Friday, March 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Anna!!

Anna turned 7 yesterday!  She hd a fun day, starting out with decorating her own cake in the morning!  Caleb baked her cake the night before--I am working myself out of a job!  Grace and Faith helped as well with the decorating, and Micah came along and helpfully ate extra frosting.  You can't even tell that Faith was standing on the chair and leaning over the cake, when she slipped and plunged her hand into the lower left quadrant on the cake.  I had to come to the rescue, so I guess I am still useful, LOL.   Oh, I did the writing too.  I think they will keep me around!

We had a playdate at my friend Lynnea's house, with her girls in the afternoon, and then Anna, Grace, Micah, and I took the traditional trip to Wegmans to pick out Anna's special birthday ice cream choices.  Dinner was kind of crazy, since Caleb and Jonathan had flag football practice from 6:00-7:30, and Bob and Nathan are their coaches.  The rest of us ate Anna's dinner choice, nachos, at a regualr dinner time.  We had this for the first time at Amy's house one time when we were visiting.  It's this yummy meat/bean mix that you cook in the crockpot, and you put that over tortilla chips and add toppings--lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, guacamole (well, I'm the only one who likes guacamole--thank goodness for those snack packs of guacamole from Sams!).  We had a fruit salad too.  It was yummy! 

Finally the boys got home, and Anna could open her presents.  She had been waiting all day for that moment!  She got several books, including a set of Rainbow Fairy books from Stephanie, who is in our Bible study!  Stephanie is Jonathan's age, and an excellent reader, so she is way past these books, and she's handing them down to Anna!  Anna was very excited to read them.  She also got a paint-with-water book, and some Little Mermaids that go in the bathtub (she and Grace used to have these, but they broke, alas).  From my parents, she got a latch-hook kit.  I used to love to latch-hook, so I think Anna will love it too!  The kit makes a butterfly pillow.  That will be a fun summer project!

Then we had cake and ice cream.  Drew was upset because he didn't get any.  Normally he likes the bumbo, where he reigns as king over the table, but not so last night.  Off to bed with him!
So now Anna is 7!  She is so much fun!  Bob took her skiing for the first time on Monday, and she had such a great time.  She is enthusiastic about trying new things, for the most part.  She and Grace are taking gymnastics at the community center right now, which they both absolutely LOVE.  I got her a little reader book about gymnastics from Half-Price Books when I was back in Ohio, and she and Grace have been trying to do everything pictured in the book. She has also really come a long way in her reading, even since Christmas.  And of course, she is a fantastic big sister!  Happy Birthday, Anna!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Normally on a Tuesday afternoon, I would be exhausted from teaching all day.  But we're on break!!  Thursday night, after biology class was over, I started cleaning and organizing our study.  It has been driving me crazy, but I just haven't had the time to do anything about it.  But now--5 days later, LOL--it is finally clean and organized!  I even have some extra space, ready for more books!  Of course, I still have some shelves that are over-full, particularly one with all my Latin stuff on it.  I haven't figured out a good way to break it up yet.

I went through all our books and put a ton in a box to get rid of.  TNT is having their annual used curriculum sale in a few weeks, and I hope to get rid of a lot of stuff there.  Many of the books I'm just giving away!   I needed more room for all these high school science books I am accumulating at a rapid rate!  And I'm ready to give away a lot of curriculum for younger kids.  Let's face it--if I haven't used it by now, it is highly unlikely I'm going to start something new and extra now!  Still, it can be just a bit discouraging to realize exactly how much curriculum I need to keep since I still have so many kids left to educate.
We used to have 2 small desks here under these windows.  The other one was a really cute one that Bob used growing up when his older sisters zRose and Jane would do school with him.  I ended up moving it downstairs in the basement, because people don't use the desk in here anymore.  : (  The end of an era!  So now it will be a cute bedside table for the little bed in one of the spare rooms downstairs.  I moved the filing cabinet upstairs from the basement, and put it under those cubes ("Yaffa Blocks", Amy!), which is where that plastic thing used to be.  The bottom drawer of the platic thing is a filing drawer, but it is nowhere near big enough!  And let's just be honest here--I was not going down into the basement *ever* to file things.  Which is partly why the study was so messy and cluttered in the first place!  Now hopefully I'll be more organized.  At least I will have less of an excuse, LOL.

Now--on to the next messy area.  The dreaded "kitchen desk and counter beside the refrigerator". . .  Yeah, things have been piling up there for quite a while . . .

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

From a family with very little, if any actual Irish blood, LOL.  But hey, traditions are fun, so for the past several years we've had corned beef and colcannon, along with Irish soda bread for dinner.  Last year and this year, however, events conspired against us, and although both times I started the corned beef in the crockpot in the morning, we were not able to eat our traditional meal on St. Patrick's Day!

Last year we spent the entire day in Costco, attempting to decide what new cell phones we would be getting.  We finally walked out of there with T-Mobile phones--which turned out to get no reception at our house.  So we had to go back the next day and spend another afternoon there, getting the ill-fated (and hated!)Verizon Droid phones.  Forgive me for not linking the posts, but remembering those days makes me twitchy . . .

Today was nothing so dramatic, just a day where I failed to take into account how crazy our schedule actually is.  We all went to church, and then Bob took Caleb and Jonathan to their flag football evaluations at 1:00.  He is going to coach their team, so he had to stay and watch everyone, so he could try to figure out who he wanted to draft.  They got home, and Bob and I rushed off to our church small group meeting, already in progress.  We left there around 4:00, and when we got home, Bob started working on his drafting strategies until he left for the draft meeting at 5:30.  I loaded up all the kids for us to drop Nathan and Luke off at Nathan's Teen Community Bible Study.  Tonight was "8th grader/parents visitation night", so Luke got to go as well, to see what it is like for next year.  Nathan has really enjoyed it and gotten a lot out of it this year.  Anyhow, they feed the kids, so Nathan and Luke didn't need to eat dinner, which I had totally forgotten about this morning when I started the brisket.  The rest of the kids and I headed home, and Bob caught up with the boys at the CBS place as soon as his meeting was over, so he also didn't eat dinner.  Missing 3 of our biggest eaters, I decided we would have left-overs tonight, and we'll eat the corned beef tomorrow!

Clearly us "non-Irish" folk are supposed to be celebrating March 18, it seems!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Field Trip!

Today was the big day--the culmination of the space unit, the big 5th week field trip to Udvar-Hazy!  Rain was forcast, and it did indeed rain.  In Biblical proportions.  We all met at the church and got kids whose moms weren't going, into cars that were going (HUGE thanks to Karen, who organized the carpools!).  By the end of this, Karen and I were like drowned rats, LOL.  But we got everyone sorted out, nametags handed out, etc, and we made it over to the museum right on time.  Bob took the day off, so he was able to go too, which was a huge help.

The 1-4th graders had learning labs run by the staff at Udvar-Hazy the first hour.  The 5-6th graders went through the museum doing a scavenger hunt activity (again, HUGE thanks to Karen, who made that up--everyone liked it!).  The K-4 and K-5 went up to the observation tower and watched the airplanes take off and land at Dulles until their space-themed storytime at 10:30. 

At 11:00, the 5-6th graders had their learning lab, and the other grades all did the scavenger hunt.  I did not assign myself a group when I was organizing everyone, so I was able to walk around accosting groups with random pieces of information gathered from my years of being an Air Force daughter/wife/mother of a space-loving child.  I even discovered some interesting new things--such as, one of the items to find was a "party suit".  When I found it, I was surprised to see that it was worn by a member of the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, the "Cotton Pickers", which was my dad's squadron when we were stationed in Okinawa!  In case you don't know, a "party suit" is a cheesy one-piece outfit worn to the bar, with the person's name embroidered on the pocket.  I tried diligently to find a good picture of this gem online, but to no avail.  I don't think my dad ever had one, since he didn't go to the bar after missions.  Whew!

Anyhow, it seemed like everyone had fun.  I am so glad it's all over!  No one got lost, LOL.  I am still perturbed about the parking situation there.  They charge $15 per vehicle to park unless it is a "commercial van or larger".  We had two magnetic signs, which we put on our van, and one other big van, but everyone else had to pay.  It seems like a homeschool co-op whose members are going to educational activities put on by the museum should not have to pay.  And indeed, the lady in charge of education said we shouldn't have to pay!  But this is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand does, because the confirmation email she herself sent out said very clearly, "Please note that all visitors to the Udvar-Hazy Center will be charged $15 per vehicle for entry through the parking gates. Exempted vehicles are school buses, tour buses, motor coaches, mini-buses, or commuter buses, which all must be clearly identified with a prominently displayed logo in order to qualify for the fee exemption.  And when I called the front desk to ask, they were very firm about only letting big vans or larger with signs in for free.  Grrr.  Your tax dollars, well . . . not really working for you, anyway.  But other than that expensive bit of hassle, everything went fine.  And now that is off my plate!  I'm off to work on biology for Thursday, since we again didn't meet today (I just taught memory work and life science this afternoon).

Claire's Excellent All-By-Herself Vacation

Last Thursday right after lab, Christine took me to the airport, where I proceeded to fly to Ohio for the weekend.  All.  By. Myself.  This little trip was a few months in the making.  Back in the middle of January Amy called to me tell me that the school system we graduated from was celebrating its 50th anniversary with a concert by Michael W. Smith on March 9.  Our other good friend Julie was going to be in town for it--was there any way I could come?  Of course I immediately said no.  March 9 is right in the middle of my busiest time--teaching at TNT for the 2 weeks before, and leading the end-of-unit field trip on March 12.  So there was just no way.

But then I got to thinking:  what if just Drew and I flew out?  I searched around and found a good price on a direct flight.  Bob gave the green light, so I bought the tickets.   As the day got closer, Drew was sleeping better and better, and he had taken formula bottles just fine . . . so I decided to not take him either.  I did bring my breast pump, which got quite a workout, though, LOL.

And it was absolutely wonderful.  I can not even describe the feeling of freedom as I just went wherever I wanted, and no one needed me at all! And the quiet . . . it was amazing! It was such a refreshing time.

When I got up Friday I first visited my friend Anja who had just had her 4th baby back in January.  She and her family are PCSing this summer, so I was so glad to get in one last visit in person before they move!  The visit wasn't long enough, but I had to go meet another friend for lunch.  Marie and I went to college together while our husbands were both active duty Air Force.  We reconnected several years ago in an unusual way.  Several years ago I became friends with Bob's boss's wife Tonya, even though we have (still!) never met in person.  Tonya and Marie are good friends, and eventually Tonya put it together that Marie and I had known each other.  Anyhow, Marie and I had plans for lunch--without any of our combined 17 children!  It was so nice to chat and catch up completely uninterrupted! 

After lunch, I did some shopping, and then I went back to my parents' house to do some work on the upcoming field trip.  That was all the work I did though--I did NOT bring my biology book!  I caught up on all my parents' Christmas letters (they keep in contact with a TON of people), and I even started reading a book just for pleasure.  Imagine!

Saturday was the big day.  After exercising (!), Amy and Julie picked me, and we went out to lunch.  We had a delicious Mexican meal at Abuelo's.  Then we all headed back to Amy's house to talk some more.  We never run out of things to talk about!  We left for the concert a little before 5:00.  There was a reception for alumni and teachers there as well.  It was so fun to catch up with former teachers, including my high school biology teacher!  I got to tell him about my life as a homeschooling, high-school-biology teaching, mother of 9.  Believe me when I say that was certainly not my life plan back in high school!

Before the actual concert, several videos were shown. One had a lot of well-known Christians, like Joni Earikson Tada and Josh McDowell, talking about DC, and what the school means to them. Another had pictures from the history, and the last had current teachers and students talking about DC. I really enjoyed all the videos!

Michael W. Smith had a great concert!  I find it funny that I have not gone to a concert in years and years, and here I have gone to 2 concerts in the past 3 weeks!  Apparently I only go see well-established artists though--Third Day just celebrated their 20th anniversary, and Michael W. Smith has been performing for 30 years.  No "flash in the pan" singers for me, LOL.  Anyhow, I knew all the songs he sung, so that was nice, and it was a good time of worship as well.  He said he had over 190 songs to choose from!  Of course he sang "Friends are Friends Forever".  He said that when he wrote that song back in the late 80's he never dreamed he'd be singing it for the rest of his life, LOL. 

The concert was done a little after 9:00, which was like 10:00 because of the impending time change, sigh.  But we grabbed a quick bite to eat afterward, since we hadn't eaten dinner beforehand.  I spent the night at Amy's, so at least I didn't have to drive back to Mom and Dad's.  But I did have to pump when we got home!

Sunday morning I drove to the base chapel to go to church with Mom and Dad.  Their combined choir from the 3 base chapels was performing their Easter cantata that morning.  The lady who directed it was so joyously enthusiastic about it!  Her enthusiasm was very contagious, and I think everyone enjoyed the cantata!  Afterward, Mom and Dad took me out to the Officers' Club for brunch.  It was delicious, and made even better by the fact that all I had to worry about was my *ONE* plate, not plates for 3-4 other kids up and down each arm!  They had a chocolate fountain with lots of strawberries . . . my favorite!

After brunch I pumped again, then took a nap (!).  All too soon it was time to pack up everything and head to the airport.  I thoroughly enjoyed a quiet flight back, reading my book so peacefully. 

I was so thankful I was able to be gone as long as I was.  Just one or two nights would not have been long enough.  I felt like I was able to come up to the surface and take a few deep breaths before diving back in until the end of May.  And I was ready to see everyone again by Sunday evening!  I was greeted by all sorts of eager hugs and smiles, which was nice.  It is nice to be missed!

But Bob and the kids did great while I was gone.  Everything ran smoothly, even things like getting to Luke's all-star basketball practices and game.  Caleb and Luke made chili-mac Thursday night, and then Bob made ribs on Friday, a stunning success!  They had a fire in the firepit Saturday night, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. 

So now we're back in our regular routine.  My milk supply did suffer a little bit, I think, so Drew has been eating a little more frequently, although he's still been sleeping really well at night.  Now--to make it until May 23 . . .

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Space Unit

I taught the last 2 Tuesdays at our elementary co-op.  We're in a space unit right now, which is one of my favorite subjects!  I actually taught this unit before, way back in 2006, when I was pregnant with Anna.  Although I taught the 1st and 2nd graders back then, and I taught the 5th and 6th graders this time, at least I had some ideas for where I was going and what I wanted to cover.

Last week we talked about stars.  After talking about differences in size, color, etc., we focused on constellations that are in the sky right now in the evening.  We did several activities to help them be able to recognize Orion, Taurus, Jupiter (which is above Taurus right now), the Pleidies, Auriga, Gemini, Canis Major, and Canis Minor, as well as the Big Dipper, the North Star, and Casseiopia. I told some of the Greek myths behind the constellations too. One thing I do that is always popular is pound nailholes into the bottom of pringles cans in the shape of the constellations (actually you have to punch in the mirror image so it looks right when you look through the can).  I sent the kids home with instructions to look at the stars at night and see how many of those constellations they could identify--but unfortunately practically all of the nights were cloudy, LOL.  Oh well.

Today we focused on the moon.  After talking about features on the moon's surface, what it is made of, and how it shines, we talked about the phases.  I demonstrated them with a globe, light, and foil-covered styrofoam ball, and then the kids made these moon phase plates out of oreos. I "glued" the oreos to the plates with white frosting.  The activity was a hit, LOL. 

Then we talked about the space race, and they made a timeline with figures I drew back when I taught this the last time, and I had extra creativity and time, LOL.  From back when Nathan went through his huge big space phase (when he was 4-5), we have a set of die-cast figurines of the Apollo program--Saturn V rocket, command and service module, lunar module, command capsule with the flotation collar and those big beach-ball-looking things that keep it upright in the water, lunar rover, and a few other figures.   Those are great to illustrate things like docking the command and service module with the lunar lander.  I even dug out some pictures of us down in Huntsville, AL, at the Space and Rocket Center, to show how big the Saturn 5 really was!  I just love the race to the moon!  I've read a ton of books on it (again, back when I had lots of time, LOL), and it is so fascinating.  Michael Collins (the third Apollo 11 astronaut, the one who piloted the command module while Aldrin and Armstrong went down to the moon) wrote a really good autobiography called Carrying the Fire that is one of my favorites.

Anyhow, it is a shame that I am so busy right now and can't just enjoy this unit more, because there are so many interesting websites and new things to read!  I am really relieved to be done with the teaching part, though.  Being at TNT all morning really makes for a long day for me, as I have to come back to Rivendell and teach memory work and life science.  We did not meet at all for biology last week (although I gave the boys a bunch of assignments!), which gave me time to finish this week's lesson plan, but we'll meet this week on Thursday.  In fact, I should be preparing for that now, instead of blogging . . .We're covering the immune system in great detail, and I am definitely not prepared yet!

Friday, March 01, 2013

Week of Luke

Luke turned 14 on Wednesday, but we've been celebrating all week!  It started on Monday when Bob took him and Jonathan skiing in Pennsylvania.  It's a bit of a drive to Hidden Valley, but you can't beat the deal on Mondays and Tuesdays--lift ticket, rental, and a lesson for $32!!  Bob took them, plus Nathan, back in January, and they went snowboarding, but this time they stuck with skiing.  (Nathan didn't want to miss another Spanish class, and Caleb just doesn't like the cold, LOL.)  It was a beautiful day, weather-wise, and they had a grand time.

On Luke's actual birthday, I had a doctor's appointment at Bethesda at 3:00, and I didn't get home until 5:00.  I knew it would be later, so I had already planned on having Luke's special birthday dinner on Thursday.  Instead, Bob brought home tacos from Taco Bell, definitely a special treat--especially since Bob got some (6) of the "loco tacos" with the Doritos shells.  Yum!  I had never tried one of them before!  Bob got three 12-packs, and we polished them all off.  Teenage boys . . .

We have sort of started a new birthday tradition back with Caleb of going to Wegmans and picking out special ice cream for everyone.  Luke didn't really want to go out Wednesday night, so he delegated his picking responsibility to the girls, who are always up for a trip to Wegmans with Daddy!  They (and Micah) came back with a ton of different flavors to choose from!

Thursday we actually had Luke's requested birthday dinner of chicken packets, which is an old recipe from my "Once-A-Month Cooking" cookbook, which I definitely used to own but can no longer find.  Good thing I copied it into a recipe book my brother gave me one year for Christmas a long time ago!  We also had a special salad and kale chips (and more ice cream for dessert).

Then today for Bible study Luke picked a veritable smorgasbord of dessert goodness--candy bar cheesecake (chocolate with snickers), Air Force dessert (which includes cookies & cream ice cream), and chocolate-covered strawberries.  YUM!  I left some strawberries un-dipped, and I made some chocolate-covered pretzels with the last little bit of chocolate.  We brought home with us about 1/3 of the cheesecake.  Everything was gone!  Of course, there were over 20 kids there, plus adults . . .

So we have had a fun week of celebrating Luke.  My parents gave Luke a gun safety course at a local range, and Bob is going to take him shooting there as part of our present.  Fun! 

It's hard to believe Luke is 14!  He is a great older brother--he definitely has a gift with little kids.  He's an excellent student, and he is also a great athlete.  He just was notified tonight that he was picked to be on the all-star basketball team!  He has to miss their first practice on Tuesday, though, because he has now also joined Civil Air Patrol, and he needs to pass a drill test then so he can get promoted. 

Now you are caught up on Luke!