Sunday, December 30, 2007

I should have seen it coming...

My oldest daughter, the Pillowfight Fairy is very fond of art. She loves to color and draw, but painting is a special treat. Even so it surprised me about a month ago, when she brought up the subject of wanting to paint her fingernails like other people do. My first reaction was that I had not ever thought of that as painting, but I guess it is. But, as I thought more about it, I realized that she would find it a treat to be able to paint her fingernails. So I picked up some fingernail polish for her for Christmas, thinking to myself that my daughters are getting introduced to makeup earlier than I would have chosen.

You see I don't like make-up. I don't wear it. I used to wear makeup some when I was a teenager. But as I grew up, I started wearing less and less until the point that I would have to dig in a drawer to see if I have any left from bygone days. I just don't wear it. I don't like the feel of it on me. I don't like the time it takes to do. My husband fell in love with me without my using makeup. Why use it? I think people use too much of it as it is. Their self-esteem and self-identity seems to be wrapped up in it more than seems healthy to me. That isn't what I want for my girls.

But, my daughter sees makeup (or at least fingernail polish, the rest will come eventually) as another way to express her artistic nature. So what's a Mom to do? Well, this Mom decided that if they were going to be introduced to makeup (starting with fingernail polish), then they were going to have Mommy doing the introducing. So, the day she opened up her polish we took some time to do up our nails. She chose her color. She chose a color for her sister. She chose a color for Mommy. Yes, that's right, for the first time in years Mommy put on fingernail polish too. This time around Mommy applied the polish for us all. They experienced having to wait while the polished nails dried and then having the second coat applied. They experienced having to have a nail redone because it smudged. After it was done, they were very pleased and would show anyone they met.

You may wonder why I put the polish on myself if I don't like it and they were just wanting it for themselves. Well, I am a good bit older than my daughters. I had my first child at age 35. By the time my girls are twenty, I will be 55. They didn't know me when I was a teen and young adult wearing makeup. I don't want my daughters to see my hesitance to wear makeup as a fear of something. I sort of feel like I did my time doing makeup in my younger years and would rather spend my time doing other things. But if I kept to that, I can see my daughters looking back on their life with their mother and coming to a different conclusion that would be a distortion of the truth. They could very easily come to the conclusion that Mommy didn't wear make up because she just didn't. They might assume that I was ignorant about it. They might assume that I thought it was morally wrong. They might think that Mommy was just so out of touch. They might assume any number of things. But by participating with them I can open a dialogue about what is and is not important to me. I can show them that it is just another part of life that Mommy doesn't usually do, but might do for a special reason. Such as the reason that it is something they want to do for fun.

As a result, my husband has seen me with brightly colored painted nails probably for the first time this week. I think he was a little bit surprised. He knows me as a very pragmatic person. Somehow bright pink nails is a little more flamboyant than he is used to. Besides, he knows how much I dislike pink. Maybe I can convince my daughter to let me try the blue next time.

Maybe I can keep them from noticing the prevalence of lip color around them for the next five years. They like lip balm. That could work for a while. During the winter with the dry air we use that a lot. The Adrenaline Junkie will ask for it by saying "I need some yips!" She still has trouble pronouncing "L."

Well, that's all for now. I'll try to post a little more frequently now that the big rush leading up to Christmas is over.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Birthday thoughts

The Adrenaline Junkie turns three years old tomorrow. We had her party today. There were several things that caused me to pause and think. Of course in a whirlwind of activity, there isn't much time to reflect. I'll do my reflecting here.

This is a particularly busy weekend for us. We had a week where we had appointments or other scheduled things to do every single day. We had my parents come to visit partly for the Junkie's birthday and partly to free up Mommy and Daddy to take care of an important appointment without kids in tow. In addition to this, tomorrow is an extra busy Sunday with meetings, practices, church, and packing for an out of town trip we need to make. I feel like I haven't had much time to sit and relax. But, I am proud of the fact that I still managed to finish nearly all the Christmas shopping, make homemade Christmas presents (can't say what... don't want to spoil the surprise!), rake the leaves, and trim Happy Boy's hair (which was getting extra fluffy lately). Oh yes, I've also been fighting a cold that may keep me out of the Christmas musical this year. I don't feel so bad, but my voice is completely unreliable right now and I have a constant cough that is triggered by the slightest tickle in the throat.

With all of that said, If I can make it through the next week, I think I might actually enjoy the holidays. What do I have on schedule next week? Spending the week with my parents (again!) while my husband goes through some job training. The kids will be completely spoiled. They have high hopes of going to a park with swings every day. And the Happy Boy will probably be so motivated by their non-child-proofed home that he will start walking. After that we come home to the Christmas musical final practice and performance.

So with this whirlwind in my midst and anticipated, what were the things that gave me pause today?

1. Kids don't need fancy decorations for a birthday party. We made very festive ones from colored construction paper. spiral streamers hanging from curtain rods, doorways, and ceiling fans had kids bouncing off the walls and gazing in awe (especially when we turned on the ceiling fan).

2. Clothes are packing material to a three year old. The junkie was tossing aside clothes left and right with nary a care. The only one to stop her was the princess dress costume (and the frog blanket that can be worn). But, lest family think that she doesn't care, let me assure them that later she brought me some of those same items she cast away so easily, asking to wear them.

3. When buying for a kid, keep their interests in mind. The Junkie was very pleased by getting pretty dress up things and also the toy cars. Not all girls like assessories and wheels. The Junkie is showing signs of wanting a pink motorcycle when she grows up.

4. Sometimes it is OK to let kids play outside in dirt and mud even when they are wearing dresses. It'll wash out.

5. When kids play make-believe, everything is a toy.

6. Three year olds can skip naptime as long as you feed them dinner before they fall asleep. The Junkie missed dessert at dinner time because she was so tired she was about to fall into her food. She didn't make one complaint about being carried to bed for a nap.

7. It was nice to have a very short and simple agenda for the day. That left a lot of flexibility. People were able to come and go as they needed. We could get things done without a lot of fuss. I highly recommend simple plans for birthday parties (or any party for that matter). The more you put in your plan the less likely you are to stick to the plan, and the less likely people will enjoy themselves.

8. 10 month old babies think that colorful boxes and bags are their rightful possessions and will raise quite a fuss when they are prevented from exploring among them.

9. Wagons with seatbelts and cupholders are extravagant. But we are happy to have it even so.

10. If kids had their way, every day would be a party.

That's all for now. I need to go finish up some laundry and clean the kitchen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

How school is going lately

It has been a while since I have done a post about how the homeschooling is going. The last time I mentioned it, The Pillowfight Fairy was about to finish up her current spelling workbook. She has finished it now and we have transitioned to what I am calling vocabulary practice.

This involves working our way through a short dictionary that was in her spelling workbook. Each day we do five new words. Most of these are words that she already knows. I have her copy each word, read the definition and a sentence using the word (provided as an example), and then I have her make up her own sentence and write it out. On Friday we do a bit of review by having her copy all of the week's words and then pick out about four of her favorites with which to write sentences. Since she writes the sentences on the back of the paper, this also works as practice at spelling the words from memory.

This is by far her favorite part of her schoolwork (excepting art). I have found that letting her create a sentence, and at the end of the week letting her choose which words to spend more time on, is like a treat for her. She feels like she has a say in what she gets to do for her schoolwork. From my perspective, it also exercises several different skills. She is practicing shaping her letters when she writes. She is practicing writing words correctly. She is becoming familiar with the format and use of a dictionary. She is using her creativity to compose a sentence of her own. She is practicing writing down this sentence without forgetting it or losing focus. She is learning to capitalize the first word of the sentence. She is learning to use punctuation to end a sentence. As I said above, she is getting some practice at spelling some of these words from memory.

All in all, she is doing well with it. I have noticed a couple of things in doing these new exercises. First, she has a fondness for adjusting her "font" to make her letters prettier. I suspect that she will like learning cursive when the time comes for it. Second, she is a little fuzzy on the concept of what makes something a sentence, even though she enjoys making the sentences. I had purchased a lesson book for teaching grammar that I hadn't planned to start until next fall. Watching her good progress with these lessons and the frustration she has when she doesn't come up with a sentence on the first try, I think that she may be ready for the simple grammar lessons the book provides. I think it would help eliminate her frustration, when she understands how words go together.

In addition to this vocabulary work, she has reading practice, math work, memory work, drawing lessons, and piano lessons. My husband has been doing an occasional post on her progress with piano lessons. Since that is his responsibility and area of expertise (music that is), I will leave that to him to discuss. I will simply say that she is making progress and she doesn't hate the piano yet. If anything, she is more interested in playing our many instruments than she used to be.

I have been giving her drawing lessons from a book called "Draw Write Now," which is designed to use art to prompt kids to write. I originally purchased it thinking that she was reluctant to write and doing writing with art might be more interesting to her. In hindsight, she was reluctant to write because I was only having her do copy work, which is admittedly boring. She enjoys the art and doesn't mind writing about her pictures at all. Within just a week or so of using this book, I knew that I had misjudged the issue. She has written profusely in her free time since then (mostly without accompanying pictures). She also likes to type on the computer and print out her creations. She prefers to do creative writing. Art can be a starting point to get her to write. But, just as easily, her writing can be a starting point for what she draws. I think she needs a meatier drawing curriculum. So I am going to soon be doing a close reading of "Drawing With Children" to get ideas about how to progress from here.

I have been having her do memory work where she learns poems from the first McGuffey Reader. She seems to like this, and I recently discovered that her sister, the Adrenaline Junkie, is learning them too. In addition to this she has been practicing her Bible memory verses from her Sunday School class at church. For her age they do one simplified verse a month. She has been learning her verses in a week and then acts bored whenever I mention practicing them again. I think she is ready for either longer memory verses or more frequent memory verses. I am nearly out of poems from her reader. Next I think we will get some poems from "A Child's Garden of Verses". She already has a few favorites from that book.

She is halfway through the Kindergarten Math curriculum we use. She seems to be catching on to the new ideas quickly, but they are more of a challenge than they used to be. Which brings me to the latest schooling issue we are dealing with.

Sometime around her fifth birthday in October, she has gone through a bit of a transition, during which she wants to challenge the status quo. She has to test all the boundaries again. This is calming down a little and has now become a general complaint against anything that isn't either what she chooses or what is easiest. If things aren't going her way, she complains that she is too tired to do what her parents tell her to do (not tired enough for a nap though). Or if anything takes the slightest bit of effort (or doesn't come easily to her), she complains that it is too hard. So I have had to spend some time telling her that she doesn't always get her way and sometimes life is hard. It is so hard to get a kid to understand that as they learn, the hard things get easier until they wonder why they thought it was hard. I've been hearing a lot of complaining lately. I do try to incorporate fun things into the schoolwork. And I try to break up the monotony with a little variety. I also employ jealousy on occasion by doing some kind of "school work" with the Adrenaline Junkie to lure the Fairy in. However, I am of the opinion that some hard work that feels like hard work is character building. The Fairy learns some things easily. Because of this, she is in danger of thinking that everything should be easy for her. I would be doing her a disservice to let her continue thinking that.

So is homeschooling going well right now? I think so, but it is a bumpy ride right now. I've heard many other homeschoolers say that the first year is the toughest in many ways. I consider this my second year, but it is the first year of trying to follow a set schedule with curricula to be followed. She and I are both trying to find our way on this new path. But, even through the complaints, I see the progress she makes. Yes, the results speak for themselves. It is going well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Is it the kids... or is it me?

Recently I did a post about how our five-year-old was going through a developmental change around her birthday. It seems to have made her want to test the boundaries again and made her very emotional about things that didn't matter to her before.

Well, the Adrenaline Junkie is going to turn three in just a couple of weeks and I think she is going through a developmental change too. Suddenly she just seems older and more three-year-old-ish. She suddenly has an even shorter attention span, a hyperdrive activity level, a ferocious independent streak and bigger tantrums when called on misbehavior. It's times like this I wish the kids had their birthdays staggered a little more throughout the year. But if that were the case I suppose I would have to deal with the upheaval through more of the year instead of all at once.

And in case you're wondering, yes the Happy Boy has been having his troubles, too. He has decided that Mommy is the only one who can console him when he's upset, feed him when he's hungry, or put him to bed when he's sleepy. I've not experienced a child with separation anxiety this bad when his sisters went through it. One of my parenting books suggests that it is a sign of strong attachment and that the earlier it occurs the more likely it will pass quickly. I sure hope so.

In the meantime, I feel like a much loved mean Mommy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fall Health Problems

There is a part of me that loves the coming of Autumn. The pleasant 60-80 degree temperatures during the day (better than the over 100s of summer)...the coming of holidays...special events...time with family; these are things I enjoy. However, the Fall also brings the first diseases of the season and along with the cooler weather comes my frequent bad health. I'm not often completely out of commission, but I am frequently either fighting off a cold or dealing with extra allergies. Either way, any time that I'm in less than stellar health, I start to fall behind with the little daily things that help the household run. And since my allergies are mainly environmental, falling behind in housework actually makes them worse. The return of the rains and the colder nights mean extra time indoors as well as generally stuffy noses. The problem with this is that I am indoors with the dust mites and the cat dander which makes me feel sick, which in turn makes me less likely to clean. The result is a dirtier house and less inclination to clean. I know it isn't good for me. I know my improved health depends on extra care to my living environment. But when I am feeling sick to my stomach and add on to that a sinus headache, somehow just getting through the day managing the basic needs of the kids seems like almost too much.

So, Fall brings a long string of sicknesses and allergies. I know that there are plenty of drugs that can be taken to improve my symptoms at least. Until a few days ago I was taking one of them. I was even marveling at how well I was feeling in comparison to last year. But, I also am one of those people who tend to avoid medication when possible. Added to that my husband and I plan to try for another pregnancy soon and my allergy medications are not on the OK list (frankly almost nothing is on the OK list). My understanding is that only some of the medication not on the OK list have known problems for people who wish to be pregnant. The others they just don't know because no one wants to be responsible for using pregnant women in their drug trials. So here is the issue, take the drugs to relieve annoying symptoms for my convenience and possibly cause some unknown harm to a future child, or don't take the drugs and suffer until... well ... until after such child is not only conceived but born... however long that might be. It's not a fun choice. Some might suggest that I take the drugs now and try to get pregnant in a later season. The thought has crossed my mind, but doesn't really work. My allergies are year round. They just peak in the Fall and in the Spring. And my husband and I don't think waiting is a good choice either. I'm already 40; the longer we wait the less likely that future pregnancy will be.

So the choice is the conservative route. Do without the allergy medication for the duration of the wait. So, I'll probably be struggling with my health this fall. And I hope any visitors will excuse the messy house.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Kids grow up and change

During the past week or so, we have been having the toughest time with our eldest daughter the Pillowfight Fairy. She just turned five and it seems like this tremendous change in her life necessitates retesting all the boundaries and making sure the foundations of her life are still dependable. Because of this, I've been trying to figure out what is going on in her head and how to make this transition easier for all of us. I haven't got that figured out yet, but in the process I've been reflecting on how change hits kids and how they transition from one period of life to the next.

When we started homeschooling the Pillowfight Fairy, she was not quite four years old, but already reading and understanding her numbers and basic mathmatical concepts. At the time I knew that the preschool programs described to me were not academically advanced enough for where she was, but kindergarten was socially beyond what she could relate to. So I tried to come up with some way of giving a preschool-thinking child the school age academics she was showing that she was ready for. It was hardest at the beginning when I wasn't sure what to try. We would try short little tasks since she had trouble sitting very long and spend more time on what caught her attention. She would spend hours reading with me, drawing or doing dot-to-dots, but could stand no more than a few minutes of "lessons."

As we went along, she made progress in many areas. Her abilities improved and her attention span improved. Right now, she is doing work beyond Kindergarten level, but I still call her a Kindergartener since that fits her age and social interactions best. I was always frustrated that Preschool level material and books talking about Preschoolers would give an accurate view of a child of that age and the maturity level the child has, but not help much with teaching a child who's academic readiness was beyond that which was the average expected. When I would go to Kindergarten level material it was aimed at an older child who had a greater maturity level, which wasn't appropriate for my preschooler. Also, books talking about teaching Kindergarten and elementary age children assumed a maturity level that my daughter hadn't reached yet. I didn't find anything that helped with my problem or even explained that a transition needs to happen between the preschool age and the school age. I didn't make a thorough search, but the only book that I found that explained a transition in the way children mature was "Your Baby's Mind and How It Grows: Piaget's Theory for Parents," by Mary Ann Spencer Pulaski, published in 1978.

This book is all about how the child thinks at different ages starting at birth and continuing level by level until adulthood. According to the book, around ages 4-7 a child makes a mental transition from "the world is magical and all about me" to a prelogical or intuitive stage that starts leaving the magic thinking behind. I haven't found any other books that deal with a transition around this age that takes a child from preschool thinking to school age thinking. The book did help me understand earlier changes with the infant stages.

I remember when our oldest was a baby how astonished we would be that she would suddenly be able to do something she previously couldn't and then do it like she always knew how. It was exactly like someone flipped a switch and the new way became the new norm. We watched her make transitions as a baby. She made the transition to the dreaded "terrible twos" fairly easily. The transition when she turned three was much harder. We thought we had things stabilized, then she went through another hard transition when she turned four. Now that she is turning five, I notice that this transition seems to be the hardest so far.

Some of the things that I have noticed is that she is aware of change around her. I think she is somewhat aware that she is seeing things differently, but isn't sure how to deal with it. She is starting to understand plot-lines in videos that went over her head before. She is starting to get jokes (especially the really bad jokes that five year olds love). She is starting to ask questions about deep things like death. We recently were given some wonderful Beatrix Potter story DVDs that combines a live action Beatrix Potter with watercolor animation telling the stories. She adores the stories, but these stories deal with life and death, with good and evil. She has been in tears more than once over what happens in the stories, but she wants them again. My theory is that she is needing to figure out these important ideas and she is drawn back again so she can think about it. She worries that Daddy won't come home when we are driving home in separate cars. At the same time she wants to dictate to us how she wants things to be and we have to remind her that we are the parents and she is the child not the other way around.

She is going through one of life's major transitions. She is starting to see the world with clearer vision. She is starting to get glimses of difficult concepts. She is starting to be open to new ideas and information. She is learning to be more independent. She is learning to interact with other people and understand that they are "other" and not participants in her latest imaginings. She is learning to think differently. I think this is that unmentioned transition that makes all the difference between the preschooler and the school age child. I'm not sure if it is just that kids don't like change so these transitions are just naturally bumpy. Or maybe the difficulty of the transition has more to do with what the individual's tolerance level for change is. But, this is looking like a doozy of a transition we are going through. Change is hard both for the Pillowfight Fairy and for us. But, I am looking forward to the new world on the other side.

In the meantime, if anyone has come across any helpful information that talks about this transitional time, I would love to hear more about it. I'm guessing that our worst bumps are at the beginning when we aren't ready or expecting a change. But, so far these transitions she has gone through have taken months to calm down to a new equilibrium. A little more understanding of the process might help.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Quizzes can be fun

I was highly amused by a quiz my husband just did and decided to try it myself. It was about discovering your inner European. Here's my results:

Your Inner European is Italian!
Passionate and colorful.You show the world what culture really is.

I love those boots by the way.

I've been mistaken for Italian before. Of course I've been mistaken for a lot of things before. I wonder how this side of me meshes with my inner Amish. I'm not sure how many people think I show the world "culture." Good heavens, I've been pretty out of step with my own culture most of the time.

Well, I would like to eat mounds of pasta right about now. I was sick this week and ate almost nothing for three days. Now I find myself constantly hungry. I had dinner and seconds only an hour ago and I want more already.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Family Values? Which ones?

Not too long ago, I read a news story that caught my attention and got me thinking profound thoughts. We'll see how well those profound thoughts translate to a blog.

The news story was about how "The Mob" is having hard times lately. The reasons stated involved tougher law enforcement and a decay in family values. Apparently, the younger generation of mobsters are more ready to rat each other out to avoid jail time. Besides finding this somewhat amusing in itself, it got me thinking about family values in general. For instance, what family values is "the Mob" known for? Family secrets stay family secrets. Family honor is prized highly enough to die over. "The Family," both born and made, work together to benefit "the Family" regardless of legality.

OK. That's just what I could think up in a few minutes, based on my viewing of numerous movies that stereotype this group, plus a bit of U.S. history that I know which mentions them. Does it hit you as a little weird that a network of crime families is troubled because they are losing touch with their traditional family values? Do criminals have family values? Well, yes they do in fact. Actually, we are so used to hearing "Family Values" being talked about by politicians and an assortment of talking heads on T.V., we forget that the words have meaning of their own.

I don't know what you think about when someone starts talking about family values. After thinking about it, I generally think about quality of family life, family friendly society, family friendly entertainment, government programs to aid families such as education, welfare, social security, and medical care. Why do I think of these things? Are these the things I value for my family? The closer I look, the less I see these things as what I really value for my family. I do want a good quality of life for my family, but what I see as quality of life, may not be what you think of and almost certainly isn't what can be given to me by anyone but my family and me. I can't do much about society in general except to try to live among people with which I want to be in society. If I watch entertainment that isn't family friendly, I have only myself to blame. No one is forcing me to watch. As for various government programs mentioned above which were intended from the beginning to improve life for families one way or another, I have various disagreements with them too. I don't believe that the government should have a monopoly on educating the children. In my family's case, we homeschool instead of using the local government funded school, believing this helps our family fulfill our family value on education. We are doing our best to avoid welfare. Watching the last 50 years or so of the use of welfare in U.S. history, our family sees danger in relying on welfare beyond a quick help in dire emergencies. Social security was also designed to help out the older members of our families and lighten the burden a family bears when the older members can't work anymore. It has it's good reasons indeed. However, I have been told since I was a child that my generation probably wouldn't get any benefit from it since it will probably fail in the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. At the rate the people in charge have been fixing this problem, that prophecy will probably be true. My husband and I have made our own retirement investments and see paying into Social Security as helping our parents. As for medicine, I don't want a government program to dictate my medical decisions or my doctors' practice of medicine. We are perfectly happy with our HMO.

I value for my family, love, fun, security, home, and faith. How that works out seems to be what people in politics like to argue about. I value being, with my husband, the primary decision makers about how we achieve the best situation we can for our own family. I value spending time with others who have similar values as ours. I value relationships and institutions that build up my family and don't tear it down.

Now, it is tempting to me to think that everyone else must value the same things. I may have thought that once, but I don't anymore. Every culture around the world has a set of family values that have developed over many generations. There are a few similarities which are usually due to the fact that they are meant to strengthen families in each of those cultures. However, in most of the world, family values are about the family in the large view. My family values are much more independent minded than those in the rest of the world. I am looking at my husband and me, as the parents, and our children as one family. Many in the rest of the world think of a patriarch or matriarch and adult siblings who have their children and the addition of assorted other aunts, uncles, and cousins. This is the biggest difference that I could think of in my family values and those of the rest of the world.

Now, I care about my extended family. I am still close to my parents and visit with them often (although we moved away from them to be able to more easily afford a house). I try to keep up with what's going on with my brothers (although I admit most of that is hearsay through my parents and a couple of short visits a year). I am fond of my aunts and uncles and cousins but haven't actually seen very many of them for years since they live on the other side of the country and I don't like to fly (my parents were the ones to move away in their generation). Growing up, my parents made spending time with family including the extended family a priority for us. We went on family vacations for our nuclear family on weekends, especially long holiday weekends. My dad saved up vacation time over two years to drive across country every other year to visit my grandparents and other relatives. When my brothers and I grew up, we didn't move out of our parents' house until our own marriages or an urgent family need arose (a grandparent moving in). I remember several years ago when my Dad was recovering from a bad car accident. He was out of work for a long time recovering and some of his co-workers would occasionally come to see how he was doing. I remember distinctly one man who was originally from India. I was working only part-time at the time and was able to be at home much of the day to help my Dad. This co-worker complimented my Dad on having a traditional family where an adult daughter was at home to take care of him. I'm not sure how traditional we are if you look closely, but on the surface it looked like it. I suspect that my family tends a little more toward the traditional extended family viewpoint than many other American families.

OK, where am I going with all this? I think the point I want to make is that it is useful to give some thought about what you value. Don't just assume that it will work itself out. Life is lived out whether we plan things or not, but with a plan in mind we might actually get where we want to be. What do you want your family to be like? What do you want your children to learn from you? Do you want your grandchildren to value the same things about your family that you do? How can you help that happen? Here in America (and a few other places too) independence is so highly prized that some of our independent choices are tearing families apart. Could it be that we might need to rethink some of those choices to start putting the families back together again?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Holiday suggestion, reminder, or whatever...

First I would like to apologize to my apparently small readership for not giving you more posts to read. My excuse is that I got my husband interested in blogging and he has taken to it like a fish to water. He is such a prolific blogger that it is hard for me to get computer time. So instead of waiting until evening after the kids are in bed (and when he also wants to blog), I'm giving up my afternoon nap. So on to my current subject...

It startled me yesterday to realize that Thanksgiving is only three weeks away. I didn't always understand the fact that the holidays are hard for some people. There are many people who do not have the ideal perfect christmas memories that remind them that the world is a wonderful place, people are a delight and precious magical moments are always just around the corner. For some people, the world has been a hard and difficult place, people have been especially nasty to them in one way or another, and difficult or painful memories jump out at them from around every corner.

I didn't really start to realize this until I was a young adult. I remember reading the Ann Landers column in the newspaper where she would bring up this idea every holiday season. After all, she was in the business of giving advice to people with troubles of many kinds. My own family experiences had been not perfect but mostly loving and happy. I had trouble realizing what other people were going through. Then when I was in my twenties my family had several years in a row where trouble came year after year around the holiday time. Nearly all of my grandparents became ill or died in the season starting just before Thanksgiving and going until just after New Year's. One year my Dad was in the hospital during Thanksgiving after barely surviving a car accident. When these things were going on with our family, we kept finding that many of our friends and acquaintances were going through problems if not similar, at least as stressful. I began to see how easy it was to be fine one minute and then have someone say something perfectly innocently that either brought up depression or anger.

Since there are so many great expectations for the holidays with gatherings of friends and family, there are frequently many failed expectations. Those in themselves can set a person off, who doesn't even realize that they are in a precarious emotional state. I have found that there have been times when I was surprised by situations that I should have avoided. One example of this was attending a Sunday ladies class where the topic was death, the week when my miscarried child's due date came. I had thought that I had already dealt with my loss and my grief had subsided some. I didn't realize that the wound was still fresh and it hurt almost as badly as when it first happened. It would have been better for me to spend the class time helping in the nursery if I had realized ahead of time.

So my suggestion/reminder/whatever you want to call it is to resist the temptation to expect other people to fulfill your holiday dreams and wishes. Take the time to treat the people around you (family, friends, co-workers, perfect strangers) with care, respect, courtesy, and patience. If you encounter people who are obviously having a difficult moment, a bad day, or a bad attitude, take the effort of extending them some grace in their troubled moment. It is too easy to take the path of snapping back or responding in anger yourself and the troubled feelings spread and grow. If we all took the time to restore a relationship, discard a grudge, free others of our expectations, and treat strangers with kindness, our lives would be better for it and so would the people we encounter. Give it a thought. It just might make the difference in your holiday season and in somebody else's too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sometimes you just have to have a good time

I feel as if I've been running a marathon for the last several weeks. Not literally of course. I am walking again after breaking my foot, but I am doing so very gingerly and my foot gets sore from the use. No, I've found that when I am able to function at high speed without problems, I feel like a supermom. But, any major bump in the road where Mommy can't do my usual stuff, then we are suddenly in survival mode. So, with foot in recovery, being the finance person for my MOPS group, homeschooling, and now dealing with one car in the shop and ferrying my husband to and from work so that I can use the only available car (thanks to Granny and Grandpa) for necessary errands, I've been pretty stressed out.

If you ever need a stress relief, open your mind to the wonderful restorative properties of the way children think. It seems like nearly every day something happens that gets me giggling. Monday I needed to go shopping to pick up computer paper (The Pillowfight Fairy goes through about a package a month) and some Zicam (my Husband has found it to do wonders for him in fighting off colds). The easiest place for me to go that has both of those items is our local Target store. I was in the mind set of get in, get the stuff, and get out. Have I ever mentioned that I don't like shopping? Well, I was still well stressed out and I had three kids in tow. The Happy Boy gets to ride in the cart facing Mommy in the convenient little kid seat. But, neither the Pillowfight Fairy nor the Adrenaline Junkie was feeling like walking that day, so I stuffed them in the main basket and told them to make room for each other. Silly me, I thought my agenda was on track. Then it happened. I don't remember who started it. I don't know where they got the idea unless it was from the Halloween decorations. But almost from the first moment I started pushing the cart through the store, the two girls decided to howl like wolves. Now, I'm not talking about a few timid howls. These girls have lungs (family of singers you know). They were howling like wolves with gusto. They howled as I made my way up and down the aisles. They howled as we passed other shoppers (who had a variety of reactions I might add). They howled past other Moms with whiny and fussy kids. They howled as we wound our way through the store. They howled for a good 15 minutes. Did I try to hush them? Good Heavens, no. I needed the laugh. In fact, I was having trouble maintaining enough composure to continue shopping. About 10 minutes into it Happy Boy started making squeals to show how much he was enjoying it. They made me smile. They made some of the store clerks laugh. And maybe they made another Mom or two go home thankful that her child was merely whiny while that Mom at the store had three kids howling like wolves. I finally distracted them into silence by heading by the toy aisles. We hadn't got Pillowfight Fairy anything for her birthday yet and I needed ideas. They didn't howl anymore after that and we finished the shopping trip and went home. But, it was just silly and it helped me get some perspective on life.

Today, there were a couple of other things that show the way kids think and how different it is from the way I think. Today, Pillowfight Fairy had a doctor's appointment and we ended up quite early at the clinic. As I was distracted by the girls hopping on shapes on the floor and meeting other kids (whereupon Adrenaline Junkie would announce "I'm a girl!"), the Happy Boy made his move. He found that if he twists this way and that to try to see what his sisters are doing, before long the straps on the stroller aren't so tight. This was a free umbrella stroller we picked up years ago. He somehow managed to pull the straps to their furthest extention and then crawl out of the stroller as he reached down to play with the footrest or wheels. At least that is my guess. I turned to check on him and he wasn't in the stroller where I left him and the fastener was still fastened. He was only about a yard away exploring in his new found freedom. He hadn't yet decided to make a break for it.

Later in the day, the Pillowfight Fairy and I had a disagreement. She had just read the book "If you give a mouse a cookie" for the first time today. In the story, one of the things the mouse does is draw a picture and then tape it to the refrigerator. Now, I fully realize that many people do put artwork from their kids on the refrigerator. If I did that, I would have to change the pictures every five minutes. The Pillowfight Fairy draws a lot of pictures and the refrigerator would not hold them all. As a compromise, she gets to tape them on our walls as long as they are high enough up that neither the cats nor her baby brother eats them. However, today she had to draw a mouse picture (which was quite good actually) and wanted to tape it to the refrigerator. It's just a small thing. It's just a harmless thing. Why can't I just let her do it? Because I know my daughter. She would consider the refrigerator the new favorite display spot and before you know it we can't find the door handles for all the paper taped to the door of this much used appliance. I explained that other people do put pictures on their refrigerators, but in our house we put them on the walls. That is our house rule about displaying our pictures. She had tantrum after tantrum after tantrum wanting to do it the way they did it in the book. Mommy held her ground. The Pillowfight Fairy is entering a very independent way of thinking. She likes to do things her way and when she can't she tries to find a solution that is acceptable to her ideas of what should be. In this case I had to praise her for her inventiveness and ability to stay within the rule Mommy gave her. She drew a refrigerator on another piece of paper (complete with door handles and refrigerator magnets). She taped this paper refrigerator to the wall and then taped her precious work of art to this paper refrigerator. All was peaceful again. If only the rest of our problems were solved so easily.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the latest fun. There was more if only I could have remembered it. We do try to write down some of the funny things, but there are so many of them that many are forgotten before they are written down.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I recently picked up some new books...

Doesn't that sound lovely! New books! Have I ever mentioned that I like books. I particularly like sitting down and reading books that I find interesting. Most of the time however, I read books that are at best amusing children's books. On average they are children's books that I found amusing at one time before I read them hundreds of times (literally). At worst, they are terribly dull. Every now and then, I get to read something that interests me. I have many interests, however, and little time. So, my selections usually involve some area of my life that is of everyday importance. In this case, homeschooling our oldest daughter (and eventually the other kids). I had a chance the other day to spend a few minutes browsing at our local homeschool supply store (just at the edge of our neighborhood!). I decided to pick up the following volumes:

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise. This is a lesson book on teaching the language arts (minus spelling) to first and second graders. I've already looked through it a good bit and think it will be very useful when I want to start teaching the Pillowfight fairy grammar. I think it is a good blend of structured instruction and casual kid-friendly teaching. I think it will probably work for us.

Drawing with Children: a Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too, by Mona Brookes. This is something that will require a bit more of a leisurely read. Ideally, I would need to do the lessons in the book myself, before trying to teach them to my kids. Since I have never really considered myself very artistic with drawing, it might be a bit of a challenge to rethink the way I do art. However, I like the ideas used in the book (such as everyone can improve from their current ability and people do learn to draw better with some actual instruction whether or not they show any aptitude). This book presents art instruction for kids as young as two and all the way up to adults. In encourages taking it slow, following the development of the artist. It is basically a book to teach the teacher how to teach drawing. Considering how much the Pillowfight Fairy loves art, I know we need to do some kind of art instruction to keep her advancing. Natural ability will get you only so far, training will help her take it as far as she can.

My opportunity to read these books is not just research into what is coming up for our homeschooling in the future. It is carving out time for Mommy to do something I choose. There are so many things that need to be done. I am behind in so much of the housework and paperwork. I hate clutter and all of the surfaces are piled up again. So, I am fighting the good fight against clutter. I am starting to slowly get those "behind" jobs caught up again. Yet, in the midst of it all, I need to do something for me, too. Sometimes that is an afternoon nap when I need it. Sometimes it's getting out my needlepoint project (which has been in progress for more than a year now). Sometimes it is getting to read a new book. I am learning to put a little something for me into the day. It helps me relax, improves my mood, and helps me cope with the never ending problems that keep coming up (the latest of which are a dying water heater and repairs on the minivan after a collision). I have hopes that I will get better at finding time for rejuvenating things in my life. Because we all know that the problems will keep coming no matter what we do. But, anything that we can do to help the burden seem lighter or to improve our own outlook is a worthwhile endeavor.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The constantly changing homeschool

We are back in the routine of homeschooling now that my foot is recovering and I can walk again. I am thankful that we can be so flexible when crises arise. But, even as we get back into the routine that we were familiar with, I am noticing that the need for change will arrive pretty soon.

The Pillowfight Fairy seems to be itching to do more and learn more, but it is hard to give her the attention needed to guide her through more learning without neglecting the other kids. Adding library trips once a week has been a boon. She loves to read and reread the library books. Then she makes artwork to accompany the story lines. She will retell her favorite stories to me (which qualifies as narration though it is done in a very casual way). She will play act the stories with her sister. Adrenaline Junkie will sometimes listen to a book if it catches her fancy or her sense of humor, but mostly she is satisfied with the books we have at home which she has heard hundreds of times. Since she has not learned to read yet, the memorized story is the one that she can read by herself. Happy Boy is not let near the library books. He is in full teething mode and would drip puddles on them. He is busy chewing on everything and exploring our main rooms. Anything that allows him to pull to a stand is a favorite place.

I have to keep an eye on the two youngest, since they are both very mobile and have a knack for getting into trouble. They also like to play together. They are very active and that is good for them. Two-year-olds and crawling infants need activity. But, the Pillowfight Fairy, although active in her own right, has left the hyperactive toddler stage. She does quite well, doing her schoolwork as long as there is either variety (to keep it interesting) or a hefty dose of her favorite subject (art).

She really likes the curriculum we use for math. If I followed the instructions in the teacher's manual (which sound like they were written for a classroom setting), I would probably spend thirty minutes to an hour on this subject. Fortunately the Fairy picks up the concepts presented rather quickly and it only takes 10-15 minutes to finish her work.

She has been enjoying the Spelling work too. Though she sometimes complains about having to write lowercase letters (Capital letters are her favorite). Some people would pick their battles differently, but I insist that she use lowercase when that is what is presented. Most of writing is in lowercase and she only likes the Capital letters since they are easier. She has a lazy streak a mile wide and I can tell already that she needs to learn some basic lessons in discipline or she will always try to avoid "hard work." Once she is done complaining, she usually does a very good job. The spelling takes about 30 minutes to do two pages (both sides).

This is the core of her homeschooling at the moment. I'll have her read books, do drawing, painting, or listen to music as well. But we currently are not following much structure with those subjects. However, I noticed today that we are already more than halfway through the spelling workbook and it is only halfway through October. There are more books in the series that she could advance to, but the books are intended for a year for each level (about one lesson a week and we have been doing about four lessons a week). So, the question comes up, what do we do once she finishes the workbook. I am considering a language arts shift. At the end of the workbook, there is a simple dictionary containing approximately 350 words. I am thinking that I could shift the emphasis from spelling to vocabulary. She could do copy work (writing practice and spelling) of a set number of vocabulary words and using the words in a sentence. She would be actually making her own dictionary. It would also help formalize some of the word meanings in her mind. That would get us doing useful work within a structure without overburdening either of us.

Fortunately the math workbook will last longer. We are at lesson 60 out of 160. I have a little longer to decide whether to move up to the next book or do other types of math as a break until the appropriate transition time.

I have also been wanting to work in more memorization. Her memory verses for church are useful for this, but she only gets one every month. She has it memorized in three days. Other memory work that I thought would be appropriate would be poetry. There were some nice ones in the McGuffey reader that she finished this summer. But, although she likes them, they don't fire her imagination. She loves J.R.R. Tolkien's poetry and also the "Jaberwocky". That is what she likes to memorize. If I can find things that fire up her imagination, she will work hard at it without realizing that she is working hard.

The biggest problem facing our homeschooling at this time is Mommy's lack of energy. I have been trying to play catch up into the wee hours of the morning and then I'm tired and need afternoon naps. If I got enough rest, I might not have everything done that needs to be done, but I would be able to spend more time working with her one-on-one while the other kids take their naps. I can already see that this will be crucial next year. Next year's schedule will be much more full. It will include Spelling, Grammar, Reading, Memory work, Writing, History, Science, Religion, Art, and Music lessons. Good Grief I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Of course we wouldn't be doing all of these things every day, but everyday will probably have at least a good 4 hours work that will need pretty close supervision. I think that my best chance of getting us ready for next year is to start gradually adjusting our schedule to allow Mommy the rest she needs and gradually increasing the amount of work (or subjects) the Pillowfight Fairy will be doing. That way the transition will be less of a sudden shock.

With these ideas in mind, I think I will begin tonight by going to bed now.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Legend of the Pink Monkey: Tip #1

Did that post title catch your attention? Just don't think about that pink monkey right now I have something else I wanted to tell you. I've been thinking lately that I need to document our attempts at developing parenting tricks that work for our family so that, if they work, they might help someone else. The problem is that like all other parents, we are first timers. Yes, we have three kids now, but every parent is a first time parent because their kids are always doing something else for the first time and they need to learn how to deal with it. Stop thinking about that pink monkey.

So how does one go about documenting parenting tips when you are still trying to create them? I have no clue, but I'm going to try. Maybe with the combined resources of people throughout the internet, we might be able to perfect of few of these. That pink monkey is not staring at you. Stay focused. I thought that I would share my first idea with you and see what happens. This is not the most important tip or trick I think a parent needs. I am not ranking these ideas. I am just documenting them as they occur to me. The pink monkey is not playing peek-a-boo with you, ignore him.

What is this first grand idea? What could it be? You've already been introduced. It's that pink monkey that you are not supposed to be thinking about. Let me explain the legend of the pink monkey. Many years ago, a friend of mine was trying to illustrate how easy it is to distract people by giving them a vivid image that you then keep telling them not to think about. This friend is an attorney (go figure). In parenting, I am discovering the truism that kids (and big people too) get sucked into thinking about or doing things that they are told not to. I'm not talking about reverse psychology, though it is related. I'm talking about the phenomenon of hanging up a sign "wet paint, do not touch" and seeing that more people touch the object than if no sign were posted.

We have two methods of using the pink monkey concept.

1. The subtle method is to think ahead a little and give positive commands instead of knee-jerk commands. For instance: "Why don't you play peek-a-boo with the baby while I get your lunch ready" instead of "Stop telling me you're hungry, I'm working on it." The more you tell them to stop doing something the more they are thinking about that thing instead of what you would like for them to do. Giving them an idea of something good that they might like, helps them get out of their mental rut.

2. The blatant method is to pull out the pink monkey in person. Last Sunday we had a trying day and took the kids to a luncheon where they ate about an hour later than they usually do. They were in full complaining mode when we decided to start telling them to stop thinking about the pink monkey. Don't think about that pink monkey hanging from the tree. Don't think about that pink monkey with his little pink eyes blinking at you. Don't think about that pink monkey sticking out his little pink tongue at you. I think you get the idea. Without a lot of effort, we were transformed from miserable, whiny, and hungry to Mommy and Daddy are playing a funny game.

When I was a college librarian I found that when dealing with my student workers, I had to be careful about how I worded instructions to them. People don't like being told to do stuff to begin with and young adults can get a bit huffy since they are grown up now and you don't have to treat them like a child and tell them how to do everything. I found using the word "Remember" in place of "Don't forget" was very useful when wording instructions. It may seem simplistic, but telling a person to remember something is less authoritarian sounding and leaves the idea of remembering in their minds. Telling a person "Don't forget" is pretty much asking for them to forget it. "Forget" is the main verb in the sentence and it sticks in the brain. The "Don't" tacked on the front is setting them up to focus even further on the undesired outcome.

I am not a master of the pink monkey distraction techniques. In fact I've been struggling with how much I order my kids around in a negative way and don't get the results that I want. It does take a bit more brain effort on my part to think ahead and carefully word what I say to them. Lately, I've felt so swamped with life and catching up from the time I was out of commission from being in a cast that I'm doing good to stop and think what name I need to say let alone what I'm going to say to my child.

So, feel free to use the pink monkey to help you out. If you have any useful suggestions or variations that have worked for you, do share them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Toys: the love-hate relationship

I think that it is a truism that all parents have a love-hate relationship with toys. We love them when they are fun and make our kids happy. We love when a kid will play with a toy for long periods of time allowing the parent to do something else than try to come up with another idea for a bored kid. However, parents also do not like picking up the toys or nagging their kids to pick up toys. Then there is the trauma of when to part ways with a toy. My theory is that a young child will never knowingly part with a toy even if they haven't played with it since they first got it. Lately, many different ideas about toys have been playing around in my brain, so I thought that I would share some of those thoughts and see if I can get ideas from others about how to manage the toys. This is where I am getting back to the original idea of my blog. Toys lend themselves to more chaos, and I am a person who tries to beat back the encroaching hordes (or hoards?).

To begin, I am a very pragmatic person. When we first had our first child, my husband was surprised when I kept buying toys for her. He thought that I would see that as extravagant. Actually, I saw toys at that time as my child's work. She needed toys to assist her in the various stages of development. She needed to learn various skills. If I thought an appropriate skill for her age was being neglected, I looked for a toy that would help build and develop that skill for her. Ah... the newbie I was. I felt so proud of myself for limiting myself. I didn't buy electronic toys or battery operated toys. I didn't buy toys with TV characters all over them. We had limited space at the time in our tiny apartment, so we kept the toys small and simple. We still have many of those toys and I consider many of them the basics that will be used with all of our kids (blocks, balls, mirrors, rattles, soft books, toy piano, baby safe music box, tiny stuffed animals). Looking back from my current perspective, however, I purchased things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn't catch our daughter's interest or were inconvenient (non-machine washable plush toys). I discovered that our daughter found chewing on my shoelaces to be so fascinating that she would sit at my foot (literally) and chew on my shoelaces and play with them for the better part of an hour. Yes, she would play with the other toys, too. But, they kept having to be changed out for something "new" because her interest would wane. Then, when she started to crawl and pull to a stand, mobility was all she cared about. She wanted to play with the real world (our furniture, books, my husband's harp, door knobs, grass, leaves, dirt). The toys were stand-ins for what we wouldn't let her get at. Fast forward to today and I still see play as my kids work to develop needed skills, but the toys are only temporary tools to aid this endeavor. We bought too many toys. We forgot the truism that the box and the ribbon is more fun than the gift. Kids desire to learn about their world and real life. They don't need to be handed artificial versions if there is a way to give them the real thing safely.

Another thought that has been floating around in my brain lately is how we are inundated with messages that tell us that toys have to be bright and shiny and loud. They need to have lights and beeps and talk to your child. Somehow, if we buy the simpler toy, we are hurting our child's development. Our kids have to have the flashiest gadget that just came out or they will fall behind all the other kids. After all they need to be ready for preschool or they won't be able to be ready for kindergarten. Before you know it you are imagining your kid growing up to flip fast food burgers as a career while all the other kids go off to fabulous careers. Then of course they advertise directly to kids so that they will whine and complain that their lives won't be worth anything if they don't have whatever they are told that they should want. I still remember begging my Mom for a ballerina doll that danced on a special platform. I got it for either Christmas or my birthday and remember being completely disappointed that it not only didn't make me happy, but it wasn't as great as it was made out to be. The kids have no clue that they are being lied to about these things. We as adults have the perspective they lack, but we fall into the trap ourselves. The toy industry is in business to make a profit. Unfortunately, they use a parent's fear of being a bad parent to sell to them and use a kid's complete self-centeredness to sell to them. I've had some of these so called educational toys that are supposed to teach your kids. They don't teach much. Also, there have been studies which I keep seeing in the news that show that kids learn better from a person talking to them than any educational toy. So, where does this leave me in choosing toys for my kids? Don't follow the hype, it usually leads you to a dead end. I have to remember what my long-term goals are for my kids.

Another point that I would like to bring up is rather more mathematical. If every child has only two gift getting occasions a year (birthday and Christmas for us), then by the time they are ten, say, they have had twenty such occasions providing them with new things. Some of this is gotten rid of from time to time as they grow out of certain age appropriate items. But, what if there is a sibling or two. Why bother getting rid of those toys that will be appropriate for the next child. Yet, those children, too, experience gift getting occasions. In a family like ours where the oldest child is approximately 5 (birthday later this month) and the other two children follow pretty much every two years, the accumulation gets to be enormous. Yes, we do get rid of things, but it is a struggle to do so knowing that another kid can benefit from them. Some toys leave by way of destruction. They are simply loved to death and must be disposed of when no longer play appropriate. Some toys are neglected until Mommy can sneak them away and donate them if they are still in good condition. Others, cause trouble and have to be given time-outs. If they can't work out a good play relationship with the kids, they have to go. And every time a baby becomes mobile, I have to retrain the older kids about what the baby can play with and can't play with. It becomes my motivator to get them to pick things up: "Do you want your brother to eat/chew on that?" Then there is simply the issue of space. The older kids' toys (that are not safe for babies) have to be in their room, so that the baby doesn't get at them. There is only so much space available for that. I have also noticed that the more toys, the less they get played with. The kids simply can't see them. It is an issue of not being able to see the individual toys with so many all around them. As you can guess I have been struggling with these latest issues a lot and have been trying to winnow the pile.

When all is said and done, do my kids play with their toys. Yes. But, not usually how those toys were intended. Just yesterday I let my two year old play with some play dough (messy but simple and definitely a keeper). She started out by making a cake. Then she made some other type of food with it. About an hour later, she had found a toy spoon and squished play dough on the bowl part of the spoon. The spoon was a person and the play dough was the person's hair. She was having a nice little play time with her pretend person. Our daughters have wonderful imaginations and use the toys to work as props in their play. A toy is very rarely used as originally intended. Brooms become horses (despite the fact that we have a rocking horse). Shape sorters become airplane hangers. Books become stacking blocks (despite the fact that we have three different sets of stacking blocks not counting legos). Oddly shaped toys are perfect for an original creation of sculpture (sometimes kinetic). A cookie jar lid is a top. They have lots of fun and like to make their own toys from paper too (more props). But even then, there is something that will make them drop their play in a second in anticipation of more fun. What could it be? Going outside. They can either continue their play-acting outside with more natural props or just wander and explore. Sometimes we'll play games or ride on wheeled vehicles of various types, but mostly it is unstructured imagination time and exploring. But best of all... better than any toy... better than outside... Mom or Dad, Grandparents and other relatives and friends giving them attention and loving fun.

So, where does this leave me as I plan for upcoming birthdays and Christmas? How do I manage the toy shuffle as we move things around to be more baby friendly? How do I keep perspective on what my kids need to learn as they play? How much needs to be specific toys? How many props do they need? How much time can I let them have outside (especially when I am still limping and the backyard is still a construction zone)? How can we as parents make more time for our kids to be with us just for play-time? I know the questions. I have some ideas about the physical limitations of what toys we can own. I think that I need to work more on keeping the simple stuff, and eliminating the complicated, flashy, and redundant stuff. But the treasured possessions... that needs to be the relationships.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Good Report

I went to the Podiatrist today. First the cast came off (a very satisfying thing in itself). Then I had X-rays. Then I saw the doctor. The news is that my fracture is healing very nicely indeed. He tried to show me where you could still see the line from the fracture on the X-ray, but I couldn't see it. When I looked at the the X-ray from after I first broke the bone, the fracture was very obvious so this is showing us good progress. As a result of this good news, I am now wearing a walking boot. This will be my prefered footwear for the next three weeks. I may walk on it until my foot complains, then I have to rest it. When my foot feels strong enough, I may take the boot off for driving, as long as I put it back on for the actual walking. After three weeks, I am to wean myself off the walking boot back into normal shoes. The Podiatrist said that I should be back to normal activity 10 weeks after the original break.

I consider this excellent news. Coming back from the appointment I got to try out my ability to walk and I must say that I am out of practice. My balance is a little shaky, but I have been able to put my weight on the foot without pain. I will probably be walking slowly and gingerly for the next few days to see how well I can get around. I've already found the driveway to be a challenge (It's a bit on the steep side). If I catch on to walking in the boot as fast as I got used to the crutches, then I will be back to normal in very little time. This is good, because as I have been telling people, it is a race to see whether I or the baby will be walking unassisted first. Happy Boy started crawling and pulling up into a stand nearly two weeks ago and has picked up speed and determination. He's been trying to stand up in the middle of the floor with nothing nearby to hold on to. I fully expect to see him walking without help by the middle of December (that's how fast his sisters learned and he's been showing at least as much single mindedness if not more than them). By my calculations, I should be walking normally in normal shoes by the middle of November.

I guess that means that we will both be mobile for the holidays. However, I think I will try to keep Pillowfight Fairy's birthday (October) and Halloween pretty simple. I also have less of an excuse to go slow on the homeschooling. We have done minimal homeschooling in the last week and a half when I had the least help. More update and regular posts as things come up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sisterly dynamics

I did not have any sisters growing up. I had two older brothers and my growing up years with them provide fodder for many stories. Lately, I have been watching my daughters interact as sisters and have felt both amused and annoyed. They will definitely provide us with many stories in the years to come I am sure. Sometimes I wonder how much of the silliness is just common to kids and how much is because they are our kids. A few examples to amuse your day:

I have noticed in the last few weeks that Adrenalin Junkie, who has always enjoyed pretending, has suddenly gone full blown imaginary world on us. She will open imaginary doors and invite in imaginary beings (usually animals) with whom she will have imaginary conversations and imaginary adventures. Sometimes she puts on her imaginary clothes and equips herself with imaginary tools or toys. It is really quite sweet.

But all is not well in the house for Pillowfight Fairy has a contrary streak at times and will rush up and grab away Adrenalin Junkie's imaginary playmates and toys. Tears follow and I find myself scolding them for taking each others imaginary toys or friends. Usually, I can do this with a straight face and with complete seriousness. But, when I had to discipline the girls the other night and Daddy overheard it and said "What did you say to them?", I see how silly it sounds. Yes, I have to discipline my girls for pretending that they are stealing things from each other that don't exist.

Another thing came up tonight. Pillowfight Fairy had to translate for her sister (the first time that I remember). I saw that the girls had too many wiggles and were headed for trouble, so I suggested putting on some music to dance to. This was agreed to and I asked what music they would like. Adrenalin Junkie piped up immediately saying "Yucky Noodle!" At least that was what it sounded like to me. Obviously I heard her wrong and asked her to say that again. "Yucky Noodle!" was the answer. OK, stop and think, she has trouble saying "L" and it comes out "Y" so maybe she means "Lucky Noodle." No, that doesn't make any sense either. She was starting to get upset that Mommy was being so dense when Pillowfight Fairy explained that she wants "Yankee Doodle." Ahhh! Yes, Adrenalin Junkie agreed. So Mommy finally was able to save the day by putting on the children's song CD that we have which starts with the song "Yankee Doodle." Now we only had to deal with the tears that one kid had dancing slippers and the other one didn't, one wanted to dance with her sister when sister wanted to dance alone, and No Mommy isn't allowed to sing along. Of course when I told their Daddy about the mix up, he had the giggles for the next several minutes, saying "the more I think about it the funnier it is."

Could it be that they are going through emotional upheaval together? I know I had my share of emotional upheaval as a child, but it was egged on by the fact that my brothers spoiled me and let me get away with things if I cried. I think the emotionalism of one may feed off the other. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes they are kind. Sometimes they miss each other and want to be playmates again. Is this what it's like to raise girls? I guess I had better figure it out so that I know how to deal with it.


As a side note, I have just over another week to go before I get this really, really annoying but very necessary cast off my foot. At that point, they will see how I have healed and decide on the next step (which I hope involves taking steps on it again). I am currently surviving with the kids with lots of help. We have people making us dinners nearly every day and I have ladies coming in the mornings to help me with the kids. I still have to handle all three on my own in the afternoon, but since two of the three kids go down for naps in the afternoon, it isn't as bad. I have also got a few work arounds to help me one of them being a desk chair taking the place of a wheelchair to help me get around. On the down side, Happy Boy decided to start crawling, pulling to a stand and cruising this past weekend. That's just about all he wants to do now and he is getting good fast. It is not a stretch to say that it is now a race to see which one of us will be walking unassisted first. I would usually be happy about such a development, even if it is more work. Now, it is just really awful timing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It is good to see people finishing their education

I went to college for what seemed like forever at times. I have two degrees and attended a total of 4 colleges with 4 different majors (Physics, History, Library Science and Theology). I was a college student whether full-time or part-time for about ten years. I am about 5 classes away from a third degree, but stopped because life intervened in the form of a grandmother moving in, a boss retiring, and starting to date my husband. My career was as a college librarian and I really care about education and education issues.

With that background, I love to hear stories of people not giving up and finishing their education. So many people start their education but find that something gets in the way and they give up. Both of my parents went back to school after their kids were half grown. Both my brothers left college for the work world. I have friends who had interrupted educations for many different reasons. Every person has a unique story of course, but most stories have a lot of mundane life thrown in. However, recently I saw a story that was not ordinary in any way. Here is the link to the news story.

We rarely hear of someone famous going back to school because they want an education. Stars and celebrities are supposed to have the best of life after all, why finish an interrupted education? But, how great is it that a rock star has what it takes to be an astrophysicist? I love it.

Oh, you might wonder if I am planning to go back and finish that degree. Right now, I can't say. I was pretty burned out on college after that many years of it. I have an extremely full life right now. I'm busy teaching my own kids after all. Maybe someday the time will be right again to return to it. But for now I am content.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nature vs. Nurture

Today I was playing with Happy Boy and out of the blue he made a scrunchy-faced smile that reminded me of my paternal grandfather. Now, I have heard that my paternal grandfather had fair hair (I just remember it as white-gray). But, I would not otherwise have thought of him resembling Happy Boy much. This thought suddenly got me thinking thoughts about how much comes from DNA and how much is learned.

Yes, it is completely possible that my son has inherited physical features that remind me of my paternal grandfather. However, since his physical features generally favor his father's side of the family so greatly, it may be that I noticed something else. Could it be that I saw a learned expression on his face that mirrors one that I may do without thinking? This facial expression may have been passed down through generations, from my grandfather, to my father, to me, and now to my son. I never thought of my Dad's expressions mirroring his Dad because he already looks a lot like him (except for darker hair).

Added to this, I was mentioning the other day how I always thought that I looked more like my Mom, but that one of my Dad's relatives pegged me as his daughter (although I was not obviously being presented as one of the family and was mixed in with lots of other relatives the person had never met). The person I was talking to said that I probably was acting in a way that reminded them of him.

So today, playing with my son it dawned on me that he might be looking like my grandfather at times, because I look like my grandfather at times. Are there other things that I am passing along just as obliviously that I'm going to meet up with in the future? I know that I have "Southernisms" in the way I talk, word choices, that I picked up from my parents. Are my kids going to have some of that, too? My husband worries that they will pick up my bad grammar usages. We all realize that kids pick up our habits as we live together, but how many of us realize that we may be unconsciously passing along traits from relatives long gone? We assume it is inherited since the child has never met the person, but we forget that we have met the person and it shows to the little ones.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Getting the humor back

OK I've felt sorry for myself long enough. It's time to bring the humor back. Today at church I helped a lot of people feel like their problems weren't so bad after all. I even managed to wear an ensemble that matched my purple cast. I figured that if I color-matched with a cast, people would be less startled by the fact that the other foot was in an athletic shoe.

Today at lunch I started brainstorming up new sports that could be played by people in my condition. How about crutch hockey? That might just catch on. I have to play it to move toys out of my way. How about an obstacle course? I do that just going from the kitchen to the bathroom. Then there is my current favorite... just hop up and down on one foot for the next four weeks. It sounds ridiculous. That's because it is. I might as well wallow in the absurdity.

Living suddenly in a way that does not allow you to use one foot, requires so many adjustments. I can't do at least 90% of the things I would normally do. Most of the other 10% requires a lot of adjustment, too. You definitely begin to feel for those who have to make such an adjustment permanently. I am also a lot less inclined to let my kids leave their toys on the floor. Hopefully, I will make good progress in healing and will be slowly getting back to normal again. Will I look back on this and laugh, oh sure... I already do. Will I remember to be careful? Hopefully, but sometimes we can be forgetful when we are busy with the present.

Now that my humor is coming back, I need to help my husband find the humor, too. After all, he's taking vacation time to do those 90% of things that I can't do. So, things have to be really funny to phase him right now. But, I think that he's getting better at it, too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Parenthood is physically arduous

In my last post, I mentioned my new struggle to lose weight. Included in that problem is the fact that I injured a knee earlier this year and have been having trouble getting much exercise that doesn't cause me a lot of pain. The way I injured my knee was that I sat on the sofa minding my own business when my two year old was playing the "dizzy" game. Said two year old spun out of control in her self-induced vertigo and head-butted me in the side of the knee. It hasn't been the same since, but feels OK if I don't do a lot of walking, kneeling, squatting, or stairs. So, once I tried to start my usual walking routine as soon as the baby was able to sit up in a stroller, my knee started giving me serious problems. I am now trying to take it easy as I can with my knee, and also do my prescribed physical therapy to strengthen it. I felt like I was making progress, and would eventually get strong enough to get back to at least a little more exercise than none.

Fast forward to Monday night. Walking through the house to take the recently awakened baby outside where everyone else was, I stepped on a stray toy. I've had some close calls before. This was the real thing. I had a bad fall. Fortunately, I took the brunt of it and the baby was fine (except for for the surprise of finding himself suddenly on the floor). Happy Boy was happy again within five minutes. However, I knew immediately that I could not use my right foot. I had to drag myself to the sliding glass door and call for help. I managed to get myself onto a sofa and prop my foot up. After a rough night of not a lot of sleep, I was finally able to go to the doctor. I was impressed with the speed of the visit. I saw my doctor; after looking at my foot she ordered x-rays; I was wheeled over to that department and barely had to wait. Three x-rays were taken of my foot and digitally delivered back to my doctor. The x-rays beat me back and it wasn't that long of a trip. The doctor saw from the x-rays that I have a chipped or fractured bone in my foot. She said that it could heal on its own, but would heal faster if the foot is immobilized. I was sent home with an ace bandage, a foam sandal, and crutches. All of that took less than an hour. Thursday I have an appointment with the podiatry department to be fitted for an "E-boot," whatever that is.

Ironically, the foot that was injured was on the opposite leg from the bum knee. The problem knee was slightly scraped in the fall, but otherwise has shown no sign of further problems. I also have a couple of bruises. This hasn't been an easy year for my body. I'm in good physical condition otherwise, so that is in my favor. But I have no idea how soon I will be able to put my weight on my foot again.

This will definitely throw off the household routine for a while. It will also make me a stickler for having the kids pick up toys that they are finished playing with. I think that I'll be doing the things that involve sitting down. Reading to the kids, doing schoolwork with our eldest, folding clothes, feeding Happy Boy. For now, my poor husband is going to get first hand experience with all the more active things I do to make the household run smoothly. I am sure he will be at least as eager as I am get things back to normal again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I used to hate cooking...

I've noticed a very strange thing happening to me lately. I've been wanting to cook. For most of my life I have hated cooking. Maybe I just absorbed the attitude from my Mom who has always hated cooking. It isn't that I'm a bad cook either. I am a fully competent cook who can make tasty food. I just hated spending my time in the kitchen making yet another meal. There are just so many other things that I would rather spend my time doing. At least that used to be how I was.

For some reason (I think I can blame my last pregnancy), I started wanting to eat lots more baked goods (pies, cakes, cookies, home-made yeast bread, cupcakes ... you get the idea). But, this craving didn't go away. I still have it. I still want to bake. And now, my cooking desire has expanded. I am using my crock pot a lot, since that is easiest with the ages of kids I have, plus the fact that I have all day to just let it cook. I've always been pretty good with soups and don't need a recipe to put a good one together. I've also found, pot roasts can be really yummy. BBQ chicken or pork for sandwiches is an extremely easy meal. I find myself thinking ahead to another good meal to put together. I've been more experimental, throwing together a Thai curry to go over rice that my husband loved, even though it contained winter squash.

The yeast breads, especially, have been fun. This summer I dug out a box that we hadn't unpacked since we moved here nearly four years ago. It was a heavy duty mixer that my Mom had since the 1970's that she used when she would make homemade bread (she went through a super nutritional kick when I was in elementary school). I love that mixer. It has a huge bowl that can easily quadruple an oatmeal cookie recipe (a thick one), without showing signs of overheating. It comes with a wisk attachment for light items (like meringue), a beater attachment for most mixing jobs, and a dough hook for kneading bread. It's one of those machines that could potentially have two dozen attachments for nearly every specialty gadget you would need in the kitchen. In the manual, I remember other attachments listed (a juicer, a meat grinder, a veggieslicer and a blender to name a few). I have found that this machine makes most baking jobs, including home-made yeast bread, easy. I just throw the ingredients in and mix with the beater, then switch over to the dough hook to knead it. Then I take the bowl out and let the bread rise in the bowl. After the bread rises, I punch it down and then roll the dough in my hands into appropriate sizes and pop them straight in the pan. I don't ever have to get that annoying pastry mat out at all. And home baked bread is soooo yummy!

The problem with all of this cooking is that although my appetite is unchanged from when I was pregnant, I haven't been able to get the exercise I need to get my metabolism back to normal and drop those last 15-20 pounds. Added to that, I've been having problems with one of my knees, and walking (which was my usual exercise) aggravates my knee problem. So, all this extra cooking combined with the lack of exercise results in me struggling to lose weight for the first time in my life. Yes, I know, most people will have no sympathy for that. I suppose that I can now understand the majority of the population. But even so, I keep coming up with ideas for new meal ideas.

I also feel fall in the air a little early this year; wouldn't an apple pie taste nice?

I can't seem to help myself.

Sigh... well, at least my husband is enjoying being well fed with tasty things. He doesn't mind the new me at all. Although he does keep asking, "Are you sure you're not pregnant"?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My dear husband's new blog and a few others

I've added links on my sidebar to some blogs that I like to visit. All of these are currently for people I know personally. One of them is for my dear husband, who just started up a new blog. He sometimes blurts out things that make people uncomfortable, but it was what he was thinking at the moment and figured why not go ahead and say it. He's very transparent that way. Other times he is a joker who has trouble being serious. He was being a class clown during church this morning (maybe it was too many donut holes). But, sometimes (fairly often actually) he can be a very deep thinker about many things, especially the culture in which we live. His blog is titled "Sometimes I'm Actually Coherent." Give it a try and see if you like it.

My dear sister-in-law, and the reason why I got into blogging, has her blog titled "Sweetpea's Patch." She is better with the English language than I am. She is also better at blogging on a wider variety of topics than I. Her blog is worth a look.

The last blog link on my sidebar is authored by my former minister. He and his family are also good friends and officiated at my wedding. He is also a deep thinker and can usually relate daily aspects of life to spiritual matters very clearly. His blog is titled "Randy's Ruminations."

Since I'm still a newbie at this, I don't have a very wide blog browsing range. Some day I'll get a link going to the Carnival of homeschool. It usually has a few meaty articles about homeschooling that I enjoy every week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New pseudonym already?!

I decided today that my youngest child needed a different pseudonym. Rug Rat may give an idea of his age and developmental progress, but doesn't tell anything about his personality. He is not rat-like a bit. So after listening to him squeal in delight and chortle with glee over the baby monitor tonight a full fifteen minutes after putting him to bed, "Happy Boy" is a better moniker. He has always been an astoundingly happy kid. He flirts with everyone. He charms the socks off people (old and young alike). Sure he will cry occaisionally, but always for some good reason. Maybe his sister isn't giving him an exciting brightly colored toy that he is sure would be nice to chew on. Or maybe the floor pulled him down and knocked him in the head. But on the whole, he is an eerily happy baby. He was clearly smiling with happiness before his one month birthday... often.

I wonder if he will just continue like this or if his personality will change over the years. His sisters metaphored a bit. His next oldest sister had a continually worried expression as a baby and is now loads of fun. His oldest sister started serene and gradually changed to hypersensitive and is currently an intellectual daydreamer who thinks word problems are polite dinner conversation. I have trouble picturing my son as a nihilistic teenager someday, but I don't know... eighteen years of "Happy Boy" could grate on the nerves occaisionally. Is there anyone else out there with a child who just overflows the normal boundaries of happy?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

First week of school

We've had our first week of school and it went pretty well. But, before I describe how everything went I thought that I would introduce pseudonyms for the kids. They are at least partially age-related so they will have to be adjusted through time. Child number one (girl, age 4) is now going to be referred to as the Pillow-fight Fairy. Child number two (girl, age 2) is now going to be referred to as Adrenalin Junkie. Child number three (boy, age 6 months) is now going to be referred to as Rug Rat. Now that we have this out of the way, back to our original subject: the first week of school.

We had a good start on Monday (one of the busiest school days)and most of the planned for items got done before 10 am. I was very pleased. Tuesday was just the opposite and it was the lightest scheduled day of the week. I don't remember what got us off track. Nevertheless, a good week was had by all. Pillow-fight Fairy and Adrenalin Junkie got to fingerpaint and play with clay. Pillow-fight Fairy's new spelling lessons are currently in a review phase so those will be going fast for a while. She has taken to doing her memory verse for Sunday very well and has completed the first McGuffey Reader. I plan to have her copy out and memorize the poems that were in it. She loves poetry. We also made it to our first Library story-time and checked out some books for the week. A weekly library trip was part of my life growing up when I was in elementary school (and before since I had older brothers) so I would like to do that for my kids as well. Rug Rat had some break throughs this week too. One more tooth and the ability to sit up for extended periods of time count as break throughs for a 6 month old (the tooth especially). He is also doing well with cereal. He's been cleared on rice and oat cereal. Tomorrow we start training on barley. It's an exhausting regimen and he takes two or three naps a day to keep up his energy reserves.

Other items of note: We planted three young shade trees and 36 strawberry plants this week. I told my husband today that our very large backyard is starting to look not quite as empty. This brings our tree-planting total up to 17 since we moved in nearly 4 years ago. It really did need that many trees. We have two more trees planned, but it was the wrong season to get those at our local nursery.

Also, I've nearly got the finances back in order after, well ... the first of the year. As a result, I've decided that the record keeping will need to be computerized in the future. I've done my record keeping and budget planning mostly on paper for the last decade and have now decided that it is too slow, when time is a rare commodity. And since I'm the one in the marriage handling three kids during the day, most meals, homeschooling, and finances, I need a better way to keep up with it so that I don't get so backed up. By the way, if you think that list makes my husband look like a lazy, its not true. He works long days, does most of the yard work, extra projects (like building patio and pathways himself), practicing harp so that he can play for two weddings this summer, and assisting in the clean up of muddy children after an evening of fun in the backyard. That doesn't even count what his responsibilities are at church (song leader and sometimes teacher).

I was also reminded this week why I want to keep the extra activities down fairly low. The above list is a good wake up call. Have you ever sat down and made a list of everything you do. Try it sometime and you will probably surprise yourself and decide that you need a vacation.

That's all for now

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A new year of schooling

Now that we have a school age child the year now seems to have two "new years". There is the first of the year holiday and then there is the new school year. I am a little ambivalent about an official starting and stopping point. Part of me thinks that we've been teaching and learning all along and since we do schooling all year round, what's the point of an official break from one year to the next. But, on the other hand society around us is divided into a fall start school year. When our new "Kindergartener" interacts with other kids her age, parents (and to some extent the kids) want to know what grade she is in or if she is starting Kindergarten this year. I would really prefer to just teach her what she is ready for without concern for what her age group is doing. She was doing some Kindergarten work at this time last year, so is she really in her second year of Kindergarten or is she partially in first grade? We will probably finish her math curriculum early this year. Do I start up grade one math at the end of it or try to stretch it out so that it will better line up with the school year?

I think what we will actually do is take it at the speed that she is comfortable at, keeping in mind that I will be starting up additional subjects with her soon, so that her school day will jump from 30 minutes of structured time to more like 2 hours. I think that I will only care what is grade level up to the point that she masters the subject. Then we will move on. In her church class, she has started the new Kindergarten class with the other Kindergarteners. If she shows in the future that she is emotionally mature enough to move up to where she is academically, then we can worry about jumping a grade. Right now, I think it is more important for her to learn to interact with kids her own age.

All of this is on my mind since we are going to be starting the new school year in our home next Monday. I've got plans. In fact I'm going to try making the lesson plans ahead of time, this year instead of simply record what we did after the fact (like I did last year). I've mentioned that she is doing a Kindergarten level math curriculum. We will also be starting a spelling curriculum that will be reinforcing the phonics lessons she had this last year. She loves to read so we will be doing a mixture of her reading and Mom reading. The stories are springboards for her imagination and she uses bits and pieces to tell stories of her own as well as to use as ideas for her artwork. She will have a weekly chore chart to complete. And, we will try to do art and music every day even though most guidelines I've seen list it as a weekly item. Both of these subjects are important to our family (to the kids too, not just the parents). We will be starting to make a weekly trip to the library for storytime. In September, we will be doing our weekly "MOPS" day (that's Mothers of Preschoolers if you didn't know) where Mommy gets to talk to adults for a change and the kids get supervised age appropriate play time. I have added one extra responsibility on top of it all, by agreeing to be our local chapter's financial secretary.

I'm feeling the pressure already to get my own house in order so to speak, so that I can do this year's homeschooling in addition to an extra outside the home responsibility. And although I only speak of our oldest child as being homeschooled, I will be teaching the others too. Our second child is going to soon be "preschool age" which to me is the age at which most people begin to ask if she is in preschool. She has recently become interested in books and the alphabet. She likes to be read to, and she likes to look at the books herself sometimes. She also wants to draw as much as her sister (though it is currently a mixture of spirals and scribbles). Our youngest, the baby, is about to become mobile. He is currently learning about rice cereal and that Mommy has been using special hand motions when she says certain words. I'm starting to read to him as well. All three kids like it when we go for walks or other outings, so we do that as often as possible. Nothing seems to calm a cranky baby more than to be carried around outside.

There, after writing it all out, it seems like an awful lot to accomplish. I just hope the winter sick season is kind to us this year, but with a child around other kids who attend public school, somehow I suspect it will be more difficult. Oh well, I'll stop borrowing trouble from tomorrow now. If you could spare a few prayers our way, it would be appreciated.