Monday, February 28, 2011

Dress for success

First of all, thank you all for your continued prayers.  We appreciate them so much.  I am feeling significantly better today and I am sure it is everyone's prayers that have made the difference.  Now to the regularly scheduled post.

Have I mentioned before that I like to stay home?  Yeah, I thought so.  I get more done and feel more on top of things so consequently am a more relaxed and happy person.  I don't mind the occasional errand and I enjoy fun activities, but the constant errand-running and carpooling I find completely enervating.  I do all I can to avoid it.

But not leaving my home and seeing only my children and husband some days has made me think carefully about clothing choices.  It would be so easy to fall into the habit of throwing on whatever was easiest and not really worrying about what I look like.  But, I made a discovery along the way that stops me from doing that:  how my day goes and I how I feel about it is often in direct correlation to the care I took in getting dressed that morning.  Like the chicken and the egg, it is probably not necessarily a straight cause and effect.  If I am already in the mood to throw on whatever, then probably my attitude is setting me up for a bad day.  In general though, even if my attitude is not great, feeling as if I look neat and presentable can help to turn that bad attitude around.

There are other reasons I make an effort as well.  First of all, I believe how I look communicates to my children and husband that I think they are important enough to look nice for.  If I say my career is making a home and raising and educating my children, I should look as though I take it seriously.  I respect them by trying to look put together and in return I believe I receive more respect from them as well.  Next, while there have been days when I thought I didn't have to leave my house and I thought I wouldn't be seeing anyone, I have been surprised otherwise more than once.  How much better is to have taken a few more minutes in the morning so that I don't have to be embarrassed to open the door to a surprise visitor?  Knowing you look presentable makes it so much easier to offer hospitality at unexpected moments.  Lastly, I really like to go against type.  (It's that reactionary, non-conforming streak in me.)  Sadly, the stereotype of the stay-at-home mom (ugh, how I loath that term!) is of a woman in a sweatsuit, possibly stained, and hair pulled back in a hairband, looking slightly haggard.  (Wait!  Stop!  Before you frantically hit that comment button, anyone with a baby who is one-year-old or less gets a huge pass.  I've been there, done that six times... guilty of everything I wrote.  I'm talking about those whose children have gotten older and haven't changed their habits.  There is a season for everything and mothers of infants are in a season of intensive baby care.)  I can't tell you the number of times I've been out without my children and in the course of conversation with another person, they discover and are surprised that I have any children, much less 9.  Such is the power of stereotypes that a woman who looks put together must not have children, or if she does just a couple much older ones.

What do I bother with?  Well, I'm not vacuuming in hose, heels, and pearls if you are wondering.  I try to avoid schleppy t-shirts and I only own one pair of jeans.  (See, I told you I'm a bit odd.)  I try to wear clothes that look nice and are comfortable.  But, I also wear jewelry and earrings everyday as well as some make-up... just as if I was going to a job outside the house.  It makes me feel better about myself as well as making me feel more organized and competent.  Clothing can be a powerful thing. 

If you've never tried, try it for a week and see how you feel.  Lay your clothes out the night before so you don't have to think about it the morning.  You may find that some thrift store or consignment store shopping is needed to fill out a wardrobe if it is filled with things that don't make you feel good about yourself.  Do this over time... give yourself permission to buy things that make you feel pretty and not just things that are serviceable.  I'm a bit obsessed with blogs that focus on women who make and wear clothing using vintage patterns.  The clothes are pretty and it is such a nice change from the current uniform of jeans with a shirt. (A Dress a Day, The Sew Weekly, and My Happy Sewing Place are some of my current favorites.)  Really, try it, I think you will be glad you did.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Prayer requests for H. and her adoption

We are in the midst of great stacks of paperwork to get through our home study and as we anticipate adding H. to our family, I would like to invite you to join us in praying for this venture.  On one level it seems the easiest thing to do... love and care for another child, but it is also a significant undertaking, one we don't take lightly.  So here's our list,  please pray as you feel led.
  1. For H.  That her heart would be prepared for the huge transition she will undergo.  We also are praying for her complete healing.  God can do this if He chooses and we hope for this wonderful miracle for her.  She is also in constant pain from the tumor(s) in her face, we ask for relief from the pain for her.
  2. That all of the different levels of clearances and approvals that need to be worked through go quickly.  I have heard some really horrifying times for some of these and if each step takes the longest time, it could be closer to 18 months before we could hope to travel.  At this point, it would be no small miracle if we could travel in 2011.  But, as my mother keeps pointing out to me, God is bigger than government agencies.  Please help us storm the gates of heaven pleading that approvals and clearances come quickly.
  3. For me.  I am not new to adoption.  I know the amount of bureaucracy and intrusiveness that is involved in the process.  But this time I am coping far less well than the past two times.  I find myself becoming angry at the process and level of questioning involved and there are many days when I truly doubt this will all happen.  I really am feeling as though I am oppressed and I can't escape from the feeling.  Please pray that I am able to rest and trust in God and that I am able to truly cast my burdens onto Him. 
Thank you for your prayers.  I wouldn't mind if you left a quick comment telling us that you are joining with us to bring H. home.  There are some days I feel so alone in this.

Edited to add one more thing.  You could also pray that we scrape together the money we need for all the fees and travel expenses... we certainly don't have it laying about.  But, for some reason this is the one thing I"m not feeling overly concerned about.  Either I am truly convinced it will all work out, or I just can't stress over one more thing and this was at the bottom of the list.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rules for family meals, Big Ugly House style

I'm sure I've blogged about this before, but since I can't find it in the past year's posts, it must have been a while back.  I was asked about what our other family meal rules in a comment on yesterday's post and I thought it might be of more general interest.  And I needed a topic to write about for today.

Our rules range from dealing with basic manners to the more idiosyncratic ones that were created to address specific situations.  I will just deal with the basic ones... as for the others, everyone probably already knows that it is impolite to play with one's feet at the table, just not (some) of my children.  They are pretty simple. 
  1. Stay in your seat.  If you need to get up to get more water or visit the bathroom, ask to be excused.  If you just hop up from the table, we will assume you are done with you meal... even if you come back and announce you are still hungry.
  2. Wait to eat until everyone is served.  J. serves and then we say grace together and then everyone may begin eating.  With dessert (when we have it), everyone waits until the hostess (me), lifts her fork or spoon to begin.  This solves the problem of children bolting through their food and then dashing away before others have even begun.  It does create some funny situations, though, this waiting for everyone business. My children were at a friend's house for a birthday party last summer and were having their ice cream and cake outside.  The friend's family follows the same rules and we look out the window to see 15 children quietly waiting until someone said it was OK to begin as their ice cream melted in the sun.  We quickly sent someone outside to tell them to begin eating.
  3. Be appreciative of the food.  Our children are not allowed, ever, to announce that the food is somehow distasteful.  If so, the offending plate is quickly whisked away, rarely to return.  (We would hate to torture our children by forcing them to sit and stare at such awfulness.)  The child must still remain at the table because dinner is not over, but they do so without their dinner.  Our children do not have to love everything on their plate and they may say that something is not their favorite, but they do have to try a bite of everything and be thankful that they have food to eat and appreciative of the effort which went into its preparation.  I want to add that this method is effective if there is little fuss about it.  Child complains, plate is taken away with apologies for having offended the child with the offering, child and their plate-less condition is ignored as life at the table goes on.
  4. Everyday rules of conversation apply.  In our daily life we do not interrupt others; we do not speak unkindly; we do not yell if we are inside.  These are also issues that are best dealt with outside of the dinner table.  Usually if someone is being rude, we just have to remind them what the expected behavior is.  (Would another post of our general life rules and corresponding consequences be helpful?)
These are the four big ones.  Once a child has been able to manage these we also work on other things... using utensils and not fingers, chewing with the mouth closed, how to cut with a knife without gauging one's neighbor with an elbow, etc.  It depends on the child what we are expecting of him or her at any given time.

I will also add that our children do not follow these rules perfectly all the time and that some meals are more successful than others.  I also want to add that our dinners are not quiet.  There are too many people with too much to say to have a quiet meal. I love the conversational chaos (usually) and how much we all enjoy sharing meals together.  But I think a good part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that our children are generally well-behaved at the table and instead of focusing on discipline, we can focus on each other's company.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sitting in big girl chairs.

We have graduated G. (right) and L. (left) to youth chairs for breakfast and lunch at the kitchen table.  They are very cute sitting in their big girl chairs and so far they have done very well.  L. has hopped down from the table a couple of times and has been quite disappointed that her meal was over.  Since we don't allow children to get up from the table only to return a while later, we start this lesson early so it isn't an issue when they are older.

We were getting tired of dragging high chairs from room to room for each meal, so now the high chairs remain permanently in the dining room for the girls to use at dinner.  This isn't because we don't think that they can manage sitting at the table, but because there really isn't any room for them.  We seem to have a dining table crisis at the moment.  Ours comfortably seats 8 and uncomfortably seats 10... 11 or 12? Not so much.  At this point it seems easier to keep G. and L. in high chairs rather than figure out what to do with the table.  I have a second table in the room that I add to the main table for when we have guests, but that seems a bit much for the one extra place we need.  (Now, that is.  When H. comes home we will need two extra places.)  Unless a bigger table falls into our lap, I have a feeling that this will be our only choice.  In the meantime, the high chairs are working well and the girls haven't really seemed to notice that they get to sit at the table in the kitchen, but not in the dining room.  Or perhaps they do notice, but figure it's one of those oddities that they have no hopes of understanding.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pie for presidents

No, we're not sending pies to the president.  On Monday, President's Day, I decided to make use of a little bribery.  In return for memorizing the presidents, in order, I would make peach pies for dessert.  Manful attempts were made and a huge chart of each of the presidents was begun.  I'm not sure where we're eventually going to hang the thing, it is already many feet long and they are only up to president #29, Woodrow Wilson.  As a result of this little endeavor, everyone now knows a bit more about each of the presidents, especially since they have been using the book, The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States, to make their chart.  A. won for the most presidents memorized, she could do the entire list with just a little help.  We will probably keep working on this the rest of the week.  Of course, it would probably be fair if I memorized the presidents as well...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mooching meals across the midwest

On Sunday we began our trip home.  Our first stop was brunch at a virtual friend's home.  The family is a homeschooling family and one of their children was adopted from Vietnam.  I have corresponded with the mother of the family over the past few years and we have become email friends.  It was wonderful to meet in person and become real life friends.  The only problem with virtual friends becoming real friends is that often these friends live far away and the chances to actually see each other are few.  We enjoyed brunch together and the adults were able to visit while all the children played games.  Their children are charming and everyone hit it off wonderfully.  This visit alone was worth the trip.

After brunch, we piled in the car again and continued west for a few hours.  Our next stop was at J.'s aunt and uncle's house where we took another break and had dinner together.  J.'s aunt is also a potter and so we spent some time down in her studio watching how a potter's wheel is used.  (TM now has an absolute burning need to use one.)  It's always nice to visit there and it was another nice break to our drive.  Plus, look at the teapot (made by J.'s aunt) I came home with:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back from a little weekend vacation

Last night we rolled in about 10pm from a quick trip to Ohio.  The main point to our trip was to attend a performance of The Drowsy Chaperone at Denison University.  Now while most of us are very involved in theater and enjoy acting.  (OK, really that would be everyone in my family but myself... I am a committed audience member.)  But even for us, driving to attend a show two states away might seem to be a bit much.  This is where the story becomes complicated, so I'll keep it brief.  J., his sister, and both of his parents attended Denison and were all very involved in the theater program there.  The show we saw was in honor of J.'s mother (who was a theater major) and Denison invited us to come and helped defray the cost.  We had dinner before hand with some of theater faculty and there was a very nice reception afterwards where many photos of show J.'s parents had appeared in were displayed.  It was a very nice evening.

We left home mid-afternoon on Friday and arrived late to our hotel.  You know you have become blase about car trips when you are getting ready to leave on a nine hour trip and realize you made no provision for car ride entertainment.  What this really means is that I forgot to get a recorded book from the library.  So, I grabbed the large Cd binder that contains our entire collection of children's Cd's and headed out the door.  Everyone did fine and entertained themselves quite nicely and we ended up breaking out the Cd's only once.

Saturday was spent at the indoor water park which was part of the hotel we were staying at.  It was the main focus of the trip for some smaller members of the family and I was a little concerned that it might not live up to their expectations.  Most of the children had a grand time.  The adults and babies?  Not so much.  Why, why, why do places like that, which are already naturally loud, feel the need to blast bad 80's pop music at levels which should really require earplugs?  It is so incredibly unpleasant.  Plus, being a holiday weekend, the water park was very crowded and need I mention ridiculously overpriced?  Five dollars for a child's PB&J plus chips.  Really?  Oh, and you're not allowed to bring in your own food, of course. 

I was thrilled when the hotel desk called to say one of our rooms was ready early and we could check-in.  G. and L. most likely will not be requesting a water park birthday party in June.  At first they were very excited and wanted to get into their swimming suits.  (Which they looked mighty cute in, by the way.)  B. and I  brought them over to the 0-depth entry pool where we thought they would enjoy walking around and play in the water given how much they love baths.  But, no.  Evidently this water was made out of a toxic substance because every time a drop touched either of them they screamed and screamed.  I will add that the level of noise in the place made their screams hardly noticeable unless they were screaming directly into your ear.  Eventually they got so that they would toddle around the areas without water, but for the most part the whole experience didn't really do much for them.

When the room was ready, I took the two unhappy girls, a sleepy K., M. who was developing a headache from the noise and D. who was just tired and bolted left for the room.  Everyone else remained and continued to have fun.  Even B., having lost his excuse for non-participation, was lured onto the slides by A. and TM.  J. was the noble parent and stuck it out until it was time to change for dinner.

After all that playing, I was surprised that everyone stayed awake for the show, but they did.  K., G., and L. didn't join us.  Some very nice college students were hired (and vetted) by the University and they stayed in the hotel with the littles.  K. could have probably managed, but he was tired and for as much as he would have gotten out of the show, resting was the better choice.

Now we dig out from having thrown everything in the front hall and regroup to go on with the week.  I have also given myself the challenge of creating dinner from whatever is in the house since I missed going to the store last Friday.  I'll pick-up some dairy and fresh fruit, but that's it.  I'll post in the What's for Dinner sidebar when I figure it out.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A new spring skirt for A.

Having learned my lesson the last time I tried to make a skirt for A., I made a trial run of this pattern before cutting into the expensive fabric. A while back, A. and I found some soft corduroy that she liked and I agreed to make her a skirt out of it. Last week I realized if I didn't get it made soon, the season for wearing corduroy would have passed and she'd have to wait a year to wear it.  But first I wanted to make a test skirt.  I used some fabric that I bought as a thrift store and which A. decided she really liked.  So, now she has a spring skirt and I'll make the winter one next week.

The pattern I was using was not written for the novice sewist.  The instructions included steps such as "neaten edge" and "insert zipper", assuming the reader would know how to do these things.  It made me really glad I took that zipper class last fall, because now I am able to "insert zipper".  In fact, I had to decide which of the three ways I learned.  I settled for a lapped zipper this time.

It's still such a new skill that I am always a little surprised and pleased when it works like it is supposed to.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why I love the Anne books

One of the reasons I read aloud to my children is that it gives me an excuse to enjoy all the books I loved as a child over again.  Plus, it is interesting to view the same books from an adult perspective.  Now, I will admit, that some books just do not hold up and I am left wondering why I loved it so as a child, but others do.  The Anne of Green Gables books certainly fit in the latter category.  I love them as much as an adult as I did when I was a child.  Not only are children portrayed as real children, but LM Montgomery captures motherhood so vividly as well.  For instance,

"But Anne was feeling conscience-stricken.  'I should have found out what was troubling her [in reference to her daughter, Nan].  But I've been too much taken up with other things this week... things that really mattered nothing compared to a child's unhappiness.  Think of what the poor darling has suffered.'

She stooped repentantly, gloatingly over them.  They were still hers... wholly hers, to mother and love and protect.  They still came to her with every love and grief of their little hearts.  For a few years longer they would be hers... and then?  Anne shivered.  Motherhood was very sweet... but very terrible."
    -from Anne of Ingleside

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Peer pressure

Have you noticed that there are some things we were lead to believe end with the end of school (stress dreams about tests or acne, for instance) but don't ever really end?  Peer pressure is one of those things.  While it is not as intense as when we were surrounded by the same group of people everyday for 6 to 7 hours, it is still there.  We are influenced by the people with whom we associate, for good or ill.

I am blessed that I have a group of very good friends who support my choices in life.  Not all of them may agree with everything we have chosen for our family, but never has one said or implied that we are making a mistake.  And because of that level of trust and acceptance, if one were to come to me with a concern, I would listen carefully and take it seriously.

It took a while for me to reach this point, though.  When I first started having children, I had to begin to develop new friendships.  I didn't want or need to let go of the friendships I had from my single, childless years, but I needed to add to my friendships by befriending other mothers once my children began to be born.  And for me, this needed to include other mothers who had chosen to stay home and raise their children.  Those early years can be difficult.  It takes time to find a rhythm for homemaking and child rearing.  Babies and toddlers need you nearly all the time and they are not the best conversationalists.  If a woman is used to being surrounded by adults all day and having duties assigned by someone else, this can be a bit of a shock.

It is at this point where it is so important to surround yourself with friends.  Friends who can support ones new venture into motherhood.  Friends who understand that a fussy baby can push even the most balanced person over edge.  Friends who can rejoice over a baby's accomplishments, which to the world can seem inconsequential, but to a mother they are wondrous.  Friends with whom you can share the joys of motherhood.

What a mother does not need is to have friends who denigrate her choice to raise her children or even question that she had children.  She does not need friends who will world-wearily scoff at her wonder at her child.  She does not need friends who will overtly or tacitly imply that she is less intelligent now that she has a child.  Because we hear these messages from the world all the time in all sorts of guises.  The world does not appreciate children or the career of motherhood.  The stereotypes abound... a woman who does not work outside the home is sloppy and unkempt; she is not as intelligent as women who work; she has no need to accomplish things; she is dead-weight to society.

I've tackled all those before, so I'll spare you this time around.  Suffice it to say, we need to be careful with whom we surround ourselves.  Are these people who are going to support and encourage us or are they going to make us question our choices and what we thought was important?  Look for people to encourage you and also look for ways to be an encouragement to others.  When did you last tell a mother she was doing a good job?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Day dresses

from Grammy, a bit belated.  We pretended the weather was warmer than it really was.

L. (on left) and G. (on right)



L. (on left) and G. (on right)


A nice break from politics, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A civics lesson or Stop IL SB 136

It's nearly 4pm and I am just now getting around to writing a post, and it's not the post I was planning on writing.  Instead, our day was pre-empted by a real life civics lesson coupled with the role of social media in political movements.  We're not in Egypt, but it was perhaps a very small scale model of the way social media can inform, persuade (or not), and mobilize large groups of people.

The background. 

A week ago an IL state senator introduced a bill that would seek to count and regulate homeschoolers.  The best thing (and it is a very short list) about living in IL is the fact that it leaves us homeschoolers alone.  We are free to raise and educate our children as we see fit without the state sticking in its oar. But then the senator heard that a family member of his was going to homeschool and suddenly we appeared on his radar.  Now up till now he was not bothered by us homeschoolers.  Clearly there were not articles being published about homeschooling gangs roaming the streets terrorizing the well-behaved public school children.  There were no exposes about the shocking number of homeschoolers ending up in prison.  Aside from the obligatory article every autumn about homeschooling, we just don't do anything to warrant much attention.  Taking care of children, making sure they learn things, and living together as a family just doesn't make very interesting news.

But yet the senator was troubled.  Troubled that somewhere someone was doing something they shouldn't.  Did he have a specific example?  No.  Did he have any statistics to show that homeschooling was educationally inferior to public schooling?  No.  But he seems to believe that the citizens of IL are incapable of doing what is right and good without the government telling us how and when and what.  In triplicate.

Now if you get the idea that I find this senator to be a governmental bully who has nothing better to do than appease the teacher's union which is the single biggest doner to his campaign and who brings bills against homeschoolers who weren't doing anything wrong, you'd be right.  And I am a soft-spoken representative.  Trust me.

The response. 

Homeschoolers are an educated bunch, especially when it comes to governmental processes.  We have to be.  This is not the first attack on our homeschooling freedoms and it is only through effort and vigilance that we enjoy those freedoms.  Today, over 4000 homeschoolers, remarkably well-behaved to boot according to one observer, descended upon Springfield to attend the education committee hearing.  (I wish I had been one of them, but driving four hours one way to attend a hearing with two toddlers did not seem wise.)  We (and many others) virtually attended the hearing by compulsively reading Twitter reports and refreshing facebook pages.  The only frustrating thing about the immediacy was having no way to respond, short of forwarding information on to the next person.  It's a shame the committee wasn't able to hear some of my very well thought out comments in response to some of the more egregious statements.

The result.

The short answer is we don't know yet.  I've heard differing reports from 'It's too contentious, the committee meeting was a sham so the senator could save face' to 'The bill is not withdrawn, and there is talk of testing and curriculum approval being added to it.'  We'll have to wait and see which way the pendulum is going to swing.  And I may get to make the trek down to Springfield with my crew in tow yet.

Why you should you care.

I know that I have a lot of readers who do not homeschool.  I know I have even more readers who do not live in Illinois.  So what does our little brouhaha have to do with you?  Well, it is an example of how government likes to ooze into private lives.  It is a question of learned incompetance.  Here's the scenario:  People in government have purpose if they can regulate things so they look for things to regulate.  Often that piece of regulation involves something that the public was doing quite well by themselves.  Not everyone, not 100% all the time, but for the most part it was working.  Then the government steps-in.  Suddently something that people did themselves without thinking becomes a big deal.  You need forms, approvals, experts, and a whole host of support services and the general public forgets this was something they used to do all their own without any help.  The government has successfully created the stupid public that they imagined in the first place.

You need to care because while homeschooling laws and regulations might not affect you today, you never know where the tentacles of government will squirm next... it might be something you do care about.  It is why the founding fathers created the system of checks and balances in the first place.  They knew that the very nature of government makes it greedy and it needs to be checked at every turn to stop it from growing.  Do not become the stupid citizens that the host of government regulations implies you are.  Take a stand for intelligence and small government and unlearn the incompitance thrust upon you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Father-Daughter Dance

Saturday night was the annual Father-Daughter Dance that J. and the three older girls have loved attending.  Here they are all dressed up before heading out the door.

J. and P.

J. and M. (with L. sneaking into the picture)

The theme was a masquerade and M. made masks for everyone.  Here is how hers looked with her dress.

J. and A.

M. worked so hard on her mask and it turned out so well that it deserves its own picture.

I finally took some time this weekend to clean-up the blog a bit.  The sidebar needed to be decluttered... I removed some things and added one.  I also updated some of the photos in the Cast of Characters and added H.  Thursday Homeschool Resource Day is cancelled until further notice.  The free linky service I was using is now going to a pay system and I am too cheap to pay and too lazy to look for another free option.  Plus, there didn't seem to be much need or interest in it.  If there is a huge groundswell of protest, I'll bring it back.  (But I don't think there will be.)  I had hoped to update the homeschooling page to reflect what we are actually working on, but that will have to wait for later.

I am feeling much more myself.  Keeping busy and feeling a bit more on top of things helps me not to sit and brood.  And a talking to by ones mother doesn't hurt either.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Still digging out of my hole

Today is going to be a busy day, which is good.  Perhaps it will help jump start my emotional system into functioning appropriately again.  Please pray that it does because if I feel like this for a year... well, it won't be good. 

So what's on the docket today?  Well, I've already made a vegetable calzone for B. to take to his bee keeping class.  (There is a potluck lunch which he needs to bring something to.)  Then I need to drive B. downtown to the class and come home by way of the fabric store (dangerous!)  Tonight is the father-daughter dance that J. and his girls have attended for several years now.  But the dress that A. is going to wear fits her beautifully, but is bit too long.  It is a ball gown and has a tulle overlay on the skirt which for the life of me I can't figure out how to hem.  Instead of hemming, I'm going to pull it up on the sides and make it scallop across the front, but I need silver ribbon to do that.

After coming home, laundry (which I have successfully ignored for the past two days -- the basement is not a cheery place and not one I'm drawn to when I'm already feeling blue) and sewing will be the focus.  My poor, ignored Etsy store has an order, but I need to remake a pattern.  Oh, and making some spaghetti sauce will need to happen as well.

There you go, my exciting Saturday and possible the dullest post in the history of this blog.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A special gift for a special girl

The wait to bring H. (that's our daughter-to-be's initial) is already weighing heavily on me.  I'm sure that some of it has to do with the fact that there is still a small part of me that has never quite recovered from the eons long wait for K.  I will never understand this side of heaven why we had to wait for so long for him while he was not quite thriving in his orphanage.  I'm remembering that sense of depression I had a little too clearly these past couple of days.  I'm going to have to give myself a good talking to, because my conservative estimate puts us travelling in November at the earliest with January '12 a strong possibility.  The bright side is that H. is in a wonderful place where she is being cared for and nurtured and loved.  Outside of being home with us, I couldn't ask for a better situation for her.  I've wallowed for two days and now it's time to move on with life.

It does help to make preparations for her, though.  Here is a project I started before we received the official green light, hoping that H. would be allowed to become our daughter.  It's a felt playbook for a felt doll that will be perfect for travelling.  It is still very much a work in progress.  These three felt panels will be attached to an outside cover that will have H.'s name embroidered on it and it will fold into thirds for easy packing.  (Please ignore the worse than usual photographs.)

The left panel has two pockets to keep the loose things in, the center panel is a bedroom, and the right panel is a picnic.

Here is the felt doll who lives in the playhouse.  I still want to put shoes on her and experiment with a coat.

The bed has a separate pillow and blanket as well as a book (of course) and a teddy bear.

The blanket will be sewn down, but the picnic basket and plates of food are separate.  The apple tree also needs a few more apples.

Here is a closer shot of the plates of food... two plates, each with half a sandwich and a banana.

There is still quite a bit to do, but I have a few months to finish it.  It has become the project I grab when I head out the door and I know I will be sitting with idle hands.  I wish I could take full credit for the idea.  I have really just altered a similar idea I saw at ikat bag.  (One of my very favorite craft and sewing blogs.)
And finally the giveaway winner.  Using a random number generator (because choosing one number between 1 and 5 by myself is too much work), commenter number 1 wins!  So, Jennifer, I'll be contacting you with the details.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Menu planning and grocery shopping

Another large family blogger posted about how she does her grocery shopping, which made me realize that this is something I have never written about.  Surprising really, since the question of how I feed all these people is one that is recurring.

I do the grocery shopping once a week and if all goes well, recently J. and I have been going together as a "date".  It does make the process more enjoyable.  I have tried to go for two weeks at a time between trips but that hasn't worked for us.  I would need to go for a short trip anyway to pick up milk and produce, plus, I sometimes have enough trouble coming up with one week's worth of meals much less two.

I always, always, always go to the store (well, actually stores) with a list made from the week's menu plan.  It is a waste of time and money to go without knowing what you are going to be cooking.  You will almost always have to go back to the store to pick-up things you didn't know you needed... and how often have you walked out of a grocery store with just the one item you went to get?

So, step one to the grocery shopping is the making of the week's menu.  On really good weeks, I've been thinking about it during the week and writing down ideas, so there isn't much left to do.  But most weeks I have to come up with all seven meals.  I try to keep things varied and will rarely make the same meal more than once every three weeks or so.  I try to do several meatless dishes, some pasta, a soup, a crock-pot meal, and some beef or chicken, adding in side dishes as I plan.  I also look in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator to see what needs to be used and take that into consideration.  As I plan the meal, I write down the ingredients I will need on my list so I don't forget anything.  For lunches and breakfasts I just keep the same things on hand so there is little planning required. 

Some other thoughts about menu planning:
  • It is very helpful to do this with the family calendar near by.  On busy days I plan easy meals and save the more time intensive ones for the lighter days. 
  • In the summer I also look at the weather forecast and try to plan meals based on how much I'm going to want to be turning on an oven or stove.
  • I plan seasonally.  I try to only use ingredients which are currently in season.  Not only is it less expensive, but the food tastes better and I like the idea of children learning to experience the delight of having a food again when it comes back into season.
Once I have my list made up of ingredients for meals, items I buy every week, and staples which need to be replenished, it's time to head to the store.  I shop at two stores regularly:  Aldi for dairy and canned and boxed goods and a small, local market for produce, meat, ethnic ingredients, and whatever else can't be found at Aldi.  I usually stick to my list unless I see something that is on sale.  It helps to have a good working price list, either in your head or written down, so you know if it actually is a good sale price or not.  Sales are not always the bargain they purport to be.

Once home, the masses help bring in and unload the groceries.  By this time, I'm done with the entire enterprise and am thankful that my children are pretty good about putting away groceries; I'm putting my feet up and having a cup of tea. 

A couple of other notes based on questions I've received: 
  • No, I don't use a printed list.  There aren't that many items which I buy every week and it is simple for me to write those on my list.  My weekly menus vary so much that I'm rarely buying the same items two weeks in a row.
  • Yes, I shop at our local warehouse store.  I buy diapers, wipes, dishwasher detergent, and paper products there.  I'm pretty good about the impulse shopping... I dislike being there so much that I can't wait to get out.
  • No, I don't use coupons.  I know some people save tons of money with them, but I don't have the patience to do it.  Plus, I rarely see coupons for what I buy (I buy very little processed food) and stores in my area do not double or triple coupons.  I know you are all very surprised to hear that.
  • Yes, I keep a very stocked pantry.  While we would run out of fresh produce, I figure that we could probably eat for at least a month without going to a store.  It wouldn't be very interesting near the end of the month... but it would feed us.
Anything I forgot to cover?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Time for toddlers

(Here's the giveaway.)

I know that if I go too long without pictures of the girls that I start to get complaints.  Here is this week's installlment.  We helped celebrate a friend's birthday over the weekend and the children all came home with balloons.  G. and L. love them.  G. is in pink and L. is in yellow.

We also had a friend drop by a couple bags of clothes for the girls.  It was much appreciated since the items in their dresser were starting to get a bit small.  A. had a wonderful time sorting them and picking out outfits for her sisters to wear.  Here are the girls sporting their new clothes.  G. is in black tights and L. is in white.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Purpose in the Ordinary

(Here's the giveaway.)

You may or may not know that the term 'Ordinary Time' comes from the church liturgical calendar.  It is the time of year when it is not Christmas or Easter or Advent or Lent or Pentecost, but all those in between times.  The holidays are special and help us to remember important things, but Ordinary Time is holy as well.  My blog is thus called to remind me of this fact.  The ordinary is important.  If we live only for the special we miss out on a lot of life.

Remembering the importance of the ordinary helps us to pay attention to it.  Without consciously thinking about our daily lives it is so easy to lose track of the small moments in the midst of our busy-ness.  And it doesn't have to be business outside the home, we can become too busy with our to-do lists inside the home as well.  Our lists of 'ought to' start to take center stage and push aside the truly important:  the people in our lives.

Because that is why we work at making a home, keeping it clean and tidy, cooking good food, ensuring all are clothed, isn't it?  Because of the people in the house whom we love.  Isn't it?  I don't know about you, but it is so easy for me to forget this simple fact.  The reason I have a to-do list is because I care about the people in my life and want to take care of them.  It's when the doing for people takes precedence over being with people that things go wrong.

So I try to remember that it is the everyday moments that will form the bulk of my children's memories of their childhood.  I try to remember that not only does keeping up with the laundry mean that the job feels easier but also makes the process of getting dressed easier for my children.  I try to remember that while a clean and picked-up home is nice the real reason is that it is more comfortable for my family and guests.  I try to remember that healthy home-cooked food not only feeds the body but nourishes the souls of my family as well.  If I focus on the people behind the task not only does it make the work seem lighter but it gives purpose to the work. 

It's just the same as I tell my children (often):  it's people that are important, not things.  But for mothers and homemakers we often need to add:  it's the people that are important not things or items crossed off a to-do list.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Have you heard of the Schoolhouse Expo?  It is an online homeschool conference put on by The Old Schoolhouse magazine.  I was contacted by them and was offered a giveaway prize if I would help publicize the event.  So I hopped on over to the list of speakers and topics to see what they were up to.  There are some great speakers scheduled, many of whom I've heard in person and from whom I've learned quite a bit.

I love homeschooling conferences.  I love listening to great speakers and picking up useful tips.  I love browsing the vendor fairs and seeing new products.  I do not love the money I end up spending because of both the conference fee and what I end up buying.  This is a way to get the things I love about conferences and avoid that little pitfall of spending too much money.

Until February 9, there is a sale on the conference.  For $19.50, you can listen to the entire conference, get a bunch of bonus freebies, and MP3's of the whole shebang.  It's a deal.

Now to the giveaway.  I can offer one free "Expo-to-go" MP3 download from the conference to one winner.  Ever wanted to hear Dianne Craft speak about brain functioning?  Or Susan Wise Bauer?  Now's your chance.  All you have to do is leave a comment.  (Please, please be sure to leave a way to contact you!)  You don't even have to be a homeschooler... just interested.  I'll keep it open through Feb. 9 and draw the winner on the 10th.  Bon chance!

*** Edited to add:  I was a little confused at to what year's conference the MP3 would be from.  It will be from the 2010 conference last year.  Sorry for any confusion!***

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Snow days and the homeschooler, part 2

The art of living together is one that comes up at several times throughout the year, not just in unusually large snowstorms which cause the closing of schools.  I hear the same comments at the end of summer vacation and at the end of Christmas break.  And those comments?  "My kids are driving me crazy!  I can't wait for them to go back to school so I can get something done."  It makes me sad.  Listen to the tacit message underneath that socially acceptable statement:  My children are nice in small doses but I don't really like it, or them, when they are around too much.  Having children from the age of 5 (or younger) spend a significant portion of their lives away from their families causes a sort of learned incompetence for the whole family.  No one really spends extended periods of time together so they have forgotten how.

One of the most frequent questions I get as a homeschooling mother is, "Your kids are around all day?  How do you get anything done or have any time for yourself?"  I have never understood why the presence of children means that I can't function as an adult.  I get plenty done (and when I don't it is often my own fault and rarely the fault of my children) and I do have time alone.  Granted the amount of alone-time is dependent upon the age of children I have... babies need more constant attention than a 4 year old.  (But then, babies nurse.  A lot.  That's some prime reading time.  I miss it.)  But once children are napping, there is always at least a two hour span that is more flexible.

We have learned the art of living together because we have had too.  We don't do it perfectly, some days are better than others, but for the most part we can all live in the same house with our sanity intact.  I have always enforced quiet times after lunch.  Everyone needs time to themselves... to think, do quiet activities, learn to be by oneself, recharge, or just do nothing.  This is what happens for a couple of hours each day.  We do need time away from each other, but it is a learned skill.  By the time our children are 6 or 7, they have learned that sometimes they just need time alone and they know what I am talking about when I tell them I having my quiet time.  Naps seem to move naturally from a time of sleeping, to a time of playing quietly on one's bed, to a time of independent functioning.  It is through practice that we can do this. 

Long car rides are the best analogy that I can think of.  That first day can be long while everyone settles into a new routine.  Everything is more difficult and there seems to be an excess of bickering.  But experience has taught me that this is a temporary state.  A new normal will soon appear and we will all begin to enjoy our time in the car together.  That is unless we parents short-circuit the process by giving up too soon.  We can do this by cutting the trip short or using a drug movie to lull the children into a false quietness.

Learning to get along takes practice.  Learning to be alone takes practice.  The my-kids-are-driving-me-crazy-I-can't-wait-till-they're-gone syndrome is merely a symptom of a deeper problem:  The fracturing of the home by outside forces.  The more a family is separated from each other, the more the members of the family forget how to get along, and the more they begin to wonder why they even want to get along.  It becomes weak.

Reclaim the art of living together as a family.  Enjoy your children.  Be careful what you say about them.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Snow days and the homeschooler, part 1

The topic of whether homeschoolers get snow days or not has come up surprisingly often over the past few days.  It has either come in the form of a question asked in passing from a neighbor or by the increasingly frustrated comments by parents whose children are normally in school during the day or as a discussion with a fellow homeschooling parent.  There seem to be two underlying issues:  1.  That learning cannot happen without it being imposed from an outside source (which I'll tackle today) and 2. That children and parents living and functioning together is seen as an anomaly; something that doesn't normally happen. (Which I'll take on tomorrow because otherwise this will get too long.  Like that's ever stopped me before.)

So I'm not quite sure what to say when the neighbor calls over and asks if we had a snow day.  I mean, I know what he's asking... did we do book work today or did we take the day off.  I know what I am expected to answer, but it is not what I want to answer. 

First, I want to say that whether or not the public schools are in session has no bearing on what we do.  At all.  Once you step off the public school track you begin to realize exactly how much of modern life revolves around what the local public schools decree.  Honestly, it's a bit silly if you think about it. 

Second, asking if we get a snow day implies that because we didn't do book work, that education took a day off, which is not the case.  It is not the case for my children and it wasn't the case for his children.  You can't stop children from learning just as you can't make children learn either.  If I were to write out the educational outcomes of what we did during our snow day, it would be quite impressive, and the fact that it didn't involve a text book or a worksheet doesn't diminish its importance or effectiveness. 

Third, part of the snow day-mystique is that regular duties are given a hiatus because travel is impossible; one doesn't have to report to a job or attend a meeting or be present at school and if you didn't want to go to that place it is a double bonus.  It's a giant, snowy, get-out-of-jail-free card.  Anytime something happens that is out of the ordinary, such as a blizzard, it tends to supercede ordinary schedules, even schedules which aren't quite ordinary.  So while my children enjoyed the excitement of the blizzard and work of digging out from its aftermath, they were missing the feeling of being sprung from drudgery.

But it's difficult to communicate all of that in a 2 minute conversation shouted across the street.  So, the short, neighbor-friendly answer... yes, we had a snow day.
One bloggy housekeeping item--if you hadn't noticed Ordinary Time now has a facebook page.  If you are on fb and are interested, search for Ordinary Time and it should come up, or you can just like it on the button in the sidebar.  (I can't believe I just wrote that considering how much I dislike the usage of the term 'like'.)  I've been putting up comments about life in the Big Ugly House which don't warrant a full post, plus I have visions of it being a place where we could discuss some of the books I blog about in an easier format.  Because you all keep up with my reading suggestions, right?  Please?  Because I would love to have people to discuss them with.  All that to say, come and visit.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Year of the Cat

I know, two posts in one day, but I realized that I was about to let the lunar year pass without comment.  We aren't doing anything special today, but on Sunday we're combining watching the Super Bowl with friends with a joint Chinese New Year/Tet celebration.  We'll watch the game (well, some will watch the game, I'll bring some knitting), then we'll have Chinese and Vietnamese food and light some sparklers... or something.  How's that for a culturally integrated event?

I'll also be celebrating having another article published.  This time it is about the Vietnamese neighborhood in Chicago which is located on and around Argyle Street.

Snow day

Pictures from first thing yesterday morning.  It was still snowing, but the wind had died down and children couldn't wait to get outside to play in it.  These were taken from our side porch.  If you look carefully through the railing, you can see a green metal bench that shows how deep the snow is, since it is above the seat.

And two little girls who liked watching the snow, but couldn't really go out and play in it.

We had a lovely day.  J. made apple coffee cake for breakfast, we had red pepper hummus for lunch, and I made double chocolate brownies for after dinner.  Games were played; yarn was knitted (with greater or lesser frustration depending on the knitter); much snow was shovelled; books were read. 

The shared experience of extreme weather has appeared to bring out the best in people.  The population was nearly giddy with excitement at the prospect of a blizzard causing a city-wide holiday.  Yesterday afternoon just needed a table of food to make it close to a block party as people joked, and talked, and shovelled out cars from under four and five foot high drifts. 

And my goal of never leaving my house may actually be met, at least if I have plans of going anywhere in the van.  You see, it has a very wide turning radius and getting out of our driveway can be a bit tricky in the best of weather.  The street has shrunk considerably and until some of this snow goes... somewhere... I'm just not sure I can get my van out.  I'm still deciding how I feel about that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


The book I'm currently reading is, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax.  I'm not finished yet, just about half-way through, but I'm really enjoying it.  It's got great research as well as practical suggestions as to what to do with the results of that research.  Plus, it's proving my pet-theories right.  (And who doesn't like that?)

For instance, we delay formal academics with our children.  They learn and experience a lot as young children, but we don't do a lot of sitting and writing activities.  I don't even begin to push learning to read until they are at least seven.  (Radical, I know.)  It never seemed worth the herculean effort it would take over the course of many, many months when we could accomplish the same things quickly and easily if we just waited a bit.  Plus, then, when one of them learns something quickly, he or she feels as though they are really smart.  (Which they are.)  So I loved reading a paragraph such as this:

"How could starting kids in school two years later [Dr. Sax is referring to an earlier section where he discusses how Finnish schools do not begin until age 7, yet Finnish children consistently out perform US children on standardized tests {for what standardized tests results are worth - e}] lead to superior performance when those children become teenagers?  Simple.  If kids start school two years later and are taught material when they are developmentally prepared to learn, kids are less likely to hate school.  If kids don't hate school, it's easier to get them to learn.  If kids do hate school, as many American boys do, then the teacher is starting out with a major handicap before even stepping into the classroom."

There have also been some really interesting bits about the need for personal experience in order to really learn something... just reading something in a book does not promote the same depth of learning that actually experiencing something does.  Once again, it's better for a child to follow a parent around the house, helping, exploring, touching, getting messy, and then playing these same experiences out on their own in their free time, than it is to structure a day with outside activities which may or may not accomplish the same things but at greater cost -- both to family life and general expense.

Do you have boys?  Read the book, even you homeschoolers.  It may have it's focus on improving how schools serve boys, but there is an awful lot in it about how children learn in general and the differences between male and female brains.  Its a fascinating read.

Blizzard up-date:  Yes, it really came, thunderstorms and all.  The winds last night were pretty fierce.  Our roof is still on the house, we are still warm, and the children have already been outside playing this morning.  Some of the drifts are as high as TM.  Still snowing.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Got blizzard?

Even if you don't live in the Chicago area, you've probably heard about the extreme, life-threatening blizzard with thunder storms and lakefront flooding with 18 to 20 foot waves that are being forecasted for the next 24 hours.  The hype is quite extraordinary and this is from someone who doesn't even have a television to watch.  Well, we will probably get snow, but I'll believe the blizzard part when it actually arrives.  It won't be the first time that extreme weather was predicted and the reality failed to live up to the hype.  Either way, though, it will be a snow day for everyone tomorrow... everything that was on my calendar from this afternoon through tomorrow has been cancelled due to the weather.  B. is thrilled since he scored a big, well-paying snow shovelling job for the next two weeks and it looks as though he will have plenty of opportunities to earn quite a bit of cash.

If there is a blizzard, we're set.  The pantry is full, we have plenty of candles and flashlights, and I stocked up on pain relievers yesterday seeing as how we are still the plague house.  We even have plans for spending our time.  A. picked-up her knitting again the other day and ever since then D. and TM have been after me to teach them to knit.  Wednesday will be perfect for that since I will need a long stretch of uninterrupted time (and a bit of patience) to hold knitting lessons with a pair of 7 and 8 year old boys.  I wonder if I will question the wisdom of arming said boys with long pieces of pointy metal...
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