April 18, 2008

Tea Party

Last week Sirah had some little girls over for an afternoon tea and dress up party. It was really a sweet and lovely time. We had 6 little girls all in various dress up costumes. Rhiannon and her friend agreed to help out with the party and they began by giving each girl a "makeover" where they painted their nails, added some lip gloss and some body glitter. The little girls could not have been more delighted, especially the younger ones. Then they danced with play silks, switched costumes many times and prepared a little dance to perform.

We served tea, cookies and fruit. We had both a dairy and nut allergies to contend with so our cookie choices were more limited. To my amazement Oreos meet both of those standards and ended up being the favorites over the tea cookies. Strawberries and pears were also popular. No one asked for a drink other than tea to my amazement and they seemed to enjoy having it with cream and sugar.

Sirah was beaming and it was great for her to have some time that was about her and her friends. Being the youngest I think it makes it all the more special for her.

All in all it was a wonderful afternoon and while it tired me out some, having the older girls there was a tremendous help to me and Ciaran even helped out with making the tea and cookies and setting the table. It was well worth the effort to see the joy in the girls and see Sirah so happy.

April 16, 2008

Surgery Results

Well I am home and recovering from recent surgery. What we thought would be a simple 5 day recovery has turned into something much more as the doctors discovered something unexpected during my procedure. I had a spontaneous tear in my peritoneal wall and the recovery for that is actually 6-8 weeks not 5-7 days.

Still it is good to know both that they have discovered and fixed the problem, even if I am still sore and have several weeks of really limited activity ahead of me. In some ways the most frustrating part is that this time will cover some of my favorite time in Minnesota, namely the month of May. Oh well at least I will be better for the summer.

I am very blessed with a community of support around me. We have already received meals and offers of help with our children and even laundry from neighbors and homeschool support group friends. Our families are all far away so this local support is so helpful to us. We feel very loved and supported from the friend who went to the hospital with us, to those watching our kids, to those who sent flowers and prayers and just notes of encouragement and reminders they are there for us. We really appreciate all of you!

I am posting picture results from my surgery here as you can see what they discovered and how they fixed it. If you are squeamish about human anatomy or medical stuff you will want to skip them. If not you can even enlarge them by clicking on them. What you are looking at is the shots taken from my laproscoopic surgery of my peritoneal wall and the organs around it - you can see the scar that resulted from the laser treatment. My kids think it is pretty cool they used a laser inside my body. Right now it hurts enough to realize they did.

April 8, 2008

Family Themes

I have realized over the years of parenting that from the time they are born and so far through our homeschool years certain things define the way we parent, teach and interact with our kids. Some themes that seem to continually reoccur over time. Blogging has helped me realize a lot of those themes because I tend to write about similar things often.

1. Reading
We read to them all the time. We encourage them to read. We demonstrate to them how much we read. Reading is definitely a central theme in our family. We are readers and we are raising readers. We all spend a good portion of our days reading. We read books, magazines, comics, websites really anything. We talk about what we read, we talk about what we want to read, we read after dinner as a family. I think they will all grow up remembering reading.

2. Nature
Exploring, discovering and enjoying nature is an important part of our family. We spend lots of time outdoors but also indoors at locations like nature centers, zoos, and arboretums. We hike, we camp, we geocache, we bike, we play lawn bowling and frisbee together. We often just walk together as a family around our neighborhood and around different area parks. We really encourage exploring and loving nature like Ciaran's love of frogs, Sirah loving owls and their desire to touch and examine all of nature around them. We encourage nature note booking and free exploration.

3. Faith

We are raising our kids with a strong faith. We try to live out our faith, we try to give them examples of what that means and to model it for them. We teach them about God and morality. We do our best to live according to our beliefs, we offer them materials to learn from and experiences and activities that support and encourage their own faith. We answer tough questions and are trying to raise them to have a faith of their own not just a "because my parents said so" faith. Our faith is often expressed and lived out in the small everyday details of our lives.

We try to offer a lot of experiences to our kids. Our favorite family saying "One never knows what this crazy clan will do!" We bring them along with us to a wide variety of places and to meet a variety of people. We take them campaigning and to political rallies, to the art museum and book signings, to the orchestra, Irish and Scottish festivals, caving, to all the museums (not just the zoo and childrens), petroglyphs, farms and skyscrapers. Basically if we would go there they will go there with very few exceptions. And we take them to all the possible crazy places you can think of to take a child on a field trip. We always try to make it fun and often, though not always, educational. If we have read about it I will try to find a way to bring it to life for them in a more tangible way.

5. Travel
We travel a lot. We have family scattered throughout the country and many in wonderful vacation spots such as New York, Maine, Chicago and Southern California. We take them to visit relatives and see the sites. We take them places we want them to experience. I think if we were suddenly to become millionares this is the piece that would increase the most. When we were learning about the pharaohs and we talked about the exhibit in Texas Rhiannon asked if we could go there on a field trip as if it was around the corner. Ciaran piped up and said wouldn't it be better to just go to Egypt? How nice it would be! Ciaran and I have an agreement that when he is older we are going to travel to the rainforest and jungle together even if no one else comes with us. Sirah really wants to go to London because that is where her special bear is from. Rhiannon would love to visit Rome and Ireland. All of them want to go explore caves around the United States and the world. I suppose we have taught them to dream big and that travel is a wonderful thing. I did however sit Rhiannon down the year she was 7 and explain that this is not "normal" life to get to travel to the beaches of Southern California, New York City, Walt Disney World and the retreat of Maine all in the same year. We talked about how privileged we really were. I think we have given them all travel bugs much like our own since we have not stopped traveling because we have kids.

6. History/Philosophy
We have a love of history and philosophy. While they may seem an odd mix in a lot of ways they are not. If you looked at our home collection of books you would see a ton of philosophy, history and political books, along with a smattering of science books. Serona has a passion for philosophy and I have a passion for history. We will watch family movies and documentaries that show this love along with our love of nature. We take field trips and family outings to places of historical significance or places that bring alive history. We talk in ways that promote philosophy, logic and argument. We even are beginning to see it in the communication and choices of our kids. This has led to a lot of inquisitiveness in our kids and that is a wonderful thing even as we answer Why or How for the millionth time. Those two subjects I think really inform us of who we are and how we got here both in experience and in our minds and choices. I am glad that is an important theme for us.

7. Music
We all have an appreciation for music and Serona can play music. Music is a part of our daily life. We often listen to some classical music, show tunes but mostly now we are listening to Christian music we all like as a family. We have music streaming on our computers, the kids each have their own cd or mp3 player in their room, we listen in the car and on the go. We sing songs together, we in general enjoy each others music and we all like listening to it. Music has been a unifier for our family and given us yet another area of shared experiences as a family both for educational and mostly just for fun purposes.

8. Video Games
This one is harder for me to admit but it is reality - we are a video game family. I grew up playing video games. I have more limited taste in the types of games I enjoy. Nintendo Wii is a good fit for me personally and for our family. We also have an Xbox 360 system that Serona mostly uses. We play together as a family, the kids play together and Serona or Ciaran will play alone. I used to be really hesitant about this screen time but I realize how many more hours in a day my kids really have with homeschooling, they really do have more free time and when chores, school, reading, outside/exercise time is over if they want to play video games that is fine by me. So they get more video game time than people might think they would get in our house. It is social and fun for them and sometimes even for me. I really am a fan of the Wii system - it is a great family console.

9. Board Games
Not only do we enjoy video games but we play lots of board games. We play as a family and often I play with the kids. The kids will play certain games on their own as well. We have a TON of games, card and board games and I do manage to purge every few years but I amazed at how many different games we really do play. We have certain favorites we come back to time and time again but in general we play a lot of games. I see Ciaran have my competitive nature and Rhiannon having Serona's "It's just fun to play" attitude which sometimes makes it difficult to play all together a game like Blokus. I like that we play games together I think it promotes a lot of good things and offers lots of great life learning experiences.

10. Activism
We are an activist family in a lot of ways. We have been politically involved as families and individuals for a long time. We try to stay on top of important issues and participate in the ways we can. We are raising our kids to see the importance of being an involved citizen and they get to see the frustrations that go along with that involvement as well. We are volunteers in different areas of our lives, advocates in others and activists in still others. The commonality of this is teaching our kids they need to be aware and informed of what is going on in the world around them. They also need to be ready to stand up and defend their beliefs and those things that are important to them. We are trying to equip them with the necessary tools to be an involved and active citizen in all areas of their lives by teaching them and demonstrating them for them.

Together these themes often come out in our parenting and homeschooling choices with our kids. While they don't encapsulate everything about us and we are not consitent that we live all of these all the time - they give you a fairly good picture of the way we exist as a family and some of the things important to us all.


Coming Out of Hibernation

I feel like I have been in hibernation for a long time now. I suppose to some extent most Minnesotans get like this because of the long winters, even as I type we still have some snow in our yard! This year though has been even more so as we have mostly been housebound due to my health. We are used to museums, field trips and much more being outside than we have had this year. We have still gotten out a bit, enough for many people I would say but I have felt cooped up.

Yesterday the kids and I went to a nature center and our local arboretum and spent the day at those locations. It felt wonderful to be out exploring nature, wildlife and beautiful plants and flowers with my kids again. At the nature center we saw frogs, toads, snakes, lizards and explored various nests, shells, bones, furs and many other items from nature. We looked at stuffed owls, birds and small animals. It was fun to connect and talk about nature and the coming of spring. The kids put on puppet shows and colored pictures, we read some books they had and walked around and explored some. The temperature was in the low 30's and it was actually snowing while we were there so we spent more time indoors but at least it wasn't at our house. We had the entire place to ourselves with just the naturalists there. We watched her clean the turtle cage and talked about various reptiles and amphbian care with her. I think the naturalists enjoyed that we were there - it was good all around. One of the beautiful benefits of homeschooling, you often get educational facilities all to yourself!

On the way home Ciaran really wanted to visit the arboretum so we did. They have a wonderful Children's Learning Center with a hands on, touch and smell everything greenhouse. It felt so good to be in the warmth surrounded by color and green. We just walked around for a bit smelling and pointing out our favorite things to one another, discovering what the plants and flowers were named. Some volunteers were working on cuttings and the kids asked questions about how and why they were doing it. They made a cutting of an Artillery plant for the kids. We finished up our time there with the kids each sketching their favorite things. Ciaran sketched several cacti and some bamboo. Rhiannon made an involved sketch of the orange and lemon trees and Sirah walked around making sketches of all the pink flowers.

It felt good to be out exploring the world and nature with my kids. I think in some ways that has been one of the hardest limitations on the family this year. Looking forward to that all changing soon and of course to the good weather.

April 6, 2008

My Brain Still Works but it Hurts

Ever wonder what I do on a Saturday night? We were supposed to go to a couples evening and plans fell through. It was a lazy Saturday and somehow I played 3 hours of Super Mario Galaxy collecting 9 stars. I don't think I have played a video game that long straight since college and it was likely Super Mario Brothers 3 or Tetris (what is so addictive about Mario and Tetris). I played Princesses with Sirah for 2 hours. We played with Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine and their princes and the horse and carriage. They met the princes, went to balls, made clothes, painted and eventually got married. Somehow I managed to sit on the floor with her for 2 hours playing dolls. I can't remember the last time that happened either. Today was a day filled with unusual things.

Tonight I worked on a big project I am working on for about 5 hours - yes if you are adding that is 10 hours of my day dedicated to certain activities. I am blogging now at 1:30am and I still can't fall asleep because of the pain, so I am trying to be productive, making lemonade out of my lemons. After working on that project I decided to check some news to relax (odd I know but it is relaxing to me) and ended up reading about the above photo. Anyone? Anyone? I'll tell you the name and it probably won't help 98% of you without the assistance of Google or the link I will give you. The image you see is a simulation of Higgs boson. Again I ask Anyone? Anyone? I would not have been able to answer that question myself a few minutes ago. Now my brain is full of swarming thoughts about particle physics and how that relates to "the grid" at CERN. CERN may ring a bell for some thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web.

That last link is an archive of the first web page created for WWW by Berners-Lee back in April 1992. Berners-Lee announced the creation of www in an altnews group (anyone else remember those) in 1991 but it was in April of 1992 that it was released as free for the public. I remember sitting in the computer lab at my college talking with friends about how exciting it was, so many others having no idea what we were excited about though at the time we were usinggopher and MUD's. How many of you are geek enough to have seen that page then? How many of you recall the first time you went on the World Wide Web? Thanks Dad for making me a computer geek who likes video games from the time I was what 8 or so?

Disney Princesses, Particle Physics, MUD's, Super Mario Galaxy, Pink Floyd, Writing, Tim Berners-Lee, Mae, CERN, sock knitting, blogging, dishes, baseball tryouts, Higgs Boson, Drudge Report, vomit, The Absent Minded Professor, spy gear, Black Liberation Theology, Irish cheddar, melting snow and cold pizza. What do they have in common? They were all a part of my day in thought or action today. Anyone else want to do a random collection of words from their Saturday?

I titled the post "My brain still works but it hurts" because I am happy to say that I can still follow along with the articles and concepts I was reading about even though it definitely takes me more effort. Sometimes I need to reread sentences more and let my brain really think on them to get it. I usually still see the connections between other concepts but deeper science and philosophy take my brain longer to get around now than in grad school. Of course listening to Dark Side of the Moon probably doesn't help that much. Also my mind swirls with Dr Suess books memorized, what's for dinner, how can I teach long division better, when will the pain stop, is the snow ever going to melt, how many times will they vomit tonight and will the dog hair ever come out of my carpet during shedding season for our Aussies. Maybe that is why it takes me longer to understand concepts and my brain feels sore afterwards. Maybe I need to go play some more rounds of Lumosity. I suppose now I just need to admit I need to be in bed despite how I feel as it is now nearing 3am!

April 3, 2008

To Go or Not to Go

That is the question. Trying to decide if we should take our kids to the upcoming Hawk Nelson concert, if we should wait and go to Sonshine or if they are just to young overall. All three of them can sing lyrics to many of their songs and we listen to them daily.

I thought about just taking Rhia but then Ciaran really will want to go and truthfully he probably enjoys them more than her. Then at that point shouldn't we just let Sirah come? Part of me thinks I should not even consider it given their ages. Then part of me admits it really would be fun to do as a family.

We thought long and hard last year about all going to Sonshine and decided they were too young and at that point it was more for the bands Serona and I liked. Since then though they have taken quite a liking to many of the bands that will play. I think it will be hard on Sirah and likely even the other two.

So am I crazy? Should we just stay home and listen to their music? Anyone take young children to concerts like these and what was your experience?

Odds and Ends

It hit 60 degrees here today. The ice is melting, the kids are out playing and there is mud everywhere. I have come to terms with mud, we are friends now. It took a long time but I don't mind it, except on the dogs. Because mud on the dogs simply translates to mud on my carpets and floors. The kids however are living in their mud boots and they have sense enough to take them off at the door now. It is a good thing I made peace with the mud as we live at the bottom of a hill and we are simply one big puddle and mud pits right now for the foreseeable future.

Ciaran and I spent the afternoon at a batting cage. He has baseball tryouts soon and has only ever played t-ball before. For his first time having anything pitched to him he did great. A few rounds in the batting cage and about 100 pitches from me before I realized he had his hands wrong. Ciaran is lefty - and I set him up and told him right that his left had needed to be on top. Then we worked on stance, bending knees, elbow up, etc and I forgot to check his hands and somehow did not notice he was doing it wrong! Bad mommy moment. The worst part is I knew the right way he needed to do it, I taught him that and then I did not pay attention or notice when he switched hands. All seems well now that he has his hands right.

Sirah and I played My Little Pony together today while the other two did school. She wanted some non-reading time with mommy and choose to play ponies and then to play dominoes - she won every game! Yesterday she hand wrote a letter to her grandparents and mailed so today she just wanted to play - fine by me.

I have discovered Ciaran works much better at school with music on. We used to listen to classical but now he seems to do best listening to Relient K or Hawk Nelson. Rhiannon needs silence so they obviously need to work in different rooms. The upside of Ciarans musical school has been an increased interest in doing it, better productivity, staying on task and better overall work - so let the music continue! A side benefit, we take dancing breaks every so often. Sometimes a song comes on and everyone just has to move - like Bring It On. So we all get up from school and dance together for a song or two, Rhia will even join us from the other room - then settle back into work a bit refreshed and energized.

For his birthday Ciaran got a great game we never heard of before "Hyper Dash" and the kids love it. I recommend it, encourages movement indoors and outdoors. They have spent a lot of time recently playing it. I wake up in the morning to the sounds of elephant herds running up above our heads as they get a round in first thing in the morning. It will be great fun when we are able to do this outdoors too.

After spending two weeks sick it feels good to be moving around again and getting back to routines. Of course this whole year has been a very different routine for us with my chronic pain. As I see the kids reaching the end of their school workbooks I realize we have spent the whole year dealing with this issue that started in September. We are all hoping that this all gets resolved with the upcoming surgery. The kids have really been amazing through this whole process.

Rhiannon has taken up baking lately. She especially enjoys baking bread and cake and also enjoys making meals from time to time. She has surprised me several times with a meal in bed. She is showing interest in doing some drama camps this summer and maybe getting back into horseback riding in the fall. Together we have started reading Eragon as our read aloud.

Overall things here are good and looking up. Looking forward to enjoying the spring.

April 1, 2008

Wish the weather knew it was April 1st

Part of me wants to tell you this is my April Fool's joke on you. However, it is REALITY that we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground. Over the weekend I was optimistic (a rarity for me) that the snow was nearly all melted and days of biking and hiking were soon on their way.

The only good news is the weather should be warming up and it will all melt mostly on its own. The yard looks pretty and the kids can get another day of snowboarding and sledding in on the 1st of April.

Last year April in Minnesota opened with negative degree weather and finished off with a camping trip. So one never knows what Minnesota will bring. I think for us it is April that comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

By the way you do realize that the first post from today was my April Fool's Joke right?