What they have in common

OK, my bloggy friends. You know me too well! Either that or my quiz was way too easy. Whatever the case, you came very close to getting the correct answer to my question.
On Friday evening, I was looking at those three things in my kitchen and it made me feel so happy. It reminded me of a time not that many years ago when I felt like I had walked through a desert. I was feeling wiped out, in need of refreshment and lonely.
The three things reminded me of how blessed I am right now to be doing life with a lot of great people. They reminded me of community.

The daisies were a gift from my secret sister at our home school co-op. I wasn’t sure if I would want to get involved in a co-op with so much happening in our lives this first year of home school, but I thought it might be good for the kids.
I didn’t realize how good it would be for me! Home school can be isolating, so it’s nice to be doing it with other families. But the amazing thing is how much this group of families really likes being together.
When co-op ends at 1:30 on Fridays, we all end up hanging around for another hour or more to talk and let the kids play. After every field trip, several of the moms immediately start uploading their photos of the adventure to Facebook. The first time I saw this happen I told my husband, “Wow! These women are just. like. me!” =]
Two of them even have blogs, so you know how much I like them. In fact, three of the families have started attending our church, and one other family already went there. So, now not only do we see each other at co-op, but we see many of these people at Awana and small group and church and after church at lunch. I love doing life together.
**
The next photo was of a bag of friendship bread starter, although I loved the guesses that it was some kind of milk I was going to feed the baby. That was a very creative guess!

The boys have two friends from their old school who are brothers. There has always been something special about these two groups of two brothers that made them have the most fun together.
We haven’t seen them as much now that we are doing school at home, and the friends are still on a school-day schedule. But on Friday, their mom invited our boys over for an extended playdate that lasted until bed time.
When I dropped off the boys, it seemed like the younger two had both grown a foot and were catching up with their third-grade brothers. But the boys picked up right where they had left off and ran out to the trampoline where they later started a “war” of the big brothers vs. the (not so) little brothers.
The other mom brought the boys home and dropped off the bag of friendship bread starter. I have NEVER made friendship bread! Can you believe it? So, I was excited to learn about how to do it, and I’m impatiently counting down the 10 days until we get to eat it.
And the starter just reminded me how thankful I am for friends from the past who make an effort to keep that relationship going even when it takes a little extra work. And it reminded me that even though we aren’t part of the school community that used to be such a big part of our lives, we are still able to do life with those people.
**
The third picture was a huge pan of pulled pork.

I have mentioned before that the women in my church are amazing cooks and they are always there with a meal if someone is in need. We have been the recipients of many of these awesome meals over the last few months.
While I was gone all day on Friday, my husband cooked a ton of pulled pork in his convection cooker. When I got home, he asked me who needed a meal so we could share it with some other families.
I thought it was awesome that my husband was cooking meals for people without even being asked. And it made me realize how nice it is to be part of a community of people who look out for each other in this way. We really appreciate all of the meals that have come into our home, but we definitely prefer to be on the giving end!

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How we use the computer

Because this was our first year of doing school at home, I wasn’t sure how much we would use the computer in our day-to-day school work.
But by Christmastime, I discovered the computer was a great tool to help with some of our subjects. In fact, we were using it so much that we purchased a new computer to use exclusively for home school.
It helps break up the day and motivate the kids because they love computer time. I also try to organize our day so that one child can do an activity on the computer while I am helping another child with one of his subjects.
Here are some of the ways we use the computer. These are great for kids whether they do school at home or not.
SPELLING
The kids love using Spelling City, which is a free web site, to review their spelling words. I let them practice their words on the computer several times a week, and then I ask them to write their words on paper the other days.

Spelling City saves me a lot of time because I don’t have to give the boys their spelling words. I can type them in, and then the computer reads them and gives them a sentence for each word. They also can click to ask the computer to review only the words they missed.
The web site includes games they can play with their spelling words. Since we do other activities as part of our curriculum, we don’t use the games.
GEOGRAPHY
We use Sheppard Software Geography games to supplement our map work during school. The free web site has mapping games by continent, as well as games to review the United States and capitals.
The games start out with a tutorial level and then get gradually more difficult working up to “cartographer”. The kids love playing the mapping games, and so do I! We usually do these one to two times a week.
TYPING
We use Mavis Beacon for our typing software. I guess typing is actually called “keyboarding” these days, but you know what I mean.
We love this software. It teaches the keystrokes gradually and then rewards the user after a few lessons by allowing them to play a game. It scores the user by the number of errors and typing speed. The games are really fun and a great reward for completing assignments.
The boys do typing twice a week and often ask to do it after school. I’m impressed with how much their typing skills have improved.
SPANISH
The kids also use the computer twice a week to work on Spanish. We use Rosetta Stone for Spanish. It’s an expensive program, but we really like how it is set up.
It uses a unique approach to teaching a language. It starts with the words and phrases one would use most often if the user suddenly landed in another country. The program doesn’t say the word in English, then in Spanish. Instead, it asks the user to match the word spoken to a picture.
For each level, a user must master word recognition, grammar, speaking and writing the words. I like the fact that even my 5-year-old, who can’t read the words, can still use the program for many of the sections because it only requires her to listen and match the pictures.
ITUNES
We also use the computer each day to review songs we use for certain parts of our curriculum. Some of the things we sing include the books of the Bible, states and capitals and lots and lots of grammar songs. In fact, we sing more than a dozen grammar jingles each day to remind us of how to use nouns, verbs, prepositions, pronouns and more.
We often sing the songs together, but we also have a microphone and headset on the computer. This has helped tremendously to allow the kids to do their computer work without disturbing others in the family.
I would love to hear from you! Do you use your computer for any educational games? Do you have any web sites or software to recommend?

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Lost: Ab Aeterno

We all know up to this point that Lost is a story of Faith vs. Science. Free will vs. Destiny. Good vs. Evil. Black vs. White.

But the big question that we STILL haven’t answered after last night’s episode, Ab Aeterno, (which means from eternity in Latin) is: Which side is good and which side is evil?

Or perhaps it’s not so cut and dry. Maybe the whole show is making the statement that as with world religion, politics or any other belief, it’s up to each person to decide. Would it be better to live in a perfect place, such as the Garden of Eden, where there is no sin, no work, no hardship, no death, but at the same time, no choice about how to live?

Or is it better to have free will, even if our ability to make choices means living in a sinful world, full of happy and sad, good and evil, work and play, aging, disease and eventually death? Would it really be worth it to live forever if it meant living forever without the ones you love?

Last night, we got some major clues about the characteristics of our two dominating forces: Jacob and the Man in Black. It also was awesome to finally find out the story of never-aging Richard; his ship, The Black Rock, and why it is stranded in the middle of an island; and what happened to the rest of the statue standing guard at the edge of the island.

It was weird to find out that Richard, who always seemed to be such a dominating force on the island, has actually been walking around for 140 years without any clue about why he is really there, what his mission is and even WHAT the island is all about. He has been blindly following Jacob, but seems too weak to ever question the reason for his existence.

Richard seems to be part of a bigger allegory about the choices people make in life. While some ask questions, do research and demand proof, others follow, motivated by a faith in something they don’t completely understand.

JACOB

Here are some of the interesting things we learned about Jacob:

He has chosen not only candidates to replace him, but other people to play out key roles in his mission. He finds Ilana, wrapped in bandages in what looks like a military hospital, and gives her the job of protecting the six candidates. He gives Richard the job of being his intermediary and influencing people for him. I guess that makes Richard his “preacher”.

Jacob admits that he “brings” people to the island, but it seems his only purpose in doing so is to prove a point. The Man in Black believe that everyone is corruptible and it’s in their very nature to sin. But Jacob wants to “prove him wrong.”

He describes part of his mission on the island as keeping evil harnessed there. According to Jacob, the island is like a bottle with evil swirling around inside. But HE is the cork that keeps that evil from spreading to the rest of the world. So, is he really protecting the world from evil? Or is he trying to protect the island from the rest of the world?

Both he and the Man in Black throw out phrases that make them sound very Biblical and Christ-like. ” No one comes in unless I invite them in,” Jacob says as he pours Richard a glass of wine.

While the Man in Black takes a very active role in approaching people and trying to lure them to his side, Jacob says he doesn’t believe he should step in.

“I wanted them to help themselves,” he said. “…to know the meaning of right and wrong without me telling them.”

But just when I was starting to really think Jacob might be the all-mighty force that is running the show, we learn there is a limit to his power. He can give eternal life, but he can’t forgive sin? Well, sorry. But that doesn’t sound very God-like to me.

MAN IN BLACK

Here are the great insights we got into the character of the Man in Black:

He admits to Richard that he is the black smoke and that Jacob has taken over his body. If that is the case, then whose body does the Man in Black have? And in what form would Jacob be if he didn’t have MIB’s “humanity”.

While MIB seems to be the most likely candidate to be “Satan” as he roams around wiping out everyone in sight in the form of The Smoke Monster, he also sounded a lot like Christ with some of his phrases last night.

“I need to know you love me… you’ll do anything I ask,” he bargained with Richard before releasing him from his shackles, much as Jesus asked Peter if he really loved him.

“It’s good to see you out of those chains,” he said later.

When he’s in the form of Smokey, the Man in Black seems to kill most people indiscriminately. But with others, he takes the time to stop and look in their eyes, as if judging whether their lives are worth living. When he paused in front of Richard in the bottom of the ship, it sounded like he was taking snapshots of his face.

Much like Locke was able to stare into the eyes of The Smoke Monster, Isabelle said she was able to look back into the eyes of “the devil” and “all I saw was evil.” But, did she mean she looked into the black smoke? Or was she looking into the eyes of Jacob or the MIB?

The Man in Black tells Richard that Jacob is actually the devil. Jacob is the one who took Isabelle, and Jacob is the one who needs to be destroyed.

MIB gives Richard the dagger that Sayid had used to try to kill Smokey in the form of Locke. Apparently, the sword also works to kill Jacob. However, just like Sayid’s failed attempt, he couldn’t kill Jacob because he let him speak to him first.

MIB says he can’t blame Richard by being taken in by Jacob because he can be “very convincing”.

Finally, we find out that at least according to Isabelle, MIB is the bad guy. She uses Hurley to tell Richard, just as he was about to change sides and joins MIB’s team, that he has to stop him or everyone will go to hell.

IS THE ISLAND HELL?

Of course, the other big question from last night is whether the island is literally hell, as Richard believes, or if it’s only a figurative hell because it’s a place where people lose their choices in life and aren’t allowed to leave.

I would be greatly disappointed to find out I had invested so many years in watching this show only to find out all the characters are actually dead and in hell. Instead, I think the characters are saying that “hell” is a place where you can’t be with the ones you love.

But again, maybe those on the island COULD be with the ones they love, if only they had enough faith to believe. Isabelle told Richard that even though she is dead, “we are already together.”

What did I miss? What did you think??

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Our trip to the dairy farm, aka, I might have to give up drinking milk

When I heard our next field trip was scheduled for a dairy farm where we might see a cow giving birth, I could almost picture it. We would hike out to the big red barn in our overalls and farmer boots and find the mama cow lying in a bed of straw, surrounded by three farm hands ready to help her with her delivery.

Well, the red barn part was correct.

Actually, we pushed our strollers and coraled our kids into the big red barn, where we took seats with another 100 or so tourists on the concrete bleachers. Behind a curved glass wall, two big pregnant cows were lying in the straw in an elevated room.

The yellow light on a big stoplight outside the barn was shining — the sign a birth was about to take place. It actually was illuminating the word “hooves”. And hooves it was.

A pair of white hooves were sticking out of the black mama who had been struggling with the birth for a while. Giving birth is such a natural process that 94 percent of the cows are able to do it with no assistance. Out of the 90 calves born on this dairy farm each day, we had stumbled upon one of the 6 percent who was having trouble.

 “CAN WE GET AN EPIDURAL OVER HERE!” I wanted to shout. But a big sign under the maternity unit clearly informed us to be quiet.

“Shhhhh,” the signs said. “They can see you.”

From what I heard later, two farm hands pulled and tugged the baby calf’s legs to help with the delivery. The whole process was hitting a little too close to home for me and my newborn and we might have had to step out of the room. And this is coming from a woman who had four C-sections.

Even the soundproof wall wasn’t enough to muffle the moans of Bessie’s delivery pains, the kids informed me.

The new moms got to spend about an hour cleaning up their newborn calves. Then the 70-pound babies were taken to a calf nursery next door, where they were lovingly fed a specially-formulated mixture of colostrum produced by the animals on this 30,000-cow farm. Good-bye, mama. Hello, bottle.

The mother would be taken back to the recovery barn until she was well enough to join the other cows in their daily stroll to the milking parlor. This is the highlight of a cow’s day here on the dairy farm. They line up in long queues anxiously awaiting their turn on the rotating platform like a bunch of high school students lining up for The Demon at Great America.

Seventy-two cows can fit on the carousel at once. Farm hands attach big metal milkers to each cow after checking her for any signs of infection.

It’s clear they like the 8-minute ride and the milking process because they are chewing their cud, a sign of contentment, according to the tour guide. We also watched as many of the 1,200 pound beasts tried to sneak off the carousel and cut in line to get right back on when no one was looking. Cheaters.

During her three trips to the milking parlor each day, an average cow produces about 10 gallons of milk. The 24-hour-a-day operation produces enough milk to serve everyone in the Chicago area for a year.

The carousel had to be better than life back in the barn. Oh yeah, the tour guide told us the cows are perfectly content in their “free roam” barns where they get to choose their own sand bed and chew a mixture of scientifically-formulated corn and other grains grown on the farmland surrounding the dairy farm. The corn stalks are shredded into a powder, compacted into huge bales and then brought to the cows in their stalls. No need to worry about roaming around in the pasture here, ladies.

The workers also clean out their stalls several times a day, sucking up the sand in a giant vacuum and then separating the manure and liquids. The sand is cleaned and the manure goes into an enormous tank where it produces enough methane gas to provide power for operations on the farm.

I’m just not sure how pleasant any place can be when shared with thousands of other pregnant women. OK, not EVERYONE is pregnant. The cows do get three months of recovery time before they are artificially inseminated again. No boy cows here on the dairy farm. They are sold to the beef farms as calves.

After about seven or eight years of constant pregnancy and milking, the ladies are ready to retire. It’s not exactly the life outdoors they had been waiting for. Umm, let’s just say, hamburger, leather purses and lipstick are in their future… not the kind they will enjoy, but the ones they will become.

The mega dairy farm really was a neat place to visit. The kids in our homeschool group had a great time touring the exhibits and watching the babies being born. We also sampled some amazing fresh chocolate milk, ice cream and grilled-cheese sandwiches made on site at the cafe.

But, I will admit, this lactating mama snuggled up close with her new baby afterward. And I won’t look at a glass of milk the same way again.

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