Monday, December 27, 2004

We had a wonderful Christmas, and the kids had a total blast. They enjoyed absolutely everything they received, but I think the best line was when Emily got to the Lil' Bratz Skating Rink and proclaimed in confusion, "We didn't order this." I'm not sure if she was just surprised or if she was afraid she might have to return it since it wasn't on her Wish List.

Sam had decided that instead of writing a Wish List to Santa, he would give Santa a gift. So, he wrote Santa a thank-you note instead of a Wish List, thanking Santa for bringing gifts to children. What a sweetheart he is! Well, my sweet boy got the only thing he had asked for--his Hot Wheels Slimecano, despite the terrible reviews it has over at Amazon. He was so happy! And didn't mind the chintzy construction one bit. Though, once his grandparents arrived with Cyborg Assault, that quickly became the favorite gift (a much better deal/toy, imo).

One of the kids' favorite gifts was a Smithsonian Chemistry Set, though we have some kinks to work out with regards to using it. Dh tried to put together an experiment with them but had a hard time holding the kids' attention long enough for them to see the results, which were rather anti-climactic. The set itself is cool, but the experiments are not terribly dramatic, and that's what really grabs the kids' attention at this age. We're going to try to figure out a way to have the feel of the Chemistry set but without the, shall we say, drudgery of following the given experiments as they're laid out in the booklet. I have dh working on that one.

Perhaps the most fun, however, was the visit from the kids' grandparents, aunt and cousin, who came down the day after Christmas. We had lots of fun playing, collecting eggs and running around at the park. Of course, the time together is never quite enough, but we're very lucky to live close enough to see each other as often as we do. All the kids have such a wonderful time together!

Friday, December 24, 2004

What a busy week! We enjoyed the first snow storm of the season this week, and the kids had a blast. It began snowing around 6:00 pm, and by 7:00 we had about a quarter to a half inch. The kids immediately wanted to go outside after dinner, so they donned their snow clothes and went out to play. They had a wonderful snowball fight with dh and the dog, made snow angels and miniature snowmen before coming in to hot chocolate and some homemade cookies. We were all so grateful for the early snow and counted it as a Christmas present for Southern Maryland. Knowing that the snow would likely melt by early the next day, we felt very lucky to have had such a magical time that evening, as snowflakes fell against the dark sky, illuminated by the warm glow of the holiday lights adorning our home.

We've truly had a wonderful week of giving, for which I feel very grateful.

I felt very lucky to be able to welcome a friend's baby this week, visiting them in John's Hopkins Hospital. He was born at a whopping 11 pounds, and needed to be hospitalized because of some breathing complications. We took snacks and Christmas decorations to brighten her holiday season as she spends her days and nights with him until he finishes a round of antibiotics due to some fluid in his lungs. They are both in good health otherwise, and we're very hopeful that they will be home before Christmas Day. I have been helping to cook for her family of three boys at home as she spends her time in the hospital, and my dh generously donated his labor to help roof their new addition last weekend.

This week, too, I have been cooking for my friend who is in the midst of a monumental struggle against non-hodgkin's lymphoma, and I was able to spend about a half an hour visiting with her for the first time since her ordeal began. She looks amazingly strong and has been maintaining such a positive outlook that I feel very hopeful for her and her family. She will be enjoying the holiday alone with her husband and two beautiful children before she heads back to the hospital for her third round of chemotherapy. Please, hold her and her family in your thoughts for a moment.

Yesterday, the kids and I delivered Christmas cards that we had made in our 4-H Club to the County Nursing Center. We found extra holiday cards and recycled used cards by cutting the front off and gluing it onto new card stock. The kids signed their names and drew some pictures, making it a wonderfully personalized way to give something to our community. My family was the only one able to deliver the cards, but Emily, Julia and Sam all had such fun hand-delivering them to the residents in the dining room. My heart was truly shining for the gift they were giving and receiving. After we left, they all asked to do it again next year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

This Monday, we went rock climbing over at Carderocks. It's been very wet here lately, so we left the rope at home and bouldered around. Jim was excited to show us some of the boulder problems he's discovered while climbing on his lunch hour, and I was psyched to be out climbing again after my sprained ankle a couple months ago. I was a bit shaky on the rock at first, but managed several solid traverses by the end of the day.

The kids had a great time bouldering and exploring the rock, and our puppy, Boo, has become quite the rock dog, opting for the class 3 descent rather than taking the long way down. Funny thing is, she knew exactly which route to take down from the top of the cliff. Instinct is impressive! We enjoyed meeting and hanging with a couple of other fellows out bouldering, topping the day off perfectly.

Tuesday, we saw A Christmas Carol put on by Theatreworks USA. The kids enjoyed the production, which included a lot of singing and dancing, toning down the scary parts quite a bit. We enjoyed a lovely lunch out afterwards, and the kids had a blast all evening dressing up and putting on shows of their own.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

We've been listening to Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke this week on CD, and we've been having such fun! I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty because I'm not reading it--this is the first time we've listened to a book and it seems like a guilty pleasure. The narrator is wonderful, which makes all the difference in the world. I've tried to listen to some books on tape before whose narrators were terrible and it really turned me off.

We started listening in the car during our longer trips, but last week I brought it inside. We listened while playing with play-do and legos; then, on one of the beautiful days, I put it on the outside speakers and we listened while soaking in the sunshine on the upper deck. We're now on about day 4 or 5 of rain, so yesterday I had to run to the library to get some more books for my own sanity!

We're currently in the middle of listening to The Hobbit , which we had read about half of last year. Emily's been wishing that Jackson had made a movie of The Hobbit as well, so we put on The Fellowship of the Ring to watch the prelude where Bilbo finds the ring and to see the dwarf lords. We've had some incredible conversations about director's choices, narration, filming, camera angles, musical scores, etc. What fun!

We got our Christmas tree this weekend, which is always such fun. I love having a live tree in the house; it just smells so wonderful. The kids were psyched because the folks selling the trees were giving out mini candycanes, and Jim and I were just glad to get a tree after unsuccessfully going two other places first. We came home and put on some carols, set out some h'ors doevres and trimmed the tree. Jim held the kids up, so they could each have a turn topping the tree with our angel, but it was too high for Sam and Julia, so Emily got to do the topping this year.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Yesterday, we went on a 4-H fieldtrip to the US Botanic Garden and had a lovely time. The new holiday scavenger hunt for plants used in making holiday sweets was fun and very interesting for the moms! The kids really enjoyed exploring the desert and the prehistoric plant areas, and loved the train exhibit. My favorite exhibits were the orchid room and the medicinal plant room, which I could've spent much more time in if the kids had let me. That will be a trip in alone someday, I suppose. They offer wonderful seminars, and perhaps I should ask for one as a birthday present. Hmmmm... not a bad idea!

Afterwards, we went across the street to the new National Museum of the American Indian. We had lunch in the cafe, which offers native fare from all different parts of the Americas. Our friends stopped at the Southwestern stand, while I went straight for the Northern Woodlands and had a delicious lobster salad sandwhich. We wandered around the museum a little while, getting a feel for what it has to offer. The Windows on the Exhibits are interesting and offer an interactive computer description of the items behind the glass, allowing visitors to focus on one item, zoom into different parts and learn about the object, it's history and significance, construction, etc. We spent some time in the children's library section of the resource room and read some Navajo children's books that were written in both English and Navajo, and we explored a really neat buffalo box, constructed completely out of buffalo hide and filled with all the different parts of the buffalo used by the Plains Indians, from the fur and hide, to sinew, bone and bladder. All in all, quite a full and wonderful day! The best part for me was that I finally replaced my tape of R. Carlos Nakai, which is some of the most meditative, spiritual music I've heard. It was my favorite tape in college, and it's wonderful to fill my spirit with the peace of his flute music again.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The kids and dh made a really cool catapult together while I was at a one day conference for LLL. When I came home, they were so excited to show me what they had built. They reported how they had used a rubber band at first, but it had broken after just a couple shots. Dh then canibalized a bungee cord, which has great strength and elasticity. They can launch things pretty well with it. The big thing now is trying to launch food bits from the top deck all the way to the chicken run for the ladies to eat--about 100 feet or so. There hasn't been any success on that, so they're starting to think bigger. Oh no!

Our chickens finally began laying the day after Thanksgiving. The first was a beautiful blue-green egg from one of our Americauna hens. They are lovely, though the color is washed out here from the flash. You can see them compared to a store-bought egg in the upper right-hand corner, which is larger and whiter. When hens first begin laying, their eggs are smaller, but they will gradually get larger over time.

I bought some window markers during our visit to the Franklin Institute, and the kids had loads of fun with them. They're quite vibrant and wash off easily. Unfortunately, they also rub off easily, so there is a great temptation to scratch a bit off each time one walks by. Nothing will stay very long, I'm afraid, but the kids sure have fun during the process.

This Thursday, we went to the Goddard Space Flight Center with our 4-H Rock Hounds club. The kids had fun, with a few rough moments here and there. They watched a short video, showing a simulated landing of the Mars Rover, Spirit; then, they had a chance to build and launch pop rockets. Emily's, sadly, exploded at the launch pad twice, but went for a fabulous flight on the third try. The favorite part of the day, however, was the replica space pod. The kids played astronaut for a solid half-hour. I'm always impressed by how great these kids are together in our 4-H group. They all played, taking turns in the small space, with each child participating and creating a role to play. When Emily's rocket blew up, they were all so kind to her as she was crying (Em and Julia are the only girls in the group), rubbing her back, offering hugs, finding the pieces. There's a core of just super kids that we're really lucky to know.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with all our family present. My mother was up for her annual visit, my in-laws came down for the weekend and my sister-in-law drove down for the day. I cooked two turkeys this year instead of one bigger one, and they came out beautifully. Everything was delicious! My in-laws look forward to this meal all year long--quite a bit of pressure. I am so very thankful that we were all together for a wonderful meal again this year, that we all have our health and each other. I feel truly fortunate and daily grateful for my family--my husband and precious children--and the life we lead. Year long, our lives are filled with love and happiness and connection with one another, fueled by our mutual respect and compassion. I am grateful for the priority we each place on our family, for the time we take to be together and for each moment we are given to be together on this earth.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

This week the kids and I drove my mom up to Philadelphia to visit with some friends, and we took the time to go into the Franklin Institute. What a great time we had! We started out in the planetarium--an amazing experience. This was the first time the kids had ever been to a planetarium and the first time for me in a very long time. We were lucky enough to be one of about 20 people, so the kids could move around a bit without feeling overwhelmed. Sam thought it was absolutely incredible, and at one point, was convinced that we were actually moving. I must admit that I felt a bit motion sick at a few points!

After the planetarium, we played in the train room. Julia got to drive a huge engine and Sam served as the fireman--pretty neat set up where the engine actually moves. We also explored the Science Command Center, the Hands-On Science Center and the Giant Heart. The kids played around with water and air pressure, light, made shadows on the shadow-wall, and explored the inside of a heart.

The kids had a blast swimming in the hotel pool, and we spent Wednesday morning at a friends' horse farm. What a lovely place! The barns and the land were absolutely beautiful. The kids enjoyed seeing the horses and feeding them carrots. Of course, the trampoline and toy room were pretty fun, too!

We got to see the Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban while we were staying in the hotel, and the kids and I were all disappointed with it. We've had some really great discussions about the difference that new directors and actors can make in a film. It's been really interesting because Emily is probably the most disappointed, and this is the second time now that she's experienced the disparity between books and movies. It's pretty cool to watch her dissect that slippage.

Today we went hiking at Great Falls National Park. What a gorgeous day! We saw a pileated woodpecker flying around while we were hiking, and found lots of woodpecker holes in the trees. The geology around Great Falls is really cool--lots of schist and quartz.

While hiking we searched for the C & O Canal Letterbox. Unfortunately, the directions are a bit off, but we managed to find it nonetheless after a bit of interpretation. The kids did a great job on the hike, especially after they got over the initial whiny stage. Sam and Julia were troopers and even hiked back to replace the letterbox with me. The Canal itself is really cool, and we got to see a model of the boats and mules that pulled them in the Visitor Center Museum.

Friday, November 12, 2004

As part of her ongoing interest in Egypt, Emily has been building a papier mache pyramid. We mixed the glue, which Em thought was pretty gross, and then got a good layer on that we'll let dry before putting on a final layer. When it's all done, she's going to paint it, and who knows where it'll go!

Emily and Julia have been doing lots of science experiments lately with food coloring and oil, creating lava lamp-esque concoctions. The other day, they took the food coloring they'd mixed in water and used it to create really cool tie-dye paper towels with an eye dropper. We hung them out on the deck to dry when they were all done, but they disappeared! Wind, one might think, but no! We found the green paw-prints that led us to catch the thief green-pawed. Boo, our puppy, had eaten them, and boy were the next few days interesting!

Em continues to be quite interesting in playing with numbers and has been spending lots of time working on addition and subtraction, sometimes asking for verbal and sometimes written problems. The car is usually her favorite time for number play, but she also likes to do this late at night. Amazing what kids will do when left to their own devices!

We had our 4-H Gardening club this week where we harvested a bunch of seeds, shared some strawberry and blackberry plants and cleaned our garden beds.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Let's see if I can catch up here...

The kids had a really great Halloweeen. Emily was Mulan, Julia was her own version of Sleeping Beauty and Sam was Prince Philip. They are still just so excited about the whole idea of going around and collecting candy! My ankle was still pretty bum, and with all the hills and unpaved driveways in our neighborhood, I decided to let Jim take them around by himself this year. I was just going to hit the neighbors' next door with them, but I ended up doing all of our street with them before sendind them on their way--they were having so much fun!

Grampa came down for a visit after voting on Election Day, and the kids just adore him! We took him down to our favorite beach where we could all play with the puppy. They showed him how to dig for fossils in the cliffs, how to explore the wetlands on the boardwalk, where to build the best dam, and he helped them move some really big logs to make a bridge. The kids had him climbing on barrier rocks with them and hunting for fossilized sharks' teeth while I threw the stick for Boo--over and over and over!

We've been losing all our leaves the past week, which with all the trees we have means many huge piles of leaves for jumping! The kids help gather all the fallen twigs for kindling while Jim and I blow and rake the leaves, so by the time we have a big pile, all the sticks are safely out and the kids can just have a blast. Sam's been out with his Prince Philip sword and shield attacking the leaves while I blow them; I wish I had a picture of him shining! It's hard to say who likes the leaf blower more, Sam or the puppy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

We had a lovely weekend, and it was so nice to see the sun again on Saturday! We took the puppy over to the beach where we all had a lovely day hunting for fossils and just being outside. We've had so much rain here recently! The kids hunted around for some fossilized sharks teeth and played pirate under the huge cliffs.

Sam had a blast playing in the water, which we knew he would. That boy is drawn to water like a moth to a flame! Water always helps him find peace, and he can play in it for hours. He's funny to watch at the beach because he'll be totally mesmerized and peaceful; then, all of a sudden, he'll cross a sensory threshold and have to get into a warm tub immediately! Too much sand, too much cold, whatever--get that boy a tub!

Julia had fun climbing and throwing the stick for our puppy to fetch. She was the only one not to get wet, not a big surprise, though Boo took care of that by shaking on her each time she came back on the beach! Boo can fetch that stick for more than an hour--as long as we're there, she's in the water. Hard to say who likes it more Sam or Boo. Sunday, it was raining again, so it was good we got out in the sunshine when we had the chance!

The leaves here look lovely, and the kids are quite excited for Halloween. They're counting down the days!

Friday, October 22, 2004

We've started reading Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire this week, which we're really enjoying. This weekend, Emily and I were talking about reading, and she remarked how boring all the beginning reader books are, though Julia really likes the Bob's Books on occasion. So, I started writing them their own Hogwart's stories for us to read together, and the girls love them! Emily, however, made sure that she wasn't actually going to have to go away to boarding school, even if it was one as cool as Hogwarts.

Emily's been playing with our fractiles and making some amazing 3-D images with them. Here she's made a huge ball, then added arms, legs and a head to make the inflated Aunt Marge from Harry Potter 3. She has such an incredible imagination! We borrowed Sorcer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets DVD's from the library and have been watching them again. We had wanted to see Chamber of Secrets again because I couldn't recall the anagram for Lord Voldemort, which I'd been trying to do because Goblet of Fire begins with the Riddle House. So, we were talking all about Tom Riddle and playing with anagrams.

The other day, the kids pulled out the face paints, and Sam had a blast painting his own face. He ended up this cool, swirly blue-green color and was tinged green for the next 24 hours after he washed it off. He looked vaguely sea-sick the whole time. The girls have been playing a lot at Cyberchase and Sam's been playing lots of Scooby-Doo by himself and with dh at night.

The kids have been creating all kinds of really cool science experiments. They've been linking together these large elastic headbands that look like giant pony-tail holders, and Sam has been tying them to all sorts of objects. He'll stretch them as long as he can then watch it rebound with the items of different weights. He's taken to tying his Halloween treat pumpkin to it and filling it with all sorts of things, then watching how it springs back. Pretty good physics lesson! They've also been experimenting with frosted glass, watching how frost and condensation form, freezing water in glasses and marking the levels before and after. Some very cool experiments.

Emily's been pursuing an ongoing interest in Egypt, and recently she's come up with all kinds of projects she wants to do after paging through Pyramids!: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience Ancient Egypt. We're planning to make a papier mache pyramid this weekend, which we haven't done yet because it's been such a rainy week, and I didn't want to head out to the shed for the chicken wire on my bum ankle. So, she contented herself with making a Sculpey recreation of Egypt that we'll use for our model of the Nile River. All the kids and I made them, and we've got several of the Great Pyramids, the step pyramid that Imhotep designed and, my favorite, Emily's Great Sphinx.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

We've had such an amazing few days. There's been such a burst of learning going on! The other night, Emily asked me to write out some "math puzzles" as she calls them. She loves playing with numbers in the car, figuring out relations and patterns, and the other night, she wanted to do some with me on paper. So, we played around with what I call "magic tens" because I've told her that the way I make numbers easier to think about is by working with tens. Her father's the one to play with other base-number systems because he can spout them off much easier than I can! We played with the different combinations to make ten, then went on to double digit addition, writing them two different ways and talking about which was easier to conceptualize and why. For instance,

27 + 44 = 71



We were working with carrying numbers and tying that back to the tens that we'd just done.

After we'd done a couple of problems, she'd had enough and wanted to move onto drawing. We began drawing together, taking turns on the same paper and playing off what the other person had drawn. We ended up drawing the whole solar system, talking about each planet, because I had drawn the Earth. Then we drew a woodland fairy scene, with a mushroom, tree, owl, mouse and several fairies. We had so much fun drawing cooperative stories!

Dh built the first fire of the season in our woodstove Saturday morning, and over breakfast, he brought up one of his favorite poems, "Those Winter Sundays." I went over to the bookshelf, pulled it out and read it to the kids: you can read it by clicking on "online poems" here: Modern American Poetry. It's such a powerful poem! We talked about the imagery and the feeling he creates by using color to describe the cold; we talked about the father and how we felt about him and what the narrator might be feeling now about his father versus how he felt as a boy. It was such a neat discussion!

Sunday, Emily decided that she wanted to do some experimental kitchen concoctions, playing with pepper, salt and water. She discovered that pepper can make a person sneeze! She ended up making a salt water solution at one point, and dh told her to taste it. Blech! Dh asked her what it tasted like, and she said, "The Ocean!" We started talking about the salt content of the Ocean being close to that of the human body, yet the body can't survive by drinking salt water. I started quoting the line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner": "Water, water every where/ and all the boards did shrink;/ Water, water every where/ Ne any drop to drink." We read the first three parts before the kids lost interest--more than I would have thought would hold their attention!

Sunday night, Emily, Julia and I ended up making origami at the kitchen table together. Julia and I made star boxes, and we all tried our hands at the crane. Emily remarked that it must be easier for people in the country that invented origami than it was for us, and I wondered outloud whether it were Japan or China. Before I could even begin to reason out why I thought it was Japan, Emily busts out with, "It's Japanese." When I asked her how she knew, she said because the cranes were all over Japan in her computer game Carmen Sandiego! Amazing!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Well, it's been an interesting week. I fell while bouldering last Sunday and sprained my ankle, putting me out of commission pretty well. UGH! I haven't been able to get around much at all for the past week and have had my ankle immobile and elevated most of the time. The kids have been great and really understanding, considering they've had to be pretty self-sufficient all week long. The girls have been making sure I have plenty of water to drink, and all the kids have been teriffic about fetching things for me or helping me shuffle all my stuff from the couch to the bed where we can watch DVD's.

The upside of the whole ankle thing is that we've been catching up on our reading. We began Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban on Tuesday and just finished it last night. The girls and I have been reading voraciously! Emily has been working hard to negotiate all the strong emotions evoked by the novel, which has afforded some really good opportunities to talk about dealing with our emotions.

Sam has had, probably, the hardest time dealing with my ankle being out of whack because I haven't been as available for him as I usually am. For one thing, he misses snuggling in his new sling! Luckily, we haven't been out and about, so he hasn't needed it as much to create a comfort zone, but he does miss snuggling in the morning while trying to wake up. He's been enjoying his gameboy and finding small ways to help me when he's feeling generous.

Last night, he came upstairs dressed in his wolf costume, which always makes Boo go nuts. He and the dog were rolling around and wrestling on the floor, and it was absolutely the cutest, funniest moment! He loves his puppy, and she is so good with him. The two of them are basically like litter mates since we got Boo when she was just 7 weeks old. She and Sam have grown up together, and it's hard to say who likes the wrestling more!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

We've had a quite a week! We've been doing some really fantastic things, learning and growing as a family in so many ways.

Some Highlights
The girls and I have been having several conversations about friendship, how friends act and what we seek in our friendships. We've been learning quite a bit about human nature and the choices we make.

Sam has been teaching all of us about the importance of family and taking life a bit more slowly. We're working to scale back a bit and focus more on our lives together and less on outside obligations.

We've been playing chess and coloring and gardening. The kids (as well as dh and I!) have realy been enjoying their gameboys; Scooby-Doo and Star Wars seem to be the favorites.

Dh found a really cool program on the Chronic Logic site, that simulates bridge engineering, and he and the kids have been playing with it several nights in a row. They've been playing with the free download and having a blast. You can click to create different kinds of support structures and shapes then have a train ride across. Different colors indicate where the stress load is placed, and the bridge will either hold or collapse, depending upon the structure.

They had made several bridges that would hold and several that would immediately collapse, but it took some trying to get a bridge strong enough to allow the train on but weak enough to collapse while the train was crossing. When that happens, you get to see the bridge break and the train fall into the water. They were having loads of fun with this!

After watching Cyberchase one day, the kids got way into tessellations. They kept repeating the problem from the show: how to make a bridge over lava with "no gaps and no overlaps." Sam immediately went and got the big bowl of wooden shapes, and we began creating our own tessellations.

Emily and I looked up the word on the internet and found a really great website on tessellations and MC Escher. We had just been talking all about positive and negative space in artwork a few days before, and I'd brought up Escher, trying to describe how he used the negative space of a shape to make the same shape. Emily and I had great fun clicking through all of the different samples of his tessellations, and I'd never even known what they were called!

The kids spent the next several days making their own designs, and came up with some really beautiful examples. Here's one they made by taking turns each completing one layer around.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Yesterday was a pretty great day. We started out with some dry cheerios while Em and Sam did some projects. Emily pulled out some card stock paper and scissors and began making a model of the solar system that she cut out and taped on the paper. I offered to grab her some glue, but she really wanted to use the tape, and it ended up having this cool lift-the-flap quality. Once again, a lesson in staying out of things unless asked! Sam got into the groove, too, and started cutting shapes out of the paper, something he loves to do.

Sam then decided he wanted some of the Envirokids Gorilla Munch cereal he picked out the other day, so we pulled that out. I started reading the back of the box, which is all about gorillas as an endagered species and the work of Dianne Fossey in Rwanda. On the front of the box, there's a picture of a bowl of cereal with some strawberries in it, so Em asks whether strawberries grow in the forest.

Hmmmm... I don't know. So we googled the history of strawberries and end up reading about their history in Rome and Northern Europe and Native America. Then we come across a wonderful Cherokee origin story about strawberries. First Man and First Woman were bickering and First Woman decided to leave and began walking East. First Man was so mad he let her leave. After some time, First Man decided he was lonely and missed First Woman, and the Sun took pity on him. First Man began to follow First Woman, and the Sun tried to distract First Woman. First, the Sun caused a beautiful field of blueberries to spring up under her feet, but she kept walking. Then, the sun grew beautiful, full blackberries, but First Woman kept walking. At last, the Sun made appear a beautiful, red berry First Woman had never seen or smelled before and she stopped walking. As she bent down to pick the strawberries, her anger disappeared and she thought only of sharing the wondeful berries with First Man. She began walking West and met First Man. Together they shared the strawberries and forgot all but their love for eachother. Or, something along those lines.

After reading the strawberry myth, Em comes up with this amazing story behind her solar system project. The moon and the asteroid were jealous of the Earth, who always made good decisions and did good things, so they were coming after it. They were trying to destroy just a part of the Earth--a country cottage high up on a mountain top where there lived a person who helped the Earth do all the good things. By destroying this cottage, the moon and the asteroid would destroy the good part of the Earth. The myth ends there--she's still working on the rest of the story. She may come back to it; she may not. Pretty cool as it is, imo.

Later, I played chess with Emily and Sam. Emily is getting pretty good; it won't be long before she'll be able to beat me. Sam is beginning to learn the names of the pieces and the way they move, but I don't push it. He moves however he wants to, while I move by the rules and verbalize it, "I'll move my knight: up one and over two." This keeps it fun, and he gets to take my pieces at random. *lol* Makes it very hard to win!

The kids had fun playing with their gameboys on and off throughout the day. At one point, they were all sitting outside in a cherry tree, playing. What a happy sight!

In the afternoon, they played with the neighborhood kids after school--running around the yard, swinging, riding scooters, playing hopscotch. Sam helped me light the grill and begin dinner and then helped dh grill the chicken. We had a minor trauma at one point when Sam pinched his finger in the grill tongs, but we focused on all the good things that happened before it and got over it pretty well.

At dinner, we had a cool discussion about classical rhetoric and Ancient Greece. We talked about different rhetorical appeals used to persuade an audience--ethos, pathos and logos. We remembered different commercials and how they used the different rhetorical appeals and talked about how Kerry and Bush would be choosing their words very carefully in order to get people to vote for them. We also talked about our own word choices and how they affect those around us, what might be the most effective way to get what we want and how tone plays into that. Emily and Julia both asked about trying to persuade people to believe something that wasn't true, so we had a really cool discussion about ethics and discernment.

After dinner, dh and the kids played some more gameboy before the debates--hard to say who likes them more! During the debates, the kids and I all snuggled in bed to watch the debates. Emily and Julia watched nearly all of the debates with me, though Em paid closer attention. She's quite intriqued by politics and loves watching the different speeches with me. She noticed how much Bush paused and stumbled compared to John Kerry--a pretty astute observation for a 7 year old, huh?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

We've all been taking turns being sick, starting with Emily last Thursday. Yesterday was my turn, and the kids were all so sweet taking care of me. It was just a cold, and not a particularly bad one, but I was run down and my throat really hurt. I'm never very good at taking it easy, and even though I had the new Star Wars trilogy to watch on DVD, I would pop up every so often and putz around cleaning. By the end of the day, I had the whole house clean. *lol*

I helped the girls clean up their room at one point, and eventually even Sam joined in after he'd proclaimed that he didn't want to help. Later in the day, the kids were outside and Em came in and said she really wanted to help me with "chores." When I asked her what she meants, she said, "Oh, you know, like dishes and stuff." We'd already gotten the toys picked up and organized, so there wasn't much else to be done. I told her that dusting would be great, which she thought was a terriffic idea. The kids all came in, I gave them wet dust rags and they went to town wiping down the bookshelves and baseboards. Wow! I just burst with pleasure at the generosity in their hearts.

While we were watching the movie, they got me water and more ice for my water as it melted. They were having a grand day taking care of mama and telling me how sorry they were that I was sick. This morning, the first thing Sam asked me when I woke up was how was I feeling? He was so happy when I told him how much better I was. "See Mama," he beamed, "I told you you'd feel better soon!"

A New Era

Tuesday we were out grocery shopping and made the big move into Gameboy land... Dh and I had been discussing for several weeks whether buying Sam a gameboy would be a good idea because he is so good with computers. We both agreed that it would, and during the discussion, the SP Advance came down in price, which seemed to clinch the decision.

Tuesday, Sam chose his blue Gameboy at Toys R Us, and later at a gaming shop, the girls decided they would like to spend some money I had available for them on gameboys as well. So, we left with a few used games, a red Gameboy for Julia and the special edition tattoo one for Em.

The kids have been playing, swapping and sharing with dh and I for the past couple of days. They've been enjoying them on and off, but still finding several other things that capture their interest throughout the day. There've been a few instances of everyone wanting the same game, but overall watching them rotate gameboys rather than stopping the games to switch has been really heartwarming. They've been working together to figure out the games, especially since the used ones don't come with a booklet, and last night they took great pleasure in pointing out to their mama that there were, indeed, two more buttons to use!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Today's been a relaxing but busy day--ever have one of those paradoxical kind of days?

Sam played Spy Fox on the computer most of the morning, while Emily and Julia played with their Top Secret Agent Cards. Then Sam helped me get another coat of paint on the shelves in his bedroom. The kids then spent some time playing with a bag full of plastic grocery bags, popping them, shaking them, then ripping them to make hats, vests and skirts. They went out front for a while, playing some space commander game of some sort dressed in their quasi-futuristic garb. Too funny! Their imaginations never cease to amaze me!

After second breakfast, we headed over to the community center to schedule space for our 4-H meetings, after which we went to the park and the library.

When we got home we read through the Ultimate Guide to X-Men for a while, played with the Boggle letter cubes, looked through a book on folk art whirligigs and weathervanes, and read a fun book called Rotten Ralph Helps Out all about Egypt--one of Emily's passions. After reading the book, we talked about how we could make a papiermache pyramid, similar to a project the little girls does in the book. We decided to wait until tomorrow to begin, and in the meantime, the girls pulled out their markers and some paper. Emily made a beautiful picture of King Tut's mask, complete with his pharaoh beard.

The kids are now busy watching Kim Possible and the Proud Family on the Disney channel, now that their Scooby-Doo DVD from the library is over.

Whew! No wonder it felt like a busy day!

Friday, September 17, 2004

We've had a lovely week at the Jersey Shore, complete with beautiful weather. We spent our days playing on the beach, building sand castles, creating tidal pools, boogie boarding, jumping waves and surfing. Our nights were relaxing, filled with games of UNO, Italian Antepasto and Chinese food, with lots of Cartoon Network sprinkled in for seasoning!

The first weekend we were up visiting my inlaws, we attended the annual family reunion. The kids had a chance to reconnect with much of their extended family on my mother-in-law's side, playing with the next generation of cousins. The kids were also lucky enough to spend much of the weekend visiting their great aunts, one in from Florida and the other from California. They drew pictures, read stories and took long walks--time which Emily, Julia and Sam really enjoyed.

The best part of my week by far was boogie boarding in the big waves with Em, who has become quite the water rat this year. We've totally unschooled swimming--in a world intent upon signing just about every child up for their annual swimming lessons, I think. *g* This year we bought one of those big blow-up pools for our backyard, and Emily learned to swim just by playing in it so often. Sam's pretty close as well, though with all the rain, the level kept getting too high for him. I'm betting both he and Julia will be swimming next season.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

We've been down in Williamsburg, Virginia, having a wonderful time despite Frances's gusts and squalls. The weather here has actually been pretty good because we're far enough East to have missed most of the hurricane's dissipating energy.

Wednesday, we arrived in time to hang out in Colonial Williamsburg for a couple of hours, checking out the blacksmith, post office and, of course, gift shops. The best part was hanging around for the fife and drum parade, which the kids love. We marched and danced behind them for about a block or so, then headed over to check into the hotel.

Today, we spent the day in Jamestown Settlement. It was the first time we'd been there, and the kids had a blast. The Powhatan Village was really interesting, though, in my opinion, not nearly so well done as the Wampanoag Village next to Plimoth Plantation. The kids had a chance to lay down in the Yehakins (Powhatan house), grind corn, stir bean soup, play with corn cob arrows, and feel several different animal pelts--bear, wolf, fox, beaver, raccoon, skunk, rabbit and deer.

We went on the Settlement where the highlights were getting to put on plate armor, hold a real sword and find out a bit about how children learned to sword fight, and watch a period gun being fired and hold it afterwards. We also saw a lovely flock of Golden Dorkings, and the cockerel was so beautiful--really made me wish we could have roosters! The kids also enjoyed exploring the reproduction Susan Constant and sleeping in the berths.

The girls are planning on dressing up in their 18th Century costumes tomorrow for our morning in Williamsburg before we head home. They are very excited by the prospect that some people may mistake them for actual Colonial children.

Friday, September 03, 2004

What a wonderful, relaxing, perfect unschooling day! The kids wanted to paint this morning when they woke up, so they pulled out the water colors. It's amazing to watch how self-sufficient they've become! They pointed out to me that all our watercolor paper is gone, so we'll have to head into The Art Store in Georgetown, which we're all looking forward to upon our return.

While I was eating breakfast, the kids decided they wanted water balloons, so they filled a bunch up and brought them up to me to tie. They took them outside to play, and before long, they were asking to take them into the pool. While they were swimming, they discovered that some of the water balloons would float while some would sink. They began hypothesizing that maybe it was the amount of water or the temperature of the water. Before long, Emily realized that it was the amount of air in the balloon with the water that made it float!

This afternoon, we watched Cats for a while, which Emily and Julia thought was pretty cool. The kids were all working to balance and dance the way the cats were; they were discussing the different costumes, which looked more cat-like, which was their favorite.

Sam soon grew bored after he'd had enough snuggling and headed downstairs, shortly to reappear with another balloon for me to tie. This time, instead of water, the balloon contained a magnetic ball. I blew it up for him, and he threw it up in the air for a while, watching the way it wobbled, spun and sunk--movement very different from the graceful floating of an air-filled balloon. Soon, he disappeared again and reappeared with a magnet to attach to the ball inside, knowing full well what would happen when he tried to pull it away because it's one of his favorite experiments.

The girls are now outside, dressed in their Colonial Williamsburg garb in anticpation of our upcoming trip, and they're harvesting vegetables like good little Colonial girls. As our gardens here in Southern Maryland are fading fast, it should be interesting to see what's in their baskets on their return! Sam has scattered a bag of cherry tomatoes on the table given to us by a member of our 4-H club, and he has experimented with how well the paper bag holds water, reporting that I was correct in pointing out that paper did not hold water so well. *lol* Emily just came in with a basket full of red hot chilis to roast! Not a bad harvest.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Yesterday, we went on this great Pirate Cruise out of Annapolis, called Chesapeake Pirates. The kids got to dress up and have their faces painted before the ride. Then, we went out on a pirate boat for a 75 minute cruise where the kids went on a treasure hunt to find the treasure map, battled a rival pirate with the water cannons and followed the map to the X to haul in the treasure. The kids had so much fun!

This week we've been recovering from our trip. I'm, unfortunately, coming down with a cold, so the kids will probably get it next. I'm guessing it'll be a low-key Labor Day weekend for us.

I brought some of Sandra Dodd's Thinking Sticks back from the Live and Learn Conference, and the girls and I have been playing with them every day. It's amazing to watch the connections they make and how Emily's mind, especially, works. Julia's mind is still working very literally, but Em's is just expansive. Each stick in the pack has a category like measurement, music, television on it. A player chooses two sticks at random and throws them down, and the players take turns making connections between the two categories.

Emily got safety/economics and made the connections that life guards have to pay for certifications in order to get their jobs. For music/cooking, she made up a cooking song, then I started singing, "Hey, good lookin', what you got cookin'?" Jim started telling us all about radio isotopes when we got time measurment/medicine. This morning we looked up Aesop's history because we were talking about time measurement/morality and I couldn't remember if he was enslaved or in jail when he wrote his fables. When we got steam/motion this morning, I brought up steam engines and how they revolutionized movement around the country and world, and Julia was able to talk about Thomas the Tank Engine and how he used coal to create his steam. All in all, we've had some really terrific conversations!

Julia continues to work really hard on her mosaic/ geometric coloring designs. Her dedication and focus is impressive, and she's come up with some really beautiful color combinations. I dug out a 3-ring binder for her and some page protectors, so she's been putting them all into a portfolio book that she takes with her everywhere.

Sam's still busy trying to settle himself back into a sense of normalcy. He has a much harder time with transitions than the rest of us, and he often spends his time wishing he was back where ever we left. So, while we're at home, he constantly talks about going to Grampa's shore house, but while we're there, he keeps saying he wants to come home. I really think for him it's a transition/ comfort zone thing that I'm trying hard to honor just by letting him talk about how he's feeling. For a long time, I would hear him, and then immediately start trying to fix things because I'm a problem solver. I'm starting to think he just wants some time to process and needs help doing that verbally with me there to support and hug when necessary. He's growing so much, though, every day.

Monday, August 30, 2004

We got back late Sunday night from a wonderful trip up north. I dropped the kids and dh at the grandparents' shore house, where they had a fabulous time playing on the beach, riding the rides at the boardwalk and playing with their cousin. Emily was telling me all about how well she was boogie boarding, and I can't wait to see her next time we're up. I missed their first rollercoaster ride, but it's the first thing I've missed in their lives, so I'll try to feel better about that.

I spent the weekend by myself at the 3rd Annual Live and Learn Conference outside of Boston. I missed the kids desperately but had a wonderful time meeting so many unschoolers and their families. The tenor of the weekend was just amazing--to see so many gentle, respectful parents and so many kids living in freedom made my heart soar! And I know how much fun my kids will have being a part of it all next year!

Meeting all the people I *know* from online was incredible. Sandra was insightful, AnneO was inspiring, and Kelly, well, I just wished I could take her home with me so she could be my neighbor (maybe we could end up on adjacent farms in Virginia! lol). I met so many other wonderful people--too many to name.

It's great to be home, but I wish that everyone wasn't scattering back across the continent. It would be wonderful to live closer to everyone and enjoy the feeling of community more than just once a year. Pensacola here I come! The countdown has begun!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

We went up for a visit to the University of Maryland Geology Department today with our 4-H Rock Hounds club. The kids had a good time, though Emily, unfortunately, started feeling sick on the ride up, so she didn't enjoy it as much as she might have. The graduate students who put together our program set up three wonderful, hands-on learning stations for the kids to explore.

In the paleontology station, the kids were able to touch and hold fossils of fish, coral, wood, and plants among others. They also got to hold models of a mega-raptor claw, carnivor teeth and an arm bone and got to view a real fossilized carnivor tooth and partial whale skeleton. Emily was able to identify the fossilized fish poop and ferns. Julia and Em both really enjoyed this station, and even Sam settled down after a few walks up and down the hallway and enjoyed playing with the models of fossilized carnivore teetch and claws.

In the everday minerals station, the 4-Hers had a chance to explore and make connections between minerals and the ways they're used in homes. They got to handle mica, used in cosmetics; graphite, used in pencils; talc, used in powders and cosmetics; flourite, used in toothpaste; calcite, used in antacids; and others. The kids also got a chance to try panning for galena, similar to panning for gold because of it's high specific gravity. The kids had lots of fun playing in the water, and we found out there are some old gold mines over at Great Falls that we can check out.

In the rocks/gems/minerals station, all the kids had the chance to view the extensive collection housed in the University of Maryland's Gem and Mineral Museum. Throughout the room several stations were set up to explore the different kinds of rocks and minerals. With minerals, the kidds could test their hardness, view them through hand lenses, test with a mild HCl acid and test for magnetic properties. They could also explore different samples of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, examine folds, striations and mineral deposits. The kids were able to feel the different textures of the different rocks, compare igneous rocks cooled quickly and slowly, and examine first-hand the changes wrought on metamorphic rocks from their original forms.

By the time we got home, though, Em was sick, so we've spent the rest of the day just relaxing. Right now, we're watching the Olympics in our bed together and Sam's downstairs playing his computer game.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Over the past couple days we've done so much just relaxing at home and not having to rush anywhere! We've been watching the Olympics and talking about all the countries competing, and the girls have been checking out some of their Top Secret Agent books on the different countries and making the criminal cards into a trading card game.

Yesterday morning Emily wanted to play with the Magnetic Poetry set we recently purchased, so we were all sitting together on the floor, making up a poem about the Superheroes. It was difficult trying to find specific words we wanted in the huge sea of little magnet letters, so we ended up sorting them into different categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions and pre/suffixes.

This morning I was working a crossword puzzle next to Julia, keeping her company while she was coloring her mozaic patterns. She started asking me questions about the puzzle and eventually asked when crosswords were invented, so we researched all about the history of crossword puzzles and found out they first appeared in a New York publication in 1913.

The kids have spent most of their days playing with our neighbor, who's been at our house pretty much non-stop since he moved in. They're having fun playing legos, neopets and pokemon, but primarily they spend their time playing an elaborate pirate game where they explore, trade treasure, sail the seas and battle one another, best I can tell. They do a really great job playing together and working things out--he's a really nice kid.

Today, we got some wicked thunderstorms in the afternoon, so the kids all climbed up into the loft to tell scary stories--some were a bit too scary and I ended up with Julia and Sam crying next to me. But, I think even they were having fun; it just got to be too much. The kids were also playing with the wooden tangram blocks, making elaborate geometric designs all over the living room floor. My job was to keep Boo, our pupppy, from careening into them and scattering them everywhere.

Monday, August 16, 2004

We've had several quiet days here, playing board games and drawing, as a cold made it rounds through the family. Between the rain from Charley and being sick, the past couple of days have left us all with a good case of cabin fever!

We all watched the opening ceremonies for the Olympics the other night, which the kids loved. Emily really enjoyed trying to spot different mythological heroes that she knew. I was rather annoyed that they had a pregnant woman who wasn't really pregnant at all, yet one more cooptation of female creativity, I thought. Why use a really pregnant woman when a slim, unpregnant one looks so much better, without the logistics of trying to make her ample belly glow. But this writer put it even better: "Paul and I couldn't decide if it was closest to 2001, Alien, or Rosemary's Baby. It was exquisitely upsetting. I am left to conclude that the future hinges either on a battery-powered translucent bowling ball, or on a radioactive demon child sending signals to the mothership from the surface of our doomed planet." Enough ranting, though. The kids loved the parade, and the DNA light show put one more dot on our recent discussions of genes and DNA. The parade of nations, however, didn't go over nearly as well, as my kids all grumbled something about "boring!" So, we ended up watching Man vs. Beast and an amazing Somoan tree-climber that gave Julia something to shoot for!

Yesterday, the kids spent the afternoon outside with several kids from the neighborhood, playing their pirate game. I love watching them up on the climber, using the ship's wheel--makes me feel good inside! Boy were they glad to see friends again and be running around outside.

Today, they've been playing Imaginext on the computer off and on; Sam's getting really good at it! This morning they went out butterfly hunting and caught 5 skippers and one tiger swallowtail, all of which are flying around in our butterfly house right now, which you can see here. The girls picked handfuls of zinnias so the butterflies would have plenty to eat. Later, they went out on the climber for most of the day, playing their game. Ahhh, summer! It's hard to believe that the kids around here go back to school in a week--and that's later than some!

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The girls have been writing in their journals the past couple of days, and Emily's been having me write out some more extensive entries. I feel so privileged hear their hopes and dreams and wishes--it's been some very special bonding time for us.

Yesterday, we did a bunch of running around, and I was able to take care of some errands for 4-H and grab some groceries. When we got home, one of our neighbors came over, and the kids picked up the ongoing game of treasure hunting/ pirateering that they've been playing for several weeks now. It's been loads of fun watching them play on the climber, sword fight and trade "de-balloons" and other sunken treasure.

Today, poor Julia woke up with a fever of 103 degrees. She's been very out of sorts all day, though the motrin has helped some. We had to cancel our 4-H trip to pick berries at Westmoreland Berry Farm, which we were very disappointed about. One family from our group went and said they had a terrific time and that it was well-worth the drive. We're definitely going to have to reschedule.

It was nice staying home today, though, and reconnecting as a family without running errands or having the neighbor kids over. We played Settlers of Catan twice, watched a couple of movies together and colored mosaic patterns. It felt like eons since we'd had a quiet day like that, and it was nice for us all to recharge our batteries.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

What a jam-packed day! The kids pulled out the watercolors this morning, and afterwards, they did some Pokemon trading with a neighbor.

We packed up a picnic lunch and met some friends at the park. The kids had fun running and playing, but they had just as much fun playing under the old weeping willow and making whips from the branches. They all played really well today--no one left out or excluded. It probably helped that Sam hung out with/near me most of the time, but it was nice nonethless.

Afterwards, we all headed over to the Volunteer Fire Department to see the Reptile Man, who put on an hour and half show with live reptiles. It was hard sitting still and listening that long, but I think overall the kids really enjoyed themselves. There were more than 400 people there! We saw a snapping turtle, an american alligator, a Nile crocodile, a Mexican beaded lizard, a Mexican milk snake named Lipstick, an Anaconda, an Indian Cobra, a Copperhead and a 16+ foot long Indian Rock Python named Bananaboy--an albino that weighed well over 200 lbs. The kids each got to touch the python on the way out, and Julia was so pleased that the snake smelled her with his tongue.

Monday, August 09, 2004

We just got back from the Jersey shore--what a glorious weekend! The weather was cool, more like September than August, and it was lovely to just sit outside on the big porch. The kids had a blast playing with their cousin, exploring the beach and the jetty, swimming in the ocean and bonding with their grandparents. It really is nice being back on the East Coast where we can enjoy extended family more often.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Emily had a wonderful birthday party on Monday. The rain held off long enough for all the kids to swim, play in the sprinkler and have a waterballoon toss. By the time it started sprinkling, we just moved inside for cake and presents. The birthday girl sure had a lot of fun with all her friends!

After the party, things got really exciting: Julia fell off her chair while climbing up for some dinner and cracked her head on the table. She cut open her eyebrow, which I didn't realize at first. I just knew she hit really hard, so I was just hugging her tight. By the time I pulled her back to see how bad she hit, we were both covered in blood! We got cleaned up and calmed down, put on a butterfly stitch and prepared to head to the ER. I threw on a fresh shirt and toasted a bagel for her, then gathered a banana, water cup, blanket and some Polly Pockets to play with. We were ready to hunker down and wait.

And wait we did. We spent about 3 hours in the ER, and Julia was such a trooper. We played rhyming games much of the night to pass the time. Once we headed back to our triage room, we played Polly Pockets going to the hospital--she had cut her cheek. I think the role playing helped Julia process everything that was happening. I have to say, everyone there was so kind and respectful of her. They talked to her, not me, explained and described what they were going to do before they did it, and showed her what they would use. I was very impressed, and the whole time Julia was in excellent spirits. We talked about the biohazard trash bags, sharps containers and where the laundry goes as we watched the triage nurse clean up after his patients. Nothing like unschooling in an ER--though the triage side was a bit less hectic than the emergency side.

The PA checked Julia's eyes and ears, and we learned that in head traumas, brain fluid will leak behind the ear drum. The triage nurse cleaned and irrigated the cut with a saline solution, which we learned was the same concentration as the saline in our cells--.9%. He showed Julia the catheter tube that would inject the saline, and she was so brave while he did it. He watched it for a little while to make sure it wasn't going to start pulling apart and need stitches, and the doctor came in to check it also. Finally, they decided to glue it, which seems to be an intermediate kind of step and much less invasive than stitches would have been. When we got home, everyone asked if she got stitches, and Julia just said, "No. They glued me back together!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

We had a wonderful trip to New Hampshire! The weather was beautiful, and the kids enjoyed visiting a Shaker Village, American Indian Museum and their grandparents' shore house on the way home. We went bouldering and letterboxing, swimming in pools and the ocean, hiking in the woods and, of course, shopping.

The Canterbury Shaker Village was amazing! We learned so many interesting things during our visit, and our tour guide was wonderful. The kids enjoyed learning about Shaker dances, social structure and education. I found the inventions and gardens fascinating, and really enjoyed talking to the gardeners though I could've spent at least another hour wandering and talking. I began our visit admiring Shaker woodworking and left marveling at their innovation and embrace of technology. I think the most interesting thing I learned, however, was the impact social services and welfare had on the Shaker communities. Prior to state and federal social services, Shaker communities were particularly attractive to widows because they offered a safe place for children to grow. The children would live in a different building, but they would have plenty of food and an education--a definite sacrifice but likely better than alternatives for widows with little means and no extended family. Celibacy is the obvious culprit for the Shaker decline, but I learned that, like most things in life, the story is much more complex than any one factor.

The kids were great on the trip, especially on the drives. On the way back, we were stuck in traffic for six hours, turning a 4.5 to 5 hour trip into an 11 hour one! Thank goodness for the VCR in the van! We watched movies, sang songs, talked about our trip, played language games and did math problems. Emily loves math, and it's so wonderful to watch her natural curiosity and enthusiasm for something that strikes such fear into my own heart. She loves playing word games--rhyming, free association, finding all the words that start with a particular letter.  Julia and Sam, too, are joining in the games and surprising me in so many ways with all the things they soak and enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2004

Another busy week! Gosh, whatever made me think that we'd be able to take it easy over the summer?
The kids have been loving the pool! Emily is really swimming well, and Sam's on the verge. Julia is still a bit spooked by the water, but she's having fun. I've been doing some more writing for my webpage, which has felt good. I've been able to get a bunch of work done on my webpage this week. I taught myself how to code internal links to make the individual pages easier to read now that they're getting big. So, I went back in and put index tables on some of the larger pages, and I cleaned up my file manager, which was totally unorganized.
The kids and I have played cards and made cookies and watched movies together. We watched X-Men one several times--the kids' new favorite. Sam's very put out that he is not, in fact, a "mudant." We've been talking about evolution and mutation a lot. Emily was asking if there were any such thing as mutants, so dh and I were telling her about a piece we heard on NPR a couple weeks ago about a little boy born with two mutated genes that gave him greater muscle strength. She thought that was very cool! You can listen to the piece NPR June 24th.
The kids have had lots of fun playing with the other neighborhood kids--one of the best parts about summer and longer days. There's a new little boy in the neighborhood who's 9, and the kids have enjoyed playing with him. He was chasing Sam around saying pretty mean monster kind of things, which was really upsetting Sam. Once he saw how upset Sam was getting, he stopped and tried to explain that he was just playing. It's nice for Sam to have to have some playtime with another boy--he doesn't get nearly enough of that.  Wednesday, the kids had a nice playdate with our next door neighbor.
Yesterday was our first 4-H Rock Hounds club, and I think the kids had a good time. We have about 30+ kids participating, however, so I'm trying to figure out a good way to organize the group.  I'm thinking about trying to split the group into 4 and cycle them through different stations throughout the meeting. If that doesn't work, we may have to divide the group and meet on different days. That's my big dilemma now.
We went to the water park for the first time yesterday afternoon, and the kids had so much fun! Jim took off from work early to join us, and we had a really great time. Jim and Emily went down the huge waterslide together, and we all took the tubes down the lazy river. Julia was pretty spooked at the beginning, but got braver as the evening went along. The kids were so exhausted by the time we got home last night. After dinner, we all curled up in bed and watched the cartoon movie The Mummy--one of the kids' favorites.

Monday, July 12, 2004

We had a busy weekend! We drove up to the Philly area to visit with some old friends at a pool party on Saturday. The kids had a blast, and it was so much fun to see everyone again. I got to hold a baby for the first time really in 4 years. Sam was too preoccupied with swimming to care much--usually, he'll have nothing to do with me holding another baby.
Sunday, we hung out around the house. We were hoping to go climbing, but I ripped a good chunk of my thumbnail off housecleaning and was pretty much out of climbing commission. I caught up on a bunch of paperwork and basic garden work that needed to get done.
Emily and Julia spent some time doing more experiments--this time with rocks and water. They were dipping the different kinds of rocks, fossils, polished rocks, etc. that we have in the water, cleaning and observing them. Emily was wondering what seashells were doing in the woods where we found our fossil--a very good question! We talked about where we live and what might have happened over the last several million years. She came up with some really good ideas, and we decided that flooding and storms could have brought the shells up or that maybe this was all originally underwater. I found a neat book at the library last week on Maryland Geology, which should be great fun for our 4-H Rock Hounds club.
The kids also watched several of their Blockbuster movies. Julia and Jim played around a bit on the climbing wall, since we could't go to the crags. It's great to watch the two of them together--what wonderful bonding!

Friday, July 09, 2004

We had such a great 4-H meeting yesterday! It was our first gardening club meeting, and we came up with lots of great ideas for the upcoming year. During the meeting, we explored the gardens, ate fresh-picked blackberries and cucumbers, examined a zebra swallowtail chrysalis, found a white tussock moth and a black swallowtail caterpillar, and caught a red-spotted purple butterfly. The kids checked out the fish, caught a frog, looked for tadpoles and found some black snails. Everyone planted some seeds to take home and grow. A resounding success!

After everyone left, we decompressed a bit. The kids watched a movie, and I began working on the 4-H webpage. Afterwards, the kids went swimming. Then, they did some experiments with oil and water; Sam even managed to make an emulsion! When Jim got home, everyone but Sam played on the climbing wall--he was busy playing Bob the Builder online.

Emily's still really into X-Men, and we've had lots of interesting conversations about mutation, evolution, chromosomes, genes, and DNA. Wow! Loads of learning fueled by one movie! Not to mention all the drawing and role playing she's been doing.

Today, we went to the Dunkirk Park for La Leche League's World Walk for Breastfeeding. The kids had fun playing with all their friends. When we got home, they watched a new movie from Blockbuster--Scooby Doo and the Arabian Nights. Afterwards, we had some snack and did another science experiment--this time mixing vinegar and baking soda. Em started out with just water and baking soda, so I pulled out the vinegar for them. We talked about acids and bases. I told them how lime was a base, just like baking soda, and if you poured some vinegar (I think soda works, too) on limestone, it would bubble in the same way--a good field test. We've been climbing on schist, a metamorphic rock, but some of the climbs in the videos are on limestone.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Another one of those know, the kind where you jam so much in that you look back and think, "Did that all happen in one day?"

We spent the morning cleaning and organizing the kids' room and playroom upstairs--a major feat, since pretty much every toy was on the floor somewhere! We got everything back together and in place, hung up all the dress up stuff, organized the accessories, Polly Pockets, Legos, etc. The girls watched X-men while Sam and I worked at organizing, then Julia came in and offered to help, and the three of us knocked out the rest of the room. While I vacuumed, all three kids finished their movie.

After second breakfast, I gave the girls manicures with the nailpolish they picked up yesterday with their budget money---metallic, light blue! I even put some on my toe nails. Ewwww! Then I helped the girls with put on some tattoos. Emily has a butterfly on her cheek, but Julia was more subtle, opting for a flower on her bicep. These two are just too much!

We read some library books. The kids packed up a backpack with dectective gear and headed out to search for mysterious clues in the rain. Then, they came in and put on a musical show. Emily built a stand microphone out of Tinkertoys; Sam played his canteen like a drum and Julia danced. Too funny! Before dinner, the girls painted and stamped with an art kit Julia got as a birthday gift, and Emily drew the entire cast of X-men.

This evening Emily and I watched a National Geographic special on Egypt--one of her current passions. When it was all over, their daddy made everyone strawberry milkshakes--yummmm! Now, they're happily playing in the playroom.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Finished the chicken coop this weekend. Yeah! Dh and Sam helped me get the siding up, and dh put the roof on, which we then shingled together. He also put the doors on while I trenched the sides of the coop, attaching and burying 2 feet of chicken wire so predators, hopefully, can't dig under. All in all, I think the coop came out great, and the ladies sure seem to like it! I was so grateful to have everyone's help, and I'm sure the kids will have a blast painting it!

We went climbing again yesterday at Carderocks and took the puppy with us this time. She did a great job and even tackled a 3rd class climb with ease! We roped up a couple of new routes this week, which were much higher than last week. The kids did well, though the beginning of the climb was a bit sketchy and threw them off a bit. Julia climbed probably 20-25 feet high and popped at the top. She banged a bit, but shook it off and lowered down like a champ. I don't think she's a bit deterred! Sam did a great job and had fun bouldering around at the bottom, as did Emily. Em got scared on the rock again this week; she's having a tough time with the vertical aspect of climbing. We're going to do more roping up at home to get her more comfortable with lowering down, and I'll probably do a lot more bouldering with her at the crag. She's like me--she likes climbing and testing her body on the rock; it's the vertical that wigs her out. With bouldering, she can practice her technique and gain confidence by moving horizontally over the rock. After climbing, we came home and played in the pool (well, I cleaned out the cars) and then went out to dinner at the Outback. We stopped at Eastern Mountain Sports on the way home and got the kids their own chalk bags. What a great day!

Em's having a great time in the pool and has started swimming in the week that the pool's been up. She can swim breast stroke under water for 3 or 4 strokes until she runs out of breath. Life works out well: as she's struggling with one activity, she can see herself excel and make strong progress in another. It's also nice to see Julia excelling in climbing and not having to watch her older sister always do everything better than she does. Julia's always been such a confident climber, and I have some really great visual memories stored as she and dh walk down to the climbing wall together. Sam's been doing a really great job climbing, too, and I think it's helpful for him to see Em backing down. He gets to see that age doesn't always determine ability.

I find watching the kids grow and discover who they are, defining themselves on their own terms, so wonderful! What great ages they all are and what special times we're having together. I'm impressed by each of them every day and so privileged to be spending my life with them.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

We went to see Cat in the Hat yesterday morning, and the kids enjoyed it despite being a little scared. We brought some money this time so they could play a game in the arcade after the movie, which Sam had really wanted to do last week.

We've been building the chicken coop all week. I built the first wall on Monday by myself because I couldn't find the screw bit for the drill. The large nails take too much strength and accurracy for the kids to be able to hammer. But Tuesday afternoon, they helped me build the other three walls with the drill and helped measure all the boards for cutting. Yesterday after work, Jim helped me assemble the walls, so the coop is coming along. I'm hoping to get the hardware cloth stapled on today and the chicken wire dug down along the perimeter.

The kids have been in the pool every day this week, having a blast. I think that's going to be money well spent this summer!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

We had a great weekend! Got the yard dug out for the pool--one of those 15' diameter blowup pools. The kids are having a great time with it, though the water's still pretty cold.

Sunday we went rock climbing over at Carderocks. The kids did a great job and enjoyed their first foray onto real rock. Julia was in her element! She's such a fantastic climber, a real natural on the rock. Sam did a super job once he warmed up to it and realized that he could do it. He scrambled up "Kindergarten" a 5.0 climb, which is perfect for beginning climbers. Emily did a great job on "Kindergarten" as well, but froze up a bit on "The Nose," a 5.3 climb. She had a hard time getting down, unable to relax enough to let us lower her down. I was bummed that she ended the day on a scary note, but she seemed to put it behind her and focus on her good climbs earlier in the day. Great resiliency! All the kids are asking to go again this weekend.

Jim and I were back on the rock for the first time in about 7 years. It's amazing how much you remember and forget! We were both able to do "Spider Walk" a 5.7 on the first try, but it was a very new feeling trying to trust our feet on the greasy schist! Things I used to know I could stand on seemed sketchy and slippery. Time for a whole new learning curve on the rock! It felt really great to be out there again, and we're all looking forward to many more years of climbing together as a family.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Whew! We had a full day today, which started out with the free movie up at Annapolis Mall. The kids really enjoyed Rugrats Go Wild!. The Rugrats get marooned on a deserted island and meet up with the Wild Thornberrys.

Once we got home, the kids watched their new DVD--Scooby-Doo meets the Lochness Monster. We played Dinosaur Extinction and painted faces, collected some new leaves for our caterpillars and fed the chicks. Tomorrow promises to be just as busy, as we embark on our new 4-H adventure. Should be interesting!

Monday, June 21, 2004

What a lovely weekend! The humidity disappeared, and we spent a relaxing father's day weekend just enjoying being outside for the first time in several days. We went walking on the boardwalk and played on the climbing wall.

The kids and I have been hunting for more butterfly eggs on the undersides of our leaves. The zebra swallowtail eggs still haven't hatched, but the orange eggs did. Eeeewww! My best guess is that they were ladybeatle eggs because the larvae are quite distinctive. But, it's pretty hard to identify insect eggs as there are so many out there!

We found three zebra swallowtail caterpillars in their first and second instars--very cool and growing every day. We saw one caterpillar after it shed its first instar. We also caught a giant fritillary, which we kept inside overnight and then set free. You can see some pictures once I get them posted.

We've been researching the different life stages of butterflies and the different foods necessary for each stage. Last week we bought some milkweed, pentas, yarrow, snap dragons and verbena to fill in some flowers in our herb garden. We got two different kinds of milkweed, which should help to attract monarchs as well as other butterflies to our yard.

We had some friends over for a playdate today, and the kids had a great time. They played on the climber, fed the fish, turned onion stalks into magic wands, drew with sidewalk chalk and played dress-up. The kids played together really well, and it was nice because they balanced each other out, too. The oldest friend is a girl a couple months older than Em, and she has two younger brothers--one Julia's age and one about a year younger than Sam. So, it was nice for Katie to be with some girls for a change, and Sam really enjoyed playing with boys for a change.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Well, we've spent the past week caring for our 12 new arrivals--baby chicks! You can check out some chick pics at our projects page. We brought them home last Thursday as one-day old babies, and they've nearly doubled in size, I think! They are living in a swimming pool brooder in the shed, except for a several day stint in the laundry room due to unseasonably cool temperatures the day after we brought them home. The kids have been helping to take care of them, even walking outside in the rain and dark to check the temperature in the brooder, which needs to be kept between 90 and 95 degrees the first week. Now, we'll start dropping that temp by about 5 degrees each week until they no longer need the heat. We had three chicks suffering from pasty butt--lovely description, isn't it? So, we ground and mixed some oatmeal with the starter feed, and talked about how different foods affect our digestive system. All the chicks now seem fine. They're big enough now that our new worry is them flapping out of the brooder!

The 4-H club is coming together, and I've been spending lots of time on the details for that. The weather here has been disgusting, so lots of time cooped up inside! I'm putting it to good use, though, keeping up with all my volunteer activities and working on a new page for my website.

Emily lost her first tooth on Monday! She was so excited and had been waiting for months to lose a tooth. The past week, the kids have been watching lots of tv and movies, putting on musicals, drawing and painting. Poor Sam was pretty sick on Monday, but luckily, the girls got a much more mild version and just felt a bit out of sorts. It's been a pretty low key week, focused mostly on the chicks.

Yesterday, we harvested likely the last lettuce from our garden because of the heat and the first string beans. We have several green tomatoes on the vines and lots of flowers on our cucumber and zuchini plants. We've already roasted several green chilis, and there are more following! Afterward, we went on a hunt for some butterfly eggs and found two batches! We've tentatively identified one batch as as Zebra Swallowtail eggs, which we found on a pawpaw leaf. The other batch I'm baffled over, and we'll likely have to wait till they hatch. We found them on a spicebush leaf, but they're yellowish orange. I don't think they're spicebush swallowtail eggs, though they may be giant swallowtail eggs even though spicebush is not listed as a host plant. We looked at eggs under the microscope, which was really cool! I'll post those pictures as soon as I capture them.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

We had a rainy weekend at the Jersey Shore, but the kids had a good time playing with their cousin nonetheless. They were glad to spend time with their extended family--grandma, grampa, aunt and cousin.

This week the kids all opened up savings accounts, where they will deposit their monthly savings budget. They're excited to have a bank account and watch their money grow. I figured that since the kids were already taking "savings" out of their monthly budget because that's what the household does, it made sense for it to go directly into an account for them instead of the household account. The money will do more towards learning there, and they'll be able to save for trips and special items without having to give up all their spending money. Of course, they can always choose to put their spending money in the savings account, too, to make it grow more quickly, but that choice will be theirs.

My 4-H leader training is complete, and now I'm in the process of trying to put together a Community Club. I'm very excited about all the possibilities! We're looking forward to offering an Heirloom Poultry club, a Rock Hounds climbing club and a Gardening for Life club. It's going to be so exciting, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the club grow.

This evening we watched the Reagan funeral procession on TV. We talked about Ronald reagan being the 40th president, the origin of the 21 gun solute, the fall of the Berlin Wall, which we actually have a piece of, the fact that Reagan was the first president that I really recall the majority of his presidency, his issues and policies. Ford is the first president I remember, and I recall Carter and the gas crisis, but they are just snippets, bits and pieces. Reagan was president from the time I was 10 until I was 18--my entire adolescence!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

We had a delightfully long holiday weekend. It's so nice to have a three day weekend with dh! We really miss his alternate Friday off schedule that he used to have in Albuquerque. He finished building the climbing wall this weekend, and we've all had a great time bouldering around on it. Here are some pictures of the kids climbing. We enjoyed our annual Memorial Day party despite the rain. It's always fun to get to know the folks dh works with and to put faces to names. I had the chance to talk to a new mom about homeschooling, and she left with my homeschooling books. I do hope I was a good ambassador! *g*

Yesterday, we had some friends over. They tried out the new climbing wall and set free their tadpole-turned-frog to live in our pond. We're hoping they'll be able to come to visit him. I also got another free chicken consult, since this is the friend with whom I ordered the chicks. They'll be delivered to her house on either the 10th or 11th of June! We're getting very excited, and she's given us valuable advice on brooding and building the coop.

Today, I had my 4-H leader training, and I'm really looking forward to putting together a Community Club geared towards homeschoolers. We're planning on putting together project clubs for poultry--raising heirloom breeds and layers--and rock hounds--geology, rock climbing, orienteering. I'd also like to do something with wildlife gardening and herbs/ natural remedies. We'll have to see how much energy I have and how much interest I can generate. Right now, though, I'm very excited about the possibilities and look forward to growing into 4-H with Em, Julia and Sam over the next several years.

On the way home from our 4-H meeting today, we stopped at Walmart to pick up a brooder for the chicks and look at toys. The kids did their budget last night, since it was the beginning of the month. They each get $40 income each month, out of which they pay bills, put money into savings and have left-over spending money. We figured out the percentage of our household income that goes to large categories like mortgage, car, utilities, groceries and savings, and the kids each put the same percentage of their budget into appropriate envelopes. What ever's left over (a little more than $6 each) is theirs to spend. They all got some fun toys, and Sam's still coming to terms with the concept of losing all his money at the end of the shopping trip. He likes the toy he picks out and wants to take it home; he just doesn't like the idea of having no money left afterwards. I'm guessing that he'll decide to keep his money instead of spending it pretty soon.

When we got home, we made some lunch, then went outside to watch the Water Works guy flush the fire hydrants. The county flushes the water system periodically to purge the pipes of the iron build up. It's really cool to watch the water come out dark reddish-brown and eventually run clear. We talked about why they flush the system, where the iron comes from, the water pressure and the different nozzles used to release water from the hydrant. Very cool! Of course, the kids couldn't resist throwing leaves into the flowing water and watched all kinds of things get carried away by the current. Magnolia leaves were by far the best floating objects after much trial and error.

Friday, May 28, 2004

This whole week, the kids have all been into numbers. Julia and I made a number chart from 1 to 110, demonstrating the repeating pattern. She's picking up the idea that if she knows the numbers 1-10, she can get all the other numbers as well--"cracking the code," we call it. Emily is very into adding numbers over 100, figuring out how numbers work the same whether they're ones or thousands or ten thousands. Sam is able to count up to seven, and he's enjoying adding smaller numbers together. Counting is a very big thing for him right now.

The girls have also been doing a lot of work with currency, learning dollars and cents and how to write them out with the appropriate symbols. The American Girl catalog is quite inspiring! They've been adding up all the things they want, and I think Emily's up to more than $300 now. Big surprise!

Sam's still obsessed with Zoombini's and the pizza troll (he's down there playing with dh now, and we played together this morning--he's really getting good!). Last night we had a dinner guest, whom Sam had to ask whether he found the pizza troll difficult as well. It was actually a very precious exchange: Sam came into the house saying when he was a parent, he was going to have a weed wacker. Then he turned to our guest and very generously offered to share this weed wacker if he ever came back. Then he tried to talk our guest into helping him play Zoombini's, which he'd been waiting patiently to play with daddy when he got home. Poor Sam! He was pretty crushed that no one would play Zoombini's with him last night, though I got him to fall asleep in our bed pretty happily to Star Wars: Phantom Menace.

This afternoon, we took the puppy into the vet for her one year check up, and she weighed 67.5 lbs! The kids had weighed themselves earlier in the day, so we talked about how many kids would make a Boo. We also read several pamphlets on different types of worms--YUK!--talking about the different organs they attacked, their life cycles, how they are transmitted. Thankfully, Boo's heartworm test came back negative.

We've also been playing a lot with language lately, coming up with as many rhyming words as possible, free association, alliteration. Last night, we were trying to come up with as many "F" words as possible. When we finally gave up, we looked in the dictionary at how many F words there really are! Whew!

Afterwards, dh and I were watching LOTR Return of the King and the kids watched the first part with us before going to bed. Today, Emily decided she wanted to watch it, so we talked about the scary parts and being able to fast forward, cover her eyes, or just turn it off, but she felt ready to watch it, despite the "dead orfs" in the Mines of Moria that had plagued her last time she tried to watch it. So, we all watched The Fellowship of the Ring this afternoon--Moria, Balrog and all. The kids are looking forward to seeing the other two as well, and I think they handled it very well.

Right now, Julia is making a kite with some paper, scissors and string; earlier today she began making some flower fairies. She loves all things creative! She also discovered that she can climb the door jamb all the way to the top today--I think she's part monkey! She's absolutely incredible on the climbing wall, and apparently anywhere! This I discovered while I was taking a shower and she began shouting "Mommy, I can climb the pole!" (We have a fireman's pole on the new climber, which she can climb all 7 feet of!) When I poked my head out of the shower, commenting that we had no pole inside, I saw that she was at the top of the door frame, hanging from the upper molding! ACK!