Saturday, December 20, 2008

Preparing for Christmas, Week 3

The week started off with Kay's Music Studio Christmas concert, which encompassed quite a gamit, from beginning violin (YIKES!)to Elementary choir. The concert treated us to quite an ecclectic mix of holiday music, with a very nicely arranged crescendo to the REAL meaning of Christmas. Once again, I've relied on my friend Kim's picture -- Above, Abby, Rachel Hickle, Anna Nisbett and Zeke eagerly await their turn to play. They did really well.
Here is the whole crew (actually, I think quite a few students had already left) -- many of these kids were in multiple groups throughout the evening...Monday is homeschool day at Kay's, and many families just come and participate in as many classes, bands and choirs as they can fit in, since she has made it very reasonable. We are blessed to have been part of it!

Tuesday, the threat of freezing rain (which didn't materialize) cancelled everything in the evening, and gave us a nice night off!

Thursday we had another wonderful night of basketball, starting off with Zeke's junior high team winning a game -- he scored 8 points. Abby's team also won, and she scored her first 2 points of the season :) -- she just told me those are her (only)two points for the season. Then Andy and a couple other young men teamed up with some old men (including Dan, and two other basketball dads) to take on the Varsity boys team. The game started off pretty close, but eventually experience won out -- I think Andy is quite an intimidating presence in the middle.

Friday we had company -- my brother Dave, his wife Kiersten, their two boys, Max and Drexel, and dog Gus stopped by on their way to Kiersten's parents home in the Dallas area. They left Illinois earlier than planned to allow extra time, since Illinois had an ice-storm instead of our December thunderstorm, and that got them here earlier, which gave the boys lots of time to play. Here are Zeke, Max, Drexel, Isaac and Elizabeth enjoying cousin fun!
Elizabeth enjoys Uncle Dave's lap, while Isaac gets "grossed"out by Aunt Kiersten's squishy ball
(trust me, you don't want to know any more than that

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Preparing for Christmas, Part 2

The second week of December started with Becky getting sick. We knew it was going around, so we braced ourselves to all get sick, and it did go around the family, though I think Becky had it the worst. It was pretty mild for most of us.

We were very excited about the start of our basketball season, and then our opponents called to cancel an hour before the scheduled start when they started to experience ice on the interstate. One car of girls arrived, though, so we had an informal girls game anyway, and then Varsity boys practice afterwards. It was amazing that there were almost 75 spectators there even though there wasn't a game -- our homeschool sports organization is really beginning to have a following, and it is really fun!

Fortunately, the weather cleared up enough that we were able to drive down to Poplar Bluff to pick Andy up from school. We decided to combine it with a visit to a couple of Missouri landmarks which we had not yet visited, and took the whole family except Abby, who was taking her turn being sick. After Poplar Bluff, the first stop was Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri. Only Dan braved the look-out tower, which had some ice on the steps and railings that deterred the rest of us -- the following photos give an idea of what he braved and what he saw. The rest of us decided it will be much more worth the climb in the spring!

Looking down from the top -- where we are trying to stay warm in the van!
Looking out from the top of the tower.

Panoramic view from Taum Sauk Mountain overlook

About a 1/2mile away from the lookout tower is the actual highest point. A "rugged" path takes you right there, the long way. Dan took a short cut through the woods, the direct way and beat us back to the van!the rugged path

Seven Halls at the top of Missouri -- wow!

Next stop, Elephant Rocks state park. These huge granite rocks are an oddity in Missouri -- but they may look familiar to those of you who live in California and have ever hiked in the Sierra Mountains! They mined a lot of beautiful red granite blocks out of this area, but these rocks were too soft to be of any use in building, so they got to become a state park. The kids want to go back with friends -- lots of places to explore and hide.

One of the places they quarried out of, now full of water -- but no swimming allowed!

We finally played our first basketball games on the weekend. All three teams - Dan and Zeke's junior high boys team, Abby's girls team, and the varsity boys -- started off with a win. Unfortunately, the last two were mismatches. The girls' game wasn't too bad, since we have 14 players and this gave the coach the freedom to give the less experienced girls more playing time. But the varsity boys' game was painful to watch. We could have probably scored 100 points and held them to zero, but the boys did a good job of not turning it into a total slaughter, by practicing their passing and allowing some of the weaker players to shine...the other coach was very appreciate of our team's attitude and character, and thanked us for being willing to play them and for being so nice about it....and we all agreed these kinds of games are an opportunity to build character..The next day the Junior High boys got to be on the other side of the character building coin as they were outmatched and pretty badly beaten twice (they were in a tournament). But they really did pretty well, considering it was their first season, and only a few weeks of practice. It is a good solid group of guys that have a lot of potential, especially if they keep playing together year after year. Dan does a great job coaching them in the basics of basketball, which are so quickly left behind by many coaches, it seems.
Zeke preparing for a rebound.

Jockeying for position against Lebanon

Because we got through the tournament so quickly, we were able to get back home in time to participate in our church's Live Nativity. This was the third year, and Isaac is still wearing the shepherd costume I made for him for Christmas Eve that first year, after he insisted while we were visiting the Live Nativity that he had to be a shepherd. That first year we tied a kitchen towel around his head and sent him out to be a part, and he went up to people and asked them if they had seen the baby and then took their hand and led them to the manger, proceeding to tell them not only the Christmas story, but also the Easter story! What a witness! It has become a family tradition. This year more of us got involved (Abby reading scripture, Isaac as a Shepherd, Dan and Zeke as wise men) -- Dawn stayed inside and made sure people felt welcomed!

Elizabeth checked out the manger scene, including climbing over the bales to look into the manger. It was precious!

Can you find Isaac in the wooden nativity display?

Sunday afternoon, Dan and I enjoyed the Rolla Choral Arts Society Christmas concert, in which Abby's choir participated. It was fabulous. We are fortunate to have an opportunity to hear such fine music from people in the community. We rushed home after to host our church youth group who arrived to watch Christmas movies in our shed, which has become a do-it-yourself theatre. When we started the evening, it was 60 degrees and dry; 3 hours later the temperature had dropped to 35, and the rain had started....

Preparing for Christmas Part 2

Isn't a big part of getting ready for Christmas getting well-rested? It is past my bed-time, so the REAL part 2 (the 2nd week of December), will have to wait. Good night!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Preparing for Christmas

It's a little hard to get ready for Christmas in Missouri, with temperature swings from the 60's (Sunday afternoon) to 8 degrees (Monday morning!). Yet, the marching of time inevitably brings Dec. 25 closer whether we are ready for it or not. We started December with a light snow (see previous post), and later that week, Abby and Zeke marched in a Christmas parade with Kay's Music Studio Homeschool Band. It was a tiny parade, but they did a great job, considering how little practice they had marching - not to mention playing!Abby, our gifted trumpeter

Zeke, the drummer with a sense of rhythm!

Rachel and Sarah Hickle, our band carpool buddies

Isaac in a "Nisbett sandwich" on the float for the elementary choir and siblings of band members --
Kim Nisbett, Nathaniel and Anna's mom, talked us into doing band this year -- and we're glad she did.. most of the time :)

Maybe even more fun than the parade was the evening following, as we spent time with our friends the Hickles, whose girls are also in the band (see above)-- warming up, singing, making more music (or noise, maybe), visiting, and, some of us, sleeping....well, in Becky's defense, she WAS getting sick, and it was pretty late by the time she fell asleep on the weight bench.....
the conversation going on in the living room was obviously MUCH more stimulating!

The next day was the Rolla Christmas parade, with the usual small town parade stuff, and enough candy to fill a grocery bag full. Our church had a float, which we used to advertise our Live Nativity. Isaac is on there somewhere, and Zeke walked alongside, handing out -- you guessed it -- candy! Later that day, Abby's choir, the Rolla Community Children's Choir, sang in the Old Courthouse, which dates from the time of the Civil War.

Hall Christmas Letter 2008

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sorry I just had to get that out of my system - I do believe that this is the first annual letter our family has ever sent out before Christmas. Kudos to Mum for being on the ball in ordering our pictures, and for continuing to bug me about writing this. J So what has 2008 held for the Hall Family?

Well, we branched out when it came to activities this winter and spring, adding a musical to our usual sports schedules. A local home school group called Fine Linen Drama put on a production of “The Prince and the Pauper”, which Dawn, Becky, Abby, and Zeke were all a part of. It was an amazing experience for all of us -- we made many new friends, enjoyed the dramatic side of things, and felt it was definitely worth the extra schedule tweaking. Basketball for Andy, Becky, Abby, and Zeke, and baseball for Andy and Zeke were, once again, a major part of the winter, spring, and beginning of summer. We also celebrated the graduation of our two oldest, Andy and Becky, from high school with a small ceremony and party. Immediately following that, Dawn and the five youngest kids took a trip out to upstate New York for a family wedding. We took Dawn’s parents along, and were able to stop at several historic sites and cities, giving the kids a tangible experience to connect with the history they had studied in school that year.

The summer was a busy one. We kicked it off with a great, week-long visit from friends from Norway, which we used as an excuse to visit several new places in Missouri. Dan, Dawn, Andy, and Becky also took a weekend trip out to California, to be a part of the final celebration of Trinity Lutheran School. We had a visit from Dawn’s sister and her two sons, who currently live in Dubai, U.A.E., as well as a weekend with the rest of Dawn’s family in Forrest. Then, the final hurrah of the summer was a family reunion/50th Wedding Anniversary for Dan’s parents, which we celebrated in grand style at Camp Windemere, right on the shores of the Lake of the Ozarks here in Missouri.

The school year began with mixed feelings, as we drove Andy down to Poplar Bluff to start his first year of college. Our fall so far has been full, with volleyball, soccer, basketball, band, choir, Sunday School . . . Oh, and of course, a little bit of home-schooling on the side. J With Andy and Becky in college, Dawn now has one high schooler, one middle schooler, one first grader, and one pre-schooler -- talk about a spread!

Dan single-handedly saved the Rolla economy by shopping for the first time on Black Friday. He is still working for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and enjoying it immensely. He has found a challenge with the economic dip of the past several months, and spent a lot of time reassuring his clients. In June, he had a chance to give the graduation address at the final graduation of Trinity Lutheran School, an occasion that can only be defined by the cliché “bittersweet”. Several weeks ago, he found the fulfillment of a life-long dream, by getting to mow his own property with a tractor. He can now claim to be a Midwestern farmer. J This basketball season, his schedule has loosened up enough to permit coaching the JH boys’ home school team.

Dawn organized the world last March, but still finds the time to be involved in nearly everything new that comes her way. She has declared that this is the year that she works herself out of her many commitments, but she still continues to be involved in various events throughout the school year. She was asked to serve as Sunday School Superintendent for this year, and has done a great job at it of course. This fall, she volunteered at the Republican headquarters in town, and continues to serve on the board for Capable Kids and Families, a local organization that provides equipment and support to families with special needs children. A project she took on this fall was to rearrange our rooms, so that we now have a “school room” in the basement, separate from our living areas and her office. This has made the school year run more smoothly, and has made life easier on Dawn as she is still balances (and masters) the roles of wife, teacher, mom, household administrator, schedule coordinator, and beautiful daughter of the King.

Andy, 18, decided to start a band and cut a record. Last spring, he finished up his senior year at the high school in Rolla, playing basketball and baseball and is now in his freshman year at Three Rivers Community College, in Poplar Bluff Missouri. He is on the baseball team there, and has impressed the coaches with both his skills and his willingness to hustle. He rooms with 3 guys, two of whom he already knew, and they have been great friends for him, helping him stand for what is right in every situation. We enjoy seeing him every few weekends, and are looking forward to having him home for Christmas break.

Becky, 17, spent the summer scuba diving off the coast of Australia and slaying sharks. I finished up high school at the end of last school year, and graduated with Andy in May. This fall, I began taking college classes at community college in Rolla, as well as getting more involved with the home school athletic association by taking over a lot of Mum’s administrative work, and helping out with the teams when I can. I babysit twice a week, co-lead the high school girls’ Sunday School class at church, and drive the siblings to various events all over town. I feel like God has taught (or at least tried to teach) me so much this year. If I could narrow it down, it has been mostly about relationships - those with my friends, my family, and of course the most important of all, my relationship with Jesus Christ. Life can be hard to balance when you live at home and go to college, but I am slowly learning. I’m looking to transfer to a four-year university next fall, although I have not yet decided where, or what major I will pursue.

Abby, age 14, became a world-class ice-skater, reaching new heights with her jumps. She has become quite a beautiful young lady this year, and is nearly as tall as Becky. Still very passionate about singing, she is part of a choir in Rolla and has also taken up trumpet, playing in the homeschool band. She plays both volleyball and basketball, and continues to help babysit several times a month. The love of horses is still the primary focus of her life, and she is pushing for getting some of her own this spring. Right now, she spends time each week with a lady from our church, learning about the basics of caring for horses and helping out with chores. As a high school student, she is learning a lot about time-management, as well as getting more involved around the house.

Zeke, age 12, set the world record for words spoken per minutes this past June. Since Andy left, he has started to fill the role of the young man around the house. He still plays 3 sports - basketball, soccer, and baseball, and was very excited to be old enough to play on the homeschool basketball team this year. The find of a xylophone at a local garage sale by Dad has led him to play in the homeschool band as well, and he rotates between that and bass drum.

Isaac, age 6, joined a Viking ship and has plundered most of the East Coast. He is a typical “pseudo first child“, often-times shocking us with the grown-up ways he thinks and talks. He still loves to draw and play “pretend” - his “pretend life” is often more elaborate than real life, and certainly more interesting. This fall he has developed a love for games, and has quickly picked up Sorry, Rack-o, Yat-zee, and several others. He finished up Kindergarten in May, and has started First Grade this year. He constantly amazes us with the things he can read and remember, following his brother Zeke in being a wealth of random information. He also enjoys going to the homeschool PE group once a week, and having play-dates with a number of homeschool boys his age who we have met.

Elizabeth, age 4, ran away to the jungles of China, and was adopted by a family of panda bears. She goes to pre-school 3 mornings a week, and there she gets speech, physical, and occupational therapy. While she has yet to begin “really” talking, she has many words and signs that she uses to communicate, and has no trouble understanding our verbal communication. She is very active, and has “run away” several times, giving us a good scare. Many times she tries our patience, but is learning to obey and be a good listener. This year has been an adventure in potty training, which started entirely on her own initiative during our vacation to NY. It is fun to watch the things she learns each day, and cuddling with her makes us wonder why God doesn’t bless every family with a child who has Down’s Syndrome.

God has certainly been good to our family. As we look back on the year, there are so many ways he has blessed us. Mostly during this season, we remember the greatest blessing of all -- as Isaac asked me in the car yesterday, “Becky, isn’t Christmas the most important day of the year?”

I responded, “Well, why would you think so?”

“Because, it’s when God sent Jesus for us,” he stated simply.

Need we say more?

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season!

The Halls

P.S. In case you didn’t catch it, this letter was written by Becky, and the first adventure in each life is made up!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Late Night Blogging

Some of you may pay attention to the time of posts -- I just noticed that the blogger clock isn't very accurate. It makes my last post seem somewhat reasonable, and this one will seem to be reasonable as well. But the TRUTH is that it is 1:11 am according to my computer clock, and I can't sleep. Lesson learned: decaf coffee has some caffeine, and if you drink 4 cups of it after dinner, it might actually affect you. Sigh. But at least I have an opportunity to catch up a bit on my blog. Some of you will appreciate that. Oops, I just heard a door upstairs. I might need to go check on night wanderers :)

December Arrives

Some of my friends think I'm crazy, but I love snow! When we decided to move to Missouri 4+ years ago, I was excited about the possibility of snowy winters. What I didn't realize is that Missouri is actually a Southern state, at least as far as climate (well, a lot of other things as well!). So, although we sometimes get real snow, usually we just get a nasty combination of rain, sleet and snow which makes driving treacherous and isn't very pretty. Occasionally this nasty combination is beautiful, like when it freezes, but then the roads are even more dangerous, and we're lucky to get out of our driveway, which is ever so slightly uphill.
In 2008, though, winter is off to right start, at least in my book. The snow flurries started on Sunday morning, though they didn't stick because the ground was still too warm. But by evening, it started to accumulate a little bit, and Monday morning we woke up to a beautiful sight!

Isaac is now at the age where he can dress himself, so he was out the door as soon as I let him go, after breakfast and family devotions. Eventually Elizabeth wanted to join him, and the first thing she was to imitate Isaac, and make a snow angel. But she stayed out and played with him for a good 1/2 hour before I heard her crying -- and Isaac said to me; "I think you forgot her gloves." When I went to investigate, she was gloveless and crying because of cold hands -- time to invest in one of those string mitten sets, I guess!