10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

There’s a week and a half until our new baby joins us!  Eek!  Nonetheless, we haven’t slowed down much.  🙂

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately…

  1. We got together with some new homeschool families at the ball field in town yesterday. The kids played kickball, climbed trees, made friends and otherwise had a blast.   I really liked getting to hang out with some fun moms too!
  2. We went to a cookout at some elderly friends’ farm yesterday. They built a fire in the fire pit and roasted old fashioned hot dogs (and made pan fried cheese quesadillas for vegetarian Annalee) and smores later, plus had all sorts of wonderful goodies to eat.  The kids hiked their trails in the woods, played with their many cats and kittens, helped cook and prep for dinner, climbed, explored, cut buckthorn and more.
  3. I signed Jack, Anna and Victoria up for a month of iXL math. They really disliked xtramath.com so even though it was free I dropped it.  So far they enjoy iXL a lot more but I don’t like the price!  I have some leads on steep discounts for it so I’m looking into that.  There are just too many great educational freebies online for me to pay that much for something my kids aren’t crazy in love with.  🙂
  4. The kids are taking part in a free 10-week poetry course I’m offering online. Monday was lesson one (cliche busting) but we actually started last week.  We’re all having a lot of fun with it!
  5. Victoria and Anna have been doing lots of cooking. Victoria has made apple crisp several times to use all the apples we’re getting from friends’ trees.  Both girls are practicing making dinner to prepare for when the baby comes and they’ll be taking over for a while.
  6. There’s been lots of talk about fetal development and what the baby’s doing these days. She kicks, moves and hiccups a lot!  We’ve talked about C-sections, baby positions, you name it.  (Side note:  As I’m typing this I’m having massive contractions and it’s quite hard to concentrate!  I have a cervix like a bear trap though, so I know baby’s not coming early no matter what my uterus tries!)
  7. The kids are all reading like crazy. Current faves include Percy Jackson and Pokemon.  I think Anna finished all of the 39 Clues books and both girls have been reading another series at the same time that’s led to lots of drama over who gets to read the next library books!
  8. Victoria has been “doing school” with Jack. She writes him out Pokemon sentences to copy for handwriting practice, and also has been teaching him how to draw various Pokemon characters.
  9. Alex has been doing lots of block building (especially Angry Birds towers to topple). He’s also enjoying other typical preschool activities — being read to, playing letter games, watching Dr. Seuss movies with Daddy at bedtime, playing with the cats, doing nature crafts, and so on.  He’s very loving towards me and the baby lately, and gives my belly lots of kisses.
  10. We’ve all been doing the usual family stuff — playing at parks, bird watching, visiting friends, talking on the phone, preserving fall goodies, going to libraries, shopping at the farmers’ market, playing Bananagrams, riding bikes, doing art, taking pictures, watching shows together, going to restaurants, squabbling, making up games, listening to music and so on.

Latest yappings (some)…

Wedding Day #16

I just thought I’d share a few pictures that Victoria took of our time down at the Grotto of the Redemption and our renewal of our vows.  I think I mentioned that we get married in a new way each year around our anniversary, and our trip to the Grotto was for this year’s wedding.  It was a wonderful spot for it!

We said some corny words to each other, involved the kids and other mushy stuff.  🙂

I even got a new ring for the occasion, since my pregnant fingers are too swollen right now to wear my wedding rings.  We bought a $3 stone ring from the gift shop that seemed like the perfect souvenir.

Here’s a few other shots Victoria took during our time at the Grotto…

It was such a nice memory and such a fun trip!

We’re back to regular life (as regular as our lives get!) around here now.  We’ve been apple picking, preserving goodies, making salsa, visiting friends, reading books, watching Netflix, catching up on shows that are back for fall, playing on the computer, rescuing turtles, doing xtramath.com, meeting mudpuppies, taking pictures, going on walks and bike rides, and SOME of us are talking way too much on the phone.  🙂

Here’s my latest yappings…

Two and a half weeks until we meet our little one!




We just got back from our second mini-vacation in Iowa (who knew there was so much to see in Iowa???).  This one really was one to remember.

We went down to see the Grotto of the Redemption and renew our wedding vows there. We get married again in a new way every year (this was wedding #16!), and we found out about the grotto and decided it would be a great spot.

We had no idea how amazing it would be.

Wow. It really is hard to even write about this place, because it really did just leave us silent and in awe so much of the time.  We went four times in the day and a half we were in West Bend, at the kids’ request.

You can read about the history here, but the upshot is that a priest spent pretty much his adult life building this shrine to the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and it’s entirely constructed of rare and spectacular rocks, minerals, stalactites, crystals, etc.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the grotto.  The original priest worked on it until the day he died (in his late 70’s), and then other priests have kept up his work.

Throughout the grotto are depictions of stories from the bible, from Adam and Eve to the Sermon on the Mount to the 14 Stations of the Cross. Jack especially loved taking Alex through the rooms and telling every story to Alex.

Much of the grotto was constructed with stalactites and crystals from places like Carlsbad Caverns, where owners gave the priest permission to take anything he wanted from their underground caves for years. He hauled back the beautiful treasures by truck and train from all around the country (and from other countries as well).

They estimate that it would cost $4 million to replace just the minerals today.

And it all exists in this sprawling, unguarded, open structure in the middle of a tiny town in Iowa.  Admission is free, and you’re welcome to come and go day and night.  At night, it’s even lit up.

Words, descriptions and pictures cannot possibly capture this place. Here’s a few images to try though…

We learned history, religious education, geology, geography and so much more, in the most amazing way.

In addition to the amazing grotto, there was also the fact that we got to sleep in the Safari Suite of our hotel (the manager gave us a great rate after hearing our wedding story!).

And the trip also had sod houses and feeding swans and more…

Believe it or not, that’s just a fraction of the photos I took!  It was all so unbelievable.

Victoria took photos of our grotto wedding, too, and I’ll share a few of those once she has them uploaded.

It was a really amazing couple of days!

And now I really think we’re done with Iowa for a while….  🙂



It's the First Day of Spring on Mars!

Fall may be just around the corner here in North America, but that’s not so for all of the world — or the galaxy.

Today is the first day of spring on Mars!

Discover Magazine says:

Today, September 14, 2011, is the vernal equinox for the northern hemisphere of Mars!

If you want to be technical, it’s the time when the axis of Martian rotation is perpendicular to the direction of the Sun, and the northern hemisphere is headed into summer (making it the autumnal equinox for the southern hemisphere). When this happens here on Earth, it’s called the first day of spring…

Mars also gets a spring that’s twice as long as ours, which I think would be pretty nice (since their year is twice as long, all their seasons are, too).  Here in Minnesota we only get winters that are twice as long.  😉

Head over to Discover to read more!


Caves, Tomato Tossing, Sheep and More

We took a little mini-trip to SE Minnesota and NE Iowa last week and had the nicest time!

Some highlights…

We went to Mystery Cave, a cave run by Minnesota State Parks…

And Niagara Cave, a privately run cave.  Only Victoria wanted to go to this one and I went with her.  Unfortunately, Niagara Cave is NOT a cave to explore when you’re 8 months pregnant.  The masses of stairs (along with low oxygen levels) brought on strong contractions and an alarming inability to breathe, and I had to make my way (with considerable effort!) back up to the top and send for Daryl.

Daryl bought some bags of  rocks/seeded gems for the kids to slew (sp?) and they had a great time “mining.”  He also bought the boys some miners’ hats that they absolutely love.  The hats even came in handy later in the trip!

This was followed on day 3 by yet another cave — this one the Ice Cave in Decorah, Iowa.  It’s a public cave where you’re welcome to just wander in and explore, and we all had fun going into it.

We were near the town of Lanesboro and had fun exploring it on one of our days down there, too.  It’s a lovely town that’s filled with little sustainable shops and Amish roadside stands and so on.  We bought some heirloom cherry tomatoes at a little store for snacking as the kids and I explored.

(This collage deleted because a certain 13 year-old does not care for one of the images of herself in it.  Teenagers are such fun!)

(And can I just point out what a fantastic mother I am?  I got out of the bath soaking wet to fulfill this request!) 😉

Another town we visited was Burr Oak, one of the homes of the Ingalls Family.  We went to their little museum and park, caught (and kissed!) some toads (even Alex caught one!) and otherwise enjoyed ourselves in that tiny, tiny town.

We visited a sheep farm where everything was purple and the kids got to feed sheep, pet sheep and goats, learn about the entire process of turning wool into yarn, indulge in goat milk fudge and so on.

We also visited Seed Savers’ Farm in Decorah for their tomato festival, where we took part in a tomato tasting, helped judge a salsa contest, played, tossed rotten tomatoes, helped make ketchup, met heirloom chickens, enjoyed a tasty meal, explored the site and more.

There were other adventures too — some really interesting restaurants (one was fancy with local food and oh-so-gourmet but very reasonable prices!), a visit to another Laura Ingalls Wilder museum (in the town where Almanzo grew up), swimming, learning about the Amish (and buying lots of their goodies!) and more.

On the way back, we headed up to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and spent the night.  While there, we helped harvest their grapes and took home boxes of grapes that I made into some awfully good grape jelly, if I do say so myself!

All of the kids really enjoyed the trip (despite the fact that they were less than enthusiastic about Iowa as a vacation destination ahead of time!) and Daryl and I really had fun, too.

Just the same, it’s good to be home!  I tire out easily these days and there’s only so many hikes, caves and adventures I can take.  🙂

… Although we are going to another part of Iowa next week…  We found the neatest little grotto with so much history and we’re planning on getting married there this year (we have a family tradition of getting married again every year around our anniversary in a different way).  It just looks so interesting…