Saturday, December 24, 2011

Winter Solstice

We were invited to celebrate the Winter Solstice by a friend, this year. We have never marked winter solstice with participation in any ritual, but I don't think I'd want to miss it again. It is a really beautiful way to get in touch with creation/nature and pause to think about the upcoming season and what you would like to see fill that time. Marking solstice has pagan roots (as does bringing a live tree into your living room!) but is truly an ecumenical concept. The Winter Solstice is the longest or 'darkest' night of the year. Historically it was a gathering in which people comforted one another with food and music and 'called back' the sun to give them longer days.

Whatever you believe, nature has a way of bringing that all together. I believe in God, and was able to connect this clearly with my belief system.

There were kids of every age, beautiful, seasonal decorations, and a bounty of food.

The fire was central to the celebration - remember, we were calling back the sun!

Our friend, Jane Ann, lead us in a ceremony of releasing fears and singing.

The best part of the night was the drum circle.

I really enjoyed marking the season this way. It helped me take some moments to pause, pray and as always when Jane Ann is involved - play.

After this 'longest night', the next day, the boys attended a Winter Solstice class informing them of all the attributes of the forests this time of year and take a winter hike with friends.

I learned that although the solstice marks the first day of winter, the earth has made that turn that starts bringing longer days and that means we are headed - straight for Spring! Happy Solstice, everyone.

Monday, December 12, 2011

NYC on a Balmy Day

The forecast was predicting 60+ degrees (the Saturday after Thanksgiving!) and the calendar was empty. I am sure Dennis could feel it coming. 'Sooooooo, what should we do tomorrow?' What's on your 'list' he asks. It didn't even take too much bargaining before he said yes to the High Line Park in NYC. I have been wanting to go for quite some time, and have even had friends who've beat me there and so I had to be jealous for a while.

The park is linear, because it is built on an old, raised freight line that runs from the Meat Packing District to about Chelsea with plans to open one more segment. There are beautiful plantings (we missed to the best of season, I think), bridges, pathways, brick, boardwalk and even a lawn.

We managed the distance easily and walked back to where we started on street level next to the piers. We passed Chelsea Piers and took in some sites including the skatepark, the Hudson River and a big grassy park.

Since this was all going so well, I suggested a subway ride that would get us to Central Park. I'd love to get proficient (or at least functional) at riding the subway to destinations in New York. Shortens all the distances.

Central Park was great. It is truly amazing that amidst all the city noise and tall buildings there is this park. It is so huge it will take us many trips (yeah!) to see all that I want to see.

This Silver-Robot man sounded and moved just like a robot when the kids put money in the box he was standing on.

Hecksher Playground is a giant, cement castle-like playground built right into the gigantic, climbable rocks.

Wollman Rink. We didn't skate - but we can't wait to.

We were really hoping to find Balto.

The kids rode the carousel, saw bunches of statues (William Shakespeare, Robert Burns), we saw jet black squirrels, huge, old trees, interesting people, and lots of street musicians. The list of what we didn't do is long. Guess we will just have to go back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

He's 3

If there was a job description listed in the paper, and Sean was the perfect little applicant, here is how it would have read:

Infant wanted. Need to become accustomed to extreme amounts of noise. Ability to be flexible as far as napping and meal times. Pleasant disposition in all situations including long car rides, being toted from activity to activity, and a mother that frequently forgets your diaper bag and bottles. Need to be able to live in a house full of legos without ingesting them and play with Star Wars guys, matchbox cars, pots and pans, Nintendo DSes, and other total (age)inappropriate toys. Skills including escaping your oldest brother's embrace, sweet-talking brothers into reaching high objects, and telling mom that dad said yes, and telling dad that mom said yes, a definate plus.

If you are intersted in being doted on, not only by two parents, but three older brothers, sleeping anywhere you wish, having ice pop appetizers for breakfast and being referred to as the most adorable thing that any of us have ever seen - this job is for you!

That job description never existed, because there was no job! When I found out I was pregnant with Sean, I could not fathom getting through nine months (the way I do pregnancy) and how in the world I was going to fit this baby into the already Crazy Costello Clan. Then, it all changed. He was born, and all was right with the world. When I first visted him in the NICU, he was at complete rest, arms splayed and hands gently open with his head @#!*% to the side seemingly enjoying the warming lights. I looked at the nurse and said, "he's just not like my other baby's - he's different." I ask him, often, 'where did you come from?' and he claims to have been at Grandma's house. "She sent me here", he says.

I ask him to not grow up. He says ok. But they're empty promises, today he turns 3.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Great Nerf War

A few weeks ago, the boys were invited to participate in a Nerf battle. It was to take place at family's home that is new to homeschooling. If it was an effort to make new acquaintances, exchange information, talk about educational philosophies, eat yummy treats, romp in an awesome yard and have a bunch of fun - it worked!!

It really couldn't go wrong. Kids eager to aim at each other, a perfect venue and then the natural course of events unfolded. All types of interesting converations came pouring out of us parents. There were discussions about what classes, clubs and interests the kids were following. Books, websites, message boards and Yahoo groups that support the educational choices people were pursuing were shared. Changes and challenges were discussed. I know I left feeling connected and encouraged and remembering why we choose this lifestyle of learning.

Our hostess could have invited us for an "Informational Meeting" or a "Parent Support Group" or just a Great Nerf War that would yield the same results.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Simple Lesson

I don't own a science curriculum. Or a spelling curriculum. Or a vocabulary curriculum. Does that mean that The Boyz aren't learning any of these things?

This morning, Mikey brought down an old, little book called The Spotted Salamander. He read it out aloud to me. It talked about the signs of spring and melting snow. It described the physical characteristics of the spotted salamander, his habitat and diet. It described mating rituals, reproduction, and the development of the baby salmanders. The book described parts of the food chain and other land and pond animals. The nicest part is that is was written as a story.

The story touched on real experiences that Mikey has had. It talked about skunk cabbage, which he had been introducted to at Cub Scout Camping this fall, and rising tree sap that was covered in a nature center class he had taken.

Mikey sounded out words that were challenging for him, we taked about some common spelling rules and some sounds that 'break the rules'. Among some of the words he stopped at, and we defined were 'waken', 'thrusting', 'thawing', 'beneath', 'shrill', 'remaining' and 'roused'.

The book had beautiful illusrations and he enjoyed the story.

If you ask Mike if he learned any science, phonics, vocabulary, or spelling today, he would tell you no. Usually Mikey says, "we don't do much school". I am glad we don't 'do much school'.

“I have never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” – Mark Twain

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Week Recap

* Hockey season ended - with nail biting playoff games and trophies. That frees up Friday nights and Saturdays to...well, do more stuff!

* Christmas Cookie Baking has begun - with great disappointment and a service call to GE Appliances for cookies browning on one side and raw cookies on the other side of the oven :(

* Ethan participated in Midland School's Annual Jumpathon and ended up in the local newspaper, which made him extremely happy, and his ego even bigger. Gavin, Mikey and Sean were also given a chance to jump, which made them all very happy.

* Thanksgiving was super-casual with parade-watching, cinnamon rolls for breakfast, immediate family and paper plates. It was nice. I didn't even clean the house for everyone coming. Come to think of it, I didn't clean it after either.

* Post-holiday, I joined the women of Dennis' family for dinner and a holiday show. Kid-free, ladies only. Rare and very nice.

* Saturday was spent attending birthday parties. A space-themed 5th Birthday party and a beautiful Sweet Sixteen.

* There was a trip to NYC that needs it's own post!

* The last of the Thanksgiving leftovers were served as 'turkey salad sandwiches' for our trip to NY and dinner this evening as 'dinner pie' with Pillsbury Crescent Rolls on the bottom, turkey, carrots, broccoli, and gravy as the filling and stuffing piled on top and baked. Met with mixed reviews - and thankfully finished.

The payment for all this fun and frivolity is a laundry monster that is howling from the basement and the rest of the house looking like this.

Truth in advertising.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dan, The Wild Man

The kids and I attended a class coordinated by one of the moms from Green Valley Homeschoolers. Another mom offered her yard. Yes, class was held in the yard. We were joined by Dan Farella of Return to Nature. He is a Wildcrafter, Herbalist and Musician. He came to teach us about wild edibles that could be found on a suburban front lawn.

He talked about plants like they were friends of his that he wanted to introduce us to. He dispelled alot of myths about where minerals come from (like calcium - from plants!!) and where they can be found - your front lawn!! He doesn't call it a lawn, though, Dan calls it a garden.

We learned to identify several plants such as dandelion, plantain, and wild onions. We tasted them right there on the front lawn in the garden.

The kids were very interested in all he had to say and were eager to try remedies like chewing up plantain for applying to bites or stings. They asked great questions and added all types of anecdotes to his discussion.

I am enjoying reading his website. He happened to bring a few medicinals with him and I picked up his Elderberry Cough Syrup for a particularly nasty cough I have had for 10 days. I will let you know how it goes.

We really enjoyed our time with this passionate man who helped us think differently about what we put in our bodies and how we can use what nature has given us. I don't think this is the last time we'll be learning from Dan.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We Had Med Students for Dinner

On Monday evening, we opened our home to a new set of 'medical students'. We have been part of a seminar run by UMDNJ for over 10 years (on and off). The students are 3rd year students participating in a pediatric rotation during which they will receive training in treating patients who have disabilities. As part of the seminar, they are required to visit the home of a family raising at least one child with special needs.

I do this because I feel that it is so important for these soon-to-be doctors to cross the threshold from the clinical into the personal. I like them to see who we are, how we live, and what we need from the medical community. I hope that telling them the stories of the difficult beginning as well as what challenges we expect to face in the future will leave a lasting impression on them.

Three young men who we've never met before walked through our front door into our "you-get-what-you-get" environment. They walk in to video games and dinner prep and having to step over toys and dodge nerf bullets. During dinner, the guys ask lots of good questions. Did we know Ethan had Down syndrome before he was born? Who gave us the news and could it have been done better? What are all Ethan's diagnoses? What were the early years like? How do the boys interact? What do we hope for his future?

 I make sure they all have two big plates of chicken parm and I never tire of telling them that we need doctors who will listen, doctors who are human. I share with them some of our lowest points, personal things. I tell them that there were things that were and still are very hard. I tell them not be afraid to be optimistic and encouraging to new parents. I tell them that although they will be treating children during all types of difficult times and terrible illnesses, that raising children with special needs can be a gift.

I remember lots of our medical students over the years. I hope that they remember us and that it changes how they deal with another family who needs compassionate medical care or a family to whom they need to share difficult news with. I hope they will remember how much we love Ethan. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homeschooling - A Dark Side

There must a down side, you think. It can't be all freedom and field trips, times tables over leisurely, hot breakfasts and boys crocheting while I read aloud, right?

It's true. There is an ugly side to homeschooling. It's something many of us try to hide behind closed doors - It's Messy!!

First, there is the 'stuff' I keep.

Baskets, bins, bags, piles, shelves and closets full of stuff! I love for The Boyz to have access to science kits, art supplies, bioscopes, maps, puzzles, magnets, manipulatives, books, paper, games, glue, telescopes, crafting supplies, computer programs, musical instruments, building kits, scales, etc. You never know when one of them might need a Hieroglyphic Stamping Set or a clear form of the Human Body.

When things are in full swing, there are ant farms on the counter, crystals growing in my drinking glasses, my kitchen aid mixer whipping up paper mache,  and chickens mummifying in plastic bags.

Sometime when it gets to dinnertime...

There is nowhere to put dinner!

We deal with the regular amount of 'family living' mess with the addition of the house being 'in use' by children 24/7. Things that school kids leave behind in school shares our home with us. It's all good stuff and we wouldn't have it any other way!

Not even neat and clean.

Friday, November 11, 2011

38 - Learn Tightrope Walking

Gavin, Mikey and even Sean (and previously Ethan) take every opportunity to scale things, climb things and balance on objects that beckon them to balance on. While other mother's are yelling at their kids to get down, I'm taking photos.

Gavin & Mikey are particularly agile, and I like to think some of it is because they have been allowed to hone their skills. As far as tightroping walking goes, they can do the tops of bike racks, chain link fences, the tops of swingsets, and railings.

I particularly like that they did this with books in their hands, looked like they were walking on the ground and turned around at one end and did it again without falling.

Hey, you have to start somewhere!

Dangerous? We haven't had any problems yet. I guess you risk a broken bone, but I supposed that's bound to happen sometime.

53 - Whittle

I don't know how many kids whittle. I don't know how many kids are allowed to carry and handle knives. Are yours? Gavin & Mikey as well as their friend who were whittling here the other day are all Cub/Boy Scouts. In order to carry/use their knives they were taught how to handle a knife and some basic guidelines. They know that the improper use of a knife would results in losing that privilege. That is *really* something these boys do not want to lose.

Worried about your kids playing too many video games? Give them knives - they'll go find much more interesting things to do. You have to get outside to whittle, it could turn into a fabulous hobby, and it's a useful skill - how can you go wrong?

Dangerous? It is, but with proper training and some simple guidelines you can trust that nothing more than a little blood will be the worst of it.