Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Poems With Autumn and Alaina

This week Autumn recites "Hope Is The Thing With Feathers" by Emily Dickinson, and Alaina is accompanied by Autumn singing "A Wise Old Owl" which is a nursery rhyme.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Michigan Connections Academy (MICA) Box Arrives!!!

Our 8 year old daughter, Autumn,  has been homeschooled since kindergarten. We started homeschooling her after she missed the public school age cut-off date (she was born December 20th). We immediately fell in love with the flexibilty, and creativity this method of schooling allowed us...not to mention the closeness it affords our family. Even so. we did have Autumn dip her toe into school life for a few months in 1st grade to make sure we were doing the right thing....(She begged to return to homeschooling).

We find this homeschooling lifestyle to be ideal for our family, but it is still a time consuming endeavor for myself to come up with curriculum and motivate Autumn to do enough work each week, and just like anything, at times it can be a challenge. We were using a delight/literature based method of teaching that followed Autumn's lead on almost every subject. This meant lots of trips to the library and research into topics of curiosity, but not much structure.

This has been working great for us, and I am sure we could have continued using this method happily for many years to come, but then I came across some information advertising Michigan Connections Academy (MICA). It is a public school system that is government funded and offers a K-12 curriculum online for free. The school provides many of their students with computers and internet vouchers, and all students recieve textbooks, workbooks, art supplies, science experiment supplies etc. Each student is assigned to a grade, recieves a teacher, and is required to log so many hours of work each day. Students turn in work and are assessed through portfolios that are mailed or faxed, online tests, phone calls from their teachers, attendance in live sessions using skype, and standardized testing such as the MEAP.

We decided to give MICA a try for six reasons:

1. We were looking for some structure to motivate us, give us some goals to work for, and provide a bit of schedule into our day, yet still allow us the freedom to decide when to do the work. With MICA we will have to log a certain number of hours each day and complete all the assignments, but if Autumn wants to do school work at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. or on a computer in Florida or Europe it should be O.K.

2. We wanted school records for Autumn's future in case she decides to return to a brick and mortar school or for college.

3. Autumn is advanced in certain subjects and just average in others, and MICA tested her and placed her into the appropriate classes based upon her test scores. This is somthing that we know wouldn't occur in a brick and mortar school. We like that MICA is willing to acknowledge that a student might be working at a different grade level than they should be.

4. It is FREE, and is going to save us a TON of money! Even though most of our homeschool materials were found at the library, we still invested money into math texts, tutors, workbooks etc. Even with plenty of creativity, we were still spending money on our homeschooling.

5. If we don't like it we can leave! Since MICA is a public school we are under no obligation to continue if it is not working out. We have already decided that even if we don't like it at first, we will commit to finishing out the year, because just like any new experience there is a learning curve and some time that needs to be invested into getting used to the change. However, at the end of the year if we are unhappy all we need to do is return the computer and texts in their orignal boxes and decide not to enroll again in the fall.

6. So far all of our experiences with MICA have been positive. They responded to my request for information with lightening speed, they helped my through the online enrollment process with a few friendly phone calls, we recieved more positive and friendly phone calls when they were in the process of placing Autumn in the appropriate courses, they called again to alert us when she was accepted and enrolled, and immedietly shipped Autumn a desktop computer within the week she accepted her enrollement, they offered wonderful online courses to guide us through their system and teach us our responsibilities for the year and what to expect, and this week we recieved our second delivery from the UPS man containing all of Autumn's t school supplies. I can honestly say that so far they have been the friendliest  and most informative organization that I have dealt with. This leads me to believe and hope that this trend will continue throughout the school year.

Our only worries about this new school adventure is that it will either be too much structure and work and throw our feelings of freedom off, it will be more "busy work" than we expected, or we will find out that we are behind somehow in a subject. However, Autumn has decided that if the assignments take longer than she is used to she will just start earlier in the day or do additional work at night.

I think overall we are more excited about this new homeschool experience than we are nervous! Below is a video I took today of Autumn going through all of the materials she recieved via UPS. It was like Christmas, and Autumn was so excited that she plopped down on the couch and read both of her reading books straight through from cover to cover! She thinks they are great and wants to start working already....that's a really good sign of what is to come!

I will continue to make updates throughout the year on my thoughts about MICA in case you are considering this school or a Connections Academy in a different state.

Pulling a Mr. Bean (Our Day On Mackinac Island!)

This past Friday we spent the night in Mackinac City's Wilderness State Park. We were there to pick up Autumn from her week long adventure with Grandma and Grandpa Eles in their new RV. Autumn had a great time with them. She showed us all of the neat fossils she had found on Black Lake in Onaway, and was really excited to show us all around this campground. She never got homesick, and seemed to relish her time away. We were very pleased to find her in a state of such excitement, and are lucky to have grandparents with the energy and time to take their granddaughter on such an excursion.

We decided since we were down there we would make the week even sweeter for the girls and take them to Mackinac Island and actually bring our bikes so we could explore. (Somthing we had always wanted to do). We debated whether we should pull Alaina in her bike cart or let her bike on her own. We decided on the latter, and I am glad we did because Alaina did an amazing job! She managed to pull off two full laps (about 16 miles total) and stay in good spirits.

It was hot and sunny all day, so on our first lap we were on the lookout for a good place to swim. We passed by some kids jumping off of a large boat dock and went to check it out and see if it was safe. It was more than deep enough, so Steve and Autumn took the first plunge. They let out lots of woops and hollers as they realized Lake Huron is COLD! I wanted to jump in too, but I didn't want to bike further to find a bathroom, and there was nowhere in site where I would be safe from other swimmers/bikers eyes. Then, I remember an episode of Mr. Bean that I had just let the girls watch....
You have to watch the episode to fully understand the humor in what I decided to do next.....
Here it is:

So, anyways, I think to myself "I wonder if I could pull a Mr. Bean??" So, I snuck down onto the beach next to a larger rock that did little to protect me from curious eyes, but made me feel a little more confident in the event of a fail, and set to work putting on the bottom of my swimsuit over my bike shorts. Since Autumn and Alaina had just watched this episode hilarious giggling and exclamations of "silly Mommy!" ensued. Steve looked on with curiousity and terror........except for the moment where I almost lost my balance (which could have been disasterous) I found that pulling the bottom half of a "Mr. Bean" was easier than I had imagined. And since I had a T-shirt on, the top half was even easier. By the time I was done we were all laughing hysterically at my ability to change into my swimsuit in broad daylight in front of dozens of strangers.

Here I am displaying the end result of my "Reverse Mr. Bean." You can't help but laugh a lot while trying this.

We went on to jump off that "pier" dozens of times....the water was cold enough that after a few jumps you got the shivers...but not cold enough to make you gasp. In other words, just right!

At the end of the day we stopped at a beach that had hundreds of rocks stacked up into rock towers by all of the tourists, and we decided to join this special club and make our own rock towers. I was tired of wearing my wet bathing suit and decided to see if it was possible to pull a reverse "Mr. Bean." We all laughed even harder at my shenanigans this time, as I discovered that "yes" a reverse "Mr. Bean" is possible!!!! (DISCLAIMER: For those of you who sometime in the near future will attempt this AMAZING and MIND BAFFLING feat to impress your buddies or girlfriend, I must disclose the fact that my cycling shorts were very stretchy, thus creating a false sense of ease. I recommend practicing a few times in the privacy of your own home if you plan to perform a "Mr. Bean" while wearing somthing less forgiving....say, like a pair of blue jeans. I claim no responsibility for any embarrasing accidents that result from attempts of such amazing feats :)

When we got back into town we decided that it was time to eat somthing more than a granola bar. On our first lap we had seen a girl advertising for an all you could eat pizza buffet for only $8 dollars! "Too good to be true on Macinac Island," we thought. But, it turned out it was better than true!!! The  buffet was in Murray's Hotel, and not only did it have the most delicious variety of pizzas, but it had a salad bar with toppings that we couldn't believe, like peanuts, walnuts, yellow raisins! They even had soft serve ice cream, doughnuts, and cinnamon buns. (We burned a lot of calories ok?...) After a long, long day, we had found our oasis. It is hard to find unless you happen to hear the pizza girls siren songs, so remember : Murrays Hotel ,,,,in case you are on the Island, are famished, and want to eat amazing food without spending all your money.

We walked out of that buffet as happy as four gluttons could be, retrieved our bikes, and lined up for our ferry. While we were waiting we were given one more gift to add to our bag of wonderful memories of the day...a family of otters were swimming around the docks! They were fun to watch, and we were amazed because we didnt realize they lived in the lake! There was a sunset on our ride back to Mackinac City, which gave us all the chills since we decided to sit at the top of the boat. As soon as the girls climbed into the warm car they were out!

What a memorable day! If you ever go to Mackinac spend the tiny bit extra it costs to bring your bikes with you....we found out it is the only way to really experience the island!

Here are a few videos and pics of our day:


After spending a few months of our summer without furniture (because we kind of got used to not having it and so it just didn't seem urgent, and because we were trying to save money) we finally have some furniture in our living room! It is supposed to be an outdoor porch set, but we liked the fact that if the cushions are destroyed by the kids or spills (which, from past experience, we are confident will be the case) we can just get new cushions. And, the "wicker," which is really woven plastic, will be wipeable. We were going for function over form, but it is still quite comfortable, and we figured that if we feel like upgrading in a few years, we will have some very nice deck furniture!

The Rudyard Triathlon 2012

This past Sunday (July 29, 2012) Autumn and I competed in the 16th Rudyard Lions Summerfest Triathlon. It is a sprint Tri. that consists of a 5k run, a 24.3K bike and 1/2K swim (in a lap pool) performed in that order. So, it is run backwards of a regular Tri. We were biking around Mackinac Island all day Saturday, and Saturday night Alaina woke me up at 2 a.m. because she had gotten sick all over her bed (I think she had eaten too much at the pizza buffet). So, Sunday morning I wasn't too confident about pulling off a stellar perfomance. I don't think Autumn was either. She was so exhausted from our Mackinac adventure that she informed me she didn't want to compete in the race (which she had only decided she wanted to do on Saturday anyways, so I didn't blame her).

I quickly scrounged around for my sunglasses, goggles, running shoes and a water bottle, and we all loaded into our extremely messy car full of camping gear from a Friday night campout with Grandma and Grandmpa Eles at Wilderness State Park (we were too tired to clean out when we arrived home late Saturday night). This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because as soon as we arrived at Rudyard High and walked up to the registration table Autumn changed her mind and decided she wanted to race afterall. She had competed in this Tri two years ago and I think she remembered that it was a fun one. I hadn't packed any of her gear, but she was able to scrounge up everything she needed just by looking under the seats of our crammed Honda!

The sun was beating down at the beginning of the 9:30 a.m. running start. It was already way hotter weather than I am used to running in. Well, I don't get the chance to run much, but when I do it is always in the cool evenings. I took off at a brisker than normal pace and immedietly began to feel the effects of the all you can eat pizza buffet from the night before and began to experience the hyperventilation that comes on when you haven't taken the time to warm up properly. This, along with the fact that there were already at least 4 girls ahead of me, and 2 more in the process of passing caused me to switch my thought process from going out to race hard, to maybe just settling for finishing. "Wow, I am deinitely not in as good of shape as I thought...I should have trained way harder," was what kept going through my head the whole run. The turn around point was at the end of a hill climb and I was extremely surprised to see Autumn powering up the hill not too far behind me. This motivated me, along with Steve and Alaina cheering from their bikes (Steve accompanied Autumn on the bike portion for safety reasons). Before I knew it we were entering the transition zone to the bike and even though I was not happy with how I ran I had managed to hold my position throughout the last mile of the race.

I took a quick swig from a Gatorade bottle that I had placed on the floor next to my bike because my bike doesn't have a waterbottle cage ( I learned this is a big mistake even for a short race), and then I was running out of the zone. As soon as I mounted my bike and the cool breeze overtook me I felt better, and I mentally switched back from thinking about just finishing to putting it into high gear and trying to catch some bikers. This turned out to be harder than I imagined. The course wasn't hilly, but it was really windy, and even though I was pedaling as fast as I could in my highest gears, the bikers in front continued to maintain their distance, and about 5 miles in I was even getting passed by some. I was baffled by this, and noticed that most of these speedy bikers had awesome bikes.....I kept wondering how fast I would be going if I was riding one of those?  I yelled at the wind numerous times and also made embarrasing grunting noises. I found myself wishing I had a bike computer so I would know how much further to go and would be able to tell if I was slowing down. When I sensed that I wasn't pushing hard enough I yelled "race!" I also enjoyed yelling words of encouragement to the bikers that passed me at the beginning and later to the bikers that were still heading out in the other direction. All of my yelling recieved a few funny looks from race volunteers and passing competitors, but it was the only thing that was keeping me motivated...so they think I'm a bit crazy?...

I ran into Autumn and Steve and Alaina out further than I expected and we yelled at each other, and right after that another girl passed me. She was settled down in her aero bars going at what felt like a super fast pace. This made me angry. At this point my legs were begining to feel like jelly and I just couldn't understand how she was pulling this pace off, so I put my head down and tried to stay with her for the last few miles. She managed to get far enough ahead that she was out of sight when I reached the transition zone for the swim. When I went to hang up my bike from its levers my left brake lever completely broke off! I'm glad that didn't happen out on the course! I was assigned to a lane that already had three larger men swimming in it, and I immedietely realized that these 22 lengths of the pool (an all out sprint in proportion to the run or bike) would be the most tactical part of the race. We were supposed to circle swim, but the guys were going way too slow for me, and at times when I went to pass they would be coming head on in the other direction. After a few kicks in the face, many gulps of water from all the waves the other lanes were creating, and a moment where I had to stop and ask the lap counter which lap I was on, I emerged from the pool completely winded. I ran to the finish line with my number in hand, and was greeted by my friend Allison who said "I think you were just the first girl out!" "No way...there were like 5 girls in front of me." I said.

Autumn came in off her bike in what seemed only a few minutes later and managed to perform a pretty nice freestyle stroke for the whole swim. When she finished she looked in way better shape than myself. I was totally taken aback at how well she had done. We were both excited and exhausted.

At the awards ceremony I found out that I indeed had been the first one out of the water. I have no idea how I pulled that off, and I can't wait for results so I can see the times for each of the disciplines and the transition zones and find out how I could have made up so much time. Autumn won here age group (She was the only one in it). We were both awarded with Michigan Maple Syrup from Bestemans. To make the race even better the Lions Club had an amazing lunch with hot dogs, potato salad, punch, cookies, brownies, rice krispy treats etc. It was awesome!!!!

This race is great inspiration to keep training for future races. I learned a lot , like your mouth gets CRAZY DRY while biking in the wind and you would do just about anything for a sip of water, and that I need to run and bike a lot more, and that it wouldn't hurt to invest in a better bike, and that even though it was tough it was also fun....I can't wait to do it again...next time in the proper order.

Here are a few pictures that Steve took:

Friday, July 13, 2012

"MORE THAN GOLD" Olympic Themed Vacation Bible School at Brimley Congregational Church

The girls and I just experienced an amazing week of VBS at Brimley Congregational Church. The theme was "More Than Gold," and was inspired by the fact that the Olympics are coming up in just a few weeks. The church was decorated with flags from around the world, sports medals and trophys, an Olympic flame, and Olympic rings....however the colors of the rings were changed slightly so that they would represent the colors of the Wordless Book of the Bible. Black (for sin), Red (for Jesus' blood), White (for washing away sin), Yellow (heaven), Green (growing in Christ).

My responsibilities this week included working with crafts, and leading the kids in worship with song. A few of the parents and kids asked me if they could have copies of the music we used, and I told them that I would try to find and post some of the music here on the blog so they could continue to enjoy it the rest of the summer. Also, I took a lot of great photos of the kids this week, so if you would like photos of your kiddos drop me a note and I will be happy to send them your way!

The kids learned a song that helped them remember the wordless book and we sang it a lot throughout the week.  It went:

"My heart was dark with sin,
Until the savior came in.
His precious blood I know,
Will wash me whiter than snow.
And in his word I'm told,
I'll walk the streets of gold.
I'll read my Bible and pray,
And grow with Him every day."

Here is a video off of YouTube where you can hear the tune.

Our First craft for the week was a running shoe that the kids "laced up" using needle and thread, and then decorated and placed a memory verse onto: "Let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking onto Jesus" from Hebrews 12. We stuck magnets on the back so the shoe could be displayed on the fridge at home.

Our Second craft was a "magic trick." The kids pounded a nail into the center of a wood block that already had 6 holes woodburned around the outside to hold the six nails needed for the trick.  The nail in the center was to represent Christ dying on the cross, and the six dark holes were to represent sin. The kids were then asked to see if they could balance all six of their nails on the nail in the center without having any of them touch the ground. We let them try for a couple of minutes or until they looked frustrated, and then discussed how it seemed impossible to balance all of the nails without knowing the secret, and how a lot of people think that they can get to heaven just by being a good person, or by doing good things in their life, but just like balancing the nails without knowing the trick it won't work....it is impossible. Then, we taught them the trick of placing the nails in a certain order, lifting them carefully, and placing them all on top of the one nail. We explained that just like there was only one way to balance the nails, there is only one way to get to heaven....by confessing our sins to Jesus, and letting him carry them all to the cross for us, and trusting in Him and what He has done for us.
The kids really enjoyed this lesson because it feels like all of the nails are going to come crashing down when you place them on the nail to balance, you have to trust that the trick will work,  and a lot of them said they could really grasp the analogy and feel what we meant by "trust" and "letting go."  Th ekids also enjoyed experimenting to see how many nails they could balance at one time...I think the record was 20! This craft also came with the 5 colored rings of the Wordless Book, and we took off all of the nails but the center one, and played ring toss with it while singing our Wordless Book song. The kids would throw each ring when that color came up while we sang and we would see who could get the most rings onto their nail each round.

My crafty partner and I had a funny conversation before we began  our third craft....it went somthing like this:

She said: "Sarah, I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow we are going to make pendants."

 I said: "Oh, I didn't know we were making necklaces?"

She said: "No...we aren't making.....well, maybe I said it wrong, we are making Penance."

I said: "What are you talking about? Penance is somthing you say in Catholic church after you've sinned?"

She said (with exasperation in her voice): "Oh...let me just show you!!!!!"

I said: "Ohhhhh, we are making Pennants!!!"

WE BOTH SAID AT THE SAME TIME: "Let's just call them flags!!!!"

 heheheeh this conversation still makes me laugh....you would have had to be there....

anyways, here are our flags...

Our fourth craft was gold medals with a 3D cross in the center, leather cord for the necklace, and beads on each side representing the colors of the Wordless Book. This was an easy craft to make. The base was circles made out of cardboard from cereal boxes. Then we glued crosses also cut from cardboard onto the circles. Then gold foil was placed over the cross an wrapped around the back of the circles. The kids used their fingers to rub around the crosses on top of the foil until they really stood out. Then they punched holes at the top, ran their cord through, and strung each side with beads. We also had time for most of the kids to make bracelets with Wordless Book colored beads.

Our Fifth and Final craft was crowns made out of craft foam, with a thorny crown made out of wreath, and rings representing the colors of the Wordless book. The gold crown was to remind the kids that Jesus is the King of Kings, and the thorny crown to remind them of His sacrifice. They really had fun adding all of the jewels and trimmings. We stuck magnets on the back so the crown could go up on the fridge with the shoe they made the first day.

 There was a lot more going on at VBS than just crafts...there were bible lessons, outdoor activities and games, videos about real olympians competing in London, Bible stories, learning memory verses,  snacks etc. Here are just a few pics:

We all had a blast singing and dancing to our music this week. Below I have posted links to YouTube videos of some of the music we used so that we can continue to enjoy this great music. Enjoy!!!



What a great week! Autumn, Alaina and I are very thankful to all of the other volunteers who helped and kids who attended the week! What a blessing! Now we are even more pumped up for the Olympics to begin because this year it will hold extra meaning for us!!!!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Poetry with Autumn: "The Arrow and the Song" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Fourth of July Fun

A few years ago Steve and I started the tradition of swimming across our lake on the Fourth of July, and so this Fourth we got out to the lake early to beat all of the boat traffic. Steve just purchased a new triathlon wetsuit that looks like it is meant for an anorexic child. This was his first time trying it out in the water, so we got a good giggle watching him trying to squeeze into his suit. "It's supposed to be tight like this," he insisted. I didn't do much better squeezing into his old wetsuit, which makes me feel like a bloated catwomen. The girls, who were supposed to be our support staff, both paddled out on the windurfing board and we began our swim. Steve quickly began to go crooked because he forgets to look up and spot, while I stuck like glue to the girls, who seemed to be more interested in playing with the water than making sure Mommy didn't drown in the middle of the lake....it shouldn't have bothered me that they quickly began drifting away from my side, except for the fact that I have never gotten used to swimming long distances in our lake. I still get anxious about what I am going to see at the bottom, or what strange thing my hand might brush up against, or what might creep up from behind me and nibble me on my toes. When my goggles start to fog up or the sun shines rays of light through the water my eyes play tricks on me and my imagination takes over....was that a snapping turtle? A giant sturgeon? These crazy thoughts usually mean that I spend 90% of my swim in a state of breathlessness, hyperventilating, fight or flight. Our lake usually gets deeper the further out you swim, but this year about 200 meters out my hands started brushing up against weeds!!!! Ughhh! I swam faster...
By the time I reached the other side I was ready to crawl onto the girls board, but Steve wanted to do somthing new....add a bit more challenge.....swim all the way back! This time I decided to follow behind him no matter how crooked he swam. I stayed in his "bubble field" right behind his kicking white feet, and I found my swim back was much more enjoyable. As long as I could reach out and touch those toes of his my mind was kept from wandering. Now he was the one who felt a little apprehensive about what might get his toes :) We were very proud of ourselves when we made it to shore, and ran home to eat some yummy chicken salad for lunch before taking the girls to the parade in Brimley. Steve and I agreed that there is nothing  better than chicken salad and watermelon!

Below are a few pictures from the parade:

Playing carnival games in hopes of winning a prize

Autumn picking somthing from the prize table

It was really sunny so we made sure we were all wearing our hats

The girls got a ton of candy!

This was our favorite float...The incredible hulk!

Someone threw out popscicles!

After the parade we hit the beach for the afternoon. The weather was perfect! In the evening I went for a run, and even Autumn ran with me a bit. Then, it was off to the fireworks in Brimley. Steve had to work Thursday morning and he wanted to bike in, so he decided to skip the show and go to bed early. But, the girls and I managed to stay awake. The really cool thing about this years show was that you could see the fireworks in the Sault far off in the distance and the giant orange moon came up over the tree line about halfway through.

What a wonderful Fourth of July!