Showing posts from October, 2010

Happy Birthday, TM!

TM turned 8 years old today.  I can't believe it, really.  Four years ago there were days where I couldn't imagine him being that old... mainly because I could only see what was right in front of me and it wasn't pretty.  As hard I as tried to imagine a time where our family would feel  'normal' again I couldn't do it.  But we all have come a long, long way since that time four years ago.  We are back to normal again (whatever that happens to be) and not only can I appreciate the present, I can imagine the future... one where my son grows up to be a responsible man.  I love him so much.  He is bright, funny, caring, and energetic.

The other day when he was sitting on my lap I was realizing how big he has gotten.  He hangs off in all directions and has lost that little-boy-look he used to have.  I was suddenly struck with how much I have missed of him.  Not only did I miss his baby and toddler years, I missed his preschool years as well.  I couldn't apprecia…

What I do in my free time

I do one of two things... I either make things:

Here is my current project that, because of time constraints, has taken over every waking hour.  So I guess it's not really during my free time anymore.  The trouble with intensive project making is that all other things fall by the wayside.  For instance, I haven't done laundry in two days.  I must do some today or the situation in the basement will become critical.
Anybody want to guess what I'm so madly working on?
... or I read.  (If only I could figure out how to sew and read a book at the same time!)  My latest book is The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.  It's been on my list to read for a while now.  Mr. Gatto was the New York State Teacher of the Year and has been given numerous teaching awards.  He is now one of the most out-spoken critics of current educational practices around.  It makes for some very interesting reading.  You may not always agree with him but he does make you thin…

Review of the week

Sometimes you just have one of those weeks that don't work according to plan.  For no discernible reason, this past week was one such week.  The schedule didn't work so well and everything was just off.  I find it helpful on weeks such as this to look back and make a list of things we did accomplish... even if they weren't in the plan or on the schedule.  I have to remind myself that these things really do "count".

So what did go on in the Big Ugly House? 
Well, M.,B., and J. attended a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was great timing because they had just read and discussed the book for their literature class. P., TM, and D. all spent time on learning the rest of their lines for Charlotte's Web, the performance of which is in three weeks.  Working on lines has been great for TM because we have been really working on pronouncing the endings of words.  (He still tends to believe that word endings are entirely optional.)   Rehearsing the play has also…

Mask making and front yard theatricals

Due to last year's successful production of short plays on our front lawn during the trick-or-treating hours, more front yard theatricals are being planned for this year.  M., B., A. and friends have been writing and rehearsing and making props and costumes.  M. has taken on the job of making the masks.
(Edited to add: lots of people hit this page looking for directions on how to make either wolf or pig masks. M. made these and has put up a tutorial on her tumblr site. Here are the links for part one and part two. When you arrive at her site, click on the photos for the written directions.)
 One wolf mask

 Pig masks (with D. and P. modelling)
A lion mask
I think they're rather ingenious, especially when you consider they are made with glue, paint, and construction paper.  I'm sure you can figure out at least one of the stories they will be dramatizing.  Yes, they are doing the Three Little Pigs, and no, the lion is not a part of that story.  It appears in the story of Pi…

Culture Keeping

I just finished reading the book Culture Keeping: white mothers, international adoption, and the negotiation of family difference by Heather Jacobson.  And since no one here at my house has read it, I guess I will discuss it with myself.  There were some interesting parts, but it wasn't quite what I expected.  First off, it is very much a book by a sociologist written for sociologists.  To get to the interesting bits, you must be willing to slog through quite a bit of jargon... and quotes about how burdened women are by society's expectations that they raise their children.  But I won't go there right now. 

Also, the focus of the book was much narrower than I expected it to be.  The title makes it sound as though transracial international adoption would be discussed as a whole, but that is not quite the case.  The study centered on two groups of mothers, those who had adopted from Russia and those who had adopted from China, and looked at how each group kept culture for t…


I promised you a video of G. and L. walking and here it is.  (G. is in the dark pink shirt and solid jumper and L. is in the light pink shirt and striped jumper.)  They really don't crawl anywhere anymore.  It's all walking, all the time.  We were outside taking advantage of the wonderful weather we've been having.  Who would believe that the babies could have short-sleeves and bare legs near the end of October?

Grown-up dinner

You might have noticed on my menu list that Saturday night we were having J.'s sisters and their husbands over for dinner. We do this every year to celebrate their mother's birthday. It is a nice chance to get to visit with each other without the distraction of our children and spend some time remembering their mom. We have done it different ways in different years. The first year after she died, we had dinner together and then went to a play. Since she was an actress, seeing a play seemed fitting. Other years we've gone to restaurants or one of us has hosted dinner. We offered to host this year. I decided to make meatloaf using my mother-in-law's grandmother's recipe. J. also wanted to serve pickled herring as an appetizer because he can remember his parents eating that together on the evenings when children ate early and sent upstairs to give their parents an evening together. 

It is fun to set a table for only 6 people because I can take out two leaves and sud…

Advance planning -- the short version

After I finished writing the last post, I realized that it was really long and wordy and perhaps my point was lost.  So here's the short version, for any explanations you'll have to slog through the long one.

To make Christmas enjoyable, you need to start planning now.  Steps to make that happen:

Sit down with your spouse, older children, and a calendar and block out dates in December RIGHT NOW!  Plan what you would like to do as a family and put it on the calendar.  This is the only way to make sure everyone will be freeConsider blocking out dates just for everyone to stay home and enjoy each other's company.  Christmas is a busy season and you don't have to be going, going, going all the time.If you have been buying gifts throughout the year, now is the time to inventory them.  See what you have before you buy more.Plan what you still need to get and write it down (and then carefully hide the list!)  How many gifts does each person get?  What are they (or types of thi…

Advance planning - get a cup of tea, this is the long version

I'm convinced that part of being organized and prepared is a willingness to confront things before they reach crisis-mode.  For instance, taxes are easier to prepare if you've saved receipts and kept records throughout the year even though it is not so pleasant to think about taxes outside the month of March or April.  By doing so, it certainly makes that month in spring a bit less dreary.  If you wait until April 10 to start sorting paper, it is a crisis. But if you have spent a few minutes throughout the year making yourself think about that unpleasant thing called taxes, it is not enjoyable but it is rarely a crisis.  (Of course this is the IRS we're dealing with, so perhaps it is not the best example.)  I'm heading somewhere here, and I bet you've guessed it is not really about events which happen in April.  Are you ready?

Take a deep breath.

To really enjoy the month of December and not be a crazy lunatic who suddenly makes Scrooge look like a poster child for…

Big Ugly House tour

I know more than a couple people are curious about the Big Ugly House and so I thought I would give you a tour... in installments.  You've already seen the kitchen and guest room and a bit of the dining room and the schoolroom. (The room which I am in the very slow process of redoing.  I'll have something to show you once I work up the nerve to cut into the fabric I bought to recover the futon.  Oh, and it desperately needs better lighting.  I've decided that's why I find it depressing.)  How about we go upstairs and see how we fit 9 children into four bedrooms?
First up is the little boys' room.  That would be TM, D. and K.  Their room is actually a tandem room which connects with B.'s  You can't see it in these pictures, but there is a large opening to the right in the picture below.  We have it covered by a curtain and blocked by dressers to make two distinct rooms.

As you can see, the boys don't have a lot of stuff in their room.  They each have a bin…

Time flies

Every so often I come across some photographs of my older children of when they were very little.  My heart aches a bit when I find them and it feels a bit like homesickness to look at their picture and wish I could hold my little ones again.  I love who they are now.  I love talking with them and spending time with them and seeing glimpses of the adults they will be. But... just for a couple brief moments I wish I could turn back time and enjoy them as very small people again.

I worry that I didn't appreciate them enough when they were small.  I remember being the mother of three or four very young children.  I remember being tired and often grumpy and often impatient with their needs.  I worry that I was focused on what I wanted them to be able to do rather than what they had just mastered.  I worry that I wanted them to grow up too fast.  Because I've learned in the meantime that they do grow up and master many things and it happens in the blink of an eye... though it may n…

Just out of curiosity

I'm wondering how many families in Illinois with more than the average number of children received a nice little notice from the state internal revenue service a while back stating that they were either denying part of your exemptions or looking for more information about the dependents you listed.  It seems that the state has decided not to believe that large families actually have the number of children they say they do, even though the children have social security numbers.  Just curious if this is wholesale or just the large families I know.  At this rate I'm going to have to make a new post category:  I heart Illinois.  Too bad there is not a 'facetious' emoticon to go with it.

Homeschooling is good for the brain... Mine!

You know all those studies that have been done about Alzheimer's and that one of the recommendations to help ward off the disease is to keep you brain active and learning new things?  I think this must be a little known benefit to homeschooling parents, especially those with more than the average number of children.  There are some mornings where I fear I will suffer from whiplash of the brain.  While many of my children do much of their work independently, sometimes they will have questions they need to ask or comments they need to make.  And since my time is pretty well scheduled with one child or another throughout the whole morning, any questions need to be squeezed in while I'm working with someone else.

This explains why I sometimes find myself discussing the Code of Hammurabi at the same time checking a long division problem (and trying to figure how on earth she managed to get that answer), all the while offering suggestions as to how to word an email to various beekee…


As we read through Minn of the Mississippi, we come across different things that we want to do a little more learning about.  Wood ducklings falling out of the nest and bouncing on the ground to join their mother was one of those things.  (It sounds horrific, doesn't it?  But in actuality it's amazing, and the ducklings are pretty darn cute.) Here is the video we found:

(If you're having trouble viewing this because of how it fits on my blog, double-click on it and a it will open a new window so you can watch it on the YouTube page.)

This is just a short bit from a longer series called Planet Earth, produced by the BBC.  We've had the entire Planet Earth DVD set from Netflix before.  The photography is beautiful and it shows what a truly wondrous place this world is.  (Warning for sensitive viewers:  We are dealing with nature here.  Animal do eat other animals.)

Since this seems to be one of those posts filled with randomness, I'll share something else with you as…

Breakfasts in the Big Ugly House

I would like breakfast a lot more if it didn't happen in the morning.  But as it is, I have it pretty good.  J., for quite some time now, has taken on breakfast duties.  He usually comes downstairs first, makes the coffee and often something yummy for breakfast... baked oatmeal (my favorite), muffins, scones (I also really like these), or a quick bread.  He then brings me a cup of coffee to me to drink in bed while I try to wake-up.  I'm spoiled.

Other times the children will make themselves either scrambled or fried eggs and toast.  And in the winter we often have hot cereal (oatmeal, farina [which is like cream of wheat], or I've even done couscous with peaches).  Hot cereals are trickier to navigate because some like one kind, others like another kind, and some don't care for hot cereal at all.  We have to try to stagger what kind we have so as to spread the unhappiness around.

I do try to make things to have on hand so he doesn't need to bake every morning.  I …

For someone who tries to never leave her house...

going downtown twice in one day seems a bit much.  The first trip was to the Art Institute where we were scheduled to go on a field trip to see American art.  There were four families and all of us were studying American history in some form or another.  Over the past 13 years of homeschooling, negative comments or just plain ignorance have significantly declined.  So much so that I'm surprised now when they come.  Such as the question the docent directed at our children:  "So did you not enjoy going to school?"  Oh boy.  I'm afraid the homeschooling movement's cachet did not rise in her estimation when our children all stared at her in an uncomprehending, slack-jawed fashion.  Evidently they are out of practice with ignorant comments as well.  The morning ended up being fine, though it was a very inauspicious start.
We came home from that and after directing everyone toward some lunch, got in the car again to drive downtown.  Does this picture give you any hints …

Snuffly pinkness

The babies have been fighting colds this week.  They have been a bit needy, wakeful, and there is a lot of goo coming out of their noses.  A lot.  But, for the most part, even though they don't feel well, G. and L. remain two of the most cheerful babies ever.  And with G. officially walking, it is almost too cute to bear to see them toddling around together.  (I'll have to take a video of it soon to share with you.)  Here are some photos of my two cute babies (G. on left, L. on right).  (And yes, Mom, you can chuckle to yourself at them being dressed all in pink.  You see, before M. was born I swore I would never dress a girl in pink.  It was going to primary colors all the time.  Funny how our perspective changes.)

Kid Companion

One of the giveaways Barbara Curtis at Mommy Life was hosting was for a Kid Companion Chewelry necklace.  (I'm sorry about the Facebook link, it's the only one I could find.  I usually eschew Facebook because I think it's creepy.)  Anyway, the idea behind chewelry is that it provides children who are sensory seekers a more appropriate way to find it.  Instead of biting nails or fingers or clothing or scratching and picking at skin, the child can use the necklace.  I entered the giveaway because I have one son for whom this is a constant problem.  I worry about the long-term effects on his nails and skin from constantly being picked at, bitten, and scratched.

And I won!  I was completely surprised because I don't seem to ever win anything. The necklace arrived in the mail yesterday and was immediately put to use.  It is on a lanyard with a breakaway clasp so the child can safely wear it around the neck.  My son was very interested in it and was game to put it on.  I hav…

Oh the places you'll go

One of the more interesting things about being a parent is seeing what one's various children are interested in.  Often, it seems, these interests spring from no where... at least no where in relation to the parent.  Take M. at 2 years old, for instance.  For some unknown reason, she developed a love of all things frog and amphibian.  For Christmas that year I even gave her a copy of Vivarium Magazine which she nearly wore out with looking at it.  I now know far more about frogs and other amphibians than I ever thought I would. 
Some children seem to develop specialized interests more than others.  And sometimes it just takes longer to find that specialized interest.  (It's probably a good thing not all my children had such specific interests at the age of 2.  It would be difficult to keep up with them.)  Being the good mother (and a homeschooling one at that) I try to encourage my children's interests.  We've had frogs; we've visited train museums; we've chec…

A gift for a friend

(Edited to add:  It was pointed out to me that I give no indication of scale.  The peapod is about 4 inches long.  It's not very big.)
Last night I went out to dinner with a group of friends.  Our excuse?  We had a friend who has had a tough couple of months, but really we need very little reason to go eat Thai food together.  I thought I would bring a little gift.  Remember the book I mentioned, Amigurumi Knits?  I love it and my first project was this little peapod with three peas:
 The inside
 The outside
I love these projects because they can be made over the course of several evenings.  Knitting them is also going to really improve my technical knitting.  You know, increasing, decreasing, short rows, wrapping and turning.  (Well, some of that I didn't know either before I began.)  Perhaps I won't dread those parts on sweaters anymore.  If you are interested in trying some, I will say that I am glad I already knew how to knit on double-pointed needles.
Now a cute little gi…

The Hole in our Gospel

A fellow adoptive mom over at Coming Home issued a challenge a couple of weeks ago.  For every person who reads Richard Stearns' book, The Hole in our Gospel, and writes about it, she will donate $10 to her 8 year old son's campaign to raise enough money to build a well for clean drinking water in a village in Africa.  Helping to raise money for clean water for an entire village is a noble enough cause, but getting to read a book in the bargain is even better.

First, I want to tell you about how I came to even acquire this book.  When I signed up for the challenge, in the back of my head was the thought that I would have to order the book.  Money for ordering books on a whim is not usually part of our budget and I admit to a very slight grudging spirit about it.  I mentally put it on my list of things to get to and didn't think about it again for a couple of days.  Before I had a chance to order the book, I went into a mild cleaning frenzy over the amount of reading materi…

Nanny 911

Is this the name of a real show, or am I making it up?  If it is a real show, I obviously haven't seen it, but think I want to audition... to be the nanny, not the parent in need of help.  Sometimes I just want an avenue to give a little parenting advice without looking like a know-it-all mom bully.  Because I really do understand that people can have tough kids, or a child is having a bad day, or any number of reasons why children misbehave in public... that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about when parents make really obvious parenting mistakes that would be so easy to fix if they were aware of them and that in the long run will make everyone's life that much more pleasant.

Today, J. and I stopped to get a cup of coffee to share on our way to our big date of grocery shopping.  While we were in the store, a mother pushing a stroller and a young boy (who wasn't in the stroller) walked in.  They stood in line, where the little boy (like all small chi…

Cozy, cozy, cozy

We love The Cozy Book around here.  I love how the book evokes feelings of being safe and secure.  It's the kind of book that makes you want to curl up on a comfy couch under a warm blanket with a cup of cocoa and a good book after you read it.  That feeling of cozy safety is one of the goals I have for how my family perceives our home... a safe and comfortable place to be.

I find that homemaking is a balancing act.  There always seems to be a fine line between cleanliness and order and an inviting amount of chaos so that one doesn't feel as though one is living in a museum.  For instance, at this moment my front hall is still taken over by a large cardboard boat, but with the addition of long paper murals with riverside scenes and waterfalls drawn on in colored pencils wrapping themselves around three of the walls.  There are always piles of books everywhere.  (At least it feels as though it's everywhere.)  A large portion of my bedroom is taken up with an embarrassingly …


You know the term bowdlerizing, right?  After Thomas Bowdler who carefully excised all the questionable bits in Shakespeare, often used disparagingly.  I'm having second thoughts about the disparaging part.  It's all because of Tom Sawyer.  Since we're studying the Mississippi River, we have been reading Tom Sawyer at lunch time.  On the whole, everyone is enjoying it.  I knew going into reading it that there would be some issues with a bit of language and attitudes.  I was up for this since I see it as a part of learning about history.  We have to be willing to tackle the hard parts as well as the easy parts.  But I was unprepared for having to actually deal with the racial epithet that no one says and just abbreviates by its initial letter.  So I took a deep breath and dove in with incredibly strong warnings that this word was to never, ever be used.  I did that once and said the word aloud, choking on it even as I said it.  But the word comes more than once in the book.…

Mississippi shanty boat

I love the serendipitous moments of homeschooling.  As part of our study of the Mississippi River, we have been reading Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling.  On the pages we read today we came across a picture and description of a shanty boat with the occupant fishing for both fish and mussels (the mussels being used to make shell buttons.)  It just so happened that we had two very large boxes in our front hall which the children had been playing with, but which were going to be rapidly destroyed unless I came up with a purpose for them.  What better use than to have P., TM, and D. turn them into a shanty boat to float on the Mississippi?  The three children weren't entirely sure about the whole thing, but soon through themselves into boat production.  Two hours of play and creating later this is the result?
Everyone in the boat.  The living quarters are in the box on the end.  You can see the chimney for sticking up and the mussel shells outside the boat on the step.