Monday, December 31, 2007

Year of the Ant and the Grasshopper

New Year's Eve seems to be a day when many of us just naturally look back on the year past and reflect, and then look forward to what the new year will bring. 2007 has been, for me, a year of transition. When my mom slipped through the veil between this earth life and a heavenly one last New Year's Eve, I knew I'd miss her very much. What I didn't know was exactly how that transition would affect our lives.

I still miss her very much. Her legacy and strength live on, and I continue learning life lessons from her example. I have also learned this year that it's okay for me NOT to be my mom. We are two very different women, each with strengths to be maximized and weaknesses to learn from or overcome.

Not long after we were married, Woody's mom, MY bonus Mom, gave me a little book called "Reflections from a Grasshopper." Reading it was an epiphany. Reflecting on 2007 has reminded me of the lesson I learned from that little tome. The world needs both ants and grasshoppers. I am a grasshopper. My mom was an ant. We each have things to offer our family, friends, and the rest of the world, and also things we need to learn from each other.

To have the House of Order that I crave, I need to put more focus on Mom's ant-like constancy. To continue to encourage the love of learning that we are fostering in our girls, I need to allow the grasshopper in me to flourish without guilt. I think the combination will allow both goals to be accomplished.

I'm praying that the lesson I've learned about moderation as I reach for better physical health will give me strength - strength to be as productive as an ant when I need to be, and strength to allow my grasshopper tendencies to be used to bless the lives of those I love.

I don't know what animal the Chinese say this is the year of, but for me, 2008 is the Year of the Ant AND the Grasshopper.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Simple Pleasures

Last night we declared that this was to be a "sleeping in" day. So my eyes popped open at 6:45 rather than 6:30. Sheesh. The Doodle woke up half an hour later, at 7:15 rather than her usual close-to-9-o'clock, probably because the plan was for her to "very quietly" watch a movie in bed (a special privilege) until Jelly was awake. So even before saying good morning, she asked if she could watch her movie. She just appeared, having paused the Shirly Temple version of Heidi, and asked if she could have a snack in bed. She's now happily ensconced under her Hello, Kitty! blanket, with a paper towel and TWO Christmas tangerines ("because they're so small, Mama").

Simple pleasures.

Woody just appeared, but it may be a while before we see the fourth member of the family. Jelly is a night owl, not falling asleep easily the way her Daddy and sister do. As a result, she is usually the last to wake in the mornings. We usually need to wake her to get things going in the mornings - breakfast, chores, devotions, school. Anyway, I promised her last night that she could stay in bed today until she decides to get up. She needs the extra rest.

Jelly has wanted a Nintendo DS ever since she played with her godsister's system last summer while we were on vacation. We've always been adament about NOT having Nintendo in the house. For six months, she stayed constant. The DS was the ONLY item on her Christmas wish list. As a visit with Santa loomed, she got a bit nervous, not wanting him to think she was greedy. We'd talked about the higher-than-usual price tag of the DS and all the accessories and so forth that are required. She knew that Doodle's request, a snow globe, was a much less costly item. In the end, her great desire won out, and she did ask Santa for the DS.

Woody and I decided to give Santa a break. Joining financially with the girls' Papa, WE gave her the DS and accompanying accessories, including the much-desired game, Nintendogs. There was momentary disappointment when the game system was NOT among the gifts Santa left. As the presents under the tree were opened, and the DS was discovered, Jelly's joy and excitement was precious. It was, as we had hoped, made more so by the fact that the gift had come NOT from Santa, but from loving parents. (Note: Doodle did get her snow globe, but not from Santa. She and Jelly each got unique snow globes, chosen just for them and delivered by Owl Post on behalf of their friends at Hogwarts. Maybe I'll post about that later. Doodle's special gift from Woody and I, and Papa, was her own sewing machine and "real" sewing kit. More on that in another post.)

As loving parents, we've always been quite consistent about allowing only one hour of computer time daily. For some unfathomable reason, we didn't even think to extend any kind of limit to Jelly's Nintendo DS play. Until now. Due to, we are sure, MUCH too much time focusing on that tiny little screen for three days in a row, Jelly is complaining of a phenomenon that she calls "screen vision". She is, at our suggestion, on haitus from the long-awaited DS, having made such comments as "I wish I'd never asked for it!" Jelly, as is common to her age, tends to the extreme and the dramatic. We've assured her that her eyes merely need to rest. Once they recover, we'll monitor her DS time the same way we do the "big" computer, and she'll be able to enjoy herself again.

For now, she's rediscovering the joy of audio books.

Simple pleasures.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Polar Express Party Weekend

It was the Doodle's first ever sleepover party. A December birthday and our family love of trains made the theme an easy choice - A Polar Express Pajama Party! We kept things simple, and had simply a trainload of fun!!

I started here, and then added other Christmassy train ideas. Invitations were, of course, tickets to ride on the Polar Express. As guests arrived, Woody-the-conductor took tickets and pictures on the front-porch platform. After baggage had been stowed, passengers were escorted to the Dining Car because we needed the table for crafting! We had pre-cut and punched very large stockings made from brown-paper grocery bags. Each girl laced up and decorated her own stocking, which was later filled with movie-watching treats. The Polar Express movie soundtrack, a birthday gift from our Vancouver friends, added atmosphere as it played in the background during the whole party (except for when we were watching the movie).

We had games planned (Conductor Says, Snow Blowers, Polar Express Pick Up) but ended up not needing them. The girls visited and laced, while sipping hot chocolate (or apple cider) until Jelly got back from her Downtown Disney Scavenger Hunt. It was an Activity Day activity for the 9-10 year-old girls from church. She did her stocking early, so as not to miss out on the fun, and we used it as a sample to show the guests.

We gathered in the Lounge Car for present opening (Doodle made the same wish for each gift-giver before she opened their gift - that she would have a very, Merry Christmas), then trouped back to the Dining Car for cupcakes and peppermint icecream. Each girl decorated her own snowman-face cupcake, then the Doodle made her magic wish and blew out eight candles on a snowflake cake.

Passengers donned pjs and spread out sleeping bags in the Sleeping Car, then the Conductor passed out filled stockings and started the movie. We actually had only one guest who hadn't seen it before, but the magic was still there for all of us, so each passenger who "truly believed" received a Christmas bell.

Lights were out just AFTER toothbrushing (a must after all the goodies!), singing Away in a Manger, a family & friends bedtime prayer, and just BEFORE midnight.

Breakfast was turkey bacon, scrambled cheesy eggs, milk, and juice, supplied by the dining car staff (assisted by NJB, one of our cute nieces who happens to be a very good cook!), and personalized snow-people biscuits created, decorated, and devoured by the girls.

Thank-you-for-coming-to-my-Polar-Express-Party goodie bags included a booklet we made from free puzzles, coloring, and story pages found on the www, lots of Christmas-train items (crayons, notepad, pencil, stickers galore), a mini Connect-Four-style game that was a huge hit, and twisty-type red/green/white lollipops, all from Oriental Trading Co., and the favorite, a classic Christmas candy train for each passenger, made by Doodle and I the day before the party.

Even when the party was officially over, the fun continued because we had out-of-town cousins in town. The girls played, inside and out, all day long! It was awesome to see them strengthening their relationships and making some memories.

We took Jelly and Doodle, and the three visiting cousins to our church Christmas party later that night. It was a wonderfully-done Christmas Around the World. We learned some holiday customs and traditions and sampled festive foods from fifteen different countries. (Wonderwood Academy is going to do a whole MONTH of Christmas Around the World in 2008, as part of an online co-op sponsored by Hands of a Child!) A Sing-Along Christmas pageant followed, with Jelly as one of the beautiful angelic messengers. Doodle invited our neighbor's tiny granddaughter (who adores her!) to sit with her during the pageant. Adorable!

Not to forget - Cousins were safely delivered home late Saturday night and we spent Sunday with family, chillin' and then attending the Christmas concert of the combined Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park stakes (directed by Frank Turner), where one of Woody's sisters added her voice to the soprano section. We even visited with a couple of folks from our old ward after the concert. A nice night.

From the train platform to the First Christmas story pageant to the holiday concert, many memories we'll all treasure were made this weekend!

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Celebrating Life

There is just something about December, and this one is off to a fantastic beginning!

Saturday, Dec. 1: Last year, as I mentioned previously, we began a new tradition of participating in the Community Creche Exhibit and Concert sponsored by our neighboring stake in Orange, CA. They really do a marvelous job! We loved it again this year. There were literally hundreds of nativities on display, from all over the world. I asked everyone what their favorites were, but nobody could decide - there are just too many that are amazing for too many different reasons. Really, though, the best part is the incredibly good feeling that permeates the whole building right down into the middle of each heart.

The girls again enjoyed the nativity dress-up room and the kids' craft room, which they took full advantage of while Woody was doing a last-minute rehearsal. I got to relax and enjoy the interim imusical offerings and some time to visit with a friend from church. When concert time came, the Anaheim Mormon Chorale did their usual excellent job. The spirit and message of the music was sweet AND powerful. The song from Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Woody and friends, really blessed my soul. (Mom, if it works out, you may even get to hear it! Hope I'm not spoiling a surprise.)

Sunday, the 2nd: Woody and I were asked to sing a special number during the Relief Society program. It was an Afterglow song, called "The Holy Child." It felt good, and many comments afterward confirmed the feeling.

Then the Doodle had her special baptismal interview with the Bishop after church. She was a little nervous as she went in, but the huge grin covering her entire face as she came out echoed her words, "I'm ready!"

Peace, peace, peace.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ancient Greece at Wonderwood

We have been studying Ancient Greece at Wonderwood Academy since the end of May. We use Learning Adventures, A World of Adventure, as our main curriculum. Our favorite add-ins are hands-on history kits and Color and Learn coloring books from Hands and Hearts, lapbooks from Hands of a Child, pocket books from Evan-Moore, and notebooking pages from NotebookingPages. We took from the middle of June through the end of August off this year, which is a month and a half longer than we usually take for "summer vacation". (My hospital stay and convalesence accounted for the extra time.) All that to say that our three-month study of Ancient Greece is finally coming to a close. We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we immersed ourselves in all things Greek, including Aesop's Fables, Greek Mythology, and a study of the human body.

We actually haven't finished putting together our lapbooks quite yet, our final "assessment" project - we'll do that right after Christmas before we start our new unit study of Ancient Rome. Last year our holiday was anything but relaxed and festive so we've decided to take December and "study Christmas!" More about that later.

We don't "do" testing here at Wonderwood, because there are so many more accurate ways to find out just how much we're learning. A review as we put minibook projects and photos into lapbook form is usually more than sufficient. So the "final exam" we did for Ancient Greece was a bit unusual. It consisted of 15 questions. You can find it here.

You won't, I'm sure, be as thrilled as the girls were when the screen informed us: "You have won a million pounds! (Must have been a British programmer.) Congratulations!" The celebration was huge as Jelly and Doodle realized just how much they really had learned about Ancient Greece. Truly, I only had to assist the girls' memories twice as we proceeded through the questions, and there was just one (a question about an exact date, which we never focus on) that Jelly completely guessed at and got right. If we did grades, the girls would most definitely get an A for this unit, not because a test declared it, but because they know for themselves just how much they learned.

Yesterday they had a chance to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of Ancient Greece with some homeschooled friends as our family sponsored a field trip for our local support group. We went to the Getty Villa, in Malibu, CA. A wonderful time was had by all! You know it was a success when Jelly asked if we can go there again, and "just explore on our own." We did two tours - one of museum highlights, and the other focusing on architecture and gardens, and also spent some time in the Family Forum, a hands-on place that lets kids really get into things. The girls both correctly identified all three types of columns (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) found at the Villa, as I pointed and asked everytime we entered a new area! Both of our tour guides were impressed with the kids and were great at keeping things at the right level and really interesting. I highly recommend this field trip. We'll be going again when we finish our study of Ancient Rome.

We're going to eat Greek food today at Daphne's, and then we're going to a Creche Exhibit. We started this tradition last year, and were more than amazed by the hundreds of nativities from around the world, from super simple to incredibly intricate. The experience also includes a concert, with musicians from around the county, including our own Woody, who will be featured in a selection from Amahl and the Night Visitors. When we get home tonight, our family Christmas devotionals begin. And tomorrow is the Doodle's 8th birthday.

Whew. But the good news is, it doesn't feel crazy-busy, just wonderful Wonderwoody fun!

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