A Week In The Life of Our Homeschool

If you would have asked me last year what I thought I would be doing RIGHT NOW, the answer would have been: NOT homeschooling my kids. And yet, here I am…homeschooling my kids…and I actually kind of love it. No, I really love it. I love watching my kids learn–and learning along with them. I love playing teacher again. I love the way our boys’ relationships with each other and with us have strengthened. Homeschool has been a good move for our family, and I’m glad we made it.

We are still very new to this whole homeschooling thing, though, and I get a lot of questions from people about it.

How is school going?
Overall great, with plenty of hiccups and meltdowns along the way.

Are you exhausted yet?
Ummm…YEAH.

What do you do all day?
Stuff…I call it “playing with a purpose”.

Our days are surprisingly packed and the weeks have been flying by. In order to give you a better picture of what school looks like for us, I’ve put together a little tour through our week. So pack your bags and come along with us for your first week enrolled at the Peterson Learning Academy!

Day 1
On Mondays I introduce our weekly themes: our book (with our curriculum, Five In A Row, we have a new children’s book each week. We read the book every day of that week and base our activities around the themes found in the book), letter of the week, and Bible verse.

This week’s book is Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack, a classic book that has been enjoyed by four generations of children. The book is about a little boy who is trying to find the perfect birthday gift for his mother, so he asks all of the animals he meets if they have a gift for him. The main themes from the book that  we focused on this week were farm animals, forests, and birthdays (mostly because I wanted an excuse to eat more cake).

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After reading the book through one time we jumped right into our farm animal theme. We started with a matching game where the boys had to match animals with their products.
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Then we went outside to “milk” our “cows”.IMG_6854

Even though our cow udders were actually latex gloves and our milk was actually water, we still had a lot of fun (and we all agreed that we would not want to wake up early every morning to complete this chore).IMG_6856

Once our cows had been properly milked we measured how much water…er…milk…made it into our buckets. Despite a significant amount of liquid being lost to squirting themselves and each other, we did manage to pour enough into measuring cups to complete the activity.
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All that milking made us hungry, so we headed back inside to make a snack–farm style! We made our own butter by pouring heavy cream and a pinch of salt into a jar…IMG_6864

…and shaking, shaking, shaking like crazy!IMG_6867

Just when we thought our arms would fall off from exhaustion, the butter came together and we were able to enjoy some toast with VERY fresh butter.
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With tummies full of butter we were ready to move on to Messy Time (I have boys, so “messy time” is a suitable term for our artistic endeavors). Today we made “cow udder art” (ok, I’ve gotta think of a better name for that one…). We filled some more latex gloves with paint, poked holes in the ends of the fingers, and squirted away. They are very modern. I think I’ll sell the completed pieces to an art gallery and add the money to the boys’ college funds.
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After messy time we did a little work with our letter of the week, “o”. The boys love using their “dibble dots” (Bingo stampers), so we did a dibble dot letter tracing page to work on fine motor skills.IMG_6846

Monday happened to be a school holiday for the other kids in our neighborhood (Darn! We almost forgot to celebrate Columbus Day!). In the afternoon we met up with a bunch of the kids to go for a creek walk in our neighborhood. IMG_6876

Day 2
This was our “forest day”. After doing calendar time and reading our book again, we packed up and headed out for a day exploring the woods where Mr. Bear lives. There are several great hiking trails within a few minutes of our house, so we didn’t have to go too far to find a good forest. 
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The boys wanted to climb every tree we came to. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.IMG_6893

We hiked (and by “hiked”, I mean I hiked and they walked for short spurts between rides in the jogging stroller) a little over a mile to a small lake.
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The boys went “fishing” with poles we’d made that morning at home (they caught lots of little green plants and muck on their lines but, sadly for them, no fish).
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They also had fun exploring this exciting “tunnel” we found near the lake (and my, how it echoed!).IMG_6913

During our walk we made a nature board. I had painted several colors along one edge of the board and the boys worked together to find nature treasures of every color that we then taped on to the board. Their favorite finds were an acorn, multi-colored leaves…and an orange peel that someone had left on the side of the trail.
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When we returned home we made a page for our memory books (3-ring binders that we’re adding to all year). Today’s page was on the colors of Autumn and we used our color nature board to help us complete a poem about the different colors we see in nature at this time of year.
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Day 3
Our day started with the boys “reading” books to our dog, Bota, while I made breakfast.IMG_7011
Wednesday mornings are usually spent at our church doing either Playhouse (a fantastic morning just for preschoolers–they have open gym time with bounce houses, ride-on toys, gymnastics equipment, climbers, Play-doh, puzzles, crafts, stories, and circle time) or MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers). This was a MOPs week, so the boys went to their Moppetts group where they do a little Bible lesson, craft and games with other children their age. Meanwhile, Mommy went to her “class” where I learned how to take stunning iPhone photos while noshing on an uninterrupted hot breakfast and chatting with my friends.

Moppetts wore out little Jacob and he fell asleep in the car on the way home. While Jacob was napping, I took advantage of the quiet to work one-on-one with David. David has his own handwriting book that we are going through this year and he completed the “o” page for our letter of the week.IMG_6998

Then David did a letter building game, working with our letters of the week from this week and last week.IMG_7004

We had just enough time to do our “writing project”–thank you notes for his birthday party that we had last weekend!IMG_7007
After Jacob’s nap the boys worked on some animal puzzles together.IMG_7023

Then it was calendar time (a group activity where we go through the days of the week, counting, patterns, and graphing using our daily calendar). I’ve also been incorporating a song or poem each week that goes along with our theme, and this week’s poem is about farm animals. The boys used our farm puppets to help act out the poem.
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Next, we caught up on an activity that we ran out of time for last week when we were studying Corduroy. We made a page for our memory books that involved measuring and weighing their teddy bears.IMG_7030

Finally, we had Bible time. We’ve been using our Awana Cubbies book for a lot of our Bible time activities, and today’s story was about God creating the animals (quite fitting since we’ve been learning so much about animals lately!).IMG_7033 

Day 4
Now that we had heard our story several times and were getting quite familiar with it, I gave the boys some time for dramatic play. We started by talking about setting and we looked through several of our favorite books so we could identify the setting of each story. Then we got out the butcher paper (thank you, Melodie!) to draw a mural of the setting in Ask Mr. Bear.

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After our setting was complete, we hung it up and set up a “stage” so we could re-enact the story with puppets. The boys had a great time making their puppets move and talk just like the characters in the story.
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After several versions of the puppet show we worked on a letter-o craft project (they made an o-shaped octopus with Cheeri-o suckers on the tentacles…the vast majority of the “suckers” ended up in their mouths, though, so we counted this as snack time. Bam. Double-duty art project.)
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While they were content at the table with bowls full of Cheeri-o’s I had them color a mini farm animal book. The pattern of the text is so simple that they can “read” their own books–they really enjoyed getting to read to me for a change!IMG_7048
Day 5
Friday fun day! Since the plot of our book this week centered around a little boy trying to find the perfect birthday gift for his mother, I thought it would be fitting to have our own birthday celebration (note: Friday fun day also apparently implies that we got to wear pajamas and/or Halloween costumes all day. Homeschool for the win.)

I try to do at least one cooking project with the boys every week, so we headed into the kitchen to make birthday cupcakes (shhh…they were actually banana muffins, but don’t tell the un-birthday boys).IMG_7052

While our muffin cupcakes were baking we made a collaborative book. On each page they dictated while I wrote who they would like to give a gift to and what it would be. Then they drew a picture of the gift in the “gift box” at the bottom of the page and taped a piece of wrapping paper along the top edge of the gift box. It’s a really fun book similar to a lift-the-flap book that I’m sure they’ll enjoy reading and re-reading.
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We also played some balloon games. The first game involved rolling dice and bouncing the balloon the same number of times as the number they rolled. Once they got the hang of this we added a second dice and they had to add the numbers together (David could do this on his own, but Jacob still needed some help counting and adding the larger numbers).IMG_7064

We also did an experiment with balloons and FIRE (this one definitely had the wow factor going for it!). I blew up two balloons—one with just air, and the other with air and about 1/4 cup of cold water. We made predictions about what we thought would happen when the flame touched each balloon and then tested out our theories (the air balloon popped right away and the water-filled balloon lasted awhile longer before exploding). We talked about how heat changes things and they gave me examples of things they have seen changed by heat. Then we went back into the kitchen to check on our muffins in the oven to see how heat had changed THEM!IMG_7071

The boys decorated their birthday muffins with some frosting and sprinkles (eh, why not…) and I gave them each a birthday candle. We sang “Happy Un-Birthday To You” and they each made a wish before blowing out their candles. Then they licked their plates (and fingers, and table) clean.IMG_7072

While they were eating their cupcakes I got out their baby books and showed them the only completed sections in the books–their very first birthdays. We compared the size of their baby footprints to their giant boy feet and the size of their newborn ID bracelets to their giant boy hands. We looked at pictures of their tiny little selves and Mommy gushed about how stinkin’ adorable they were. Mommy may have also cried. Just a little.IMG_7079

After our snack we went back to our book and found all of the gifts that the animals suggested Danny give his mother for his birthday. We listed each gift on a whiteboard and then came up with rhyming words for each gift. I have a little rhyming song that we like to sing any time we rhyme, so we sang several verses using our gift rhymes.IMG_7084And thus concluded our week of Ask Mr. Bear (and with it, our unit on bears). This afternoon we’ll go to the library to return all of our bear books and check out some new books for next week’s study of pumpkins!

I hope you enjoyed coming along with us on our week of learning. Until next time!

XxX Allison

Ballymaloe House and the Ballycotton Cliff Walk

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
-Mark Twain

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I have an amazing husband. He is kind and dedicated and handsome and talented. He makes me laugh (a lot). He pushes me to stretch my limits and try new things. He is the source of much of my joy, and he is who I choose to divide my joy with. In a couple of weeks we will be celebrating our ninth (what?!) wedding anniversary. I love him. And, even after all this time, I like him (a lot). It was our joy, then, to sneak away for a special date this weekend to remember just how much we really do like each other. After we dropped the boys off at our favorite babysitter’s house for a day of jumping on trampolines and splashing in the kiddie pool (THANK YOU, KELSEY!!!) we drove 30 minutes out to the Irish countryside in East Cork. Our destination: Ballymaloe House. IMG_5291 Ballymaloe House (pronounced Bally-ma-loo) is the site of  a world-famous cooking school, a boutique hotel, a crafts and cooking shop, a cafe, an award-winning fine dining restaurant, farms and gardens. The property stretches over 400 acres so, as you can imagine, there is plenty to see and do there. Parts of the estate have been around since the original Norman castle rested on this site in 1450, although the “modern” house was completed in 1820. The grounds are gorgeous. As you come up the drive toward the house you pass a self-maintained golf course, towering rhododendrons and arching trees forming arboreal tunnels. You know when the driveway is that good that you’re in for a real treat.

We were at Ballymaloe to take advantage of their posh lunch in the restaurant. And when I say posh, I mean uber-fancy. Fancy enough that the restaurant’s website provides geo-coordinates for you to use if you want to, you know, land your private helicopter on the property. Even though we arrived in our humble car instead of a helicopter, we were still treated royally.

When we arrived we were first led to a large sitting room where our drink order was taken. While we awaited libation we could recline on plush sofas or sun-bathed window-seats to contemplate our idyllic surroundings:

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With wine in hand we were then led to the formal dining room. There were more pieces of cutlery at each place setting than I had fingers to count them. It was at this point that I sighed a heavy sigh of relief that we had *correctly* chosen to leave our rambunctious boys at home. Although I know they would have had fun playing swords with the pickle forks and picking their noses with the mustard spoons, I’m not so sure the other patrons at the restaurant would have enjoyed the entertainment.

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The food was absolutely heavenly. Ballymaloe revolutionized the farm-to-table movement in the 1960’s, and they are known the world over for their fresh take on modern Irish cuisine. To this day all of the ingredients on their menu are sourced right here on their own property. In fact, the day’s menu is not finalized until after the garden has been cultivated and the fishermen dock with the day’s catch. This means that the menu is unique from day to day and meal to meal, and every morsel you eat is the definition of “fresh”. The meat, eggs, vegetables, milk, and herbs come from the farms on Ballymaloe’s 400-acre property. The fish are reeled in from the Atlantic Ocean–the same Atlantic that provides the gentle sea breeze you feel as you wander the gardens of Ballymaloe. The baker starts her ovens at 6:30 each morning to bake the day’s bread. All of the foodie-things that I wish I could do at home but know that I would never in a million years actually do.

For lunch I had “Roast free range chicken with fresh herb stuffing, roast butternut squash, summer cabbage & redcurrant sauce” and Jon had the “Glazed loin of bacon (what we Americans would call ham) with crushed swede turnip, summer cabbage & Irish whiskey sauce” (see, even the names of the food are beautiful!). The food was gorgeous and we unabashedly took photo after photo of our dishes. Perhaps the best part of the meal was that after we finished eating, we were offered more meat and veg. Now, I’ve been to places where they refill the bread basket, but never anywhere that will give you more of whatever you like.  We also split a serving of “Goujons of plaice” which were basically posh fish fingers that I actually enjoyed. And if you know me, then you know what an achievement that is. I usually hide in another room if there is seafood being served, but I happily ate not just one, not two, but three fish goujons. I was quite proud of myself.

Then, the crowning glory: dessert. They rolled out a dessert trolly laden with cakes and pies and berries and a giant ice bowl full of freshly-churned ice cream for me to oggle. When it came time to make a selection I could hardly bear it. What to choose? I wanted it ALL. We finally settled on two plates of desserts to share: rhubarb tartlets with caramel ice cream and French chocolate cake with Irish strawberries. We ate ourselves silly, but wouldn’t you, too?

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When we got the bill at the end of our meal we both vowed to not eat for the next month so our stomachs and our bank account could recover. Perhaps we’ll return some day in our private helicopter but, until then, we will fondly remember this once in a lifetime meal.

After Jon rolled me out of the dining room we browsed the Ballymaloe shop, a cross between country store and gourmet cooking shop. We bought the Ballymaloe bread-baking cookbook (which, by the way, has a whole chapter on scones!!!) and a small measuring cup (because this week Jacob wanted to see what would happen if he threw my glass measuring cup onto our tiled kitchen floor. Spoiler alert: the glass shattered). IMG_5299
Then we wandered around the Ballymaloe House gardens where we found a plant with the world’s largest leaves:

IMG_5302 …and picturesque ponds: IMG_5304
We could have spent all day at Ballymaloe (or, more likely, several days), but we had one more destination on our whirlwind date. We got back in our car and drove 10 minutes down the road to Ballycotton, a historic seaside fishing village. We parked our car at the far end of town at the entrance to the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, perhaps the most beautiful seaside walk in Ireland (at least, according to us): IMG_5341
The trail winds along the edge of the cliffs that drop off straight into the Atlantic. It was a well-maintained trail that, had we chosen, we could have followed all the way to Roches Point (about a 5-hour walk in one direction). The views were stunning (made all the more sensational with the addition of the bright summer sun) and we felt peace wash over us with each step we took. At one point, the walk actually caused Jon to remark, “I think this is the most fun we’ve had in Ireland.” IMG_5316
After walking about 3 miles down the trail we decided to end our walk at a rocky beach before doubling back to our car. We stayed at the beach for a few minutes watching the waves crash over the rocks jutting out into the ocean and collecting smooth skipping stones to bring home to the boys as souvenirs. IMG_5338
Our day in Ballymaloe was more than just a date, it was magical. It was a day full of joy, divided between me and my love. Well, and  maybe I had a little joy left over to divide with the French chocolate cake. I’m all for equality here.

Weekend in Kilkenny

For a few months now we’ve been planning a trip with some friends of ours, Audrey and Dave and their three children: Zoe, Jack and Benjamin. Audrey and Dave are from a place called Kilkenny, and they were generous enough to offer themselves as our hosts and guides for our weekend out in the country. We were all very excited for our little 2-family getaway. That is, until this happened:

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On the eve of our most-exciting trip, David came down with a nasty viral infection. His fever spiked to 105 degrees in the middle of the night, and we decided to take him to the hospital for a little check-up just to be safe. So, with a sick child and no previous Irish-hospital experience, Jon braved a night in the ER. I could devote an entire blog post just to this ridiculous hospital visit, but for now I’ll just say that it involved Jon kicking down a door in the hospital, sitting in a waiting room with people who had been waiting for TWELVE HOURS, and getting sent home with a “prescription” for Tylenol. Needless to say, Jon and David were pretty wiped out from the whole hospital experience and neither of them were up for a trip to the country–no matter how glorious it was going to be.  We decided that it would be best for Jon and David to stay home and rest up while Jacob and I went on to meet our friends in Kilkenny.

Jacob and I got up before the crack of dawn (his idea, not mine), packed up the car, and drove 2 hours north into the Irish countryside. The drive itself was gorgeous–pastures, farms, animals, and ancient ruins everywhere you looked:

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We arrived in Kilkenny just after 10:00 on Saturday morning so we had the whole day to explore. Audrey’s parents run a grain farm, and they were kind enough to put us all up in the bungalow on their property. The “bungalow” was actually a huge house with 5 bedrooms, a large kitchen, and 2 sitting rooms. The bungalow is on the farm, so we could look out the window and see tractors going by and even hear animals baa-ing and moo-ing in the distance.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to stay on our little Irish holiday.

The first thing we did after getting unpacked was to go for a little walk around the farm:

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All of the kids had a great time checking out the big tractors and massive farm machinery. Every little boy’s dream come true!

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We walked through the ginormous grain sheds (seriously, I think you could fit Safeco Field inside one of these guys!) and got to learn about all of the different grains that are on the farm:

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Audrey’s dad, Farmer Harper (alright, I don’t know if anyone calls him that, but his last name is Harper!), came down for a bit to show us around his farm and take the kids for rides on the tractor:

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And then it was insisted upon that I drive the tractor:

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I tried to warn them that I didn’t have an insurance policy to cover tractor collisions, but they still gave me the go-ahead (don’t worry, I drove at about 0.5 Miles Per Hour and couldn’t have hit a turtle if I’d been gunning for it):

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After a fun morning playing at Farmer Harper’s grain farm we headed out for our next farm-venture. Audrey’s cousin runs an open farm (a farm open for visitors with animals and kids’ activities) called Nore Valley Park, just up the road from her parents’ farm. There were lots of baby animals for us to see and pet and cuddle at Nore Valley: ducklings, chicks, and bunnies.

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My favorite babies, though, were definitely these twin lambs (you can only see one because her sister is lying behind Mama Sheep). They were born just a few hours before we arrived–they were so new that they still had their umbilical cords hanging on them!

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There were lots of fun activities for the kids including Jacob’s favorite, the sand pit:

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There were so many gorgeous animals for us to visit out on the farm. It doesn’t get much more Irish than this: a flock of fuzzy sheep and their new baby lambs grazing in a lush green field:

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We made one last stop after Nore Valley at a pottery studio called Nicholas Mosse. Kilkenny is well-known for the Irish arts and crafts that are produced in this region, so I had to see at least one design center while we were there.

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The Nicholas Mosse studio was very cool. The building itself is a 250-year old former grain mill on the banks of the River Nore. Inside, you can see demos of artists throwing the pottery and hand-painting each piece. Unfortunately, there were no demos for us to view while we were visiting, but there were several displays and videos showing us the whole pottery-making process.

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We spent a bit of time perusing the pottery that was for sale in the store. But, since I didn’t have $80 to spare for a tea cup, we decided to move along.

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There was a lovely cafe upstairs with a view of the river below. We all got tea and snacks to eat in the cafe. And, just to prove how Irish he’s becoming, Jacob drank nearly my whole pot of tea before I could get a sip in.

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We took the scenic road home from Nicholas Mosse and, my, was it gorgeous. Beautiful roads winding along rivers and past pristine country farms. A gorgeous end to our first day in Kilkenny.

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We spent our second day exploring the sights in Kilkenny. We started at Kilkenny Castle, a majestic building that is very unlike the rest of the typically rustic castles I’ve seen in Ireland. We posed for a quick group photo in front of the castle and then explored a bit of the grounds. There is a beautiful park surrounding the castle, complete with rose gardens and an awesome playground for the kids.

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At this point, the babies were already asleep in their strollers so we decided to leave Dave outside with all of the kids at the playground while Audrey and I went inside to tour the castle (you win Man of The Year for that one, Dave!).

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The castle itself was incredible. It was built in 1195 on the banks of the River Nore and was occupied by many different people throughout its history. The last family to inhabit these walls was the prosperous Butler family, and they went all out in the opulence department. There is hand-painted silk wallpaper in the drawing room and gold-plated ceilings in the library. Most of the furnishings, decorations, and details of the castle have been restored to their former glory. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside–but just take my word for it, it was amazing!

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After touring the castle we walked through town to do a bit of exploring:

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As we were walking through town we came upon all of these lovely anti-witch posters. You see, Kilkenny was the home of Alice Kyteler, the first woman accused and condemned as a witch in Ireland.

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After her fourth husband “mysteriously” died, Alice Kyteler was accused of being a witch and sentenced to death. She got wind of this unfortunate turn of events and hastily found her way right out of Ireland. She must have forgotten to tell her maidservant, Petronella de Meath, about all of this, though–she was burned at the stake in Kyteler’s place in 1324. Today you can still visit Kyteler’s former house in Kilkenny. It is a pub, as it has been since 1324 when the residents abandoned the house.

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Continuing our walk through Kilkenny we came to a spot on the sidewalk where you can see the remains of the 13th century city wall. This wall was (obviously) built as a fortress to protect the residents inside the city and (not so obviously) as a means to separate the wealthy English residents and the poor Irish residents. Consequently, the two sides of the wall were called English town and Irish town, respectively.

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Our final two stops on our walk through Kilkenny were two ancient churches. The first church we visited, Black Abbey, was built in 1225. It was deliberately built outside the town walls so that they could serve residents of both English town and Irish town and claim their independence from either side.

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The second church we visited was St. Canice’s Cathedral. The cathedral was closed to the public when we visited, but I hear that the inside is gorgeous. What we could see on the outside was also quite fascinating.  For instance, the round tower that stands to the side of the cathedral was a sort of hideout that the monks could go to if the cathedral was ever attacked (which, by merely imagining the effort that must have gone into building that tower, I would have to assume happened quite often). The door to the round tower is about 10 feet off the ground and would be accessed with a ladder–once the monks were safely inside, they’d pull up the ladder and climb to the top of the tower where they would be safe.

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I loved Kilkenny–the beautiful countryside, the quaint town, the rich history. I’m already planning our next trip here–hopefully minus the fevers and late-night hospital visits!

Christmas in Cork

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…CHRISTMAS!!! And, for the first time ever, I get to experience this magical season in another part of the world. In many ways, Christmas in Ireland is very similar to Christmas in America–there are trees and lights and carols and Santa. Some things are a bit different, though.

For starters, the beginning of the actual Christmas season is a bit more ambiguous here. Without Thanksgiving and BLACK FRIDAY (ugh.) to mark the official beginning of all things Christmasey, you start seeing decorations and marketing for the holiday amp up right after Halloween.  Another difference in Ireland is the big guy in the red suit. Santa is everywhere here–even more prevalent than America, which I didn’t expect. But he’s cooler here, too. Instead of just getting a photo and a 2-inch candy cane when you sit on Santa’s lap, he gives all the kids actual presents. Proper presents. Like MagnaDoodles and marble mazes and books and farm sets complete with tractors and all the animals. Man, Santa is already so busy with the Irish kids that I’m not sure he’ll have enough loot for the rest of the world come December 25th.

Differences aside, Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are in the world. It is a special time of year full of tradition and festivities. Here are a few highlights from our Christmas season in Cork:

We walked through downtown Cork to see the big wheel and the “German” Christmas market. We ate bratwurst and felt like we were in Leavenworth. It was grand.

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The city was all decked out with lights and wreaths and Christmas trees. David liked the Christmas trees the best because, obviously, they were covered in balls. Lots and lots of little red balls that he tried to rip off every tree we passed. Luckily for us, the city planners anticipated his ornament-swiping attempts and they actually zip-tied all of the decorations to the trees. Cork:1, David:0.

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We  did some holiday baking so Mommy could eat some sweets. I found a kit at the grocery store to bake polar bear cupcakes. They turned out super cute and tasted as good as they looked.

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December has been really pleasant weather-wise with mild, dry days. We’ve had fun getting outside to play with our friends:

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…and even take a trip to the zoo:

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After a failed mid-week attempt to go to a local “Christmas farm” I begged Jon to take us back on the weekend. He’s a good husband, and he obliged. Rumley’s is an “open farm” (a real working farm that they deck out so the public can visit it) and they had lots of animals and fun activities for the kids. They had quite a range of animals for a farm–it was really more like a zoo. They had water buffalo, alpaca, sheep, cows, donkeys, pigs, birds, lemurs, monkeys, mongoose, ostriches and even camels.

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There were go-karts to drive:

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…and golf balls to drive (David’s favorite):

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We rode on a tractor pull:

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…and got to pet some cute cuddly creatures:

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And to wrap up our Christmas in Cork we celebrated with David’s first-ever preschool Christmas pageant. David was the cutest little shepherd I ever have seen (I wonder if real shepherd’s wear dish towels on their heads?). Here’s our little shepherd David with his friend Jack the donkey:

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And here’s the whole class getting ready to perform (there were about 30 preschoolers and about 5,000 parents in the audience):

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And, finally, here’s David with his sweet teacher Miss Aisling:

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We have had such a wonderful time here in Cork celebrating the first part of this Christmas season. Tomorrow, though, we leave Ireland for our big trip home to Seattle for Christmas. We will be spending three (3!) glorious weeks with our loved ones. I can’t wait to go home and see everyone and everything that I’ve been missing but, truth be told, I will also be missing Ireland.  Merry Christmas, Ireland–we’ll see you again soon!

Farm Field Trip

 

 

 

 

I’m really on a kick this week, folks–and a farming kick, nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because you can’t drive more than 2 miles (er..kilometers) here without passing through a sheep paddock or a cow pasture. In fact, 1 out of every 7 jobs in Ireland is involved in agriculture and food. I love it. Yesterday I took the boys to our local farmer’s market (read more about our escapades here) and we had so much fun that I decided to take a little field trip out to a REAL farm today (mommy gold star: earned). It wasn’t difficult to find a farm to visit (like I said, lots of farms here) so I chose one just outside of Cork city called The Farm at Grenagh. It’s an open farm with real animals and tractors and crops…and lots of fun things for the kidlets, too.

When we got to the farm David was in a mood, so I sat him on a bench to brood while Jacob and I checked out the riding tractors. I even managed to snap a quick photo of him before he tumbled right off the slick little seat (don’t worry, Gramma Doreen, I caught him before he hit the ground).

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Seeing that the farm was actually a fun place (duh) David decided to join in our activities. The next place we headed was the sandbox. We had fun building sand castles (and, for Jacob, eating a fair amount of said sand castles).

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After getting our fill of sand (literally) we went into the animal barn to meet some furry friends. This goat was very friendly. A little too friendly for my comfort. Jacob kept sticking his foot up near the fence and the goat would lick his shoe. Knowing goats tendencies to eat assorted non-food objects (like, for instance, leather baby booties) I decided it was probably best for all involved if we parted ways.

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Just outside of the animal barn there were several pastures with cows, sheep, horses and donkeys. My children love donkeys. Both of them. Kinda strange, but you’ve gotta love something. As soon as we rounded the corner to where the donkeys were, both boys started heeing and hawing. The donkeys must have liked it because they sauntered over to the fence to say hello. The boys could have stayed at that fence all day stroking those soft little donkey noses but, alas, there was more farm to be seen.

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Next on our agenda was a lesson in cow milking. They had cow “statues” (not quite sure what to call a large metal cow with udders full of water) and the kids got to learn how cows are milked and put real milk suckers (again, not sure what to call them) on the cows to “milk” them.

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After our lesson in cow milking, it was time for a tractor-pull train ride. Jacob and I even managed to squeeze into one of the little barrels so we could tour the farm with the other kids.

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Then we went into the farms museum that was full of old-timey memorabilia. David enjoyed working as the telephone switchboard operator (after I told him that they were telephones, that is. Poor thing has only ever seen iPhones, so he really didn’t have a clue how to work them).

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We ended the day with a visit to the ball pit. There are many things I love about Ireland, and right at the top of the list is the fact that there are ball pits everywhere: at shopping malls, at playgrounds, at farms. There is almost nothing else in this world that brings my boys so much joy as a romp in a ball pit. Thank you, Ireland, for providing me hours of whine-free entertainment.

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And then it was time to go home. Singing “Old McDonald” the whole way.

 

My California Adventure

Last week I had an incredible adventure: my first solo-trip with both boys. We flew down to California for a week to visit family and some dear friends. It was both challenging (Just try spending a week sharing a tiny bedroom with a teething 8-month old and a rambunctious 2 year old. I dare you.) and incredibly touching. I got to see two friends with whom I’ve shared some of the biggest milestones in my life (even though we now live in 3 separate states), and I got to spend a whole week with my lovely sister and her family. In the middle of our trip we got word that we will officially be moving half-way around the world to Ireland in the next month or two. It was a beautiful, crazy week. Here are some of the highlights:

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We got to fly on an airplane. Both boys have been on planes before, but this was their first time flying together (and my first time flying alone with both of them). God must have heard my prayers because I was able to get a whole row to myself on both of our flights–even though the plane was supposed to be completely full. It was great to have an extra seat for Jacob so I could bring on his carseat and allow him to snooze a bit. David had fun eating sugary snacks that he doesn’t usually get to have (including a giant ring pop that took him almost an hour to consume), watching videos on my iPhone, throwing stickers at other passengers, and smiling at the cute flight attendant who brought him apple juice. Overall, the flights went really well and I think I could totally do it again.

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We went directly from the airport in Burbank to Ventura so we could meet up with my friends, Tammy and Krista, and their families. We all met a few years ago at our church and coincidentally all had our first sons within a few weeks of each other. Then, two years later, we all had our second sons within a couple of months of each other. Tammy now lives in Fargo, Krista now lives in Central California, and I live in Seattle. This was the first time that we all got to see each other with our youngest babies–it really was a dream come true for me!

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We spent the afternoon in Ventura picnicking, playing on the beach, and catching up.

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Even the babies had fun playing in the sun!

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After our beach time in Ventrua we headed back to my sister Erin’s house to unpack and get settled. That night we got a really special treat: my nephew Noah was having an art show at his preschool and we were invited! Here’s Noah showing us snail art in his classroom–the teacher put drops of food coloring on paper, then put snails on top of the paper. As they slid around the paper, they dragged the food coloring around to make a beautiful picture. I can see practical applications for this technique in Washington using slugs from my garden.

The next day we met up with Tammy and Krista again, this time in Santa Barbara. We went to the Santa Barbara Mission and spent the morning exploring their beautiful gardens.

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David learned not to hug a cactus.

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He also learned that good friends can help you feel better.

After we exhausted the boys’ patience looking at beautiful gardens and fascinating old relics at the mission, we went into town for some lunch and exploring. We ate lunch at Taqueria Super Rica (be sure to check it out if you’re ever in Santa Barbara) and walked around State Street looking at the shops. We also visited the courthouse (the rooftop has a wonderful observation deck) and found a fun park for the kids to burn off some energy in.

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Jacob and Calvin got to play in the swings. They both loved it! David spent about an hour (really) putting wood chips into a life-size plastic shark’s mouth. Then we snapped one last photo of us with our “6-pack” of boys:

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It was a magical two days with dear friends, a time I will treasure forever!

The rest of our week was spent with my sister, Erin, her husband, Toph (OK, his name is really Christopher, but we all call him Toph because my other sister–Erin’s twin–married another Christopher and it just all gets too confusing), and her 3 1/2 year old son Noah.

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David and Noah are buddies, and they got along great all week (despite a few spats over balls that David was, unexpectedly, quite possessive over). Here they are walking to “Bucky Park”, a neighborhood park down the street from Noah’s house.

On Saturday we went to Leo Carillo Beach. It’s a quiet little beach near Malibu with private coves that you can set up your “camp” in, tide pools for exploring, and gentle surf for playing. It’s the same beach where Erin and Toph got married 4 years ago, so it was fun for me to go back there and re-live that beautiful day.

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Jacob had fun playing in the sand and watching the “big boys” run around like wild banshees.

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David and Noah (with a little help from Uncle Toph) built a “big hole”. This hole kept David occupied for two hours. He jumped in the hole, sat in the hole, put balls in the hole, buried his feet in the hole–he really would have stayed there for the rest of his life if I would have let him.

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Unfortunately, Erin had to work on Saturday so she didn’t get to come to the beach with us. But that afternoon she got some snuggle time with her youngest nephew, and I think that helped make up for it a bit.

On Sunday we went to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I’d never been there before but, man, that place is HUGE! We started the morning at the Griffith Park Observatory. If you look very closely at the hill behind me you can see the white “Hollywood” sign in the distance.

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We thought it would be fun to take the boys to the planetarium show at the observatory.

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Don’t let this photo fool you. The planetarium show was NOT fun. The show was great. I would have loved it. But the experience was….well, just look at who we brought with us. Not the crowd who enjoys sitting through long scientific talks in the dark. It was stressful, aggravating and, at times, physically painful. We’ll just leave it at that. Lesson learned: don’t bring 3 kids under the age of 4 to a planetarium show.

After the planetarium experience we decided we needed to go somewhere a bit more low key. We ate a picnic lunch then drove around to the other side of Griffith Park to a place called Transportation Town. It’s set up like a big train yard, complete with train tracks and lots of old trains for the kids to climb around in.

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David and Noah got to “drive” a train (although, David’s favorite part was throwing pebbles into the coal chute: “Goal!”).

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And I just love this picture because it looks like our children are about to get run over by trains. (Don’t worry, Grandma Doreen, none of the trains can actually move).

The next day, Monday, was Erin’s day off work. We decided to take the boys to one of my favorite places, the Santa Barbara Zoo. This zoo is great for young kids: it’s easily walk-able, you get really close to the animals, and they have a great play area for the little ones. Plus, the giraffes have a view of the Pacific Ocean. I would love to be a giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

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Here we are by the elephants (you can barely see one to the left of David).

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And here are David and Noah “sledding” down an astro-turf hill on sheets of cardboard. It’s  actually a LOT of fun!

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We saw some interesting creatures at the zoo, including this tiny hatchling.

On Tuesday we went to one of my other favorite California attractions, Noah’s farm (really, it’s called Underwood Farms and it’s just about the most amazing place ever. I would perhaps move to California just so I could live next to this farm).

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We got to feed the animals. These are chickens and ROOSTERS!!! (David’s favorite), but they also had pigs, goats, Emu, cows, and horses that you could feed.

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We took a wagon ride out to the fields where we had…

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SNACK TIME! We helped ourselves to the farm’s bounty (I mean, we were U-picking produce to purchase when we exited the farm). There were so many wonderful fruits and veggies ready for the picking: strawberries, oranges, sugar snap peas, carrots, heads of lettuce bigger than David. After we all had our fill, we headed back to the animals for a little while.

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David and Noah got to ride ponies. You may be able to tell by his expression: David was in heaven.

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After a busy day at the farm we drove into town for some nourishment. And, when you’re in California, that means In-N-Out. When we lived in Palo Alto I used to go to In-N-Out about once a week (terrible, I know, but if you’ve ever had it then you know why). David actually ate a whole cheeseburger–I think all that rooster-feeding and pony-riding worked up quite the appetite.

And, just like that, our trip was over. We had an uneventful flight back home and then we all crashed for a 4-hour nap as soon as we got back to our house. Thank you to Erin and Toph for putting up with my crazy lot for a whole week, and thank you, California, for never disappointing.