Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Different Speed

I had a very interesting week in the middle of July this year.  The Badger took the older boys and the Rabbit camping in Colorado and left me home with Roo, Peanut, Frog, and the twins.  (I made him leave Roo home to help me with all those littles!)

Life was so different that week.  The biggest difference was with food.  I could buy a gallon of milk and it would last longer than 24 hours.  There were always leftovers of whatever meal I made.

 In my normal life I don't have much time to fuss with food; it has to be fast, easy, cheap, and plentiful. During this week, I seized the opportunity to try several new recipes.  I enjoyed preparing them because I didn't have to cook a mountain of whatever it was.  Roo really appreciated this change of pace, as did I.  We sometimes ate treat food: prepared stuff that is normally too expensive for my crew, like frozen pizza and Life cereal.  And we sometimes enjoyed spending time together in the kitchen making the kind of food I don't normally have time to mess with.  One day Roo and I decided to make something I've seen floating around the internet: that thing where you push dry spaghetti noodles through hotdog chunks and then boil them so they look like squids.  I was curious to see how it would turn out.  The spaghetti inside the hotdogs was a little chewy, but it wasn't bad.  They sure were fun to make.

Going places was difficult.  I had to take everyone with me and it was a lot of buckling and unbuckling.  It would have been impossible without Roo.  For instance, when I go to the grocery store with all four littles I need two carts just to contain all those kids, so I need someone to help me push the carts.

Other than the store, we didn't venture out much.  Outings were just too much work.  But we did more "little kid" stuff at home than usual.  I read lots of stories.

Bedtime was hard, I have to say, as well as getting up at night with whatever twin.  Nighttime was when I missed the boys and the Badger the most.  Also, exercise was just about impossible.

What was funny was that I found housework easier than normal, even though it was the big kids that were gone.  I felt like when I cleaned up that things stayed cleaner longer, and I felt like I could straighten things up and get the dishes done before I went to bed (usually I am dropping with exhaustion at that point.)  And the laundry was a piece of cake!  I really felt on top of my game when it came to housework.

Even weirder, we were EARLY to church on Sunday.  Even with all those babies to dress!  We are always late to church.  I still can't figure that one out.  It must have been a fluke.  

Yes, having only five kids seemed easy to me in most ways.  That's kind of scary when I think about it.  Also, I could definitely see how your world is much smaller when you have only tiny kids around.  As they grow older, things expand.  I know some moms at home with toddlers feel so stir-crazy in that limited world.  I know I felt that way at times years ago, so it's funny to me how refreshing it felt to dial back down to such a simple lifestyle.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Top of the Roller Coaster

During the night last night, Leaf woke up with a croupy cough.  Somehow, Twig woke up too and we ended up having quite the party.  It was fun (no, really, I try to enjoy these nighttime snuggle sessions) but it really cut into my sleep time.

I got up at 6:30 this morning and drove Bean to work.  Oh, it was a beautiful morning!  There was almost no traffic, but there were lots of joggers out.  I thought, "I want to be one of those joggers!  I want to be an early riser!"

Well, I will get my wish.

Things are gearing up around here for our busy fall schedule.  And with Bean starting high school, that means early morning seminary.  In fact, I'm on the cusp of seventeen straight years of early morning seminary.  I daresay I will have the chance to develop into a morning person.  I am grateful for that, although I will feel happier about it when I don't have babies keeping me up during the night anymore.

I have been doing the baby thing for fifteen solid years.  Diapers, wipes, sippy cups, pacifiers, car seats, high chairs, ripped books, and huge messes have been my world for a decade and a half.  They are still my world.  But that world is slowly fading away.

I remember when I stood at the brink of this world, a little over fifteen years ago.  I was excited but also terrified.  I didn't feel ready.  You never can feel ready, I realized.  The only way to be ready for motherhood is to do it.

It was like being at the top of a roller coaster looking down, down, down....

Now, I feel like I'm back up at the top of the roller coaster again.  I am looking down at two decades of teaching eight people how to adult, and I'm kind of terrified.  I'm realizing that potty training is nothing compared to teaching a kid how to drive.  Sending them off to Kindergarten is cake compared to getting them ready for college.

It's all beginning, friends.  Bean just turned fifteen.  On his very birthday, he landed himself a small part-time job doing yard work and handyman stuff for someone at church.  It's perfect because it's only a few hours a week but it will give him some income.  But now we're looking at getting him a checking account.

And a driver's permit!!!

Everything is going up a notch.  High school football is more intense and involved than junior high football.  Official practices start next week, though he has been going to conditioning practices all summer.

We are talking about Eagle Scout projects.  This is heavy duty stuff, folks.

There are moments when I am sure I am nowhere near ready for any of this stuff, and neither is Bean.   Like when I can't even get him to brush his teeth regularly (routine has never been Bean's strong point.)

And then there are times when I think that maybe I will be able to raise competent human beings after all.  Like this morning.  Bean set his alarm last night and got up all by himself.  When I rolled out of bed at 6:30 I was expecting to have to go in there and shake him and say "hurry and throw on your clothes and grab a piece of bread!  You're going to be late!"  Instead I was met by a fully-dressed Bean who had already had his breakfast.  I felt a tremendous thrill of hope.

Ready or not, this roller coaster ride is starting.  I will be screaming "AAAAAAH!" on the way down, but in the end I will be grinning and saying "that was fun!"  Right?  RIGHT???

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Just Like My Mother

So, I have this weird thing I do.  

Yes, I know.  I have lots of weird things I do.  But I am going to tell you about another one that you probably didn't know.  

I have this drawer full of fabric scraps from my sewing projects.  I love my fabric scraps.  They are so pretty and they remind me of things I made and that makes me happy.  But what do you DO with them?  The little ones that are too small to be used for other projects, but too big to throw away?

Well, here is what I do with them.  I collect them all in this drawer and then sometimes I have these days where I feel like doing something sewing related but I don't really want to get into some project.  You know, I want to play with fabric but I don't have the mental energy to create.  So when that happens I take out a few scraps of fabric and I cut them into squares for use in future quilts.  Whatever size they are, I cut into the biggest squares I can.  Everything from an inch and a half up to six inches.  And then I put them into bags with other squares of the same size.  

I find this soothing.  Yes, that's weird, I know.  

But not that weird.  Recently, I got this email from my mother.  She wrote,  

I am in the middle of a project that I think you will understand.  I am truly obsessed with it.  I am taking all my smaller pieces of  leftover fabric (smaller than fat eighths)  and cutting them up into squares and/or sorting them by size.  I had a tub full of them and I work on a little bit a day and am almost to the bottom of the tub and I can't stop doing it.  I guess it is better than eating chocolate chip cookies.  The quilt top I just finished is made entirely of scraps and leftovers.  I am calling it "Each tiny crumb is a friend."  Now I have to put together a back, pin the whole thing together and machine-quilt it.  I will text  you a picture.  It is bigger than I thought it was.  Funny thing is, I have some beautiful new fabric that I seem to be reluctant to cut into.  Maybe I'll get around to it some day.

YES, MOM!!!!  I understand!!!!  I completely understand because I am JUST LIKE YOU!!!!!  And I am SO GLAD because you are the BESTEST EVER and I LOVE YOU TO LITTLE BITTY FABRIC BITS!!!!!  

A Cake for the Fourth

Catching up here a little bit...

It's so fun to me to have kids that are old enough to do the stuff that I would like to do more of if I had more time.  Things like decorating for holidays and making special holiday foods.

This year we were having friends over for a barbeque on the Fourth of July and I wanted to have a flag cake like I used to make.  So I asked the Rabbit to bake me a cake and she did.  All by herself.  Then she and Roo decorated it just perfectly.  All I did was whip the cream.

HA HA HA!!!  I have created a small army of mini-me's!  They are going to take over the world!

Front Flowers

I am so happy with the perennials in my front flower beds right now.  I can't tell you how satisfying it has been to me to take this weedy, overgrown mess and transform it into a thing of beauty.

The spirea bushes I transplanted this spring are struggling in the heat, but they are hanging in there.  

The crape myrtle by the front door is coming along nicely.

And how about one more shot of those lovely flowers?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Happy Birthday, Fish!

Fish is now thirteen.  Ack!  I still remember this so vividly...

Fish sure was a sweet, calm baby.  I hope he will be a sweet, calm teenager.  Ha!

Here are some pictures of his birthday dinner.  It was his favorite: thick, creamy chicken noodle soup.  

I also made him his traditional chocolate cake, but I somehow managed to not get any pictures of that.  What is wrong with me?  I need to do better about pictures.

Fish is a great kid.  He still loves Legos and I am glad.  I am not ready for him to be too grown up yet.  He still loves Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts comics.  He also loves Jane Austen movies, which I think is so, so cool.

Fish really wants to do well in life.  He really wants to do the right thing, and he wants to please his parents.  He has a hard time with criticism.  We tend to get on Bean's case because he is so distractable and has a hard time following through on things we ask him to do.  Sometimes Fish feels like we're on his case too, and he feels really bad about that (so do I.)  He is always eager to show that he is NOT like that, which means he makes a point of being prompt and cheerful when asked to do things.  I love that.  I wish he and Bean got along better, but I hope that will come in time.

He is a marvelous cook.  He really has a gift there.

He can still sing an absolutely gorgeous soprano.  I need to get more of his singing recorded before his voice changes.  Any day now...

He is going through a stage where he is really good at getting on our nerves, teasing and singing obnoxious songs and such.  I totally relate because I was the same way when I was his age.  Actually I was worse.  It simply means he, like his mother, has an awesome personality and just needs to grow into it.

Happy birthday, my Fish.  You are so awesome.  I love you the mostest!

Fish as George

Have you ever seen A Room with a View?   You need to cut out a couple of scenes, but then it is one of my favorite movies.  I love the characters: Lucy Honeychurch and her brother Freddy, Cecil, Mr. Beebe, Charlotte Bartlett, and, of course, George.  It's hard not to love George.  Apparently he left an impression on Fish when he saw the movie.  We don't own the movie (because of those couple of scenes) so the kids haven't watched it over and over again, but some of us watched it the last time we were in Utah.  And Fish liked it.

Fish, you are one of my favorite people ever.

Bubbles! Bubbles! Bubbles!

Recently I attended a wedding.  I took the twins with me but left the other kids home.  At the end of the dinner after the ceremony, we were blowing bubbles.  Suddenly, the twins were the center of attention.  Everyone thought they were pretty cute chasing those bubbles around.  Yep, they were.  So you get picture overload.  You're welcome, Mom.  

Leaf is the one sitting, Twig is standing.  I love their little reaching hands!

Blackberry Picking

One of the delights of our July this year was a trip to the blackberry bramble.  

You know I love berry picking with my kids.  Bean and Fish decided they were not interested, so they stayed home with the twins.  I missed having them there, but it sure was easier without the twins.  Oh, so much easier.  This actually happens a lot lately.  The boys want to stay home, so I leave the twins with them.  Then I am out and about having adventures with kids ages 10, 8, 5, and 3.  Just four kids is easy peasy, and they are at the perfect ages for adventures.  Roo is old enough to be quite helpful, they can all buckle and unbuckle themselves in the car, and no strollers are needed.  We have wonderful times, and the blackberry patch was definitely a highlight of our summer.

They had a bumper crop this year and we were amazed and thrilled to partake of their bounty.  I am sorry I didn't get any pictures of us picking.  Alas.  

But can you believe the size of these berries????

Aren't they gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous???

We ate most of them fresh.  But I did make one pie.  

(I like a crumb crust on top of my pies, don't you?)

One bite of this pie and I was transported back to Grandma Edna's house in Oregon during the early years of our marriage.   She, like pretty much everyone else in the Willamette Valley, had lots of wild blackberries growing around her house.  Summer in Oregon means as many free blackberries as you care to pick for yourself.  Grandma cared to pick quite a few, and a visit to her home in August on your way to the beach always meant pie.  Oh, heaven!  Grandma, I miss you.  I will always think of you when I pick and eat blackberries.

Twenty Months

Can they get any cuter??????

This last month has seen many changes.  New words are popping up: book, phone, cup, hug, hello (not "hi" like babies often say, but "hello!")  I think the cutest thing is when they say each other's names.  I also love it when I come home from being gone and they come running to me with outstretched arms saying "Hug!  Hug!"

Do you know what the funniest thing is?  Lately, we can't tell them apart.  No, like, even I can't tell them apart.  I was so sure that as they got older they would look more and more different.  Nope.  If you asked me right now I would say they are identical.   I can tell you that this first picture is Leaf and the second one is Twig but I have to look pretty close.

Their mischief has shifted.  Leaf no longer dumps the bookshelf (hooray!)  Now they LOVE the toothbrush drawer in my bathroom (where we keep all the family's toothbrushes.)  Toothbrushes are their favorite things to carry around.  Keeping them out of bathrooms is the prime directive at our house right now.  They also love stuffed animals and dolls.  And sitting and looking at books.  And trying on hats.  Oh, these are delightful times!

Twig's new thing is to try to climb up on the stove.  She grabs the handle of the oven door and stands up on the oven drawer.  This is a very dangerous situation so we really have to keep an eye on her (and we're trying to only use the back burners for cooking!)  Usually they grasp the concept of "hot" pretty quickly at this age, so I am hopeful that she can be taught not to do this soon.  

Climbing is a popular pasttime.  They can now climb out stools and get on the kitchen counter.  We pretty much keep all the chairs in the house tipped over on their sides.  It makes my dining areas into obstacle courses for the rest of us, but it keeps the babies off the tables and counters.  It's funny how I couldn't wait until we could stop blocking the stairs so that our house could be less cluttered and look so much neater and nicer.  Now the stairs are clear but the chairs are on their sides and my clean, clear bathroom counter is cluttered with toothbrushes.  As you move from one stage to the next you leave behind old challenges and inconveniences only to take on new ones.  

I wish their diet was better.  We have needed to feed them as easily as possible and that hasn't always been as healthy as I would like.  They tend to gobble down anything unhealthy (cheese, Ritz crackers, anything chocolate) but throw things like peas and carrots across the room.  But I keep trying, and they are still nursing so I am sure that helps.  And they love pinto beans, which is my go-to food for raising a big family on the cheap.  They are growing well and Twig is noticably bigger than Leaf, which is so funny after all we went through last year with her not gaining weight.  

The best thing is that they are finally sleeping better.  It's still not awesome, but at this point it's manageable.  YAY YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!!!!!

We love our twinses!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Homeschool Newspaper

I have been asked for more info on the school newspaper we did this year.

So, I wanted to have a newspaper that looked as much like a real newspaper as possible.  I am not highly trained in desktop publishing, however.

I reckoned someone out there might have already thought of this (we homeschoolers rarely have to reinvent the wheel!) so I did some googling one day to see if I could find a website with templates or a program that would automatically put it together for us or something.  I could not find anything that fit the bill.

I didn't exactly have a ton of time to research and learn how to format such a document, much as I would like to.  So I did the only thing that I knew how to do.  I found a template in Microsoft Word for a basic, six-page newsletter and that is what we used.  It had a big header on the first page, a sidebar to highlight contents, and each article had a three-column format.  We cut it down to four pages because that was plenty.

I just went through and collected all the writing assignments my kids had done throughout the year and stuck them in a big pile.  Fish and Roo were doing Wordsmith Apprentice, which actually has you pretending to write for a newspaper.  So they had classified ads, household help columns, editorials, and whatnot that they had already written.  Beans' Wordsmith assignments also went into the pool-- these were a lot longer, which was helpful when I wanted to fill a lot of space.  I also collected our history summary paragraphs.

We ended up doing five or six issues during the second half of the school year.  I was aiming for one every two weeks.  We didn't quite get it done that often, and I certainly wouldn't try to do more than that.  Monthly might even be best, especially when you're first starting out.

The content varied, but typically the first page contained a couple of articles about current events in our family.  A trip to the zoo, or a birthday maybe.  I would assign kids to write these especially for the paper.  It was usually Roo and Rabbit who were excited about writing them, so they got the job.

The second page would have maybe one of Bean's longer pieces along with one of the shorter Wordsmith assignments like a restaurant review or a household hints column.  At the bottom of the second page was always Fish's comic strip that he would draw specially for each edition of the paper.  He would draw it on white paper with black ink, I would photograph it, then I would just insert it into the document as a photo.  I am sure there is a prettier way to do it, but that worked.

Page three became our world history page, where I would put it a couple of the kids' recent history summaries.

The content of the final page varied: it might have been carryover of an article from an earlier page or another one of Bean's writing assignments or some fiction writing one of the kids had done.

The format of the newsletter was such that there were little sidebars on most pages.  We sometimes could put photos there.  We also put classifieds (usually humorous ones), recipes, poems that the kids had written, or jokes.

I found it very difficult to alter the format much (like I said, I am not a Word expert.)  So I was always trying to fit pieces of writing into the spaces the template provided, and sometimes this was challenging and/or frustrating.  If I tried to move anything around in the template I usually ended up with a big headache.  Putting photos in was often very tricky, so we didn't use many.  Since we printed the paper in black and white, photos weren't really very appealing anyway.  Also, Word would tend to run really slow when I was working with the paper, and that was really frustrating at times.  (You know, when your text doesn't appear until ten seconds after you type it...)

It really helped, then, to have a large pool of writing to draw from so I could find things to fit whatever spaces I had.  I guess it would also work to assign a child to fill a certain spot-- "we need you to write something for this spot and it needs to be this long."  My kids didn't respond too eagerly when I tried to do that, but I know some kids would.

The kids were excited about the idea of the paper, but I had to constantly be the driving force behind it.  And I was the only one with the ability to figure out the template, so I was the editor and producer of the whole thing.  I did try to keep my own writing out of it and I mostly succeeded: sometimes I felt the need to heavily edit some of the current events articles to clarify them, in which case I indicated co-authorship of the article ("by Rabbit and Mom.")  And sometimes I wrote a classified ad just to be funny.  ("For sale: one surly teenager.  Smells funny, but will mow the lawn if bribed.  Call Bird at 555-1212."  That kind of thing.)

We would print paper copies and mail them to the grandparents.  Over time we added some aunts and uncles to the distribution list as well, though we were never mailing out more than half a dozen copies.  Which made it easy on the budget.  We got rave reviews from all our "subscribers."  It especially made me happy to see how much the grandparents enjoyed the newspaper.  What a great way to share with a slice of what we are doing in our homeschool!

I definitely want to continue to do this, and I know the kids do too.  I hope that in time they can take over more of it, learning how to do the editing, formatting, and planning.  That would be really good for them.  I also hope we can find a better program or template that is more flexible and more powerful.

I would love to hear your ideas for homeschool newspapers!

Winnie the Pooh

My mother raised us on Winnie the Pooh.  Memories of my mother reading it aloud go back to my very earliest childhood memories,  and so make the stories especially dear to me. 

A side note about that... I am grateful for the good, wholesome things my parents gave me to get nostalgic about.   It's kind of disturbing to think about some of the repulsive things that some little kids are being exposed to, and how those things will someday be nostalgic to them...  It gives me the willies to think of grownups years hence feeling the same glow of affection for some of these modern cartoon characters that I feel for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss... just one more reason to deliberately and carefully choose what media is read or watched repeatedly by one's young children...

Anyway, back to Pooh.  My mom did a great job reading the stories aloud with various voices for the characters.  

When the Badger and I got married, he played for me the cassette tape recording of the Pooh stories that he grew up with.  I hated it.  The voices were all wrong!   They didn't sound like the way my mom did the characters at all!  More than that, though, I just didn't like the way they interpreted some of the characters, especially Pooh himself.  

I have been trying for years now to get my mom to make a recording of her reading the stories.   I keep telling her that it will be a priceless gem for generations. 

From time to time I checked to see if there were other commercial recordings available and I never could find any. 

Until my last trip to the library.   Going through the audio book selection in the children's section, I found a recording of The House at Pooh Corner that I had never seen before.   The names Stephen Fry and Judi Dench caught my eye.  I had to check this out! 

I put it in the car CD player and I told myself to keep an open mind.  Of course the characters were going to sound different than what I was used to, or how I thought they should be. 

I immediately fell in love with Pooh.... he was perfect.  And Eeyore is amazing: the actor who does Eeyore totally gets all the little British mannerisms in the text and he does an absolutely stellar job.  Most of the other characters are good too:  Rabbit, Owl, Roo, Kanga, Christopher Robin... Piglet is a little raspy sometimes, but usually cute.  Tigger is very different than I have ever heard Tigger done before-- certainly different than the Disney movie-- but he's well-done and I liked him once I got over how different he was. 

There was one big thing I did not like about the recording.   They switch narrators often-- every few sentences-- going back and forth between a man and a woman.   I found that very distracting.   

Peanut and Frog immediately loved it.  It made me happy how even little Frog kept asking me to turn it on when we got in the car.  

However, Bean hates it.  He listened to the Badger's cassette a few times as a kid and so these voices were All Wrong to him and he can't bear it.  I definitely relate to that!

Bean notwithstanding, I plan to buy my own copies of this version at some point.  It's worth owning.  However, I still hope my mom will make a recording for us!  Overall, I think Winnie-the-Pooh is best read aloud by someone you love.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hello, Blog!

Wow, it's the 10th of July and I haven't posted yet this month.   That's not like me, is it?

Our computer died recently, and until we can get a new one I don't have access to a bunch of stuff, including photos I was about to blog.   So that's my main excuse. 

My other excuse is that I have just been so tired lately.  This has worried me.  I wonder about thyroid issues or anemia or other deficiencies.  As I was talking about it with the Badger recently though,  I put it all together and said "over the last two years I have been through a grueling twin pregnancy followed by 18 months of moderate to severe sleep deprivation every single night and I wonder why I am tired????? Why I don't feel rejuvenated and recovered and strong?  Hmmm, I wonder why!!!"  I am probably just an exhausted mother of eight children.  

In some ways my health is good and getting better.  My weight is just about where I want it to stay.  I am exercising regularly and slowly building both muscle and cardiovascular endurance.  

But I am tired and I feel depleted. 

I am grateful for summer break.  I have a huge list of projects to tackle: ten boxes in the basement that never have been gone through since we moved.  A pile of mending and sewing projects small and large.  Blog posts.  Yard work. 

However, I also need to just rest.  And it's okay.