day I stumbled upon the local college green and just found a tree to lay under with a book and found that became a nice retreat place. When Rhia was a baby I would put her in the stroller and walk until she fell asleep and then head to my spot on the green and read or journal. I was young enough that I did not look that out of place (unless of course you counted the baby stroller)and it became a reminder of places I loved before I was here at my other college campuses and a nice shady spot in a hot hot world.

While I was excited to be leaving Georgia we were heading once again into the unknown this time with a 16 month old and another one on the way knowing not a single person at the end of our destination. From the deep south to the frigid north we were headed to yet another place not near an ocean - even if it was the land of 10,000 lakes. I figured I would find some place with water and eventually I did though it took me longer than I figured. Minnesota was the most challenging of the places I have lived - it is kind of like moving into the world's biggest small town and developing relationships is complicated and time consuming, at least in the beginning.

After Ciaran was born and we moved from our apartment into our first home I found a bike trail that worked its way all along the Chain Lakes of Minneapolis and would put the kids in the trailer and head out to bike a dozen miles. Stopping at a bench or tree for some quiet time while the kids slept in the trailer or played at a park or field nearby. I had gone quite a few years without a place to retreat to or really any time to retreat on my own. Serona began traveling for work more and I was busy with managing life with small demanding children. Biking the lakes offered a much needed break from our intensive attachment parenting lifestyle.

We moved again to a bigger house a bit too far from the lakes and I was looking again for a quiet place. This time we created one in our home, our very own library. Which is really a bedroom filled with bookshelves, a reading table and a leather couch. We have a little over 1,000 books in that room and several hundred throughout the house in other places. No the picture is not of our home - but of my favorite library I have ever been in (The Great Room at Trinity College in Dublin). But it was nice to have a special place that was designed to be a quiet room, an adult room, a place to read, research and contemplate. It soon became my favorite room in our home and a place I could go without leaving but feel the same. It was great that it was part of our home that gave me that peace and quiet that I need from time to time. Like many others I am an introvert that needs people. So I can spend a lot of time in groups (preferably small groups) and with a good friend or two but my recharge really comes from quiet alone time not focusing on anyone else but myself. Like this quiet time in a local coffee shop writing about my history and retreat spaces.

As my kids have grown I have found that now some of my favorite spaces are actually family spaces. The arboretum will always hold a special place for our family. A variety of locations have special meaning for us now. Back when this ridiculously long post had a beginning I shared one of them. Another is a quiet koi pond where the tadpoles swim with a little bench I can sit at and watch the kids play.

Still another is the shade tree exhibit with the shade houses, the tree house, and the special red oak dedicated to an angel we know in heaven, the daughter of a friend. I go there with the kids, with Serona, all by myself and I am re-energized with God's beauty, God's love for us and a better understanding of who I am and what I am here to do.

That may sound trite or grandiose to some but it is how I feel. Often what I most need in those stolen moments away is a reminder of what it is all about and about what is important. Before I was a believer or even before I cared about being moral or good at all I think this still had a pull on my heart. Then I thought I was contemplating the important questions of life or retreating from the pressing stresses of the world and I guess I was but now I can see that I was needing a quiet time away from it all to be reminded of God's love for me, of my self-worth, of my purpose and of what is truly important and what is not. Every once in awhile I get a case of the mean reds and I need to find a quiet resting place to hear that which soothes my soul and touches the parts that most need to be touched. It's in those moments that I am thankful for those special retreats that have been carved out for me over the years no matter where I am or what stage of life I am in.

Of course I won't deny that I hope one day to live near the ocean and the mountains and to have that all available to me again. Like this beautiful picture of our favorite beach in Oregon, Cannon Beach. Still for now I have come to appreciate the color green, the forests, the trees, the rivers, lakes, ponds and arboretums. Even to find the beauty of God's creation in the business of a city street or the cornfields filled with manure. Take time for yourself to enjoy your special quiet places. Those places that touch and refresh your soul and fill you up so you can face what the next day will bring you.

Peace in Him,

August 11, 2007

Sound Familiar?

August 8, 2007

Sneak Peek

Want a sneak peek at some lesson plans you may seem coming from me this fall? Here are my class descriptions for our homeschool co-op. This semester I will teach two classes: nature notebooking (2nd-4th grade) and Star Wars Study (5th-high school).These descriptions are first drafts and subject to change but here is a sneak peek at the topics I will teach and what you can look forward to finding more detailed lesson plans on through the fall.

Nature Notebook: Join us as we explore God's creation outdoors and draw, write, sketch our favorite memories. Class each week will include walking outside on the grounds and finding something in nature to sketch or write about. On poor weather days we will sketch from artifacts or pictures indoors. This is not a how-to draw class but rather a time to express your love for nature through artwork, poetry or whatever else you can fit into your notebook.

Star Wars Study: You loved the movies now come learn a bit more about the characters and films. What really makes that lightsaber sound? When did Luke "come of age"? Was Anakin truly good or evil? Who is Jocasta Nu? Get just a glimpse at what goes into making a film.

Each student will pick a character (from an assigned list) to focus on for the semester as we learn more about the creation of the films. While having seen the films is not mandatory a fresh working knowledge of the whole saga (Episodes 1-6) would be most useful to you. Besides isn't it fun to have an excuse to watch 9 hours and 22 minutes of movies?

In class we will cover film and literary topics like: plot, theme, setting, soundtrack, special effects and more. Class work will include some outside homework such as reading material provided, watching the movies, short writing and your role in a class project of creating a short Star Wars fan film.

Great Outside Days

The kids and I have been braving the hot and humid weather to be outside enjoying nature. Yesterday we had a nature explorers session and we went to a small local pond that is right in the middle of a busy suburban area. Originally I was not even going to add it unsure there would be much there for us to see. But the kids found so much reminding us parents that it often takes very little to capture their imagination.

Yesterday was all about bugs. They found lots of grasshoppers, dragonflies, moths, spiders and other creepy crawlers. The most interesting find were these huge clam shells in tact. They were like ocean size clams and very unusual for where we were - had all the parents scratching their heads. The kids had a great time and were very into it - a nice group of kids and a fun time. As an extra treat they got frozen custard afterwards, it doesn't get much better than that.

Today the kids and I headed down to our favorite pond and walked around. Today was all about turtles. We must have seen 30 turtles in our little pond. It was amazing how many there were swimming, sunning and diving into the water. Ciaran was determined and kept trying and right before we reached the end of our walk he managed to catch a small box turtle as it was burying itself into the mud. He was so excited, I was just thankful it was not a snapping turtle. He also caught a frog (for once overshadowed by the accomplishment of the box turtle), a big caterpillar (thought they were mostly past season) and had a great time getting all muddy and scratched up.

Rhiannon found a great surprise. We were walking down a dried up creek bed (since it hasn't rained here forever it seems - how many of you have not had to mow your lawn since mid June?) when she stopped to examine some rotting logs. She spotted inside one a "cache" as in geocaching. It was a small tupperware covered in camo tape and she recognized it from when we went geocaching with our friends. We still do not have a GPS so she found this just by accident. The kids were super excited - though we did not have any trinkets to leave behind so we did not take the little frog that Ciaran fell in love with. Still it was great fun to find one without a GPS or even looking for it. Now their desire to geocache is even greater. We are having a garage sale in the hopes of raising enough money to purchase a GPS and begin geocaching. I have no doubt it will be an instant favorite with the whole family.

It was hot and it was humid but we all had a great time. Even Sirah managed to walk for a little over an hour without complaining or whining. She was so proud of herself when we got home that she had done it all by herself.

Everyone was in good spirits and the kids decided to build a small fort in their closet and tucked themselves in their with a book on tape of magic tree house and some snacks while I picked up and made dinner. Then we read stories over dinner. Our current family read aloud is a Sugar Creek Gang book and they are really enjoying them. We also read Make Way for Ducklings in honor of the ducklings we saw today.

I headed back outside this evening for a three mile walk at the arboretum alone and it was wonderful to have time in nature alone. I even brought my sketch book and enjoyed sitting and drawing. I never realized how hard it is to draw until I started trying to do it myself. Still I am getting better and I enjoy the quiet activity and representing what I am seeing in a way that will be memorable to me - just wish I had started when I was younger. Still better late then never. Part of why I decided to teach a Nature Notebook class for our homeschool co-op. Let them start early and maybe some of them will continue on through life. Then to look back over the years and see all that you saw and how you improved. Kind of like looking back on your favorite books and reading lists.

Hope you can get outside and enjoy the days of summer - even if it is hot where you are. The air conditioning just feels like heaven when you return home and get to cool off.


August 7, 2007

Wikipedian Protester

Thanks Bex!

August 3, 2007

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Here is one to make you laugh or at least wonder.

Sirah just said to me:

"I kind of have a poop cough. It turned and got stale and came out."

What in the world? The kind of thing a child says and is dead serious and you have to try very hard not to laugh while they are sharing with you.

Reminds me of a few years ago when Rhiannon described a "condition" she had (she was just a bit older than Sirah).

Rhia: "I have agrativity"
Mom: What is agrativity?
Rhia: a problem when gravity goes to my brain and prevents me from falling asleep before midnight. The only thing that helps it is sleeping next to a real live person because they balance the gravity and I can fall asleep."