Thursday, December 31, 2009

looking back over 2009

I've made a tradition out of reviewing my goals for the year (posted in early January) and musing on how well I have or haven't met those goals here at the end of the year. So enjoy some photos of my kids from this week (here running the K'nex model they spent the bulk of yesterday building), while I wax nostalgic for a bit. The post where I identified and discussed my goals for 2009 can be found here.

(J helps The Map Man build a set of shelves.)

My first goal was to get healthy. At first when I read that I sort of gagged and prepared myself to bask in my utter failure at achieving any progress with this goal. I'm the exact same weight I was when I wrote that post (which is a good 30 lbs more than I should be), and I sit here with a bad case of bronchitis and a strained muscle in my neck from -- of all things -- opening the garage door. (Seriously, how does someone who participates in so many activities that could result in serious injuries on a daily basis, manage to only ever get hurt doing the most mundane tasks?!?!?!)

However, when I really stopped and thought about it, I realized that I truly am in a better position health-wise this year than I was last year. I had started off the year with a bang, losing 15 pounds over the course of the first couple of months (simply by stopping eating junk -- imagine...), before coming down with some evil, evil flu which robbed me of my dietary motivation (along with several weeks of my life). So, little by little over the course of the rest of the year, the weight came back. But during that same time frame, I managed to get control of (and totally kick) my bought with Psoriasis, and, current neck injury not-withstanding, I've had a stellar year in regards to the health of my back and other joints. I've established some good, healthy eating patterns, and even though I've not quite kicked the junk food habit entirely (ugh, me and coke slushies....), I'm definitely eating better now than I was back then. So, while I don't consider myself a glorious success at this particular goal, I do think I've made some decent progress, which is saying a lot since it's been on my list pretty much every year without my having made much progress at all. So, yeah me!

(Zoo Boy working diligently on a "Pokemon Pop-Quiz" book we gave him for Christmas.)

My second goal for the year was to set my priorities for myself, my family, and our farm. I've given this a lot of thought this year, and while I can't say we definitely have a firm mission statement for our family, I think I'm going to have an easier time setting my goals for this coming year than I did last year. I'll have lots more to say about that when I post about my goals for 2010!

(An example of the vast amounts of handwriting involved with the above pop-quiz book -- I've never seen Zoo Boy so motivated to do so much writing on his own. It was one of those rare genius moments when I picked it out for him, now I know he'll be getting plenty of handwriting practice while we're on our winter break from schooling!)

My third goal for 2009 was, and I quote, to "climb out of our financial abyss". And guess what? We've done it!! It took the entire year (and then some, given that we started the previous fall), but as of this moment, our bills are getting paid on time, and our debt is no longer growing. I can't even begin to tell you what a relief it is! We're still teetering a bit on the financial edge, but we're ON the edge now, now drowning somewhere beneath it. Feels good to breath!

(The Map Man, embracing my "sit by the fire and read" philosophy of handling frigid cold winter days.)

The fourth goal from 2009 was to incorporate a foreign language in our homeschooling program, and I'm very happy to report that I've done smashingly well with this!! Well, for this past year anyway. I enrolled the kids in a Spanish class with other homeschoolers, which I've also been able to sit in on, which approaches the lessons in a way that jives nicely with my educational goals and philosophy. I was feeling pretty proud and excited about this, but just found out that this class is not going to continue (I think due to lack of enrollment, if you can believe that -- how is that even possible?!). So I'm going to have to get creative (and probably run the kids around a bit more, which does not make me happy) in order to find a replacement for this.

(Zoo Boy's Ugly Dolls, apparently also embracing the sit-by-the-fire philosophy....hey, that's MY chair!)

My fifth goal for last year, and the easiest on the list, was to learn more about Adult ADD. I accomplished that one early on, thanks to some books and an endless wealth of information on the internet. I learned a few good coping strategies for myself, discovered why some of the things I've tried in the past haven't worked out so well for me, and most importantly learned to give myself permission to just "go with it" when I start chasing rabbits down rabbit holes, rather than chiding myself for getting so distracted. I've sort of embraced that quirky little distractable manic energy part of me and have taken off the leash to let myself run with it. And you know what? The world has not stopped spinning just because I didn't finish cleaning out a closet due to coming across a book that I felt compelled to sit down and read right then and there. Nobody died due to my spending an hour doing a crossword puzzle when I was supposed to be sweeping the floor. The pile of clothes in the corner of my room has yet to come to life and devour anyone (although several socks had to be sacrificed...). And even though I've been known to leave the house sans showering in a rush to get the kids to classes on time, I've yet to have anyone throw me out of a public venue just because my unwashed hair is crammed up under a baseball cap. It's liberating, I tell you!

So all in all, I'd call 2009 a success! Now to ponder my goals for 2010....but first, another Harry Potter book....oh wait, weren't the kids supposed to have lunch...?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

holiday cheer

Figured it was about time I put up some photos from Christmas. (See, Mom, I do listen to you occasionally!) As usual, we spent Christmas Eve with The Map Man's family (and as usual, I didn't get any photos worth sharing!, although we had a lovely time). And also as usual, Christmas day was a quiet affair at our house, with just the four of us enjoying each other's company and good cheer.

Of course, Santa came ('cuz those boys, they're just so darned GOOD!), and brought J the Spanish/English dictionary he's been wanting, amongst other things.

And Zoo Boy got the Roboraptor he asked for, and has had a totally blast tormenting the family (and the cats) with it. (Even I have to admit, it's pretty cool....)

The Map Man took the boys out back sledding for awhile...

J got the "mini luge" he'd been asking for, but this picture was cuter than the picture of him using it, so there.

We played a rousing game of Qwirkle. (THANKS, Kyra, Dave and Fluffy!!! We LOVE it, great gift!!)

And The Map Man snapped a photo of how I spent my day (and pretty much every day since....) flopped out by a roaring fire reading. That's pretty much where you'll find me for the next month at least....

(Oh, I know several of you will want to know what I'm reading -- Harry Potter -- yes, I know, I'm behind the times on that one. I'm finding it OK, not as good as some of the books I became obsessed with during last year's post-holiday down time, but good enough to keep reading. I'm in the middle of book 4 right now.)

A family photo at my parents' house the day after Christmas. Sadly, The Man closed his eyes just as my sis-in-law K snapped the photo. Drat. But it's all we've got, so here it is anyway!

J rifles through the contents of a big bin of K'nex building toys that my sister and family gave him and Zoo Boy. (They've been building with them ever since.)

My parents' living room is a tight venue, especially packed with 15 of us, so the vast majority of my photos contained at least one person who would rather not be pictured on my blog. So I'm not able to share a lot of the fun from that day. But trust me, it was fun!

Zoo Boy with his Great Grandma.

And with that, we survived another Christmas! HOORAY!!!!

Let the recovering commence.... (You know where you can find me, turn right at the fireplace, 1st chair on the left....)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

holiday block, second half

Here's the book we used for our core story this week, the second week of our holiday block, and the last week of our fall semester (half way through our school year!). The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Charles Santore, takes us through the famous Claus's life from the time he was found by the wood nymphs that raised him to the establishment of our current traditions surrounding Christmas. Great book -- as good a Fairy Tale as I've ever read, and the illustrations are lush and wonderful. The book is divided into 4 sections, the first about his childhood, the second about how he came to be a toymaker, the third about how the various Christmas traditions came to be, and the fourth about how he himself attained immortality. Just perfect for a 4-day school week like this one! We read a section each day.

For artistic digestion, we worked with the Christmas traditions. Here's Zoo Boy cutting out some gingerbread men.

J strung popcorn and cranberries into garlands to hang on our tree.

The boys and The Map Man assembled and decorated some gingerbread houses -- the one on the left is from a kit, the one on the right is J's from scratch. (Zoo Boy also made the pieces to make a house, but decided not to assemble it.)

We also took the kids to the commercial light display in Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts, as we do every year as part of our holiday traditions.

Our tree, fully decorated and awaiting Santa's arrival.

May everyone have a very merry day tomorrow, and may peace on earth be a reality rather than a wish!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

burning the Yule log

Monday we celebrated Yule. Here's our Yule log, awaiting a match. It was a pretty small log this year, considering traditionally it's supposed to burn all night (I think this guy was gone within an hour or two), but it's the best The Map Man could come up with, and the kids didn't seem to notice it's smaller size. We'll have to hunt around the property for a much larger log next year!

We wrote our hopes and wishes for the coming year on scraps of paper. Here's J writing his (see below for what he actually wrote). Zoo Boy's hope was that all times would be a good as this (us together celebrating Yule). The Map Man wished for health for our family (and hoped our sad tree holiday tree won't fall over!), and I wished for world peace.

We tied our hopes and wished onto the Yule log...

...then set it ablaze! The boys were very excited as it burned, stating that our hopes and wishes were being released to the Universe so they could come true. So far so good, the tree hasn't fallen over at least....

Then we sat down to our traditional picnic supper by the fire as our Yule log burned.

After supper, the boys searched the tree, and lo and behold, that sneaky Yule gift giver had managed to get past us yet again to hide gifts in the tree. This year the kids insisted on knowing who leaves the gifts at Yule. ("It can't be Santa!" they insisted, and given that Santa is so busy this time of year, I'm sure they're right.) I told them that some people believe it's King Winter, some people believe it's nymphs or sprites, or fairies or elves. The boys had fun coming up with their own ideas of who might want to leave gifts in an evergreen tree, and we all agreed that surely it's someone magical, how else could they get by us unseen? (Zoo Boy is quite certain it's some sort of spirit who hides the presents inside their cloak.)

Regardless of who it is, this year we were left these really cool elves and their horses, along with a story book about them. The book, Bayala: The Daughters of the Elf King, by Gecko Keck, immediately became our next chapter book to read, and the boys and I are very much enjoying immersing ourselves in it's magical world.

The elves themselves have been shadowing Zoo Boy, who takes them everywhere with him. He's trying to figure out who is who from the story, and he incorporates them in much of his imaginary play.

Monday, December 21, 2009

observing the Long Night

Last night we had our little Long Night ceremony, where we turned out the lights and lit our solstice lantern and told stories and sang songs and kept our fire burning bright through the longest night of the year. I thought I'd share some of the details of our night with everyone, as I've had some questions about exactly what we do on this night before Yule. I'll apologize in advance about the poor quality of the photos -- The Map Man took them both with natural lighting and with a flash, but while the flash photos were in better focus and showed detail better, all of the magical quality of the candlelight was lost, so I decided to just go with the natural lighting pictures.

We started with a fire in the fireplace and a single candle (only because I otherwise would have been unable to read, and I don't have these stories memorized, as much as I would like to). I read the story "Festivals of Light" in which a boy searches for wax for his family's solstice lantern on the Long Night, coming across families preparing to celebrate/celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa along the way.

In the story, each family gives the boy some wax for his lantern, and each family punches a row of holes in his can for the light to shine through. I prepared a can in advance with 3 rows of holes, then covered them with construction paper, and as I read the story, I revealed the rows as we came to them (as well as adding wax -- there was already a quantity of wax melted into the bottom with a wick embedded so that I could light the lantern when it happened in the story), so that by the end of the story our lantern shone as brightly as the boy's.

The story ends by singing "This little light of mine" as the boy and his mother head out for their lantern walk. We continued humming the song as we dressed and sang one more round as we headed out for our lantern walk. The boys took turns leading the way with our solstice lantern.

When we got back, I lead our solstice litany, which I lifted off another Mom a couple years ago. I won't repost the entire thing here, but it's absolutely lovely, starting with darkness. I read about the "wheel" of the year turning and the darkening of the earth, and the return of the light, and I light a single candle, our "sun candle" (this year it was a candle that J had hand-dipped).

Then I read a series of 14 short statements, first about the darkening, then about the return of the light, and after each statement, the boys (and the man!) respond, and I light another candle, until we have 15 candles burning brightly and lighting the once-dark room.

Then we break out the popcorn and the sleeping bags, and I read "King Winter" from the Enki Kindergarten Nature Stories collection as the kids get settled into their "beds" by the fire for the night.

Then I dragged out my guitar and sang seasonal songs until the kids fell asleep.

And off they slumbered into the Long Night.

It's still not daylight yet, but The Map Man had to get up and head to work, despite this being a "holiday" for him (we'll celebrate when he gets home this evening). J's still dozing in his bag. Zoo Boy just joined me in bed as I was typing this out, and I'm feeling drowsy yet again, so I'm going to finish my observation of this long night and drift back off until dawn.

Happy Winter, everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

holiday block, first half

For the first half of our holiday block, we worked this week with the "Mid-Winter Journey" story from the Enki Kindergarten Nature Stories collection. We've worked with this story for the past several years -- the first two years, we just read it during the week prior to the solstice. Last year we made a wool board picture as our artistic digestions (go here to see!). This year we worked it the same way we did other stories this fall, doing free drawings after each of the three chapters, and writing the verse at the end. Here's J's first drawing, of the boy coming through the forest and finding the dying evergreen.

Zoo Boy's first drawing, of the boy with the dying evergreen. Interesting that they both chose the same thing to draw, but not particularly surprising, since that evergreen tree is central to the entire story.

J's second drawing, of the boy coming upon the old woodcutter, who asked for his help.

Which is also what Zoo Boy drew, although in his drawing, we don't see the boy, we just see the woodcutter from the boy's point of view. He wrote "(boy's sight)" at the top of his drawing to indicate this. Again, this was probably the most important facet of this chapter, although I was surprised that one of them didn't choose to draw either the scarlet bird or the bear that the boy also helped along the way. However, of the three he helped, the woodcutter certainly was the most significant to the story.

J's third drawing, of the boy touching the tree to try to restore it to life. Here's where the boys divided in what they drew, Zoo Boy deciding to draw the title page at the top of this post, his interpretation of the words from the verse/song. He also insisted on wrapping up the week with a singing of the song as well.

J's writing is at the top, of the full verse. Zoo Boy selected one portion of the verse to write.

We finished up our work with this story yesterday (it took all week), just in time for tonight's observance of the Long Night.

solstice program

Friday night we took the kids to a Solstice Celebration at one of the area children's museums. They had a really great storyteller who used tons of audience participation both in telling stories and singing songs (J and his friend D even got to dress up and help tell one of the stories!), there was a planetarium program about the Solstice and traditions that celebrate the return of light, there was a bonfire and s'mores making, and they set up telescopes for viewing of the cosmos. One telescope was so strong, we could clearly see 4 of Jupiter's moons (which J named for us). They also had a couple of crafts available for the kids, but we were so busy with the other things we didn't even bother to participate in those. Fun event!

Friday, December 18, 2009

ho ho ho

We spent a magical afternoon at Santa's workshop this week, with our friends T and D. We actually arrived a bit too early, before Santa was there, and the park employees had us pull over at the bottom of the hill, since Santa prefers to arrive in private. But we knew exactly when it happened -- about 5 minutes before they were supposed to open, it suddenly started lightly snowing. And just as we were commenting on Santa bringing snow from the North Pole with him, the park worker waved us on ahead!

First stop, Head Elf's office. Zoo Boy reports in with his name, naughty/nice status, and what he wants Santa to bring him. D patiently waits for her turn. J was already around the corner waiting for his turn for some Santa face time.

It was so warm and toasty waiting by the fire. Thank goodness, because outside it was a bitter 20 degrees F with a stiff wind.

J went first, promising not to squish Santa because he's getting a bit big for lap time. He and Santa had a private chat (some of it about speaking Spanish, apparently), and Santa sent him on his way with an apple, which J immediately devoured. Those Santa apples, they're the best kind!

Zoo Boy takes his turn. He later told me that Santa asked me if he was eating all of his vegetables. (J said he was not asked that particular question.) I asked how he answered the question, and he said "I didn't! I was just staring at you, hoping you'd tell me what to say!" I told him that I, of course, couldn't hear what Santa was saying (he purposely keeps the conversations just between him and the child), and he said "Yeah, I knew that, but I was still hoping you'd give me a good answer." I told him I was pretty sure that Santa knows that he does NOT eat his vegetables already and was checking to see what he'd say. He laughed and said "Yeah, that sounds like him."

The kids have a visit with Mrs. Claus in her kitchen, where she gave them cookies and cocoa. She told them that they were the first children she'd heard thank-yous from that day. And then she gave me a cup of cocoa, too. Gotta love that Mrs. Claus!

Posing by the big ol' Claus Christmas tree. In the four years we've been going there, I've yet to get the whole thing in a picture. It's huge, I tell you, huge!

The boys pause on our way out to watch the elves making some toys.

Never fear, we actually DID do some schoolwork this week. Check back tomorrow for a run-down of our pre-Yule/solstice week!