Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

We want to wish all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Van Houten family!  We used to send pictures of the girls on postcards, but last year we posted a singing Christmas card here on the blog and everyone seemed to like it a lot.  So, back by popular demand... here are the girls in their Christmas performance earlier this month.  First, is Charlotte -- singing O Holy Night.  Poor thing was sick as a dog at this performance -- if you look closely you can see how red her nose is.  She'd caught a bad cold 2 days before the concert and was pretty miserable.  We didn't even know if she could sing, but she knocked it outta the ballpark.  Be sure to watch to the end -- where she pulls out all the stops! I was so proud of her!!!

And here are both of my lovely daughters, singing their beautifully harmonized version of "Silver Bells" ~


Monday, December 12, 2011

Knitted Christmas Ornaments

Last night I found myself unexpectedly caught up on my work and since I still had a few hours left in the day, I thought I'd try making a Christmas Ornament.  It's something I've been planning to do for awhile, but hadn't had time to get to it.  Why knitted XMAS ornaments?  Simple - Cats.  My cats have decided my Christmas tree is their climbing toy.  They can't figure out why it's only available to them once a year, but they're mighty determined to climb to its tippety-top every few minutes, shaking as many ornaments to the floor as possible.  Aggravated? Me?

My solution has been to try to hang only a very few breakable ornaments and to keep them as close to the bottom of the tree as possible -- so they don't have as far to fall.  My hope is that the carpet will cushion their fall and preserve them.  Having lost about 20 nice glass balls last year, I've learned my lesson.  Since our newest cat is a mere 8 months old and cats can live as long as twenty years, I've decided I need a new approach to Christmas ornaments.  This one took me about 3 hours actually.  It's fairly fiddly -- fair isle and all, but I like the way it turned out.  Somewhere in the back of my head, I have this delusion that maybe I could churn out one a day until Christmas (various patterns and colors -- here's the one I used this time).  They have all kinds of cute patterns, including this one for Christmas lights that I'd like to make:
 They have a multitude of darling patterns for ornaments, including a popcorn, cranberry string.  I really like the holly and the candy cane in the picture below and Charlotte wants the elf.  So, this ought to keep me busy for the next five years or so.  Now I need to find some cat repellent spray to keep my climbing cats from using them as cat toys.  Anyone know of any such scent?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Writing Tutoring On-line (and by phone)

I've been doing a lot of writing tutoring lately -- A LOT!  I'm amazed by the response I've received now that I've officially "hung my shingle" out.  It's really nice and I've been able to do some really great, intensive work with students.

I meet with the majority of my students in person, but lately I've had a number of students who, because of distance or time constraints, prefer to work on-line and over the phone.  I've tried a few models for this (Skype, etc.), but have found the most successful set-up to be one where the student and I work together (in real-time) using Google docs and talk over the phone as we work.  Skype is nice, but with writing tutoring we don't really need face-to-face interaction as much as we need the ability to edit the same document simultaneously.  I just finished two such on-line tutoring sessions this morning and have two more scheduled for later today.  It's really a nice solution for busy schedules.

All you do is create a document in Google docs and then invite the student to "share" it.  They then receive an email notifying them and including a link to the document.  This way they can simultaneously edit with you as you talk on the phone.  If the student has already written a draft, just copy it into the shared Google doc and go to work.  As the student writes, I see their changes (in real time) on my screen and we can discuss content, organization, sentence structure/mechanics, etc.  It works really well!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about how to set this up:  hollyvanh-at-gmail.com (change the -at- to @ -- this is my attempt to thwart spammers).  I'd be happy to explain in more detail how it works.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Entertaining World History Review for Older Teens

I'll admit, I spend my fair share of time on Facebook, but I know it's not nearly as much as some of my teen students.  A friend posted this link the other day:  http://www.collegehumor.com/facebook-history and I thought it was hysterical.  I think it would make a really fun way to review world history with an older teen.  I'd say for any teen, but the language is definitely a concern for younger kids.  I think older teens though would find it entertaining and it does a nice job of making connections and demonstrating the continuity of certain recurring themes.  Because it's a summary chronology, it would also help students see the connections between events and get a better grasp of cause and effect through the ages.  Sometimes, a fun little survey like this, is just the thing for helping kids understand how history fits together.  They'll like the humor and benefit from the history review.

Dear George,

There are so many things I like about this picture, Mr. Lucas!

First and foremost, you are knitting.  Love that!  This makes total sense to me too.  You are a creator and a thoughtful, contemplative type.  Of course you knit.  I can tell you find it soothing.

Also, you knit in public. Thank you -- you just made it a thousand times cooler for men to knit!  That light saber thing -- it wasn't a phallic symbol at all was it?  Nope -- intergalactic representation of a knitting needle.  You are definitely a guy that understands deeper mythological meanings.  I can see why you and Joseph Campbell are so tight.

Most impressive of all (though it's hard to be sure from the picture), it appears you are knitting a sock!  Don't know if that's a self-striping yarn or what, but it's looking sharp.  You've clearly been a knitter for some time and have developed quite a bit of proficiency.  Even if it turns out to be a scarf, I'm still impressed and pleased.  Most people don't realize the knitting history of socks and that men used to be the only ones allowed to join the Renaissance knitting guilds that professionally made socks.  You have found your place in a great tradition, again.

Lastly, you are knitting at a Starbucks -- combining two of my greatest loves:  yarn and coffee.  Bless your heart!  Linda Ronstadt was a fool I tell you... a fool to dump you!

Your admiring and now duly impressed fan, H