Sunday, December 30, 2012

After Christmas rest

The first three weeks of December were really, really crazy, and although most of the activities were enjoyable, and the stress positive, it physically exhausted me this year. I was so tired on Christmas Eve, having stayed up the night before wrapping presents until the wee hours, but with the goal – Christmas day – in sight, I pushed on: ran errands, cooked, prepared. I even managed to put together a Swedish Christmas Eve feast, complete with pickled herring, scalloped potatoes, beet salad, and ham. We lit candles, had mulled wine (which I boiled, to get the alcohol out of it) and homemade ginger snaps in the evening. The kids got to bed late, giving us a late start on putting out the presents, eating the cookies and milk, and enjoying the quiet magic of anticipation, as we do every Christmas Eve. Sometime after 1 am we were done though, and I could finally get some sleep (“some,” being the keyword here, since our kids have this fantastic ability to sleep past nine on any given school day, but somehow manage to wake up very early every Christmas Day morning).

Christmas Day was perfect, but as always, went by in a flash (which is why I enjoy our Advent and Christmas Eve celebrations so much, because they make Christmas something more than just a moment). We got the kids really great gifts this year, just right for their abilities, interests and characters. Abraham jumps off energy at all times of the day on his new trampoline, and can sit for hours with his moon sand. The boys sail around campus with their friends on their new roller blades, and relax with their games at home in the evenings, or work on their Chemistry set with papa.

Christmas Day dinner was probably one of the best ever, with a perfectly cooked turkey, tasty, creamy gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberries, candied carrots and a superb stuffing; pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert, and of course the customary candy buffet in the evening. I enjoyed it all thoroughly.

The day after Christmas we still had to run some errands, but after that, my body told me to stop. My hands were swollen, my face puffy (my blood pressure probably way higher than I would like to know), my body tired, and crying out for water, fresh veggies and fruit, vitamins, minerals and fiber. I’ve consequently spent the past few days doing basically nothing, which in my world means housework, some light exercise, and spending time with the kids and helping my husband with his work. I’m still not quite ready to start back up again, but we have no plans for new year’s eve and just a couple of commitments over the next few days, so I will simply continue focusing on just growing a baby, if that’s all right, until I’ve regained some strength.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A little creativity

I wanted some kind of Christmas pillows on our couches, so I bought red ribbon and used white IKEA fabric I had left in the closet. I am quite happy with the result. (That's our electrical seven armed Scandinavian Advent candelabra in the background.) So easy, AND pretty, right?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Belly on stage

This message is brought to you in the middle of our two-day Christmas concert.

You haven’t seen me lately, because on top of everything else, like school, work, house, kids, Christmas parties, book club, and let’s not forget pelvic rest, etc. I’ve been attending dress rehearsals this past week. Last night’s opening concert went well, and I hope tonight’s final concert will be just as great, as Courtney and the boys are coming to watch me (and the rest of our choir) perform.

Me and my big belly performed all dressed up on stage. I even managed to get my hair to look nice last night, which – you have NO IDEA – is unusual, to say the least. I still felt the way I always do when pregnant; like a big, fat whale, but… a pretty one. As we walked past the audience to get on stage, a lot of people noticed my belly and whispered to each other, “Look! Something, something, pregnant!” however there was also a little girl, about the age of six, who pointed to me and “whispered” (I think the entire Assembly Hall heard it) to her mother, “Look, that girl looks like Hermoine!”

She didn't notice my belly, and she called me a *girl*! [happy, delighted snivel] AND witch, granted. But it’s a compliment, right?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in America

In general, I am an impressionable person. I get wrapped up in other people’s stories and emotional state, and I cry more than other people – I think – about things that really shouldn’t concern me. I can even get choked up at the end of stories related to our school work, for example Anne Frank’s diary, that I read out loud to the boys.

When terrible, horrible things happen in the world, like yesterday, I have trouble keeping my eyes dry, and it’s much worse now that I am pregnant. But at least yesterday I wasn’t the only one crying – I saw President Obama on television wipe tears from his face as he addressed the nation, and I’m pretty sure he can’t blame it on pregnancy hormones either.

I think of these poor children, their families, friends and community, and as a parent I imagine what it must be like to go through something like this. It’s unfathomable. To come home and see your child’s toys, clothes, even wrapped Christmas presents hidden away in closets, and know that your boy or girl is gone forever. You will never speak to them, hug them or read to them again. Like President Obama put it, “They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own…” Gone.

When I got home last night, after I heard the news, I walked into my boys’ bedrooms and hugged and kissed them more than usual. I’m sure a lot of you did too. Kissed and hugged your own kids, that is. Did you cry too?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Homeschooling two weeks before Christmas

We’re on the home stretch: I’ve given the boys each a list of work that they have to complete to start their Christmas break, e.g. "Get to Lesson xx in your grammar book," etc. There’s about 5-6 days’ worth of work on their lists; they can study really, really hard for a few days and be done with it, or they can do a bit every day and be done mid next week. I leave it up to them. They'll have to be fairly strict though, since there are a lot of activities and other events scheduled in the next couple of weeks as well.

Alongside the regular subjects, we’re also baking gingerbread cookies, making a gingerbread house, pickling herring and beats, singing Christmas carols, reading books about Christmas, telling stories, listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies, and everything else that Advent entails.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy festivities

Yesterday was a good day. The partying was fun. Especially Abraham had a great time at the birthday party he attended. The dinner with my husband’s conference buddy (he teaches at a university in Turkey but they hang out at philosophy conferences a few times/year) was great. I made lasagna with Bolognese sauce and bacon, a couple of salads and home baked focaccia. For dessert we had Swedish cinnamon rolls and other little treats. A group of Prof. husband’s colleagues joined us for drinks, and the evening got *very* late but interesting and fun. You might not believe me, but a room full of philosophy professors + drinks + good snacks = a recipe for an evening filled with inspiring ideas, thoughts and laughter. Their geekiness becomes particularly obvious when they, midst an intense existential discussion filled with wisdom and impressive arguments that only decades of serious study of ideas can produce, break out into high-fives over an ontological argument used wittingly in reference to Wittgenstein. (I’m improvising here, of course. It might have been a different argument in reference to another philosopher, or vice versa.)

This morning, I'm a bit tired, but feel good; not drinking sure has its perks. My philosopher - on the other hand - requires a lot of water, aspirin and a horizontal arrangement, but such is the price for this kind of merriment, I guess.

Oh, and yes, if you’re wondering about the argument and what it might have been… you’re so BUSTED! Philosophy geek!

Today I’m keeping my feet up – the boys want to put up the tree, but I’m thinking we might wait until Gaudete; we’ll see - until it’s time for yet another party this afternoon/evening. It’s the kind of party you don’t talk about here, because the people that would throw a party like that are not appreciated by a lot of people here the way they should be, since there is a conflict between this and their country. So, since talking about such a party might cause trouble, I won't. But I'm excited, anticipating fun with good friends and great food (really, you can't go wrong when the common culinary theme is "fried in oil"). Shalom, my friends.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Here we go!

Brace yourself, dear reader. 

Our ‘Advent busy marathon’ starts tomorrow with one job, two parties and a dinner – all in one day.

“Don’t worry,” I said to my OBGYN at my last appointment during which he noticed some slight complications that warrant precaution and extra rest, “I will take it easy and rest a lot. Stay off my feet and drink plenty of water.”

I guess I’ll just have to squeeze that in too, while I’m busy getting through everything else over the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The History of Christmas, a summary

I put this together for the boys the other day, mainly because we were discussing Viking traditions and festivals, and because I couldn't find one site that I felt summarized below topics in a satisfactory manner. Some parts of this text are from Wikipedia and/or various other general sites on the history of Christmas, and some are from our History of the World, our Usborne Encyclopedia of the History of the World, and The Story of the World.

Ancient and Pagan mid-winter traditions

Many early cultures held mid-winter celebrations; in Mesopotamia, Persia, Babylon, Ancient Greece and Rome. 

The Romans celebrated a winter feast that entailed masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the exchange of gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits). The Romans also “decked their halls” with garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles.

In Scandinavia, the Vikings celebrated jólablót, or midvinterblot (mid-winter blood), which was a sacrificial feast held on the darkest day of the year (look up: 'solstice'), to honor the return of light – or the rebirth of the sun. In some areas people tied apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return. According to some traditions, children would during this celebration place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Odin's 8-legged flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. To do this, he would enter homes through chimneys.

The name jól probably comes from Jólner, which was one of Odin’s many names (in Sweden, Christmas is still called jul, remember?).

Christmas as a Christian tradition

The story of Jesus Christ's birth is told in New Testament's gospel of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew, but the actual date - December 25 - is not mentioned anywhere. In 350 AD, Julius I, a bishop of Rome, chose December 25th as the observance of Christmas, and in 354, Liberius the emperor established the holiday. The December date for the holiday probably arose from a desire to provide an alternative to the Roman and pagan mid-winter feast.

Traditionally, Christians would fast seven weeks before Christmas (as before Lent) which meant they were not allowed to eat meat. The Swedish tradition of dipping bread in ham broth on Christmas eve is a remnant of this.

The word Christmas comes from the Old English 'Cristes Mæsse,' meaning the 'mass of Christ.' 

By 1100, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe.

The origin of Saint Nick – Santa Claus

The origin of Santa Claus begins in the 4th century with Nicholas, bishop of Myra (now Turkey). He was known as a generous man, particularly devoted to children. His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims that he could perform miracles.

According to legend, a nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood. The generous Nicholas, hearing of the girls' plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman's house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney, where they were captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry.

After his death around 340 AD, St. Nicholas was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, which greatly increased St. Nicholas' popularity throughout Europe. Sometime around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor; the feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the protestant reformation, celebrations of St. Nicholas faded, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where St. Nicholas - Sint Nikolaas (in Dutch) transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes.

Dutch colonists brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the name of Santa Claus emerged. 

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children, portraying Santa Claus in a way not quite seen before:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, …

As the years passed, Moore's description of Santa Claus evolved further in popular culture into the legend we see today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our home school curriculum, subject by subject: Math

It’s easy for me to tell you about our math curriculum, because from third grade and up, we’ve been using one program only (at least so far!): Saxon Math.

Before third grade, we used printables or home made worksheets, and the Math Made Easy books (partially because we weren't able to get the Saxon Math books since we were abroad, and partially because our self-made program was more efficient at this stage), to cover all the areas of basic mathematics:
  • ·         Addition & Subtraction, with carrying and borrowing AND Graphs, Tables & diagram, skip counting by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s, 100s, even and odd numbers, Addition/Subtraction facts with sums of 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18, and missing addends, e.g. 7+_=1, Doubling numbers from 1 through 9
  • ·         The clock – time, telling time to the minute, Ordinal numbers and the calendar
  • ·         Roman numerals
  • ·         Measuring units (metric system: length, liquid volume, weight, etc.)
  • ·         Shapes & Fractions, symmetry, solid shapes (sphere, cone, cube, cylinder, etc.)
  • ·         Money; value of coins, writing sums, e.g. $0.89 = 89¢, fractions of a dollar, e.g. 4 quarters or 10 dimes in a dollar, as well as conversions: 15,000 Lebanese pounds = $10, etc.
  • ·         Multiplication 0x – 12x, 10 by heart,  and dividing numbers in half
  • ·         Number words from 1-100, converting word problems into number problems

This prepared them enough to start the Saxon Math 5/4 book in third/fourth grade without too much time and effort spent.

I think that the structure of Saxon Math is ideal: each lesson involves a specific problem or concept, and it’s followed by a mixed practice. The way a new concept is introduced in each lesson almost always works for us, and I really appreciate the way Saxon Math repeats concepts over and over again in each mixed practice, which guarantees that nothing is overlooked or missed by the student.

It is a bit of a commitment: it takes my boys between 40 minutes and 1 hour every day to get through their math, and add all the tests, worksheets and extra investigations, you can say that Saxon Math is not exactly a quick program. Prof. husband, who studied advanced math in high school, and majored in physics his first couple of years at the university, has deemed it worth the investment though, and so far I can say that it must be, since both older boys are at the top of their class. Ha ha. (Seriously, all they do is work though the program, and any time I give them an external grade test, they score 100%.)

To read more about our general philosophy of education, read here.
To read more about our general curriculum idea, read here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Enriching our education with music

Finally! It took some searching, and a bit of trial and error, but we have now found a guitar teacher that seems sweet, able, reliable and willing to come teach William once/week. I am so thrilled for him, and relieved for myself, since this takes a bit of a load off my responsibility. I felt it was a thorn in our educational program, actually, that we were not able to teach William the instrument of his choice. Now this thorn has been removed, and we can focus our music sessions on music history and theory, while both older boys benefit from their music lessons.

I am so happy!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent crafts with my boys

Today we visited the German Christmas market, walked around town a bit with the boys, and then spent the evening preparing for advent by putting candles out, making Christmas wreaths and crafts. My legs are swollen, but I feel good. Better. It was a good day.

We made this wreath for our window facing the playground.
This is our front door.

Braided hearts. I love these!

Got our candles set up for 1st Advent tomorrow.

Abraham did really well and only needed a little help finishing his stuffed heart.

August mastering the Blanket Stitch.

William was the most industrious, creating two hearts and a teddy bear.