Friday, December 31, 2010

looking back on 2010

Enjoy some photos of our farm post-blizzard (it's hard to hate winter when it looks like this here!), while I entertain my yearly tradition of reviewing the 5 goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year and see how well I've succeeded (or failed miserably!) with them. You can go here to read the original post about these goals.

Goal #1 was "Don't over schedule myself" -- You know, I actually think I did pretty well with this, all things considered. Being forced to sit in dance studios for large chunks of time several days a week certainly helped with that -- there's no way to say "yes" to requests when you're just not physically available. I've ended this year feeling pretty relaxed about my schedule and the commitments I've made, and I had a really fun time (believe it or not) doing all that sewing for the Nutcracker this fall -- it was actually fairly therapeutic and I got in a lot of good socializing while I did it, made some new friends, and really had a lot of good, relaxed fun. So I feel really good about having accomplished this goal. Which hopefully will carry me through writing about these next few goals, which I pretty much fell on my face with.

Goal #2 was "Another major organization/decluttering project" -- Oh, gosh! My intentions were good, really they were, but honestly, I couldn't have failed more miserably in this goal if I purposely tried to bungle it. My house is currently in an unprecedented state of disorganization and chaos. (Although actually, the unprecedented state occurred about a week ago -- I've been using the past week of school-and-dance-lessness to clean, clean, clean, so things aren't nearly as dire as they were just a short time ago. But trust me, we're nowhere near "organized and decluttered" status -- it's more like "don't quite need to burn the place to the ground yet" status.) However, one teeny tiny step I took in the right direction was to sell an enormous amount of crap, er, um, I mean unneeded items at a tag sale in August, generating about $400. That was cool. But I need to do way, way, way better than that. So this goal is probably going to wind up on next year's list of goals as well.

The third goal was "Encourage growth of friendships for the kids" -- Actually, you know, I didn't do all bad with this, but let's face it, it was an easy goal, given all the social and group-learning opportunities I provide my kids with. Zoo Boy actually found his self-proclaimed "best friend" this year, and that was due to the very purposeful involvement of my family in the musical "Oliver". As a bonus, it wasn't just Zoo Boy who made a good friend, it was our entire family. So I feel really good about that one. However, poor J is still lacking in anyone I consider an actual friend. I mean, other than his brother. He of course thinks everyone is his friend (and from the perspective of being well-liked by everyone he meets, he's right), but he doesn't have any special buddies he can talk to on the phone or asking to get together for some hang-out time.

But my friend Kyra and I have been scheming to fix that -- Kyra and I are long-time pals from our RDI days. (RDI is the Autism remediation program we used for J and her son -- I have an entire blog about it, over there on the left-hand side of this page.) In her search for helping her son with his challenges, she discovered a Social Thinking curriculum designed by Michelle Garcia Winner that she thinks might be a good fit for her son, and has been searching for a provider (and recently has found one). I told her I want in, so we're meeting with the therapist next week to discuss a "group" session for her son and J. I'll be posting more about this in next year's goal list, but the reason I mention it here is that this will be a facilitated social chance for J to make a real friend. He already considers Kyra's son his friend (he's the first person he always mentions when we talk about inviting kids over), and vice versa, so I feel like we just need help busting through the social barriers that prevent them from taking it to the next step. Fingers crossed on this one!

He also has a lot (a LOT) of connections at the dance studios, but of course the vast (VAST!) majority of them are mostly girls, and they like him sort of for a different reason, if you know what I mean. I'm really not worried about him having as many dates as he wants when he gets to that age. But he needs some boy buddies, too, and he needs them now. So to further that end, we're hoping that he can join an all-boy hip-hop class which should be possible with his anticipated new ballet schedule. Again, fingers crossed! As much as he'll enjoy dancing hip-hop, it's the buddy-building factor I'm looking for with that one.

So while I was totally successful for Zoo Boy, and mildly unsuccessful for J, I've been working on it and this is the year it should all come together for J. Again (a running theme), fingers crossed.

Anyway! Goal #4 was "Further movement towards self-sufficiency for our little homestead" -- Um, yeah. Well, we tried!! The turkeys were sort of a bust -- they wound up costing us more to raise than we made back on them. It was a fun little project, but a failure in terms of self-sufficiency. And I've still yet to taste one of those suckers!!! (Tho I've got a hen in the freezer just waiting for me to find the motivation to cook.) We didn't manage to find any rabbits to get started (or rather, re-started)with. (Then again, I'm pretty picky, it's not that hard to find and buy rabbits!) And despite attempting to sell both of our horses (because let's face it, they are the biggest drain on the finances around here), they are both still here. Funny, nobody wants an old horse and a metabolically challenged pony. What's the matter with people? It means I get to keep my fuzzy big pets, so I'm not exactly weeping about it. But it's a total disaster for a self-subsistence plan.

I also completely failed to get in a garden, but we can blame that on the dance schedule. Gardening is actually going to be a big part of the spring homeschooling plan, so I'm not sweating that one, we'll get it done this year, tho not in enough quantity to do more than put a little food on our table. Which is all I really care about.

It wasn't a complete bust of a year, though -- we did well with the sheep despite not having many to sell, we put 3 in the freezer for our uses (mostly for the dogs), and sold 3 butcher lambs. We're down to 5 sheep (3 ewes, a ewe lamb and a ram lamb), and honestly, it's not enough. But money is so tight, I didn't feel like I had a choice, so hopefully next year we can keep a couple more. (Even one more would feel better out there.)

We also stopped the loss of poultry to foxes by adding our trusty Livestock Guardian Dog, April. Though the cost of feeding her is mind-boggling, so I'm not sure it wouldn't have been more financially beneficial to just give up on the ducks altogether and keep the chickens locked in. But it sure is nice to see her out there doing her job!

My 5th goal was "Finish my book" -- And I would have, too -- sitting in dance studios is the PERFECT place to work on stuff like that! But my computer died, trapping my book inside. It's still retrievable (I HOPE!), but I'll have to pay the geeks $100 to get it out of there, and I currently have no place to put it (certainly not going to trust this old dinosaur I'm typing on now to take care of it!) As soon as I get a more current machine, I'll put the final touches on the book, print it off, and let a select few folks read it for feedback to see if I'm going to pursue trying to get it published. My guess is I won't and it'll just wind up sitting on a shelf in my closet. But that sure hasn't stopped me from starting another book in the meantime!

So it wasn't the most successful goal-achieving year that I've ever had. But given that the whole dance thing sort of turned my entire life on it's ear this year, I don't think I did all that badly. We'll see what happens in the coming year with my new goals, which I'll post after we ring in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Everything!

At home Christmas morning, the boys check out the "Dragonologoy" book that Santa brought for Zoo Boy.

Building a "Brush Robot".

Playing the game of Life, with Auntie A and the Map Man at Grandma and Grandpa's house on Christmas eve.

J entertained the family with his rendition of "Jingle Bells" at our annual family talent show at Mimi and Grampy's house on Christmas Day evening.

He also performed an impromptu hip-hop dance to a popular song one of his cousins had on her I-Pod. But he was moving too fast for me to get any photos!

Zoo Boy told jokes during the talent show. "It's what I do best," he confided to me afterwards.

The Map Man enjoying the show and the company.

It was a crazy couple of days, but I'm glad my kids are old enough to handle all the chaos at once now -- getting through the holidays a little faster is definitely better for Mommy's nerves. I feel much better this year than I have for the past several, and feel like I might just avoid my post-holiday crash, where I typically sit in front of the fire for several weeks buried in a series of books. (Fingers crossed!! I might just remain functional this year!)

Speaking of which, blizzard expected this evening, better get outside and batten down the hatches....we've got a bunch of last-minute stuff to do out there before everything is buried in a couple feet of snow. Should have some festive, snowy pictures to post in a couple of days!

holiday prep

The last day of our fall homeschool semester was spent on some Holiday preparations. We started by stringing the beads from our Place Value block on long strings for our tree, and on shorter pieces as necklaces for our female relatives.

Then we decorated the tree.

And then baked some cookies.

And of course wrapped presents for all of our relatives.

All ready for holiday family fun!

We'll be on holiday break for a couple of weeks, but will be starting back up sooner than usual this year. I usually take most of the month of January off, but with illness sending us into a slower pace during most of November, I feel like a long break now would be too disruptive. So we'll see how well I can get myself moving despite my usual January sluggishness! (Wish me luck!!)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a festive yuletide!

Ok, first an apology about the sudden glut of posts -- I felt the need to catch up now rather than drag on and constantly be behind. So see below for my posts on observing the Long Night, some really cool lanterns we made, our yearly visit with Santa Claus, and the last few Nutcracker pictures.

And now -- on to our Yule celebration! Which took place yesterday. The kids and I spent the day stringing popcorn and cranberries...

...and baking gingerbread men, to hang on our evergreen tree.

When The Map Man got home from work (which Zoo Boy thought was entirely unfair, having to work on a holiday), he and the boys set the tree up in our living room, and strung the decorations.

Then they decorated our Yule Log with greens and edibles.

When the log was decorated and place in the fireplace, we wrote down our wishes for the New Year and attached them to the log so that they would burn and be lifted into the universe (my interpretation) or the spirits (J's idea) or maybe God (Zoo Boy's suggestion).

Then we lit the fire and ate a picnic dinner by the warmth and glow of our Yule hearth. We'll have a fire for the next 12 days to continue the celebration.

After dinner (and getting ready for bed), the boys searched in the tree for gifts. Sure enough, there were four small packages, one for each of us, just like there always is. (Who puts the presents in the tree? That has been a topic of debate for years. I never know what to say, so I've chosen to say nothing, which has led to some pretty interesting theories.)

Each package had a small wooden nutcracker in it. (See one of them above in the first photo on this post.) The boys were delighted and had a bunch of fun playing with them.

Then we continued with our tradition of each choosing a song to sing, while I accompany on my guitar. The Map Man chose Let it Snow. Zoo Boy chose Deck the Halls. I chose Jingle Bells and asked J to play it on his guitar. J couldn't decide what he wanted, so I chose a couple of other seasonal favorites (Sleigh Ride, Over the River and Through the Woods, The Holly and the Ivy, Good King Wenceslas).

And then to bed. It's been a full couple of days, but low-keyed and family-focused, and it's felt really, really good.

observing the Long Night

I'm going to sort of blast through this post, as our Long Night Observance has become pretty well established in past years, so anyone that's been reading here for awhile already knows what we do, and the photos all look about the same (although the kids get older every year!).

So on the night of the Winter Solstice we observed the Long Night -- we started with a candle-lighting ceremony and litany that talks about the turning of the wheel of the year and the return of the light and what it means to the earth and it's creatures. Then we did a call and response as our candles were lit.

I then read a multi-traditional solstice story that talks about gathering wax for a Solstice Lantern.

Then it was off for our lantern walk (see the post before this for the lanterns we made this year). It was cold and clear and windy -- first year I can remember doing this without snow on the ground. (There's snow now, it was just a couple days late!) There was, however, a bright full moon, which made for a very magical atmosphere, and was well-appreciated because the wind blew out our lanterns before we got very far!

Then the boys climbed into sleeping bags on the floor as we stoked up the fire and prepared to wait out the longest night of the year. Of course, we all fell asleep (although we're discussing trying to actually stay up for the full night next year).

(By the way, this photo is only possible due to the magic of flash photography -- we do not use electric lights during the Long Night.)

As the boys snuggled into their bags, I read a seasonal poem by the light of the fire ("Old Man Winter" from the Enki Kindergarten Nature Story collection). Then the boys feel asleep. We weren't far behind them, although we cheated and actually went to bed.

wax lanterns

Every year on the solstice we make lanterns for our Lantern Walk. In the past we've done punched tin, stained glass, and the like. This year we decided to make these cool wax lanterns. I got the idea from another Enki Mom. (There's all sorts of cool ideas in the blogs listed on the left-hand side of my blog!)

We melted wax in a pot on a hotplate (because I wasn't looking to have wax dripped all over my stove), then dipped water balloons into the wax. (It's important to make sure wax isn't too hot, and that the balloons don't touch the pot, or the hot plate, as any of those things might pop them, causing a HUGE mess -- we fortunately avoided that!)

After about 15 or 20 dips, we popped the balloons and let all the water drain out.

Which left us with a really cool wax bowl!

We cut shapes out of sheets of colored beeswax, then used a candle to melt the shapes to the sides of our lanterns to decorate them. (Look at the top photo -- from left to right, we've got Zoo Boy's, J's, and then mine and The Map Man's, which I made for him since the poor Man had to work while we were crafting and having fun.)

Then we took tea lights out of their tins and dipped them into the melted wax so that they would stick firmly in the bottom of our lanterns.

These lanterns were 100% cool to make and to use indoors -- but they were entirely inadequate to resist the effects of a blustery winter wind. Our lanterns were all out before we even left our steps. Fortunately, we had a full moon for our lantern walk, and honestly, I think ANY lantern may have gone out with that wind. So I'm glad we made these cute ones -- we kept them burning for the rest of the evening on our nature table.

yearly visit to St. Nick

Amidst all the Nutcracker chaos, we made our annual pilgrimage to Santa's Workshop. We had a cold day, with a few snow flurries, for our visit, and the kids eagerly dashed up the walk to find our friends, T and D.

The kids await their turn with the Jolly Old Elf, after registering their gift requests at the Head Elf's office.

J volunteered to go first. He told Santa that he didn't care what he got for Christmas, anything would be fine. Santa joked with him a bit about what he might bring, before suggesting that maybe he'd like toys. (J agreed.) Santa also told him to go to bed early on Christmas eve. A request that I have no doubt J will follow.

Zoo Boy happily gave Santa his gift requests, and then was stunned (as was I) when Santa asked him about his eating habits. He left Santa with instructions to try beans. He was a little horrified, but I told him that since Santa knows everything (something that Zoo Boy has been insisting), then maybe he knows that Gabe will like Beans.

(I found it a bit of magic that Santa seemed to know about our eating challenges!)

The kids chat with Mrs. Claus and munch on cookies and hot chocolate.

Admiring the enormous decorated tree.

The three of them climbed into Santa's sleigh on their way out and sang a Christmas Carol at the top of their voices together.

Very sweet, very magical. T and I basked in every moment, wondering how many more years we might get to enjoy them having this experience.

And then we ran off to a Nutcracker rehearsal.


That title just covers so much, doesn't it? As in "Nuts, I haven't posted on the blog in over a week, and now I have about a dozen posts to catch up on." Or "Nuts and How we Cracked them" (i.e., how much longer can I use the Nutcracker as an excuse?). Or just, "All this holiday stuff is driving me nuts!"

But really my point is that I have a few (very few) photos of J at the Nutcracker performances (thanks to Laurel -- thanks Laurel!).

Here's J with his "party family" before going on stage for their final performance. His "parents" were so sweet, giving him little gifts and lots of attention. His "brothers" were actually girls. J is on the right, if you can't figure that out on your own.

I actually got to watch the Party Scene from the audience that night, for the first and only time (the other times J was onstage I was able to watch from the wings). It was really an amazing scene, and J looked great up there. Brought tears to my eyes. (Then again, that doesn't take much...and could just as easily be attributed to lack of sleep....)

J waiting for the call to stage, somewhere in the bowels of the high school they were performing at.

J's other grandparents attended his final performance (and sent him a backstage telegram, which he thought was really cool!). Grandma said that she'd never been to a ballet before, and she was pretty impressed with how muscular and athletic all the dancers are. I'll tell you, after being around dancers for the past year, I can attest to the outstanding physical shape they need to be in, not only to perform, but to prevent injury. I'm very grateful that J is dancing at a school that is very in tuned to the developing dancer's needs.

Zoo Boy and J hanging out at the cast party after the last performance.

So we've got a couple weeks off from dance, then a couple more weeks left in the first semester. At the end of January we'll be switching to the second semester, and J will be moving up a level in ballet. Which means a shift in our schedule, an additional ballet class each week, and the possibility that J can join an all-boys hip-hop class at his other studio that he'd been wanting to do, but couldn't because of his ballet schedule. Oh, and a new show to audition for. So, in other words, more time sitting in dance studios for me. Good thing I've got some reading material stored up!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the magic of ten

We just completed the BEST two weeks of homeschooling, in terms of content, that we've ever had! I introduced the boys to Place Value work (thousands, hundreds, tens and ones), and the way the Enki 2nd Grade curriculum goes about this is simply magic! The boys were so captivated by the story and so caught up in role-playing the lesson, I don't think I've stopped smiling for two solid weeks!

We started by reading the 2-part Enki Math story, "The Kingdom of Jewel". The first part ends on a cliff-hanger, with Tricky Mischief in vast confusion over counting the multitude of the Kingdom's jewels, and a mysterious ship full of soldiers arriving at the Kingdom's shore. The boys both chose to draw Tricky Mischief amid her chaos (J's up above, Zoo Boy's here). And both were jumping up and down with the anticipation the cliff-hanger created!

In the second part of the story (told the following day), a strange King reveals his plans to take over the Kingdom of Jewel (drawn here by J). The King of Jewel convinces him to match wits rather than might, and they both agree to guess at, and then count to confirm, the number of jewels poor Tricky Mischief has been tasked with counting.

Both get a chance to confer with Tricky about it, and the King of Jewel tells her that she'll use the Magic of Ten to sort them, counting 10 jewels into a wooden box, then transferring those 10 to a china box, then every time she fills 10 china boxes, she'll put them into a silver box, and every time she fills 10 silver boxes, she'll put them into a gold box. The next day, the King of Jewel looks at the number of each type of box Tricky Mischief filled, and is able to guess the exact number of jewels. (Zoo Boy's drawing of the King of Jewel guessing right and the King of Other guessing wrong shown here.) The other king and his army depart.

Flash forward to the next week. After the boys did their journal entries, I said "Tricky Mischief went into the Kingdom and collected all of the jewels," and I presented the boys with a pile of "jewels" -- in our case pony beads. (We'll use these beads next week for some holiday crafting -- I'm a big believer in multi-use materials!)

The boys were delighted!

J, having gotten the gist of place value just from the story (which makes sense, given that he's a little older coming into this material) immediately began sorting the beads into piles of 10. I left him to play around with it on his own this one day, knowing that he does best with that kind of "space" to make his own discoveries and work through his own theories. Zoo Boy lost interest fast (complaining that he wanted to know the Magic of Ten NOW) and went off to play imagination based games while J filled his need for contraction.

The following day, I presented the boys each with a small wooden box, a box full of small jewelry bags (which the boys fully embraced as "china boxes" despite the fact that the were neither china nor boxes -- gotta love the willing imagination of children!), a bunch of small jewelry boxes spray-painted silver, and a couple of larger jewelry boxes spray-painted gold. They immediately set to work counting 10 "jewels" into their wooden boxes and then emptying them into their "china boxes".

When they had 10 jewelry bags filled, they placed them inside a silver box and closed it up. "I still don't get the Magic of Ten," Zoo Boy complained. "Don't worry," I reassured him, "You will."

When they had 10 silver boxes full, they loaded up a gold box. We stopped for the day after counting out our first gold-box full (it had taken about an hour, I felt that was long enough for the first day).

"I STILL don't get the Magic of Ten," Zoo Boy whined. "You will," I reassured him.

Zoo Boy couldn't wait to get counting the next day (today), and we finished up counting all of our tens. And here's what we wound up with -- can you tell how many jewels we had?

Zoo Boy thought and thought. I let J announce the number. 2,157.

Zoo Boy looked and repeated slowly "Two" Then he jumped up and down. "I get it! I get the Magic of Ten! Gold boxes are thousands, silver boxes are hundreds, china boxes are tens, and there are ones in the wooden box!!"

And I left the room and they've been on their own ever since.

Both boys immediately launched into a play sequence of the story, substituting our numbers for the ones in the story. Then they made a mock-documentary of how the Magic of Tens work. Then they created other scenarios where other numbers of other items are counted into the boxes.

Then J started writing out charts to represent what we just did. And then for the numbers in the story. And then for other numbers.

It's still going on. They are out there right now creating a chart that they can use for counting any number of any item. Soon I'll be dragging them away to get them some physical exercise and let their minds "rest" with this new, exciting information, which will help everything settle in and firm up. I won't touch place value again until after the holidays (and even then after a bit of Language Arts work) -- I won't need to, this information will be cooking away inside their brains without me having to do a thing.

And that's the real magic.