Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We've had a full and exciting week! So much happening and so relaxing at the same time because it's all happened at HOME!

Our 4-H Gardening for Life club met at our house last Thursday to build bathouses. Each family measured and cut their own materials to assemble at the club meeting. The girls and I chose to build a Bat Attic, which we will place on the south side of our home. We talked all about different kinds of bats, what bats do for our gardens and what we need to do to attract bats to our yards. After building, we read Magic Schoolbus Going Batty and played an echolocation game in the yard. We really lucked out with the weather. It was beautiful and nearly 70 degrees out! Not for long, though...

Jim was home much of last week due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the Inauguration. The kids and I watched the Inaugural parade on the television and listened off and on to the different pundits and commentators. The best part was when Sam looked up at the military processional as the parade began and asked, wide-eyed, "Is President Bush going to war again?" The Washington Post ran a neat section on the Inauguration that included a spread on the best and worst quotations from past Inaugural Addresses. The kids and I read through the different quotes and talked a bit about them and their historical contexts. Emily's favorite president is still Abraham Lincoln, though she's coming to admire John Kennedy as well.

The other night, Emily made her own math "worksheet"--too funny! She drew pictures on the left and wrote out the equations next to the picture. So, 18 chocolate chip cookies minus 2 equals 16 chocolate chip cookies. 18 slices of cantaloupe plus 3 slices of cantaloupe equals 21 slices of cantaloupe. 1 flower plus 1 flower equals 2 flowers. 1 computer plus 2 computers equals 3 computers. And, 1 television plus 3 televisions equals 4 televisions. She's still writing her 3 backwards, but I'm guessing that will naturally work itself out as she begins to write more. As it is, she recognizes it when she reads it without a problem, so I'm not worried. Afterwards, she proceeded to ask her father for a page of double-digit calculations and worked through those.

Last night while we were snuggling in bed watching a movie (I was, not surprisingly, reading a book), Julia pulled out the Bob's Books and began reading out loud next to me. Before long Emily joined her and the two of them were cruising through the books, reading outloud simultaneously. It was quite the cacophony, but they seemed happy enough plowing through them on their own without any kind of audience, which surely did more towards furthering their reading than reading "for me" would have!

We read some wonderful Jataka tales together about the Quail King and cooperation and the Bull and kind speech. The girls are really enjoying the tales, though they are sometimes upsetting as bad things happen to the characters. Julia's favorite story is "Birdsnest," which is about a monk who likes to meditate in the top of a particular tree. He gains the reputation of being very wise so that the governor of the province undertakes a two-day journey to ask him what Buddha's most important teaching is. Birdsnest tells the governor that Buddha's most important teaching is "Always do good. Never do bad." The governor gets very angry at the simplicity of this advice, shouting that he knew this when he was only 3 years old. The monk replies, "Yes, even a 3 year old finds this very simple to understand, but the 80 year old man finds it very hard to do."

This week we watched the movie Seven Years in Tibet and talked about the history, politics and religion found in the movie. It became one more dot in our connect-the-dots learning about Nazi Germany, as the war serves as backdrop to the movie. We talked about Communism and Colonialism, Principles and Ethics, Geography and Technology. A very rich evening spent together. Earlier in the day, we'd watched a History Channel special on Ancient Egypt, another one of Emily's ongoing passions. It was cool because the beginning of the special talked all about Imhotep, architect of the step-pyramid and villian of the Warner Bros. cartoon, The Mummy: Quest for the Lost Scrolls. Which, in turn, connects to the new Yu-Gi-Oh movie we rented last week that is all about Egyptian God cards and Anubis.

Connections, connections, connections!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

We went to the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore this weekend as part of our celebration of Julia's birthday. What an amazing place! This was, believe it or not, the first time we'd been there, and it was wonderful! The kids had so much fun, and dh might even have had more! The Rube Goldberg machine was great and right up Sam's alley--that's one of his favorite things. He must've sat there and watched it for a good 15 minutes solid.

The kids had a blast exploring the dinosaur room where they went on a dino dig, reconstructed a dinosaur skeleton, created a virtual timeline and measured different dino footprints. We compared carnivore and herbivore teeth and examined some fossils for evidence of dino feathers!

Here's Julia working out her upper body strength with a little help from a pulley system. Julia, especially, had a great time in the physics room, considering her recent scientific discovery at home. She had been trying to run across the room at home while balancing a bean bag on her head, which she got pretty good at. She continued to become frustrated, however, because once she stopped at the other side after successfully balancing the bean bag the entire way, it would suddenly and inexplicably fly off her head. Objects in motion, tend to stay in motion! So, exploring the momentum exhibit held special relevance to her.

After the museum, we went over to Pizzeria UNO to celebrate Julia's birthday, and oh! how she was shining when the wait staff came out to sing especially to her! My sweet, sweet six year old!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Today, we finished making our Earth Tree--a re-dedication of our Christmas tree. Last week, after climbing, we collected pine cones to make peanut butter and birdseed decorations for the tree. This morning we popped corn, and the girls and I strung pop corn and cranberry garland. It looked so lovely, and we were quite pleased with ourselves. By dark, the dog had knocked it over and devoured every single ornament! Grrrr! Ah well, best laid plans and all. We still enjoyed our time together making the ornaments and talking about all the ways the earth nourishes and touches our lives everyday.

This week, the kids have been playing Age of Mythology with their father quite a bit. It's definitely the new favorite for all the gang, but especially Sam and dh. The girls have been playing Where on Earth is Carmen SanDiego? , and Em's been working more on her reading skills, considering she hasn't been asking me to read the clue notes. Another new game they've been enjoying is Cluefinders in Egypt, which they need help deciphering but enjoy it once I've broken the steps down for them.

Yesterday, they rediscovered their karate gees after we read some from Scooby-Doo's Karate Caper, and they all dressed up and practiced their moves together for about an hour. We've been finding fun things to do despite all the rain we've been getting recently. It's been making it hard to find energy burners, but we keep getting beautiful days interspersed with the rainy ones, so...it all balances.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Julia celebrated her sixth birthday this Tuesday! It's hard to believe that my sweet little Julia is already 6! I know, I know, parents always say that, but it's just so hard to grasp the speed with which time passes. She invited her siblings and one special friend to Build-A-Bear for her birthday party, where they had a fun time choosing and stuffing and choosing and dressing.

The girls all chose dolls from the Friends 2B Made collection, while Sam chose another Bear and a basketball uniform to go with the basketball net that he'd bought last time we were there. Emily and Julia both built boy dolls to go with some earlier girl dolls that they had built, and the both had saved some money to buy another girls' outfit to take home to their girls. Julia was thrilled to pick out another special outfit from her gramma and one from her birthday guest, so she had quite a day!

After Build-A-Bear, we went down to the food court, where we had a special white pizza--Julia's favorite. Then, we had an extra-special surprise for the birthday girl: a cookie cake from The Great American Cookie Company. Julia had such a great day and felt like such a big girl to be having her birthday party at the mall. Too funny!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The new year brings many resolutions and my continuing pursuit of Buddist learning and practice. I have been reaping many personal benefits from meditation practice and can feel the calm deep in my being, but mostly, I am amazed at the ripples through family life. The children are enjoying occasional meditation and thinking about different concepts such as compassion and concentration. We purchased some wonderful new books, the most beautiful of which in terms of story and illustration is Mordicai Gerstein's The Mountains of Tibet . It's a lovely story about life, death, choice and the amazing expansiveness of the Universe. The kids have asked to read it over and over again! We're also enjoying A Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh and Kindness Sarah Conover.

The first day of the new year was absolutely gorgeous--over 65 degrees out and sunny. What a wonderful treat! Dh went bouldering while the kids, dog and I went on a quest for the Carderocks Letterbox. What a beautiful hike to a part of the park we'd never seen--thanks Wolfpack! We followed the clues, counted our paces, talked about what "triple" was and the other related words, worked on directionality--left and right, north, east, south and west. We had a glorious adventure, then hiked back over to the rocks to find Jim. The kids bouldered around a bit before we headed home for a tasty New Year's meal.

New Year's Eve we had spent with some friends, enjoying a bonfire and potluck dinner. The kids had a great time exploring in the woods, playing fusball, lighting sparklers, making party hats and wish coins, and bringing in the New Year with a bang (at about 7:00!). Sam loved the sparklers and especially enjoyed this new kind of sword fighting. What a guy! The kids had so much fun at the party, even it was eventually a bit overwhelming. We all came home and settled down to watch the new extended version of Return of the King for the first time. I was the only one awake at midnight and ended up staying up until about 1:30 to finish the movie. What was I thinking?