Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Have Yourself A Mellow Little Christmas

After the insanity of this crazy year, it was nice to hunker down and just have a small our-family-only Christmas. We had virtually no plans, other than to open presents in the morning and eat something in the afternoon, and that was really nice.

The kids as usual popped out of bed bright and early, but in a ritual common to cruel and heartless parents everywhere, we kept them pinned down upstairs until Wayne had his coffee and I had my tea in hand and we were both more or less awake.

One very sweet thing I thought about this Christmas is that after emptying out their stockings and finding a candy cane or chocolate to chow on, the first thing they wanted to do was to open presents from each other. Both had done a stealth job of wrapping to disguise size and shape of presents, using multiple boxes, bags, tape, etc. This cracked me up, and reminded me of last year when Mackenzie swore for weeks ahead of time that he was giving Asa an onion for Christmas, and actually wrapped one up as a gag before giving her his true present.

After that was out of the way, they opened their Santa gifts. Well, opened isn't really the right word for Mackenzie has he got a note from Santa saying his present wouldn't fit through the chimney!

After a summer spent borrowing my mom's kayak at every opportunity, I guess Santa figured that he would really enjoy his own, and if you look at his grin here you know that he will.

And Asa's expression in this photo more or less spells out "A karaoke machine? OMG!" She was beyond thrilled, and has been singing day and night ever since (not that she doesn't sing day and night anyways, but now she's mic'd.)

And that, plus a turkey dinner in the afternoon was more or less our Christmas. Small, mellow, fun and family. In the week leading up, we celebrated the solstice with a progressive dinner with neighborhood friends, baked cookies, sang carols, decorated, read books about the Christmas story and in general just enjoyed all of the rituals of the season as well as celebrating the reason for the season.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snowy Days

We've had quite a week with several days of good snow and great sledding. The kids are a bit disappointed that we didn't get the dumping down here that the rest of the Pacific Northwest has been getting, as in several feet of snow! But they're happy that we got enough to keep their school-going friends out of classes for almost an extra week and so there were lots of kids out sledding on our hill.

They were really really hoping for a white Christmas this year, and the weather reports seemed to indicate that's what we were going to get, but now it has changed to mostly rain. Still, we're hunkered down and ready for a great little family Christmas together. No traveling this year after our whole year of crazy travel. And all of our family is elswhere, so it will just be the four of us together. Wayne is planning on making Christmas Day cinnamon rolls with Mackenzie, and the turkey is already defrosting. I got another big package of the world's best Oregon cranberries to make some sauce with, and we should be all set for a nice mellow holiday.

My mom and I went thrift-store shopping together yesterday (50% off day at my favorite place!) and I took her to the train station this morning where she hopped on a completely full Amtrak to Seattle to spend the holiday with my sis and brother-in-law. We got a few little stocking stuffers and had a great time.

To all who are celebrating this time of year, whether it be Christmas or Yule, Channukah or Solstice, I'm wishing you a wonderful holiday time filled with family and friends, love and laughter, and maybe a little white fluffy stuff falling from the sky!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Funny Christmas Quote

This morning:

Asa: It's only 7 days to Christmas! A week to Christmas!

Mackenzie: No it's eight

Asa: No look, it's the 18th and Christmas is the 25th, that's only seven

Mackenzie: But Christmas Eve goes so slowly, it counts as two days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

They Did It Again!!!!!

I'm still trying to wrap my head around this one, but the kids won the robotics tournament yesterday. As in got the champion's award. Wow!

The tournament was very up and down for them. They were the first ones to go through project judging, and the judges seemed kind of "eh", but maybe they were still waking up. Regardless, the kids did great in the project (I think!). For one thing, they memorized all of the lines for their play, and some of them (most especially Asa, the narrator) had a LOT of lines.

Then they went on to technical judging, which I think they really aced. Although they're a pretty young team, they attempted a lot more technical sophistication this year, using sensors, loops, variables, and subroutines in their programs. They all explained themselves very well, and the fact that they each wrote their own programs was a real bonus I think. Mackenzie was able to explain to one of the judges his program that used input from a sensor that fed into a decision tree and executed one of several sub-routines, and I could see that the judge was really impressed.

In teamwork judging, I know they did awesome. It's clear that these kids are all good friends and they work together very well. As always, I am proudest of the fact that they are a great team and are positive to each other and to all the other teams there.

On the robot table, their first run was an unmitigated disaster. I think they scored 20 points, LOL. That's out of the 170 they could get if all of their missions went well. One of Mackenzie's programs that we thought operated within the rules was ruled otherwise by a judge, and a well-meaning volunteer interrupted one of Mikke's programs with a ruling that was then over-ruled by the head judge mid-round. So it was very confusing. Their second round wasn't much better, with Asa's program going haywire for unexplained reasons.

By that time they decided to head to the practice room and re-write some stuff in the 30 minute break between rounds. Mackenzie re-wrote his program to conform to the new interpretation of the rule, and I tried to soothe the kids' ruffled feathers. They felt like things were being changed right out from under them, and I explained that it might not be entirely unintentional. After all, in the real world when you're an engineer you might work on a project for months only to have the marketing team come tell you that due to their latest focus group or marketing survey you now need to rework it an entirely different way, or discard those features and write entirely new ones. It's good for them to be able to quickly re-think their strategies or re-work their programs. After that, they buckled down and got to work and their last table run was much much better.

It was clear that all of the teams were struggling with this year's table, which seemed much harder than last year. So I knew that even if we weren't scoring as high as we'd hoped to, the other teams were in more or less the same pickle. I figured we had a good chance of being a runner-up and going to the state tournament, but when they announced the runners-up and we weren't in there, I wasn't sure what to think. But as it turns out, they did it again and won the overall champion's award. They didn't score the highest on the table, same as last year, but their work on all aspects of the project including trying our best to exemplify the FLL core values pulled them through!

I just looked through all of the photos which are so great, and will have to post some soon. Right now though I'm just so proud of all the work these kids have done!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Insanity, Continued

Five kids, a mom/coach, a car, lots of sleet, rain, and wind, darkness, an hour and a half drive, a motel where the power keeps fluctuating due to the storm, and a robotics tournament tomorrow.

Actually, the kids are having a blast. They're in the hotel room playing D&D and just generally having a fun time. They've all worked so hard in the last two weeks, with robotics team practice several days in a row each week. Their research project is simply awesome (I'll share after the tournament) and their robot runs have been getting better and better (although as the team is largely young and pretty new to this, it's not quite as advanced as some teams will surely be.) More than anything, they're having fun and really enjoying the experience.

I'll update after the tournament tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's the Most Insane Time of the Year

I think I post something like this about every year in this week. What the Heck Was I Thinking????

In the next few days we have 4 play rehearsals, 3 robotics practices, 2 research project presentations to give for our robotics team, 2 performances of Scrooge that Asa is in, 1 karate belt test, 1 robotics competition in another city, and a partridge in a pear tree.

You know, I love this crazy busy wonderful fun-filled unschooling life of ours. But this one week a year, it always kicks my butt.