June 30, 2007

New Grange and Knowth

After two days full of Dublin we headed North about an hour to see some of the oldest things in all of Ireland and to date actually in the world. Yes these structures are older than the Great Pyramids in Egypt (and no it is not Stonehenge - which is in England though everyone asked if we would see it in Ireland) and they were very fascinating.

We began our tour at the visitor center of Bru na Boinne where we could catch our tour buses out to the sites. The only way to see these sites is through the guided tours provided from the visitor center. Still the tour is worth both your time and your money and we were glad we choose to do both NewGrange and Knowth sites - you can no longer visit the Dowth site or we would have done that as well. The visitor center is well done and provides a great introduction to the area and the history of the prehistoric sites. Definitely plan to spend some time there if you go visit.

We headed to Newgrange first and we were impressed that you can still go inside these ancient tombs. Our tour guide was great and very good at admitting that all of this is prehistory so we are making our best guesses and theories about what these passages were used for and different people have different interpretations. They believe it has something to do with the solstices as the light fits perfectly into the tomb passageways during the winter solstice at Newgrange and the summer solstice at Knowth. We got to walk inside these passageways that were built in approximately 3200 BC and be amazed at how long they have lasted and how well they were built. It really is hard to express how we felt walking inside those passageways and contemplating what they were made for and who they were made by and how long they have lasted and been preserved and just how crazy it was that we could be inside them right now. It was of course raining but we did take time to walk around and see all the carvings on the stones and try to understand what it meant and be amazed at how long it has lasted and weathered through all the harsh rain and winds of Ireland over these 5000 years. Our time there was too short and we headed back to catch our next bus over to Knowth.

Knowth has a completely different feel and there are many more passageways and tombs here. The carvings are much more detailed and significant and you could spend much more time here - but you can not go down the passageways. So going to both sites is a good thing, I also enjoyed going to Newgrange first as we had more appreciation for what we were seeing at Knowth. I also enjoyed our tour guide here more - she was a bit more informative and interesting. She shared a lot of details about the different mounds and to be fair there is a lot more going on at Knowth that at New grange so she had more to talk about. The big stones has substantial carvings on them, some look like they were just recently done. There is also a big and smooth fertility stone that was interesting. Just like at Newgrange the mounds are made up of beautiful quartz that make them fascinating to look at.

Instead of going inside this passageway we were able to climb on top of it and see the views from up high. You can see several other tomb areas and the mountains. Our day was a bit rainy and overcast so our view was not as good as it could be, but beautiful still the same. We took time to walk around the site and examine the carvings and think through who built them (most likely teenagers) and how long it took them and why they did it. Again history coming alive in very real and interesting ways.

Once again we felt our time here was too short but our tour was over and the next group was arriving so we bid Knowth and Newgrange goodbye - fairly confident we will never experience something built so long ago during our lifetime - but you never know. We would definitely recommend going to see these sites if you are anywhere near or in county Meath.

We headed on to explore some other ancient sites - which did not seem so old after spending the day at sites over 5000 years old.

Dublin History

We spent our second day enjoying Dublin and seeing all the things I most wanted to see. Serona was great about letting me choose what I wanted to see here as he had already been here and he was okay with the fact that for him that meant seeing some things again because I really wanted to see them.

We started out at Trinity College and the Book of Kells. This was one of the things I most wanted to see in Ireland. Having spent this past year learning about the time period and the Book of Kells itself I was very excited for the opportunity to see it. The weight of how old the book was and how long it took to make is apparent when you are there. Rhiannon wished she could see it as we spent so much time learning about it and book making from this time period. Even having a lesson pretending to be a scribe and illustrator from the time.

The exhibit is set up well. With a room full of information and history about the time period and images from the book blown up large for you to examine. We spent about an hour going through this room and learning more about it. Then when we were finished in there we headed into the room with the Book of Kells and the Book of Armagh and Book of Durrow also on display. There was a page of writing and a page of illustrations open so you could see both. The table was crowded with people but you could wait your turn and take as much time as you needed we spent another half hour in here or so.

The books were incredibly impressive and made you feel their age and the tender care with which they were created. The policy was no photography allowed to preserve the books. I was angered when I saw people taking photos just brazenly - fulfilling the image of the "ugly American tourist" and others were saying things like "Four score and seven years ago...I've seen something like this" - of course there is nothing in our country this old or even coming close. (This picture was not taken by us in case you imagine we were the ugly American tourists)

We waited for that group to move on and then took some more quiet time examining the books, thankful for the opportunity to see them. Amazed that they have been preserved for so long and through such dark and violent times - thankful for the monks and scribes who took the massive amounts of time to create and preserve so much for our benefit. I was surprised at how impressed I was at the writing itself which was done painstakingly and so neat - it clearly was an art. Knowing the cost of a mistake makes you really aware of how careful they were. I was also surprised by how small the ornate letters are. So often we see them blown up to see the detail - it was suprising to see they were usually no more than two or sometimes three lines of text when I had the impression they would be much larger. Overall I was in awe and thankful for the opportunity to see them and feel the weight of what they accomplished and preserved for us generations later.

As we headed up to the Long Room, a great library filled with more volumes that you can count and impressive statues of famous heads we were discussing what of our time will be as impressive as that and our human need to express ourselves and communicate our history. We have blog and more books then have ever been written before but will people want to read them the way we want to see the Book of Kells and examine them? The sheer beauty and artistry that went into preserving the history and truth - somehow it feels to me our society is lacking that. What will future generations flock to see and experience from our time?

We headed upstairs and the Long Room is impressive. Unfortunately they had some special exhibit about war going on and it was distracting form the room. Long banners were in the way of seeing the books and big display tables took away from the beauty and quiet of the room. Still it was powerful to experience. As we walked along and looked at Homer, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and on down through history and we saw and smelled old books it once again was hard not to feel the weight of how old and special everything was. The experiences and weight of history comes alive for me in such circumstances. We were disappointed that about half the hallway is roped off because it is high tourist season so we missed out on seeing half of the head statues and the non exhibit half where you can better see the books and get the feel for the room. Still it was incredible to experience and makes us both desire to increase our own home personal library.

As all good tours end ours ended in a gift shop so we could browse the items and spend more Euro. We actually did pick up some gifts here for the kids, some beautiful Connemara marble crosses for them. We browsed through the store and headed off to our next location - Dublin Castle.

We spent time in each of the courtyards and near the church. We decided against the tour inside as we still wanted to get to two other locations and had spent so much time inside Trinity College already. Still it was impressive, not as large as most castles but large enough for a city. The courtyard had an impressive feel and it was beautiful. We took a bunch of pictures here - I am so thankful for digital cameras and no more rolls and rolls of film. We just keep taking pictures and are assured of getting a few good ones. With over 400 pictures a day we should get a few good ones.

We headed over to Christ Church and spent a good amount of time there. It was a self-guided tour that took us through the church and down into the crypt where some of the most interesting artifacts were. There was a good video and many interesting items that have been collected over the years since the 11th century. Again it is hard to see these things and walk through this building and not feel how old it is. to know it is built on Vikings remains and the history behind the church and its significance was interesting. We spent a good part of our afternoon here.

Then we headed over to the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse for something completely different but also quintessential Irish. i can honestly say that I like Guinness before Serona but he converted pretty quickly and for both of us it is a beer of choice - so to be there was fun and yes the Guinness does honestly taste better there. It is a bit smoother, creamier and less bitter, very enjoyable. We asked if it was our imagination or if there is a difference. It is the same beer but about two weeks older in the United States it is also stored and served slightly differently in terms of temperature and the way they pour that does affect taste.

The tour was self-guided but very interesting. This allowed us to take as much or as little time in any given area and to skip areas if we wanted. We learned about the whole process and it was interesting. I think most interesting to me was how important the water source is (for Guinness from the Wicklow Mountains) and that the founder was so confident that he signed a 9,000 year lease for 45 pounds a year! Learning the process of beer making was interesting. We took our time going through the brewery and ended upstairs in the gravity bar to get our "free" Guinness (read most expensive guinness in all of Ireland for 18 Euro apiece - the cost of the tour). The bartender made a shamrock on top of our beers at our request. We enjoyed a lovely view of Dublin and a peak at the Wicklow mountains as we enjoyed our Guinness with many other people in a standing room only bar.

After our tour we were tired and ready to head home and get a bite to eat - having not eaten since breakfast. We got caught in a downpour! The one time we left our hotel without our umbrellas - we did thankfully have our raincoats. Still the walk back was long and I was in a skirt and birks (not the best rain gear to be sure) and we were completely soaked and a bit miserable with each other when we finally arrived back at the hotel. We dried off and headed downstairs for a bite to eat at the hotel pub. Decent food, good Guinness and no rain was involved - a blessing to us all - even if it came at a high premium cost for hotel food.

After dinner we headed back out to the Temple Bar area opting for a taxi this time to stay dry. We ended up back at the Auld Dubliner after trying a few other places and enjoyed some good live music. One of the things we did not expect about Ireland was all the bad American music played - we discovered that sometimes a sign that read "live irish music" actually translated into "live bad american music played live by the irish" - still we had a nice time and a full day experiencing Dublin! From ancient history to the pubs and the brewery that made the beer all in all an excellent day spent in Dublin - despite the rain.


We are Home

We are home after a wonderful magical trip to Dublin! We had a fantastic time - over the next week or so I plan to write more details from our trip because I like to keep them here. But now I am enjoying the family and being reunited with our kids and our home and good food.

One thing is for sure, as wonderful as our trip was you definately do not go to Ireland for the weather or the food (at least if you are vegetarian like us) so we are enjoying having good food and especially being back with our kids. Also the weather here right now is beautiful high 70's low 80's and abundant sunshine with blue skies!

The kids had a great time with their grandparents who did a great job and managed to still look like they were surviving the loud chaos of our home well. They have returned to Maine safely and we are enjoying being a family together.


June 24, 2007

It's Raining in Dublin...

Should definitely be the name of an Irish song - if it isn't already. When the woman at the sports shop asked me if I wanted the waterproof pants to go along with the coat - I should absolutely have said yes. Alas I did not, but at least I was wise enough to buy fantastic waterproof jackets which are keeping us completely dry everywhere they cover - leaving us dry enough to enjoy ourselves despite the rain.

We have been in Dublin two days now and we have done so much it is hard to believe. We have manged to have a wonderful time in spite of the rain. We have seen wonderful sites, experienced history in ways we never have before and enjoyed more fresh Guinness than I have ever had! We've walked the streets of Dublin in all sorts of weather, have enough of a feel for the city that we are growing comfortable and have enjoyed this special time away from our children and celebrating our marriage and time just for the two of us.

Our journey began with the typically long European flights. With three connections running through New Jersey, Amsterdam and finally landing in Ireland - it was a long day. When we arrived to pick up our car we had been up 26 hours straight for neither of us were able to sleep on the airplanes. I enjoyed the flights (though by the end I was uncomfortable). I have not flown without children in 8 years so it was actually enjoyable and much easier than what I was used to. In fact the quiet time alone to do simply whatever I wanted was a refreshing change, even if it was in cramped quarters. I finished knitting a pair of socks and began another, read a novel, brushed up on some Irish history, journaled, and even watched a few movies I had been wanting to see but never got around to. Also KLM had great customer service, including lots of meal and snack service and all beverages of choice were free for the whole flight. Serona and I enjoyed some quiet companionship next to one another but doing what we were interested in at the time. It almost felt indulgent, plus I was of course anticipating our arrival here.

Our arrival into Ireland was uneventful. We were thankful to see our luggage just where it should be and everything arrived without incident and on time, answered prayer. Our car was ready for us, and that is when things became interesting. We began our Dublin experience with a harrowing drive from the airport to our hotel. Serona was handling the driving - which I could not.

He was driving a stick shift on the other side of the car on the other side of the road through narrow Dublin lanes. Oh did I mention he has never done this before and it was after being up for 26 hours straight without any sleep? Yeahhhhh. On top of that we did not have written out directions to our hotel. Instead the rental car company handed us a programmed GPS without a lesson in how to use it. My sleep deprived mind could not figure out how to get it off the map that showed where we were and gave us only about 100 meters notice for any turns (about a short city block). Also forgot to mention all the roundabouts instead of lights, great when you have no idea how to navigate them or where you are going. Thankfully our GPS system did adapt to our errors and eventually we found our way to the hotel, with Serona's wonderful driving. I must say I was proud of Serona, he managed wonderfully even though it was scary and challenging. I can not begin to say how thankful I am that this was not (nor will be at any time we are here) my responsibility.

The hotel we are staying at is FANTASTIC! The doorman greeted us, took all our luggage and parked our car. We went up to our rooms, showered and collapsed for a few hours. The room is great by European standards and is very comfortable and nice. We recommend the Conrad Dublin. It is centrally located to everything, comfortable and very accomodating. They also serve a full Irish breakfast, have a full service restuarant, 24 hour room service and an on site pub.

After a three hour nap we were refreshed and ready to explore Dublin. It was raining and much of the Tourist, historical sites were closed (it appears everything closes at 5pm but the restaurants and pubs - a bit different than in the states). So we headed out to the Temple Bar area and to explore Dublin in the rain. We had giant golf umbrellas, our raincoats and good excited attitudes as we approached the Dublin rain. Which at times simply opened up and down poured, then moved to a light drizzle, to a brief respite and back into a downpour. It was interesting to observe how people approached rain and you quickly realize it is simply a part of life that you adapt to and continue on through here. Umbrellas are the norm and people are polite with them, raincoats are ESSENTIAL as is good footwear. As for the bottom of your pants - well I think you just grow to accept that you will be wet. People find the sheltered places to stand and wait and keep their distances from curbs so as not to get splashed on by passing cars. Still everything about life continues on throughout the changing weather, so we of course just went with it.

We walked in the rain for about two hours taking in sites and growing familiar with the area as well as seeking out vegetarian food options. We found a great pub O'Neills with great atmosphere, good food and plenty of Guinness. We shared our first of many Guinness in the country, a nice vegetarian meal and time to observe locals and tourists interacting in the bar. It was a wonderful way to spend our anniversary dinner. Hard to believe I was sitting in a pub in Dublin. They are wonderful, it is difficult to put my finger on what makes them so different from American pubs - besides the Guinness which really does taste better, they are less polished, more comfy and homey, more quiet corners all mixed together. People do not hesitate to share small corners of tables and move chairs around as needed. There is a less structured feel to them, multi-floored, multi-roomed, tons of conversations going on and a general friendliness, they are really wonderful and I will miss them when we head back to the United States.

After drying off and a wonderful relaxing dinner we headed to the Temple Bar area, a main bar area that is quite a mix of tourists and locals. It reminds me in some ways of the French Quarter of New Orleans yet with a uniquely Dublin feel. Filled with
restaurants, pubs, clubs, shops and other little places to go it is lively. It seems there is always something unique going on in Dublin. Groups of people were wearing Dublin Night 2007 shirts and in different costumes, mostly these were women but there were occasionally groups of men dressed up as well. One group was wearing pink cowboy hats and feather boas, another grass skirts, another nurses outfits, another dressed as various superheroes. All moving through the crowds as if this happens every night, perhaps it does - it has both weekend nights we have been there so far, as well as last winter when Serona spent time there. There are street performers and spontaneous gatherings of people in the streets, great music and of course good beer. It is also a great place for people watching.

We went in and out of 5 pubs that evening Oliver St. John Gogarty's, the Auld Dubliner, O'Sullivans (in honor of certain family members) and two I can not recall the name of. They were loud, crowded and full of interesting people. It was fun to me to try to guess who is from Ireland and who is not. Over time you realize there is an Irish look that some people have that is very easy to tell. Perhaps it was easy for me to pick out because my family all has that look. Serona says it is in the combination of our eyes, nose and cheeks, mostly I can tell it when people smile (which they do a lot of at the pubs). The song When Irish eyes are Smiling has something to it! An easy mix of people goes on at the pubs and everyone is friendly and accomodating to one another. They are also very polite, especially when dealing with moving through crowded rooms, etiquette on the stairs and general kindness
to one another. Even as the night progresses and people are clearly dealing with the results of having drank too much they are in general respectful of one another. I have never had so many men step aside, wait for me or defer to me in bars as I did that first night in Dublin.

One thing that truly surprised me about the pubs - they play bad American music. Nearly all of the ones we went into were playing American music over the PA, and older sing along music - the crowds were into it and singing loudly together which was fun. still hearing songs like Thriller, Born in the USA, Barbara Ann, Sweet Home Alabama and many others along those lines was surprising to me. At first I thought it was just the pubs we choose in the area but as we walked past many and stopped to listen inside that is what we heard consistently. We eventually discovered that most of these pubs have upstairs rooms with live music, much of it traditional Irish music. These are the places we sought out and tried to spend most of our time. We settled for the evening at the Auld Dubliner - a great pub we returned to the following evening. Live traditional Irish music performers, we even purchased a CD for one we enjoyed. We were lucky to get a great booth where we could see the musicians, enjoy the music and be comfortably seated. Great atmosphere, good music and reliably smooth Guinness made up our evening until we returned to our hotel somewhere around 2am.

We walk everywhere in Dublin and I really enjoy that. My feet are sometimes tired at the end of the day but it feels good to be walking so much. I do enjoy that aspect of urban life and Dublin is an easy city to get around on foot. It feels very safe even throughout the late hours of night because it is so well traveled (at least the areas we are in), there are many police walking around and mostly you need to learn how to navigate around people who have had a bit too much to drink and look the other way as many of the men just relieve themselves on the side of the road, against a building or near a bush. It is rare for me to feel so comfortable in a city especially in the evening but Dublin is very welcoming, easy to navigate, nice and has a safe feel to it. Overall a very enjoyable city.

We walk several times a day through St. Stephen's Green which is lovely (though it is locked in the evenings - note the rain in the picture), through Grafton Street (filled with many stores that shoppers will love and fun street performers providing various entertainment) and through some of the other parts of town that are nearby.

We stroll through small neighborhood blocks to get a feel for the areas and went over the Ha'Penny bridge to get a feel for the other side of the Liffey.
We are starting to recognize our way around places and they have wonderful signs for tourists pointing you with regularity to the most common sites which also helps with learning navigation around the city. Overall it has been a great city to explore even in the constant rain we have experienced.

June 20, 2007

A Boy and a Frog...

Here is a familiar sight for our day today - an image of a Leopard Frog jumping away into water. We took a nature walk today with grandma and Ciaran was quite focused on finding frogs - now I know you are surprised.

Grandma found the first two frogs and pointed them out. Very excited as these were the first frogs seen of the season - until now it has been toads and merely hearing frogs. These frogs leaped away before Ciaran could get anywhere near them. He quickly moved to all the sunny bits of the pond where they might be waiting and sunning themselves. Together they saw about a dozen frogs with nearly as many failed attempts at catching one.

Ciaran looked the part of a little boy on a frog hunt. He was wearing shorts and mud boots. The mud boots were a battle to get him to wear - he wanted to wear sandals - but mom withstood the power struggle anticipating what was to come. Mom was wise. Ciaran was covered in mud and muck all along his boots and legs and his hands where he stuck them in as he attempted to reach the frogs.

Anyone who has ever tried to catch a leopard frog knows it is challenging - they move quick, leap far and are very jumpy and slippery if you manage somehow to be lucky enough to catch one for a moment. It is entertaining and also a little heart breaking to watch Ciaran try to catch the frogs. He is so focused and determined and it is hard frustrating work as he moves through the brush, weeds and muck to follow the frogs. A mother's heart just desperately wants him to catch the frog for a payoff for all his hard work.

Thankfully today we had a brief moment of victory. Ciaran and Rhiannon were along the shore together and found a prime sunning spot - three leopard frogs. They approached each one and it jumped away immediately. The third one Ciaran decided on a different approach - he put himself in the water and the frog had no choice but to jump into the brush. Rhiannon was standing there and moved quickly towards it and the frog leaped towards the water and instead landed on Ciarans chest as his hands quickly went up and around the frog. Success! For a few shining moments he was able to hold the leopard frog - who quickly squirmed out of his hands and back into the safety of the water. But it was the moment he has been waiting for since October when they went into hibernation and the first frog encounter of the season. Whew!

Our nature walk also yielded many other fun things, most especially time with grandma. Sirah found a broad-winged hawk feather and really enjoyed the ducklings. Rhiannon loved finding a sumac tree filled with red admiral butterflies. It really was a beautiful site. I am so thankful for the time spent outside with my kids appreciating and enjoying nature. As I watch them grow in their outdoor skills and love of nature it makes me joy-filled. As Rhiannon correctly identifies a hawk and stands her ground even when I think she is wrong, or Ciaran finds a frog when everyone thinks there is no hope, or Sirah points out a bird she enjoys. Those are special moments that I treasure.

Sure there were some power struggles to get out the door with boots on, some tears from Sirah about walking by herself and definitely a muddy son who needed an immediate shower. But those costs are all worth the reward and the joys we had playing follow the leader, learning grandma's tidbits about different plants and animals, and just discovering nature together. Get out and enjoy God's creation with your children in simple and rewarding ways.


June 17, 2007

Gifts From My Father

On Mother's Day I shared some of the life gifts and lessons my mother has taught me and shared with me. Here on Father's Day I thought I would take a moment to do the same for my dad and the gifts he has given me.

My father has taught me:

Unconditional love and giving others the benefit of the doubt.

That hard work and determination can payoff though the road can seem long, we can overcome our difficult circumstances.

To always see the best in my children no matter what the world sees or says.

How to never be afraid of computers and to use them to my advantage, starting my training when I was about 7.

That the Yankees are the best team in baseball :)

That kids sports and activities matter and dad showing up after work to cheer them on really is important and special.

There is something peaceful and amazing about walking along the ocean shore at sunrise or sunset any time of year.

The importance of family and keeping those bonds strong.

That a man can love a woman forever and together they will always love their children.

That a father's love and protection of his children never ends.

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

Thanks dad. Thank you for all you have given me and taught me over the years. For all you still continue to do for me and teach me as I try to teach my own children. As we pass these lessons on to our children (ok maybe not the Yankees) my appreciation for you and mom only grows stronger. Just as I told mom, though we are apart we are always together for I am made up of you both, not just in DNA but in who I am, who I have been and who I will become. Thank you for being who you are.


In Honor of Our Fathers

We are blessed in our lives with good father's and good men all around us. The lyrics to this song make me think of those good men. So on father's day I thought I would share them and say thanks to Serona, my dad, his dad and our grandfather's for being good men.

A Good Man by Emerson Drive

I don’t need a whole lot of money
But I wouldn’t turn a lottery down
I just need a little green in my pocket
So I can buy my buddies a round
All I want is a place to lay my head with the woman I love lyin’ in my bed
Kind of understated
My dreams aren’t that complicated…

I wanna be the one
When all is said and done
Who lived a good life, loved a good wife, and always helped someone in trouble
On the day they lay me down
I want everyone to gather ‘round
And say he was a father, brother, neighbour and a friend
He was a good man!

I used to dream of being a rock star
And seein’ the world in style
Used to dream of havin’ a fast car
And driving that miracle mile
But I’ve heard tales those streets aren’t paved in gold
They’re full of pot holes and empty souls
Who never learn…
Love is something you gotta earn

I wanna be the one
When all is said and done
Who lived a good life, loved a good wife, and always helped someone in trouble
On the day they lay me down
Want everyone to gather ‘round
And say he was a father, brother, neighbour and a friend
He was a good man!

When I’m gone, I wanna leave a legacy
Of love and laughs and honesty behind me
Behind me…

I wanna be the one
When all is said and done
Who lived a good life, loved a good wife, and always helped someone in trouble
On the day they lay me down
Want everyone to gather ‘round
And say he was a father, brother, neighbour and a friend
He was a good man…

Yaaaaa…I wanna be a good man…a father, a brother, a neighbour, and a friend
I wanna be a good man!

June 14, 2007

Summer Rhythms

Summer takes on a whole different rhythm here as we all slow down some. Our summer has been a bit different this year but it is still filled with water and ice cream which seem to be the two main ingredients to a great summer day for our kids. If they can spend time in water at a pool, beach, sprinkler, slip n slide, just under the hose, or flooding our entire playground they are content.

The other thing that brings great joy in the sheer increase in their ice cream and for us more usually custard intake. Several times a week it seems lately they have been enjoying that with glee. The eat so little of it through the rest of the year that I have no hesitation increasing it now, especially as they run, bike, swim and just move all the time.

Those push up ice pops - you know the kind kids sell for .25 and every mom is fully stocked - basically colored sugar water - what would summer be without them? Lemonade, moths, frogs, caterpillars, pools, barefeet, swings. Those are the words that make up our summer days right now. What great words? And my favorite (yes even during these 90 degree days) sunshine!!!! I will take it in abundance now and treasure the sun for as long as it shines here.

Hope you are enjoying your summer as well.

June 10, 2007

Ireland - Getting Excited

Well our 10 year anniversary trip to Ireland is coming up soon and we have been planning our trip and have as final of details as we can possibly manage. We will likely change plans but have a pretty flexible idea of what we want to see. After all, one never knows what this crazy clan will do.

Since we will be there for 6 days (one I fear quite sluggish due to my first experience ever with jet lag - any great recommendations on jet lag welcome)we are focusing our time in the areas we most want to see. There are so many wonderful things to see throughout all of Ireland and they are simply too far spread out to see at any one time. Serona has very graciously deferred to me to pick the things I most want to see and is willing to go along. His one request - that we not stick too tightly to a schedule that we can't relax and have downtime. There are many great things to see but not at the expense of pushing a clock and rushing through any of them, better to miss some than to rush through what precious time we have there. A healthy attitude I agree. So I have spent the past week and some time before that pouring through guidebooks, websites and other recommendations looking for what I most want to see and that we will enjoy the most together.

We will primarily be in Dublin. There are simply so many wonderful things to see there and so much to experience. I am looking forward to Trinity College and seeing the Book of Kells (Rhia wishes she was seeing this with us), having the pint at the Guinness Brewery, St. Patricks, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Temple Bar, Grafton street and St. Stephens Green among all the other things we just happen to see and experience. Serona has been there before and done many of the things I desire to do already but is happy to experience them again. We will spend several days in the city. We also plan one, perhaps two day trips in the outskirts of Dublin.

One northern trip to see the historic and archaeological sites that predate the ancient Egyptian pyramids, as well as some monastery ruins and great crosses and hopefully the Hill of Tara. As best we can tell this should be a very full but do able daytrip to return to Dublin in the evening from. There are two sites I really would like to see and others we can see if we have time along the way back. That is the flexible part - so we are not rushing just to mark off locations.

The second day trip we might do (unless we decide we need another full day in Dublin) will be to the Wicklow Mountain area, just south of Dublin. To see the Powerscourt Gardens and waterfall, Glendalough, Bray and the Wicklow Mountains themselves. Another trip short enough to do and return to Dublin if we wish, but one we could skip if we are feeling rushed or over scheduled. Still the call of nature and the beauty of this area may be just what we need to slow down a bit.

Our major excursion out of Dublin will be a two day trip to the Aran Islands and Galway. At first we had ruled it out being on the opposite coast and a three hour drive. After reading many books and looking at so many pictures and websites though it was the Aran Islands that I felt I wanted to see and stay at. Galway while interesting and worth seeing if we are there I am not sure would have convinced me of the three hour drive each way.

But the islands and the ability to see some more traditional life, the home of the Aran sweater and the idea of renting a bicycle and staying at a bed and breakfast on the quiet islands - now that is appealing. Whether I will be brave enough to look over the edge of the 200 ft cliffs I am not sure of - but Serona will enjoy that view I am sure. There is much to see and just to have what I envision to be a peaceful time in a more traditional area of Ireland with Serona holds a lot of appeal to me. Then Galway itself and possibly the town of Claddagh before we head out of Ireland and back to the States.

If we do the things we tentatively have planned it is quite a mix of history, archeology, culture, nightlife, beautiful land, nature and the people of Ireland. The elements I most want to see. No, we will not go Kiss the Blarney Stone, can you honestly even begin to imagine how much wordy I might become with the "gift of gab?" Nor will we see the land where my ancestors come from, Giant's Causeway, Kilarnery, Waterford, Rock of Cashel or some of the other hot spots to see in Ireland. We are just fine with that, there is simply so many wonderful things to see and do and we are excited for the ones we have chosen.

Now just what to do for the three plane rides to get there? I have taken up knitting socks, playing suduko, have my journal and may read a good Irish history primer. We are bringing movies, computers and the standard occupy your time items. Anyone have any other good suggestions for passing the time on a long plane ride? Getting excited to go to the one place I have dreamed of going since I was a little girl!

June 6, 2007

The Fairy Chronicles Book Review

I received a free copy of The Fairy Chronicles: Marigold and the Feather of Hope,the Journey Begins by J.H. Sweet from Sourcebooks Inc. to review.

I was excited to read and review this book. As many know Rhiannon loves fairies and all things fairy related. So to find another fairy series geared towards her age group was interesting to me. I liked the concept of young girls turning into fairies by transforming into things that looked like ordinary objects such as a flowers, insects,and bugs. So with great anticipation I began my reading of the book.

Overall my review is positive. I recommend them to young girls who love fairies or want to take a journey into fairy land. They are short and simply written and, while not challenging to an advanced reader in the target age group, are very accessible to all levels. As the first of a series though I anticipate they will develop more depth over time as the writer settles into the storyline and world. They would be very good reads for those who also love the Disney Fairies series and Gail Carson Levine's Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg. As a parent you can feel comfortable with the underlying morals and messages promoted in this book.

Rhiannon will continue to read the series and love it. I will post her reviews here as well, as sometimes the review of a child is more effective at pinpointing what is enjoyable to a child. It is a series that I hope to see continue and growth in depth as the writer gains more experience with the characters and the plots develop with more detail and depth.

The book opens with simple characters to which a young girl can easily relate and will draw a her into the world. The first chapter ends by moving right into the heart of the story that this young lady is indeed a fairy. The story picks up here and the creativity of the author begins to shine. Beth's reaction to her aunt's revelation is believable and well written. The transition into the interesting world of fairies is seamless, well written and interesting to the reader.

Some real ingenuity on the part of the author comes through in these next few chapters as we enter the realm of fairies with a first time fairy as she learns it herself. The changing Fairy Handbook, the disguise of fairies as butterflies, flowers and bugs, the reasons for meeting under particular trees, brownies and a variety of other interesting elements draw the reader into the fairy land and make you want to keep reading. I can see that as a child my daughter will feel like she is entering this world herself, an excellent standard to judge any book by.

These middle chapters are well written and easily read. They are peppered with beautiful illustrations and some interesting variation in the text using italics and different fonts for the Fairy Handbook sections. These enhance the story and the overall experience of reading the book. In my opinion these are the best chapters of the book (Chapters 2-5) as they draw you into the world, introduce you to the variety of characters and provide the feel of an on going experience that Beth is just joining for the first time (just like you the reader).

The book moves into the climax of the book, Chapter 6, the rescue of the Feather of Hope. In my opinion this is the weakest part of the storyline. The plot is thin and not well developed. It moves quickly and without much tension or conflict. The fairies are seen working together and the teaching of teamwork is apparent but rushed and underdeveloped. It is nice to see the girls using different talents and abilities to resolve the conflict but there is little character or story development here and it is resolved just as quickly as it begins. For a book targeting 6-8 year olds this might be sufficient but to keep the interest of any older girls, including some of the mature readers in the 7-8 year old range the story needs more development. Alternately if there was no conflict but just the introduction to the fairy world this would have been better. Either to just introduce the world and concepts of fairies or to develop the book more to have more details and depth in the conflict and its resolution would have made it a stronger book. It almost feels as if the Feather of Hope chapters were thrown in as an afterthought rather than as a central part of the book.

The book concludes with the promise of more adventures to come between Beth/Marigold and her new found friends (each of which will have their own book coming out soon). The nut messages are clever and fun and again leave you with the magic and beauty and uniqueness of the fairy world that Sweet has begun creating in this book. The author leaves you with a taste of fairy land, and a desire to go back and experience the next adventures with these young fairies.

The subtle messages about the importance of hope, friendship, teamwork, being comfortable with our own uniqueness, not judging others by their appearances, and the inner strength within us are demonstrated throughout the book. The overt message stated at one point is:
"Life. In our search for meaning there are two important things to consider: how we treat other people, and what we teach to children."

These are messages I would guess will be themes throughout the series of books and good messages to share with young girls. Overall the author's messaging is positive. This is a fairy series that as a parent I feel comfortable with. It does not cross any lines or introduce children to real magic or new age concepts as many others in this genre can. It has nice moral messages, does not put children above adults, does not promote moral relativism, or encourage children to become older than they are. The book has clear mentor/student relationships, clear boundaries for young fairies, and restrictions on how much knowledge a person can and should have at any given age. These are morals and concepts that need to be promoted in children's literature at a time when so many are writing the exact opposite.

I applaud J.H. Sweet for writing with such underlying morals and outward behaviors in young girls. Encouraging them to be who they are but when the timing is right. The books do not rush girls but give them the freedom to explore and test what they can really accomplish in safe, guided and directed ways. As all children should experience growth and learning. I look forward to reading more from this series and more work that this author puts forward. Recommended.

Keep Your Brain Sharp

Here is a fun little test to look at your brain skills and to practice sharpening them - for young and old. Serona and I both enjoyed it - so far I have the record in our house with a score of 132, laser brightness level, but I am sure with more time and practice Serona will show me up. He will have to beef up his math skills though, as I have gotten 79 problems correct.

Don't let your brain atrophy, go try the Lumosity test.

There are Days...

when I felt like this. Mostly now I am just comfortable with being who we are and not trying to live up to the stereotypes people have of us because we are Christian homeschoolers.

Yes my 5 year old watches PG13 action hero movies with his dad and owns all those action figures. He was at a convention before he was one and at midnight openers. Yes I don't make bread, except for the occasional loaf I enjoy from my bread maker, certainly not hand kneeded. And yes our science books include some of "those evolution" texts.

But that's okay, you liked us before you knew all that hopefully you'll stick around even when we don't fit the image of a Christian homeschool family What is that stereotype anyway and who actually lives it?

June 4, 2007

Young Nature Explorers

We had our second meeting of our Young Nature Explorers Club and it was great! We meet at a nearby lake and walked the trail around it at a leisurely pace with the kids stopping to explore whatever interested them at the time. We had another good sized group with over 30 kids there ranging in age from infants in strollers to around 9, with a good number of moms to keep an eye on the kids.

We had perfect weather and a nice trail to walk. The kids kept different paces, some moving through quickly, others taking their time, some stopping to sketch or examine a bug that no one else was interested in. We had moms in the front and moms in the back to keep the kids together and then everyone else kind of floated in the middle answering kids questions and taking time to visit with other moms.

The kids found a lot of great things from damsel flies, dragonflies, lots of caterpillars, worms, moths, slugs, spiders, and a wide variety of bugs we were unsure of. We saw fish, ducks, birds and all the usual. One girl even found a beautiful hawk feather!

Ciaran was disappointed that we did not find any frogs at this time but seemed to enjoy himself overall as he loves being out in nature and was the insipiration for the group. Rhia was happy to spend time with her friends and very excited for the monarch caterpillar she found. Sirah was having a fussy day. Thankfully someone lent me a stroller and several moms and kids helped out with pushing her and keeping an eye on her when I was leading a group off down a dirt trail or trying to answer a question about what something was. Thank you ladies for your help!!!

This really is an easy activity to organize for a group. Just pick an outdoor location and walk around it - letting the kids do the rest. They needed very little encouragement or direction. Occasionally one of us would point something out or ask a question to get them started but for the most part they did what they naturally want to do - explore. We encouraged families to bring their own supplies and some items that were used today were magnifying glasses, butterfly nets, bug vacuum, insect cages, nature notebooks and a sea scope. I chose not to bring my binoculars and I think that was wise this group moves too fast really for bird watching which requires more patience. We forgot our bug spray but another family was kind enough to share which my girls were thankfully for. Overall the group was great about sharing and taking turns with one another.

Our family really enjoyed ourselves and it seemed like everyone who came enjoyed themselves, especially the kids. We ended our walk at a nearby playground and several families also brought lunch so the kids played together for a bit before everyone headed home in time to get younger siblings home for naps. A great way to spend a cool summer morning.

June 1, 2007

A Lovely Tea Party

This afternoon I received an invitiation I could not refuse to a lovely tea party given in my honor by my wonderful hostess Sirah. She invited me into her home (her bedroom) where she was all dressed up in a beautiful blue fairy dress. She set the table with her fine china tea set and set me on one side and her on the other.

She amazed me with her memory reminding me that she got this tea set when she was in california at Grandma's birthday at the restuarant where her aunt and uncle gave her this for her birthday. And we think they don't remember - that was nearly a year ago right after she turned three.

Anyway back to our tea party. She washed all the dishes and filled the tea pot, she provided the tea in the proper order with cream and sugar. She told me when it was cool and provided lovely conversation throughout the tea time. Her manners were excellent, perhaps even better than my own. She spoke with a lovely gentile accent that I have no idea where she got in from and her wisdom seemed far beyond her years.

It was a lovely way to pass nearly an hour and a moment that nothing else could compare with. I am glad I set aside everything else to spend time doing that with her at her request. It is a moment I know I will remember forever. As the teatime ended (so we could pick up dad from work) she carefully "washed" all her dishes and returned our other guests (lamb and share bear) to their place on her bed and asked me to carry her to the car.

In full dress up fairy costume I carried her to the car - with such a mixture of emotion of how little and old she is at the same time. Today when I pushed her on the high swing and watched her work on pumping herself and listened to her count and point to her numbers or pretend she too was learning to read I realized just how much she has grown this year.

She has always been verbal beyond her years so sometimes that does not phase me the same way as seeing her doing new things and acting so mature. Something about the time we shared today in our tea party reminded me to cherish these hours and stop whatever I am doing to have a cup of tea with this fine hostess.

Tonight Serona has Rhia out on a date. They are going bowling and out for a special desert. Really what they are doing matters much less than the special time that they have set apart for each other to enjoy each other. I am going to take this moment to bring a big stack of storybooks into my bed and snuggle up with Sirah and Ciaran and enjoy some special snuggle story times.

Kiss and hug your babies and your big kids too!

Explode the Code

We have done Explode the Code book 3 and 4 this year for second grade. We also did Book 1 and part of Book 2 for Grade K with Ciaran. We chose to skip the 1/2 books and move right into the next level as theyhad no difficulty at all with level 3 and were ready to move onto the next levels.

We will begin next year with level 5 for Rhiannon and pick up Level 2 where we left off for Ciaran. Both children really enjoyed these books. We typically did a lesson a week and they were very independent in this subject. I would introduce the topic Rhia would be studying and then she worked through the lesson at her pace. Most frequently she would do the whole lesson on Monday because she enjoyed this text and found it pretty easy. The only topic she struggled with even remotely was syllables and even those were pretty easy for her once we reviewed the concept.

As for Ciaran I read the directions to him each day and he typically did 1-3 pages at a time depending how much handwriting was involved on the particular pages. In the beginning we worked on them together but by the end he was reading more independently and was working on them at his pace and on his own.

I recommend these resources as they are pretty cheap 5.00 a book and easy to do. Easy to give the child freedom with to do at their own pace. They are workbook format though so if your child or you hates workbook style they may not be the resource for you.

We find them useful mostly because Rhiannon did not continue with a formal phonics program once she was reading well and these books review some of the phonics concepts that we want to be sure she has a foundation in. As for Ciaran they are a nice review of concepts we are doing and provide simple worksheets that let him work on phonics rules, reading and handwriting all in one place.

The books are simple and easy enough that both my kids enjoy them at their level. They also like the feeling that they finish school quickly as each worksheet does not take much time to do. The writing starts gently and increases at the higher levels but there is still quite a few circle or x pages. A simple easy to use foundational book. We will continue with the series next year for both kids.

Second Grade Review

Well it is that time of year to review the resources we used this year for 2nd grade. Some of them are repeat resources from last year and others are brand new. I was surprised by a few things that I thought I would love that I did not and then a few things that I was pleasantly surprised with. I have decided rather than a single long post I will review each in its own post with links here (as I finish them).

Miquon Math blue book
Singapore Math 2A and 2B
First Language Lessons
Explode the Code 3 and 4
Handwriting Without Tears
Story of the World Vol 1.
Story of the World Vol 2.
Exploring Creation through Botany
Day by Day Bible and Devotional
Drawing with Children
Online Spelling Lists
Reading List

We had other resources we pulled from and used off and on but these were our main spines for the year and the resources I feel are worth reviewing from our work this year. Check back over the next few weeks as I update and complete each resources review. Of course these reviews are personal and biased based on what I liked and did not like for our family, they may not apply that much to you or your family. If you have any particular questions about a particular resource I am more than happy to answer email.

Also if you are a publisher or curriculum provider and would like me to review a book or material for you, please send me an email to tenniel.at.gmail.com.