Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A promising beginning

I keep trying to post and this silly thing keeps trying to publish before I'm done.

We are now fully immersed in the 2007-2008 school year!
It is going amazingly well. We have a very full plate this year. My plan to leave workbooks behind is turning out to be a real bonus, but it's also extremely Mom oriented.
We are really getting to the meat of each subject, doing a lot more discussion and research. Lots more interesting projects, but also a LOT more preparation! I'm not complaining. I feel like we are really all on board and it's only been a couple of days.
John is just interested in everything! He has so many questions and insights. I am constantly going to the internet to find answers to complicated questions.
He is getting into the Revolutionary period in American History and there are so many places we can go to experience it. Heck, we have an Inn downtown that used to be one of George Washington's hangouts and Rochambeau camped right behind the Middle School!

Brendan is reading Treasure Island and I think it's definitely his kind of story. I will have him write a little report about it and it will be interesting to see what he has to say...
He is such a funny kid. He can be fuming about something he has to do one minute, and then he just jumps in, grinds away at it and gets it done. He is usually really proud of himself and the harder the job is, the happier he is! He is always the first to finish his chores in the morning and he first to be ready for the day.
This writing program that I am using is going to be great. I think Brendan is going to be quite a writer.
I really love our Religion program this year too. Brendan will be making his First Communion in the Spring and the book he is using is just so good at explaining what The Eucharist and the Mass are, to children.

Paul...Wow, this is a kid who doesn't need a teacher! He just pulls things out of the air. He has just finished the First grade First Reader in his reading books, and I consider that to be a pretty big accomplishment , but he isn't even slowing down. He can read anything! I don't know how. I haven't even taught him most of the phonograms yet. We are still going to do a very comprehensive Phonics program this year, but only to teach him the rules so that I know he hasn't missed anything. He has just been sitting in the school room for the last five years, soaking up all of what I have been teaching the other two.
He is going to start piano this fall. I know he is going to love that. He has had to wait and it's been killing him. He is our little theme song boy. He hums a theme song to everything!
John plays well because he enjoys the accomplishment. Brendan virtually attacks the piano and pounds it into submission, but he is really getting it. Paul is going to play because he loves the music. Period. He is going to be so happy when he can make the piano share itself with him.

I think I'm really going to enjoy this year. One thing I want to be sure and do is to do as many family field trips as we can on the weekends. Tim rarely gets to go with us when we do these things and he misses some really great times. We want to go to DC several times and see as many museums as possible. We need to get up to the Franklin Institute again. The boys love it up there! We are studying Astronomy in Science and we will try to get to as many planetarium shows as we can.
The Key is to be sure the time doesn't get by without actually carrying out the plan.

Well, I'd better sleep now or I'll never keep up tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A new life in a new place...

This weekend was a trial in so many ways.
Our new little life has been born into heaven.
Such a painful time for our family, but such a beautiful time for a new soul.
God's plan is always perfect, we know that, but sometimes the way he forms us, by pruning and bending and molding, can hurt!
We will always love both the members of our family who have gone on ahead. Knowing of the possibility, I prayed from the very beginning a prayer that God would know my desire for baptism of all my children. I am confidant that He has heard me and that they are now with Him.
They are perfect and complete as they sit at the feet of Jesus, and they are able to intercede for their family here. Imagine being born into Heaven from the womb!
We are sad for ourselves, but our children are never ours. They belong to God and He knows the beginning and the end of each earthly life. He knew this little one as He knit her and He lovingly took her home.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I need change!

This is a very bad time for this.
I am starting school on Monday. The school room has functioned as it is for around five years now and I don't understand why I want to change it. But I do.
I am going to Home Depot today to buy a big white board for one wall.
I am also going to buy a really big cork board for the other side over the table. I need more space to stick up all the "helps" that they need for their writing and science and a place for a REALLY long timeline! SO...
This gets me to thinking about how I could rearrange things to make the space work better. And if I am going to rearrange things, I really should paint. And I ought to move the two file cabinets to the utility room. And to do that I need to sort and purge and rearrange the utility room...
This is simply not going to happen before Monday.

I also need to paint the halls up the stairs. I want to do a two tone look with chair rail up the middle. This I can do on a weekend. But not this weekend.
I think I will finish as many sewing projects as I can this weekend. Go get the boards and put them up and save the rearranging for later. It will work as it is...but it could work better.
That's infuriating!

I'll post pictures as we do the projects. Onward and upward!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Our New Neighbors

Here is a photo of the new kids across the street.
I have named them Frank and Joe after the Hardy boys, who are always into trouble and whose mother never seems to worry about all their antics.
These little guys have been coming right out to the road to graze in the mornings. I saw them again yesterday in the yard of one of the houses up the road.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A warm winter, Chapter 2

Ok, chapter one was where we got the new furnace and nearly had to pawn the kids to do it.
The furnace is brand new and works like a charm. But the house still isn't that warm in the chilly season and the furnace sucks down the oil like Brendan and grape soda!
So I checked out the price of heating oil...and when I saw what it was going to cost to fill the tank every four weeks, I started checking out the price of replacement windows for the front room.
That is an entire wall of windows! I know the single panes that we have are basically just good enough to keep out the wind, period.
I talked to a couple of companies and learned something that I didn't know about windows.
They are just like cars. Except you don't drive them and they don't cost quite as much.
But they are sold just like cars. There are these slick guys with brief cases and demonstration kits and HUGE binders FULL of mind-numbing details about window companies and warranties and how deplorably BAD every other window company in the western world is. These guys give you the pitch, patronize you into submission and then the salesman and his sales manager try to double team you into feeling that you have just gotten the best deal possible on the best windows ever to grace the human domicile.
Except that I detest being patronized, I avoid car lots like the plague, and I have a computer with access to dozens of wonderful, objective websites run by very informative oversight organizations. So for the last few days I have been tirelessly researching U-values, The Better Business Bureau, the comparisons on window after window, and fielding calls from several tenacious salesguys and yes, the smooth-talking and ever-so-helpful sales managers.
Unfortunately you need several estimates, and that means exposure to many of the very best companies that are in business today, just ask them...no don't.
So the company that I talked to first has a great product, but they just can't seem to find some very important details and I have to make a decision right now or the manufacturer will just run out of the product or go out of business or be caught up in the rapture or well... there is just no end to the trouble caused by not reaching your quota. Why, they are just going to give these windows to me because it will help them achieve some kind of marketing Nirvana.
Ah, but then along came Clint. Clint the ClearView guy. Straight talking, straight shooting, Clint with the clipboard and no demo kit! He walked in, asked what Tim and I were looking for, took a few measurements, told me about the warranty, suggested a couple of alternatives, and then he left! He went back to the office, did some calculations, and his estimate came in ...ummm...significantly lower than the other company. Thousands. And as an added bonus, all their employees are legal US citizens and speak English. I asked.
So I am going to order the job tomorrow, and at the end of September, before the first frost, we will have some nice new efficient windows.
Tim can do a new storm door himself and the whole front of the house is going to be toasty!
We can do the rest of the windows in the house a few at a time.
So, I'm going to bed to get some much needed sleep! Tomorrow may bring a whole new set of surprises.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yea Paul!

Paul has big news!
At all of five years old, he passed his swim test yesterday at the pool!
Now he is allowed to go off the diving board whenever he wants!
He is very proud and we are proud of him!
He's just determined to do everything that his brothers are doing!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Guest Blogger

My Mom asked me to write this post to introduce myself and give a little summary of what I am doing these days.
I am the newest member of the Merkel family.
My last name, of course, is Merkel, but only God knows my first name. He and I are really close right now. He is so glad to be able to create me! I'm really glad too! I already have my very own Guardian Angel! God is having lots of fun watching all my little parts growing. Even though I am only about this big () my little heart started beating this week and I'm starting to get my little arms and legs. Isn't that amazing?

This is what I look like this week:

I am very busy growing like crazy.
I will be checking in every so often to blog how things are going.
It will be fun to read about what was going on when I grow up.

My mom and dad and all my siblings are so excited!
Mom is feeling great and isn't sick at all. That probably won't last though.
The family is very busy and I am going to have so much fun sharing life with my brothers, and my nieces, who are older than me. That will be so much fun! We will do lots of things together!

The good ol' summertime...

Here are a few pictures from the pool that I took yesterday.
The boys are really swimming well! Paul is really getting into the act and going off the diving board whenever he pleases. It is such a riot!

John enjoys diving and spends a lot of time on the diving board.
Brendan here doing his "Helicopter" .

Friday, August 17, 2007

Doin' DC

Wednesday was great!

Andrew has been in DC all week and Laura and Lucy came to stay here. We had a great week!
We were planning to go to DC one day to meet Andrew and have dinner and decided on Wednesday. Wednesday being a Holy Day, The Feast of The Assumption of Our Lady, we decided to go to Mass at the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception down there.
We left the house around 9:00 to get to Sliver Spring to catch the train at 11:00. We had a few minor glitches to deal with. The Silver Spring Metro station is down in town and is a real pain to get to and park in. We got lost once but finally found it and a parking garage that required QUARTERS! So Laura had to run into a bank to get them. Back up to our parking spot, feed the meter, catch the train.
By the time we got to the Basilica Mass was starting.
It was so beautiful! The Mass was a high Mass. And the Celebrant was Archbishop John Foley O.P.
He is so wonderful and the Homily was so good! The boys were perfect and love the Basilica so much that they just sat and stared at everything with huge eyes! Lots of questions afterwards.
The Mass was quite long and by the time it was over it was 1:30. The boys hadn't eaten lunch yet, so we went down to the cafeteria. We just managed to miss the huge rush and I got them food and drinks.
We didn't have much time inside the Basilica because we had to catch the train into town. We will be going back, however.
After lunch we walked back to the train station and caught the train to The Mall. The boys think the train is one of the best parts of the trip.
We were supposed to meet Andrew at 4:15 and we didn't get to the Mall until 3:00. Our plan had been to go to the Air and Space Museum, but as we were walking along we saw that it was going to take too long to walk there and we would just get there and have to turn right around.
As we were walking we came to the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art. We were about to go by, but the boys wanted to go over and have a look at the giant fountain. Since we were right there, we decided to check it out. I expected to meet with resistance from the boys who were expecting to go to the Air and Space. They spotted the gardens, however, and were so intrigued by what was outside that they started asking to go in!

I love Washington, there is no charge for any of the museums and we just went right in!
There isn't much on the first floor, so we took the elevator to the 2nd.
The art was just amazing! The boys were having a blast!
There are many,many sculptures of every sort. Just to show you a few...

Here is Laura's Favorite. A Rodin "Iris, messenger of the gods". Paul still remembers her three days later! He knows the title better than I do!

We were looking at this one and I asked the boys what they thought it was and Paul said "It's a torso!" By golly if it wasn't titled "Torso"!
I took this one for myself. It's a very interesting horse...Paul's Favorite was this one...

This is called "Resurrection"

This was a hanging sculpture...
This one is called "Video Flag". It is a bunch of tvs stacked in a rectangle and turned on. The screens then show different colors in the pattern of the flag.

After we had seen everything there was to see at the museum, and after I had promised the boys that we would come back, we left to go back to the Smithsonian Castle to meet Andrew and go find an early dinner.
We had to walk across the mall so we got a few pictures of the boys in front of the monument.

The Cookes and the Capital...

The National Archives...And I guess, Laura got us all walking up the street!
It was a wonderful day and although we were very tired, we are really looking forward to the next trip. I think we may go back next week with Tim. He is off for the week.
Anytime anyone wants to come back and see this very interesting city, we would love to have you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So Precious...

I went to this website from another and found this wonderful video.
It is such a fresh take on the different ways to look at things. We can see them as hurdles or gifts.
Downs Syndrome is one of those things.
If you want a treat watch this.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

I finished it!

Today I finished the "Happy Hippo" quilt for little Christian Ryan.
He's not even here yet!
I have to say, this took me a lot longer than it should have. The hand stitching was everything that I was afraid it would be and my hands just have a really hard time with that. I am going to have to figure out a better way to machine stitch binding. Anyway I will be happy to give it to little Chris whenever he makes his appearance. We are all anxiously awaiting the little guy, but not nearly as much as his patient mother!

Passing Down Love

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes families unique and special.
It is so interesting to look at the families that we know and all the many ways that they grow.
I know that each child is unique, distinct and unrepeatable, but so is each family.
I have really enjoyed my career as a wife and mother. I love keeping my home, cooking, schooling all my kids and watching the girls grow into women that are totally devoted to home and family. It is one of the things that I treasure most, being able to share the adventures of my girls as they begin their own careers as wives and mothers. They both have such special gifts from God to carry them through. It is never easy, nothing is that is worth doing, but it is truly a vocation that is close to the heart of God.

Our family has had such an interesting history and it comes from so many people with their own histories that blend together to make our domestic church what it is.
I learned to be a wife and mother from my own mom, who has been totally devoted to her vocation since she married my dad. I learned to find fulfillment within the walls of my home and the arms of my family, because she made that such a reality.
My Grandmas taught me perseverance and to be happy with what you have. There are lessons in my heart that come from the depression, from Calabasas CA, from the life of a woman who loved reading and thinking, my grandma Betty.
Grandma Maggie was a great woman and had to make do with a lot less that I will ever have to. She loved her home and family and worked so hard to be sure that they felt rich in all the important things. She told me so many stories about how she raised her kids without a lot of material extras. I still give thanks for my washing machine with every load when I think about how she had to wash clothes in camp. She was so happy!
I learned some amazing lessons in acceptance of God's Will from Alice Matthews, a young woman, and so brave. Stricken with MS in a horrific way, she never complained, always had a smile, and had the ability to inspire joy in all of us who spent time with her. I pray that if I ever go through something like that that I will be able to bear it that gracefully.
Letitia Merkel was another woman who chose to be a mother first, and yet never lost her love for Art, Music and Literature. She showed me so many things about growing in mind and heart and soul even as the obligations of the family seem to be never ending. She has given me the inspiration to keep reading and exploring and creating.
There are so many others that have influenced my family life. So many families that I know that have come through things or are going through trials so much more challenging than anything I have ever faced, and it affects the way our family grows every day. Whether we are praying in response to prayer requests, making a meal, or helping out with childcare in a crisis, we take with us a bit of the experience of the people we encounter and it changes us.
Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings", said something like - It is not for us to choose the time in which we live, only to do the best we can with the time that is given to us.
If we do our best in the time we have, it may serve others well in the future. That is a very important thing to remember, I think.
I am so grateful to the people in my life who took that idea to heart, and I hope I can be a person that will continue the momentum of their gifts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Camp Ware Memories

This past weekend John and Brendan were treated to a totally new and different experience. They attended their first Scout Camping weekend at Camp Ware in Pennsylvania. This camp takes place over four days and three nights. Tim went with them to be Brendan's "buddy", as the younger cubs need a parent along. I think it was a very rewarding time for all of them.
The reports are still coming in, as they remember things that they did that they want to share.

Tim and John and Brendan left on Friday morning to be up at the camp by 9:00.
Paul and I went up to Frostburg to help Laura, Andrew and Lucy move into their new home.
Laura already blogged the weekend and her pictures are better than mine so you can read about OUR adventure here.

The guys got there and checked in. Tim and Brendan were staying in the main Lodge. Brendan showed us his bunk.
John was down in "Camp Hawkeye" with the Webelos.
The weather was really hot and humid. The swimming pool was a favorite spot. Tim said they probably drank 20.00 worth of bottled water. The water coming from the tap was...questionable.

Brendan seemed to really get a lot out of his time there. Tim is such a great dad! He really gave Brendan his all. Brendan got to have a great time with the other boys. He learned about Health, First Aid, water safety in a lifejacket, and archery. One of the highlights of his weekend was his score on the shooting range. He scored "sharpshooter" his first time at camp! He didn't care for the food but Tim said that he ate everything they served and had a pretty good attitude about it. He took me aside last night at the closing ceremony and very quietly asked "Mom, since I ate everything this weekend, and I didn't like most of it, tomorrow night...can we have pizza?" We are.

John loved archery, he got two "bullseyes". He got his "whittling" card, so he can use and carry his knife at scouting events. He liked the shooting range as well. He got his "Polar Bear" badge for getting up every morning at 7:00 to take a swim. He went on a nature hike, made a tie dyed kerchief, carved an "arrow", and learned a lot about local stones from a geologist. This has been an interest of his for some time. He got a bunch of his accomplishments for next year out of the way.
His sleeping situation was less than perfect. He was afraid that he would roll out onto the ground. There was a huge rainstorm one night and he got pretty wet. But that's camping!
He was really pretty much on his own with a bunch of people he didn't really know. I was very proud of him. Tim was there but they didn't see each other very much.

Paul and I went up last night to have dinner and attend the closing ceremony. He was sure glad to see his brothers! He really missed them. We had a nice time and watched the boys receive their badges for attending camp and some other awards. Then they lowered the flag and we went in to dinner.

I was really happy to have everyone back together under one roof! What a full weekend!
I am so proud of my guys and all they did. Can't wait for Paul to get in there too. Scouting just fits our family so well! It really helps boys grow up well. I guess I'm going to be a Den Mother for a LONG time!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A very Medieval Time...

Yesterday was really, really cool!
In honor of Kevin Hoppel's Birthday, we took to the road at 7:00 am and headed up to Lancaster PA to attend the Renaissance Faire Youth Day.This Was Tommy Hoppel and his Grandma. The peasants were bowing to his Knightship.
It was such a great day! The boys had a great time! We got there around 9:00 and were in time for the opening performance. The whole thing is like a big show. When you arrive, they seat you in a theater and tell you the story that will be played out over the course of the day.
The story centered around the Queen and Sir Walter Raleigh trying to fend off the efforts of the Lord of Essex to become the king.
So as the day goes on there are shows and demonstrations that play out this story.

After the plot introduction we gathered at a local tavern to watch a Sword Swallower perform.
His name was Damian Blade "The most Dangerous Man in the World".
He really swallows swords, really. I watched the first demonstration, ascertained that he was, indeed, ingesting an actual blade, and at that point was forced to look away from the rest of the performance due to a very queasy feeling in my stomach. I get queasy just thinking about it. The coat hanger was just to prove that he wasn't using trick swords.

Our next stop was the resident magician. He was very funny and talented. He did several rope tricks, did some fire eating, a trick with an egg, and the finale was to have someone put him into a straitjacket, which he managed to get out of pretty quickly.

Then we went over to the jousting arena to watch the gaming tournament. It was a very good performance. The three guys that played the knights were excellent riders and showed the crowd how the knights used to use games to practice and train their horses for battle. One of the guys gave a talk about the warhorse that was very interesting.There were also some themes of the story involved in who won the games. The Knight in the green was the winner and he was a knight for the "Lord of Essex". This then played a part in who would go on into the next challenge. The only inauthentic part of the show was the Appaloosa...

We had a nice lunch while the boys watched a live "Chess Game" that took place on a huge chess board. This was the next part of the story. I guess the Lord of Essex won the game and the Queen was concerned...

After the game we split up and John went with the Hoppels to watch a mime show, which he loved! Brendan and Paul and I walked around shopping and looking for souvenirs and observing the various Characters. Like Mr . Shakespeare for instance.
There are lots of actors all over the place, but the people that are really strange are the ones who come dressed up and seem to think that the world inside the walls of the Faire is more authentic than the one we are returning to at the end of the day. There were quite a few of these people. I think this is the old "Dungeons and Dragons" syndrome. It's kind of sad. There are also lots and lots of Pagan images, and really just a pagan influence that kind of permeates the whole place. I did see some Christian aspects too though. Probably all pretty true to the Middle Ages.

We found each of the boys a wooden sword and John found a dragon figurine that he wanted to remember the day.
It was time for the final Jousting competition that would decide the fate of the Sir Walter Raleigh and the Lord of Essex. The Queen's Knight won the competition but then a band of brigands tried to over throw the queen's guard by force. There was lots of fighting, dead people everywhere and a cannon that finally had to be fired to take care of business. The queen won in the end.

We went back to the theater for the finale and a lot of singing and dancing. There was a group of people from a place called "Camp Joy". They were all developmentally disabled and were having such a great time!
As we were leaving we went into a pirate ship that was just outside the court area. Inside the ship we found replicas of several helmets, swords and some armor from the "Lord of the Rings" Movie. It was really neat!
We went back to the cars and had a little party and Kevin opened his presents. Then we headed home. Boy, were we all worn out! It was showers and to bed for everyone.

Today we are going to be getting ready for the boys to go to camp. John and Brendan have scout camp this weekend. Paul and I are heading up to Frostburg to help Laura and Andrew settle into the new apartment. I can't wait to see it.