Saturday, January 28, 2017

Eager to Learn

Frog is really into school work lately.  He is always bringing me school books and asking to work on them.  If I can't, he will ask someone else.  He is learning rapidly.  It is fun to work with him because he catches on to everything so quickly.  I am particularly enjoying working out of "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" with him. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bananas in the Cupboard

We like eating bananas in the cupboard.

--The Twins

(I had to clear out a space for them in there because they were constantly emptying it out and I was always tripping over the jugs and jars and cans they had removed and left all over the floor.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mount Laundry

If you're having a rough day, you should do what it says in my favorite Dr. Seuss book: Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?  That is, think of all the people you're glad you're not and all the awful chores you don't have to do.

For instance, you can be glad you do not have to do Birrd's laundry.

There, did I make you feel better?

(This is not me complaining. I do ginormous amounts of laundry "willingly, because [I] have to." Some days, though, I look at the mountain and say "sheesh... that's nuts! Someone should take a picture of that!" So I did.)

Sleeping Baby

We have been working on the twins' sleeping at night, and progress is occurring.  I am so grateful for this.

Don't you just love sleeping babies?  

That little stuffed squirrel is an old friend of mine from back in the heydey of Beanie Babies in the late 90's.  I am not sure who liked Beanie Babies more: me or my mom. Mom named this one Hector Squish, which is reason #3781 why my mom is the awesomest.  

Halfway Through

We are now halfway through our homeschool year.

This has been one of my best years for homeschool.   I really feel like things are going well, for the most part.  Of course there are still areas where I feel like I am not doing enough, but I am always going to want to do more than I can. 

Let's talk about Roo and Rabbit together, since they mostly do the same things. 

Math: I just love Teaching Textbooks.  They are both doing well with math without me having to do anything.   How awesome is that?  The Rabbit sometimes gets behind, but then she will catch up.  Right now she is only two lessons short of being halfway through the book. 

Language: The Good and the Beautiful has been fabulous.  I am so grateful for it.  Both Roo and Rabbit are challenged without being overwhelmed.  I am finding that I really do need to check on Roo's progress.  Her grade is designed to be done mostly independently, but Roo has a tendency to not come to me when she needs help.  Also, she hasn't followed through on the larger writing assignments.   She will just skip stuff sometimes.   But for the most part she works well on her own.  She loves the watercolor painting assignments.  The Rabbit needs me to do language with her every day, or at least get her started, but it hasn't taken a whole lot of my time, or hers for that matter. 
I don't know if The Good and the Beautiful would have worked well for Bean and Fish when they were young.  But it's perfect for the girls. 

I also bought them each a handwriting book from The Good and the Beautiful.   Oh, they love those handwriting books!  In addition to handwriting practice, they contain lots of darling little drawing exercises, and the girls adore these.  They both love to draw. 

I try to encourage them to work on these while listening to educational audio recordings.   This year I just couldn't get a handle on a history curriculum.   I ended up just assigning them to listen to a bunch of audio recordings of history stuff that we already have.  We have a bunch of Jim Hodges recordings of American history and the lives of great Americans and that the best I can do for history this year.  

Despite the fact that The Good and the Beautiful does spelling, I am still working with the All About Spelling books.  Then I just skip the spelling stuff in the other books.  Roo and Rabbit are both naturally good spellers, so spelling is pretty easy and doesn't take much time.  Whatever words they miss I enter into Spelling City online for extra practice.  I really love Spelling City.   It's another pillar of my homeschool that I wouldn't want to do without. 

Oh, and I must say this.  My favorite thing about All About Spelling is the sentences for dictation.  They are brilliantly designed for the practice of the concepts learned, but they are also silly and they make us laugh.  "Who taught your cat how to do long division?"  "The walrus demanded a place on the fishing committee."  "Our neighbors are always hiding in the cactus patch."  They really add a welcome spot of humor to our homeschool day.

I mentioned before that I am really trying to focus on science this year.  That's why history got downgraded.  I couldn't seem to get a handle on both of them.  But I am glad we are really working on science. 

I have them doing Discover the Scriptures.  Honestly, I don't really know how that's going because I haven't been checking their work, but they periodically ask me to print more pages, so I think they're reading it at least.

Piano practice is another main thing we do, and that is going tons better since I hired a piano teacher that isn't me.  I have been wanting to do that for years, and I finally bit the bullet and did it.  Honestly, I probably spend as much time working with them on piano as I did on a good day before, but now the girls are motivated to complete whatever assignments the teacher has given them and that means I have to help them.  They are really going to progress quickly now and I am excited about that. 

Those are all our main subjects, our "big rocks."   Then there are lots of "little rocks" that we do once or twice a week.  They do typing software (Typer Island: they love it!)  I am still having them read from the Pathway Readers... not sure how well that's going, but I am not too worried.  Sometimes we do logic puzzles.  There is copywork and journal writing and thinking skills workbooks.    

I also try to have an assigned book they have to read or listen to every week, but that hasn't been going well.  We do go to the library freqently and they do read a lot, so I guess that will have to be good enough for now.   But there are so many books they ought to read at this age that I can't seem to get them to read.  Sigh. 

We have a very light schedule on Fridays so we can take some time to do field trips, outings, or other extra activities.  I wanted to do this for the last couple of years, but it never seemed to work because I had so many students needing to do so many things.  Now that I only have six kids to juggle instead of eight, this easy day on Friday is possible.  It makes a huge difference for me.  If there's nothing going on, it's sometimes nice to just have a day when I don't have to do hardly anything school-related and I can just catch my breath.  

That's the difference between this year and last year... last year I could hardly ever catch my breath.  This year is still very full and demanding, but it's doable.  Last year was just insane.  I knew it was too much and I could not continue indefinitely, and in time God opened a way for our family to make things better for all of us.  I am so thankful for the way God has been shepherding my family, and I am grateful for this relatively peaceful homeschool year.  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Stomach Flu Round Two

We are all down with the stomach flu again. 
If Christmas is the best time to have a big family, having the stomach flu just might be the worst. 
We're glad it's the weekend, though.  Also, we know it's just a 24 hour virus.
I am so, so, so grateful for toilets and running water.  And I could kiss my washing machine. 
I have appreciated the chance to take it easy today.  I spent a lot of time this morning on the computer going over book lists.  I have several reading lists for homeschool that I like to look at regularly so I can intergrate things into our curriculum.   It's a bit time-consuming searching for the books online: do either of the libraries we go to have it, and if not, which of the used book sites does?  Or do I have to buy it from Amazon?  And then I  make and manage long wish lists. 
I enjoy doing this.  I love books.  I love lists.  I love shopping online.  But it is extremely time-consuming. 
Perfect for a day when you have the stomach flu and are not well enough to do anything else.  I was supposed to deep clean the upstairs today.   Instead I got to sit in front of the computer like a slug with absolutely no guilt!
I also worked on Shutterfly photo books.  I also enjoy making those.  I love that my children love looking through our shelf of photo books.  Maybe sometime I will try this new Chat Books thing that is all the rage, but I don't know... it is time consuming, but I do like being able to carefully create the book myself. 
You know how sometimes you don't realize a gift or talent you have because it comes so naturally to you that you just assume everyone is that way?   Sometimes it takes a long time to realize what is special about you because it seems so obvioius.  "Well, of course I can grow a garden, everybody does that.  I wish I some awesome talent like upside down ostrich racing." 
I have been thinking lately about how I have the gift of record keeping.  It's not a glamorous gift, but it's an important one.  I know my posterity will appreciate my efforts, just like I appreciate the efforts of my mother, from whom I inherit this gift. 
I also appreciate my own efforts.  Sometimes late at night when I am up with the twins I get lost for ages reading old blog posts of mine.  It always reminds me that I want to blog more because I want to record as much as I can about these precious years while my children are growing. 
I know not everyone records details of their life and that's okay.  I certainly don't want to make anyone feel guilty who doesn't do that.  It's just something that's extra important to me.  I am the girl who when visiting Grandma's house as a child, went straight for the shelf of old photo albums and stayed there until I had looked at all of them. 
I betcha I will have some grandchildren that will do the same thing.  Some of them will have this same interest in family records.  They will love my old photo books, and this blog.  It's fun to imagine them reading this so many years from now. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Preschool Today

Frog's preschool co-op has just been wonderful this year.  There are just four kiddos in it, and they are all easy-going and tractable.   Having preschool here at our house doesn't stress me like it did when I did this with Bean so many years ago, partly because it's a small, well-behaved group and partly because I have so much more experience under my belt. 

I also have a house full of fun toys and activities that are great for preschoolers, since I have been collecting homeschool stuff for all these years.   And then there is Pinterest, my go-to for fun crafts and projects.  

I also have Roo and Rabbit, who both love to help.  Having an extra pair of hands is so helpful, especially with a tricky craft or when serving snacks.  I feel very lucky to have two girls who are old enough to help and who enjoy it.

Today we had preschool here and it was fun.  We played with Wikki Stix and blocks.  We made little booklets about the letter R.  We read a book about rain and a book about a rabbit.  We ate bananas and graham crackers.  We put together an ABC floor puzzle.  We played Zingo.  It was simple and fun.  Other weeks I have done more complicated things like making shaving cream rain clouds and snow dough out of baking soda and hair conditioner.   I always overplan, too, and have to remind myself frequently that simple is best, lots of unstructured play time is so important, and it always takes them longer to do stuff than I think it will.

Peanut loves participate also, and it's great to have her in the group too.  One of the other moms is also a homeschooler, and her oldest is a Kindergarten-aged boy, so she has been letting Peanut come to her house the weeks she teaches so her son will have someone to play with.  Peanut loves that, and those weeks are so nice because then it's just me, Roo, Rabbit, and the twins for a few hours and we really get a lot done.  I also love the weeks when just Frog goes and I have a little more attention just for Peanut. 

It has been fun to watch Frog grow and learn this year.  He is catching on quickly to his letters and numbers.  He can handle scissors better and better.  He is still working on learning to write his name, but he will get there soon.  

I am so grateful for the preschool co-op!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Circulatory Activities

This year I have been really trying hard to do better at science.  In the past, science has been the weakest part of my homeschool, usually devolving into simply reading aloud the text of the Apologia science books and that's it. 

I love the Apologia science books and there's so much in them.  This year I bought Roo and Rabbit each one of the notebooking journals that go with the texts, and I have been requiring them to fill them out.  They are a really excellent supplement to the text, and the girls have done pretty well with them. 

I also have been doing my best to do as many of the activities and experiments in the book as we can.  We have done most of them, and they have been really fun and memorable. 
We just finished up the unit on blood, circulation, and the heart.  We got to make a "model" of the heart out of graham crackers, frosting, and marshmallows.   Kind of silly, but it really makes it memorable for them.  They loved it, even though I was out of red food coloring and we had to use purple.

We were also encouraged to buy blood type test kits and use them.  I ordered some from Amazon and the girls bravely let me prick their fingers and squeeze out four drops of blood.  The Rabbit's results were no shock: A+, which is the same type as both her parents.  But Roo's test was a fun surprise.  Turns out she's O+.  My mother is O, so I knew I carried that recessive gene, but apparently the Badger carries it as well, or else Roo could not be O.  I must figure out where he got that gene. 
It really doesn't take that much more time and effort to do these extra projects, and they sure make science a lot more interesting and memorable!

Puzzles and Pizza

Looking back through my recent photos, I just realized I never shared New Year's Eve on here.

We were all so sick over Christmas break, and when New Year's came, we were still recovering.  So we knew we were just going to keep things low key at home with our family.  The Badger never likes to stay up late, even on New Year's Eve, so wild parties don't happen.  But I like New Year's.  I like to stay up, and I like to make the evening fun and special.

Pizza is a pretty standard party food around here, but this time I took it to a new level.  I had heard about a local place that makes a huge 30 inch pizza.  I determined to get one, but I didn't tell anyone what I was doing, just that I was getting something different.  It was fun to see their faces when I showed up with this enormous box.

That pizza was so big that even our huge, pizza-crazy family couldn't eat it all.  We had enough leftovers for all of us to have lunch the next day.

After that we watched movies and put together a puzzle.  I got out one we haven't done in years: my map of London puzzle that I bought in London when I was there on study abroad in college.  It's a pretty tricky puzzle, but it's fun to remember London and all the wonderful places there.  I'm getting old though-- it was hard for me to read all the itty bitty writing.

There were various movies going on, but the one I watched was the new Pete's Dragon.  Bean really wanted to see it.  I didn't want to-- I often end up disappointed by movie remakes.  But it was playing in the room where I was puzzling, so I ended up watching it.  To my surprise, it was absolutely delightful and I loved it.

And that's how we welcomed in 2017.  It blows my mind that it's 2017.  I hear dates like 2012 and 2009 and even 2003 and I think "that just barely happened" and then I realize it was years ago... I guess that's a pretty universal feeling for people who have lived on this earth awhile, but it still feels fresh and bewildering to me.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tree Making

When Frog's preschool had their Christmas party, we were sick and couldn't go.  I was so sad, and Frog was too.  Luckily, the mom in charge of the party sent home stuff for us to make and do when we felt better.  The main project was making Christmas trees out of ice cream cones, green frosting, and various candies.  The kids were so excited!

I set the stuff aside for when we were better, but then we were busy and it got forgotten for awhile.  Finally, it happened, and here are some pictures of our experience.  Such a fun craft!  

Divide and Conquer

Guess who gets to go run errands with Mom and who is staying home?

This was the other day when it was really cold outside.  I only have on of those snowsuits, so I'm glad I can usually leave one or both twins at home when I go places!

For years, I hauled all my kids with me almost every time I went anywhere.  Especially since I homeschooled.  My kids learned to roll with it, and they became good travelers and shoppers.  Most of the time I didn't mind packing them around with me.  People said, though, "just wait until you have one old enough to babysit!  It is such a game changer!"

It was nice when Bean was old enough to tend a little bit, which was around the time that Frog was born.  But I still didn't mind taking all the kids with me places.

Until I had twins.

I can't tell you how grateful I have been over the last two years for all my older helpers!  If I have to take the twins with me somewhere, I have help getting them in and out of the car.  And usually, I don't have to bring both of them with me.  In fact, often I don't have to bring either one with me!

I like to take just one of them along though.  I like to separate them for a bit and give me a chance to just enjoy one of them on their own and the other a chance to play at home without always having someone their same age right there.  Of course that companionship is a blessing of being a twin, but I think sometimes they need a break.  I know I do!


We were supposed to get this huge ice storm, right?  They were giving us all these dire warnings and we were running around making sure we had supplies to be housebound, possibly without electricity.  
And luckily, the storm was much more gentle than what was forecast.  We woke up this morning to a quarter inch or so of ice on the trees and bushes, but the roads were in decent shape and there were no worries about power outages.  

With our fears assuaged, we could just enjoy the beauty of the ice.  It was so pretty!  I wish I had had time to go around and take a bunch of pictures, but I'm glad I at least snapped these few.  

A Perfect Birthday Party

Recently we had a combined birthday party for Peanut and Frog.  I waited until after the holidays, so it was a few weeks after their actual birthdays.  This was the first time either of them had had a friend birthday party, and I wanted to make it really special for them.  We usually give them their first friend party when they turn four, but for Peanut that happened right when the twins were being born.  I don't think she really noticed at the time, but I did.  So I wanted her to have a really fun party.

When I thought about what to do with a hoard of kids between the ages of 3 and 7, I thought, "well, they need to be able to run and jump and scream."  So I rented one of those places that are full of giant inflatable things you can jump and climb and slide on.  They allowed me a generous amount of guests, so we ended up with twenty or so kids, in addition to my eight kids and the adults that were there.

All the kids ran and jumped and screamed to their hearts' content.  Many of the adults did as well.  I, myself, did a fair bit of running and jumping (maybe not much screaming though.)

It was just so much fun.

Here's Frog blowing out candles...

One of my friends MADE Peanut and Frog these adorable dinosaur tails as their gift... Twig loves them too!

Fish and Bean didn't want to come to the party.  Oh, teenagers!  Just a couple years ago and they would have just died to be there.  Well, I dragged them along anyway.  Once Fish got jumping around, he had a marvelous time.  Bean jumped a little bit, then curled up in the corner with a fantasy novel.

But see, that's why I wanted to do this.  Because I know that one day they won't want to anymore.  I gotta milk these years for all they're worth.

The giant slide was a blast.

The twins had the time of their lives.  It was great having a venue where they could have as much fun as everyone else.  There was a toddler jumping area and they enjoyed that a lot, but they also tried all the big kid stuff too, even the big slide.  They loved it.

Happy birthday, sweet Peanut!  I am so glad I could celebrate you with this fabulous party!

The Badger had so much fun.  In addition to shooting hoops with Fish, he enjoyed racing through the obstacle course.  He beat me both times I raced him.

It was just a wonderful, wonderful time for all of us!

Best Friends

Aren't they darling?

A Frog on a Moose

Happy Sabbath!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Friend Spotify

I am in love with Spotify.

I am not exactly up on the cutting edge of tech, so I didn't know about Spotify until recently, when a friend mentioned it on Facebook.  He said he loved it for finding obscure classical music pieces.

THAT piqued my interest!

I downloaded the free version to my PC and started out by looking up old choral works: songs I'd sung in choirs years ago that have stayed in my brain and my heart but which I had no recording of.  AND THERE THEY WERE.  "Hail, Gladdening Light"!  Healy Willan's "Three Kings"!  Just a few clicks of the keyboard, and there was more John Rutter music than I could listen to in the next decade.  A few more clicks and there were dozens of Bach albums.  An avalanche of Handel, a tsunami of Tchaikovsky, a mountain of Mozart.

It was exciting and overwhelming as I came to grasp the magnitude of this music collection.  If the classical collection was this thorough, other music genres were going to be as well.

That concerned me a little bit, if my children were to start messing around with it.  I told the kids to stay off of it.  That didn't last long, of course.  But so far, it's been fine.  If it ever becomes a problem I can find some way to block their access to it, but my kids at this point have no interest in listening to stuff with explicit lyrics or whatever else I was afraid of them finding on there.

Fish discovered movie soundtracks.  Bean got on too.  Now they each have their own playlist and they love it.  I love it that Bean listens to Bach to perk up his brain when he has to do homework late in the evening.

I loved it at Christmas time... endless new Christmas albums to explore.  

Now I am making Sunday playlists and mood playlists.  Every time I get on Spotify I have so much fun.  And I am just scratching the surface.

I may upgrade to a paid subscription at some point, because the ads are kind of annoying.  But the free version is pretty great, and I am still just awestruck at the incredible amount of music I now have access to.

Isn't this an amazing time to be alive?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Oh, Twins!

I was having some good homeschooling moments this morning with the Rabbit.  I was feeling pretty happy with how well things were going, and then I walked into the kitchen and discovered what the twins were up to...  how did they get ahold of that loaf of bread?

Yay Magna Tiles!

We are loving the Magna Tiles we got for Christmas.  Frog plays with them constantly, and I have even caught Bean messing with them.  I wish we had gotten some years ago, but I am glad we have them now!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


I am going to just blab about stuff going on around here lately. 

The kids got out the Citibloks for the first time in awhile and they are having so much fun with them.   I love rotating our toys so that this happens.  And I love Citibloks.  The kids really use their imaginations because the blocks are so simple.  It's like the opposite of screen time... and I think my kids get way too much screen time (even though I am always trying to put a lid on it!)  So I am always happy to see them doing whole-brain activities like playing outside or building with simple blocks. 

The Badger just shaved off the beard he was growing and I'm sad.  Every couple of years or so he starts to grow a beard.   I never thought I liked facial hair much, but dang!  It looks so good on him.  But what always happens is that just when it is starting to look really really good, he shaves it off.  He said it was itching and driving him crazy.  He said it bugs him when it rubs against his pillow at night.  Sigh.   Too bad.  I didn't even get a picture first. 

I am trying to be more organized.  I love how January gives me the chance to start fresh.  I just assigned each of my five oldest kids a night to make dinner.  I will assist as needed (heavily, in the case of Peanut) but they get to pick the main dish and make it.  They also each have another different night when they are assigned to make a salad or vegetable.  This tackles a long-standing problem in our household: we are good at making main dishes for dinner but not so good at making healthy side dishes, so we fill up on the typically cheesy, meaty, carb-heavy main dish and end up eating way more calories and way less fiber than we need.  So I am excited about this new system.  It will require more planning and organization on my part, but the kids like to cook and I think they will respond well to having an expected weekly chef turn.  Plus they will gain lots of new cooking skills.   That makes me happy.  

I am still trying to figure out a workout routine.  I gained about 7 pounds during the holidays  being a sloth and eating everything sweet I could get my hands on.  It was great short-term, but that is not how I want to live my life all the time.  I am eager to get back into exercising and eating sensibly, but the exercise part is so hard for a mother of a large family.   I feel like I really don't have time to go exercise without something or someone suffering for it.  And yet, if I don't exercise, the whole family and I will suffer for that.  It's a catch-22.  

Frog likes rhyming words.  He's very cute about it.  (Frog is very cute in general.)  Just in the last few days he has started composing poetry.  I will leave you with a poem he told me today, followed by a picture of the Rabbit with a Citiblok creation.  

Frog's Poem

I woke up one morning

And came down the stairs

Octopuses everywhere!

But no bears.   

Grumpy Dragon

Every fall, when the Rainbow Resource Center toy catalog comes, my kids spend hours pouring over it and picking out all the things they would like to have.  I have no problem with this because the toys in the catalog are educational and quality, and I always make a big order from Rainbow Resource  at Christmas time.  

The kids all know I like to buy high quality plastic figures  (Schleich or Safari brands) so they pay special attention to those in the catalog.   This year there was one they all immediately wanted.  I saw him and knew we needed him at our house, so I bought.   Then I couldn't decide who to give him to since everyone wanted him, so I put him on the mantel and he was there looking down on us on Christmas morning.  He's still there.  I believe he is going to be a long-standing household icon. 

Meet Grumpy Dragon.   He makes me smile.