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 days...you 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!