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.