Sunday, March 30, 2014

Week Ending 30 March 2014

This week has all been about Basil - the good and the bad.



He's settling in really well and everyone loves having him - especially Miss 13 and Mr 16 (Our cat - not so much). We've been learning to adjust our routines to his needs, especially ensuring he gets all of his 39 pills on schedule. The day goes more smoothly if we take him for a walk before we attempt any book work.Otherwise we keep getting a sad face planted on our laps or a frisbee thrust in our hands! He is really helping me stick to my goal of walking most days. On those rare occasions when we've all gone out he has been so happy to see us on our return. An enthusiastic welcome by a bounding Boxer is definitely heart warming.  On the negative side is his epilepsy. He had his first seizure with us a few nights ago and while we knew exactly what to expect and what to do, it is no fun at all walking a wobbly dog around the back yard for over an hour at 4:30 in the morning, then watching while he has another seizure. He gets agitated after his seizures and has a strong urge to walk but is still really uncoordinated. Hence the need for someone to walk him and then sit with him until he's feeling calmer. Miss 13 was happy to do it but she lacks the strength to steer him when he is attempting to walk straight through walls. We're hoping (for his sake and ours) the seizures won't be too frequent but stress does bring them on (and being separated from his family must be stressful for him) and he can have several in a week and then go for months without any.

Other than that we haven't done an awful lot worth mentioning this week.Mr 16 volunteered one night as an abseiling instructor and Miss 13 and I took the opportunity to fit in a little birding, visiting a couple of sites near to the abseiling tower. We also made two trips to local wetlands trying to find the Glossy Ibis. So far it's proving elusive but we aren't giving up just yet. As we've searched we've always seen something to make us smile. Our favourite was probably a group of fledgling Welcome Swallows who seemed to be learning to fly. They were sitting on a rafter by their nest and two adult birds kept flying in and hovering in front, presumably trying to encourage them. One by one they made the leap and took a very short flight, then another and another. All except one, who remained on the rafters all alone for a good 10 minutes until finally he too took the plunge. Magical to watch.
Apart from the Welcome Swallows, we saw a Royal Spoonbill in a location they don't normally frequent.  Shame it wouldn't untuck its head! Plus, as always, plenty of Pukeko.


Miss 13 made a delicious spicy fruit cake - shame I can't send the aroma over the net. It smelt - and tasted - wonderful.



Getting our heads around all the details of mitosis and meiosis has been a challenge. Making a flip book and posters has hopefully helped to get everything straight.





Linking with Kris's  Weekly Wrap-Up  


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Two Days in Our Week


So what does  a homeschooling day look like with middle and high school aged children? I tried to answer this, for my family at least,  by drafting a Day in the Life post on Monday but it didn't really give an accurate representation of what we do. So, I tried again on Wednesday but it wasn't representative either. But looking at two Days in our Life, plus a few other highlights from our week,does give a reasonable indication of what homeschooling  currently looks like in our home.


Monday was a very schooly day.

8- 9 am Up, breakfast and preparation for the day. Miss 13 and I check out the Eagle Cam. We haven't looked in for a couple of days and it is amazing how much the eaglet has grown. It's amazing what we've learnt from regular observations via this camera. We especially love watching the parents tenderly feeding their baby.




9-10 am. Mr 16 leaves for his Polytech computing course. Miss 13 asks me to run through some Latin and French flashcards with her then goes to her room to do a Latin lesson and a Maths lesson.




She works independently on both of these. I catch up on some blog reading, do some laundry and a few other chores.

10-11 am. Miss 13 moves onto science. I know that today's lesson (on cell division) is fairly technical so I read over the lesson with her and we take notes and draw diagrams as we go which helps her stay on top of some fairly challenging material.


Once that's done she wants a little down time so heads to her room to do some reading.




When she reappears she wants to get her history out of the road. She's not a huge fan of the programme we're doing this year but I feel it has much to recommend it so I'm asking her to stick with it for now. With the exception of Maths this is the only schooly thing we're requiring of her this year. The rest of it is her choice.  Today's history task was to begin an essay considering when and why people should change their opinion/challenge existing orthodoxy by looking particularly at Copernicus and Galileo.

11 am-12 noon. Once she completes her note taking we head out to take Dh to run some errands.

12 noon-1 pm. Home  and lunch. Over lunch Miss 13 reads a little from the newspaper and works with Dh on the daily crossword. Mr 16 arrives home.

1-2 pm Miss 13 goes onto Ebird to enter many of her bird lists from this year. We used the site occasionally last year but didn't really get into it. During one of last week's outings the leader challenged Miss 13 to keep a complete list and count and enter it on Ebird. She did and was surprised  to discover that this placed her in the Top 100 birders in the country. She was then keen to see what her ranking would be if she entered all her data from the year so far.


She's now in the Top 20 for total number of species seen! Obviously not all keen birders use the site but it was fun to see her rising through the ranks,  and the site is a good form of citizen science so we'll try and be more diligent about entering our data. I spend some time with Mr 16 going over some German vocabulary and some English grammar.

2-3 pm The day starts to fall apart a little. I'm trying to get dinner organised before we head out when a good friend rings and needs to chat. Luckily Miss 13 springs to the rescue and takes over dinner prep while I'm on the phone.

3-4 pm Miss 13 and I try to buy her some new clothes for autumn and winter. Sadly nothing fits. But we do get more socks - trampolining is really tough on socks and she wears hers out with alarming regularity! Then we make a stop in at library where we pick up some books on albatross for this week's online bird class blog entry. As a bonus we find some good ones on  penguins which we'll use for the following week. Mr 16 has worked on an economics assignment and a maths lesson.

4-7 pm.  For the bulk of this time I'm shuttling the kids to and from sports practice.- Mr 16 has an hour and a half of cricket practice and Miss 13 has two hours of trampolining.

7-10 pm Mr 21 has dropped in and stays to dinner. It's great to catch up. We have a very brief chat with Miss 19 before she heads out.

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Wednesday on the other hand was a very non-schooly looking homeschool day - at least for Miss 13.

8-9 am Breakfast, and Miss 13 has some spare time so she does a Latin lesson before finding me and running through her Latin and French flashcards. We also check the Eagle Cam and do a quick lesson on Duolingo.



9-9:30 am Miss 13 does her Maths. Mr 16 is reading the newspaper and checking various things online.

9:30-11 am Basil and his owner come for another visit. The aim is to give us a quick overview of training him - the commands and gestures he's used to - and to get him used to following us. He's calmer this time and it goes well - our cat sees him and isn't 100% freaked out which surprises us.


11 am-2:30 pm - Dh heads into the office and Mr 16 heads out on his delivery job. Miss 13 and I decide to go birding. It's a beautiful day at the estuary - warm and calm - and we see a nice variety of wading birds.




However, we do have a particular goal in mind for this expedition and after nearly two hours searching the salt marshes and small creeks along the margins we are  ready to concede defeat. But finally our efforts are rewarded with not just one but two Whimbrels. These are relatively large birds with a really obvious long down curved bill. They are a rare Arctic migrant  (maybe 100 or so reach this country each year). One or two have been reported in this location this season but despite repeated searches over the past six months or so we've had no luck...until today that is.

The Whimbrels  were too far away for us to get a good shot. This comes from Wikipedia.

2:30-3:30 pm. Miss 13 rests and eats while I get busy preparing dinner - mixing and rolling pasta dough and roasting red peppers. I check in with Mr 16 and look over some of the work he's completed in our absence.



3:30 - 6 pm. Miss 13 is at the gym training. Mr 16 is busy organising a replacement activity for Scouts. Somebody else was meant to be organising the evening but didn't and as chair of his unit it falls on him to come up with a last minute replacement.

6-7 pm. Back home for dinner and a rest. Miss 19  - a psychology major - is pleased to report that she survived her sheep brain dissection lab (she wasn't looking forward to dissections at all) , and the rat she worked with today in her other lab was much more trainable that the one she had last week (it wasn't interested in food which made it hard to reward it for doing the desired task). Mr 16 and Miss 19 both head out .

7-8 pm Miss 13 makes for the kitchen to bake Passionfruit Creams - not exactly healthy but they are delicious.

8-9 pm Miss 13 and Dh watch an episode of Once Upon a Time before bed. I finish The Luminaries, a great read even though I found it a bit slow to get into mainly due to the difficulty of keeping all the characters and events straight in my mind.

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Of course, even an in-depth look at two days misses much of our learning. Some other highlights:


This week we had the first clues to help us narrow down the location of each Mystery Class. So far our data analysis seems to be on the right track.
Penguins were the topic of this week's on-line bird class. We'd never heard of Isabellinism before so found this class especially interesting.

We watched a BBC programme on the Eagle Owl which led to some good discussions on conservation and ecology.


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We celebrated Macaron Day in the best way possible!

We took Dh birding and saw hundreds of Banded Dotterels.


Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Week Ending 16 March 2014

It's predominantly been a quiet, uneventful week.  Academically no real highlights - just lots of steady learning. Miss 13 hit maths (a diligent but not joyful 4 lessons from Saxon), science (a challenging section on genetics - DNA, RNA etc) , history (looking at astrophysics and cosmology),  reading  (she finished Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper, Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich and started The Lion Boy by Zizou Corder), art history (a notebooking page to finish up our study of John Audubon), Latin (she's working on adjectives at the moment  plus plenty of sentence translation work), Journey's North Mystery Class (time clues to work out approximate longitude this week) and French (she was working on numbers from 20 to 100 this week - at the same time Mr 16 was working on numbers from 20 to 100 in German. I work on both of them with their langauges and my head was spinning - I ended up translating German numbers into French and totally confused Mr 16!) There was, as always, ornithology  (two field trips - the highlight of which was a wild turkey with five very young babies, not to mention a beautiful hour long walk through the bush - plus the online bird class via Currclick, which looked at albatross this week). We took another field trip to a country art gallery a short drive out of town to see their Flights of Fancy exhibition - drawing, paintings, photographs and sculpture all of birds. The main exhibitor was just 14 years old and obviously very talented.

Miss 13 bought this card - a reproduction of one of our favourite paintings. Proceeds were donated to predator control projects.



Sad news this week on the pet front with the death of one of the frogs. Fortunately the remaining two appear healthy. On a more cheerful note we  are soon to become foster parents to a seven year old Boxer,  and he came for an initial visit this week.


Basil belongs to one of dh's colleagues. They were living in rented accommodation while they awaited the rebuild of their earthquake damaged home. However, that rental  was seriously damaged in last week's  floods and trying to find another rented home that would accept pets was impossible. They needed to find a home for Basil for the next 10-12 months until they can move into their rebuilt home and Miss 13 has always wanted a dog so hopefully it'll be a win-win situation. He's big and, given our unfamiliarity with dogs I'm anticipating a variety of teething problems but we (maybe not our cat but she doesn't know yet ;-) ) are looking forward to him moving in next week.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Journey North Mystery Class

One of the most enjoyable long term projects that I've done with my middle school aged children (some have taken part at a late elementary and early high school age but, for my kids at least, middle school has been the perfect fit) is Journey North's Mystery Class. Using sunlight and sunset data, plus a variety of other clues, the aim is to correctly identify the locations of ten secret sites - the Mystery Classes- from all around the globe. This year's project runs from January until May. Although it is well underway there is still time to enrol and participate fully. Alternatively you could work with just one or two locations to give the project an unofficial try this time around. There is a Participation Guide  plus resources online to help you on your way. Or you can read on and see what we do.

Every Friday we receive an email with a link to the current week's data - the time of sunrise and sunset for each of the ten sites on that Friday. You also need to obtain the time of sunrise and sunset for your own town that day. And no,  you don't have to actually be awake at the time in order to note them! Ours are in the local newspaper. If you can't easily find the information for the place you live pick a major city nearby and you'll easily find what you are looking for online with a quick Google search e.g. "New York sunrise sunset".  Once you have that you calculate the photoperiod for each site - how much daylight they received. Miss 13's favourite approach is as follows. If the sunrises at 7:27  and sets at 20:34 she'll write down 33 minutes (the amount of time from 7:27 until the next hour - in this case 8:00 am). Next she'll write down 4 hours (to take the time through until 12 noon). Then she'll write down another 8 hours and 34 minutes (to take the time from noon until sunset - in this case 8:34 pm). Finally, she adds the three together to get 12 hours and 67 minutes. In this example she'll then regroup to get 13 hours and 7 minutes of daylight.


One of our data sheets showing the sunrise, sunset and photoperiod for one of this year's secret sites.



The next step is to plot the information for all eleven sites - the 10 Mystery Classes plus your home site - on a graph. After a few weeks you'll start to notice patterns. Some classes will be increasing the amount of daylight they receive while others will be receiving less. In some cases the changes will be gradual; in others far more abrupt. By looking at these changes and comparing the relative amount of daylight that different locations receive you can start to narrow down their likely latitude.

Our graph showing every site's photoperiod each week. 


In addition to the weekly data you will also receive links to a journal page that encourages you to reflect on the data and guides you through the process of locating the Mystery Classes. An early journal page asked us "How do the data and graph lines show you which Mystery Class sites are north and south of your latitude?" while last week's asked us to draw our graph the way we predict it will look at the end of March and to explain why we think so.

Once during the project, around the time of the Vernal Equinox, you'll receive a special set of data that, with a few calculations, will allow you to estimate the longitude of each site. This is because on that day all places with the same longitude experience sunrise at the same time.



One of our longitude clue sheets from last year.



During the final four weeks you'll receive a variety of clues that will lead you to the continent, country and finally city you are looking for. These might be facts about history, language, sports or climate. Sometimes there will be a picture as well.

Once the final clues have been received you have two weeks to submit your answers - if you choose to do so. Then all ten locations are revealed along with the names of all the groups that successfully identified all ten locations. The final week is a meet and greet with photos, videos and other facts and messages from each of the ten Mystery Classes.In 2012 some of the locations were Rabat in Morocco,  Shaw Island USA and Palampur, India. You can have a look at  their introductions for an idea of what to expect. This information from each class is a great way to learn about different parts of the world and can then be extended in whatever way you like - a party with food from each country for instance.

This year Miss 13 and I are splitting the data and calculations between us. We've both participated before and are familiar with the process so it's only taking us about 20 minutes per week. If you are just starting out and if only one person is doing all the work allow more time - maybe an hour or slightly longer. This Friday the longitude clues will arrive. It'll probably take us a little over twice as long. It is difficult to give an estimate of how long we'll spend during the final four weeks as we try to use the clues to correctly identify each location. In the past my kids and I have found some places fairly straightforward and others much trickier and more time consuming. It all comes down to a combination of prior knowledge, research skills and sometimes a little luck!

If you want to participate this year I have a couple of tips that might make it more manageable and fun. The first is to work as a group - friends, family or both. If everybody calculates, graphs and searches for just one or two locations the workload is much more manageable.  I've found younger kids can join in too if they receive a little help as needed.You can also share tips and pick each other's brains if you are struggling to identify certain sites. Another suggestion is to only calculate and graph the data for every second week. You'll still gains the trends and comparisons which is the key information. And you'll still be able to complete all the journal pages if you want - or you can simply discuss some or all of them. This might save time and is a good way of sharing ideas and thought processes in a group situation. Or, as I mentioned at the beginning, you can not officially enter but just pick one or two sites to work on for fun.

I've found Mystery North to be a great real- life application and extension of knowledge about seasons, latitude, longitude, time zones, universal time, equinoxes and more. It's  a good chance to hone research skills and a fun way to learn about life in other parts of the world.



Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years






Saturday, March 8, 2014

Week Ending 9 March 2014

This was a much calmer, more stay-at-home week than last. As a result I'm feeling less flustered, more organised (except for all the surplus furniture cluttering up the garage that is) - and we're all caught up on the housework!

After me giving the impression last week that we were enjoying wonderful summer weather, Mother Nature decided to celebrate the move into autumn by treating us to winds and plenty of rain - a "one-in-one hundred year storm" according to media. All I saw from my window for  three days was grey sky and rain!  That plus the fact that some parts of the city dropped a metre as a result of the earthquakes contributed to serious flooding in some areas. Fortunately our part of town saw nothing worse than surface flooding. The weather did contribute to our spending even more time at home than planned though. Mr 16 had one  cricket practice plus the game itself called off , Miss 13 had a trampoline practice cancelled since flood waters prevented her coach leaving home, and the cultural festival we planned to attend on the weekend was also cancelled since the ground was still too wet to support a large crowd.

The week spent reviewing French seems to have paid off. Miss 13 had now got the vocabulary nailed and is more confident of her abilities so we are ready to move into the next chapter. There were about half a dozen words she was still struggling with and she was determined to nail them. She also felt  a hankering for chocolate and - never one to miss an opportunity - suggested I should buy her a chocolate bar if she memorised them all. I agreed - on the proviso that she could recall them all - French to English and English to French three days in a row.  She earned it so I was happy to meet my end of the bargain.

Maths is going smoothly. Last year it was Miss 13's bugbear subject - the one she really wanted a lot of help with. This year - so far - she's working fully independently and only very occasionally says "I got one problem wrong and I can't find where I made a mistake. Can you please take a look?"

We finished our unit on cells by looking at diffusion and osmosis and conducting a lab involving a bag of cornstarch solution being placed in a container of iodine solution. The iodine diffused into the bag but the cornstarch molecules were too large to diffuse out. Sadly, we disposed of the experiment before I  remembered that Mr 16's camera is repaired and I could actually take a photo.

A Banded Dotterel
Much of our birding has been done online this week. Miss 13 wrote an entry on New Zealand's Banded Dotterels and then attended the last online bird class for this quarter. Despite us both continuing to have mixed feelings about the class she's keen to continue with the final quarter which starts this coming week. We've also been watching a live eagle cam (thanks for mentioning it Diane) which is a great way to learn about a bird we can't see in real life. We also watched a BBC programme on Australian cassowaries. Miss 19 actually saw them when she was in Australia four year ago. We did make one outing which was a mixed success. We spotted a White Heron (Miss 13's first for the year) plus plenty of Caspian Terns ( a favourite of Miss 13) and Royal Spoonbills (a favourite of mine - they seem so exotic), not to mention a large group of Banded Dotterels in a location we've never seen them before - possibly a result of the bad weather. On the down side flood waters and road closures due to earthquake repairs stopped us getting good looks at two sites the Glossy Ibis frequents. This bird - just the one - visits the city every year and has been back for a couple of weeks now but we've yet to spot him this year. Maybe next week.

I spent one enjoyable afternoon catching up with my friend who has just returned from more than a year overseas. We went out for coffee and it was great when we realised Miss 13 and her daughter who are also good friends, are legally old enough to be left at home alone. That wasn't the case before they moved. We both love spending time with our children but sometimes it is nice to be able to talk and relax without them as well.


Graphing the photoperiod for this year's Mystery Classes

We're continuing with Journey North's Mystery Class, calculating and graphing the photoperiod for ten secret locations around the world, plus our own. This helps us work out the rough latitude of each place. Next week we'll get the data that will help us narrow down the longitude. Then for the next four weeks we'll get cultural or other clues that will (hopefully) allow us to discover the exact location of each of the ten Mystery Classes. If anyone is really keen it is not too late to join in. You can even try things out by just working on one or two locations for fun this year before giving the entire project a try next year. I'll have a post up in the next day or two that will explain exactly how the Mystery Class project works.

Miss 13 with her medals!

The week ended with the first trampoline competition of the year. A bit of a mixed bag for Miss 13 with only one of her three individual routines actually going well. On the positive side she got through her new routine and didn't crash out . She came away with a 3rd placing in the individual section and a 1st in the synchronized event with her new partner - not to mention the toy lamb finger puppet which was in her mystery prize bag! . Best of all her scores were high enough to qualify her for Nationals later in the year. Always a relief to get the qualification out of the way early in the season. Just need to work on fine tuning the routines now and/or developing new (more complicated) ones.

Now I'm off to catch up on some missed sleep. What with having to pick Miss 19 up from a friend's 21st party last night (actually early this morning),  and the early start of today's competition, combined with my waking a whole hour before the alarm went off  this morning, I'm feeling more than a little sleep deprived.






Sunday, March 2, 2014

Week Ending 2 March 2014



Outside my window... there are sunflowers and honey bees, cicadas chirping, the scent of sweet peas and caterpillars getting ready to turn into chrysalises.



In our homeschool this week… we've been doing very little book work. We've been out and about far more than usual so we've cut back the bookwork to a minimum. We also finished a long term project that should have been done weeks ago. The learning was fun. The polishing and tidying up loose ends to get it into an acceptable form for sharing ... not so much!

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…  Too many this week. They've all been good but I do wish they hadn't all happened on the same week. Mr 16 added an extra cricket practice to his schedule on the very same week that Miss 13 had an extra trampoline class - a make up for one she missed the previous week due to birding. Of course they clashed. On Monday dh and I went out for breakfast - a very rare treat. I think it's a year since we last went out together. It was our wedding anniversary and some of the kids had given us a voucher for Christmas so it seemed like a great time to use it. Also, on Monday Miss 13 and I attended the first evening meeting for the year of our local birding group.The annual garden show has been in town this week and the Monarch Butterfly Trust had a stall there, educating the public about the insects and what we can do to help them. Miss 13 and I volunteered for a couple of days. It was great seeing the sense of awe and wonder on people's faces as they watched a butterfly hatch or a caterpillar transform into a chrysalis right before their eyes. 

Dressed up as a butterfly to promote the stall.
The Monarch Butterfly stall .

Just a couple of the beautiful gardens. Our garden at home looks nothing like either of these!
This garden commemorates the earthquakes. The umbrellas represent the shelter people sought in this park immediately after the quakes (at the time exhibitors were setting up for that's year's garden show which had to be cancelled) and the 185 leaves on the water tree represent each of the 185 people who lost their lives.

There were plenty of sculptures including this one of  Haast's Eagle, one of our many extinct birds. It was a little too large and a little too pricey for us to consider buying though!

We also volunteered at a Farewell to Godwits event. Bar-tailed Godwits breed in the Arctic but migrate south during the Northern winter. Several thousands spend that time in one of our local estuaries, Right now but they are getting ready to make the long journey back north for the next breeding season. The city council runs an educational event just before the birds leave and they wanted local birders  to talk to the public and share their scopes. Miss 13 was happy to help out and we spent two hours talking to some of the two hundred people who attended. As the tide rose it was spectacular watching thousands of birds all rise and fly to a new, drier roosting spot. We were also fortunate to see a juvenile Black Fronted Tern right next to a juvenile White Fronted Tern. The first time we've seen either as juveniles, and very handy for comparison purposes! 

My favourite thing this week was… reading. I finished Kate Atkinson's Life after Life, then opted for a little light relief in Jojo  Moyes Last Letter from Your Lover. That was quickly finished and, due to the library's reserve system delivering them both at the same time, I'm currently reading Joyce Maynard's Labour Day and Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries. The latter (set in New Zealand, by a New Zealand author) won last year's Booker Prize. It's great when I have reading time and lots of mental energy. If the mental energy is a little lacking I go for Labour Day instead.

Around the house.. things are a mess. Hardly being home all week seemed not to result in little mess being made, but it did result in no one having the time to tidy up. I also desperately need to clean out the garage. Since Mr 21 moved our we have a variety of now-surplus furniture in there, meaning the car does not fit. I'd like to rectify this soon.

I’m cooking… whatever there is a lot of in our garden, or in other people's gardens. That currently means lots of potatoes, beans, corn, tomatoes and zucchini. Sweet and sour bean salad is a favourite with everyone, and  a zucchini, garlic and mint salad with balsamic vinegar is nearly as popular. Burritos stuffed with lots of corn and tomatoes among things are also well received. I'm also sticking to my plan to try at least one  new recipe a week. I have a bit of an addiction to collecting recipes and they tend to linger, untried, in an overstuffed box. I'm trying to cull the collection and actually use the recipes I have before collecting any more. 

I'm thinking about ...the future of this blog. I started it a year ago in the hope of connecting more with a small group of homeschool bloggers whose blogs I enjoyed reading and who had children a similar age to mine. However, many of them seem to have stopped blogging (it wasn't me, was it??). On the positive side this space is serving as a good record of most of our family's highlights and I'm much more diligent about posting here once a week than I am about  maintaining  a handwritten diary or journal. So I'm trying to decide whether to continue as I am , to stop blogging, or maybe blog more and get involved with  some of the middle school/high school link ups.

I'm looking forward to…catching up with my friend in the coming week. She's been overseas for over a year and has just arrived back in the country so am really looking forward to seeing her again. I'm also looking forward to a quieter week at home (at least until the weekend). 

A photo, video, link, or quote to share (silly, serious or both!)... . I always enjoy Julie Bogart's blog and this recent post resonated with me.