September 24, 2011

Pictures from Woods Canyon

There is something broke with the Picasa movie generator.  I tried uploading from Picasa into my blog while in Picasa.  I tried uploading it from Picasa while in my blog.  I tried importing it to Youtube from Picasa and I tried uploading it while in Youtube.  In all cases, only four pictures showed up before the screen turned black.  I sent a request to Google help to see if they could figure out what the problem is.  I received some singularly unhelpful links from a first line Google person. I explained to him, via email, exactly what I did and what was the problem and why his links were unhelpful.  I have heard nothing else from him.  Last night, I went to "Share Night" to hear my friend's experience in Ethiopia (We are Blessed To Be A Blessing) and we discussed the problem, since I know that she puts a lot more pictures on her web than I do.  So I am trying something different by putting pictures on an album in Google and letting you view them.

Pictures from the Overtoom's Camping Trip at Woods Canyon Lake

Bridgetender School Quarterly Update--Beginnings

I love fall!  The cool, crisp mornings where temperatures are in the mid-70's; the promise that it won't get to the low 100's until mid-afternoon, allowing us all to venture outside past 9 a.m.  Fall has traditionally been a time to start school.  Not in Arizona!  We started school on August 8, when it is too hot to really do anything outside after 9 unless it involves swimming pool.  It is motivated as much by boredom as by the desire to be finished with school while the weather is still decently cool.  Subsequently, we have almost finished our first quarter of school.

This year, many changes are taking place at Bridgetender School.  First of all, my oldest entered 7th grade--Jr. High.  My youngest began his first year of "full day" school as a first grader.  A homeschooling friend, Tina, and I decided to form a two-family co-op for history, science, literature and art that meets on Thursdays.   Tina has three kids, two boys and a girl and they live five minutes away.  Her family moved here a year ago from the southeast and we have become great friends.  We also started a PE co-op inviting families in the Mesa area who are in our Veritas homeschooling support group which meets Thursday mornings.   She is the equipment procurement officer and I am the general coordinator and recruiter for the PE co-op.  The first three weeks of PE co-op, which didn't start until September, involved spraying the kids down with cool water in a spray bottle every five minutes to prevent them from getting too hot.  The city also graciously has their sprinklers running on one of the fields that provided a nice cool down.  Our very first class began with a police bust a hundred yards away from where our kids were gathered to start warm ups.  Thankfully, no guns were needed as about ten plainclothes policemen swarmed over a young guy with a backpack.  Doubly thankfully, we haven't had  a repeat of the incident.

The co-op uses Tapestry of Grace for history.  The period of history we are covering is the 20th and 21st centuries. We are die-hard fans of Apologia for science, though John and her daughter, our first graders are reading Christian Liberty Nature Readers, The Burgess Animal Books, and The Burgess Bird Book, all of which put facts about animals of all kinds in entertaining stories.  For writing, we are giving a mutual friend a chance to try her hand at a tutoring business.  She comes every other week for a lesson and to review their homework from the last lesson.  She has been guiding them on how to create a newspaper this month, since we are covering the turn of the century to the Great Depression when the Newspaper was still "king".  Future units will include radio programs and commercials, TV shows and commercials and then internet based writing.  So far, the kids love her and we enjoy the results.  Tina found a wonderful art teacher about a year ago who lives 5 minutes from us.  Once a month, she teaches our kids about a master and has them copy their style.  The rest of the time, we are having Elizabeth and her oldest lead a class since they have the most talent and are the farthest developed, once a month we are doing a craft and once a month we are winging it.  Tina has been teaching science so far and I have been teaching history.  She is introducing me to the wonderful world of lap books, which she is using for science.  I have been having the kids stage trench warfare for our WWI unit, using our couch and a mat to represent trenches, chairs to represent the barbed wire they had to crawl under, and crumpled paper to represent gunfire and aerial bombs.  They have also had to give presentations to help me present history.

We are still using Math-U-See for math, though Eric is teaching Elizabeth now and grading her math.  Elizabeth has also "graduated" to Apologia's General Science written for 7th graders .  Jessi and Kyle are learning about the Universe and John is learning about animals.  We are still working on Spanish and I am getting help from a friend who is a first generation American who emigrated from Mexico to give me conversational Spanish, rather than just "book" Spanish.  We have some applications on the iPad to help us conjugate verbs and learn more nouns.  We are starting an exercise program with the goal of meeting the Presidential Fitness requirements by May.  It involves running, swimming or bicycling (depending on the weather), strengthening and stretching exercises.

My challenge is spending time with each child while my youngest needs so much help.  His reading has improved greatly in the past six weeks, but he won't be an independent reader for a while yet, which is perfectly fine with me as I get the last of my "reading cuddle time."  Jessi and Kyle are more independent, but even they need help with certain subjects.  Elizabeth needs help sometimes with science and I love to work with her on the science experiments.  My challenge with her is to let her plan her week without any assistance and let her fail at times or get frustrated.  She had decided to go through one module of General Science a week so that she could go through Apologia's Zoology 2 book.  I cautioned her that the modules were much larger than the elementary modules and required a lot of work.  She insisted that she could do it.  In the middle of the second week, she broke down and cried about how much work there was, at which time I was able to suggest dividing the modules into two week plans instead of one.  At that point, she happily accepted the suggestion.  For me, lesson learned.


September 9, 2011

Woods Canyon Camping Weekend

This is our third summer in Arizona. During our first summer, we went back into hibernation after a month or so of enjoying the daylight hours of May and June and withstood the hottest summer ever with only a one day respite in Woods Canyon Lake because we had just moved in the spring. We escaped for a month last summer visiting friends and family in the east. This summer, we took two extended weekends in the north, where the higher elevation means much cooler temperatures. For four days in July, our family spent four days at Woods Canyon Lake camping in our brand new "Big Agnes" tent. Yes, after about a year of discussions and prayers regarding whether to save up for an RV or not, we decided 'not' mainly because it would involved buying a second vehicle with actual towing capability. After seeing how cramped everything and everyone was on just a four day stay, however, the plan to get a bigger vehicle is back and we are just biding our time for the right vehicle at the right price.

Woods Canyon Lake is about 2 hours from the Phoenix metro area. The lake was made, like pretty much all lakes in Arizona, by damming a river. Poor river. It hovers on the edge of the Mogollon rim, which is part of the Colorado plateau several thousand feet above sea level. Because it is so close to Phoenix, it is a very popular day trip and is pretty noisy and crowded around the lake on the weekends. There are about three or four hiking trails in the area, so if that is your interest, you might want to go somewhere else for anything but a long weekend. The main ctivity encouraged, really, is fishing.

Our kids, before the trip, LOVED fishing, causing us to get fishing rods for everyone except me, who does NOT like fishing, at Walmart. However, after an hour of fishing on the first day with no results, most kids lost interest. Fortunately, there are a lot of crawdads also in the lake, which are an invasive species. They are more gullible than the fish and will go for anything that looks remotely like food and, as an added bonus, like to stay near the edge of the water, which means a piece of hot dog placed on a skewer in the water near the edge is sufficient to catch a crawdad. This activity entertained the kids for a long time. Kyle was the resident expert as he had just spent a day at Boy Scout camp catching crawdads and "helped" his siblings get good at catching crawdads. The crawdads were not turned into dinner, however.

The two hikes we made that weekend were a ranger-guided hike one morning and a three mile walk around the lake the next afternoon. The ranger-led tour was pretty short, but entertaining. Ranger Bob knows his stuff. He pointed out peaks of interest and other topological features and then took us around to look for native plants, talking a lot about the Ponderosa Pines that cover the mountains, as well as other native plants. He also runs tours along another trail that we attended two years ago. The second day, after lunch, we walked completely around the lake, which involved a brief thunderstorm and a detour around an eagle's nesting grounds. It also involves tender, green grass which is non-existent in our neck of the desert. The kids were great on both hikes.

The weather was gorgeous. Every morning was bright and sunny and cool enough to need a light jacket. Every afternoon, it stormed. Rain doesn't seem like a great thing to those living in the Midwest or, especially now, the East Coast. However, to someone living in the desert, rain is beautiful and getting wet is a luxury. The rain would end just in time to start a fire for the night so we could have s'mores.

We stayed at Aspen Campgrounds, which has sites for both RVs and tents. If you need to take showers every day, this is NOT your cup o'. All they have are pit toilets, though the cleanest and least smelly pit toilets I have EVER encountered. I rarely even saw a bug, though one lady told me that a mouse was crawling around during her first visit. Water spigots are very conveniently located Many tent sites had shower tents set up along with the eating tents and sleeping tents. Because it was so cool in the mornings and evenings, we just made do with washing our feet, which became very muddy with the rain--the only downside.

When we were at our site when it wasn't raining, the kids were playing among the boulders. I brought knitting and knitted a washcloth while we were there. Elizabeth crocheted. We played "The Dilbert" card game one afternoon in the tent while waiting out a storm. My favorite memory is of John waking me up on the last morning just as daylight was blooming to use the pit toilet. As we walked the 100 yards or so, I happened to look around and found seven deer checking out a nearby campsite. The closest one was about 10 feet from us. They all paused to eye us warily, but didn't run away when they saw us continuing to move away from them. By the time John and I had both used the facilities, the deer had disappeared.

NOTE: This was delayed because I have been trying to get a "movie" I created by Picaso uploaded and have been frustrated. If I get it working, I will post it separately.

September 4, 2011

Having Faith

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1

As I was driving with my two girls in the car one night, my oldest started making unflattering comments about one of her brothers, who happens to be just as strong willed as she is. They are frequently combatants, as a matter of course. At that moment, I was picturing a pot pointing at a kettle. I acknowledged to the girls that he was pretty strong willed and then commented that whenever I was having to deal with the down side of my strong willed children, I reminded myself that someday, with God's help, it would be an asset because it meant that they would be more willing to follow their convictions rather than follow the crowd. I told her that I was confident that my strong willed children would all turn out to be wonderful adults.

My oldest child, with a look of complete doubt replied, "You must have a really strong faith, mom."

She has no idea :-).

September 1, 2011

Freaky week

I have been telling people that I suspect my kids have a plan to take turns working me to my last nerve each week, because for the first three weeks of school a different child each week stood out as particularly difficult. The only child that has not accomplished her goal in the past three weeks is my sweetest girl, though I won't name names. This week, however, I think it was God's turn, because there were too many crazy things that happened that had nothing to do with my kids:

1. Jessi found a scorpion on the leg of a kitchen chair while cleaning the kitchen. Scorpions are pretty creepy anywhere in the house, but considering how much time we spend sitting on the kitchen chairs, the thought of a scorpion's stinger inches away from a child's leg was a bit unnerving. It is now a dead scorpion, BTW.
2. While walking one night, Jacques and I encountered a dog running off leash in the golf course. His owner was there, but he ignored the commands of his owner and trotted over to where Jacques had stopped. The unfettered dog, a big boxer, proceeded to jump on Jacques, growling and acting like he wanted to rip Jacques throat. Thankfully, no blood was spilled and I hope the owner didn't mind that I tried to hit his dog on the head with my big, heavy flashlight to force him away from mine. I think the word "unnerving" also applies to this situation.
3. I left my cell phone in the Fry's food store. I knew I left it in the Fry's because my husband installed a "find phone" app on his phone and on the iPad and the GPS told us it was in the vicinity of the Fry's store. When I went, sans Eric's phone, the clueless employee I encountered hapazardly searched through the lost and found drawer for 30 seconds and couldn't find any iPhone with a fluorescent green cover on it. Thoroughly discouraged, I went home and started to walk the dog with the intent of seeing if it was just lying in the parking lot or bushes or some random location around Fry's.
4. Within a few feet of our house as I was walking Jacques, a couple of stray dogs approached us. They didn't respond to my "No. Stay AWAY." until after four or five repetitions. At this point, I realized that I was still a little freaked out by the previous dog incident and didn't want to risk any further adventures with loose dogs. I turned around and walked the 1/2 block back to my house. I asked Eric to go look for the phone. He apparently found the one useful employee there at nine-thirty p.m. who successfully located my phone and gave it to him when he proved by entering the security code that it was "his."
5. Yesterday morning, while I was trying to start up the first ever Vandertoom P.E. Co-op, some kind of police bust happened within 100 yards of our three families. Several plainclothes police officers and several more uniformed officers with big guns descended on a guy carrying a backpack and arrested him after searching through the contents of the bag. One of the moms, totally freaked out, called to the police and asked them if it was going to be safe to stay or if we should leave. The officer replied that it now safe. Aren't those comforting words? Not really. I picked the park because it is a good midway point between several families and because I usually see mom's with their kids playing at the park, not drug dealers or other criminals. It didn't occur to me much later that the guy arrested could have been carrying a gun and determined to use it to resist arrest.

All this reminds me that the world in which we live is NOT safe, no matter how hard we try to make it safe with fences, child safety equipment, pest control, seat belts, child safety seats, the CPC, air bags, airport security, police, FBI, army, navy, air force and marines. I am also reminded of what I should do when I am freaked out:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding shall guard your hearts in Christ Jesus." This comes from Philippians 4:6-7, which I typed from memory because our small church group is encouraging each other to memorize verses.

So, after repeating that verse and having God put things in His perspective, I am very glad and thankful this week. I am glad that my Jacques is okay, glad that my kids have keen eyesight and that scorpions don't move quickly, glad that my phone was easily found, and glad that an arrest was made without anyone having to use a gun. And I am thankful to God that He kept us safe throughout the week and humbled by the fact that I don't really even deserve His protection , but that He gives it anyway because He loves us more than we can ever imagine, for which I am most glad.