Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Eighth Day of Summer Schoooooool... Aaaaaalllll's Welllllllllll!"

sounded the call of the Town Crier (or is it the Night Watchman?), assuring all the townspeople that they would be safe and secure in their expectations of morning routine and order, even in the midst of these months traditionally referred to as summer vacation.  And so shall it remain, by order of the Queen, Schoolmarm, Governess/Wife Jane Eyre Style.  Aw, forget it.  By order of ME.

Last Monday we buckled down once again... for so many reasons, not the least of which are (1) both the boys have some catching up to do, and (2) the wise mother in me saw that we would all benefit from a teeny little bit of structure to at least the first few hours of the day.  I had always planned to do some work through the summer, but had hoped it would be some "extras" - I especially had my sights set on map memory work and story book geography.  But, I decided to let that go to focus on getting Aaron through his math book and having Dominic repeat his handwriting book.  Back to the basest of basics.  (Believe me, we're not the type of homeschoolers that are trying to get ahead all early-college-entry-like.  We're more defined by trying to keep up without losing the joy of learning and the appreciation of being together. Sounds all hearts and flowers?  Most days it's not.) 

For two years now, I've been trying to convey the concepts of time well used and time wasted to the boys.  I've even gone so far as to draw pictograms of the day, showing how lessons done well and quickly and early, leave TONS of time for whatever later in the day.  No one ever got it.  Ever.  Dawdling, stalling, procrastinating were the typical methods of accomplishing school work - despite every natural consequence and un-earned reward I arranged.  (I'm primarily referring to methods used by my eldest, here.)  

However, yesterday the boys finally finally finally got it!  They independently decided, without a sermon from me, to wake up early and get their lessons (and morning chores) done so that the rest of the day would be free. And they did!  This morning, by 7am, I had two pajama clad kids at the table busily working and eating fruit and waffles.  And Aaron just announced as he went to bed tonight, "Dominic and I have agreed we're going to do that thing again where we get our lessons done right away so that we can have the rest of the day free to clean the backyard."  What?? What did I do to deserve this double bonus - lessons done and a clean backyard!  

So - even if we don't finish the math book or the handwriting book, these kids have learned a far more valuable lesson in their summer school: He who cheerfully completes his work in the wee small hours of the morning has a very good chance of avoiding the wrath of Mom for almost the entire rest of the day.  Well, at least the morning.  (She might even smile at you before 8am.) And you really do pretty much get to do whatever you want for the the remaining free hours of the summer day.  An important lesson, indeed. 

A few notes on our "Summer School".

- It is ultra low key. Often includes things like, "practice tying your shoes" or "write a letter to your Aunt ___." 

- Besides the Math and Handwriting, the point is to get back into the habit of knowing what Mom expects and doing it in short order :)  

- My kids think it's cool to do lessons outside.  Veteran moms are always telling us to change things up a bit, right?

- I use a check list because then the boys know what they have to do without asking me over and over, and I don't have to try to remember what I was planning on having them do. It's super low-tech - I just write it out and they check it off as the go.  I love check lists that look long but the lessons are very short - the kids get to check stuff off quickly and it gives us all a sense of accomplishment.  I also like to think of it as a lesson in perception vs. reality - a project (or list) may seem long or difficult, but if you start it, you may find that it's well within your power to finish it with reasonable effort and in a reasonable amount of time.

today's lists.  relatively short, actually.  the boys were thrilled they only had four things each.
(During the school year, I used a magnet board system - I wrote about it here - to keep track of lessons, and I'll probably go back to that in the Fall. We usually cover so many subjects in a day that the hand-written checklist would be ridiculous.) 

- Here's a fun thing - a sweet friend of mine from college encouraged her son to write to Aaron asking if he wanted to be summer pen pals!  They're the same age and both love Legos.  It was a pen pal match made in heaven.  I mean, what a GREAT idea. I'm so grateful that she came up with this and that they included Aaron - he gets handwriting/editing/letter-writing practice with the expectation that he'll get something in the mail in return! And he's making a new (out-of-town) friend in the process!  Best kind of summer school I can think of!

- Part of our summer school plan involves read-alouds, usually done later in the day or at bedtime.  Earlier in July we read Kipling's The Jungle Book and the kids listened to Just So Stories on CD. We recently started an abridged version of Moby Dick, but it seems to have gone missing - Davy Jone's Locker's got nothin' on the abyss that is the mysterious darkness under our living room couch. 

- So far, Summer School is going well. (It's only day 8 though, so I know there's still time for it all to fall apart...  I'm not that cocky or naive!) I suppose we may take another week or so off right before September.  But for now, it makes sense to continue - we're learning, it's productive, and it hardly takes any time out of the day. 

- Don't worry.  They are getting PLENTY of free-to-be-kids-in-the-summertime time, so there's NO NEED to convince me that children need time to run and jump and play.  My needs-to-be-cleaned backyard is proof enough that these kids are freely running, jumping, playing, and I don't even know what else (usually unsupervised, to boot) many hours of every summer day.  

Do you school through the summer??  And is it different that what you do during the traditional school year?  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday Tidbits

It is Tuesday, right?  

As per usual these days, I have nothing much to offer.  Just a few tidbits and random thoughts for future post ideas - perhaps if I put them here, I'll be more likely to actually write them. Or not, if history is any indication.  We shall see.

My tidbits:

1) Have you ever had the suspicion that the "experts" are full of it?  Or that snooty wine drinkers are... well, just that... Snooty.  Don't get me wrong.  I like wine (though I'd probably prefer a beer.)  Anyway... I love this article that my mom passed on to me: How Expert Are Wine Experts?  Inexpensive wine drinkers of the world - you aren't drinking crap.  It says so right here. 

2) On a more serious note:  Nella, a friend that I know through our Catholic homeschool group, just recently had her sixth child. Nella is battling cancer and her sweet daughter, Avery, is in neonatal intensive care.  They could use your spare prayers.  And please visit Nella's blog, Is There McDonald's In Heaven  to read her most recent reflection - it's a tear jerker - tears of sorrow, appreciation, surrender, and hope.  It's good.  (I'm praying for you, Nella!)

3) A few nights ago, Russ and I got to go out for a date. Dinner! (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) The restaurant had a soup sampler option. Three small cups of soup for $5.  I also recall going to an Olive Garden (?) once and having a dessert sampler - little shot glasses with varying desserts so you wouldn't have to decide between chocolate or vanilla or fruit.  THIS IS GENIUS.  Absolute perfection for someone like me who can't make up her mind and wants to try a little bit of everything anyway.  Why don't more places have options like this.  If you know of any places, and fail to refer me to them immediately... fie on you.  I am in search of an all-sampler eatery.  Won't you join me in my quest?

4) If a sampler platter is not available, then I'm the type of diner that likes to eat half of what I order and then half of what my companion has ordered. (This love of gastronomic variety is unusual, as it certainly does not carry over into other areas of life.  In most things, variety is messy.  In a restaurant meal?  Bring it on!) I was shocked the first time someone said "no" to my request that we each order something and then switch halfway.  It never occurred to me that this wouldn't be the preferred method of eating out for anyone else.  Thank you, Heavens Above!  for sending me a husband that is either of the same mind, or is so easy going he just always says yes.  

5) What am I reading these days?  Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. Which I like.  And it is funny.  But I'm having a hard time finishing it.  I've seen all his netflix stuff, got to see him in person (tres funny), and I really like his humor, soooo... I'd love to give the book glowing reviews, but I can't because it's just more of the same.  I'm also reading The Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family, my Mary Ostyn (check out her blog,  Mary has a family of 10 - 4 biological and 6 adoptive children. It's a great read - practical, straight forward, fun.  My aunt sent it to me after she found it in a Dollar Tree store.  (Thanks so much, Aunt Claire!) This book does not belong in the Dollar Tree, but since it was, I rushed to my local DT, but there weren't any copies.  My plan was to buy the whole stash and give them to friends and blog readers.  But now it seems you'll have to get a full-price Amazon copy (worth it) or wait to see if I write any more about it another time :)

6) What do you do with the child who, after having threatened him with ______  (fill in the blank with your favorite lazy parenting threat) comes out of his room again during quiet time, creeps down the stairs and says, "Mom, please don't get angry.  I need a pink pearl." ???? Of course, I gave it to him, hugged him, and told him I couldn't wait to see what he was drawing.  I should probably just stop threatening.  Or let him set up a little art-supply store in his closet.  

7) Other things I've been considering writing about:  (1) next year's school plans (Almost coming together!!  But not quite. Still trying to figure out if local library Lego Club can fit some requirement on the IHIP.  Science?  Phys Ed?)  (2) My sister is having her first baby in the Fall!  (Yipee!)  She asked me today what she should register for - so that sounds like a blog post about first-baby basics, if you ask me!  (3) At a friend's recommendation, I've started reading 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child (Anthony Esolen) which may or may not work into a post that's in my head - "Cultivating Imagination in my Kids - it's a Love/Hate Thing"  (4) What to write for my 100th post  (5) How do boys that had a shower the night before get SO sweaty and smelly by lunch time??? And do I still really have to hug them? ** Well, you can see that this list is fast falling prey to my Blogger's Dilemma - a little too much Ordinary and not enough Lovely.  

8) Time for bed.  Oh, and speaking of bed - the girls went down at the same time in the same room this evening!  And Russ and I are talking about some major bedroom changes around here - mini improvements and maybe a big switch-a-roo (Russ says it should be spelled switch-er-oo.  Anyone want to weigh in?)  But, if you know my husband and me, you know that we can drag our feet forever on stuff like this.  By the time we finally decide, the kids will be moved out and the foot-dragging will have left canyons in the wood floors that won't allow for the re-arranging of furniture anyway. So forget I said anything.  Goodnight.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Week's Worth of *SIMPLE* Lunch Ideas That Are Not PB&J

A note before you proceed: If you are somewhat challenged in the the creative lunch department, this post of fairly uninspired lunch ideas may have something to offer you.  If you are, however, a person who has already mastered lunch-time offerings diversity, or even more exceptionally, makes uber creative lunches for your sweet little munchkins, then by no means should you read this post. Please click away from here.  Now. 

* * * * * *

Perhaps like most families, we tend to eat of a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because they're a no-brainer for me. Especially in the summer...  it's hard enough for me to figure out what we're going to have for dinner - so it's Priority Number One for me to have SIMPLE, no-cook, no fancy-prep lunches for my kiddos.  

When you Google or Pinterest-search things like "lunch ideas for kids" that majority of what comes up is food cut into into itty bitty tiny shapes and placed on a plate just so, so that your child's fruits and veggies take on the form of George Washington's silhouette or a map of the world or some such nonsense.  The rest of the suggestions, while not requiring you to recreate the art of the Renaissance masters out of shredded lettuce, sprigs of parsley, and seeded cherry tomatoes, they do involve ridiculous steps like grilling avocados or par-broiling salmon fillets.  

Commendable, but... I am SO NOT DOING THIS STUFF, people.  I mean, I don't even know what par-broiling means.  And yet, you sometimes just need a break from the PB&J.  Here's my list of ultra simple lunches - that do not require cooking, grilling, creative carving, intricate arranging, cookie cutters, or even removing crusts. (They don't require peanut butter or jelly either.) Simply put, this is a list of lunches for moms who believe that getting lunch on the table should be quick and easy - because the sooner lunch is enjoyed and finished, the sooner afternoon rest time can commence!

Skip bread, use crackers.  A super favorite around here is a plate full of tuna salad and crackers to put in on.  (Oh, yes.  This is an indication of how rivetting and ground-breaking this list will be.  Keep reading.  I have five of these gems for you.) 

Another cracker-based favorite is Triscuits with veggie cream cheese topped with cucumbers or cherry tomatoes.  (The kids don't eat the tomatoes, but I do!) 

Cold cut roll-ups...
Previously served with mustard until we found this yogurt dressing that now goes on any and all roll-ups...

Tortilla chips with cheesy bean dip.
The "bean dip" is 1/2 can refried beans, 1/2 jar salsa, and some shredded cheese mixed together and microwaved for a couple minutes.  

A cup of yogurt with a plate of cut up fruit and toothpicks for dipping the later into the former.  This will make luchtime seem like a party (the kitschy kind where food is served with toothpicks.) Sometimes we dip rice cakes into yogurt, too.  (I know, there's so much meal-time creative-energy here, you think you might burst.)  

* All lunches served with raw veggies and fruit.  It is absolutely forbidden that they be cut into any cute or artistic shape. *

There you go.  Five lunches.  No peanut butter.  And in case you truly found this list inspiring and you are sitting on the edge of your seat, hoping that I will add in some bonus material... I have three more summer-time food tips that your family will thank you for.

Bonus Material 1.

A real crowd pleasing dinner... Asian Chicken Salad
(At least around here, it is.  In fact, this in the dinner that I make when I'm feeling in the dumps and I want to orchestrate a little pick-me-up.  If I make this dinner I can sit at the dinner table and have the thanks an praise of my husband and children rain down on me.  It's a touch pathetic, but it helps.)
Everyone gets a giant plate of green salad and adds, at his or her own discretion: slivered almonds, Chinese Chow Mien noodles, drained/rinsed canned mandarin oranges, and chopped or shredded cooked chicken breast (I have been known to use the frozen variety but we also enjoy grilled or skillet-prepared chicken as well.)  The salad is best with this dressing:

Bonus Material 2.

Cucumber Blueberry with Feta Side Salad
Get the recipe here and thank me later.  
It's Mm Mm Good.

official Wegmans photo...
my less lovely photo

Bonus Material 3.

Watermelon with fresh-squeezed lime juice.
The absolute greatest, most delicious way to eat a sweet watermelon.  Ever.  Seriously, I'm drooling right now.  I used to hoard this treat to myself, but once my husband and kids tried it, there was no running from the inevitable - it's everyone's favorite hot summer day snack and now I have double what I stockpile in limes and melons each week.  And, the colors are pretty too.

PS - if you're the kind of person that already makes the above types of lunches for your kids all the time, then for goodness sake, give them a PB&J for a change :) But then come right back here to comment below and share your non-PB&J easy lunch favorites with me!   

PPS - I think I'm going to stop taking pictures of food.  First of all, I'd look totally foolish if someone were to come to the door and there I was standing over a ham roll-up with my zoom lens.  And secondly, it never comes out looking as good as it should.  All photos here come with the disclaimer: photo quality is not an indicator of flavor past or present and the photographer will not be held responsible if you fail to appreciate any or all foods due to a preconceived notion of taste based on photo.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Our Urban Garden

(Alternate Title: Luckily We're Not Share Croppers or Land Serfs or Aren't Required to Pay a Part of Our Mortgage in Produce Raised on this Partially-Bank-Owned Property of Ours)

Last year we made our first foray into vegetable gardening.  Russ had decided that (based on the one gardening book he'd read) we'd get the biggest yield in our small garden space if we made it a Square Foot Garden.  You can read about what it makes it an official Mel Bartholomew SFG here, if you're really that curious. It's sufficient to know that it's a 4x4 foot garden, divided into 16 square feet, and the special soil mix that you use is purported to grow squash the size of the island of Manhattan in approximately four weeks time.  (slight exaggeration there... you won't find that actual claim in Mel's book.)  

Last year we thought that our two Square Foot Gardens, and other various container gardens throughout the yard, would be bursting with large, delicious, good things to eat. We thought we'd be saving all kinds of money in the produce department and that our root cellar (we don't really have one of those) would be full to the brim and get us through the winter.  This year, we're hoping to get enough beans and peas for one or two afternoons of backyard snacking.  

Truthfully... we live in the city.  We have a small-ish backyard and it's more important for me to have run-around space for the kids than to have fresh arugula.  And, we're not ready to be those neighbors who convert the entire front lawn into an urban-bunny buffet... although you have to admit, THIS looks amazing...

from    (Awesome garden, guys!)

So, leaving behind our illusions (or delusions...) of an edible estate or mini-homestead, we are pressing forward with our small and simple urban garden... mostly because it's fun and science-y and we all enjoy seeing what comes of it!  This year we have cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, pole beans, bush beans, various lettuces, and carrots.  And we actually all like veggies - so, yum!

something is getting our pole beans...

I predict we get one salad and a side of string beans out of it this year!  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Dresses

(alternate title: An underwhelming show-and-tell of two projects)

Sometimes fluttery sleeves on a little girl make her look cute. And... other times they just make her look like a Star Trek character with a shoulder pad malfunction....

Please compare:

So I thought, "Well, I only paid $4 for this dress at Old Navy. I can either donate it to Kids-for-Klingons or I can try to "fix" it so that I might actually let Clare wear it."  I got out my scissors and chopped off those flutters.  It's not bad, but it's not great either.  Maybe I'll put it on her once in a while. At lease now she'll be able to fit through standard-size doorways without turning sideways...

Dress project number two is somewhat more exciting, but don't get too worked up.  A few months ago I found a skirt at AmVets thrift store on a 50% off day.  $1.50.  It was a girl's size L (12-14 or something like that??) It was gauzy white with embroidered butterflies and sequins, and was in great shape.  So I bought it, knowing it was 17 sizes to large for Ruth but with the plan that I would turn it into a dress. It was one of those projects that I never would have gotten to... except... a sweet friend hosted a craft night last night.  Do you have any idea how delightful it is to get out of the house and spend a few hours sewing and chatting with friends!  Bliss!  So I had the free time to do the dress after all.

Foolish me forgot to take a picture of the skirt before I took my scissors to it.  But here's the finished project.  I cut off the top waste band and attached it to a tank top that I cut up from the bottom.  It's a tad big for Ruth, but not unwearable. It will fit her again next year and then will be a hand-me-down for Clare!  

Clare's hand in the corner there reminds of the creepy tallisman from that short story
"The Monkey's Paw" - you know that one that you read in freshman high school Lit.   

I think she likes it!

Blueberries, Peaches, and Water, Oh My!

Sometimes we go blueberry picking to get a great price on a huge haul and sometimes we just go because it's fun and family friendly.  Yesterday I knew we needed to get out of the house in the morning, so we did the later kind of blueberry picking.  It didn't matter how much we picked or how much it cost, we just wanted to enjoy early blueberry season!

And we did!

pretty blueberry patch weed

And let's face it... a summer day that starts with blueberry picking, has local farm fresh peaches involved, and ends with Slip n' Slide, is a pretty great summer day!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Blogger's Dilemma (My Life Is Not Really Blog-Worthy)

If you're not one of my two regular readers, you may not realize it, but I haven't posted anything in 11 days.  And I haven't written about anything truly thoughtful or thought-provoking in... I don't know... either one month, or eight months (that's when I started the blog...) Take your pick.  

I figured it out.  It's a two-fold issue.  (1) My life isn't really that blog-worthy.  Which is not to say that I don't value and appreciate my life.  It's more that it's hard to find any justification for documenting it on-line and even harder to expect that anyone is interested in reading the drivel that I may come up with.  and 2) The current state of my mental processing unit does not lend itself to deep thoughts.  "Bog" is the word that comes mind, not "Blog."  My mind is mush lately.  No scintillating or controversial or intellectual or even remotely sarcastic thoughts are brewing in there.  I've got nothing.  

This is my blogger's dilemma.  In painful comparison to the other wonderful blogs I enjoy reading, I don't have much to offer.  I don't have much to document.  And yet.  I like my life.  And I enjoy keeping track of it here... the lovely moments that are fleeting and perhaps forget-able, but not if I keep it here.  The smiles of my children, the entertaining things they say,  the projects that we work on, the activities that we do, the chores that we tackle, the books that we finish, the thoughts that I think on days when I remember to reboot my brain - they're the stuff of my life.  And humble though they be, these little particles of ordinary-daily-dailiness are the things that, when combined, make up this life that I like so much.  To me, they're worth recording here.  It's not a record that will shake humanity to the core. It's not even a record that's likely to inspire a handful of folks in the Western Hemisphere. It's just a little piece of me that's worth working on, if only for myself.  And if I happen to retain my two faithful readers, how delightful! I'm happy for you to follow along!  Though I get it if you choose to spend you time with a more riveting blogger.  I totally get it.  

The title of it all, after all, does acknowledge the ORDINARINESS of my life.  It's right up there at the top of the page for me and anyone else to see and know and believe. So there's no need for me to pretend that my blog will rock the interwebs.  And anyone who's joining me need not feel cheated when they realize, there's really not much here.  I'm keeping it simple, because that's my life and my mental-capacity right now. 

With that in mind, I thought I'd share 11 of the ridiculously ordinary things that have been happening in my home and in my brain for the last 11 days.  This is not a blogger's dilemma. This is Ordinary Lovely...


Papa teaching Clare how to roll down hills 

The big kids got to sweat a little this past weekend at a soccer clinic run by a family friend.  


I recently resorted to a new form of parental supervision.  It involved me laying in the couch in a state of total exhaustion, praying to my children's Guardian Angels to pick up my slack. The boys played outside without argument or incident for three hours that afternoon, one of which I'm pretty sure I was dead asleep. At first I felt a little guilty about it, but then I Googled it and it turns out it's totally legit.  Here's what I found at Catholic Online:

A Mother's Prayer to the Guardian Angels of her children

I humbly salute you, O you faithful, heavenly Friends of my children! I give you heartfelt thanks for all the love and goodness you show them. At some future day I shall, with thanks more worthy than I can now give, repay your care for them, and before the whole heavenly court acknowledge their indebtedness to your guidance and protection. Continue to watch over them. Provide for all their needs of body and soul. Pray, likewise, for me, for my husband, and my whole family, that we may all one day rejoice in your blessed company.  Amen 
My own prayer was not quite so eloquent.  It went something more like this... (to be read with a desperate tone)

Dear Guardian Angels of my two energetic and sometimes thoughtless boys,  I'm exhausted and no part of me can be out in the backyard with them right now.  I am begging you to keep them safe, to guard their words and manners towards one another, to guide their behavior and their actions, and PLEASE spare them from the (oftentimes dangerous) consequences of their own creative genius.  (Moms of boys, you know what I mean.)  Amen.  


Found this sticker waiting for me when I went to use the toilet the other day.  


The boys found their first cicada shell of the summer and documented the location on the playset.  
(What, you couldn't figure out that said 'cicada'???)  


Just to give you an idea of how bad things really are around here, one of the blog post titles I've been toying with is "Clutter and Your Filth Threshold:  Never Say Never."  


Clare has a new face that she's making...


(This is my favorite!)  Yesterday the boys tried to play a trick on me.  I was supposed to check on them at rest time, see these on their pillows and know that everything was as it should be, while they were off playing oh-so-clever-and-sneaky-like in another part of the house!   Hahahahahahaha!  Loved it!  


A couple months ago I read the book Children and Parents by Fulton Sheen, and since then I've been thinking about the different challenges/aspects of parenting boy vs. girls.  I've been thinking about what kind of girl Ruth is and what kind of mother I want to be for her.  She has so many different "facets" (I know every kid does!) but I'm just trying to figure out what kind of little girl I'm working with here.  I mean, look at her...! 


Also from the Fulton Sheen book... Just to make sure I don't get too comfortable and complacent in my parenting...

"Why impose habits of cleanliness, politeness, or honesty?  All parents who exempt themselves from exercising intelligent control and discipline over their children are social nuisances long before their children become delinquents."

"The peak of moral authority is reflected in the attitude of the parent who says, "I ask for obedience, because I am responsible before God for you."  The child in his turn, if morally educated, will have in his heart the sentiment: "I will obey my parents because they take their place of God in my home."

"Every child is given to the parents by God as so much wax or clay to be molded into the image and resemblance of Life and Truth and Love.  If the parents take their eyes off the Model, the image will be become imperfect.  Only those who have learned how to obey know how to command."

"Where there is true authority, there is never and necessity of the parent having to defend his dignity; rather the parent defends the child against himself.  True authority makes the child conscious of his own fault; false authority makes the parent defend himself."

"If one puts garbage into the stomachs of children, it will be easy to forecast their health; if moral garbage is put into the minds of children, it is easy to predict how these idea will become acts."

and finally, (11)

I'm thinking we may need to get some egg-laying chickens of our own. Just see how Clare enjoyed her first deviled egg...

So, I'm back.  But I'm definitely not promising anything spectacular.  Happy Tuesday!  
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