Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thanks, 2014!

In the past I have made New Year's resolutions but I always, always, always fall flat on my face.  I felt this weird pressure that I've GOTTA get it right in January or the New Year thing is a waste. 

So this year my New Year's resolution is to not have a New Year's resolution. 

Hey, it worked!!!  Or did it....

Instead, I pick one giant thing in our lives and focus on making that better. I go by the "school" year from September to August, not the calendar year.  Last year it was to have more of an accountability "system" to better track what the kids work on for schoolwork.  That went VERY well last year and I am slowly building even more into it as they take on more and more ownership of their learning and their ability to work independently on many subjects.  Even my headstrong Ava at age 7 takes on more responsibility for her schooling.

This "school" year resolution has been to take better care of our home and not need to depend so much on outside help to keep it clean.  That has been going well too, largely because I got back in gear with FlyLady's wonderful routines and zones.  Still room for lots of improvement but we're building on it. 

2014 brought on a lot of milestones—15 years of marriage, my 40th birthday, my parents’ 70th birthdays AND their 50th wedding anniversary.  Let’s see 2015 top that! 

I wish you all the best of luck in the coming New Year and many more!  


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walking on Thin Icing

Our first attempt at a gingerbread house was...interesting.  Fun, yes, are a few thoughts for people/organizations/deities that may or may not be informed about the process.

Dear Wilton: Your claims that the Ultimate Gingerbread House Kit has everything you need to create a gingerbread masterpiece is a joke. You clearly didn't factor in two small children *helpers* when packing the candies and portioning out the Royal Icing. Have you never heard the word "sampling?!?" I should sue.

Dear Just Born, Inc.: Thank you for the creation of Mike & Ike candies. You saved the day. No, seriously.

Dear God: Thank You for giving me the foresight to buy the Mike & Ike's for our gingerbread house decoration process. And thank You also for giving me the necessary strength, patience, and utter stupidity sense of humor to take on this endeavor. And for letting my first attempt at Royal Icing not be a flop.

Dear American Board of Pediatric Dentistry:  Just look the other way. Nothing to see here.

Dear Kitchen Floor:  ...I'm sorry.

What we were going for.
(Yeah.  Right.)

What we got.
(No awards will be given for culinary carpentry, but we think it's still pretty awesome.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

New School

I have mentioned switching to a new curriculum for a while. Now that we have delved into it and gotten our hands dirty, I can’t wait to talk about it (here, and pretty much to anyone who will listen.)

Our Five in a Row experience wasn’t working for us. I am sad about this, because it really is a terrific program, and while I will probably sell off the teacher’s guides in a few years, I will definitely be keeping the copies of the books from the reading list for a long time. They are terrific books with wonderful characters, themes, and illustrations. And we are using some of the books and even some of the lessons for now when they tie into our lives and studies. For the amount of work I was putting into the unit studies, Liesl didn’t really care that much--she got fussy and didn't want to listen. Neither of my daughters minded reading the same book five days in a row, and they did get some benefit from the repetition, but that was pretty much where it ended. So I stopped using FIAR and started looking around for a better fit for our family.  And looking.  And looking.  And looking and looking and looking.

And then I (finally) found the Robinson Curriculum. One thing that caught my interest about RC was the whole “self-teaching” concept, which you can read about on their website. I thought this was perfect. On an average day, Liesl spends anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and a half with me in violin practice. It is an understatement to say she is DONE with hands-on interaction with me after violin--and hands-on interaction is exactly what FIAR is about at her age. But she enjoys learning on her own steam. She showed an interest a few years ago in the 50 United States, so I bought and borrowed books in several different reading levels about the 50 States and handed them to her.  On her own free time, she picked up more information that I could have ever dreamed or hoped for her to do.  (It's embarrassing when your child, at the age of 4, knows all the state capitals and you do not.)  Since she loves books and currently reads somewhere around the 5th grade level,* the idea of learning from reading lots and lots of classic books sounded very appealing.

The other thing I liked about this curriculum was the “old-school” approach. Reading, writing, and math. That’s it. For centuries children learned history and science by reading “real” books about history and science. They learned and practiced penmanship by doing copywork—which also produced memorization.

And yet, RC still seemed a little “out there” for me. As much faith as I have in the way our forefathers (and foremothers) educated their children, I wanted more input on science and history than RC mentioned. There were to be no updates, since Mr. Robinson said he was finished educating his children and would move on to other things. So I delved a bit deeper, and quickly came across Accelerated Achievement, or A2 as it is called by the creator. It is pretty much the same as RC, but more organized, condensed (as in, 1 CD-ROM of material versus 22 CD-ROM’s, but with the same public-domain books and more), and also more support and promises of free upgrades should they become available. There is much more focus on integrating science and history into the lesson plans for all ages and grades.

I shelled out the meager $5 for the demo CD, and then I pretty much decided while the demo was en route to get the whole curriculum anyway (for a mere $99.) I have to admit: Cost is NOT a factor when we school--we will make anything work in our budget if it is the right thing for our kids--but the price certainly was a nice bonus.

Both RC and A2 tout themselves as Classical Education, but I’m finding that they also cross over into the Charlotte Mason Method and even a wee bit of Unschooling in there, if you want.  There is an amazing amount of flexibility in the program without creating too much work for the teacher/mom.  And without getting too detailed (I’ll be doing that in later posts), so far A2 is working terrifically for us.  I won’t lie and say it’s going perfectly (if it was, I would check my children for a pulse and/or pinch myself to wake up from the wishful dream), but the days are really going fairly smoothly when we concentrate on the 3 R’s. **  A2 is very neatly organized by grade level, but that is purely for convenience to give a starting point of where to begin--whole chunks and lessons can be skipped over without being detrimental to the learning (no “spiral” curriculum here!)  And I’m finding that Liesl, even at the tender age of 5, does a very large portion of the work by herself.  This is perfect--she sits and studies while Mom checks Facebook a thousand times gets on with her daily desk chores such as the family finances, correspondence, meal planning, and lesson plans for the following week.  I’m actually far more productive in my other daily and weekly tasks now that my daughter sits and studies on her own for a great deal of her schooling time.

So there you have it: We have switched, not only curricula but method and philosophy. The last few months have reinforced the fact that we made the right decision. We will be posting more detailed accounts of our adventures with A2. Stay tuned!
* One of my mommy brags. I admit it. I’m overly prideful of Liesl’s reading ability and enthusiasm. And I KNOW that pride is going to come back and bite me in the butt someday. But I’m so thrilled not to have to teach her the basics. One less thing to fight with her think about. Liesl taught herself to read and by the age of 3-1/2 was reading simple chapter books to herself, among other things. Ava is showing signs of picking up on reading too.

** See, I just HAD to say something, didn’t I? When I started writing this post as part of my desk chores, our school day decided to turn to yuck in the form of lousy attitudes and behavior. We have our bad days, no different than anybody else’s school, I’m sure--home, public or private. Fortunately the good days far outnumber the bad. But why did they fire up with the crummy attitude just when I was glowing with praise of how smoothly our schooling was running?!?!? Pfft. (This would be an example of the “keeping it real” mentality that I am always alluding to.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Art is a Process (for me)

The girls and I have been doing a lot, and I mean a LOT, of arts and crafts these last few months.  Partially because our outdoor time is severely limited due to the severe cold and the intolerance that some people (cough*me*cough) have for spending 20 minutes bundling the kids up in their winter outdoor gear, only to hear 5 minutes later, "Can we go in?  I'm cold."  But mostly because it's fun.  It's fun, and I get to sit down and enjoy myself too.  (Half the fun of having kids is playing with their toys and enjoying simple activities right alongside them.)

Making Valentines for friends and family
(Notice how neat and tidy the table and supplies are.  This is the very beginning of the me.  It did NOT look anything like this halfway through!  My floor will never be the same.  And I don't care.)
The benefits of arts and crafts are numerous.  I borrowed these 10 Compelling Reasons to do Arts and Crafts with Your Kids from the Helping Kids with Arts website:

1. Creativity
2. Perseverance
3. Concentration
4. Delayed Gratification
5. Social Interaction
6. Task Completion
7. Planning
8. Expression Of Emotions
9. Openness
10. Self Image
Liesl's projects from a "learning to draw" book that I picked up at a garage sale somewhere.  They LOVE these.
Little do my kids understand any of this.  To them, it’s just FUN.  It’s fun when Mommy throws a bunch of stuff on the table and says, “have at it.”  It’s fun when we have an actual project in mind, and they do it halfway but take off on their own--often different from each other--tangents.  As I keep telling them…some projects are like recipes.  They’re just a guideline.  (My OCD-prone 5 year-old still struggles with that concept:  "You're using ALMONDS?!?!?!?  The recipe says 'HAZELNUTS.'")

"Mommy, will you paint watercolors with us?"
How could I refuse?  I did these paintings of their names and they acted like I had bestowed upon them the greatest gift one could ever give them.  And here's the best part:  I, myself, had a blast while doing it.
And the funny part...I had to sit down and DO several projects with them before they started “getting it” that it takes time and perseverance to actually complete the project. It took a couple of months for me to realize this (“Hey Mom, you gotta persevere right in front of ‘em if you want ‘em to learn it themselves.”) I know some parents view arts and crafts as a way to keep kids busy so they can accomplish something. That used to be my goal...but they kept asking me, “Mommy, will you paint with us? Mommy, will you color with us? Mommy, will you do Valentine’s crafts with us?” How can I refuse? The dishes can wait.  (Besides, to use art as a way to keep kids busy so you can get things done is totally redundant.  Have you SEEN the mess that glitter can make?)
Bring on the crayon shavings and pipe cleaners.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fabulous Fun (Freakin' Cold) Field Trip Friday

We reserve Fridays for "not-in-our-curriculum-plan" activities...and one of them is field trips.  We had plans to visit the Plymouth Ice Festival with some friends from our beloved Mom's club.  And then the day dawned--frozen.  Temps of 10º when we started out, with a promised high of 15º later in the day.  Seeing that our children were all 5 and under--in fact, all but my children were 2 and under--a few of our friends questioned the intelligence of moving forward with our plans.  My response?  "Pfft!  Don't be wimps!  15º during a Michigan January is balmy!  We'll bundle the kids up and they'll be fine!  They won't even notice!" 

Upon arriving to the festival, and spending a solid 10 minutes applying snow gear to my children in the back of our van, it did not take long for Mother Nature to cheerfully ram those bold words right back down my throat.  We admired some lovely ice sculptures for approximately 4 minutes before the kids all started losing it, despite multiple tiers of protective clothing.  I fully admit to being the first in our small but brave group to say, "Ok, I've had enough...who's ready for lunch?!?"  And off we went to a nearby burger joint. 

We spent a mere 4.82 minutes marveling at the ice sculptures, about 23.92 minutes bundling and then de-bundling our children, and then about an hour and a half in the (nice and warm) restaurant.  It was delightful to relax, enjoy each other's company, and have a (nice and hot) meal while the kids played and enjoyed being out of the house. 

Now for our next mission, I suggest a visit to (nice and non-frigid) Florida.  Who's with me?!?

Wedding Cake ice sculpture

Unicorn ice sculpture

All of our would-be human Popsicle offspring
in front of the dinosaur ice sculpture

We saw one team of people working on their sculpture as we were passing by (quickly) to the warming tent

Pennies frozen in the ice sculpture by the bank.  Funny, guys.

Liesl and Ava with their buddy S1. **
(Can you hear them saying, "THANK YOU MOMMY, for letting us come inside!!!!")

S2 and O1--the babies in the group. 

O1 and his parents (and a sibling on the way!)
(*Names altered to protect the children of the pure and naive)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Semi-Wordless Wednesday

How can you resist this face?!?

Liesl's grocery shopping list

Monday, January 3, 2011

And...we're back. Um...I think.

Hello blogland.  I have missed you.  Due to the wondrous waste of time communication device of Facebook, I sort of ignored my blog for a year.  But there are some people who refuse to get on Facebook (because they live under a rock or something), and I miss writing longer passages about the fun, craziness, and chaos that is my life.  (That 420-word limit on Facebook is a real creativity killer.) 

So in a nutshell, here is the last year of our lives:

Liesl is still playing violin.  Ava is still playing violin.  (I, surprisingly, still have all of my hair, to say nothing of my sanity.)  We are still homeschooling.  Our first curriculum of choice, Five in a Row, did not work--partially because my kids are sick of listening to me pontificate, and partially because I am sick of pontificating to my kids. (*see disclaimer below!)  We are moving on to a completely different curriculum of a completely different genre; stay tuned for news of that.  Liesl has completed the Primer program of Math-U-See.  Ava is 3.  Ava is 3.  Ava is 3.  Why do I repeat?  Because Ava is 3 in every sense of the word.  I seriously did not know a child could scream this loud or tantrum this long.  Yet, when she does not feel the entire world is out to destroy every bit of her happiness as I disallow access to the Cookie Crisp, she is a delightful little child.

Liesl proudly displaying her "Alpha" books from the Math U See curriculum.
She completed "Primer" a day before her 5th birthday.
Tom works full-time for Chrysler.  He traveled last year.  A LOT.  (If you think that means a temporary taste of single parenting for me, you're right.  But I digress:  this paragraph is about him.)  After 10 months on the job as a contract employee, he was hired directly into the company, which means we stopped paying for our benefits and he got paid vacation time.  This is wonderful, because paying $1,000 a month for health insurance, along with our children's extracurricular activities and music lessons, was putting a huge strain on our budget.  His gardening, grilling, and smoking (er, as in smoking food,, you know, smoking stuff) knows no equal. 
Ava practicing her G major scale

We have a gerbil, Midnight, whom we adopted from a family member.  Between his external tank heater and my friends who provide me with an endless supply of toilet paper tubes to feed his chewing habit, he is the most spoiled rodent alive.  We also have a betta fish, Sushi (ok, the name was my idea), whom I purchased as a congratulatory gift for myself back in March for landing my new job.  Between his 5-gallon filtered, heated tank, and his LED nighttime lunar lighting, he is the most spoiled fish alive.  It is nice to have living things (besides the obvious implication of children) in the house again.

I have a wonderful part-time job as a video relay interpreter, and I love it.  I work a few times a week at most.  I am known to run, skip, and sashay out the door for every shift...then come home in a much better mood to deal with my kids, having spent time with other educated, rational adult-type people who don't wipe their boogers on my pants.  We cook and bake a lot.  I knit like CRAZY.  Not perfectly, and nothing too complicated, but having taught myself over about a year and a half, I'm pretty impressed with some of the projects I have turned out--hats, simple sweaters, teddy bear clothes, purses and ponchos for my girls. 
So there you have it.  Here we are.  Enjoy.  Run for cover.  Tell me how you've been the last year or so!

* Disclaimer!  For what it's worth, I still think Five in a Row is an amazing program, and am sorry that it is not a good match for our family.  After spending about 3+ hours a day organizing, overseeing, and participating in violin practice with two spirited, tenacious children under the age of 5, they are really done with listening to me.  And frankly, I am really done with them...and Five in a Row requires much more hands-on teaching than we are all able for.  A more patient mother might be able to handle that load--not me.  (Just keepin' it real.)  We are 99% decided on a classical education curriculum that I will post about once we have sunk our teeth into it.  :-)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Month...Another Violin Recital

The girls' monthly violin recital was Valentine's Day this year. Instead of working on a new piece, Liesl played all of the Suzuki pieces she's played since beginning this adventure: "Twinkle, Twinkle" Theme and Variations A, B, C, and D; "Lightly Row;" and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." A total of 7 songs...this made the practicing and preparation for this recital a bit harried, even though these were all pieces she's played before. To stand up and play for a solid 10 minutes at the tender new age of 4...Liesl did great. She shared the "Twinkle" stage with two other students, so this was her chamber music debut. :-)

And our violin teacher had a practice contest--over a specified 14-day period, each child was to practice as much as possible and send in the average minutes of practice for the best 10 days of this period. I am so proud that Liesl won this contest for the little kids, with a daily average of 41 minutes per day. (Ava had a daily practice average of 18 minutes, which isn't bad at all for a 2 year-old.) The fact that this practice contest coincided with Tom's 2-week business trip/my 2-week temporary experience with single motherhood...all the more amazing. Her prize was a book and CD set about the orchestra, which was a huge hit for Liesl, as her reading skills are so far advanced for her age and books are one of her closest friends.

And last but certainly not least, this was Ava's 2nd time on stage. She participated in last January's recital (which I never posted about...) with an impromptu trip to the stage with Miss Sharon to name the parts of the violin, showing here:
For the February recital, Ava joined a group of beginning students on the stage to again demonstrate parts of the violin and bow.

These monthly recitals are so good for our kids--socially, musically, psychologically. They provide a safe and caring environment to practice performing, and motivate the kids to practice harder (and smarter) in order to prepare a new piece for the following month. And last but certainly not least...the cookies and socializing afterwards are special times to relax, chat, and run around with friends, new and old.

Ava participating with Owen, Alex, Addie, and Spenser in the beginner's class

Owen, Alex, and Liesl playing "Twinkle" Theme and Variations

After their performances, Liesl and Alex sat right up front to watch the older, advanced students. I am loving that Liesl has such a good friend in the violin studio...she and Alex and two peas in a pod.

Miss Sharon and Liesl with her prize for winning the practice contest

My serious little mini-musicians!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Happy New Year (2009-2010)

Still catching up, but we had so much fun (and so much good food!) for our New Year's celebrations that I had to post our pictures, even though they're very late.

THIS is the way French toast was meant to be made, in our opinion. Homemade challah bread, made from the same refrigerated challah dough that I used for our Christmas morning pecan walnut sticky buns. This pre-risen, stored wet dough method is one I've been learning over the last year through the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (we have and use both books, and love them!) Having done traditional bread baking for many years--by hand, Kitchen Aid mixer, and bread machine--this method is by far the best thing that's happened to us in the carbohydrate category. I no longer seem to have the time to babysit traditional yeast bread in it's many picky stages, so this book has kept our family from having to eat Kroger's 10 for $10 loaves (most of the time.)
And THIS is the way French toast is meant to be enjoyed, in our opinion: On a relaxed, unrushed New Year's Eve morning with coffee and lattes, seed catalogs, coloring, and family.

Everybody here loves to swing, regardless of the weather.
See if you can find a couple of additional bodies.

See 'em now?

One of Tom's and my New Year's Eve traditions...a baked brie en croute with Granny Smith apples and Townhouse crackers.
Naughty. Fattening. Decadent, and well worth the effort and extra zillion calories once a year.

Another New Year's Eve tradition: Champagne in our crystal wedding flutes, which were a surprise gift from my Mom for our wedding toasts.

Too much champagne for Daddy snowman.
(The baby snowman in the swing lasted until late January, it was hilarious. The girls missed him when he finally melted.)

Homemade rye bread, again, made from dough that I used from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook. Since we use rye flour so slowly in our house, I buy rye berries from my co-op and mill them every few months, keeping the fresh flour in the freezer. Eat your heart out, delicatessens.

Enjoying a hot chocolate treat after being out in the cold.

(Liesl's shirt had a taste, too.)

Daddy frying up the standard New Year's Day reubens.
Lord, but it does make a mess of our stove.

Tom's reuben. He's German, so he's gotta have sauerkraut on New Year's Day. (Thankfully he prefers to skip the pickled herring tradition. Yuck!)
I prefer Georgia-style reubens--turkey and coleslaw instead of corned beef and sauerkraut.

Last New Year's tradition in our household: Warm homemade chocolate pudding.
No wonder everybody (including us!) needs to go on a diet after January 1st.
Happy (belated )New Year, everyone!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Merry Christmas (2009)

Ok, so I'm a little late.

Opening presents at Grammie and Papa's house December 23: TRAINS! :-)

Classic Ava and Alex.

Christmas morning. Jammies. Cuddling. Perfect.

Opening gifts from stockings (there were only 2 apiece)

Classic Christmas-morning-in-front-of-the-tree shot

One of my gifts to Tom.
How else are you supposed to wrap a 15-inch cast-iron skillet?!?!?

One of the gifts from us to the girls...purses that I knitted. My first knitting projects.
I enjoyed the process so much that there are matching tiny ones for their teddy bears.

Homemade carmel-pecan sticky buns. From scratch. 'Cept we were out of pecans. Whoops.
Ahem: Homemade carmel-WALNUT sticky buns. (They were still great.)

The girls' joint gift: An easel. And paints. Ho boy.

Frosting birthday cupcakes for Jesus.

Wilton's "class icing" for decorating students is very easy for the kids to manipulate. They did a great job.

After our quiet family Christmas dinner, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.
We left Him a cupcake in the center of the table.
(He didn't eat it.)

Visiting Oma and Opa in Cincinnati. We took ALL the wooden trains with us, and made a continuous track all through the family room. I daresay Daddy, Mommy, and Opa had even more fun with it than the girls.

Naturally we take all of our violins everywhere, so Uncle Robert and Daddy played together.

Ava thought it was C*O*O*L that Uncle Robert plays violin too.

Back home after a long drive. Finally time to wind down. We love home!
Happy (belated) Birthday, dear Jesus!