Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lies I Apparently Believe

Todd Wilson has written a book called Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe. I bought it at the homeschool convention last spring and I'm glad I did. It's a short read (which is essential for a homeschooling mom) but it's full of encouragement.

So, what are the lies homeschooling moms believe? They are things like "everyone else's kids are better students than mine" and "I'm not doing a good job" and "everyone else's house is more calm and organized than mine" and "I am the only one who struggles."

And yes, I have definitely fallen prey to lies like these. Pretty frequently, in fact.

Todd does a really good job debunking these lies and making you feel encouraged and uplifted. He also suggests that you find a friend who you can be "real" with so that when you have a rough day you have someone to call and talk to about it without feeling like you have to put on your "Happy Perfect Homeschooling Mom" face. Here's what he says:

"The situation is... ...tense. Your homeschooling friend is staring down 180 days of daily exhaustion, surrounded by pint-sized humans who need to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes, ask for a snack three times an hour, can't remember what they learned the day before, and then throw up in the middle of the floor.

Lies start to cloud the homeschooling mom's thinking, urging her to turn back, throw in the towel, and run for the closet and bawl.

The father of lies thinks he has won... but there's one thing he didn't count on. Standing on the sidelines is a friend who through a note, a phone call, or over egg salad sandwiches reminds her desperate homeschooling friend, "YOU CAN DO IT!!!! Don't believe the lies... YOU CAN DO IT!!!!"

I totally agree with Todd that you NEED friends like this. Homeschooling is not an easy task. I have had days where I bawled in the closet. And I have had days where instead of bawling in the closet I shut myself in my bedroom, picked up my phone, and called my friend Mrs. Beaver in Montana. She has kids my kids' ages, but she has FIVE boys and FOUR girls and she goes through double whatever I do. Or triple. Anyway, she always makes me feel better. Whatever awful thing my kids are doing, her kids are doing it too. But she always has a good attitude about it and I always hang up feeling like I can go on. Much better than crying in the closet, which just gets my church shoes wet.

The last section of the book contains "lie-busting truths." These were all encouraging, but one of them was something I really needed to hear: "Your children will become exactly what God created them to be." Everything he said rang so true to me after all my years of struggling to figure out why my kids didn't learn the way I thought they would learn and what I could do to make them learn what I thought they needed to know. Also, at the time I first read this book I had just been to the homeschooling convention and I was all pumped up with all these wonderful ideas of things I wanted to do with my kids. I was thinking "Okay, we are now going to excel at math and science and reading and writing and art because of all these awesome curricula I'm going to buy. And then we need to start Spanish, and maybe French too. And we're going to be in the homeschool choir and the homeschool band and the homeschool orchestra. And I need to call that Suzuki piano teacher. How about those fencing lessons? And of course we're going to continue with gymnastics and soccer and football. And how in the world are we going to fit all this stuff into our schedule????" I was totally falling into the trap of wanting all of my kids to do everything and it was going to make me insane. Todd's book reminded me not only that I need to focus on each child's God-given talents but that when it comes to school subjects we can't do it all and that's okay. That was a very liberating thought for me.

"Give your children time and opportunities to explore and read. The worst thing you can do is stick to a traditional schedule at the expense of exploration.

That should take a huge weight off your shoulders. Relax and enjoy the day before you. Yes, teach them the three R's but don't sweat it if they seem behind or be arrogant if they're ahead. Give them plenty of room to do what they do best and strengthen their weaknesses, but don't be frustrated if they never get _________.

You are not responsible to make your child something they are not. You are only responsible to give them the tools to do what they were created to do...."

I can't tell you how much I needed to hear those words! Since then I have done a lot of pondering about how to develop each of my children's strengths and what they do and do not need to spend their time on. It lifts such a weight off my shoulders to remember that they don't need to excel in every subject and sport in order for me to be a successful homeschooler.

I'm really glad I bought this book and I think I need to read it about every three months or so for the rest of my homeschooling career.

The Cat Came Back

The hot days go on and on and Oklahoma gets crispier and crispier, but we are all well here at Toad Hall, with the exception of one rooster that the neighbor's dog got. We're putting up more barbed wire.

I wish our cat Flinch could talk though. I would like to ask him what he was up to last week. He disappeared a couple weeks ago and no one saw him for days and days. Finally I decided he must have met a bad end somewhere off in the wild woods that border our neighborhood. Bean was pretty sure he was gone too, and we had just begun speaking of him in past tense and memorializing him.

But the Badger hadn't given up, and he began praying that if Flinch was alive, wherever he was, he would find his way home.

A couple of evenings ago, as the boys were jumping on the trampoline at dusk, Flinch suddenly materialized. Bean was pretty thrilled, and brought him all snuggled up in his arms to show me. I was very happy. Flinch is a great cat. Even if he does sometimes eat baby birds and newts from the creek.

He's as tame as ever, so this wasn't a wildness issue. And he's gone right back into his old habits of hanging around with the other two cats and waiting for us on the porch when we come home from somewhere. It's good to have him back.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pix Fixed

I think I have the pictures fixed on the birthday party post. The Blogger/Picasa connection sometimes does weird things and sometimes I can see the pictures but y'all can't. But they should be there now.

Double-Duty Cake

I told the boys that they were going to have to share a cake for the family birthday party this year. In years past we have ended up with Cake Overload having two birthdays right next to each other, especially when we've also had a friend birthday party.

They didn't put up a fuss about sharing and in fact they easily agreed on what kind of cake they wanted (it's so wonderful with kids when there isn't a battle!) What they wanted was a re-creation of the curl-your-toes-amazing chocolate cake I made last year for Fish. I was only too happy to make it again. I've been dreaming of that cake for the last twelve months.

I just wrote a plain "Happy Birthday!" on top and we were good to go. First we put in 8 candles and set the cake in front of Fish. Lit the candles, sang, blew 'em out, all that.


Then we added two more candles and re-did the whole show. This time we let Bean light them himself.





It was definitely a cake that could hold its own against two birthday boys. And it was every bit as good as I remembered it.

I posted the cake recipe last year and I had a request for the frosting recipes too, but I just didn't have time to get them typed up. So I will do that this year. These are the perfect frostings for this absolutely perfect chocolate cake.

Chocolate Satin Frosting, from The Joy of Cooking

Break in pieces 6 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (I used chocolate chips this time and then reduced the sugar and it worked fine)
Bring to a boil in a small saucepan: 1 C heavy cream
Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces without stirring. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes, then scrape it into the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 1/2 C sugar (I added just under 1 C) , 6 Tbsp butter broken in pieces, and 1 tsp vanilla. Process until perfectly smooth. Thickens up substantially as it sits. And it's amazing. Of course. Butter, sugar, cream, and chocolate. How could it not be amazing? I use this for the filling and for decorating. For the actual frosting, I use chocolate whipped cream.

For the chocolate whipped cream, you simply stir about 6 Tbsp cocoa powder and 2/3 C powdered sugar into 2 cups heavy whipping cream and whip as normal. Oh, and it says to add 1/4 tsp salt.

This cake is seriously as good as any cake I've ever eaten in a bakery. And I've eaten in some pretty fancy bakeries and I'm not kidding. To me, it is just utter chocolate perfection.

And I'm going back on my diet tomorrow. Actually, the day after tomorrow. Um, yeah.
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And For Bean...

...there was also a bow and arrow,


as well as a pan of the Badger's killer awesome lasagne.



(This back-to-back birthday thing is fun but it wears me out!!!)
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In Classic Fish Style...

...We celebrated his eighth birthday a few days ago. We had a birthday lunch with barbeque beef sandwiches and fruit salad. You can see he appreciated it.



Check out the Rabbit's face in this picture. It's worth enlarging.



We gave the boys real bows and arrows for their birthday. They were pretty happy. (And they've been good about following the safety rules.)





Oh, Fish, you are one-of-a-kind and I absolutely adore your quirky sense of humor. Thanks for coming to my family.
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One Decade

Ten years ago right about now, the Badger and I drove home from the hospital with a very small person in the backseat of our car. We unlocked the door of our quiet little apartment, brought him inside, and set him on the couch.





Then we looked at each other and said "Now what?"


Now what, indeed!!!!!









Can't wait to see what the next ten years bring!

Feasting on the Word





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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

HOT!

The other day I read a joke: "It's so hot in Texas that the hens are laying hard-boiled eggs." I laughed, and then this morning I was cracking eggs for scrambled eggs and I found two that were literally half-cooked. I'm not kidding. My kids need to do a better job at collecting the eggs more often!

I also read about how roads are buckling across Oklahoma from the heat. Now I finally understand why the roads here are SO BAD. When I moved here I could not believe how bumpy and pitted the roads are, even sections of the interstate. Then last February when we had that week where we went from -7 to 75 I saw lots of new potholes appear and I said "Aha!" Now with this heat I see where the rest of it is coming from. Pity the Oklahoma road crews.

It's bad here. The grass is fried and I try not to go outside between 9 am and 9 pm. I'm so grateful for my AC!!!!! (Be glad you don't have to pay my electric bill this month!)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ridin'

You've got to start somewhere, right, Peanut?


Enlarge this next one and look at her face-- I LOVE THIS BABY!!!!!



Everyone else in the vicinity wanted in on the cute photos. I LOVE THESE KIDS!!!


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Ropin'

I said I'd blog about the gathering activity at the birthday party, so here it is.

Two years ago when we lived in Kansas we went to a cowboy festival in our community. There were many fun things to do there, but there was only one thing my boys wanted to do and they wanted to do it ALL DAY LONG. They had straw bales set up with plastic calf heads sticking out of them and then they had plastic lariats for kids to learn how to rope. I didn't let them stay all day, but they did stand there and throw their ropes at those plastic heads over and over and over and over for at least an hour. It was mystifying to me how they could be so enchanted with something so simple, but there they were.

Shortly after we moved here the Badger was cleaning out a bunch of junk that the previous owners had left piled behind the shed. He found a plastic calf's head and mistook it for a piece of trash. Luckily, I rescued it. I knew its potential for providing my boys with hours and hours of entertainment.

The birthday party gave me the motivation I needed to finally get all this set up. We have straw in the stable, so it was just a matter of dragging a bale out to the front yard. Then I just needed ropes, which Amazon provided. (Amazon is a rural shopper's best friend!) And now we have our own ropin' setup in our very own yard.




Between this and the fact that one of our chicks is now a rooster that crows regularly (yes, really, truly a rooster!) I feel like we're bona fide country folk now!
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Dozin'


I feel sorry for our cats out there all the time in this heat. One of their favorite cool places is behind the barbeque-- perfect for a nap.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pizza, Cake, and Presents



I needn't have worried about the time. Even though I scheduled three hours for the party we were still not done with cake and presents when the parents arrived.






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Cake Excavation

This was a gamble and I didn't know if it would work out, but it did, and it was the best part of the birthday party, in my opinion. Early this morning I took a cooler and put a chunk of dry ice in the bottom. Then I put in a box of ice cream sandwiches. I put the birthday cake on top of that. I wrapped the whole thing in an industrial strength garbage bag and buried it in the hole Fish has been digging in the pasture for the last year.

Then the boys were told they had to go dig something up, but they didn't know what it was. They were pretty surprised when they figured it out!








And the ice cream bars were still totally frozen.

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The Ultimate Quest

Okay, I am tired, but I've had a nap and now I can talk about the birthday party. It was totally triumphant! It couldn't have gone better. I don't know if it was just that the boys were older than the last time I tried this or that I knew better what to expect and how to manage them, but it was fabulous. It was Epic.

I knew I was going to be dealing with extreme heat, so we needed to use water to keep people cool. But I also didn't want to just have two or three things to do in case they all flopped and I was stuck with twelve boys saying "I'm bored" fifteen minutes into the party. The Badger and I brainstormed together and the plan evolved into "The Ultimate Quest." The boys would have seven tasks to complete their quest and the final task would be digging the cake and ice cream out of the ground. I figured that way if they were having fun with something and wanted to play it for a long time they could, but then if something wasn't grabbing their interest we could quickly move on to the next task.

Task One was a gathering activity which I will blog about seperately. It worked well to give them something to do as they were arriving (this is a classic Cub Scout crowd management tactic-- I'm so glad I've been trained as a Cub Scout leader!) Some of the boys really got into this activity and others weren't that crazy about it, but overall it went well. When everyone had arrived we moved on to....

Task Two. I set up my oscillating sprinkler along with a small table with a stack of paper on it. They had to build their best paper airplane and fly it through the wall of water. Of course, in the process they got themselves totally wet, but that was the plan. It was already getting really hot outside!

Task Three took us down to Firefly Hollow, the woodsy enclosure at the bottom of our pasture. Early this morning I went out and hid two dozen arrowheads down there, as well as about two dozen pieces of candy. I told them this was an old Native American battleground and they needed to find the arrowheads, but I didn't tell them about the candy. They were pretty excited when they started finding that too. They each got two arrowheads to keep as a party favor.

Then it was time for Task Four, the parachute. I loved parachutes when I was a kid and so when I saw this on clearance at Target a few years back I snapped it up. I used it at the boys' last birthday party too, but it didn't go so well then-- the kids had a hard time holding still. To really have fun with a parachute you have to work cooperatively and this group did GREAT at that.



We were really hot by that point, so it was a good thing that Task Five involved water. I called it "Slip 'n Slide Soccer" and the idea was to combine the Slip 'n Slide with shooting goals in the soccer goal. I was a little fuzzy as to how this was going to actually work and in fact at that point I had to go inside and feed Peanut so they had to develop this game on their own. I'm still not really sure what they did, but they were happily occupied the entire time Peanut had her midmorning meal and they were thoroughly soaked when I came back outside.


They'd noticed the Pinata by then, and when I came out they were very ready for it. Task Six was to show that they could use the Force, so they got to hit a Darth Vader Pinata with a light saber. This was one of the most popular activities at the party. And that's my intrepid friend Linda helping-- I'm so glad a couple of the moms stayed to help keep everything under control because I was always running around trying to find all the things I forgot to have set up beforehand.


In between each Task, I would pull out an envelope and say "Who wants to read the next task?" and instantly I'd have twelve boys jumping up and down and screaming "MEEEEE!!!!" Who'd have thought reading could be so exciting? Here one of our friends is reading the last Task, which is to go dig up the cake. And that gets its own post!!!!