Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Urban Nature Study for Homeschoolers ~ Weeks 8 and 9

We are having incredible weather around here. It is unseasonably warm and we are having bouts of intense rain. It is certainly a very rainy winter.

Rain and River Flooding ~ Recently, the two rivers that intersect on the west side of our city seem to overflow every few days. Our nature studies are becoming more and more about erosion, flash floods and rivers. We went for a walk on Christmas Eve to one of the local parks. It runs alongside the larger of the two rivers. It was flooded. Luckily, our city is actively turning as much waterfront as possible into park land, so that floods are not as damaging as they could be.
The parking lot is under water.
The river is covering the pathway.

The river went back within its banks on Christmas but left them again last night. This time the water flowed into a little historic shopping area and threw mud all over the streets and sidewalks.

It has been so warm that the colony of vultures living in our neighborhood has been very active. We have more than 100 of them. Vultures sit high in trees and spread their wings out wide to warm themselves up. This particular day was very rainy and cloudy. The vultures were trying to dry themselves out during a break in the rain. They are called a committee when they are all sitting together in trees.

They are called a kettle when they are flying in a large group.

I am amazed how much wilderness we are finding in the city. It is there if we just look around.

Blessings, Dawn

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thoughts on 2015 and Looking Forward to the New Year

I've been an adult for 25 years. Most of my adult years have been wrought with crisis. It is the nature of being a parent to a brood of special needs kids. If one were to go back and state the most defining moment of each year of my adulthood, most years it would be something big and often scary (Motherhood at 17, open heart surgery for infant son, graduating from high school with a baby on my hip, going to college while working two jobs and managing disabled son's health care -- and that is just the first three or four years.) In the same eight week period, I managed to graduate from college, get married, move to another state, have all my wisdom teeth pulled, and see my son through yet another pacemaker surgery (I know, crazy). In my adult years, I have also moved entire households five times. After trying and failing to grow our family the traditional way, we fostered and then adopted two very high end kids. Then -- surprise -- we had our biological daughter, growing our family from one child to four children in the span of 17 months! Do you see a theme here? CHAOS controlled, but CHAOS nonetheless.

Today is our oldest daughter's 15th birthday. She is not living with us. She is living in a home for children with severe emotional problems. I see now that the damage that was done to her in infancy by her abusive birth mother was so great that she never could have had a normal and delightful childhood. Unfortunately, I doubt she will have the happy, productive adulthood we all wish for our children. We had such grand hopes and dreams for our Goldilocks when we adopted her at age 2. We did everything the doctors and therapists told us to do. But it wasn't enough to heal her, and for 11 years we lived with a child with extreme behavior issues who took chaos to an entirely new level. Today, Goldilocks is an angry teenager who is testing her house mother every single hour of every single day and in strange and unpredictable ways. She has made it clear that she doesn't want to come home (yet) and hasn't seen her siblings in almost two years (because the state requires her to do so, she does see her father and me several times a month but refuses to see her siblings). We are still praying that we will find some program or miracle that will improve her quality of life and the quality of the lives of those who are trying to care for her. She intentionally creates chaos (she admits to this) and thus wears people out, so they can only take her chaos for short periods of time. All we can do for her is to keep praying. 

Finally, I am getting to the year 2015. What words would I use to describe 2015? This year was calm and filled with healing for the rest of our family! When I look back on the biggest moments of the year, they are small but happy ones. Nothing life altering and major happened in our household. The hardest thing was the loss of our dog of 16 years. The most delightful things were watching our kids dance, traveling to new places, enjoying endless hours of board games, homeschooling and family laughter. I love to see my family laughing. There were no major changes to my husband's job, our marriage, our housing, our finances, our family structure. There were no major medical setbacks for any of our children (that is huge in my world). I am so grateful for a calm year. I've tried very hard to make only choices that would create calmness, even if it meant giving up something that was fun (but hard to pull off).

So my goal for 2016 is to KEEP CALM! I absolutely crave calmness. Of course, much of life is out of our control. But we can control some of our choices and the ones I can control I intend to make calm and peaceful choices. Yes, I still hope to travel a bit in the next year and do new things. But I only want to do things that benefit our family in healing, calm ways. We all have been through enough turmoil for a lifetime. So I pray that we will remain healthy and continue to grow and heal as a happy family. Here is praying for another CALM year!

Blessings, Dawn

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

H Is for Hamster!

The kids got a new pet for Christmas. We now have a sweet little hamster. The kids named him Kevin.

What happened to our hermit crabs, you say? Well, a few weeks ago, the kids admitted that they were really bored with our hermit crabs. I was the only one taking care of them. So we passed them on to a hermit crab enthusiast. They are thriving in their new home. That left us with an empty cage.

The kids started lobbying for all kinds of animals. My rules were that it had to be low cost and fit in a 10 gallon tank, the kids had to take care of it, and it had to have fur (i.e., no reptiles) We have had so many pets over the years. We have sometimes had as many as seven pets at one time. However, we are in a stage of calm and healing in our family. A hamster was a perfect fit. Three kids (at home), a dog and a hamster is just enough for us.

He is a pretty cute addition, don't you think?

Through the Calm and Through the Storm

Blessings, Dawn

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

G Is for National Gingerbread House Competition

We are fortunate to live very close to the hotel which hosts the National Gingerbread House competition. We love to attend the display each year and see all of the amazing creations. Everyone from young children to adults can enter. Everything used must be edible. Here is a sampling of our favorites this year. Remember ~ everything you see in the display can be eaten. Sometimes mice get into the gingerbread displays, but we didn't see any this year.

I loved this peacock. There were several peacocks this year, but I think this was the best one. My kids especially loved the sea turtle and it reminded them of the sea turtle hospital we visited this past summer. My daughter took pictures of every teapot display, since she knows how much I love tea. I liked the one in the collage above the best.

The kids love getting a treat at the hotel's bakery. Looking at tons of gingerbread does make one's tummy hungry. The top left corner is a dragon attacking an ice castle. That was the coolest one in our opinion. 

The kids loved the Wizard of Oz display. The military boots and owl were pretty amazing, too.

This display was made by my oldest son, Tim, along with other members of the Hinds' Feet brain injury day treatment program. It is Santa at the bowling alley (which is one of the favorite activities of the Hinds' Feet members). Santa fell over after he was set up at the hotel, and the members were so disappointed. However, I overheard a family looking at the Hinds' Feet display say they thought Santa was break dancing, because he was very happy that he'd made a strike. I thought their interpretation was really cute!

We came home inspired and made our own gingerbread house from a kit. We want to make one from scratch someday, but it always seems so overwhelming during the Christmas season. Maybe we should try it in August ~ LOL!

Blessings, Dawn

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nature Study for Urban Homeschoolers ~ Week 7

We decided to do a one foot square nature study in our urban environment. We went to our usual park and picked a leaf covered area close to the river. We figured we might find a few bugs since the temperature was in the 60's. However, we only found an earthworm. We scraped away the leaves and then looked at the moss under the leaves. We picked up some of the moss and observed the tiny roots underneath. We also collected several acorn tops that were in our one foot space. The kids then began digging into the soil. They found it filled with small rocks. They found an earthworm that was about three inches long. It was not interested in laying on our ruler to be measured and quickly slithered into some dead leaves. We also found a weed with long roots to compare to our moss with very short roots.

We walked over to the location where the river goes under a bridge to see where the water line was now that the river had returned to its banks and was at normal levels again. Last week the river was almost touching the underside of the bridge. This week the water was much lower and the homeless were once again sitting under the bridge when we peeked under.

Lastly, we observed how the small brush and banks were affected by the flood. The light colored sand was thrown halfway up the bank by the raging flood last week.

That was it for us this week.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, December 11, 2015

Charity During the Advent Season

Now that the Nutcracker performances are over, we are embracing the many other events we enjoy during Advent. We do charity throughout the year, but there are so many easy opportunities leading up to Christmas. This week we completed five charity activities.

The first one was a new experience. Our church is once again providing Christmas for an entire alternative high school and promised to give gifts to each student. Our family "adopted" a teenage mother and her infant son from the list. We had so much fun filling her wish list and picking out adorable baby clothes. I also appreciated the opportunity to speak to my children's hearts about caring for those who have chosen to parent even when the path is rough and less than ideal. This young woman, like many others, is courageous and needs encouragement to reach her greatest potential.  We were able to complete her wish list and then some.

Our second charity this week was filling shoe boxes for Meals on Wheels. We have done this for several years now and always enjoy it. My focus with this project each year is to help the children think of those who are alone and shut in. The folks who receive these boxes are elderly or disabled and will likely not get out at all this holiday season.

Our third charity was the book drive at the library. Each year, we pick a few kids off the holiday giving tree and purchase books for them. I remember the first time my kids realized that not all houses were filled with books. They were shocked!!

For our fourth charity activity, we attended Return to Bethlehem (a reenactment of Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus). There are no pictures allowed, but it is always fun. All of the money that you give to "beggars" throughout the reenactment goes to help a local outreach program that works with the homeless.

Lastly, we donated a few food items to the local food distribution center. They maintain a huge food tree at the mall and my kids have been going to it for years. It is a wonderful opportunity to speak to them about the importance of giving back when you are so abundantly blessed. Dean and Anne have never known true hunger and for that they are abundantly blessed.

We have a few more charities to cover in the next few weeks.

Blessings, Dawn

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

F Is for Favorite Christmas Films

There are so many Christmas films out on the market. However, most of them are pretty drab, in my opinion. We do have a few favorites around here.

Miracle on 34th Street ~ It has to be the original in black and white. They just don't make them like that anymore.

It's a Wonderful Life ~ This used to come on TV on Christmas Eve when I was newly married. I used to watch it while wrapping gifts. Now, we watch it when ever we get the chance during the season.

The Preacher's Wife ~ All right, I am the only one in the family that loves this one. I really do love it and don't feel like Christmas is complete unless I see it.

The Santa Clause 1, 2, and 3 ~ It seems that these three are on cable almost daily right now. I like the first one the best. My husband and kids love them all.

The Muppet Christmas Carol ~ This is a family favorite. Well, most of us love it. My youngest daughter has a fear of the Muppet characters, so this definitely is not her favorite version of The Christmas Carol.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Do you have ones that you watch year after year? I want to know...

Blessings, Dawn

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up ~ All Things Nutcracker

This is going to be a mostly picture and video post. The kids finished another season of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. They did great and it was a pleasure to watch them. I am so proud of them. They always were where they were supposed to be, made all of their costume changes without issues, and were responsible. They also had a great time. 

Anne in warm ups
Dean in warm ups
The Tween girls back stage -- Dean was downstairs with the boys.
Dean and Anne in the party scene
Dean (standing street urchin) on the right with Anne next to him, black top and red skirt
Dean dancing with H in the center
Dean dancing with H and Anne dancing with E
Dean and H picture taken from the wings
Dean jumping in this part of the party scene

Anne and E dancing the polka in the center

Anne as a guard ~ right hand of picture facing the cage
CATS ~ Dean crawling out from under the baby carriage and Anne in the splits
Dean as a sailor

Anne as a sugar mask

Anne dancing with blue sugar mask

Curtain call
I am always amazed at how professional this production is with so many children. Our dance studio does a marvelous job with the kids!

Blessings, Dawn

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Nature Study for Urban Homeschoolers ~ Weeks 5 & 6

Between the stomach bug and Thanksgiving, we didn't make it to the park last week. However, we did make it there twice this week. So I am counting one of our days for last week.
Week 5 ~ We decided to focus on the many different types of bark for our first nature walk this week. It is amazing all of the different varieties. We found  barks that were rough, smooth, peeling, dark, light, and white.

We saw lots of lichen growing on several trees and I will be adding that to our list of things to learn about this year. We were able to identify a few trees by their bark. Some are very obvious like the River Birch pictured below.
River Birch

We also noticed that many of the trees in one area were all leaning in the same direction. We wondered if they had all been pushed almost over in the great flood of 1916. As I mentioned before, we are doing our study this year in a flood plain and we know this entire area was under water (rushing water) during that flood. We will have to figure out how to age a variety of living trees to determine if they are really that old. It seems unlikely, but if not the flood, then what calamity made them all bend and then grow in the same direction?
The rain was really picking up and I was worried about the camera so we checked the river depth (a visual check) and headed back to the car. The river was near it's banks and moving at a quick speed.
Week 6 ~ After two more days of steady rain, the river overflowed its banks. We had to head out and see how our urban study area was doing. Our urban study area is in a park on one side of the river and  a road and industrial area on the other side of the river. The park was still accessible and we took a few quick pictures. The pictures below were taken at almost the same place as the one above with Dean in it. As you can see the trees that are usually on the edge of the river are in the river.

 A little farther down we took a picture of the bridge that crosses the river and leads into the park. This underneath area is where homeless people often sleep. As you can see, it was almost hitting the bottom side of the bridge. We missed the shot, but an entire tree went by while we were standing there.

Next, we decided to explore the road opposite the park and the quarter mile or so farther down river from the park that often floods first. Sure enough the river was completely over its banks on one side of the river and flood waters were covering the road. We had to cross the river to the road on the other side of the river because the police had blocked the road.

Water is on the road on the other side of the river.
Crossing the river on the bridge. The water is almost touching the bottom of the bridge.

This is not extreme flooding for our area. This is pretty typical and happens a few times a year. It can be much worse and has flooded out the buildings in the pictures a few times since we have lived here. We were here in 2004 which was considered a 100 year flood, and the worst flood recorded for our area was in 1916.
Cars stand in the parking lot of Biltmore Exxon Wednesday, September 8, 2004, as tropical depression Frances soaked western North Carolina.
Image result for asheville flood 1916
Disclaimer ~ We used lots of caution in approaching the river. We used the zoom function on our camera and were not as close as some of the pictures suggest. In fact, several pictures were taken from the car. We never crossed any police lines. Use all caution when dealing with a raging river and flooded roads. Never drive through flood water.

Blessings, Dawn