Sunday, September 30, 2012

Matchy Matchy

I made the girls wear their matching dresses to church today.  I usually let them choose but they would never choose to match, so sometimes I have to take matters into my own hands. 



I tried to get a picture of the three of them as we were coming home.  The Peanut wasn't very cooperative.  She was more interested in the cat. 


I got this after the cat ran away. 
 
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Even I Can Be Taught!

I've mentioned before how hopeless I am with hair styling and how I don't do much with the girls' hair because I missed the Hair Skills Boat years ago.  Well, that is changing....



At our last Relief Society evening meeting, we had a service exchange.  Everyone wrote down something they could do for someone else and then we had a white elephant gift exchange with them.  One service offered was lessons on how to style little girls' hair and I ruthlessly stole that one from someone because I knew I needed it badly. 


(I took these pictures after church, so unfortunately we'd lost a butterfly by then...) 

These lessons were being offered by my friend Shannon.  It's worked out really well because she's been doing a sort of pre-school co-op with my Rabbit and her son two days a week, so we just do a hair lesson after pre-school. 



As I watch her demonstrate hair styles, I think things like "how did I ever miss something so obvious?" (like spraying the hair down with water before you start) and "wow, I would never have even thought to do that and look how cute!"

She makes it look so easy and while I'm finding it really isn't that hard, I'm still not as good as her yet (don't look too close at how straight my parts are...)  But it's been a lot of fun. 

Sometimes when you think you're a failure at something you just need someone to come along side you and say, "Look, you can do this!"  

The girls have enjoyed it.  Even Peanut comes and sits down and wants her hair done.  Shannon managed to install the above hairstyle on Peanut last time we were at her house.  I never thought Peanut would sit still that long, let alone have enough hair to pull off such a fancy style!  I wish I had taken a picture.  Next time, I will!

Just another example of how the Relief Society blesses our lives in all sorts of ways! 
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

God is Bigger...

Several years ago, when we were in the middle of yet another one of the many perplexing and challenging situations we have so often found ourselves in, my dad gave me some advice.  He said, "Think of the worst thing that could happen and decide what you would do if that happened.  Then you won't have to be so worried." 

I have followed that advice often.  Recently, I thought about it when we were having the septic tank problems.  The whole septic tank thing was kind of strange because I had just been praying very hard for some serious help from Heaven because I was so maxed out.  The next thing that happened was my septic system backed up.  The only thing I could figure was that God had a hand in it somehow and it was going to be okay. 

But during the time I didn't know what was wrong, I worried.  I thought of my dad's advice: what is the worst thing that could happen?  Well, that was a total system failure where we needed to replace the entire thing to the tune of $30,000.  So what was our plan if that happened?  My first thought was "well, we don't have $30,000 so we will take out a loan which we will not even be able to afford the payments on." 

A discouraging thought.  But then I said to myself, "No, I know God is in this somehow."  And the thought came to me that even though my resources are limited, His aren't.  I realized that He is bigger than $30,000. 

You know that Veggie Tales song?  "God is bigger than the boogey man.  He's bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV...  ...and He's watching out for you and me."  I haven't heard it for years but I remember it.  It was written for kids and I always thought it was a cute song for kids who were scared of the dark, but until this happened I never translated it into Adult.  But it hit me hard then that God IS bigger than my problems that I face or any problems that I may ever face.  He has the resources to deal with any of it, even if I don't. 

I have always tried to follow Him and do the things He has asked me to do.  And I have seen evidence again and again through my life that He has been with me and miraculously brought me through some really sticky spots.  So when it comes to the impossible road blocks in my life right now, I'm not worried.  I know I'm in good hands. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Eye of the Storm

Back when I had a small young family I used to go visit friends who had large busy families and when I walked into their house I would look around and sort of gulp.  It wasn't that I was appalled by the unswept floors, crayon on walls, and toys everywhere, it was that I knew that's what I was heading towards. 

At the time I took tremendous satisfaction in getting my house all tidied up and looking nice and then sitting down with a book or something to relax and enjoy it.  I am not a total neat-freak-- I don't mind a bit of dirt and I'm happy to let things go for awhile, but I also really like the way it feels when everything's put back to rights again. 

I knew that as my family grew, things would get more and more chaotic and the phrase "apple pie order" would become a distant dream.  Or at least I thought I understood that.  I knew how it would be, but I didn't know how it would feel.  I didn't know how much I would look back with longing on those days when I could clean the whole house top to bottom in 2 hours and then have time and energy left to go start a sewing project. 

But at this stage of the game, I am probably in the messiest time of my life, housekeeping-wise.  Sticky spills, fingerprints, clutter, and weedy flower beds are in front of my eyes everywhere I look.  And one of these days I'm going to figure out how to get over it.  I know that what I am doing is more important.  I know that I'm giving my time and energy to raising and educating all these amazing little people.  But even as I move courageously forward with that resolve I still hang on to this disappointment that even with all that I can't keep my house just a little bit cleaner.  After all, I do want them to understand and appreciate good housekeeping as part of their upbringing, right? 

Of course this is all worse with pregnancy, when I have very little energy for cleaning.  The whole house gets totally messy within minutes and even with all the kids pitching in to the best of their current ability, we never get the whole house clean at once.  I try to settle for one floor at a time: right now the downstairs is decent but the upstairs is completely trashed. 

But I'm pretty happy with that.  Some days are a lot worse.  Some days I can only get one little corner clean.  The other day I was working in the kitchen and I took just a few extra minutes to declutter and clean this one little corner.  And I realized that at the moment it was the only spot in the entire house that was clean.  I looked at this eye of the storm and felt so happy that I at least was able to accomplish that much, so I took a picture. 



I know I will look back on these days with fondness.  I know that the grime and chaos are the price I am paying for the absolute joy of having these darling little people in my life. I am grateful for them and the ability I have to educate them as I see fit.  I am also grateful we have a house to live in... and boy, are we living in it!
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Homeschool Today

Today I tried something a little different with homeschool instead of our usual starting with a Devotional and then getting everyone going on various things simultaneously.  At 9 am when we usually start I shooed Fish and Roo and Rabbit outside to play (which wasn't hard because I usually have to practically drag them in from the swing set to start school).  Then I sat down with Bean in the nice quiet house and worked one-on-one with him for an hour.  We did grammar and spelling and thinking skills and some music stuff.  It went really well and he was really responsive.  Then at about 10 I rounded up the other kids and got things going with them. 

I didn't consider doing this before because it seemed like there was just too much to cover with too many kids to be able to do something like that and still get everything done.  But I realized last week that Fish and Roo, who have been working so well these last few weeks, were reaching a saturation point with reading and spelling and math and I needed to slow the pace down a bit or they were going to hit the wall. 

I get so excited sometimes thinking "wow, they are learning this so quickly that at this rate they will be this far by the end of the year" and I forget that they learn in spurts and can't always sustain the same rate of progress. 

But I'm learning.  Slowly but surely.

So Fish and Roo have less to do each day right now and that gives me some time for just me and Bean.  And the diagnosis of the learning disability has made me stop freaking out that he is so far behind in certain areas.  Now I know why, and I know that it's going to take more time for him to learn things other kids his age know and I'm much more calm about that.  His worst area is spelling.  When my friend Andrea recommended the All About Spelling program to me she said to start ALL the kids at the beginning so they didn't miss anything-- the older ones would work up to their level really fast..  It made me uncomfortable to be working in a first grade spelling book with my FIFTH grader and there was this anxious sense of "we've got to get you caught up as fast as possible", but now I know that spelling is his biggest challenge and why, I am not going to rush him.  We will take our time going through that spelling book and make sure he really understands everything.

May I just say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE the All About Spelling program.  Roo just finished Level 1 and Fish is a ways into Level 2 and it's been great.  I like how you start out by learning your new concepts and spelling your words with the letter tiles on the board and then you move on to writing them.  That simple procedure has helped them so much.  It is especially helping Bean.  He much prefers to use the tiles and I see that they really help him make sense of the whole process.  They seem to provide the missing link that his brain is struggling with. 

We are still in the process of selecting a new math curriculum for Bean and I hope we can find something that is as good a fit for him as All About Spelling.  I have nothing against the Singapore books I have been using, but they are just not a good match for my boys.  I am looking at Teaching Textbooks.... I'll keep you posted. 

Finally, a word on music.  One of the things that has puzzled me over the last couple of years has been that while Bean has struggled so much with writing and math, he has had no trouble at all learning to read music.  I have used the old John W. Schaum piano books I had when I was a kid (and they were old then!) which are rather out-dated and probably somewhat inadequate, but I haven't had to adapt much.  He has progressed through them slowly but steadily, without difficulty or the same kinds of mental blocks we were seeing in his academic work.  Obviously music is something that his brain handles very well and I believe it can and will help him deal with this learning disability.  So a big part of the battle plan I have been developing for him has been that he needs plenty of music training.   And I will tell you more about that in a later post because I am tired and I need to go to bed. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Educating Bean

A few weeks ago I really hit the wall with Bean in homeschool.  He has always been a challenge to teach, but I was having such a hard time with him that it was making things unpleasant for Fish and Roo as well.  I would give him assignments and he would balk and debate why he had to do it and generally just waste my time and patience.  If he did start to do an assignment he would often struggle, even though I had thought I was giving him things he could handle, and that was frustrating to both of us. 

The Badger is often home during the day with this job and that is both a blessing and a challenge.  As he goes about his various Badger tasks while I am teaching, he hears everything we say and if I'm having a bad day with the kids he has to suffer through it, poor thing.

One day was just really hard.  Mid-morning we had to go take the Honda in to have some repairs done so we all ended up in the van together on the way back and we talked.  We threw around some different solutions and finally the Badger made a proposal.  He offered to take over Bean's schooling.  I enthusiastically took him up on it. 

He did a lot of research and set up a schedule of what he and Bean would do together and when.  At first, it was wonderful.  I didn't have to even think about Bean's education.  I could focus on Fish and Roo and making sure they were getting everything they needed.  Roo is no problem to teach and Fish resists a bit, but with some coaxing he usually does fine. 

However...

The problem is that the Badger is sometimes available during the day but not always.  He designed Bean's schedule so that Bean could work on many things independently when he wasn't home.  But, unfortunately, Bean does not do so well working independently.  He'll do some of his work, but he gets off task pretty fast. 

I needed the break, and I'm so grateful to the Badger for stepping in, but we're going to have to re-work this arrangement again.  

Meanwhile...

Bean had an appointment with a pediatric neuropsychologist at the end of August, which resulted in him being diagnosed with a learning disability.  I wrote in detail about that for my post on Latter-day Homeschooling this month, so I won't repeat it here.  But the diagnosis is both hugely helpful and also very overwhelming.

After the doctor explained to me what Bean's brain was and was not doing, I understood why he was struggling with certain things.  I know now why some school activities he would eat up eagerly and others he would totally shut down on me.  It all makes so much sense now.  I am so grateful for this understanding because now I will know how to adjust things so that Bean can make more progress and have a better school experience.

On the other hand, it is overwhelming to understand that this isn't just a personality conflict or a phase he's going through.  He needs a lot of one-on-one help and will not be able to work very independently for quite some time.

So reworking Bean's school situation is going to involve making sure he gets the personalization he needs, and that is really going to be a challenge.  I have been praying and pondering and considering all options and I'm still figuring things out.   I still feel that home is the best place for him.  I know we can do a lot to help him now that we know what's going on.  I don't know how I am going to juggle everything, but I do know that the Lord has put this task in front of me and He will see me through. 


The Cereal Cycle

We go through a cycle at our house with cold cereal.  My default setting is that I don't buy it because it's not cost-effective with a large family and it's not terribly nutritious.  However, in times of stress or illness like moves or pregnancy, I go to Aldi where it's cheap and buy a whole bunch.  It is extremely easy and convenient.  And popular with the kiddos:

 


Lately I have been soooooo tired a great deal of the time. Yesterday I crashed at about 5 pm and spent the rest of the day in bed. Not every day is that bad, but preparing three healthy meals a days is always a challenge. So we are in the "it's what's for dinner, help yourself" phase of the cereal cycle. Probably through the rest of the year.
I never buy the sugary stuff and we eat it with our wonderful raw goat milk, so it could be worse health-wise. In fact, we go through the goat milk a lot more quickly when I buy cereal. That's good because we often tend to get a backlog of goat milk. The only way to keep our consumption up with our supply is to eat cereal or make chocolate syrup.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Septic Tanks and True Love

Last Wednesday I walked into the downstairs bathroom and said "oh dear."  At first I thought it was just that the toilet was backed up, but then I noticed that sludge was coming into the bathtub through the drain.  And I knew we were about to get an education in septic systems. 

We had been intending to have the tank pumped this fall anyway as a general maintenance measure.  We didn't have any sign that there were imminent septic problems looming.  We have had absolutely no trouble with the system for the two years we've lived here and we've tried to take good care of it.  Maybe we didn't flush that bacteria powder stuff you buy as often as we should have, but we were careful to keep grease and potato peelings and other no-nos out of there. 

I called the septic service people and they couldn't get there until the following afternoon.  In the mean time, they said not to use the drains unless absolutely necessary.  Well, that's hard with a family of seven: laundry, dishes, baths, and toilet usage are constant. 

We did our best.  We had pizza on paper plates for dinner (yay for any excuse to have pizza!) and I let the laundry pile up.  But sometimes we still had to flush the toilet and when we did, bad things happened downstairs. 

And the house was starting to take on a very distinct aroma. 

The pump truck came just before noon on Thursday, right as it was starting to pour buckets of rain.  They backed their big ol' truck into the yard, opened the cover to the tank, stuck a big hose in, and started pumping.  It smelled pretty bad, but it didn't take long.  It cost about $230, in case you were wondering. 

So, yay!  Now the drains worked fine again... or did they? 

After a few hours there was sludge in the tub again.  ?????  The Badger had left for work and would be gone all night.  I was on my own with this stinky gunk and I was worn out.  I knew we had a big problem-- a blockage somewhere in the pipes or something worse, but I wasn't exactly sure what to do about it and it was too late to call anyone.  I had about eight loads of laundry to do and I really needed a shower.  I must admit I had a good cry that night. 

On Friday the Badger tried some basic Unplug Drain Tricks but nothing worked.  And at that point I just couldn't keep everyone from using the drains... we had to wash up after the milking, for starters.  Luckily, only a little of the backup was spilling onto the floor... it was mostly going into the tub.  But it still smelled awful. 

Finally, Saturday morning the Badger took an auger that he had in his tool stash and ran it down through the main line.  I was extremely impressed-- I didn't even know what an auger was or that the white cap sticking out of the side of our house accessed the main septic line.  The Badger is so clever! 

The tub drained and things were looking up, but it didn't last.  It became clear that the line was partially cleared, but not enough to handle the flow from things like the washing machine (and at that point I HAD to get going on the laundry!) 

Enter Bob, our neighbor, who had saved the day more times than I can count.  He let us borrow his professional auger, which was a lot bigger and more powerful than the one the Badger had used before.  He said it had saved him thousands of dollars over the years. 

Sunday afternoon the Badger went out and wrestled with this interesting machine for some time and finally got things cleared up.  We haven't had any trouble since.  However, it was clear after using Bob's auger that there are tree roots invading our main line.  This is definitely going to be an issue that we will need to address. 

Bob said that the previous owners had lots of trouble with the septic system.  If this is true, I am surprised and thrilled that we lived here for over two years without any difficulty whatsoever.  What a blessing. 

Every girl dreams of having a knight in shining armor who will fight dragons for her.  I somehow managed to land one thirteen years ago and he's still going to battle for me: he just did an epic battle with our septic system and he even scrubbed out the downstairs bathroom for me-- three times during the course of the week!  I didn't have to do any of the cleanup.  Now, is that true love or what? 

Rides

I have a few more photos to post from our trip to Utah that I have gleaned from family and friends.  I also have a ton of other stuff to post, so bear with me.  Things may be mixed up for awhile. 

We met our dear friends the Schmoo family at Liberty Park in Salt Lake one day.  They have some little rides there that are very inexpensive.  My kids haven't been on many rides in their lives, but at these prices we could afford to indulge a little bit, which thrilled them to no end.  And Julie took these darling pictures, which she so kindly shared with me. 



Here's Fish and two Schmoo girls enjoying the ferris wheel:


Bean and Lisl Schmoo rode the swings together:


And a bunch of our kids rode the carousel... here they are all lined up deciding in advance which ponies they want:


And here are all eleven of our combined children: wow!  When we first met they had four and we had four...


What a blessing to have good friends, even when time and distance have separated us. 
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cat!

We were outside with Peanut this evening after a walk and she saw our cat walking across the yard.  She said "Cat!  See cat!" and started chasing after it.  Miss White Socks is not the tamest kitty around, so we set out some food for her so she would hold still while Peanut petted her.  Peanut was happy!



By the way, this is the only cat we have these days.  Our dear Flinch just disappeared at some point this summer... he'd done that before and then come back days later but this time weeks and weeks have gone by so we figure he met with a bad end somewhere.  The same thing happened to Peter late last year.  This is a wild and woodsy area and there are many ways for outdoor cats to get into trouble.  We think Miss White Socks has stayed safe because she doesn't roam very far from the house.  But I have been thinking that she is probably lonely now and we probably need to take another trip to the shelter and find a friend for her.  I have always wanted an orange cat, so maybe the time for that has come.   
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Two Educational Dinners

Last week our Eat Your Way Around the World book took us to Guatemala.  There were three dishes to prepare: pineapple chicken, cucumber soup, and baked bananas (not shown). 



The pineapple chicken was a hit.  It was an unusual mix of spices: it had cinnamon and cloves along with the sweet pineapple, but it also had garlic and onions and other savory stuff.  But everyone liked it.  The cucumber soup, however, did not go over well. 


It was the first recipe I've ever encountered in my life that called for cooking cucumbers.  I thought it was tolerable, and it certainly was a very healthy soup.  The Badger liked it.  The kids utterly hated it.  My kids aren't usually very picky, but they squalled and moaned and carried on about how awful this soup was.  Oh well.  That's what you get when you eat your way around the world. 

Everyone but me adored the baked bananas.  I thought that baking the bananas made them taste intolerably overripe but the Badger and the kids raved about them and they want to make them again and often. Maybe I will try them again with plantains or very green bananas. 

Then a few nights later we had a medieval monk's supper, courtesy of our history curriculum. 


The idea was that monks eat very plain food, so we had lentil soup and homemade bread.  For afters we had apples and wedges of cheese.  I lit candles (even though it wasn't really dark outside yet) and the kids tried to find some monk-ish sorts of costumes.  We attempted to observe the rule of "no talking at the table" and that lasted about three minutes.  But we had fun. 

It was actually an excellent meal.  The lentil soup recipe from the book was actually some of the best lentils I have ever had in my life.  Whenever I speak of lentils the Badger recoils in horror and I understand: badly prepared lentils are dreadful.  But this stuff was worth making again.  Fresh homemade bread is always wonderful, and the sliced apples afterwards really hit the spot. 

As I ate this meal I got thinking about my childhood and how we had many suppers just like this.  Wholesome, simple soups and fresh homemade bread were often on the menu, and in the winter we ate by candlelight frequently.  Having spent time in Europe, my parents liked the custom of fruit and cheese at the end of the meal and we often did that at the end of these candlelight winter suppers.  I have good memories of those meals.  I never realized then that I was eating like a medieval monk! 

I like making food more a part of our homeschool.  I think it makes learning come alive for the kids and gives them good memories (and hey, I have to cook for them anyway!!)
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Capulin Volcano

On the way out to Utah, we passed Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico.  There was a pretty sunset behind it, but that meant that the visitor's center was closed. 



So on the way back, we made a point of stopping.  You can drive all the way up to the top of the volcano and then take a short hike down inside the rim.  It looks a little different than the smoky ruin the kids were envisioning, what with all that shrubbery and all.


But it was still neat to see.  And it was a great chance to stretch our legs. 


Okay, I didn't go down in.  I'm not much of a leg-stretcher these days.  But they took the camera for me.


They saw lots of lizards, which they were kind enough to bring me photographic evidence of.  I like lizards. 


I love visiting national parks with my family! 

(I wrote more about that on Latter-day Homeschooling a couple of months ago if you're interested...)
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Bonding the Generations

I really love to see my kids with their grandparents.  I always wished I knew my grandparents better, that I could have spent more time with them, that I could have deepened the ties somehow.  I cherish the memories that I do have of them and one of my favorite photos of my childhood is one of my grandpa holding me on my baby blessing day.  The look of love and pride on his face as he shows off his latest granddaughter still makes me feel all choked up. 

I am grateful for every minute my kids get to spend with their grandparents.  I love to see the bond developing.  Peanut really took to all four grandparents quite readily, which really pleased me.  Here she is enjoying Grandpa Badger.

 
 
 
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The Brigham City Temple

While we were in Utah, we were able to attend the open house for the Brigham City LDS Temple.  These open houses are a special opportunity for anyone to come see what the inside of a Temple is like.  We went to the Kansas City Temple open house last April and the kids loved it, so we were excited to go to this one as well.  What a beautiful temple!



We went with the Badger's brother and his family, as well as Grandpa Badger.  I wasn't sure how it would go with all the excited cousins bouncing around, but it ended up being a wonderful experience. 


Some of my kids wanted individual pictures taken on the grounds.  That's the old Brigham City Tabernacle behind Fish in this picture. 


Oh, my vibrant Rabbit!


And my sweet, sweet Roo!


And here's crazy little Peanut...



They hadn't cemented the cornerstone yet.  I think they do that at the dedication. 


I really loved the peach blossom motif all throughout the Temple architecture.  They always try to have something that ties the Temple in to the local community and Brigham City is famous for its peaches.  You know how I feel about peaches.  This just might be my favorite Temple.  I spent the evening fantasizing about moving to Brigham City. 


Such a beautiful, peaceful place.  I am so very glad we could go and I hope that we can go back!
 
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Waterfall Hike

The Badger and his dad took Bean and Fish on a hike to a waterfall in the mountains.  Looks like they had a wonderful time!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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