Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 in review

Hey, look what's going on outside -- yup, you guessed it, ANOTHER ice storm. Mixed with a bit of snow to make it look pretty (and keep the footing a bit less treacherous). Hooray, winter.

To take my mind off of the weather, I thought I would pick up on an idea my friend Kyra (of This Mom fame) mentioned to me. She said that rather than making resolutions for 2008, she's instead taking inventory of all of her progress and success in 2007. I really like that positive spin on the usual year-end traditions, so I'm going to do the same.

(Here's a photo from early in the year, with our then-puppy Yule, who just turned a year old last week!, "helping" the kids play with their dinosaur set. Funny coincidence, Zoo Boy just asked me to pull that set out for them an hour ago and the kids have dinosaurs strewn all over the living room.)

I looked back on my old blog to see if I made any resolutions for 2007, and here's what I found. I thought an easy way to chart my personal progress this year would be to address each of those 5 goals and see what became of them:

1. Simplify. I think I did pretty well with this one. I introduced rest time to our days -- a little mid-day break to rejuvenate mind and body -- to all of our benefits. Because we needed to be home to rest, it meant less running around from place to place, which added to the simplification. I also cut out a lot of activities that I thought just weren't supportive of our overall goals. This is something that got a bit away from me as the year wound down, but something that I think, in general, I made good progress on, and expect I'll continue to progress with as we go along.

2. Live greener. This is an area I really did well with. We kicked our lazy recycling habits into higher gear, and now I'm happy to say that each time we go to the transfer station, we have more items for recycling than we do for the trash bin. I also managed to cut our electricity generation by nearly 35% (wow!!!) this year by switching to fluorescent bulbs and by limiting the running of our air conditioner to just when absolutely necessary (basically from 3pm to 5pm), a pretty huge deal for me, because I hate being hot. I don't think we ran it at night at all this past summer. We're also conserving fuel oil this winter by keeping the house at 65, and turning it back to 62 at night and when we're not home. We've found that allowing the house to get below 62 does not give our furnace/heating system a chance to catch up again, so winds up using more energy by running constantly. We also planted a bunch of CO2 eating plants this fall.

3. Mindfulness. I wanted to feel more present in my daily life with my family. I made a lot of progress in this area. I cut out a lot of MY activities that were detracting from my ability to be there for my family. I have a ways to go with this still (still struggling with my computer addiction), but I do feel fairly accomplished for how far I've come in the past 12 months.

4. Being Nicer. You know, this is going to sound funny, but my biggest progress with this is not worrying so much how nice I am. If my goal had been stated as "self acceptance" rather than "being nicer", I would say that I've been outrageously successful this year. A big part of this was thanks to the Enki Education Workshop called Rousing Intuition that I attended in June. By accepting myself for who I am, and realizing that I truly AM doing my best to be the best human I can possibly be, I feel like I can cut myself a little slack for not being as thoughtful as my sister, or as sweet as my mother. I am who I am, I will continue to try to be the best me I can be, and people will either love me for that or not. And I'm MUCH more OK with that now than I was a year ago.

5. Get Fit. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Given that I'm exactly the same weight I was last year at this time, I guess there's no need to say much more on this one! The good news is that I didn't gain any weight. And my doctor says she's never seen such picture-perfect bloodwork on a woman my age. So I guess whatever I'm doing isn't too detrimental to my health. But I also have to admit that any effort I made towards this goal was half-hearted at best (and even that is a huge exaggeration).

Now, on to a few of the more tangible successes:

We introduced the SOS feeding program to my kids' lives. The progress we made was small and slow, and we haven't done much with SOS lately, nor has it resulted in adding any new food groups to my kids' severely self-limited diets. However, the small successes we did have were significant. They now will try foods that we assure them they very well might like. They are sitting happily at a table full of foods that used to send them screaming for the other room. And they've both discovered that they really like to cook (which perhaps will allow me to cultivate a love -- or at least a non-hatred -- of cooking). We also started working with Oral Motor Therapy (on our own) with Zoo Boy, and have seen a lot of progress with his speech clarity.

But more significant than what we added was what we eliminated. Half way through the year, we "graduated" ourselves from J's RDI program. We dropped formal Sensory Integration Therapy (although we still attend to Sensory Integration needs every day via our Enki Education curriculum). And we stopped prepping teachers and other adults on Autism. By selecting the content and age range of classes and activities we sign J up for, we no longer have to provide strategies and accommodations for him. As far as they know, he's just another kid in their classes, and it's been rare to have to explain any further than that. Not that we keep his Autism a secret by any means -- I'm still as willing as ever to talk with other parents about our experience with Autism and Remediation. It's just not necessary to mention it anymore in order for him to get by in activities with other kids.

On the home front, the most significant construction project of the year was our new playset for the kids. (Shown here on their "first day not back to school" in September.) We also did a lot of fencing in the front part of the property, prompting many neighbors to comment on all the work we did this year. (Same amount of work as always, by the way, just more obvious to those looking in from the outside.)

But the biggest accomplishment of all was hooking up with other like-minded homeschoolers, and really getting rolling with our organized homeschooling. I feel like I've managed to set up a learning-conducive environment and rhythm for my kids, and that they are flourishing in it. And I feel nourished myself, with several friends I see somewhat regularly who truly get where I'm at, and rejoice in our successes and support us in our challenges. Finding and embracing people walking the same path has always been my greatest challenge and biggest frustration. This year I was able to finally feel holistically connected to the community we're trying to build for our kids, by broadening my horizons and looking beyond what's in my own backyard.

It truly was a successful year. And 2008 promises to be even more wonderful!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

weekly summary -- holiday break

We were on break this past week, due to the holiday chaos. I've gotten wise enough to NOT try to get anything accomplished after a glut of new toys enters the house! So the kids spent the bulk of the week examining new toys, discovering how they work, building things, experimenting with things, and in general just sinking into play. Here's a photo of our living room, for your amusement. It pretty much looked like that (or even worse) all week, as we just let the kids have a LOT of freedom.

Which worked for me as, you guessed it, we had another ice storm. Mid-week I was out most of the day doing this: shoveling shavings and dirt and sand and anything else that might provide traction in our pens to make sure people and horses were not falling and breaking hips. Fun! (NOT!) But actually, other than being a lot of hard, physical labor, it was not really stressful because I knew the kids were occupied and happy. I just ran in occasionally to check on them, put out some food, etc, then headed back out for more ice-rink improvement.

The kids show off their new Spiderman jammies. Our big news of the week (although he'll no doubt kill me when he's older and realizes I announced this to the world), is that Zoo Boy finally FINALLY pooped in the potty! Once anyway. I have to assume that he'll repeat this performance at some point. Anyone who has kids with Sensory Integration challenges will know what a big deal it is for a kid that basically doesn't feel how their body works to organize themselves enough to accomplish such a task. And anyone that doesn't, well, just imagine still changing diapers on a nearly-5-yr-old and you'll instantly be able to conjure up a bit of sympathy for my situation. He's still beating his brother's mark by about a year and a half, so I guess I shouldn't complain.... (but it's easy to forget that now that J is completely potty trained and has been for about half a year now). The amount of money we've spent on diapers and pull-ups over the past 7 years surely would have put one of them through Harvard....

J shows off one of his ZoobMobile creations, made with the set of Zoobs he'd asked Santa to bring him. He's methodically working his way through the entire set of instructions to build every single model possible. He's impressing me with his ability to work on something very contracting like this, then set it aside and fluidly move on to more expansive pretend play with his brother. It's a really cool and amazing thing to watch! And is what I am MOST grateful for this year -- not only his ability to do this, but the path that has allowed me to understand how amazing this bit of natural development truly is!

I figured since I showed photos of the other two house cats this week, I should put up a photo of Candy Corn, too.

The time I wasn't outdoors preventing law suits and vet bills, or indoors marveling over my kids, I was busy working on the rest of our winter semester. I've been planning a really fun Adventure Circle (which I'll post about as we get rolling with it) to replace our formal Movement Circle, choosing some great folk tales for our Curriculum Stories, and gearing myself up to get going with the painting/art portion of the Enki Education curriculum. I'm looking forward to getting back to our regular homeschooling rhythms starting tomorrow!


They did it!!!! Our beloved New England Patriots finished their regular season with 16 wins, no losses, the first time an NFL team has ever done this. Many personal and team records went along with it, and we all enjoyed watching this very emotion-packed game! On to the playoffs! GO PATS!

(And to anyone else who grew up a New England Sports fan and went through the heartache of the 70s, 80s, and 90s with us, raise your glass up, I'm toasting us all, baby! WE DESERVE YEARS LIKE THIS!!!)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

good news, and really great news

First for the good news: Enki Education was featured in the recent edition of The Global Intelligencer as a "well-developed, holistic education model". The author (David Marshak) does a great job of summing up the key components of the Enki model. From now on it's where I'm going to send anyone that asks me what Enki is. I have a fairly good grasp on Enki and how to implement the philosophy in my life, but for some reason I can't for the life of me explain it in any sort of rational way. Thank you, Mr. Marshak, for making it easier for me! Apparently this is the first of a series of two articles on Enki. I'll be sure to link to the 2nd when it comes out as well.

And now for the really great news!! It was just announced that the NFL Network, realizing the importance of and national interest in this upcoming weekend's Patriots-Giants game, is allowing the game to be simulcast by two of the major television networks. Which means we can actually watch the game (Saturday at 8:15 pm EST, in case you live under a rock) at home, together (as opposed to me vacating the premises to join my friends in a bar somewhere), and cheer our team on to the first 16-game undefeated regular season in the history of the NFL.

Life is just TOO darned good!

christmas afternoon

Yesterday I promised that I would post some photos from my parent's house on Christmas Day, so here they are! It's hard getting pictures there, their living room is plenty big enough, but there are just so darned many of us in it, you wind up getting bits and pieces of everyone in each picture. I picked a few of the least cluttered shots to share. Here is Zoo Boy opening a gift early on in the afternoon, one of vast multitudes of never-ending gifts that takes hours and hours to open.

About half-way through the gift-giving, J and Zoo Boy check out one of their gifts, a 3-pack of Pokemon DVDs, adding yet more Poke-gifts to our Poke-mas celebration.

Just a shot to give you some idea of the density of people we're talking about. (Faces obscured to protect the innocent.) It's not that it's a huge family -- really, there are only 14 of us there, that's nothing compared to some families! But for some reason, in the amount of space we're talking about, with a tree taking up about a quarter of the floor space and an enormous pile of presents taking up about half of what's left, then you spread out all the wrapping paper on the floor from that number of gifts....well, it's crowded. And loud. And crazy. And, well, Christmas! My family wouldn't have it any other way.

The boys play with some of their gifts.

Back at home, Linus lies amongst the Poke-mess.

Christmas is over, have no fear.
Let's all up and give a cheer!
Hip hip hooray,
Survived the day!
Now we can rest until next year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

christmas morning

Our tree, Christmas morning, before the kids got to it! We decided not to use any lights on our tree this year in our continued attempt to keep our electric use to a minimum, and to have a greener holiday. We actually don't miss the lights at all, so I'm guessing we won't see them again. Now to figure out how to dispose of them in an ecologically friendly manner....

Kismet, one of our kitties, in front of the kids' stockings. The theme of this Christmas was definitely Pokemon -- obviously Santa knows the boys like them!

Here the kids open their gift from Santa -- as set of Pokemon figures. The looks on their faces says it all. This is NOT what Santa was originally scheduled to bring them, by the way. I'm sure I'll blog more about our last-minute panic later, and about the catalog/internet company that let us down this year, but I do have to say that Santa managed to score big-time with the kids with the gift he DID bring. So let's just leave it at that for now.

The Map Man opens the gift J gave him.

Zoo Boy and the special gift he'd asked Santa for -- an Ugly Doll (named Ice Bat). Don't ask, I can't possibly explain, I certainly don't "get it"! But apparently it's the gift Zoo Boy's always wanted.

And now it's off to my parent's house for Christmas Chaos! If we survive, I'll post photos tomorrow!

I hope everyone out there in blog land is having a wonderful morning!

Monday, December 24, 2007

happy holidays!

First, an apology for the glut of posts today, I've fallen a couple days behind during a busy season, I promise not to do this sort of thing too often!! So please keep on scrolling down after you read this post to read two more posts, one is our weekly homeschooling summary, and the other is a really fun post about our Yule celebration.

Next, I want to apologize to anyone who may have been expecting a card from us, and either receives it "fashionably late", or perhaps doesn't receive it at all. Not only did I let things slide a little too long this year; not only did I have to cut way back on the number of cards I sent out; but I also lost my address book! So those of you who are getting cards, won't be getting them before Christmas (my mantra on Thursday morning was "The world will not stop turning if I don't get these cards out today" -- hence, they went out on Saturday, just before the post office closed). And for the rest, I hope you will accept this digital version of our card and greeting, and know that just because your card didn't arrive via postal service doesn't mean that you are any less dear to us. We just have a really large family and a really small budget.

And most importantly, I wish every one of you dear readers, who put up with reading all of these details of our existence on a daily basis, and unselfishly give us your support and love, a very joyous holiday -- whichever holiday(s) you choose to observe! May the new year bring you peace, light, and happiness!

week #15, winter #3 wrap-up

I'm a day late with my weekly summary, but I figure this one doesn't need to be on time, because we're "on holiday" this coming week. Now if I can just remember what it was that we actually DID last week! In my attempt to keep everything calm and flowing well for the kids, I sort of ran myself ragged. Next year I'll know better what to expect and it should take less effort on my part.

We started the week by missing the last of our Intersession Homeschool Classes due to yet another ice storm. I couldn't even open the door to the van to start it and warm it up, so we went nowhere that day. Instead, we made a very nice paper chain to hang on our cute little tree.

Monday night, we took the kids up to see Bright Nights in Forest Park. Needless to say, they LOVED it! I enjoyed the more "laid back" homeschooling feel this week -- we did not do a formal circle (although we incorporated a lot of the seasonal movement activities in our daily lives this week), and that gave me the confidence to try shaking up that circle routine we've gotten into a bit. I'll post about the finished product when I'm done thinking it through, but I'm just about there.

We went to the museum twice this week, on Tuesday J had a class about Holidays Around the World, and on Thursday he learned all about Animals in Winter. Both days Zoo Boy (2nd from the right in a red shirt) enjoyed romping with other kids in the exhibits ("They're all my friends, you know," he confided in me), and visiting with his animal and staff friends in the animal room.

Wednesday evening we took the kids to visit with Santa at his workshop in Wickam Park. Here's a picture of them sitting in the sleigh he obviously arrived in from the North Pole. Zoo Boy enjoyed pretending he was driving the reindeer. (He said they must have been up on the roof, since we didn't see any sign of them.) On Thursday, prior to J's museum class, we met up with other homeschoolers at an Open Gym day, where the kids got to run around and expend some energy, MUCH appreciated since it's been too icy to play outdoors.

But the highlight of our week was our Curriculum Story and Winter Solstice celebration. The story was an Enki original, "Mid-Winter's Journey", told in three chapters, one each night by the fire. On the 4th night (the Long Night of the Winter Solstice), we used hand-made lanterns (that we made that afternoon) and took a walk up the street, singing the song from the story. Then we lit a bonfire and read "A Solstice Story" by Ellen Jackson, and sang a few more songs before heading back indoors. The wrap-up to the week came on Saturday, when we decorated a Yule Log and held our Yule celebration while it burned.

A lovely, lovely week, one of my favorites thus far. We didn't have much opportunity for Family Story Time this week in the way we've been doing it, but we did read these seasonal favorites of ours: Christmas Trolls, by Jan Brett; Night Tree, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand (our very favorite holiday story!!!); and the absolutely gorgeous The Animal's Christmas Carol, by Helen Ward.

yuletide greetings!

I'm a couple days late posting photos, but better late than never, right? It's been a busy couple of days....

Here's the kids hard at work decorating the Yule Log on Saturday, our day to wrap up our Yule/Winter Solstice celebration. The Map Man took charge of this project, while I ran around taking care of last minute holiday details.

Our finished log, in the fireplace, waiting to be set ablaze. We'd feared that we might have trouble getting the log itself to catch -- it was a large log (needs to be, it's supposed to burn for 12 hours!) and was only cut from a fallen limb that morning (so it was aged, but out in the elements so we feared a bit wet). But turns out it was no problem, with a bit of very dry oak beneath it.

J admires our Yule blaze! We ate a picnic supper around the fire, which the kids thought was really fun and a great way to celebrate the holiday. Definitely will be part of our tradition from here on out!

The kids open their Yule gifts. I left it to their imaginations as to who may have left the presents in the tree. When they asked, I just said "Hm, I wonder..." and The Map Man's only answer was "There's a lot of magic around this time of year." Zoo Boy said he thinks he knows, but wouldn't divulge his thoughts on that. Each boy got an owl finger puppet, which they played with for most of the evening. Preferably this would have been a hand-made gift. Next year!

Then we popped popcorn over the fire (and in the microwave so that some of it was actually edible!). We had planned to string some of the popcorn for the tree, but we couldn't come up with a needle!! (Shows how much sewing and hand crafts I've been doing in recent years -- I used to be quite the crafty gal, but that was pre-kids. Need to get back to that at some point!) So we ate the popcorn instead (we'll make some to string for the birds when we move the tree out to the deck after Christmas), and read some stories before the boys' bedtime. The Yule Log was still going strong as we snuggled in bed to sleep.

Friday, December 21, 2007

the long night

"White, white the stillness of starlight on the snow...."

Tonight we celebrated the Long Night, part of our week-long recognition of the Winter Solstice (which occurs around 1am tomorrow morning).

This afternoon the kids made lanterns for our "Mid-Winter's Journey." I stole this idea from my pal, Kyra, over at This Mom, (where you can find actual instructions on how to do this!), who has a knack for choosing the sorts of crafts that even MY non-crafty kids want to participate in. (Look at Zoo Boy going to town on his lantern!!) Look for more Kyra-inspired crafts from my kids this winter!

As a quick aside, I do feel the need to brag that I managed to resist the urge to run out and buy matching canning jars, a bottle of modge podge, a length of leather and a few beads so I could do it JUST like Kyra did. (That would be SO me!) Instead, I scrounged around the house, found just enough glass jars kicking around, actually found 3 sheets of tissue paper, and used white glue mixed with water instead of an actual craft glue. For handles, I found some picture-hanging wire and managed to rig up something that actually held while the kids swung the lanterns around. Hooray for me!

And here they are, complete with tea lights in the bottom. I'm pretty thrilled with how they came out, and the kids were just over the moon about it. After dinner, they happily scrambled into their warm clothes and bolted out the door while The Map Man prepared a little bonfire for lighting in our driveway (typically we'd do that sort of thing in the pasture, but there's still about a foot of crusty snow on the ground, and we weren't looking to lose any of our kids in a drift tonight....).

With lanterns in hand, we walked down the drive, singing the song from "Mid-Winter's Journey" (the Enki Solstice story we read over the past 3 nights). My plan was to only go that far, light the bonfire, read a story, and head back inside. But the kids didn't think just walking down the drive was any sort of journey. So we headed up the street. Finally I turned us back towards home (amid a duly noted protest from Zoo Boy -- he wanted to keep going. You know, the boy that tires out walking more than about 100 yards....). I'm wondering if any of our neighbors happened to look out their windows and catch up walking up and down the road, singing and humming, swinging lanterns. Really, I would have rather we could have done it along a woods road. But again, that pesky white stuff on the ground prevented a more nature setting for our journey.

Finally we got back to our property and lit our bonfire. I read "A Solstice Story", adapted by Ellen Jackson from a Cherokee tale of creation, which explains why the Evergreens are green all year round. It jived SO nicely with the "Mid-Winter's Journey" story, as well as the songs we've been using in our movement circle. I love it when things pull together like that! Makes me feel so, I dunno, competent. Good feeling! Anyway, we sang a round of "Oh, Evergreen", then enjoyed the fire and each other's company for awhile. Eventually the fire started dying down and we all started to feel the chill of the night, so we sang our journeying song on our way back to the house, then extinguished the lanterns before we went in.

Nice evening! Tomorrow we'll celebrate the return of the sun with some traditional Yule festivities.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

visit with Santa

Last night we took the kids to visit Santa's Workshop at Wickam Park in Manchester, CT. This place is the real deal -- I mean, just look at those elves working on making those toys! And who has a Christmas tree that big in their shop other than the Clauses? And, look -- who's that serving hot chocolate and cookies in the kitchen? Why, Mrs. Claus, of course. Yup, this be the place! We discovered it last year and it's now part of our yearly holiday tour.

First stop for the kids was the Head Elf's Office. He took down their names and what they wanted Santa to bring and logged it all in on the official List. Then it was just a short wait by a cozy fire in a rustic fieldstone fireplace (complete with a large moose head!) for their turn to see the man in red.

And it was well worth the wait. I'll tell you, Santa has an incredible amount of patience, and there's just no hurrying him along. Zoo Boy excitedly wanted to go first, and happily scrambled up into Santa's lap and snuggled right in with him, chattering away about the gift he wants. When Santa asked him if there was anything else he wanted, he said "nope, that's good". That's my boy!

Then it was J's turn. He surprised me by saying "and I also would like....", and I leaned in a little closer to hear what he was going to say, because, you know, the Head Elf didn't have anything else on his official list, so I thought we might have to do some last minute adjustments! But no, J was just making conversation, because he ended his sentence with "well, I like toys". Phew!

After receiving an apple from Santa, it was off to visit Mrs. Claus in her kitchen, where J graciously accepted a cookie and some cocoa. J let me drink the cocoa, and let Zoo Boy (who gobbled his cookie up in short order!) eat his cookie, but he was appropriately enthusiastic about receiving them from our hostess.

I assure you, nothing comes closer to authentic -- and without the long, cold trip to the North Pole!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

holiday traditions

The boys play yesterday afternoon at the children's museum prior to J's class. This week's class was about Holiday Traditions Around the World, and it was a gem of a class!! They cooked holiday treats from around the world, made holiday decorations from various traditions, and played holiday games from various countries. It was entirely hands-on, and looked like the kids had a blast!

That's J on the right, in the gray shirt, hard at work on one of his projects. I just love these museum classes -- the teachers put so much effort into making them a wonderful experience for the kids, and just look at that teacher-child ratio! There were only 3 kids in the class, yet the teacher had two teen-aged assistants! And enough craft materials for about 3 times that number of kids -- in fact, they let Zoo Boy participate in a few of the activities as well.

Some of the things that J created in the class. The teacher joked that the glitter glue on the bottom picture might dry by Christmas. He also came home with various yummies to eat, and a couple little booklets with holiday word games and the like in them, which he's been enjoying. And, his favorite thing, a dreidel and a small packet of chocolate coins:

So here are the kids playing the Dreidel game. J patiently tried to teach me the words for each of the symbols on the dreidel and what they meant. Zoo Boy thought the game was pretty great, because he kept winning chocolate coins! The first thing he wanted when he woke up this morning was to play Dreidel again.

Our own holiday tradition. Last night began our week-long Yule celebration. We are reading a 3-chapter Enki story called "Mid-Winter's Journey", one chapter each night (the 3 nights before the Winter Solstice) by the fire. On Friday, we will make lanterns, and Friday night (the night of the Solistice) we will take a lantern walk and make a bonfire, and read a story about the Solstice (based on the Cherokee tale of creation). On Saturday, we will decorate a Yule log, then burn it in the fireplace that night, pop popcorn (which we will string on our tree), and exchange small gifts.

Of course, Christmas and all the craziness that holiday brings will still come -- our families "do" Christmas in a big way, so there's just no avoiding that. So Santa will come and bring a couple things, and we'll get and give gifts at The Map Man's and my parents' house. But we're trying to shift the focus of our holidays to our own family tradition. So far I'm really happy with the results. When people ask if my kids are excited about the holidays, I can truthfully say "I'm sure they will be when they come!", but so far we've avoided them being whipped into a frenzy about it. Which, as you can imagine, is making for a nice, calm, peaceful week for us. And that brings out the cheerful holiday spirit in ME!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

bright nights

We took the kids up to see Bright Nights at Forest Park in Springfield, MA last night. This is a yearly tradition for us, a drive through the park to look at the elaborate light displays. I don't think we've ever enjoyed it so much -- the kids are at just the right age to really revel in the magic and wonder of all those fanciful scenes created in light. I don't think words can describe what we saw (and photos don't do it much justice either, but it's all I've got), so I'll just let you enjoy the photos and assure you that a great time was had by all!