May 30, 2008

State Capitols

May 25, 2008

Wii Fit

This made me laugh. I'm not denying we may still end up buying it at some point but it is very funny to me.

May 23, 2008

Chutes and Ladders Math

Over summer break we tend to play more board games. Sometimes I try to make them more interesting. One of my favorite modifications is to play Chutes and Ladders with dice. You roll two dice and you can move any number that you can get from a mathematical operation (the final answer must be a whole number but can be negative). So for instance you roll a 5 and a 3. You can move either 15, 2, 8, or backwards 2 (-2)whichever is most advantageous to your game play. You would be surprised at how often moving backwards is useful to get to a big ladder.

This morning I played several games of Chutes and Ladders. One with the spinner with Sirah age 4. One with two dice - only allowing addition or subtraction with Ciaran age 7 and Sirah age 4 and one with just Rhiannon allowing any mathematical operation. To encourage Rhiannon to keep playing I told her when she beat me should could have a piece of chocolate, highly desirable since it was before noon! It took her 3 games. There is still an element of luck and randomness but you have more control and it is a fun and sneaky way to get them to do a variety of math operations in their head quickly and without feeling like they are doing math.

Now outside to enjoy the beautiful, albeit still chilly May day here in Minnesota.

May 19, 2008

May 14, 2008

Of Turtles and Frogs

The season is upon us finally. Ciaran was beginning to feel it was never coming with the crazy weather and my surgery. Today we went to a nearby favorite pond to look for frogs and turtles. As I expected we did not see any frogs but we did see many turtles. We walked along the pond watching them sunning themselves on branches and diving into the water, stopping now and then to watch them or examine some other interesting thing we saw.

We found a spot they seemed to really enjoy about a dozen swimming around. I sat down on the ground and watched the kids watch the turtles for about a half hour. They managed to catch one believe it or not and carefully we examined it and carried it home. They will release it tonight but it is fun for them to care for one for a day or two and they are very careful filling a bucket with pond water and setting things up for the turtle to have a nice mini habitat. They named this turtle FireStripes for the coloring on the inside of the shell. They have been excited observing it and I think they might sketch the turtle later this afternoon.

While I still wish it was about 10 degrees warmer here the sunshine feels glorious so I can't really complain. After rain, clouds and cold weather we will take what we get.

Ciaran is still looking forward to the first frog of summer. We hear them at night and at certain marshes we pass by but he has only caught glimpses of them as they dive into the water. I remind him the season is not upon us yet but will be soon enough and to enjoy the one we have now.

We have been making weekly trips to the local arboretum to see the progress of the flowers and trees. Each year the kids pick out a rose bush to study. We draw sketches and watch their rosebush from winter through fall. It makes the best project because the experts care for it and we get to see the full transition and all the information we want is available to us. We also have our favorite places we go each time we are there. Right now the daffodils are in full bloom, the tulips are coming along and will likely be in full bloom this week. We look forward to the irises which usually bloom around my birthday time. The Magnolias and rhododendrons are in blossom and the other trees are starting to bud. The crab apples still don't have any buds to speak of and it seems as if overnight many trees grew their leaves!

Baseball is still cold. Was wearing my winter coat, mittens and a fleece blanket for last nights game under the lights. We left the field at 9pm and I wondered when it would ever be a warm great ball game night? The kids don't seem to notice though they just run and jump up and down in place to keep warm. Of course if this was the weather in January we would all probably be wearing shorts :)

Trying to spend as much time outdoors as we can especially now while the neighborhood is still quiet and I can enjoy being with just my kids. Soon enough all of school will be out and my kids will be off to play with the neighbors more and more. I am glad they get along with the neighbors but it is also nice when it is just the four of us enjoying our neighborhood parks and paths. As we watch the school buses leave and return from the day I think my kids appreciate more and more that they worked to get their school done in time to have off most of the month of May. Especially on glorious days like today.

Off to spend more time in the yard with the trampoline and bikes. Might even be brave enough to try a small baseball catch with Ciaran. Just a few more weeks until my recovery is complete. Seems it gets harder to wait each day as the mercury rises.


May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Last year I took some time to reflect on my mother and my other mothers. I don't think I can match the work I put into that right now so please take a moment to read those if you never have. Or if you are one of my mothers please reread that and know how much I love and appreciate you!

My table is full of flowers, my heart is full of joy and my children are being unusually cooperative and calm (of course it is only 7:45am), even the sun is shining in Minnesota and there are no signs of snow! What a perfect start to my day.

We do not get the blessing of seeing any of our mothers and grandmothers today as they live in New York, Maine, Illinois and Florida and we live in Minnesota. Still we will call and we will talk and we will try to bless from a distance. We reflect on them and all they do for us and how much they love us.

Enjoy your mother today, bless her in a special way. Enjoy your children and the privilege you have of being their mother. Realize there is beauty in simplicity and love in the gift giver. My children color me cards, draw me pictures, pick me flowers, find the prettiest rock. They give me more hugs and kisses, they try harder to not fight with their brother and sister. They simply want to share their love with me and I am so very grateful and thankful for that.

Happy Mother's Day!

For Mothers and their Children

May 9, 2008

Minnesota Little League

I remember when my brothers played in Little League. I remember playing softball growing up from the time I was around 8. They are good memories for the most part. I do remember needing sweatshirts and blankets from time to time but I don't remember a 31 degree opener - after the first one being snowed out. I don't remember practice being canceled due to snow or the need to keep my winter coat in the car in May!

Little League in Minnesota is a whole different game we open the season with freezing temperatures and often intense windy days and we end the season with mosquitoes and a heat wave that makes you all want to fight over the very small square of shade near the field. Ciaran is still at the age where we attend everything including practices and we make our girls come with us.

Last night we decided to have a picnic dinner because the timing of baseball games makes it difficult to get Serona home, everyone fed and to the field on time in our one car family lifestyle. The picnic fare was good and there were no bugs which is a wonderful upside to a picnic. We only felt a few occasional raindrops and the girls ate their meal huddled underneath fleece blankets in their jackets. Something makes that an odd picnic I think.

Still we are enjoying watching Ciaran learn to play baseball. He spent one season in t-ball and is now playing in a machine pitch league. He is one of the youngest on his team if not the youngest as his birthday was the week before the cutoff that put him in the 7-8 year old league. We realized this league runs from first grade to third grade when one of the boys got up to bat and Serona was like "how old is he?" I pointed to our very tall Rhiannon, who is eight and said that is what people would say about her, a third grade tall eight year old.

The abilities in this league vary considerably from the brand new ball player, to the inexperienced to the ones who understand both what a double play is and how to make one. We have hitters who make it just past home plate and hitters who make it over the outfielders head. It is very interesting to watch but so far the kids are all good sports about it, encouraging one another and understanding each others different abilities. The league does have an x amount of runs per inning rule which helps when we face some of these challenges and they typically only play 4 or 5 innings to a game.

I really like community ball and am thankful for it. At opening day we saw so many families from the community. Some we knew from homeschool, some from our neighborhood, or other sporting events and many we have never met before. Little League provides a great service to our kids and I am thankful for it. I am also very thankful for the volunteers who make it possible. We do not volunteer for Little League with Serona's travel schedule and other little ones not involved it is difficult to follow through on a big commitment like that which does not offer much flexibility. So we are so thankful for the fathers and mothers who give of their time and abilities to provide these opportunities for our kids.

If you are a volunteer in Little League or any other sport in your area I want to say thank you! Thanks for giving of your time and providing opportunities for so many kids to enjoy sports and grow and learn team skills. If you volunteer in Minnesota or any other crazy weather state and experience the wide temperature ranges of 30-95 in your baseball season I give you a standing ovation!!!

Sirah rides a two wheeler!

Sirah learned to ride her two wheeler proficiently this summer! At the end of fall she practiced a few times with Serona but never got fully comfortable. This summer it only took one session before she was riding like a champ with complete confidence! She is whenever and wherever we let her now. It is such a freedom to her - I imagine it is like learning to drive a car and get your license for a teenager. Serona took all the kids on an extensive bike ride on trails and through streets in our neighborhood and she was riding right along with them, at a slower pace of course.

Then just this week one of her little friends who is a year older than her watched Sirah ride her bike and was surprised she could and she wanted to learn to ride one as well. Sirah lent her the bike and by the end of the day this girl had learned how to ride a two wheeler as well. The excitement in their faces was great to watch.

I am still amazed that all three of the kids learned to ride two wheelers when they were four years old! I think I was nine when I learned to ride a bike - how much easier for them now. They are so confident and sure of themselves.

I am not really involved with teaching them to ride their bikes, Serona takes care of that. His one rule - NO TRAINING WHEELS EVER! I have to say that was a hard one for me to swallow when they were three and I watched these kids get to move to a two wheeler with trainers and ours were still riding their trikes. It was important Serona said so they never learned to rely on the training wheels and then they really WANT to learn to ride a two wheeler and it is easier to teach them balance. I conceded because I did not really want to run behind a bicycle and be the one to make them get right back up and start again when they got hurt. So no training wheels and three kids who learned to ride their two wheelers proficiently at age 4. I'm glad I listened to him and thankful they all know how to ride now.

Rhiannon and Ciaran would like to do a 15 mile family bike ride by the end of the summer around the lakes. We will see if I recover and if they really can make that. We certainly wouldn't have Sirah peddling for 15 miles though :)

Coming back to life

Well while I hesitate to write this it appears spring has sprung in Minnesota! After snowflakes fell the last two weekends I am happy to see it is just going to rain this weekend :) The flowers are beginning to be brave enough to poke their heads out of the ground, the daffodils are in full bloom at our local arboretum and everywhere we look the tulips appear to be getting ready to spring forth. The evening brings the sounds of frog calls and the morning the songs of the birds - it is good.

My kids favorite moment of spring has arrived - the end of school. We work our schedule so that we can be finished by the first or second week of May each year in order to enjoy one of our favorite months in Minnesota. We try to spend as much time as possible outside enjoying the weather before the bugs come.

This May has been strange, it feels more like March or April than the warmth that usually brings May flowers. We have had snow twice, freezing temperatures often and have been warned to not start gardening yet. I think this weekend will bring the go ahead for many of those activities. We still have the winter coats out and have used them a few times this month, sweatshirts and raincoats stay in the trunk of our car and nearby for outdoor play. Yet sandals, flip flops and shorts are standing by ready to be used and thankful for the few moments they have been used already.

Still we have pressed on and tried to get out into nature several times a week at least. We have had several visits to the arboretum, the local nature center and a favorite marsh and meadow area where as soon as you leave your car all you can hear are the calls of frogs. As you walk down the dock it gets louder and louder until you can lose yourself in the sounds. This is Ciarans favorite place to go and it is one of his favorite times to go since you can hear so many frogs. He has yet to catch one and has only seen a handful so far.

We have resumed Nature Notebooking. We bring our nature journals and colored pencils with us and try to sketch at least one thing at each destination we go to. Some days the kids are very excited and sketch everything along the way. Other days they will do their "obligatory" sketch and then move on to just enjoying being outside. Unfortunately they never seem to share their moods so one wants to stop and sketch while the other two are itching to move forward. Always a balancing act we work out as peacefully as we can.

We are having to relearn how we explore nature this fall and it has been a frustrating process. My recovery from surgery is still only about halfway done and I have good days and bad days. I am very limited in what I should and can do and I am learning how to balance that with our need to be outside exploring. We are trying to explore more places we can drive to and limit our walking distances and time on my feet. I am trying to rest more as we go along and the kids are great about carrying things and understanding that our time has to be shorter. It is hard to only go to a wonderful place for an hour instead of all day like we prefer - still it is better to go for a little bit and soak it all in then it is to forgo going all together. By June I should be ready to resume things like geocaching, hiking and our regular outside activities. For now we are taking baby steps and making the most of the time and places we have.

It seems appropriate that this is my recovery time as I watch everything coming back awake from a long winter and I myself feel that way in many ways. Just as we need to be patient for the flowers to come in their time when it is warm and safe enough for them so I need to be patient and let my body recover and resume activities when it is appropriate and safe for me. I may sound optimistic but I have to be honest this is hard for me. I want to be outside biking, hiking and geocaching. Soon enough, soon enough....

Locks of Love

Sweet Sirah has been growing her hair out for nearly a year now with the entire intention being to donate it to Locks of Love. Last year Rhiannon donated her hair and it gave Sirah the idea. She began growing it out - since she is just 4 years old and has thinner hair it took her longer but she finally finished! This week she was finally able to donate it, 10 inches, she was very excited.

She donated at an all day event where they were collecting many hundreds of ponytails to send in all together. That morning the only thing she wanted was to have her hair in a waterfall braid just one more time. So Serona put her hair in a braid one last time when she was four as she said. Then she went and got her hair cut - she was oh so serious the whole time, barely cracking a smile.

When she was done - she loved her haircut and keeps telling everyone that she donated 10 inches of hair for locks of love. Her face looks so different after she finished, she looks older somehow. When Rhiannon donated her hair I thought she looked younger. She has since been growing it back, she was glad she donated it but likes long hair better and will likely keep her hair long for awhile.

I am glad my kids have a heart for others and come up with creative ways to share that love with people, even those they will never meet.